Memoir Publication and Garden Update

UP Reader

The U.P. Reader, which includes my memoir piece, “Lonely Road,” is now available in print and e-book! This literary magazine is published by Modern History Press in conjunction with the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association (UPPAA). The publication also contains fiction, humor, poetry, history, and more.

When I read the call for submissions, my first instinct was to write a fictional story set in Michigan’s U.P., where I lived for many years. What about my own, personal tales, just waiting to be told? I decided that memoir was the way to go.

As Barbra Streisand sang in one of my favorite movies, “The Way We Were,” memories really can “light the corners” of our minds. But, when too much pain is caused by remembering, we often choose to ignore and wall-off those sections of our brains. Writing memoir can be like taking the partitions down and letting the light shine, once again, onto those remembrances. The act can bring questions, heartache, revelations and healing.

Lonely Road” relates an evocative experience during my wintertime move to the Upper Peninsula, with the purpose of giving a faltering marriage one more try. The story is also a metaphor for the journey of life, with its pleasant surprises, difficult challenges, and safe havens. That “one more try” to stay together spanned several additional decades. Success or failure? Guess it depends on how you look at it. This was a very difficult piece for me to write because of all the emotions to which it gave rise. I would like to say that I felt better once I had it down. Saying it well and true did give me a sense of satisfaction. The sadness over our loss still remains.

I hope that you’ll consider reading about my experience, along with sampling contributions from other writers with connections to the Upper Peninsula, in the beautiful state of Michigan. The book is available from the publisher, through Amazon, and at several retailers in the U.P.  Reviews are welcomed!

                                                                                                                    butterfly-55049__340

GARDEN UPDATE

The Community Garden is looking quite bountiful these days! Cucumbers and zucchini are already producing. Today, I also spotted tiny green peppers and tomatoes. Giant sunflowers provide a lovely backdrop. My little plot contains huge marigolds and abundant basil. I’ve already taken several bags of the herb over to the food pantry. Basil is great in curries and salads. Pesto, anyone?

The rosemary is a bit on the small side, and I’m afraid the watering that’s helping the basil thrive may be somewhat of a negative for those plants, which often prefer drier conditions. They’re growing, though, and I snipped the ends to encourage even more growth. Did my molasses and orange oil concoction succeed in the fight against the fire ants? Yes and no. It worked well enough to drive them over to the other side of the little garden bed. At least they stay off the plants!

Advertisements

Plentiful Pumpkins!

pumpkins-478178_1280

It’s that time of year again, where everywhere you turn, there’s a pumpkin meeting your gaze. Many of these winter squash are decorated as jack-o’-lanterns, while some of the plainer varieties repose as decorations that are more refined, or as actual food options at the markets. Often thought of as a vegetable, pumpkin is actually a fruit, because it develops from the flower and is the part of the plant that contains the seeds. On the other hand, vegetables include the leaves, stems, buds and roots of plants.

In recent years, pumpkins of varying colors beyond the traditional orange have been developed, with hybrids showing off shades of blue, white, tan, pink, red and green. No matter the hue, this fabulous fruit ripens throughout the summer and will normally reach its full size by September or October, thus the “harvest” time of year that pumpkin evokes.

How can authors use pumpkins in their writing? Setting comes to mind first, of course. A few well-placed pumpkins in your story or book can tell readers that it’s late summer or fall, whether the action is taking place before Halloween or well after, and might even offer a hint as to where in the world your writing is set. Using designer colors for the pumpkins in your novel? Then your book is probably set sometime after about 2005, when these became more widely available.

Pumpkins might also be used to tell readers something about your characters. Want to show that your leading lady or man is earthy, a hard worker, and probably likes to cook or bake? What better way than to show them hoeing in the pumpkin patch and getting a little dirt under their nails, or cooking up some pumpkin to use in a favorite recipe. Picture a couple pulling into the farmers market and lovingly running their interlaced fingers over the pumpkin options. Don’t tell me that scene couldn’t express fecundity, possible sexual repression or just raw sexual desire!

I’ve even used this member of the cucurbit family in my novel, Romantivores, which I’m currently revising. This portion of the book takes place in November, so I didn’t want any hint of jack-o’-lanterns hanging around. I’ve chosen to employ simple white pumpkins to line the sidewalk leading up to the stone building where one of my protagonists works. Not only can these white wonders indicate the time of year, but I also wanted them to suggest a less relaxed or homey atmosphere than their orange siblings, since there’s danger lurking nearby that is yet unknown to my main characters.

