Living The Dream

Join me to celebrate the launch of my latest novel

Ghost Owl

at a book-signing party

next Thursday evening, November 2nd

from 5:30 to 8:30

at Hoppy Brewing Company

6300 Folsom Blvd.

in Sacramento, California

Free appetizers

No host bar

Ghost Owl is the 3rd book in my Avian Series, preceded by Yellow-Billed Magpie and Red-Tailed Hawk.  Each book is a stand-alone story, but features many of the same characters.  It’s nice to read them in order if you like, but it’s not necessary.

Now that I’ve retired from teaching, I feel very blessed to have the time and resources to pursue my writing as it’s been a passion of mine for over 40 years.

I’m very proud of this particular story.  I hope it will touch your heart.

I’ll be selling all my books at the party (including my short story collection, Rover) for the low low price of $5 each.  If you’re not in the Sacramento area, my books are all available at Amazon, and on Kindle as well.

If you can attend, please tell me right here in the comments ( or drop me an email or text or whatever) so I’ll be sure to have enough food!  (Hey, I just ordered Sweet Potato Tater Tots!  You won’t want to miss that!)

 

Advertisements

Greetings Blogosphere!

I have not been the most consistent blogger in the world. If there’s anyone out there paying attention this is not such a big surprise. My last post was over a year ago. In that episode, I announced that my poor old sweet-faced kitty Angel was dying of cancer. I got all philosophical and weepy about it, as I have a tendency to do. So here’s what happened next.

Angel’s vet had been so dire about it, I assumed Angel was going to close her eyes and drop her body any minute. I’d go out to dead-head the roses, and I’d worry that when I came back inside she’d be stretched out in the hallway, dead. The first few nights after the diagnosis in July, I couldn’t sleep well. I left my bedroom and went out to read on the couch. I fell asleep, but then I was awakened by Angel, running around on the family room floor, chasing a catnip mouse with a bell on it. Okay, I thought, she’s going to be all right for a little while longer.

I didn’t want to leave town with her so sick, but I decided I’d go to Santa Cruz and sit on the beach as soon as she died. When she made it to September, I thought—great, I’ll get off-season rates at my favorite motel by the wharf. When she made it to October, I forgot about Santa Cruz and decided I wanted her to live till the election. Yeah, that’s when this story gets crazy. I wanted my cat to live to see the first woman elected president of the United States. That’s right, I’m not proud of this, I know it sounds crazy. But remember what it was like a year ago: we were all full of optimism and hope. The polls, the media, the late-night comedians were all saying Hillary was going to get elected. The pundits were even predicting Democrats would take back both houses of Congress. We were going to take back the Supreme Court! I think I wanted Angel to live to see this because I was feeling so sad that my mother (who died eight years ago this week) and my cousin Joanne (who been gone only a few months at that point) didn’t live to see a woman president. It was silly, but I wanted the cat to see it.

We all know how that turned out.

Angel died a few days before Thanksgiving. I’ll spare you the details. Suffice to say she got really really weak and really really sick, and I called the vet on a weekend and scheduled a time for her to euthanize Angel the following Monday. Then I went to the store and bought one of those rotisserie chickens, and Angel and I ate it together all weekend. She also went outside and roamed around on the lawn and ate grass. She had a good death. We should all be so lucky.

After that I was sad. I didn’t want another cat and didn’t want to bother with Christmas. I didn’t put up a tree and I didn’t send out cards. But grieving for Angel made me realize that I hadn’t grieved anybody very well. So I found a grief support group. I talked mainly about Joanne who’d died in March, but I also talked about my Mom and about my friend Craig. They let me talk about Angel too. They were good people, and we met until the week before Christmas. Then I surprised myself and decided I wanted a kitten for Christmas. But then I doubly surprised myself and adopted two kittens for Christmas!! Their names are Valentine Rose (my black kitty) and Suzanna Christmas (my tabby who is called Zuzu—you know like Zuzu’s petals in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”) They are joyful little girls and they love each other so much. Sometimes I sing them the Skylar Sisters song from Hamilton, only I say their names and I call them the “Holiday Sisters.” Yeah, I know, it’s weird, but it makes for a good story.

Adopting my new girls was great, but it didn’t alleviate the depression I’d been in since the election. I cried election night, and I cried for days afterwards. It was the pussy-grabbing comments that got me. I can’t believe we live in a country where people would elect a man who brags about such things. I won’t get into it here, but it’s a highly personal thing to me, as it is to many women. But my purpose today is not to rant about politics, no matter how personal I feel the situation is. I want to tell you what happened next.

