Archive for the ‘writing’ category

A is for…

December 22, 2017

A is for—

This is not actually about alligators except that some had been sighted from the backyard of my mother’s friend, Mrs. Brown, whose grass was green as the taste of mint toothpaste and walled off a river the color of decay.  She bought little fishing rods for my nephews visiting–she was that kind of person–who turned nice thoughts into actual hooks, lines, sinkers.

Perfect, my mother called her, someone who did everything ‘just perfect.’

Even her candles burning under glass so that wax wouldn’t drip off-kilter, her house a polish of brass, pledged wood, the only bits of chrome frame of tv or multiple offspring. The name of her husband long dead bringing tears mirrored in the sheens, fried chicken all around, a peanut butter sandwich for me who was vegetarian, and later

when she had Alzheimers, another a-word also sharp-toothed, and we stopped to see her at the Assisted living, it was not clear she really knew us but she knew we were someones she probably should know, her hair still a perfect pageboy,  silvery as Sir Lancelot, she invited us into the small apartment praising it despite the plaster as wonderfully arranged

by her daughter, the walls stucco, if you know what I mean, sharp points everywhere, so that it felt like a cell of calcified splatter–not burnished or mint tooth-pasty at all, unless you are thinking of some kind of toothpaste left out over night for some weeks—-please, I am not saying that there literally was such toothpaste there–and anxious to entertain us as she had always entertained (cite the little fishing rods), she found the kitchen (adjacent to living room), switched on its tube lighting, blinking for a moment beneath the postured hair, cut up slices of raisin bread from a red plastic raisin bread bag found in a near-empty fridge, took out a small jar of peanut butter from a near-empty cupboard–her hand seeking things to hold on to, the peanut butter, a pleasant surprise.

I helped in that light that was like a fridge light, as if we too were being kept against spoilage– it was a such relief to her, I thought, to be just spreading–the soft smooth peanut butter, the known bread–

 

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A short prose piece for my own prompt on Real Toads to try a writing exercise jumping off from a random word, coming to mind after choosing a random letter of the alphabet.   This still very much an exercise.  (Go check out the post on Toads.)

 

 

Our Ursine Friend

August 30, 2016

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Our Ursine Friend

Yes, she smelled.  When she moved, more than dust wafted, and though she seemed (from a distance) to lope with the grace of a scarf dangled from the neck of a woman who had never heard of Isadora Duncan, she was definitely a bear in close quarters, meaning Ming china had no chance, even stoneware a goner–

The good side:  our rotten lettuce had no grubs; no need for ant traps.

But here was the true boon–and forgive me if that word is overblown, overblow honestly the crux of this matter–in her onyx-eyed snuffle, in that padding dance of claw and matte, she brought out our fanciful–

We would all lie down on the lawn or squeeze together in the bed–she never minding the overhang–and the dark warm funk of her fur somehow gave rise to fairies in the brain.

it was as if her quills, dancing lightly along our sides–for her paws paced when she was sedentary–were pens for all they wrote in us;

and I would find myself telling tales of the imagination–storyboards made up of whole (if hirsute) cloth.  No more the veiled memories; forget the fathers, mothers, bosses barely disguised.

No, she allowed me to see in metaphor, even beyond metaphor,
and the humdrum of my heretofore gave birth to heroes on the run from rutabagas, villains fomenting fate, backdrops built from all manner of “olde” and new, and as I wove that bright-worded warp, she would grin with her sharp white teeth–

you too.

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A bit of a draft story for Real Toads Open Platform, hosted by the wonderful Kerry O’Connor.  (Also for Gillena’s prompt on megafauna, though too long for that prompt!)  Pic is one of mine; all rights reserved. 

 

Compounded (Poem 8 for April)

April 6, 2016

20130825-170404.jpgCompounded

She penknifed the backseat
of the Buick roadmaster
for every fibbermeister, who,
poring beer and mewling
semen, had cupboarded her
there, his no-neck bulk
necktying
her down;
the upholstery popcorned
beneath the slim
chokeheld blade
like hookworm turned
to foam;
if a seat could apologize, this vinyl
would be on
both knees,
but it had
no knees.

