Blogger’s Block

We Can Do It! Rosie the RiveterUgh. I’ve been trying to think of something to blog about for several days… After posting faithfully three times a week for ten years (it was ten years in August) I’ve been struggling with my blog for several months now. Sure, I’m busy with a book tour and finishing up a fourth book project and all that, but writing—the thing I tell myself I live for—just isn’t coming easily these days. (Not only for the blog, but for my next project, which I can’t settle on yet.)

What am I doing instead? Binge-watching “Alias Grace” on Netflix (and wishing I could write like Margaret Atwood, who probably never watches TV), taking my computer to the Apple Store to get some wisdom from the folks at the Genius Bar (actually had a very productive session today), taking book festival posters to Michaels for framing (great Veteran’s day sale on custom framing), and binge-eating mango smoothies, my latest food obsession. So, this afternoon I started thinking about what subjects I used to write about the most on this blog. Here’s what I came up with:

My mother. Who died in May of 2016. I wrote over 60 blog posts about our relationship and her journey with Alzheimer’s between 2007 and 2016, most of which ended up as essays in my first book, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s.

Iconography and spirituality/religion. I quit writing icons in 2012, but sometimes I still write blog posts about iconography, especially weeping icons and other aspects of this liturgical art that play a big part in my novel Cherry Bomb. So, I’ll probably still do some posts about icons in the future, but nothing is really grabbing me right now. And as all authors know, it’s much easier to write about something when one either has issues with it or is extremely excited about. Both of those things have been true about my relationship with God and my Church over the years, but I find myself in a calm and content place with both right now, which doesn’t give much fodder for my pen. You’ll be the first to know when either of them does something else to piss me off or something earth-shatteringly wonderful. (Not that the Virgin birth or Jesus’ rising from the dead weren’t big enough deals… and maybe I need to pay more attention to these events’ eternal wonderment.)

Mental health. Especially about sexual abuse, addiction issues (both food and alcohol), and depression. Instead of blogging about these issues lately, I’m finding myself reading more. I’ve just re-read memoirs by Mary Karr and Carolyn Knapp, and some of Joan Didion’s writing (and did you watch that amazing documentary about her on Netflix? In “The Center Will Not Hold,” Didion said, “Novels are often about things you cannot deal with.” True that.) I think what I’m finding as I read the wisdom of others and watch their talents on the screen is that I don’t have much to say right now that’s very important. I thought about blogging about #MeToo but so much has already been written about it that I don’t see a void to fill. But if you’re looking for something good to read about overcoming life’s adversities (and especially abuse and difficult childhoods) read Meg Jay’s article in today’s Wall Street Journal, “The Secrets of Resilience.” Dr. Jay is a clinical psychologist and has a book coming out on Tuesday: Supernormal: The Untold Story of Adversity and Resilience. As I think about my own struggles and the horrific stories that are being shared on the media right now in the #MeToo “movement,” I think Dr. Jay’s words are very wise and timely:

Finally, remember the ways you have been courageous and strong. Too often we remember what has gone wrong in life rather than what we did to survive and thrive. Think back on a time when you were challenged and give yourself credit for how you made it through. You may already be more resilient than you think.

Good words to close with. Maybe next week I’ll have more to say here, although I will be traveling again with my book tour on two days and learning to Skype with a book club in Texas one night. Talking about my writing is so much easier than actually writing. Pray for me.

Workshop Speaker, Writer’s Digest Guest Blog Post, and PERENNIALS!

I’ve got lots of NEWS today!



First of all, I’ll be speaking at Neil White’s Write & Publish Workshop in Oxford, Missisisppi on September 22-23. It’s a two-day workshop (8:30-4:30 each day) and I’ll be speaking on Day 2, the Publishing part of the workshop. You can REGISTER for one or two days. Neil always gathers terrific industry professionals for these workshops, and I’m honored to take part in this one. Here’s more information:

WRITE & PUBLISH YOUR BOOK: A Two-Day Workshop with Neil White

Next up, my guest blog post was published Monday at the Writers Digest’s editors’ blog, “There Are No Rules.” You can read it here:

“I Landed 4 Book Deals in 1 Year With No Agent: Here’s How I Did It”

PerennialsAnd finally, I just finished reading PERENNIALS, Julie Cantrell’s latest novel (to be released in November—I’ve got an advance reader’s copy) and was so blessed by it, as I always am by Julie’s writing.