As I said, I was very depressed. I wasn’t in a clinical depression. I got up every morning. I cleaned the house and weeded the garden, I did volunteer work at the women’s center where we serve breakfast to low income and homeless women, I wrote with my writer-friends, I went hiking by the river. But always I carried a deep heavy feeling in my throat and chest. I tired easily and I cried at cat food commercials. More than sad, I was feeling hopeless about my country.

On Inauguration Day I volunteered for an extra shift at the women’s center. I wanted to feel useful. The next day I went downtown with friends and we marched in the streets. It was a huge crowd. The organizers announced that we all would gather at a park southwest of the state capitol and then we’d march there for a celebration. It was mobbed. We lined up in the street adjacent to the park by the Catholic Church dedicated to the Black Madonna. We stood there for a couple hours before we started moving. I’d been in anti-nuke marches in the 80s like this—where the crowd was so big that those of us in the middle just had to wait and wait and wait before we could move.

I was there with my friends, and I felt great. I felt strong and healthy, as if I could stand there for days. I thought about a song Holly Near used to sing about a woman born on a mountain who was not going to let the developers come in—“You may drive a big machine, but I was born a great big woman!!” I love that song. My friends and I used to sing that to each other when we were young, living in our first apartments, going to Take Back the Night marches, raising money for the Peace Center.

My depression went away. Just like that. My friends said, oh, it was being out there in the crowd, it was taking action, feeling optimistic. But I knew that wasn’t it. I didn’t feel optimistic that day, and I don’t now. I feel terrible about my country. Just terrible. But for a while I felt a deep sense of grace. It was different than anything I’d ever felt before. There have been times in my life when I’ve felt very happy, filled with hope, even euphoric—you know, like falling in love, or finally getting that job you’ve been wanting, or getting your first poem published, then getting a poem published in a nationally distributed anthology! That’s good stuff. But this was different. What made it different was this: I felt forgiving.

I don’t know if this is a universal or even common experience, but there have been several people over the years that I’ve been unable to fully forgive. Some of them I don’t see any more, some I do. Some I’m friendly with, but I don’t trust them. Most I’m sympathetic to—I think, oh, I understand, they did what they did because of a misunderstanding, or because their life is hard too, or they had cold parents, a hard family life, a difficult spouse. Or maybe they were mean to me because they’re just mean, manipulative people and overbearing control freaks. Yeah, sounds about right.

I pray about this often. I’ve come to believe that when it comes to forgiveness, you can do the best you can—you can be friendly (though protective of yourself), you can pray for the other person, you can wish good things for them—but to fully forgive, to completely let go, that takes God’s grace. It’s not something we can do on our own.

And so here I was in the streets with my sisters on the day after Inauguration Day, and it began. My depression lifted and I felt forgiven and forgiving. This feeling lasted several months. I didn’t feel euphoric, though I generally felt good and healthy. Some days I was happy. Some days I was sad. It wasn’t about that. It was about an awareness of God’s grace. I couldn’t sustain it though. I’m not sure why. It drifted away. The Universe gave me a little taste, and then it drifted away. I don’t know if I did something to lose it. I don’t know. I wish I could feel that way all the time, but I know I can’t MAKE it happen. (I have another story about grace and forgiveness, but that’s for another day).

That brings me up to now. We’ve been bombarded these past few weeks by news of hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. We’ve seen the worst mass shooting in modern history in Las Vegas two days ago. We fear we may be at the brink of nuclear war with North Korea as our president tells the secretary of state (not in a face-to-face meeting, but via social media) that he’s wasting his time trying to negotiate with “Little Rocket Man.” I feel awful. But I keep writing, because I don’t know what else to do. I pray and I write and I hang with my cats and my friends, and that’s about all.

I’d like to say that I’m going to post more on my blog. I don’t know if that’s true right now. I don’t know if anyone cares. Is anybody out there? I’m not sure I really want to even have a blog. I want to write novels and poems and I was told at one conference or another that I should have the blog to promote the novels. And so here I go:

I have a new novel coming out in a month! It’s called Ghost Owl. It stars my young heroine Mariah Easter. I’m very proud of this one. My readers tell me it’s a page-turner!

So to update–I have three novels out now: Yellow-Billed Magpie, Red-Tailed Hawk, and Ghost Owl. They are stand-alone stories, but they have the same characters. I think it’s nice to read them in order, but it’s not necessary. I also have a short-story collection called Rover. All four books are available right now at Amazon—yes, even Ghost Owl. But if you’re in Sacramento, I suggest you wait and buy books from me at my Ghost Owl launch party at Hoppy Brewing Company on Thursday evening, November 2nd from 5:30 to 8:30. I’ll be selling all books that evening for the low low introductory price of $5!! Great for holiday gifts.

