According to Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Robert Olen Butler, the process of writing is not intellectual, but emotional, and it is necessary to enter our dreamspace in order to write honest, inspired fiction.
I am a writer. Mostly. I dream a lot, also dig animals, especially my tuxedo cat, Dickens.
I love to prepare food, though soups are my favorite.
I paint in watercolor, and am exploring acrylics and collage. My art can be found here.
I love travel, adventure, meeting all sorts of people and experiencing diverse cultures. Those doings will show up here at one time or another in photos or what not.
I think about all sorts of things. Like what we are doing to our environment and why so many people love chocolate.
I like to know what other people are thinking. I hope you will let me know. You can disagree with me, of course, but please be nice about it.
The photo above? That’s me, eagerly looking out the window at the world. Many pounds and wrinkles later—still doing it.
I expected that writing this memoir would be difficult at times, that it might bring up memories long buried. What has surprised me is that I no longer think of the past, of Portage Lakes, as quite the nightmare I have for so many years. This, in itself, is a relief. As I have been told, the more I speak of it, the more I bring these “things” to the surface, the less of a horror they seem. This is true even more so as I write them down here. I am not hiding behind a fiction-based character as I did the first time around in a novel, either. That was wishful thinking, something my sister, my best friend, and I constantly did as we were growing up—a survival tactic. This tactic was necessary then, but is not necessary now, and is no longer useful in the real world we live in.
I needed someone to play with.
Don’t all kids? Mom, Mommy, as she was to us then, taught me this song:
Playmate, come out and play with me
And bring your dollies three
Climb up my apple tree
Shout down my rain barrel
Slide down my cellar door
And we’ll by jolly friends for ever more.
Many of our best times were exchanging places with our cousins, Sally and Nancy.
Sally was a couple years younger than me, Nancy a little younger than Diann, and I’d spend a weekend at Sally’s house while Nancy came to ours, or vice versa. Their mom, Dorothy, known as Dot, was Mom’s youngest sister. I felt safe at Dot and Vic’s house, and Sally and Nancy had an upstairs bedroom all their own. Heaven. They had a dog and a cat, too, and friends around our age to play with. Sally had a two-wheel bike, and I learned to ride one at her house. I was scared the first time, but wanted to ride one desperately, so I just got on and went down the sidewalk, my knees and elbows quaking like crazy. I didn’t fall!
I begged and begged to have my own bike after that and finally Dad got me an old second-hand iron thing that weighed a ton, but I loved it. It was so heavy it was Speedy Gonzales on the downhill and I developed strong thighs pumping it on the up. Only one gear in those days. I still have a couple tiny black remains in my knee from crashing in the cinder driveway next door.
Years later after work and fresh paint that old bike got me to my college classes.
The family that moved into the corner house next to us on the hill were a pretty rough bunch.
A good many folks moved up to our part of Ohio, from West Virginia and Kentucky to work in the rubber factories and find other jobs in the area. Dad’s stepfather, Jack Plotner, was one of these transplants. The Baker family’s father drove a big wheeler like Dad and was often absent. The second oldest daughter, Jackie, was a little older than me and much heftier. I was a little afraid of her. Mom said she caught her and her older sister and brother bossing me and Diann around more than once and soon taught us about “indian burns.” This consisted of grabbing your arm in two hands and tightly twisting in opposite directions.
For some time Jackie was all I had. I went to her when I was desperate for companionship. She gave me a number of unpleasant memories, and it didn’t take me long to be more content with my own company.
Diann was more fortunate in having a friend in Barbara, the youngest daughter. Although I will never forget the day they were playing around with fishing line and Diann came screaming from their yard dragging a fishing pole across the field behind her by a fish hook stuck in her knee. To this day I cringe with the thought of it.
I believe the Perry family, who lived across Pillar and around the corner from us, were another family of transplants from the hill country.
Kenny, the youngest, was probably the toughest, and always in trouble. We didn’t see much of the oldest boy, since he was much older than us, but Billy, about Diann’s age, would walk around the neighborhood in his Mom’s cast-off dresses and heels. Billy was the sweetest boy of the entire clan, and you can imagine how he was treated. He hung out with me and Diann the most since we accepted him.