*****************

This is very much of a draft, my number 8 poem for April National Poets month, for the wonderful Kerry O’Connor’s prompt on Real Toads to write a poem using some compound words. 

The drawing is mine, recycled and not quite right for this, but I think I have to recycle drawings this month!  Note that I am trying to return comments, but if I miss you, let me know. 

Crocodile? Alligator? (Arboreal Uncertainty about the Family Tree)

March 22, 2015

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Crocodile?  Alligator?  (Arboreal Uncertainty about the Family Tree)

The tree, which traditionally only studied matters
ornithological, had neglected to ask the large lizard its genus,
and, ever after,
regretted the precipitous gulp.

Though there were ample other reasons for regret–
the creature had thrashed about with remarkable dexterity
for the barked,
nearly severing
a major root system.
(The phloem at the bottom of its trunk still felt loose.)

Since that distending swallow,
the tree had taken a great interest
in all things snout-shaped,
under-or over-bitten–

Bitten:
the word alone might still
raise a flutter
if it had given its leaves the slightest leave–
But it was a hard wood, and would not let its emotions engage
in the type of blow-back it associated with only
the most unstable life forms–
the unrooted seas or those mini-oceans of irridescence
that shimmered across those who waved, wandered,
wriggled, weeped
(damn willows)–

There would be–it always swore–nothing of the pigeon
about its limbs.

Though still, deep in its heartwood,
it pondered–
what had made it see such red
at the beast’s slow creep?

All it could remember was an old saw–
not something to live by–

and a smug grin that, for all its ties to the primordial,
knew nothing of the jaws
of trees.

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Really more a drafty prose-poem than drafty poem!  For The Mag, a photographic blog prompt site of the very stalwart Tess Kincaid.  I believe this is Tess’s photo (as did not see other credit.)  No copyright infringement intended. 

Through Glass Darkly

November 24, 2014

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Through Glass Darkly

I step into a circular glass elevator.  I find it terrifying–all the mechanisms of descent–blue tubes and looped hydraulics–showing so clearly against the ash grey shaft.

I am also concerned by several large gaps in the curved glass, uncertain as to whether I am supposed to hold on to the openings or stay away from them.  I worry that I could fall through one of the gaps, but, at the same time, that I can’t squeeze into the spaces between them.  I worry also about the several kids on the elevator, one with braids and a triangulated smile; there are mothers with babies too.

I decide at last to use the openings as grips– I need something to hold onto.  But the openings are placed at such extended angles that getting my hands and feet into them splays me, spreading me into a position I cannot sustain.

Finally, I let go, just stand there.  The kids, the mothers with babies, look at me with bemusement; they like the moving glass.  I tell myself that they just don’t understand that gaps like that have consequences, though, honestly, the elevator moves down slowly enough.

We arrive at a party for babies; it’s being held in a loft; a place with old wooden floors, well-buffed, but showing the darkness of wear.

My mother is there, and my brother, and, for some reason, my mother has brought my dad, though he is dead.  Maybe she has brought him because he, like a baby, is bald and also has rounded cheeks.  (It is only as I write this that I realize the dad she brought is not my dad as he died, whose face was so gaunt as to almost look bruised, but an earlier dad, whose features shone with curves of flesh and bone structure.)

The babies are very cute, different ages, but all with the pale softness of dough not nearly full-baked.  My dad lies in an adjacent room, I think of it as a back room, on a high cot, his skin considerably darker than the babies’ skin.  It is not the darkness of decay, but the pored reds and olives of someone who’s lived in the world; a light grizzle bristles his chin.

The babies are mostly too little to crawl.  When they are not being carried, they lie on a large double bed.  At least one is the child of an acquaintance–that one is quite wet and me, not wanting the damp to spread to the entire bed cover, but also wanting to be polite, asks the mother if she’d like me to change him.  I say something about how sure I am that I could do it just fine (as if there were a question on that point.)  My seeming assurance makes her immediately take the baby from my arms.  I leave that room then and go back to my dad.

I would like to touch him, to cradle his head, but am too fearful to reach out.  I have touched, caressed, even kissed the just died, but he’s been dead now for a few years.

