Tag: Creative Writing

Free Rollercoaster Rides Through April 8

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In April 1974, I became a rollercoaster operator. It was my first job. I was sixteen years old.

Like most teenagers, I didn’t have a clue about life. But, more than four decades later, “driving” the River King Mine Train at Six Flags Over Mid-America near St. Louis became the creative catalyst for twenty-six, up-and-down stories from my Missouri childhood. I call them MOstalgic tales of American culture in the 1960s and 70s, when children had far more freedom to grow, play and run amok.

From April 5 through April 8, you can download a free Kindle copy of Tales of a Rollercoaster Operator on Amazon worldwide. It’s my way of celebrating the forty-fifth anniversary of my amusing amusement park experience and other vivid Baby Boomer recollections, including: discovering the joys of a first pet; loading up the car and heading to the drive-in theatre; embarking on a quest to wrangle World Series tickets with my dad; working at the top of the Gateway Arch; and witnessing the wonder in a brand new year after a chance encounter with a mysterious stranger.

Perhaps my stories will make you smile and light your desire to post a review online. But, at the very least, I hope they prompt you to remember a simpler time and the twists, turns and thrills from your own childhood. Wherever you were born. Wherever you grew up. Wherever you called home.

A Good Editor … A Good Friend

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In late 2015, as I worked to complete From Fertile Ground, I began to search for a seasoned editor and proofreader. I needed someone to review my book thoroughly and objectively. Someone expertly equipped to offer constructive criticism without constraining my artistic voice.

About that time an Illinois friend recommended I contact Anna Floit. She and her business, The Peacock Quill, are based in Nashville, Tennessee. After a few phone conversations with Anna, my intuition told me she was the right person for the job. I sent Anna my manuscript from my Illinois home.

Over the next several weeks, I worked closely with Anna to polish my book from my desk in Arizona, where my husband and I had escaped from another bitter Chicago winter. Miraculously, in late March 2016, I published my first book. It was three years ago this week.

Since that time, Anna has edited and proofread my second and third books—Tales of a Rollercoaster Operator  in 2017 and An Unobstructed View in 2018. But we never had the opportunity to meet in person. The distance was too great. Until today.

Over the weekend, Anna flew from Nashville to Phoenix to watch a few Cactus League baseball games with a close friend here in the Valley of the Sun. In the middle of it all, we exchanged text messages. Somehow we managed to carve out a little time to get together, and my husband Tom and I met Anna this morning at a local coffee shop in Scottsdale.

Ironically, Anna is someone I didn’t know four years ago. Yet she’s someone significant in my life, who helped me achieve a life-long dream of publishing my stories. Seeing her in person was more than a chance to put a face and voice with a name. It was my best opportunity to say thank you to a good editor … a good friend.

Joy … and Sadness

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A real day in a real life is comprised of the crisscrossing realities of joy and sadness. Strung together like a tangled knot of Christmas lights, they are the twinkling highs we crave blended with the burned-out bulbs we’d prefer to avoid.

Today, in the span of the same hour, I found myself composing an enthusiastic message to one friend in Arizona, who’s celebrating her sixtieth birthday, while offering condolences to an acquaintance in Illinois. He is my oldest son’s boyhood friend who had just lost his mother (also in her sixties) to cancer.

The combination of these two events gave me pause to consider how difficult it is to balance the highs and lows of life. Many of us spend a good deal of time contemplating tomorrow–saving for a college education, plotting for the perfect job, scrimping to buy a comfortable home, orchestrating the trip of a lifetime, preparing for a secure retirement. Yet, somewhere–way back in the recesses of our psyches–we know the day will come when the loss we experience will dash all of our plans. It will predominate everything else in our lives. Our grief will be all that matters.

So, on this day–March 22, 2019–I wish Kathy a spectacular sixtieth birthday in the Valley of the Sun. And, for Ryan, I send my love and deepest sympathy across the miles as he reconciles the joy of his mother’s kind and generous life with the sadness of her passing.

 

 

Outside My Backdoor

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I love being a memoir writer. Telling meaningful true stories about the past can often provide clues and trends about life in the future.

But there’s a mental trap in all of it. As I hone my craft, I can get lost in a time warp. If I’m not careful, I miss what’s happening around me today. I need to be better at noticing the people, the moments, the images, and the sounds of life in the present. What it feels like to live life in March 2019 in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Maybe you’re like me. In a given twenty-four-hour period, my emotions can move from frightful to beautiful and back again, depending on the news cycle. And, though I am a critical thinker and active member of American society, I often resolve that I can make the greatest difference by focusing on the small things I can do to help my family, my friends, my neighbors, my community.

For instance, encouraging my husband to tell his story and find his niche in the Phoenix film community … serving as a sounding board and coach for my sons as they pursue their careers … cheering on a friend from afar as she begins a new life in a warmer place … picking up an elderly neighbor who’s fallen and needs help hanging his hummingbird feeder … and singing on stage with sixty other gay men to remind the world that love is love and we are one.