Every so often neighborhood kids would converge, boys and girls of various ages, play softball, cowboys, have secret meetings, get up to the sorts of things parents will never know.
I never felt close to anyone. In fact, there were several instances where I had to stand up for my shy little sister. And for Billy. That was the sort of neighborhood in which we lived.
Diann and I had vivid imaginations, and cut comic books for story characters, made barns and houses of upside-down cardboard boxes, and cut stick horses out of branches.
I made a fantastic stick horse out of my favorite sassafras bush. I spent hours trimming the bark smooth. That branch was nice and straight, just the right length and width, firm but with a bit of spring to it. I tied clothesline on for reins, and named him Flame for a horse in a favorite Walter Farley novel. I knew every inch of that horse and rode it everywhere. Diann had one, too, so did several other kids, but mine was the best. In my opinion. Over days and weeks the oils from my stroking hands made Flame even smoother. Our mistake was believing a spot near the front door was a safe hitching post.
One evening Dad came home from work in a bad mood and threw our horses out.
Nature has been my place of refuge as far back as I can remember.
My biggest fears and problems fade once I am outside, my feet on the ground, my head under the sky. I would lie down and watch clouds form and float by. I would smell and hear the wind in the leaves. I would climb my tree and cry like crazy and feel better afterward.
Nature is so big, so grand, so all-encompassing, that Dad seemed puny compared to it. As did my problems.
And I finally found my forever playmate in the first grade.
Mom said I wandered from the time I was old enough to walk. I wandered down the sidewalk from Grandma’s house in Akron when she turned her back for only a couple minutes, practically terrorizing Mom who she went up and down the street calling for me. Fortunately, an older black man took me by the hand and brought me back, asking where I belonged.
At seventy-six I have ceased wandering. Maybe. Temporarily. Due to Covid.
I found my first girlfriend when I was five by wandering up Pillar Avenue. Sylvia was my age and lived about half-mile over the hill from our house.
I barely recall sitting on the floor in Sylvia’s beautiful home and playing with dolls. We had a short friendship, as one day she turned me away for no reason I understood. This rejection sticks in my memory to this day. What had I done? Mom was her usual loving self and attempted to make me feel better the best she could. Thank goodness, Diann and I had a mother who was always there for us, loving us unconditionally.
I recall having told a terrible lie in school and being terrified about revealing this to Mom. For hours I was sick with worry, as we had been taught not to tell lies. I couldn’t stand carrying around the awful secret of what I had done and why. Finally I told Mom I had something bad to tell her, so we sat together on her and Dad’s bed upstairs when I finally let it out, in tears. I told her I had changed someone’s mark on a test and had been caught. I felt awful, as what I had done was the same as a lie. It was a terrible thing to do.
But she still loved me! This was such an overwhelming relief. I promised to never lie, again, and I never have.
In reality, it was difficult not to compare myself to the girl whose test I had changed. Her name was Karen, like mine, but she came from a more well-to-do family than mine. She always came to school dressed in new clothes, she was blonde, like me, her last name began with “K” like mine, therefore, we sat before or behind one another throughout school, and, at one point, a teacher teased us about the resemblance of our last names. She never spoke to me, though. Our school, even then, had its own “cliques,” and the more well-to-do children kept to their group. These cliques stayed the same throughout grade school and pretty much into high school where they separated into “college prep” and otherwise.
I now suspect the situation with Sylvia may have had something to do with her mother, as her father was a white collar person and my father was a truck driver. We were from separate “sides of the tracks” so to speak.
I have since learned that integrity and morality have little to do with which side of the tracks one was born on. This fact becomes more obvious every day.
In spite of Dad and a few rough kids in our neighborhood, we had a pretty good life, mainly due to Mom’s unconditional love, one another, and the open fields where we lived.
Diann and I told stories to one another at night after we went to bed, often pretending we were other people and having adventures. We both grew up playing stories with our closest friends. This was a great way to escape our everyday lives. We found laughter to be a great escape, too, and sometimes got into the craziest laughing fits. We still do when we get together and reminisce.
