In the Top Ten

Author M.M. (Mary) Buckner writes science fiction, and she does it well. So well that she is on the Barnes and Noble 2009 Top Ten list in her genre. Thursday night, she was the guest speaker at the Barnes and Noble store in Cool Springs for its monthly Writers Night meeting. A dozen or so local writers gathered to hear Mary talk about the craft of writing and the whats and hows of publishing, as well as social media.

Mary is a graduate of the University of Memphis and has an MA in Creative Writing from Boston University. She has published four novels: Neurolink, Hyperthought, War Surf, and Watermind. Hyperthought was a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award and War Surf won the award.

The big question on every writer’s mind is how do I get published? and Mary advised subscribing to Writers Market online and using its lists of publishers and agents. It’s a great idea to have an agent, she says, but not necessarily first. Once you have a book published by a company that accepts unagented submissions, it is easier to get an agent. The third manuscript Mary wrote was accepted for publication, and then she got an agent.

Mary said she believes in critique groups, in workshops, in reading about the craft of writing, and in reading the best books out there, those that have won prizes.  Regarding craft, Mary described how every story is about the thing and the other thing. The best stories will have some deeper universal truth that isn’t really stated, but when you reach the end of it you will realize that that is what it was all about all along.


Uh-oh.

Guess what I’ll be doing this weekend?

The heavy snow and ice got the best of the patio cover, and it collapsed. It was wonderful while it lasted, but it’s history now, and all that is left is the part where I figure out how to take it apart and haul it to the street.

Okay, I’m ready for spring now. I’ve had enough of the snow.


The President

He said, “I made my position on health reform clear: We must not walk away. We are too close, and the stakes are too high for too many. I called on legislators of both parties to find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people.”

I say to the President and legislators, “Get it right for the American people. For those of us who work hard to pay insurance premiums — exorbitant amounts — and are stuck with $85 per month prescriptions after insurance…do something for us.  Do something about pre-existing conditions. Get it right. And then get the job done.

And stop the partisan fighting. I’m sick of the whining and lies and accusations and the fear mongering. Everyone just shut up and get to work.

And get the job done.

For once.


Farewell, Dear Solid House

It is summer and hot enough to boil the black tar between sections of concrete on Deering Street. I like to pop the bubbles that come up. It ranks up there with riding bikes and climbing trees, the stuff one likes to do when she is nine. It’s nothing for me to have a sticky, black fingertip all of July.

Today Mama tells me I have to read. What I have to read is not even a book yet—it’s just a stack of papers. Mama has brought home a manuscript written by one of her professors at Delta State that will soon be published by The MacMillan Company in New York. Evelyn Allen Hammett is the Head of Languages and Literature at the college, and she has written a story based on a few diary pages kept by her eighth great grandmother when the twelve-year-old girl made a long trek from Dorchester, Massachusetts to a new settlement on the Connecticut River. The teacher knows Mama has a little girl and she asked Mama if I could read the book and let her know if it is age appropriate for me or if it needs to be for older junior high kids.

Now, I like to read, but I like to choose my own books, mostly about pioneers on the western frontier, and I like to pick my own time and place. After all, I do have my favorite reading spots around this house. I might curl up on my soft bed against the frilly blue pillow shams, or lie on the polished hardwood floor of the living room under the window air conditioning unit. The painted-gray concrete of the front stoop is cool, and sometimes I’ll sit there against the white shingles next to the big hydrangea bush. There’s a grate in the bricks on the side of the porch venting the house underneath and sometimes I’ll lean off the edge of the porch and feel the cool air coming out of the grate opening and smell the mustiness. Sometimes I lie on the picnic table under the shade of the pecan tree in the backyard. I can look up through the leaves patterned like lace and see clouds moving on some great migration, much like the family in Evelyn Allen Hammett’s book.

Priscilla and her family are embarking on a journey to new land in Connecticut, and along the way they will encounter perils—bands of warring Indians, winter storms, lack of food such that her mother’s wedding band slides off her finger.