Last, but certainly not least, what about those books that include lists of recipes or deftly weave directions for tasty treats throughout their pages? Recipes for pumpkin can fill a cook’s needs throughout the day, from breakfast pancakes to tummy-warming soups at lunch or sweet desserts to finish off a delicious dinner. One of my favorite uses for pumpkin appears below. I came upon this easy idea one day when the bananas on my counter weren’t ripe enough for my usual lunchtime smoothie, and I found a can of pumpkin hiding in the dark recesses of my kitchen cupboard.

SQUOOTHIE (Squash Smoothie:)

1 cup cold almond milk (or your favorite milk product)

½ cup pumpkin (chilled is best)

1 tablespoon honey, or your choice of sweetener

¼ teaspoon vanilla

dash of cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice

Blend and enjoy!

Options: Ice, banana, peanut butter, cumin, bee pollen, or yogurt in place of milk

 

Advantages and Challenges of Self-Publishing: Guest Post by Karen Musser Nortman

With the fifth book in her Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mystery series now available on Amazon, Karen Musser Nortman kindly agreed to reach out from Iowa to readers of Platform Number Four, with the real-life tale of her road to publication. Welcome, Karen!

karen musser nortman

Karen Musser Nortman: Advantages and Challenges of Self-Publishing

I have always wanted to write, but you know how it is—life intervened. When I was in my twenties, had young children, taught full time, and kept a very large old house, I read an article about how to make time for writing. The male author wrote that he had a dedicated office in his home and when the door was shut, no one was to bother him. His wife was directed to leave his lunch outside the door at a certain time. I remember thinking, “Yeah, right. Like that would work for me.”

So I spent twenty-two years as a secondary social studies teacher and another eighteen years in test development for a large testing company. However, I don’t feel those years were wasted as far as writing is concerned. My teaching taught me to do research and I have applied what I learned writing and editing test items to my mysteries. You need a defensible solution but also a number of what we called attractive distractors—other solutions that are feasible in order to keep the reader guessing.

When I retired four years ago, I was 68 years old. We love to camp, and one weekend in preparation for a trip, I was looking for something light to download to my Kindle. I thought it would be fun to read a mystery about camping. There weren’t any. But a campground is a perfect setting for a cozy mystery—a small limited area, eccentric characters, silly mishaps, and intervention from Mother Nature. So I began to write.

When I finished my first book, I began to hunt for an agent with the help of an online database. I sent out about 60 queries and had interest from several. When the agent for several well-known cozy series asked for the full manuscript, I was thrilled and sent it off. Meanwhile I read that a writer needs to allow six months for an agent to get back on a manuscript, another six months to a year for the agent to find a publisher, and another year to get the book published. At my age, that was too dang long. I looked into self-publishing through Amazon, just at that time making a big splash on the publishing scene. I withdrew my book from the agent’s consideration and dove in.

It’s a lot of work, but not impossible. I do all of my own formatting and contract for book covers. I have more control and the royalties are much better. The biggest problems are finding acceptance as a self-published writer and marketing. Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad self-published books out there. Book contests and sites like IndieBRAG Medallion help self-published books gain viability.

Marketing is my least favorite thing. But I have heard that even the traditional publishers, unless you are Michael Connelly or Stephen King, expect authors to do a great deal of their own marketing. Since my books all center on camping, I have a target audience. I use RV Facebook pages to post notices when I am doing a giveaway. (I don’t bombard those places with ads otherwise.) I also hand out a few books free each place we camp because word-of-mouth is still the best advertising. I got a message from a man once who said he heard about my books in an Australian campground! I have worked a great deal on my ‘platform’—my website, author pages, email list, a blog about our camping trips, and branding. I try to put out at least two new books a year.

Finally, I keep in contact with a few other indie authors. They are an excellent resource and we support each other’s books. I only do that for writers whose books I would recommend to friends. It’s a slow building process, but it is building. My sales have gotten to the point where it’s a nice little supplemental income. Am I sorry I self-published? Not for a moment!