Like me, Julie is a Christian who is also a writer, not a “Christian writer.” Her fiction is beautiful literary prose with strong spiritual elements, but not “Christian fiction.” (I wrote a bit about Julie’s last novel, The Feathered Bone, back in January of 2016.)

As the title suggests, Perennials is all about flowers, but also full of wonderful “floral” metaphors. Julie gives her readers much to ponder about our own lives through the stories she tells. She’s not only a wonderful storyteller, but also a wise woman who bravely shares her insights for everyone who is willing to receive them. Not only in the book itself, but at the end, where she has included discussion questions and “Activity Sparks.” My favorite one:

At one point Lovey considers the timeline of her life. Make a timeline of your life. What key moments have you included? Notice the high points and the low points. Do you notice “seasons” in your own life: growth, bloom, loss, ruin, rebirth?

I actually did a similar timeline/list a few months ago, and found it helpful. But I wasn’t looking for those “seasons” and the wonderful comparisons to the timelines of things like flowers in the natural world. Julie truly has a gift, and I hope you will buy PERENNIALS and enjoy her art and her compassionate wisdom.

Dust Jacket Copy for Cherry Bomb!!!

Dust-jacketI hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas! I’ve shared lots of pictures on Facebook, so I’m not going to bomb my blog with our family Christmas images, but we are having a wonderful time in Denver with two of our three “kids” and their families, including our four granddaughters (which is why I didn’t do a blog post on Friday). We’ll head back to Memphis tomorrow where I’ll continue work on all four books in their various stages of editing, production, and marketing.

I’m excited to share this wonderful blurb written by my publisher, Joe Lee, for the front inside cover of my novel Cherry Bomb. It appeared on the Dogwood Press blog, Friday, December 23, 2016. Check out the other authors featured there, including my friend John Floyd who is a wizard with short stories. His latest book is Dreamland.

Thanks for this wonderful blurb, Joe! (This will be a hardback book with a dust jacket cover. We’re working on cover art now, so stay tuned!)

In the same way that a good bookseller can get you excited about reading a book (as our Mississippi booksellers do so well), good dust jacket copy does the same thing — how often have you read the flap cover and said, “Gosh, I’ve GOT to get this!” With that in mind, here’s the dust jacket copy for Susan Cushman’s debut novel, Cherry Bomb, which I can’t wait for us to roll out next October:

            By the tender age of sixteen, Mary Catherine Henry has lived through enough horror to last a lifetime. Sexual abuse at the hands of her cult-leading father, abandonment by her drug-addicted mother (who nicknamed her Mare), and several spirit-crushing years with a dysfunctional foster family convince her that life on the streets will be easier, somehow, than what she’s always known.

What keeps Mare going is the budding artist inside her, and the sleepy Southern town of Macon, Georgia, doesn’t know what hit them when colorful graffiti “bombs” begin appearing on abandoned buildings—Mare even dares to decorate a Catholic church with a highly provocative message. The young runaway signs her work CHERRY BOMB, attracts the attention of the local media, and is soon caught—but not by police.

 A photographer for Rolling Stone learns of Mare while on assignment, finds her, and befriends her. So does a reporter for The Macon News and, eventually, the priest of the parish whose walls Mare defaced so angrily. Their efforts help earn her a scholarship at prestigious Savannah College of Art & Design, where she studies under legendary Abstract Expressionist painter Elaine de Kooning. It’s a wonderful mentoring relationship … until Mare and Elaine discover they have much more in common than a love of art. And that bond, which forces both women to deal with pain and anger from their repressed pasts, threatens to tear them apart.

With a mix of remarkably visual characters and an intricate, compelling plot rich with intriguing religious imagery, Mississippi author Susan Cushman has penned a powerful debut novel that will stay with you long after you’ve turned the final page. You’ll never forget Mare and Elaine … and you’ll never look at religious icons—and street graffiti—the same way.


Wow! Doesn’t that make you want to read the book? And you can support Susan before then by picking up a copy of Tangles and Plaques (A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s), which will be released in several weeks by eLectio Publishing.