Finally—jumping ahead—my goal for 2018 is to learn how to market better. This will definitely include the website—but what about this blog. I don’t think I’m ready to give up on it yet. It will continue to be my usual crazy musings, and a bit of rough, barely edited flash fiction that I often write with my writing groups. I hope folks like it.

Thanks for reading this far. Now please drop me a line or give me a like so I’ll know somebody is there! Thank you!

Ps—Guess what! I went to Youtube and found a video of a group of strong and beautiful women singing The Kentucky Woman/Dreaming on This Mountain song—and I think it would do your heart good to spend a minute and forty seconds listening to it. Here’s the link

Letting Go Of Normal

 Last week my 13-year-old cat, Angel, was diagnosed with cancer.  Her veterinarian/acupuncturist told me the tumors had spread, there was nothing that could be done, and that I had the option of euthanizing her that day.  I said no:  Angel didn’t seem to be in any pain, she was still running around the yard, leaping onto high window sills and purring.  What Angel isn’t doing is eating much.  She is getting noticeably weaker.

 After receiving this news, my mind raced ahead to practical matters:  is there a spot in the yard where I might bury her?  Would it be easier to cremate?  Yes, but what if she dies at an inconvenient time, like a weekend.  In this valley heat I’ll need to put her body in the fridge till Monday, and she’s a big-boned cat, probably part Maine Coon.  Will she fit?

 Some of you may be thinking, It’s a cat; get over it.  And if you’re thinking this, I hope you don’t have any pets of your own.  But that’s another subject.  One reason I’m writing this is because it is easier to write about these thoughts when they’re about a pet.  So many of my friends are caring for (or have just finished caring for) elderly parents and/or spouses.  It’s hard to talk about.  But I can say these things because my cat won’t read this.  She won’t feel bad if I’m sad because she’s sick.  I don’t have to put on a brave face for her the way I did for my Mom.

 I find there’s a part of me that wants this time of waiting and watching to be over with.  And yet of course I’m dreading it too.  I don’t want my cat to die.  But when she’s gone, I can get back to normal.  Normal.  I realized recently that I seem to be living under a fallacy that life has a default setting of “normal.”  After the funeral or the surgery or allergy season or “when the kids get over these darn colds,” then things will be back to normal and we can get stuff done.  We’ll be happy.

 We do this with happy events too:  after the wedding, after the baby’s born, when we get back from vacation, then things will be back to normal.

 I just finished reading Richard Rohr’s Everything Belongs with my dear soul sisters in the Sacred Conversations group at Sister Margie Will’s Franciscan Living Center in midtown Sacramento.  Rohr says we “idolize normalcy.”  Imagine that!  He cautions against this, saying, “Instead, we have to allow ourselves to be drawn into sacred space, into liminality.  All transformation takes place there. We have to move out of ‘business as usual’ and remain on the ‘threshold’ (limen, in Latin) where we are betwixt and between. . . . Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible. It’s the realm where God can best get at us because we are out of the way.  In sacred space the old world is able to fall apart, and the new world is able to be revealed.”

 So here I am in liminal space with my cat.  When I look at her I feel sad, but I feel grateful she is still here right now.  And when I remember, I say a prayer for all care givers who are sad and angry and impatient to return to “normal” and feeling guilty as hell about it.  It’s not easy, but it’s a good place to be.

Post script—please don’t send me advice about pet burial, cremation, or cold storage.  I’ll figure it out when the time comes.  This can’t be fixed.  Just say a prayer for all care givers and all those who are grieving.  Thank you.

 

Are you making a resolution to write?

Since I published my first novel, several people have told me they’d also like to publish a novel or memoir.  I think this is great, but in some cases it’s surprised me because I didn’t know these folks were interested in writing.  Maybe–in some cases–they didn’t know it either.

            If there’s anybody out there who is inspired by my example to pick up a pen, I say, Yes!  Go for it!  But now here comes the unsolicited advice.

            If you haven’t been doing a lot of writing, but now you’re wondering “Shall I write a novel or a memoir?”–well, I have to say I think you’re asking the wrong question.  Here’s the right question:  Do you like to write?—because if you want to write a novel, it helps if you like to write.

            Try this:  set aside some time to write.  I suggest 30 to 60 minutes, three to five days a week.  I think it’s best to aim for the same time every day (e.g. right after breakfast, during your lunch hour), but I’ve heard some people schedule blocks of time in their calendars every week, wherever it fits.