Not that we didn’t get into arguments when we were kids. Boy, did we. Diann developed asthma and stuttered at a young age. I expect this was her response to constant anxiety. I developed migraines.
I was constantly told not to argue with Dad, not to argue with my sister. Any fight was always my fault because I was the oldest and “ought to know better.” And Diann was “sick.” This was so unfair. It appeared to me that it didn’t matter if I was right or wrong, I had no rights, either way.
“Bad” language was not allowed in our house. We heard those bad words from other kids in the neighborhood, but never in our house or from anyone in either of our families. Once Diann was angry enough to call me a “grunt,” which was considered cussing by Dad, and his temper took over. He grabbed Diann by the arm, took her outside and struck her bare legs with a sassafras switch.
We had no privacy in the bathroom. There was no lock on the door. Dad came in any time he wanted. And did. I began holding “it” in as long as I could, until I felt safe. Then—hurry up in case he comes.
We had no door on our bedroom alcove. Diann and I had no privacy anywhere in the house. Outside was the only escape, though Diann told me she used to hide behind the coats in the closet under the stairs. My place was in the tree at the top of the hill in our backyard. I loved that tree. I couldn’t climb it in rubber boots in the winter when snow fell, though. I was shit out of luck in the winter. Though the sassafras bush next to the tree was a pretty good substitute.
Mom piled us into layers of clothes in the winter, especially when we went sledding at the golf course. It must have been more than a mile to haul our sleds up Pillar Avenue and through the trees to the edge of the golf course, but the long hill at the top was worth every trudge. Diann reminded me that Dad took us the first time when we were too small to go by ourselves and didn’t know the route.
In later years on our own we were lucky to get in three rides on that hill because the walk back up was so long and tiring, especially under all those clothes. Layers of snow melt stuck to your gloves and boots and weighed you down, but that long, speedy glide swooshing down the hill . . . wow! Mom had sandwiches and hot chocolate ready when we returned—chilled, exhausted and hungry.
It’s strange to consider there actually were good times with Dad, as there were so few of them. Who was that man who hauled us both up that golf course hill, rode down it with us in glee, yet beat Diann with that switch? He would play with us one minute and frighten us half to death the next.
Mom loved reading, so love of books came naturally to me and Diann. If nothing else was available, I read the backs of cereal boxes at breakfast. We had a collection of Little Golden Books, and many came from Grandma Flavel and Aunt Amy, who was happily married and with a son and daughter of her own. We didn’t have kindergarten, but I read before entering first grade. Mom said she would be working at the kitchen sink and see me going by outside the window with my face in a book—walking around the house.
Reading saved me; the worlds found in books were my escape when the real world turned too difficult and frightening. Or merely for adventure. In those days (1940s and 50s) only boys had adventures and I wanted desperately to be a boy so I could have them, too.
I don’t recall Aunt Amy’s oldest boy, Bob, but I received plenty hand-me-downs from her daughter, Norma. I barely recall her husband, “Unca Charlie,” who I was told I loved, as he died when I was little. He and Dad went fishing a lot at “the lakes” as many called Portage Lakes where we lived. “You going fishing at the lakes this weekend?” All summer long you could hear the sound of motorboats speeding up and down Turkeyfoot Lake—about two miles to the end of Pillar Avenue, across the highway, and down the hill from our house.
Aunt Amy was a trip. After Charlie died and her kids grew up and moved away we saw quite a lot of her. She had a house at the bottom of a steep road and practically on the lake. I used to have nightmares about getting stuck in a car that ran away on that downhill road. As I got older, maybe nine or so, I would walk to the end of Pillar Avenue and meet her because she was afraid of a beagle dog that would run out beyond its yard and bark. I eventually learned the name of that dog, and commanding him with it would stop him in his tracks. He was more bark than bite, thank goodness.
Amy loved to laugh. We had a Little Golden Record about the secret laughing place she loved to play for its funny laugh. She made funny sounds with her lips in her arm, making me and Diann crack up.