End of Year Book List

2016 has been an industrial year for me, as I finished querying presses and signed 4 book deals. And now here at the end of the year, those 4 books are in various stages of organization, editing, pre-publication, and marketing. As a writer, I feed my creative spirit on the works of other authors. Often I read more than one book at a time, usually a novel and a nonfiction book. I rarely read short stories (although there’s one excellent collection in this list) or mysteries, but I love poetry, memoir, literary novels, books about spirituality and art, books about courageous and interesting women, and some “self-help” books.



I read 38 books in 2016. Fifteen are by authors I know personally. I would love to meet the other 22 one day, although a couple of them are no longer living. Here they are in alphabetical order. If you click on the links, you can read my blog posts on any of them you are interested in.

A Charmed Life by Mary McCarthy

A Lowcountry Heart by Pat Conroy

A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor

All the Way to Memphis by Suzanne Hudson

Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman

American Happiness (poetry) by Jacqueline Allen Trimble

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Delta Rainbow: The Irrepressible Betty Bobo Pearson by Sally Palmer Thomason

Dimestore: A Writer’s Life by Lee Smith

Dispatches From Pluto by Richard Grant

Drifting Too Far From the Shore by Niles Reddick

Forever Chic: Frenchwomen’s Secrets for Timeless Beauty, Style, and Substance by Tish Jett

Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of  Lent and Easter Edited by Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe

Guests on Earth by Lee Smith

How Does That Make You Feel? True Confessions From Both Sides of the Therapy Couch edited by Sherry Amatenstein

Inside the Dementia Epidemic: A Daughter’s Memoir by Martha Stettinius

Journeying Through Grief by Kenneth C. Hauck

Lines Were Drawn: Remembering Court-Ordered Integration at a Mississippi High School edited by Teena F. Horn, Alan Huffman, and John Griffin Jones

Woman_reading_a_book_(3588551767)Lisette’s List by Susan Vreeland

Little Wanderer (poetry) by Jennifer Horne

My Southern Journey by Rick Bragg

Not a Place on Any Map by Alexis Paige

Pray and Color by Sybil McBeth

Robert Walker, a novel by Corey Mesler

Still Life: A Memoir of Living Fully With Depression by Gillian Marchenko

The Confessions of X by Suzanne M. Wolfe (winner 2017 Christianity Today Book of the Year Award for Fiction)

The Courage to Grow Old by Barbara Cawthorne Crafton

The Feathered Bone by Julie Cantrell

The Gift of Years by Joan Chittister

The Headmaster’s Darlings by Katherine Clark

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

The Muralist by B. A. Shapiro

The Sanctum by Pamela Cable

Waffle House Rules by Joe Formichella

West With the Night by Beryl Markham

Why We Write About Ourselves edited by Mereditih Maran

Books for 2017What’s in the queue for 2017? (also in alphabetical order) Watch for reviews on my blog next year!

*Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Garden in the East by Angela Carlson

The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race edited by Jesmyn Ward

The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson

The Statue and the Fury by Jim Dees

*When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

*On Barnes & Noble’s list of the Top 100 bestselling books of 2016

Happy reading, everyone! I’d love to hear what your favorite books from 2016 were!

Behind the Scenes with Tangles and Plaques and Richelle Putnam

Richelle Putnam

Richelle Putnam

This morning I was interviewed on Behind the Scenes with Richelle Putnam on Meridian, Mississippi’s 103.3 Supertalk Mississippi radio station about my upcoming book, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s.  You can listen to the 16-minute interview here.

When you click on the link, fast-forward to 5:15 minutes in to listen to the interview, which ends 21:35 minutes into the one-hour show.

Richelle and I met almost ten years ago at the first Mississippi Writers’ Guild Conference in Clinton, Mississippi, (August 2007) and we’ve been keeping up with each other Facebook. She’s not only a radio show host, she’s also a musician, songwriter, and author. I’m looking forward to being with her again in person some time this spring, when I’ll be in Meridian for another interview as well as a literary/musical event with Richelle.

