Friday, August 14, 2009


Guest Post: An Unexpected Reaction, by Kim Smith

An Unexpected Reaction

by Kim Smith

I recently had an article published on Friday's Speak Out. Naturally, I was thrilled, and promptly fired off the link to sundry friends and family. All of the reactions were positive (oh, I love those strokes!) with one notable exception.

My father.

When I didn't hear from him, I phoned and asked him what he thought of the article. After a brief pause he said in an unenthusiastic tone, "It was great."

That wasn't enough for me. "Did you like it?"

"Well, I learned something about you that I didn't know before."

Expecting some sort of positive remark, I asked, "What's that?"

"I didn't know you were unhappy all your life." He sounded angry, and I immediately felt terribly small. I know he said more, but I blanked out and can't remember his exact words. I tried to laugh it off and change the topic, but when I hung up the phone, a flood of anxiety washed over me.

You see, I worked for my dad all my life. He hired me first as an office assistant, and eventually I became the bookkeeper for our small retail business. In my article, I wrote that I was unfulfilled all those years, and that I felt trapped. Not because of work or any external factors; it was an internal battle I was fighting.

Does my dad think that I'm not grateful? Does he feel resentful or annoyed? Or is he merely surprised to learn that I wasn't happy? I don't know what my dad actually feels; I am afraid to ask. The worst part about this conversation was that it made me doubt myself. I reread the article, berating myself for writing it in the first place, and for not anticipating every possible scenario.

His reaction, then, was unexpected and rather upsetting. In an ideal world, everyone would love every word I wrote, but alas, there is no such world. I never stopped to wonder how he, or anyone else, would interpret this particular story - I thought it was obvious what I meant - and I thought wrong. As with all experiences, good and bad, I walked away the wiser for it. I know that other writers must have similar experiences, and I wonder how they react.

Several people have commented that my stories are too dark/sad/depressing and have advised me to write 'happy' stuff. I never know how to react, so I just bite my tongue, though I feel that their advice akin to telling Tim McGraw he should sing pop. My husband, to my chagrin, is from this camp. While he enjoys my (very few) humorous writings, he dislikes many of my stories because of their serious content. Tactful man that he is, and keenly aware of my sensitive nature, his reviews usually sound like this: "You're a fantastic writer, honey, but I didn't really like it. Why don't you write a funny piece, for a change?"

Regardless of others' opinions, I do encourage them to point out awkward or confusing sentences; I've often taken their advice and made corrections. I especially am grateful when some alert soul points out grammatical errors, especially if it's a story I'm about to submit to a contest or for publication.

Then there are the writers who bare it all in their memoirs. How do they do it? I wonder. Do they prepare their family and friends ahead of time, or do they just fling it out there, daring to face the wrath of one or many? How many rifts are formed, permanently or otherwise? It is one thing to reveal one's less than stellar thoughts and actions, quite another to reveal another's. I doubt that I shall cross that particular bridge in this lifetime, so my family may rest easy.

My family and friends have been hugely supportive of my writing endeavors, and I value their support. Else why would I offer up my few published stories and wait eagerly for their responses? I realize that I have to accept certain comments at face value, and know that they are usually well intended, and to realize that I can't please everyone. Sometimes, I just need to remind myself: this is who I am, this is what I'm writing, this is what makes me happy.

Kim lives in the country with one needy dog, three perfect cats, one long-suffering husband, and far too many chickens. She tries to write on a regular basis after a suffering a writer's block of thirty years.


Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


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Saturday, May 10, 2008


Do They Get It?

If you live with people who aren't writers, but "get" your writer's lifestyle, consider yourself lucky. If, on the other hand, you're like many writers whose family and significant others don't really get it, you're in the majority.

Do you hand your husband or wife your latest short story to review, a story which took you two months to write, edit and polish to perfection? Do they read it and then say, "That's nice, dear" before going back to the TV/newspaper/garden? Does that make you want to scream, "But reread that fourth paragraph! Look at how skillfully I've used flashback there! And what about how I described the old man? Just look at that!"? Instead of screaming, many of us quietly take our stories, our carefully crafted babies if you will, and look at them with a pride only a parent can feel.

They don't get POV, foreshadowing, a turn of phrase that gives us goosebumps. They don't understand why we huddle over a keyboard that doesn't dole out rewards or praise, or why we'll jump out of bed at 3 o' clock in the morning to jot down sudden inspiration. They can't quite see all of the nuances that separate a mediocre story from a masterpiece. They just don't get it.

But if they're still willing to put up with some of the more well-known writers' idiosyncrasies, if they love you anyway, they can't be all bad.

After all, I don't get why my husband has to visit Home Depot every.single.Saturday.morning either.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008


Women as Writers: Take What's Useful...

A few months ago, I seemed to keep running into the same theme concerning women as writers: that once women start families, the vast majority of them stop writing.

I read it in Alice Walker: A Life, where she recalls one encounter with a woman she upset with her assertion that having more than one child hampers a woman's full creativity (I'm paraphrasing). Ms. Walker, of course, only had one child. The woman who reacted was bothered by the assumption, prompting her to write a letter to the author, who in turn told the woman that she should take what is useful and ignore the rest.

On one hand, I often say that same thing: take what is useful and ignore the rest. On the other hand, it does nag at me when I continue to run into the idea that women aren't allowed their full creativity when children come on the scene. When men become fathers, no one expects them to stop writing, but for women, who most often are the primary caregivers (whether they work outside of the home or not), unless she's a bestselling author, she can be expected to put her writing on the back burner.

If you've always been a writer, this can be akin to setting your dreams on the back burner, on a low fire and watching it slowly die.