She visited us every time a storm was expected. Mom said this was because when she was a small child she had been outside when Grandma was doing the wash during a storm. Thunder and lightning struck just when Amy was splashed with a pot of boiling water. Consequently, Mom always made sure Diann and I had a great time during storms. We both grew up loving a fierce rainstorm. We had some humdinger storms in Ohio. Great, black and blue thunderclouds with driving rains. Fantastic.
I recall Mom bending over the wood and metal scrubbing board in the furnace room that ran between the kitchen and the garage—rubbing up and down, up and down, scrubbing that laundry clean. Next I followed her outside while she hung the clothes in the backyard on a cotton line with wooden clothespins, one pin to corners of two overlapped edges of clothing. She said there was nothing like the smell of clothing fresh dried in the wind and sun. I remember holding clothing up to my face and that smell. When I was old enough, she taught me the correct way to hang clothes so as not to get wrinkles in the wrong places and use the least number of pins.
This was before she received a washer, and sometime later, a dryer.
Mom was a wonderful cook. She made our birthday cakes, and what cakes they were: one chocolate layer, one strawberry, and one vanilla. In between each layer she lathered fudge frosting, and on the sides and top swirled high melt-in-your mouth crispy-on-the-outside seven-minute white frosting. I have never eaten a cake like that since.
Like many children, I became attached to animals of every kind. We had a succession of cats, mainly to keep down the mice. Our house was on a hill—our backyard stretched up to my favorite climbing tree, beyond a wire fence to a wide and deep field that eventually led to what we kids called Meyers Woods. This field was a great spawning ground for mice, rats, and other similar critters.
I don’t remember black Mike the First, though Diann said he would jump out from behind furniture and walls and knock her down, making her laugh. Black Mike the Second would sit on the wood highchair in the kitchen, shake paws and beg for popcorn. After Mike the First passed on we got Tiger, a huge ginger male with wide furry cheeks that followed us kids everywhere. He took no guff from dogs, either. Even the big dogs learned to give him space. Mom said she recalled seeing us kids walking in a line down the street trailed by a couple dogs with Tiger bringing up the rear. We lost him to a poisoned rat and buried the fellow with ceremony in our pet cemetery in the field out back with the other critters we found dead around the neighborhood, including birds. I wish I still had a photo of Tiger, but it was lost with other photos in a flooded basement when I was in college. Tiger was a difficult one to lose.
I got my first puppy, Tinker, when I was a tot. But Tinker turned out to be a big lug when he grew up. So big he knocked me over so Dad got rid of him. I hate to think how, considering the way Dad got rid of most animals. An early project of Dad’s was raising rabbits in hutches in the backyard. I don’t know if the group of rabbits came first or my white rabbit, Peter, came first at Easter. Naturally, I became attached to Peter, the pink-eyed, white rabbit. Perhaps it’s in my imagination that he followed me around. I do recall that Diann and I went to visit our cousins, Sally and Nancy, and when we returned, Peter was gone. All the rabbits were gone. I believe that Mom convinced Dad that having animals for sale around little girls like us was not a good idea since Diann and I could get attached to them. I doubt the rabbits were a good investment anyway.
I was told Peter went to live with our neighbors, but I knew the truth. I knew Dad had got rid of that rabbit with the others. That Peter was likely dead. I think I must have been four or five. What I am saying is don’t tell this kind of story to your kids. Tell them the truth because they instinctively know the truth. I was all that much angrier because I was being told a story instead of the truth.
As adults we tend to forget how attached children get to animals and things. We forget what a different world they live in, how very special and boundless that world is. Everything is of paramount importance. If you love, it is with all your being. Imagination and the mind is as strong as reality. Imagination helps you deal with the world. I recall a painting a young girl did of giant toes on a piece of white paper. “This is me walking in wet grass.”
Kids need the truth to balance their imaginations. They need to be able to depend on adults for that balance, so their world doesn’t topple over. I’m not saying you can’t play and imagine with your kids. But they need to know where the boundaries of imagination and truth are. Parents must provide a safe, dependable island from where children can go out and explore their world and return.
Dad was big and strong. He would grab your arm and yank to give you a swat and raise a bruise for days. He not only yelled at us or swatted our behinds for the smallest infraction, he began cutting down Mom in various ways, making remarks about what she did or things she said.