My particular interest in Meridian stems from the fact that my mother was from Meridian, and I lived there for a couple of years when I was 3-5 years old (1954-56). And some of my favorite childhood memories are of summer vacations spent with my grandmother (my mother’s mother) who sewed all my clothes for the coming school year while I was with her each summer. For many of those summers my parents would come over (from Jackson, Mississippi, where we lived then) for a few days for Dad to play in the Northwood Country Club golf invitational tournament. As I got older my pre-teen and teenage memories include hanging out at the swimming pool with friends I made in Meridian—including Carol Pigford and Missy McWilliams—while Dad played in the tournament. And I loved following him around the course each year that he was in the final round of the championship flight.

I haven’t been back to Meridian since the last trip I made there with my mother about fifteen years ago. We visited the cemetery where my grandparents are buried, and old neighborhoods and homesteads. I look forward to returning in the spring for an event for Tangles and Plaques. Stay tuned for more information. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy the interview.

An Apology From This Old Blogger

A few weeks ago I got a comment on my blog that said something like, “It’s great to see older people blogging.” Needless to say, I didn’t allow it to be published on my site. Instead I allowed myself to be slightly offended—why did this person think I am old? Does he know I’m only 65? Does he think 65 is old? Has he seen my picture and thinks I’m a curmudgeonly grandmother-type? Hmmph!

Barbara Crafton

Barbara Crafton

And then yesterday I read Barbara Cawthorne Crafton’s “Almost-Daily eMo” from The Geranium Farm. Although the piece was talking about an image of the Mother of God and Christ with angels, St. Francis was in the corner of the picture, and she focused on his appearance. From that she morphed into why she was having a new picture made of herself, and why we care what someone looks like—or why we want to know what someone looks like.

We really want to know what people look like. Radio announcers—you have a vision of them in your imagination, and it can be disconcerting meeting them in person. Some people only SOUND tall, dark and handsome.

Authors, too: we think we know who they are because we have read their words. We picture them in our minds, and when we see photographs of them, we’re slightly shocked. She sounds so sexy and gorgeous. How can she look like my grandmother?

One answer to this, of course, is that you may have seriously underestimated your grandmother. And the other is that the mind itself is beautiful, and far more potent in its beauty than anything the body can summon. Young people receive this news with minimal interest, but older folks are counting on it.

 Yes, I want to be considered sexy and gorgeous, and I think that my grandmother (my mother’s mother) was beautiful, and my mother—who died at 88 this past May—was gorgeous, even as a great-grandmother. I paid good money for a professional photographer to capture my best look for my author photo (which I use as a profile photo on Facebook) and I carefully screen and crop any photos before posting them. I guess I’m pretty vain, but growing up as a woman in the South teaches us to always put our best face forward. (I love the title of Southern author Shellie Rushing Tomlinson’s book, Suck In Your Stomach and Put Some Color On!)

There’s nothing wrong with caring about our physical appearance, so long as we care more about what’s on the inside. And so long as we spend as much time and energy cultivating generative lives—reaching out to others and being active in our creative lives—as we spend on our physical bodies. I think this becomes more prominent in our thinking as we get older, which is one reason I decided to put together the anthology I edited, A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be (coming from Mercer University Press in March, 2017).

CourageNow that I’ve discovered Crafton’s Almost-Daily eMos, I’ve become a fan of her writing. I just ordered her book, The Courage to Grow Old (Moorehouse Publishing, 2014). As I consider what she might have to share, I glance over at the books on the turntable beside my “reading chair,” and I remember discovering—about this time two years ago—Nicholas Delbanco’s wonderful book, Lastingness: The Art of Old Age. And then I re-read my blog post about the book, “Tribal Elders and a Hopeful Genre,” and I’m delighted to see my progress since then! I was still plugging away on my novel (a six-year work in progress for which I now have a contract pending… more on that soon!) and I hadn’t even conceived of Tangles and Plaques or A Second Blooming, my two books coming out in January and March of 2017! I wrote about my sadness at not having achieved my goal of publishing a book by age 60… and now I’ll have two books by 65. Just barely, as I’ll turn 66 on March 8.

If it sounds like I’m rambling now, that’s because I am. What started as a post about physical appearance has morphed into an emotional outpouring from my “old” soul. So, if the reader who commented that he was glad to see older folks blogging is still reading my blog, please forgive me for not publishing your comment. Send me another comment, and I’ll try to be less defensive. Today this old blogger is feeling thankful to be doing what I love. Thanks for reading!

Time For a Change?












