Tag Archives: Writing

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!)

 

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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

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!

Celebrating the Rain

We’re celebrating a rare and wonderful rainy day here in parched Northern California—complete with deliciously heavy downpours, lentil-sized hail, lightning and big time thunder. I was blessed this afternoon to get home before the big show started, but here’s a journal piece I wrote after driving home in a powerful rain last fall—back when we all had high hopes that one rainy month was going to stretch into a rainy season and heal our drought woes. Thanks for reading:

Driving home from Placerville in the rain, mesmerized by the sound of the storm pounding like dried beans poured in a metal bowl, like pebbles striking. Suddenly I’m distracted by a high pitched rain drop, a maverick who wants to stand out, a small single dried pea that slips through the colander and pings on the floor. The noise is coming from the window by my left ear and I wonder if I will get to the valley and discover a leak and water puddled on the floor by my seat belt. No matter, I can’t turn now to check, can’t take my eyes off the wet road and the clutch of traffic. The car ahead of me is driving without his headlights on—a violation of a recent state law—and when I notice how grey and colorless his car is, I’m grateful for the high-pitched, pinging rain drop at my left ear. The steady pound of the storm on my windshield and roof is hypnotic; it’s the ping ping ping that’s keeping me awake. I think about getting home to my notebook so I can write all this down, and I berate myself that I haven’t written much lately. When I write every day the images and the words rise up out of the horizon like birds and airplanes and large animals, eager to appear in my poems and stories. It’s the habit that summons them. When I don’t write regularly I am stuck with the specter of dead friends and relatives, bullying bosses, and lovers who deserted me:  they come to tease at my frustration, my loneliness, my vulnerability. Specters who disappear like the rain.

 

Wherever you are today, I hope you’re enjoying your weather.

What do you write about?

I write about all the crap floating around inside my brain, the ghosts of school bullies and nuns in black habits, wielding rulers and sharp tongues.  I write about my favorite teachers from high school when the nuns abandoned their veils and wore peasant blouses and sandals and read Kahlil Gibran to us in religion class.  I write about how shy I’ve always been around boys, how I let my first boyfriend verbally abuse me and then when I’d try to please him he’d tell me I was a bad feminist and that he had so much more respect for the lesbians of our acquaintance.  I write about the kids I used to work with, how I wrote and wrote and wrote about them for a decade and a half and it always sounded sad, but they weren’t sad, they were some of the most joyful people I’d ever met.  I write about the one who died of leukemia and the one who drowned in a swimming pool and the one who died when a tree fell on the golf cart she was sitting in with her dad, and the one who died of a brain tumor and the one whose father beat her with an electric cord and the ones who were born in refugee camps whose parents would bow to me and send me hand made ornaments and charms and needlepoint squares. “Thank you for taking care of our mental child,” they’d say.

I write about mysticism and synchronicity, meeting a man at a bus stop who later showed up at my door who went out and dug in the dirt behind my classroom with my students, how good he was with Jeremy and G, how Mannix and Rico loved him so much.  The boys without fathers at home thought he was a rock star and I wrote a dozen love poems and he left a hundred dollar bill for me pressed between the sticky leaves of a calla lily plant in my back yard.  “He’s a gift to a writer,” I’d tell my friends.

 I write about baseball and dancing and religion and politics and mythology.  I write about Celtic heroes like Finn MacUail and his son Oisin and I write about Catholic saints like Claire and Bridget.  I write about Craig, the mystic/custodian who wiped down the chalkboards in my classroom and vacuumed the rugs and told me I was special.  “Don’t listen to anybody else,” he said.  “I’m here now.  This is not subtle.  You. Are. Special.”

 I write about people who have dropped dead and abandoned me, and how it pisses me off something awful, and of course I’m not really angry at them.  Not really.  Am I?  Did they go someplace better?  Are they hanging out without me?

 After Craig died I happened to come across a beautiful bookmark my friend Judy gave me a decade and a half ago.  It was just stuck in some random book.  She’d written on the back, “Thank you for being here.”  At the time she wrote that we were working with one of the meanest, least ethical people I’ve ever known—and he was stupid too.  She was thanking me—as I often thanked her—for hanging in there, to face him together.  But now I look at it, now that she is gone and Craig is gone, and I think she’s saying to me, “Thank you for being here–” here, on planet Earth, still doing whatever it is I’m doing that for some reason still needs to be done.  And when I found this bookmark again, right after losing Craig, right when I’d been wondering why I was still here, I thought, well, Judy’s telling me it’s good and she’s grateful and I guess I’ll believe her.

 And that’s what I write about.

(written with my beloved Thursday night writing group at John’s house)

Let’s Go!

I’ve been filling up notebooks writing like crazy for over forty years. A lot of it was venting and whining—or to be kinder to myself, I’ll call it “therapeutic.” I am happy to brag that over the years I’ve had several poems published, usually in local newsletters and chapbooks, but twice in nationally distributed anthologies.

Not too bad, I think, for a shy woman who spent most of her energy teaching children with special needs every day.

Now retired, I continue to write most days, and I joyfully spend one evening a week writing with companions at the home of John Crandall, using the Amherst Writers and Artists writing method. We have so much fun writing together! But whenever John or another friend suggest I might post a piece I’ve written minutes earlier, either here or on John’s blog, I’ve invariably pleaded that sure, I’ll do that, but at some future date, after I’ve done a spot of editing, or when I need to promote some future project, whatever. In other words, I’ll publish when the time is RIGHT, and the writing is PERFECT.

The other day, my inner guide said to me: Give It Up!! Your blog is not the New Yorker. It’s not even the Sacramento Bee. Nobody will sue you if you ramble (as I tend to do). You don’t even know if anybody’s reading this blog of yours!

Well, if you are reading, brace yourself because this blog is about to get MESSY!

In her book, The Wisdom Jesus, Episcopal priest Cynthia Bourgeault posits that Jesus taught us a very untraditional path to enlightenment. She says St. Paul calls it kenosis, a Greek word meaning “to let go” or “to empty one’s self.” Bourgeault explains:

Over and over, Jesus lays this path before us. There is nothing to be renounced or resisted. Everything can be embraced, but the catch is to cling to nothing. You let it go. You go through life like a knife goes through a done cake, picking up nothing, clinging to nothing, sticking to nothing. And grounded in that fundamental chastity of your being, you can then throw yourself out, pour yourself out, being able to give it all back, even giving back life itself. That’s the kenotic path in a nutshell. Very, very simple. It only costs everything.

 Well, to be honest, I’m not quite sure where an attitude like that leads. I’m not sure I’m ready for it. But putting more of my writing out here more often is going to be step one. And check me out on Twitter too (@nanschoellkopf) because I plan to show up there more often as well.

Thanks for reading. Invite your friends next time! I promise to make it fun.