My world and my sister’s world became one of constant anxiety. Except when he was out of the house . . . gone.
My parents had a small wedding at Grandma Flavel’s house in Akron just before Dad was inducted into the army. My sister and I have few photos of the wedding, and what we do have are of family only. There doesn’t appear to have been much of a reception. Perhaps this is due to the war. I see photos of the mothers, but none of the rest of the families. Why is this?
Everyone appears so happy at his induction, but I notice the dark circles under Mom’s eyes. By the time she visited him in Atlanta, Georgia, she was carrying me. What was it like for a young newly married woman pregnant with her first child and sending her husband off to Word War II? There were plenty women doing so. I can’t imagine. I can’t imagine what was in his mind, either.
What I know about Dad I learned from Mom.
He never talked of his past, or anything else, for that matter. The only time he spoke to Diann or me was to discipline us.
She excused his behavior because his dad abandoned the family when he was young. “That’s why he’s this way. That and the war—he wasn’t like this before the war.” She showed me a letter he wrote to me (I was a baby) when he was in the army. He had beautiful handwriting. I couldn’t believe the words were his, they were so caring and full of love. I have never known that man—two sides of the same coin.
I recall what his sister, Esther, said to Mom about his temper. He was never in the fighting, as he was a staff sergeant accountant sent to Japan after they surrendered. His superiors offered him a commission if he would remain in Japan. They would bring his family over. He refused, left the army and came home to Ohio where he bought a house in Portage Lakes on the GI bill, and moved our family there.
According to Mom, Dad’s siblings looked up to him because he was the oldest. George, his younger brother, in particular, admired him. Throughout our lives Dad was always helping George and his family whenever they asked, despite the fact they had more than we did: a higher income, a bigger and finer house, nicer clothes. George and his wife, Betty, had two boys and Dad had two girls. Dad worked on their house when ours went years without a ceiling. We visited them often, but they practically never visited us. Mom was embarrassed about our GI bill house which was never finished.
Mom was not close to Betty, as she made more than one remark that Mom didn’t care for. Mom avoided any kind of strife. She would close her mouth and say nothing. I lost count of the times she said to me, “Don’t argue with your father, it just makes him worse.” I think, in the long run, this capitulation, itself, made him worse. He could say anything to her and she took it.
Anyone recall that show All in the Family? That was my Mom and Dad. Only more so. And it was not funny.
The house on Pillar Avenue was quite a comedown from Grandma’s home on Hill Street in Akron.
Although it contained a nice, new kitchen and a garage, the flat roof leaked, the living room was incomplete with exposed rafters, and there was no water. Upstairs consisted of one small bath and one bedroom with an alcove separated from the bedroom by a chimney. This alcove would be my and Diann’s sleeping place, me on the top bunk until we moved and I entered high school. At the foot end of the bed we had one metal closet, 24″ x 24″ x 6′ high to hang our clothes, and one dresser to share. There was barely enough room to squeeze between the bunk and the window. Toys and any keepsakes went under the bed, the window, top of the dresser, and closet.
Did we get into trouble if any of those toys were left out where Dad could find them. That old adage, children should be seen and not heard, was paramount in our house. “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” To this day I hear children screaming in grocery stores and I think, “You have no idea how spoiled you are, or how easy you have it.” We became known as the “good little Klink girls.” If people only knew.
I don’t believe Dad knew how to deal with children, especially girls.
He did attempt to bounce me on his knee when I was very small, to play “horsey,” which made me laugh and screech when he pretended to drop me. He tickled me, but tickled too hard with his thick, strong fingers. It hurt rather than tickled. He didn’t know how to hold back his strength.
Dad was a wonderful artist. He made a simple wood rocking horse with red polkadots for me and later, a beautiful weather vane for the roof of our house. He was sharp with math and could have gone far if he had stayed in the army or gotten a job as an accountant.
Knowing what I know now, I believe Dad was clinically depressed and unsure of himself. I try to recall times I saw him smile or laugh. He must have when we were with his family. Surely. But less and less as time went by.