Four years ago this summer I decided to organize my blog posts into three categories: Mental Health Monday, Writing on Wednesday, and Faith/Family on Friday. Over 600 blog posts later—keeping for the most part within those parameters—I might be ready for a change. I had been blogging for five years (since 2007) without using those categories, but in 2012 something shifted in my small corner of the blogosphere. I think I was craving organization. And most days it’s helpful to have those writing prompts for the blog. But sometimes—like on any given Friday—I might not have something on my heart about faith or family. And not every Monday finds me “cryin’ all of the time.” Since I write—or read or research or think or do something related to writing—almost every day, I don’t really need Wednesdays as a category for writing.

As I write these words, I’m wondering what it might feel like to wake up on a Monday morning, for example, and think, “Hm. I don’t have to write about mental health today. I can write about anything!” Would that free up the muse, or break down the discipline I’ve been following for four years?

Of course it’s no small thing that one of the main topics I blogged about for Mental Health Mondays was my mother’s journey (and mine as her caregiver) with Alzheimer’s, and that journey ended with her death in May, so I know I’m feeling a huge gap, not only in my life, but in my writing world. (I penned sixty posts about Mom over the past nine years.)

So, I’m considering a change. But I want to know what you, my readers, think. Do you enjoy having these categories for the blog? Do you only read the blog on certain days, when you know I’m going to be writing within a category that interests you? Please leave a comment here, on Facebook, or email me at and let me know your thoughts. If I quit using these categories, it won’t be a change I’ll make lightly (if it ain’t broke….).

Have a great weekend, and thanks, always, for reading!

Writing on Wednesday: Oxford Writes

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAOxford Writes is a new organization in Oxford, Mississippi. Their “mission statement” which appears on their web site says:

We are a mentoring and development venture in Oxford, Mississippi, for aspiring or published writers to interact with others to share their works and ideas.​

To that end, they held their first writers’ event this past Saturday. They offered the one-day workshop without charge to the first 60 people to register. By the time I heard about the event I could only get on the waiting list, but thankfully someone cancelled and I was able to participate.

Eileen Saunders, Daphne Davenport, Julie Cantrell and me at the City Grocery balcony bar after the Oxford Writes workshop

Eileen Saunders, Daphne Davenport, Julie Cantrell and me at the City Grocery balcony bar after the Oxford Writes workshop

I was enthused when I read this article in The Local Voice.  The workshop did not disappoint. It was so well organized—from the beautiful venue to the complimentary food and terrific craft talks and break-out workshops. Kudos to Jeff Roberson, organizer, and everyone else who worked to make this such a success.

How great to meet Adam Ganucheau (journalist, social media and blogging coordinator, among other skills) and Wesley Bell (who writes grants for a non-profit and has a faith-based blog)—two smart young guys who led the Online Writing, Blogging and Social Media workshop.  Although I’ve been blogging for almost nine years, I gained some valuable new insights from Adam and Wesley.

Jim Weatherly speaking at Oxford Writes

Jim Weatherly speaking at Oxford Writes

It was also fun to meet Jim Weatherly (famous for writing Midnight Train to Georgia and many others hits, and he also played football at Ole Miss) who talked about song writing. Although it’s different than writing books, there were several things he said that can apply to all writing. My favorite take-away from Jim:

I write for the listener—to elicit an emotion. Use fewer words, but important, emotional words.

I’ve known Neil White for about eight years and I’ve heard him gift craft talks on creative nonfiction many times, but I always learn something new. I think my main take-away from his talk on Saturday was about the importance of VOICE:

Voice is writing so that people know it’s you—and being authentic.

I can’t hear that often enough.

Julie Cantrell and I met about five years ago and our paths continue to cross. She was kind enough to read and critique my novel, Cherry Bomb, in its early stages, and she gave me valuable feedback. This was the second time I heard Julie give a craft talk, and her teaching ability continues to amaze me. I took five pages of notes, which I’m now going over and trying to apply her advice to my work. So here are a few of my favorite take-homes from Julie’s talk:

Be passionate—view your writing like a secret lover.

What’s your novel’s theme?—How do the characters’ actions change them?

Be a lifelong learner—give your readers something new.

Fine your true voice—your way back to your true self.