Priscilla has planned to write in her journal every day on the journey.  The pages in it are part of a valuable store sent from England. Most of them were smeared with bear’s grease and used to fill in window frames. Her mother saved the scraps cut from the edges of the large pieces, then measured and cut them into the same neat shape. The shoemaker bound them with a tanned leather cover and stitched them with the same stitches he uses for boots.

On the last day in her home in Dorchester, Priscilla sits on the settle her Father made. “Grant—1630” is carved in the seat. Priscilla has heard the Bible read so much that she applies verses to her own family. Her father is a rock and a fortress. Her mother—“her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.” She looks about her at this house her father built when they arrived in the new country—a solid house made of half logs chinked with wedges of wood and clay, roof of birch bark shingles, a door of bark and leather hinges, puncheon floor of white pine planed smooth as silk and satin, and a great stone fireplace as wide as the room and tall enough for Father to stand up in. She takes out her goose quill pen and ink made of swamp maple bark boiled with a little copperas, and she writes the first page of her journal.

“I, Priscilla, am the daughter of Matthew Grant, and Priscilla, his wife. I was born in Devonshire, England, 14 September, sixteen hundred twenty three. So I am now twelve years old. It is today 14 Oct. in the year of our Lord, sixteen hundred thirty five and of King Charles the First the tenth year.

Tomorrow we start on a trip by Shank’s mare, as Father says. He means that we will walk. We will go to a new country over one hundred miles away. We hope there will be more land for us and the winters will be milder.

We will leave the ocean. But there will be a river called Connecticut.

About sixty will go. Most of us came on the ship Mary and John from England five years ago.

We are called Puritans.

Farewell, dear solid house. God bless the roof. God bless the floor. God bless the oven and the door.”

On this steamy Delta summer day as I hold a slew of typed pages in my hands, I do not know it, but fifty years from now, I will once again pick up these words inside a hardcover book. On the front, I, Priscilla, author Evelyn Allen Hammett, a picture of a girl in a yellow dress walking on a trail. I will open it and read once again those words: “Farewell, dear solid house. God bless the roof. God bless the floor. God bless the oven and the door.” It is a time when I will be saying good-bye to my own solid house at 807 Deering Street. I will begin to sob softly, and my crying will swell into wailing. To wail: to utter a prolonged, mournful cry, usually high-pitched or clear-sounding, as in grief or suffering.

Fifty years from now, my mother will die and my father will have been dead for three years. Fifty years from now, the house at 807 will pass into the hands of my sister and me, and we will disperse its contents, taking what we deem valuable because it is a memory. We will put a For Sale sign in the front yard, and I will not go there to look at it. And though I will live through divorce and death and experience devastating losses, this will be the hardest thing I will ever do because it represents the greatest loss—it is home. It will always be the constant in my life, the fixed point in my universe. The house I was born to, the house I grew up in, the house where my dead pets are buried in the backyard, the house where graduation gowns and a wedding gown will hang in a closet, the house I will always go home to, the house I will bring my babies to, and my grandchildren. I will always know that I can come here and feel safe and cocooned and secure. Here, all is right with the world.

Farewell, dear solid house.

And when I sign on the line to give up my lifetime home, I will not be able to do it with dry eyes or a heart at peace. I will walk through its rooms one last time. I will touch each wall of white paint and knotty pine. I will stand in its kitchen and still see Mama standing over the white stove next to the pantry stuffed full. I will stand in the family room where we have eaten big Sunday dinners, the living room with its white lace curtains Mama has sewed and sixty Christmas trees that have stood in there over time, the “piano room,” with the upright Mama antiqued white, the hall with the floor furnace where I’ve sat on cold nights, and my bedroom where sun has come through window blinds and glow-in-the-dark stars have shone down from the ceiling.