Dad drove a fourteen-wheeler and was sometimes gone for days. As there was no water, Dad had to fill milk tins with water at the nearby state park. Mom heated water on the stove and bathed my baby sister and me in large metal tubs with handles.
One night during Dad’s absence the dripping of the oil furnace woke Mom up. It was on fire! She scrambled to get me out of bed and carried my baby sister in one arm, pulling me in the other to the neighbor’s house. She returned to the house and kept the fire from growing until the fire department arrived.
The furnace was replaced with gas.
Sometime during these years Dad learned to be a plumber and joined a local plumbing company. He hired a company to dig a well in our back yard for water, and I recall the sound of that drill banging for many weeks. Portage Lakes, as the name indicates, is an area of many lakes with water portages connecting them, and our street, Pillar Avenue, was high on a hill above Turkeyfoot Lake. This meant we had to drill deep before finding good water. Fortunately, we found just about the best-tasing water around. Unfortunately, the cost of finding it was much more than expected. I believe this was among the first (along with the new furnace) unexpected bills Dad found difficult to pay.
I loved the outside, especially climbing.
Three years older than my sister, Diann, Mom was carrying her when I climbed a tree in our front yard. Mom climbed up to get me down and got stuck up there with her oversized belly caught between two limbs. Our neighbor, Beulah, though this hilarious, and had to calm down from laughing before helping Mom down. Dad cut down that poor tree.
This climbing habit got me in big trouble. Dad found me on top of the garage and lost the temper my Aunt Esther had warned Mom about. I don’t recall, but Mom became so upset she took me, my baby sister, and fled to her mother’s house in Akron. She told her mom he had beat me too hard for a small child. Dad came apologizing and begging her to return. Grandma told her “You have chosen your bed, now you must lie in it.”
Who was my mom that she let this happen? Mom—Mommy—Elsie Flavel came to the U.S. from England when she was four or five with her parents and older sister, Amy. She told me her father was French, and that her girlfriends thought he was handsome. As an adult I learned he was Welsh.
Elsie was close to her father, who was soft-spoken and sang in the church choir. Elsie “took after” her father, was soft-spoken like him, small-boned and delicate, though she could laugh and have a good time. Her mother was the disciplinarian in the family and ran the dry goods store they owned in Akron, Ohio.
When Elsie started high school, she saw her father crushed under their car while fixing a tire.
Elsie’s sister, Amy, was a flirt. When she became “with child” out of wedlock, their mother pulled Elsie out of high school in shame, though Amy was soon married. Elsie was forever embarrassed about not having finished high school and kept it secret, even from her daughters.
Still, Elsie had a good time as a young woman. She and two close friends, Helen and Evy, joined other pals for outings and explored lake beaches. She and a girlfriend went to the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago.
She visited her Great Aunt Amy (her mother’s sister) in Canada, and met Jack, with whom she got along famously. Here she is with her aunt and Jack with Jack’s hot car.
But her mother said, no. You cannot stay in Canada with your aunt and Jack. You must come home.
She returned home and met John Paul Klink.
He seemed nice. He was the oldest of a big family: Esther, married, George, married; Warren, single; and Peg, the youngest, still a young girl. Paul’s mother was quite a good cook and had remarried after her first husband had abandoned them. Paul hated his birth father for abandoning them, but that was understandable. During the depression he had taught himself to drive in order to make money to support the family. Paul was kind to her.
His sister warned Elsie about his bad temper, but she didn’t listen.
This is the beginning of a series about why I write what I write. You could call it a memoir in blog form rather than in a book. One might say it has taken me two weeks to get the nerve to write these words, but in reality it has taken me most of my life—with the help of hours of therapy.
I’m posting this for me and for all those who have been through the same or a similar experience, and I believe there are plenty of you out there. The photos at the top of each post are from my adult adventures. They represent a success story, a survivor’s album, to speak. All the shit I went through as a child was survived by both me and my sister, and my Mom. We got through it. Not without bruises, mind you. Those will remain. Forever. But we have lives with which we are satisfied, even happy. Diann and I are stronger after what we experienced.
Diann paints abstract art, art that expresses emotion. I express myself through writing.