Though he does not lie still as one would expect of the dead.  Rather he coughs, bends, twists.  Each move shocks me–could he really not be dead after all this time? When I recover a little, I peer into his face. I realize then that his mouth is slightly open and that his body is acting as a kind of wind tunnel.  I do not mean here human wind–the gases expelled by the dead when their bodies are tossed up to a shoulder, transferred from bed to gurney.  Rather he is a channel for surrounding air currents–the coughs, the turns, the twists all caused by random air entering through his mouth, then moving around inside him.

I rub my arms, remembering the time-lapsed video of a sleeping baby I saw the day before. The baby, though never waking, angled about the crib through the night like the hands of a clock, only an extremely jerky clock, given the time-lapse.  My father does not move so dramatically for this is real time, and my father a much larger person, at least he was before his last illness, which kept him from swallowing for about a year.

It’s harder than ever, what with his sudden twists for me to touch him.  At last I get the nerve to brush up against his ear, which looks so red as to be fevered.  It does burn to the touch, but it’s a burn of ice–I pull my hand instantly back.  In the current stirred by my agitation, my father coughs powerfully, his whole chest torquing to the side, and now I jump away, which is both terrible–this is my father, my father whom I loved–but also understandable–for the touch of cold has let me know for sure that my father is still dead.  This knowledge makes the movements of his body somehow more horrid.  It is as if even air can push him about, treat his body, now left behind, as a marionette.

A part of me is upset that my mother has brought him here, to this party.  Another part of me understands how she could not leave him at home, not in this condition.

And why had I not known this before, I ask myself, how the dead move, in air?

I look at him for a long time, the twists, the releases, the babies pale as ghosts in my vision’s periphery, until I decide the reason people don’t talk about this phenomenon, don’t even seem to know of it, is because the dead are usually in coffins, underground, where air cannot pass through. This, I realize, may be another justification for coffins.

Only now as I type this, I remember how my father used to always call me baby, even when I was a grown kid.  He wouldn’t do it to embarrass me, just not thinking.  I remember as he went outside, evenings, to call me in from play in the neighborhood.  “Baby,” he would call, “Baby,” to my absolute mortification.  I can see him, as through the round of a lens, standing on the small sidewalk that cut a path from the street to our front door, his face shadowed by the lavender light of late summer, the grass to both his sides so very dark in that light.  When I look through that lens harder, it is not his face I see, but that grass, the blades that stand up straight, and too those blades that are bent, crumpled, even those.

 

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Here’s a story of a dream that is probably way too long and personal to post or to link anywhere, but bear with me!  Sorry for the length!  I am linking it to With Real Toads Open Link Night.  

Clipper

September 27, 2014

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Clipper

It was worse than embarrassing.  It had been bad enough
when he was little, and, now, when they said to him==”hey, you twelve now, boy, almost a man, not
a little bitty baby,”–he wanted to bite it off, sling it onto the highway, cast it into some woods, lose it anywhere there were trucks, trash, tangle. It just wasn’t

something a boy did–stick his tongue out–

and he did it all the time when he was drawing, really just concentrating on anything only that was mainly drawing, like he wanted to just reach out and give whatever he drew

a taste–

Only it didn’t look like that, it just looked

stupid, and so, as he began the hull, he tried to press his lips into a seam, the pencil curving, cause it was

boats he liked to draw mainly–old clipper ships with sails, or else

destroyers–he’d seen them in the library but mainly copied from

a catalogue they’d gotten, wrong-address–

the clipper ships built

in bottles, which seemed to him impossible, bottles something they just threw in the heap out back, a toss of crackling

into cracked, and the destroyer which the catalog said

weighed paper.  He could not understand why someone would want

to weigh paper, but didn’t worry about that part, ’cause what caught him was

that it was ” “just perfect for

that nautical guy

in your household.”

and even though he knew “nautical” had something to do with the sea and maybe even

boats, he pronounced it “now–oo–tical,” in his head, and it always made him think that the guy the destroyer would be just perfect for was someone who got everything right now-oo, and, he thought,

looking at the battleship, that in their house that would be his grandpa though he couldn’t actually imagine him saying “right now–oo,” which sounded like a howl, and may even kind of a joke, while when his grandpa wanted something it was kind of

a sharp right now, sort of like what he imagined to be the crinkles in

a crisp sea, or what they talked about in books
as the slap of the waves, or the cuts he imagined that
destroyer might make

through water, or a broken

bottle, his face even looking

like a destroyer, the thick grey eyebrows like

the bridge, the eyes, those gun tubes, his nose, beaked, prowed–

Which is when he remembered to check, lifting his pencil point towards his lips, and tasting

the graphite.