I will walk through its backyard where roses and zinnias and morning glories have grown, where pecan and walnut and fig trees have stood, where tomatoes and squash and beans have been plucked from vines, were sandboxes and swingsets and sliding boards have stood, and where children have played badminton and croquet and mud pies and hide-and-seek and Red Rover. I will think I see my cocker spaniel Blackie and the cat Ginger and my canary Henry who died one Thanksgiving and my parakeet Pluma who died after breathing all my hair spray, and I will remember my old clubhouse, The Termite Club, snuck away in an old chicken shack on the lot adjacent, and instead of the wooden fence that is here now I will remember the old hedges that surrounded the house, the ones that Dad trimmed every Monday because he was a barber and needed to cut something, and I will even remember the “stickers” on little weeds in the backyard that blew in one year after a Texas windstorm and I could no longer go barefooted in the Bermuda grass, and I will remember the day we planted the two pecan trees and how big they grew and then how they died after the Great Ice Storm of ’94 and how Dad filled the holes their roots left with twigs and dead leaves instead of dirt and how sinkholes kept forming and Mama kept falling in them, and I will remember Dad’s electric lawn mower and how I mowed the yard once and ran over the cord, and I will remember my basketball goal on the back of the carport storage room and how many hours I spent there dribbling and shooting free throws, and I will remember how we put the little swimming pool at the bottom of the sliding board and how we’d polish the board with Johnson Paste Wax and slide down fast and wham! splash into the water.

Farewell, dear solid house.

God bless the roof.

God bless the floor.

God bless the oven

and the door.


Enlightenment

I understand now that it is not about rightness or people or encouraging accountability or making things better for others. It’s about the money. It’s GREED.

And that’s why our world will never change.

I am so not made this way. And that makes life hard.


Imagine

It happened again. I got ambushed. You’d think after a year and a half that it wouldn’t happen any more. But I am a living testament to the fact that it does, it is real, it is consuming.

While driving the Outback, I pulled my late husband’s CD case out of a storage pocket, flipped through, and picked a Lennon disc that he had put together. I punched it in and with the first notes and first three words of the first song, I was totally taken over by emotion and tears. Within half a block, I couldn’t see where I was going. The tears were all over my face and the sobs were hard. And I didn’t know why. It drained me, physically and emotionally.

Why, I asked myself. I tracked through the CD and listened to twelve or fifteen other songs. Not a single one sparked any kind of response. It was just that first song. I tracked back to it, and felt the same surge of emotion. I knew there was something to it. I knew the song had some meaning to him, I knew it was a connection, it was he touching me.

The first thing I did when I got home was to go to his blog, still up and running, and I did a search. And there it was. “Imagine.” He had contemplated the words to the song back in 2007.

I wonder, Winston Rand, if this is what it’s like where you are, and I hope to God it is.

Post by Winston Rand at nobodyasked.com:

Imagine…

September 20th, 2007 | Category: Philosophics, Realities

When the title for the previous post came to me, I re-read the lyrics and listened to John Lennon’s original. Like its author, and indeed like much of his music, Imagine has many detractors. Most of those do not go below the surface of the words and envision, perchance to dream, of Lennon’s imaginary world of peace, love, and harmony. Drug induced vision? Perhaps. Idealistic? Sure. Impossible? Of course. Worth working toward? Absolutely.

If you take the time to really read the words, all of the words, and think about the world that Lennon talked about, Imagine depicts a human state that is quite close to that espoused by all the great religions of the world. John Lennon became a lightning rod for peace during the Vietnam War. Consider what has happened to our world since 2000. Then read the verses again. We need a lightning rod for peace and sanity in this world gone mad. Imagine

Imagine there’s no Heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one


The Birds

It was something out of a Hitchcock movie. I looked out my back window yesterday morning and my little fishpond was covered with birds. Robins mostly. They were standing on the rocks that surrounded the water, they were in the abelia above the water, and they were walking on the ice that covered the water. One slid and skated across. Two weeks of single digits and temps not getting above freezing and wind chills at zero turned my pond into a Dr. Zhivago wonderland. Turned every pond — big and small — into white ice.

Frozen Pond

My pond has a fountain in the center, and the bubbling-up water was apparently the only liquid for miles. A dome of ice had built up around it, but there was water at the peak. The robins were awaiting a turn to sip from the fountain.