A few members of my extended family are aware of what I am about to reveal in these posts. Others are not. What I write will be what I recall, my truth, and whatever my sister wishes to add. I will not embellish in any way.
Much of my childhood I have forgotten. This “forgetfulness” may be subconscious protection, but I don’t know. Diann often recalls instances I do not. Perhaps this is normal.
I don’t believe I ever thanked my ex-husband, with whom I am still friends, for encouraging me to begin therapy. I thank him, now, if he ever reads this. Thank you, Fred, so much. I doubt I would ever have the courage to write this, otherwise.
I am an incest survivor. I, my sister, and my Mom also suffered emotional abuse, until Diann and I escaped the house as adults and Dad died. Mom cried at his funeral and his family thought it was because of his death. She told me it was because of all the wasted years.
I believe and sincerely hope that what was thought of merely as shyness is recognized today by teachers in schools today for what it was when we were in school in the fifties. Afraid of boys and practically unable to socialize among our peers, we were two terrified and abused little girls.
This photo is of Billy. Back in 1950s Ohio he often wandered around our neighborhood dressed in his mother’s castoff dresses and high heels. You can imagine what the other boys did about that, but their jeers never stopped Billy.
The flag and hat were merely props like the fake pistols and stick horses we made out of sassafras and rode everywhere pretending they were real. Soft-spoken Billy loved animals and never hurt anyone or any thing as far as I knew.
Years later after finishing college I learned he lost and eye while fighting in Viet Nam. After service he ended up in prison and was murdered there. I have no idea of the circumstances, but can imagine.
I will dedicate my novel, Unspoken, to him. As a boy I knew him fairly well, and am pretty darn sure he didn’t deserve what happened to him.
Billy was one more case of the inequality that has occurred in our country over the years. One more George Floyd, though Billy was white. We must continue to join together to put an end to injustice. All of us of every shade and color.
This is a difficult post. I came to the conclusion that I was not willing to back my manuscript with $10,000 or more. I am of two minds. One is an adult woman willing and able to take risks. The other is a fearful little girl. They are the product of an incest survivor. It took a few days for me to realize that little girl had to have her say about this entire process.
My angry, depressed dad alienated our family from everyone but his relatives. Yet he presented the picture of a wonderful man to all except us.
I and my younger sister grew up in a home with a living room and exposed rafters. We wore the same three or four outfits to school all year long. I wore hand-me-downs from my older cousin. We each had one coat that lasted until we outgrew it. Dad purposely ran over my sister’s bike to teach her not to leave it in the driveway. Mom complained to me about her fears that he didn’t pay the bills on time. Yet he found time to help his brother with his house, bought golf clubs, bowling equipment, guns, a stereo, and records.
When we started school Mom found a job at the local drugstore. I thought to help pay bills, but years later she said it was to get out of the house and be around people who appreciated her.
He was emotionally abusive to the three of us. We lived a childhood of constant anxiety: Diann stuttered and developed asthma; I got migraines. Mom was a loving, dear, but weak, person, who my sister and I believed we had to protect. Dad took advantage of that when he took advantage of me. “Don’t tell your mom.” I knew what he meant.
Only after years of therapy did I realize she should have protected us.
I am grown now, but that little girl’s feelings and fears concerning money, security, and trust never go away. The adult in me jumped at the chance to follow my dream of publishing a book I believed in. A few days later that little girl freaked out. Another couple days and I realized what happened.
I don’t have to give in to fear once I realize the truth. That’s the first step — recognizing the fear and where it comes from. I sat down and checked my finances, found it will not destroy me to lose $15,000, only make my life more difficult. I can handle that. I can reassure my little girl. I have.
I know there are survivors, men and women, like me out there. I hope this and the books I write will help us all. By us I mean not only survivors but all minorities: LGBTQ, blacks, Muslims, Jews, Native Americans, Latinos, immigrants, elders, . . . Who did I leave out? Imagine how strong we would be if we all united!
I recently downloaded a book by Colleen M. Story entitled Writer get Noticed!, which is supposed to help me pursue my own path while developing an author platform. Sounds like a great idea, since I need help with my platform.