            The idea is to develop a Writing Practice.  You’re like a musician practicing scales or an athlete doing warm-up drills.  Writing every day helps you develop a habit so when you sit down to write, the words spill out and you actually write, rather than thinking about writing.

            Now when you first start this practice, don’t try to write your novel or memoir out of the gate.  At this point just write.  Write fast.  Write whatever comes into your head.  You’re practicing.  You’re learning how to get into a flow, a rhythm.  Write silly stuff, write angry stuff, doesn’t matter, just write.

            DO NOT spend three or four hours writing everything you’ve been holding inside for years and years in one giant cathartic rush that you just can’t wait to get onto the page, and wow, it feels so good to finally do this, yes, yes, I can write and I can write a lot for a long time, all right, and now I’m done.  You read it over, it sounds brilliant!! You feel great about it–but you don’t pick up a pen or sit down at the keyboard again for four months, because you’re waiting to feel inspired like that again.

            Yeah, sure, you can do that if you want, and probably somewhere there’s a successful novelist or two who writes books this way.  But I’m here to tell you that most people who write novels sit down and work on it day after day after day.

            So when you want to develop a practice, on Monday you write for an hour and it’s trash.  On Tuesday, you write for an hour and it’s trash.  On Wednesday you start to write a cool story about your Mom leading the Girl Scout troop in fourth grade, and the hour is up but you’re not done.  That’s great.  You stop anyway and the unfinished story rides around with you for the next 23 hours and when you start on Thursday you waste no time. You get right into it, and the story is richer in detail and complexity because it’s been cooking in your subconscious.  Maybe you don’t finish it till Friday, or maybe not even till a week from Friday.  That’s fine.  But the day after you finish that story, you come back and start again.  And maybe it’s trash again.  That’s okay, it’s all part of the process.  But now you know that, because the practice gives you the confidence that you can stay with it for the long haul.

            I suggest you try this for a month or so, just to see how it goes.  I know it’s not easy to stick to a schedule.  If you need to skip a day now and then, that’s okay, just start up again the next day.  The main thing you want to find out is this:  is it fun?  When you’re actually writing, is it fun?  Is it satisfying?  Are you enjoying putting the words on the page?  If the answer is yes, then you’re going to write that novel.  You will.  You’ll figure out when and what and how.  But if you don’t enjoy it, well, maybe you’ll want to re-think this novel-writing goal.  But if you’re determined to write even if it’s not so fun, I do have another idea.  Join a writing group.  Not a critiquing group—that’s for later.  No, join a group of people who actually writes together.  Because we writers are so much fun, we’ll guarantee you a good time.

            Here’s a link to an earlier post about books I’ve loved that have helped me with my writing:

 https://nancyschoellkopf.com/2013/06/09/my-writing-life/

  And here’s a link to a post about writing groups:

 https://nancyschoellkopf.com/2013/06/09/writing-the-amherst-way/

Good luck, have fun, and drop me a line if you’ve got any questions!  Happy New Year!

Yellow-Billed Magpie Goes on Tour!

Now that the Yellow-Billed Magpie Launch Party is successfully behind me, my new novel is going on a virtual tour! Laura Fabiani, the wonderful tour coordinator at iRead Book Tours, has arranged for Yellow-Billed Magpie to make appearances on seventeen blogs in three different countries during the month of October. Fourteen bloggers will post reviews (I’m holding my breath!) On other blogs I will do guest posts or Q&A interviews. Check out the schedule here:

http://www.ireadbooktours.com/blog—current-tours/book-tour-yellow-billed-magpie-by-nancy-schoellkopf

The tour will also include opportunities to enter a free raffle to win copies of my book as well as Amazon gift cards. The grand prize will be a turquoise-colored ceramic Fiesta pie plate along with some decorative paper napkins in honor of take-charge businesswoman Anna Victoria who runs an expanding chain of popular pie shops in the novel. Stay tuned: details to follow.

I am very excited but also a little nervous about this tour, but I trust that these fellow bloggers, who are also avid readers and writers, will be kind to my debut novel.

I don’t write because I have a message to impart. I write because I’m a writer: it’s what I love to do. I only hope my story touches your heart.

Thank you for all your good wishes and support!

Living the Dream

Hello, friends, family and friendly folks whom I have never met outside this virtual plane! I’m here to tell you that

My Debut Novel

Yellow-Billed Magpie

Is now available for purchase

On Amazon and Kindle!!