Birds on the Pond (taken through window)

My blood ran cold when I looked up into the trees above the backyard, and they were filled with birds patiently awaiting a turn. All their sources of water were frozen — birdbaths, potholes, ditches, creeks, ponds, all standing water…

Birds Filling Trees Above the House

The ground is frozen, as well, which makes me wonder how they harvest worms. They don’t, I guess, which brings about the possibility of widespread starvation and the resulting devastation.

Birds Waiting for Water

I have to walk away from it all and go to work. I imagine most of us don’t realize the catastrophes that exist in backyard culture…nature in distress.

I hope each robin got a turn.


No More Marshmallow World!

Last summer in miserable heat when I couldn’t even go outside and draw in a breath, I determined that I hate the hot months and love winter. I’d rather have cold, I said. I can just put on a coat and go about my business. In summer, I couldn’t take off enough clothes. Nor could I enjoy a walk or sit on the patio and watch the birds or listen to the trickling of the pond.

Now the pond is frozen. Ice has formed to encapsulate the fountain. I haven’t seen a bird in days. I’d like to change my mind. I hate winter.

I don’t mind two or three days of extreme cold, when all I can do is nest on the couch under an electric afghan and warm my feet against the dog. When I forego my daily walk because the wind is bitterly painful. When we all six agree to cancel our writing critique group because it’s just too cold and we all want to stay in and nest on the couch. When snow falls for two days without stopping. And the heater runs nonstop. And the chill factor is zero or near there.

But we’ve had eight days of it. It’s enough. I wasn’t born in the South for this.

It started last weekend, and I realized right off that I hadn’t taken my hoses off for the winter, so as the temperature inched down to single digits, I ran to the backyard and unscrewed that one. Then I went to the one out front where I’d wrapped a towel around it in haste one morning before leaving for work. The towel was frozen in its wrapped position, and I could not budge it. I took my hair dryer outside and stood there for fifteen minutes in the frigid air holding the dryer on a key fold. I feel certain that when the neighbors see me doing such foolish things, they must just shake their heads and look the other way. I couldn’t unfreeze it; the terry layers were stuck for life, it seemed. My only resort was to pour a bucket of warm water on the towel, risking harm to the metal faucet or a quick freezing of the new water, but I did it anyway and tried to pull gently on the towel, and after much ado, I was able to release the wrap. I kicked myself for waiting so long to remove the hoses. I usually do a better job.

Then there’s the problem of two cars and two car batteries to keep running. Only one can fit in the garage because furniture and inventory from my husband’s office is still taking up one side of the garage from when I shut down the business after he died. So it became a daily ritual to drive one car and let the other one run a while each morning, and the cold was so intense the doors would almost not unlock.

Then there’s the problem of snow and how to drive in it. It takes planning — how to get to work from Franklin to Brentwood without driving over any backroads or any hills. Oh, it was nice when it fell on Thursday…and I was delightedly humming “It’s a marshmallow world in the winter,” but it’s been on the ground for four days now. I’m tired of it. I didn’t choose to live in Buffalo or Colorado or Alaska or International Falls. I live in the South and we’re supposed to have grass all year long.

I want my grass back. I want my 40 degrees, or 50. I want life to get back to normal. I want summer.


E-mail? Facebook? Blog?

Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true.

Charles Dickens


Phone Games

There’s a man named George Washington who lives on the other side of the tracks. We find his name in the phone book. We’ve devoted lots of time to looking up names because Cleveland is a small town and there’s nothing else to do. We are at that awkward age of fourteen when we cannot yet get our drivers’ licenses, but we are no longer children. We are in high school, even though we still have classes at Margaret Green Junior High.

We carry the big black phone over to the coffee table and the three of us sit around it, like it’s a Oija Board, and we anticipate what it will say to us. Instead of boring board games like Monopoly, we like interactive games that involve new technology. I pick up the heavy black receiver and dial 3 and then George’s four numbers.