My cat, Dickens, is here next to my computer, as usual and willing, but I doubt he knows much about this sort of thing.
The book suggests I keep a journal of each of its steps, answering core questions, which I did:
I truly don’t care about making a lot of money. Thank goodness. Because the chances of that are slim. To me, higher royalties are not that important.
What my novel has to say is important. It is meaningful and fits my vision.
As much as I believe She Writes Press is a good fit for many writers, I don’t believe it is for me.
They read three hundred pages of my manuscript to invite me to publish with them. I should have known this was enough to recognize talent, but not enough to financially back my novel. This is my impression of the approach of a school who awards a publishing contract upon graduation. The She Writes Press team is excellent and I wish I could afford them, but I cannot.
I want a publisher who believes in my novel, Unspoken, as much as I do, or at least enough to financially support it.
I am grateful to She Writes Press and responders on Critique Circle for what I have learned these past few weeks. I began as such a naive newbie, and I now have direction. I highly recommend She Writes Press for many women writers who can afford to publish with their team. You will get plenty of support on your journey, merely not financial.
Where do I go from here?
I will be writing about my platform and why this novel is important. I hope you will come along for the ride.
I received an eight-page contract from She Writes Press, which includes an Exhibit A, stating those services to be performed by Publisher; Exhibit B, which is to eventually list any additional services, timeframe, fees, etc.; and Exhibit C, which contains a Fee Schedule.
The entire contract is in small print.
I hate contracts. I hate reading them.
I haven’t been able to find a publishing lawyer here in Arizona. So far. Maybe never.
Which means I’ve been trying to understand this thing myself. Bad idea.
I took paralegal classes years ago, one of which was contracts. Learned enough to get me in trouble. Similar to driving a four-wheel drive vehicle and heading for the mountains. I’ve done that, too. A person can get into big trouble with a four-wheel drive vehicle on those trails. I’ve been there and I know. Nearly got stuck overnight on this road once. My ex-husband was driving. Three of us had to get out of the vehicle and move rocks to back out. Big rocks.
Another time I was driving and my friend said, “keep going, keep going, keep going.” Nearly went right over a cliff.
Back to the contract.
I learned the following from reading that contract: She Writes Press is not risking a darned thing.
The author risks all. I pay for their expertise. Quite a lot, actually. I pay for printing, shipping, warehousing, returns, and numerous other fees. If anything goes wrong, I pay for that, too. Like, if my book doesn’t sell. Eeks, I can’t stand that “like” word, and I used it. Ah, well. Welcome to the millennial generation. I promise to not use it again, at least not in this post.
What do She Writes Press services include?
The following is Exhibit A:
interior design of the book up to 120,000 words
E-book file prep and upload to Amazon, B&N and iBookstore
Distribution to Trade Accounts through their current distribution partner
Management of the distribution relationship for the term of the Agreement
Proofreading of final manuscript
Copyright filing and obtaining Library of Congress control number
Warehousing of short-run printed books for first year
Fulfillment of orders on short-run printed books (I pay shipping)
Support and management of title metadata
Ongoing project management of title for term of Agreement
Support for getting books into bookstores, libraries and other trade outlets
All the above costs $7,500.
I found a blog by Lloyd J. Jassin, an experienced New York publishing attorney, that clearly explains what a publishing contract should contain, and She Writes Press matched his suggestions. If you are interested, his blog is here.
There are a number of terms in the contract that have not been defined to my satisfaction.
One of these terms is “derivatives.” Does this include sequels to the novel?
The contract says nothing about a particular date for She Writes Press to publish my novel, what the New York attorney calls a “Duty to Publish.” Brooke has told me when she expects my book to be published, but this is not in the contract.
Lastly, I want subsidiary rights. These include rights to foreign publishing, motion picture, TV, audio, merchandising, and TV rights. I don’t expect any of that to happen, but, who knows?
Obviously, they are in the publishing business to make money publishing, not to take risks. They are going to be sure to make their profit, no matter what happens to me and my book.
I must go into this with my eyes and my bank account open.
I welcome any and all pertinent suggestions and comments.