And cursed himself, using every word he did know how
to pronounce, and opened his mouth widely, though not so widely someone could actually see him opening it, and shut his mouth tight, and then tried to pretend that he was just yawning, in case someone could see, though he was as wired inside

as a straining rope, cause when he pulled his tongue back in his mouth, it burned, touching his pallet,

and after a minute he couldn’t help but try to press it against his teeth, anything, as if teeth

were comforters–

Then shook his head, wiping his pencil hand over the moistness, sweat, and, when he started to draw again, tried to hint at the outline of the planks on the clipper’s side, at the rounding of the wood that shinnied up the mast’s climb,  trying to make something solid

with shading, feeling all along the push of the tongue at his teeth,

though he hated feeling that, thinking of that, and when he got to the top of the mast, and poured himself into
the crow’s nest, he realized it had slid forward and out again, just a little, but furious, he bit it,

and to be honest, he tried not to bite it hard because

it was already so sore, and because

a part of him could not really believe that learning soreness would teach him

to keep it in its place; if learning soreness

kept it in its place, it would have a hide-out in

his stomach by now, maybe even

his big toe,

and he tried hard to laugh at that, the picture of tongue in toe, when it panged, and then, when it kept panging, to think of the pain as pencil points, dotting the heads of birds in his ship’s sky, flipping out their wing spans, and when the pain seemed like

it would not quiet, he tried to picture his mouth like the mouth of Jonah’s fish, which could keep Jonah inside without even hurting him

and then tried, thinking of that not-hurting, to push through
to the sails, his favorite parts, the way they let his pencil capture winds and sky and movement, and he drew their curves carefully, trying to imagine a tongue stuck in his toe, but never somehow the curves of his own cheeks, the slope down to his lips, the breathe stowed in his tight, bent, chest.

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Here’s a draft something for Herotomost’s prompt on With Real Toads.  Herotomost said it could be anything inspired by a truth seen from a twelve=year old’s eyes=Herotomost creates a great picture of his own twelve-year old in a tangle of jungle, somehow making me imagine this one, and some little truth there–

Sorry for the length–and the picture is also not exactly right, not a clipper but something from NYC (where I am right now.) 

Also, I am not very good at posting sidebar pictures, but I wanted to let you know my new book Nice, written in part from a child’s perspective, is out.  Check it out!  Buy it!  (It’s cheap.)  I would be happy to get one to anyone interested in reviewing!  Thanks.  

PP Native Cover_4696546_Front Cover

 

 

 

“Nice” Blurb – Plea for Help

August 16, 2014

PP Native Cover_4696546_Front Cover

 

As some of you may know, I have been working in an increasingly desultory fashion on the publication of a new novel, called Nice. (I say, “increasingly desultory” as it has become harder to work on this project the closer it is to completion.)

Unlike my first published novel, Nose Dive, which is a comical young adult mystery (and a lot of fun!), this is a serious novel, with an intense and, I hope, emotionally affecting, story.  It is about child sexual abuse; it represents years of work.

I think it really is a good novel, though I’ve worked on it so long it is hard for me to still look at it.  I am super happy with the cover picture, which I did myself.

Here’s my quandary–the sales information!  The little blurb that goes on Amazon and elsewhere!  This kind of thing is so darn hard for me that I  can hardly squeeze something out.

So what I am asking for–I don’t know–ideas==approval==is the below horribly embarrassing?

 

It is summer, 1968–Martin Luther King Jr. shot in April, Bobby Kennedy in June–“what in the world is happening to this country?” Americans wonder. 

It is summer, 1968, the civil rights movement in turmoil, the Vietnam War escalating, but Les, a ten year old suburban girl, has been trained to be nice.