Today–on March 18, 2019–I decided to turn off the news for a while and turn up the volume on the real life around me. I took a long walk and worked out at the gym to keep my heart strong. I enjoyed lunch with my husband at home. I dusted off my digital camera and snapped a few photos of the cacti and pink blooms of the ice plant on our patio. And, as I write this sentence, a desert wren is chirping its heart out at the top of a palm tree on a breezy-eighty-two-degree-blue-sky day in the Valley of the Sun.

Perhaps the bird is sending me a message. That life is short. That I’d better embrace now. That beauty is right outside my backdoor.

 

 

Land of the Giants

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I’ve been a baseball fan all my life. I should rephrase that. I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan, because I grew up in St. Louis and have fond memories of watching the Redbirds with my dad. I still root for the Cardinals, but now I live in Scottsdale, Arizona, in the land of the Giants. You see, Old Town Scottsdale is the springtime home of the San Francisco Giants.

In March, the Valley of the Sun becomes the Valley of the Snowbirds. Primarily because baseball fans flock here to watch their favorite teams play in Cactus League baseball games. All the restaurants and streets in Old Town are filled with baseball revelers, who are grateful to be away from the cold and cloudy skies where they typically live (and are generally willing to disregard the cooler-than-normal March we’re experiencing this year).

My husband and I work out three or four times a week at Club SAR. It’s a fitness center that’s connected to one of the Giants’ practice facilities a few miles north of our home. As we were leaving the gym just before noon on Monday, I passed an imposing figure in a San Francisco Giants uniform. He was seated on a park bench. I smiled and said “Good morning.” He returned the favor as I  continued on my way.

That’s when I realized the man I had acknowledged was Lee Smith, baseball pitching legend. Lee was a real closer, a relief specialist, a true baseball giant. He’s third on the all time “saves” list and was elected to the Hall of Fame last December. Lee is now a minor league pitching coach for the San Francisco Giants.

If Lee’s personal success as a pitcher is any indication–a dominating figure and flame-thrower who played a combined eighteen years for the Cubs, Red Sox, Cardinals, Yankees and four other teams–the Giants will be thankful they have him on the field guiding their young pitching staff in the coming 2019 baseball season.

Previously in my life, I would have turned around and possibly run back for a chance of a photo with Lee. Or at least asked for his autograph. But he seemed quite content sitting there in the shady entryway to the gym. I didn’t want to disturb him.

Now that I’m sixty-one-years old, I couldn’t see the upside of hassling a Hall of Famer. He’s certainly earned the respect and any rest he can get. I was simply satisfied with my brush with greatness on a Monday morning, living here in the land of the Giants.

He Wrote Every Day for Fifty-Two Years

S & G Ferrell in 1930s

Long before there were bloggers or social media mavens, there was S.R. Ferrell. He was my maternal grandfather, born March 9, 1901, in Huntersville, North Carolina.

Sturdy and steady, S.R. (he preferred the initials to his given name of Sherrell Richardson) wrote brief, daily observations in his diary for fifty-two consecutive years, until his death on April 17, 1985.

Needless to say, S.R. was a tenacious worker. At age forty-four when he bought his Huntersville, North Carolina farm–the place he loved most–it felt to him as if life had just begun. But, truth be told, in the first half of his life he’d already toiled as a WWI soldier, photographer, grocery clerk, furniture factory hand, and hosiery mill employee.

Imagine the personal commitment required to reach for your diary at the end of every day for more than half a century. To jot down something about the day after tending to your livestock and crops in extreme weather conditions. To do it over and over again.

In 2015, as I was writing From Fertile Ground, my three-generation memoir that weaves together recollections from my grandfather, my mother, and my own life, I sequestered myself and read every page of S.R.’s diary entries.

Much of his writing focuses on his observations about the weather, his output at the hosiery mill, the condition of his farm, and special moments with family members and neighbors. In S.R.’s world, most important occurrences happened within his physical reach or just down the road. Yet, on occasion, there is a reminder in his diary of the larger community in which he lived and the dramatic, history-defining moments he witnessed. For instance, these were his words on Sunday, November 24, 1963:

Lee Oswald, the man they were holding for the shooting of President Kennedy, was shot today in the basement of the Dallas, Texas jail … Jimmy and Steve came over for a few minutes … Fair. Sunny. Cooler … We watched the procession moving President Kennedy’s body from the White House to U.S. Capitol Building … 41 degree low. 56 degree high.

This week, as I remember S.R. and celebrate his 118th birthday, I’m grateful for the written legacy he left behind. Thirty years after his death, his stories helped me ignite my artistic sensibilities, rediscover my southern roots, and find my path as an author.

Yet, I find myself longing for the stoic farmer to pick up his pen one more time. To tell me about the weather. To remind me of those cherished days on his beloved farm, where he raised cantaloupes, cattle and corn. Where I spent summers with him and my tender-hearted grandmother a lifetime ago … milking cows, gathering eggs from the hen house, cradling kittens and puppies, and chasing peacocks with the hope of bringing a colorful tail feather back to the Midwest as a souvenir of our adventure.

The best I can do is to gaze out my window at a pink, speckled 5 x 7-inch piece of granite stone from his farm. I’ve carried it with me throughout my life … from North Carolina to Missouri to Illinois to Arizona … and now the rock rests beneath a beautiful red bougainvillea in the Valley of the Sun.