“H’lo.”

“Is Martha there?”

“Who?”

“Martha.”

“Ain’t no Martha here. You done got the wrong number.” Click.

I dial it again.

“H’lo.”

“Is this George Washington?”

“Yessum, it is.”

“I’m looking for Martha. Is she there?” I speak in an urgent voice. I bite the insides of my cheeks to keep my voice straight and serious sounding, and the others have couch cushions over their faces to muffle the giggles. “I’d like to speak to Martha.” I say her name strong and loud. I push my flipped hair behind an ear so I can hear his reply better and hold up an open-wide hand so the others will exercise control and their laughter won’t give me away. My fingernails are painted pink-white and already have a few chipped places at the tops of the nails, and I’m wearing a sapphire ring my dad gave me for Christmas. I suspect my mother bought it, but I’m told it is from my father. My hands are ugly, they’ve always been ugly and embarrassing, and I have determined I am never getting married because I don’t want any boy to see my hands.

“I done told ya there ain’t no Martha here. Ain’t no Martha live here.” Click.

The three of us double over and laugh out loud. We are wearing our daddy’s old white shirts—way too large, sleeves rolled up to three-quarter length, long to cover our butts so they won’t look big in our Levi’s. We wear Keds without socks. It’s the fashion fad for Saturdays.

Geri looks up the number of the grocery store at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Court Street.

“Gold Star.”

“Do you have Prince Albert in a can?” she says.

“Yes, we do.”

“Well, you better let him out.” She hangs up the phone, and we laugh again, like we’ve invented this game and these jokes, and this is the first time we’ve played on the phone.

Eenie, meenie, miney, mo. Karyn picks a number.

“Hello.”

“Is your refrigerator running?” she says.

“Yes.”

“Well, you better catch it.”

My turn. I pick a random number and dial it. I’m going to try something different, I say. I clear my throat and get ready to shift my voice into that of a young child’s.

“Hello.”

“Is my mommy there?” I say, in a high pitch, sort of through my nose.

“No honey. You’ve dialed the wrong number.”

“Well I can’t find my mommy.” I sound distressed. I am such a great actress.

“Are you there all by yourself?”

“Uh huh.”

“Where did your mommy go?”

“To the beauty parlor. I can’t find her.” I’m almost in tears.

“What beauty parlor does she go to? Where is it?”

“I don’t know.” I hang up, suck in air, and make a squeaking sound because I’m afraid she is going to try and call my mother.

That was good, they say. Let’s call Mrs. Frazier, they say, and they look up her number. I call with my newly invented line and launch into a lengthy conversation. Our algebra teacher is compassionate and asks all the appropriate questions to rescue this poor little frightened girl, trying to help me locate my mother. Either that, or she knows it is just another bunch of teenagers playing on the phone and she goes along with it. Either way, she’s a good sport.

A car door slams and the mother of the house is home with groceries. We dive to the stereo and put on a Beatles 45 and grab a few tennis rackets and hold them like guitars. I’m Ringo, I say. I’m Paul. No, I’m Paul. I’m John, then. We are three of 73 million who watched them on Ed Sullivan’s stage a few months ago in their first live appearance in the United States.

And when I touch you

I feel happy inside.

It’s such a feeling

That my love I can’t hide

I can’t hide, I can’t hide…

The phone is still sitting there on the coffee table.

“What are y’all doing with the phone?”

“Nothing.”

Later, when all is still, I whisper, I’m going to call George again.

___

This is the year before that thriller movie came out, the one about two schoolgirls who played pranks on the phone. One of them tried her newly invented line, “I saw what you did, and I know who you are.” Only she randomly called a man who had just murdered his wife, and he believed that someone really saw him do it, and he went after them, and I still remember the fog that rolled around close to the ground outside the girl’s house and how scared out of my wits I was that the murderer tracked them down and was going to kill them. I didn’t catch a breath until the police and the parents arrived in time to save them.

It put a damper on the phone pranks for a while. I didn’t want George coming after me in a fog.