 Cue the balloons and fire works! Yes! It has been my dream to be a published novelist for nearly four decades. Well, actually first it was my dream just to write a novel, but once I figured out how to do that then the dream became finding a way to share the novels. Today the dream is coming into fruition!

So how come I feel like a nervous wreak? I guess because now I need to learn to market the novel. Please allow me a few moments of shameless promotion: Please buy my novel. Please read my novel. Please love my novel and then write a 5-star review on my Amazon page.

The commercial continues: Yellow-Billed Magpie is reasonably priced. The cover is absolutely beautiful. It was designed by Karen Phillips who has done an amazing job for an amazing price. (Check out her site here: http://www.phillipscovers.com/what.html ) This books look so beautiful that it naturally follows that they would make beautiful Christmas gifts.

My book comes with this guarantee: I will never ask you if you’ve read my novel. I will never ask you if you like my novel. Of course I hope you’ll read it and enjoy it—and tell me so—but I won’t ask. I won’t put you on the spot. No worries, no need to avoid me. No risk, so give it a try.

If you live nearby, please drop in at my Launch Party this coming Thursday evening, October 1st at Hoppy’s Brewing Company, 6300 Folsom Blvd., in Sacramento, Ca. I’ll be there with big boxes of books from 5:30 to 8:30. We’ll be serving wonderful appetizers. No host bar.

I’ll be selling copies of Yellow-Billed Magpie for the low introductory price of $5 each on October 1st only. Come and buy multiple copies. Give them to your friends. Of course I’ll sign them. Maybe they’ll be rare collectables someday. Or maybe you can get 50 cents for them at your next garage sale. I don’t know yet, but I hope the story touches your heart. That is my sincere wish.

Okay, that was my first attempt at marketing. More later. I have an interesting promotional story that I’m saving for later in the week, so stay tuned. Here’s the link to my Amazon page. Please check it out.

http://www.amazon.com/Yellow-Billed-Magpie-Nancy-Schoellkopf-ebook/dp/B015NH58R4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1443302784&sr=8-1&keywords=yellow+billed+magpie

Love to you all!

Okay I read it! Here’s what I think of Go Set a Watchman

If Go Set A Watchman hadn’t been written by Harper Lee, I don’t guess I would recommend it because it isn’t all that good a read. But it was written by Harper Lee, and we know that if she had chosen to revise and edit it, she was capable of producing a brilliant snapshot of the south in the years immediately following the historic Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, Supreme Court decision.

It’s been widely reported that Atticus Finch displays a racist side in this novel, but less has been made of the fact that Jean Louise herself agrees with her father on many, though not all of his opinions. There are several long, rambling conversations that escalate into arguments, and in most of these scenes no one’s point is explained very well. That’s okay, this was apparently an early draft. But I was appalled at the final confrontation between Jean Louise and her uncle, Dr. Jack Finch. Gee whiz, were there no present-day editors? Did they really think that (SPOILER ALERT) a pompous older man striking a young woman across the mouth would play well with a 21st century audience? I know that in the 50s and 60s jokes about domestic abuse were common, but it can’t be tolerated today.

The scene that touched me the most was the one between Scout and Calpurnia, the now-retired domestic worker who served the Finch family for so many decades. Lee implies that the advent of the civil rights era has created a chasm between the white gentry of Maycombe County, Alabama, and their “Negro” servants and “neighbors.” Of course there is little acknowledgement that from the servants’ point of view that chasm always existed. Nonetheless in this meting with Cal, Scout feels this separation from the woman she considers her surrogate mother, and it wounds her in a way more poignant that the intellectual arguments she has with her father, uncle, aunt and boyfriend. (Yes, lots of people and lots of talk, talk, talk!)

It’s true that the flashbacks to childhood and teen years were the most engaging in the book. It makes sense that Lee’s editors back in the 50s urged her to focus on those. But I also have to wonder if her publisher’s real motivation was to steer Lee to a safer, less controversial subject that the fears of white southerners now the their servants were attempting to exercise their right to vote. Of course I’m happy Harper Lee wrote the heroic and beautiful To Kill a Mockingbird, but a well thought-out, polished novel on the fears of the 50s might well have been a gift to us too. As it is, it’s rather confusing and sad.

SPOILER ALERT: I miss Jem something awful.

Here are a few articles on the book I found interesting, even though they contradict each other:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/25/opinion/joe-nocera-the-watchman-fraud.html?_r=0

http://theconcourse.deadspin.com/go-set-a-watchman-isnt-a-good-book-but-it-is-an-import-1718471112

And to my writer friends: write a will. Write it now. Be sure your wishes are known. Don’t even get me started on whomever is handling Theodor Geisel’s estate.