Yes, it can be more difficult to find time to write when you have children, but if writing is truly your passion, what you were called to do, then it shouldn't matter if you have one child or five or ten. We all find time for what we truly value, whether it's reading, exercising or scrapbooking.

Of course, this may hit closer to home if you're a mother, but whether you have children or not, take what's useful: you're a writer, and ignore the rest: the idea that women always have to sacrifice the best of themselves.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008


You never know where you'll find an audience

I grew up in a family of educators. My dad was my high school English teacher. I must have inherited the grammar gene from him. My mom was my Kindergarten teacher and by the time I was ready to go to college, she'd taken over as the elementary media specialist. I'm positive I inherited the love-to-read gene from her. From both, the gene that controls creativity was passed on. Several extended family members were educators also, covering a variety of disciplines. Unfortunately, none of them passed on the mathematics gene!

These people were my first audience. They would listen to me read, would listen (or at least hear) the made-up stories that I would spin. They were my encouragers, always telling me that I could do anything I set my mind to, that I should follow my dreams.

Once you grow up and go to college - or off on your own, for that matter - you tend to lose touch with that audience. Or maybe you simply don't experience the encouragement as often as you did in the past.

When I graduated from high school, my godfather handed me journal and said, "Tell your story." I wasn't sure I wanted to write private thoughts in the book; what if someone else read it? I didn't realize that I was my own audience until I started college and a composition teacher told us that even if nobody else reads your work, you read it and you are the audience.

I wrote off and on, filling five journals during a twenty-year period. No feedback except from myself. And I was OK with that.

Then, my work started getting published. It was an interesting curiosity to me when I'd open my email program and receive letters from people who had ready my work and offered kind words. Sure, some of them were from family members, but most were from strangers. A new audience to write for!!

Now, I blog daily about my opinions, my writing career, and life on the dairy farm (city girl goes country). It replaced my hardbound journal, but I sent the link to a few family members - those early encouragers - and they would comment.

But I wondered how many people read my ramblings. Was I simply writing for myself? I found a program which tracked visitor paths. Yesterday, alone, I had hits from spots all around the world: Texas, France, Nebraska, New Jersey, Brazil, Spain, New York, Thailand, Canada.
And the interesting thing about the counter: many of those visitors had previously read my blog.

A world-wide audience! Wow! I'm still in awe that someone in Spain would stumble upon my blog and read, and read, and read. But it certainly opens up the possibilities for topics.

My parents are retired now, but they still encourage and support my writing habit. My dad is my clip master. He gathers extra newspapers or magazines and cuts my clips for me. And my mom volunteers at the local library and spearheads the 'Friends of the Library' committee. Recently, she invited me to speak about freelancing and read a few selections for a "Brown Bag at the Library" lunch program. I wasn't sure what to expect, but about 15 people (the town has 800 citizens) showed up and listened, and talked about writing wishes they had.

I offered encouragement.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007


Miss Misunderstood

I was estatic. Ifelt like I had just won the lottery. I was jumping up and down, gawking at an e-mail announcing I had received an honorable mention in Women on Writing’s summer flash fiction contest. I told my husband, my best friend and my two-month-old son. Then I paused. Should I call my parents?

Most people would say “Of course, call your parents!” But let’s just say that my family is – er— complicated. Whether or not to call them and let them read the story deserved at least a bit of consideration. My story was about a tender moment between a daughter and her dad, and there is almost no mention of a mom. Little did I know that this fact would become a pertinent issue to my mom.

Since I was high off the news of my award, I went ahead and called my parents. They were excited, in their own way (I think I interrupted their British soap operas on PBS). I told them I would e-mail the story to them that night.

Lo and behold, the next day my mom called. I had a sixth sense that we were going to talk about my writing. And we did. The conversation went something like this:

Mom: Hi. Well, I read your story.

Me: Great, what did you think?

Mom: Oh, it was good. You always have had good relationship with your dad . . .

Me: (I knew where this conversation was going.) Well, it wasn’t actually something that happened between dad and I. I made it up.

Mom: Oh, I know, I write sometimes, too. But we always pull from our experiences when we write. . .

Me: When I was writing it, I was actually using other peoples’ parents as my muse. It’s called fiction, mom, it’s not real.

Mom: Well, maybe next time you can write something nice about me and enter it in a contest.

Me: (Sigh) Yes, maybe next time. . .

(Thinking to myself: Yeah, just wait for my memoir, ma, you’ll definitely make it in to that piece of work.)

Obviously, there are tons and tons of issues behind this little conversation between my mom and I. (What mother/daughter relationship is simple?) But has anyone else handed over their writing to someone else, just to be completely misunderstood?

Two big questions loomed up in my mind as I sat considering this conversation with my mother. First, is it normal for the people in writers’ lives to be a little bit nervous? Are there writers out there who have started family feuds because of something written in a piece of fiction that struck too close to home? Second, how do we write about the nitty-gritty in our lives while protecting, or at least not angering, those closest to us?

I think I will be nervous if my daughter (now two-years-old) becomes a writer, especially a reflective, introspective writer like me. My writing does draw from my life, but the fun part is putting a new spin on a person or situation to make it portray the same theme in a new light. I think this is also a good way to protect real people from resembling my characters. Let’s pretend I have a stuffy old aunt from San Francisco who calls me to gossip about her the people at her bingo club. If I need this aunt’s character as part of my story, I could turn her into a young, interior decorator who gossips about her neighbors. The essence of the character is the same, but her identity is disguised.

I decided I am not going to censor myself as I write to alleviate these concerns. The interactions I have with people in my life will add vigor and believability to the characters I create in my stories. So much good material, no matter how much I need to disguise it, cannot go to waste.

-Susan L. Eberling

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