Her teenage brother, Arne, on the other hand, aims for rebellion.

But they are kids, it is summer, it is 1968, and what they both truly want–aside from world peace–is to be a little more cool.

Then a distant relative visits, a cool cat, rebel of sorts, childhood favorite. 

“What in the world is happening?” Les wonders, as the unthinkable does.  

“What in the world is happening?” Arne wonders, as his sister changes, as he too is faced with a darker picture of growing up–

Their story traverses the landscape of country, family, heart.

Since posting – B. Young made some very useful suggestions and here’s a whole other approach:

Nice is a story of child sexual abuse and its aftermath.  It takes place in the summer of 1968, the U.S. reeling from the April assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the June assassination of Bobby Kennedy, the escalating Vietnam War.  It is told from the points of view of a ten year old girl and her teenage brother, each separately finding a voice in the face of personal and political disillusionment.  

 

Better?  Too terse?  (I was going to add in here a very horrible joke, but cannot in the face of the terrible loss of Robin Williams this week.)

Any ideas?  Should it be more direct?  Less direct?  Should I just press approve/publish!?

The book will be issued by my own imprint, by the way, which is BackStroke Books, and when I do press publish, it will be available on Kindle and in paper.  I will let you know when.  I am aiming for cheap pricing so I do hope you’ll be able to read.

Milestones? Mushki?

May 24, 2014

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Today feels a milestone of sorts.  (If milestones are things one trips over rather than markers that stay decently to the side of the road.)

This is my post number 1801 on this blog.  (One thousand eight hundred and first.)

That is rather hard for me to believe.  (And, I’m afraid to say, the number makes me feel old rather than accomplished.)

Secondly, although I haven’t fully approved proofs of my upcoming novel, “Nice,” I’ve sent out the last versions, which if I’ve expressed my corrections properly, will be approvable.

So, now, ever trying to avoid all the things I really should be focusing on in my life–i.e. family responsibilities, job, house–I am thinking about my next writing project.  (Okay, okay–I do focus on family responsibilities!  Yes, I know, not as much as I should–  I’m trying, Mom–)

My plan is to work next on revising an old manuscript of a children’s novel.   I think the level is sometimes called “middle-grade”.

I am embarrassed to say that this particular novel was first written by me eleven or twelve years ago.  I then spent the next several years trying to make it more saleable–i.e. commercial–

Then, liking the book less and less (even though I also wrote a sequel), I just gave it up for some time–

But now, I want to resurrect the manuscript, revise it one last final full time, and publish it myself, because it is a sweet novel, about, essentially, a girl and her dog–

Here’s the big barrier–trying to figure out which of about twenty versions/drafts to use as the basis for the final version.  The earlier ones are more wordy, but possibly sweeter–those drafts are more like the old-fashioned children’s book (something written to be read aloud to children.)  (The book in that incarnation was called “Sally and Seemore and the Meaning of Mushki”.)

The later drafts are more spare and possibly seem more like books written by a professional children’s book writer.   The later ones may be more child-friendly in that they have fewer words and possibly more momentum.  (The later title was “Dogspell”.)

For years, I thought I was right to move in the direction of the later drafts–

And yet–

And yet–

And yet–

I was never happy with them; I felt I had whittled out something–a slower and more contemplative way of looking at the world–that I just kind of liked–

But I really do want to finish with this now.  And maybe the earlier ones are too wordy?   And should one ever go backward instead of forward?

So…..?

Update from Train/Novel

May 13, 2014

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I am right now sitting on a train going backwards. This is not the same as sitting backwards on a train going forwards–that is, upon a back-facing seat.

This is sitting on a train that is, as it were, backtracking.

In this case, although we have all paid a substantial premium to take a train that is supposed to be faster and more reliable than the other trains on this line (in other words, we are on the Acela); we are hampered by an engine malfunction and are undergoing some kind of backwards maneuver to allow the back (functioning) locomotive to take over for the front (problematic) locomotive.

Ah. And now, we are stopped–with a dirt and gravel slide out one window and a stone wall on the other.

It reminds me today of noveling–i.e. trying to finalize and publish a novel.

Those who follow this blog may wonder–oh yeah, wasn’t she talking about that months ago?