Bring your readers through stages of emotional and spiritual growth, just as you bring your characters through those stages.

I could go on and on sharing the details of the workshop, but instead I encourage aspiring and emerging writers to keep up with Oxford Writes and watch for future events and try to attend!

I’ll close with a hands-on writing exercise Julie had us do. We were asked to spend two minutes writing a list of ideas we might like to write a book about. And then she helped us narrow those ideas down. Finally she had us look at that idea or character and ask “the great what if.” Here’s how my idea—to write about a piece of art—began to take shape by asking that question:

WHAT IF… Jackson Pollack and his mistress, Ruth Kligman, have a love child who is put up for adoption and eventually discovers her heritage through finding her father’s final painting, “Red, Black, Silver,” which had been lost.

Quotes-From-Elizabeth-Gilbert-Big-MagicI actually wrote a first draft of the opening chapter of this novel two years ago, had it critiqued at a workshop and later by a writing group, but it hasn’t drawn me in yet. Maybe I’m not passionate enough about it. Julie shared this quote from Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book on writing, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, which I’m thinking about as I consider my next project:

Life should be fun. We should be playing.

Writing on Wednesday: The New Epistolary

plaques-and-tangles-300x225Back in October I did a post, “Plaques and Tangles, the Book,” about my decision to publish a book, Tangles and Plaques, which contains essays drawn from fifty blog posts about long-distance caregiving for my mother, who has Alzheimer’s. (Someone in my writing group suggested I reverse the words in the title, and I like it better this way, too.)

Now I’ve begun the process of querying publishers for the project. I’ve decided to go with small presses, rather than seeking agent representation and hoping for publication with one of the big houses. In the past ten days, I’ve queried eight presses. I found the data base of presses in Poets & Writers. Fingers are crossed.

Meanwhile, I’ve decided to share the Introduction to this collection here. You never know who might be reading…. So here it is.


The New Epistolary


In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, epistolary novels—based on letters or journal entries by one or more characters—were all the rage. In today’s social media culture, blog posts have upstaged journal entries and letters. A collection of those posts could be called the new epistolary.

On November 24, 2007, I wrote my first blog post about my mother, Effie Johnson, and her journey with Alzheimer’s. Over the next eight years, I published more than fifty additional posts about Mom. With a little editing, those posts now appear as essays in this collection.

Why “Tangles and Plaques”?

The title comes from my blog post of August 13, 2012. Here’s an excerpt:

The brain has 100 billion nerve cells (neurons) that operate like tiny factories. Alzheimer’s disease prevents parts of a cell’s factory from running well. As the disease spreads, cells lose their ability to do their jobs and eventually die, causing irreversible changes in the brain.

With this loss of brain cells comes the loss of memory—the stories that make up the fabric of a person’s life—as well as the inability to perform everyday life chores.

Tangles and plaques tend to spread through the temporal lobe cortex and hippocampus as Alzheimer’s progresses.

Neurofibrillary tangles are twisted fibers of another protein called tau, which build up inside the cells.

Argyrophilic plaques are deposits of a protein fragment called beta-amyloid, which build up in the spaces between nerve cells.

By the time this collection of essays becomes a book, it’s possible Mom may be done with the tangles and plaques. I’m hoping that she will have joined my father—her spouse of 49 years—on the other side, because the quality of her life after seven years in a nursing home so far—being fed through a peg tube to her stomach since January of 2013—is certainly not what I desire for her.

My close friends and relatives know that loving Mom and caring for her has been complicated by her emotional and verbal abuse of me (and my brother) for most of my life. Those issues are addressed in several of the blog posts comprising this book. The silver lining in Mom’s disease is that the same tangles and plaques that have stolen most of her memory have also erased the dysfunctional part: she has forgotten how to criticize and abuse. In her altered state, she is much easier to love. To forgive.

I live in Memphis and Mom is 200 miles away in Jackson, Mississippi. During these years as I have blogged about my long-distance caregiving, I have received many positive comments from readers, some of whom are also in the position of caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s. It was an easy decision to gather these stories into a book so that I could share them with more readers. I’ve done only light editing, not wanting to lose the immediacy and voice of the original blog posts, which were written within a day or two after each visit with my mother.