Website

Karen’s Blog

Amazon Author Page

Culture Shock as Fodder for Writing

globe-460439_1280

An entire sub-genre of writing exists that zeroes in on people who leave their homes to set up housekeeping in radically different environments. The unfamiliar habits of the locals then make interesting and often amusing stories. Some of my favorites are offerings by Peter Mayle, Julia Child, Adam Gopnik and Frances Mayes. I love their books and often picture what it would be like to wake up and find myself in similar situations.

I’ve been thinking about this recently, while planning a trip to visit my daughters and their families in Texas. We lived there together, in what seems like another lifetime, after spending the beginning of our lives in Michigan. As the memories flood over me, I realize that I’ve lost sight of how alien everyday things sometimes seemed during those years. Many writers have experienced relocation to another culture, even if it’s not in France or Italy, and details of those experiences can add interesting twists to story plots.

For example, I remember the chuckles I received from several office mates one day in the “Lone Star State”, when I referred to stopping at the “party store for pop”. At the same time, I never understood why Texans called all soda pop “Coke”, no matter what the label said. At the end of a long workday, “See you guys” contrasted sharply with, “Bye, y’all”. There were differences wherever I turned. Due to the “Blue Laws”, sale of clothing on Sundays, at that time, wasn’t allowed, and many counties were “dry”, meaning they didn’t sell alcohol at all. Of course, the rich drawls and twangs took some getting used to, especially when my older daughter tried them on as her own. I had always thought of my speech as being just plain, but was told by my new friends that I spoke with a “funny accent”!

Travel outside the borders of one’s own state isn’t even required. Within Michigan, people living in the Upper and Lower Peninsulas have interesting differences in ways of speaking and in the foods they enjoy, just to name a few idiosyncrasies. If you’ve never tried cudighi, a type of sausage, or the meat pies called pasties, you still haven’t lived.

Do you think anyone will notice if I take notes during my Texas visit? I’ve forgotten so many of the cute little quirks and need a refresher for future writing!

For books about moves to parts unknown, my “Reading Lists” page details several authors with one of their titles, each, for starters.

There’s Magic in Them Thar Numbers!

by Becky Michael   4

I believe that numbers do embody something magical, which is probably a reason that the name Platform Number 4 felt like a good omen for my new blog. Countless authors of books and stories have based their titles or premises on something to do with numbers. Names of books range all the way from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (Ken Kesey) to One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez), with Catch-22 (Joseph Heller) and Nineteen Minutes (Jodi Picoult) situated somewhere in between. They also include books for kids like Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (Judy Blume) and The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins (Dr. Seuss). The use of numbers as an actual concept is often quite subtle, sometimes showing up in novels built around elaborate codes and intriguing clues. Stories about multiples, likes twins and triplets, also seem to have wide appeal.

I never excelled in math, but numbers have always drawn me in like a magnet. I appreciate the logic, order and preciseness they can offer, or the mystery that often surrounds them. Accordingly, that same idea can help to build a framework for an author’s creation. My early chapter book, for which I’ve recently completed yet another full edit, features a little girl who’s hooked on numbers in the slightly OCD sense. I’ve had fun showing how powerful numbers are for her, including the negatives. My lucky number as a child wasn’t 4, but another one close enough to “touch”, and it remains a favorite to this day.

Thoughts on writing, getting published, and enjoying life’s everyday pleasures…

-by Becky Michael   4

Join me for a cup of tea, coffee or something stronger over a discussion of some possible shared interests before jumping back onto the road of life!

When I began planning this blog aimed at enhancing my platform, I came across the photo above that seemed to fit my needs in so many ways. In the first place, it was auspicious to find such a lovely photograph carrying the word “Platform”. Secondly, writing is actually my fourth career or “calling”. I spent many years as a full-time mother, followed by training and employment as an office administrator. I then furthered my studies to work as a teacher, happily ending up as a full-time writer. All of my life experiences up to this point are now funneled into this creative endeavor. Finally, I love the symbolism in the picture, of the solid ground where I now stand, with the towering mountain nearby still to be climbed.

Maybe you’re also working toward publication after age 50, possibly living in a somewhat remote area such as myself. Could be that you’re a retired educator, too, or enjoy reading, gardening, cooking or collecting vintage items. I’d love to see comments on my musings and hear from others with similar tastes, or with completely different outlooks to pique readers’ and my interests!