Oh great. So, now we are moving backwards again–past cheery penguins and a worried polar bear painted on the side of a parking lot–they have big black gaps in their middles where the walls break to ventilate exhaust.

As in, yes, I was talking about this months ago.

The conductor, by the way, said that this delay would take about ten minutes, but it feels like at least fifteen. The good news is that we are moving quite quickly now; unfortunately, all passengers agree that we are still heading in the wrong direction.

So, about that novel.

Finalizing, publishing, seems to be one of those things ready any minute now, only not. This is my fault. Small corrections take an unduly long time as I just can’t bear to attend to them. (And also because I always sense that I should instead be doing major corrections.) I feel as if I’ve lost all sense of discrimination about the stupid thing–i.e. is something boring? Flowing? Awkward? Good?

By the way–we have been going backwards now for about twenty minutes and really fast too. (Since when do train conductors feel that they have to live out my metaphors!)

One of my problems now is deciding about the formatting. The paragraphs look way too tightly spaced on the page. I feel like I can hardly read them. On the other hand, when I pull books off the shelf and look at them, they seem to have similar tight spacing. Have I never noticed this before in books off the shelf?

By the way, it turns out — all passengers now agree–that we have NOT been going backwards for this last speedy half hour.

On the other hand, the train will be about an hour late.

Above is the picture I did for the novel’s cover. (All rights reserved.) I’ll save posting the actual cover till it’s ready. Any day/week/month now! (Ha!)

Update on Noveling – Pitch

March 23, 2014

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It is March 23.  The fields are icy; where there is no crust of snow there is glazed mud.  In between slips and slides–I ran into a tree yesterday trying to cross-country ski–(ouch! said bleeding shin–trees are hard!)–I am also trying to publish a novel.

It is difficult.  First, it’s a difficult novel.  (In other words, I’m not even sure IF I like it.)  This makes it extremely hard to foist off on others.

Secondly, I genuinely have plenty of other stuff to do.

Which means I give all that other stuff priority!

And yet…and yet… I know if I let too much time go by, I really will not be able to stand to look at this novel for a few more years–

Also, I would like to be able to start writing poetry again.

And so… and so… in a fit of nerves and depression, I uploaded the novel today.  Meaning I submitted for self-publication.  Meaning that I’ll probably have to edit one more time when I get the proofs, but I am nearly there.

(Agh.)

I also went through a bunch of extremely musty old magazines that I have from the 1960s (and have been storing in boxes outside)  to try to begin putting together a cover.  (Yes, I know I could get people with actual knowledge of these things to  design it!)

In the meantime, although I’m not sure why–given that it embarrasses me so much, given that it truly mortifies me–I set forth below the “pitch” for the novel that I wrote and that just passed the first round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest.  (The book is called “Nice.”) :

It is summer, 1968, and Les has been trained to be nice.  

When she was really little, they played the Star Spangled Banner in movie theaters before the show; she could feel her chest ripple just like the flag on the screen.

But it is summer, 1968–Martin Luther King Jr. shot in April and now Bobby Kennedy.    

“What in the world is happening to this country?” her mother says as they stay up after the shooting, watching the TV people try to decide whether he’ll have brain damage.  

Les wonders what she, a kid, a girl, can do about any of it.  Other than hold firm to the idea that people are good, that if everyone would just be nice enough, they could impart some of that niceness to others–

Though, in the meantime, she would also like to be just a little more cool–

Then Duke comes to visit, a cool cat, a natural charmer, and something happens to Les that is not nice– 

Who can she tell?  How, afterwards, can she un-tell them? 

Her older brother, Arne, lives his own side of the story that summer as he tries angrily, in the midst of suburban family life and the escalating Vietnam War, to become a young man. 

But “what in the world is happening?” he wonders as his sister changes, his sister who has always been the nice one–

Their story traverses the landscape of country, family, heart.

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Thank God, I don’t think the pitch counts for anything but getting into the second round!  And I have no expectations of the contest.  And the book is not written like the pitch!  And I don’t think that was even the final pitch as I edited it on the website!

I think I am posting this to keep up my commitment!  Thanks for your kindness!