I have tried to blend humor (“The Glasses,” “I Can’t Find My Panties,”) with pathos (“Disappearing Stories,” “End of Life Issues”); hope with despair, in these essays. Alzheimer’s is a universal issue, especially for those of us in the generation tagged the “Baby Boomers.”

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the disease is “the only cause of death among the top ten in America that cannot be prevented, cured, or slowed.” It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, and more than fifteen million people provide care to people with dementia.

Mom is second generation Alzheimer’s. Her mother died with the disease at age 86—in the same nursing home where my mother now lives. Of course I watch my mother’s decline with fear and trembling. I often see myself in her place, and all I can do is pray for God’s mercy, and for a breakthrough in the research being done to try to stop this modern-day plague. It is my hope that my mother’s journey—and mine—will resonate with readers who share these struggles. I think you will find that the tangles and plaques aren’t only in our brains, but often in our relationships.

Writing on Wednesday: DANGEROUS Writing

P&W Jan Feb 2016 coverThe January/February 2016 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine has a terrific article by Tom Spanbauer, author of five novels. Spanbauer teaches “Dangerous Writing” in his home in Portland, Oregon. What is it?

To write dangerous is to go to parts of ourselves that we know exist but try to ignore—parts that are sad, sore; parts that are silent, and heavy. Taboo. Things that won’t leave us alone.

That’s just a snippet at the beginning of a meaty article which was excerpted and adapted from a talk Spanbauer gave at the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon, for Poets & Writers Live ( )on October 17, 2015. There’s so much to glean from this article. I’ll only share a few things that stood out for me.

Spanbauer refers to the writer’s stories as his battlefield, and encourages us to go there in order to reflect the truly human side of ourselves, which is what makes writing truly engaging. As he says:

There is no one who is human who is not in battle. So since there’s a battle going on in inside all of us, why not acknowledge that this battle is what defines us as humans and start writing about how it feels to be in this perpetual battle? We can write to the larger question of human suffering by writing of the struggle that exists in our own hearts.

previewI can relate to this in my own writing, especially my first two attempts at writing memoir (both of which are on the shelf for now) and in my dozen or more published essays. Every (good) editor and (good) writing group I’ve worked with has pointed out to me over and over again the importance of being transparent about my feelings. Friends and family who know me well are probably thinking I don’t need help expressing my feelings, but it’s one thing to “over-share” and another thing entirely to write in such a way that your stories—even and maybe especially the fictional ones—reveal universal truths in a powerful way.

But Dangerous Writing is about much more than transparency and emotional honesty. It’s about voice—specifically what Spanbauer calls the “redemptive voice”—and about making our words sing. It’s also about scene-building, loving your objects, and creating places to slow down the pace so that the reader will pay closer attention to the details. It’s about things like “disclosure” and “conjurance.” Don’t those words make you want to read more? Check out this article if you’re a writer… or if you’re an attentive reader who wants to learn more about the craft you enjoy as a consumer.

I’m about to begin yet another round of edits on my novel, as soon as I receive the next overview from the editor. At the same time, I’ll be editing more essays for the anthology I’m putting together, as they are due to me by tomorrow! Spanbauer’s words will be in my head as I respond to the stories these incredible authors are sharing with me. I was emailing with one of them the other day and it was obvious that she is writing from her battlefield, and her words are powerful. She has followed Spanbauer’s advice without even knowing it:

By forcing the writer to look at an event that changed her life, she has to come to terms with something that is intimate…. So immediately the story has roots in the psyche of the writer. By going to her own heart and her own memories and her own pain, the writer knows the setting… the characters… the conflict….

I hope that each of the women who are writing essays for A Second Blooming are courageously storming through that battlefield these final days before the deadline. I know these women personally, and I chose them for this anthology not only because of their writing skills but also because I believe they have indeed made it through that battlefield into a second (or third or fourth) blooming. Can’t wait!

sydney-opera-house-2-636x393This is my final blog post for 2015. Just got an end-of-year report from Jetpack, which monitors traffic to my blog. Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 34,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 13 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

In 2015 I published 154 new posts, which were read by people in 139 countries! Thanks to everyone who visits, reads, and leaves comments at Pen and Palette. To subscribe and receive email updates, scroll down to the bottom left of this post and leave your email address. Please keep reading in 2016, and Happy New Year!

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