The Rent Collector by Camron Wright

I haven’t written a book review in quite some time. Too many books to read, not enough time. OK. I know that’s a bad excuse since we are now allowed out of the house on rare occasions but going out requires careful preparation and planning. It demands more energy than I think I have in reserve at this point.

So I stay home and read. I like that best. A woman from book club mentioned this book, The Rent Collector. It was available in a Kindle version so I downloaded it so no visit to the library needed. This is the most wonderful story I have read in a very long time.

The Rent Collector is set in Cambodia and the story revolves around people who live in the city dump trying to eeck out a meager existence by sorting through other people’s trash. I don’t want to tell you much about the story, because it’s one of those that you have to experience for yourself. It’s that good.

I will leave you with this however. For those of you who know me, I love a story that brings my emotions to the surface. The Rent Collector did just that, digging deep into my core. I openly wept. The characters showed love and compassion for each other in seemingly unexplainable ways. And I wept again when I turned the last page. I didn’t want it to be over.

A Mother’s Day to Remember

All my life I grappled with what card to buy for my mother on Mother’s Day. The mushy gushy ones just didn’t work for me. Maybe my mother would have liked them but we never had that kind of relationship. If you understand what I’ve said, then you too know that plain and simple sentiments are hard to find in the greeting card aisle.

I rarely felt the need to acknowledge June on Mother’s Day even though she was my step mother for over 50 years. She was more like my friend than one who nurtured and gave motherly advice. One of my most favorite chapters in our story, A Bittersweet Goodnight, is when I went to visit her in assisted living on Mother’s Day. I brought her tulips and two bags of chocolates. They were buy one get one free at Publix. June loved chocolate and a bargain.

We laid side by side in her single bed chatting like school girls and eating chocolates until they were almost gone. We sat there for hours. The aide finally came to collect June for dinner which she probably wouldn’t be able to eat. I closed the bag and tucked it in her drawer for a treat later. That was a good day for someone suffering from dementia and a wonderful memory for me.

I have many wonderful women in my life who have taught me about life and let me feel loved. So today I salute mothers, step mothers, pet mothers, sisters, friends, and women who simply care about and love others no matter who they are and where they come from. We need each and every one of you. That is my simple, loving sentiment to you all.

I’m Tired and Confused

I’m tired and confused and I bet you are too. Tired from doing what? That 4D puzzle of Washington DC on the dining room table is driving me nuts. Usually I can sit at a puzzle for hours on end until my back hurts from leaning over. This foamy second layer is a bear. And then I have put all the government buildings in place. The only two that are visibly recognizable are the Pentagon and the Washington Monument.

Tax season always wears me out and I usually look forward to getting fired on April 15th. This year, no such luck. Onward I go until July 15th. The plan is that when this pandemic is over I will have enough money saved to take one heck of a vacation to wherever my heart desires.

I went to Publix for some groceries. I hadn’t been out to the store in almost 3 weeks. Suddenly there is all this blue tape on the floor to mark off 6 feet distances and to tell me which way to go down an aisle. I, of course, fell into my old habits and took my usual path around the store. My grocery list was in order of position on that path so to optimize my time among the germs but not in the same order as the new blue arrows. More time in the germ pool made me glad I wore my mask.

The sub lady yelled at me for getting too close even though some people without masks stood on the wrong side of the tape, much closer to her than I. I yelled my order to her and she yelled back her questions. Shopping was suddenly not a pleasure. The sub finally made, I headed to the produce. How the heck am I supposed to pick tomatoes without touching them? The real clogging up happened on the dairy aisle way back in the corner. Everyone is out of milk and eggs and once they got their selection, they can’t get out of the way fast enough. I did a tango with a mask-less woman over the margarine. Did I put myself in danger?

This is the part I’m really confused about. The mask. I had mine on but so many people didn’t. Do they know something I don’t? Do they have antibodies and feel they are now free to roam the world un-masked? Or are they stupid and don’t care about the rest of us? Frankly I hate wearing a mask and I wonder how much longer we’ll have to do it if only half of us are taking the pandemic seriously. All this thinking about where to stand and which way to push my cart left me more than confused. I’m exhausted and now I know why. I’m confused.

Let’s Be Creative and Laugh! But Wash Your Undies First.

Today is Wednesday, my day off from tax preparation. This is the time in tax season where we all start to run out of gas while we dream of the day we get fired. Only this year that won’t be until July 15. All my summer excursion shave been cancelled so I might as well work.

I work from home so that’s a good thing for more than simply avoiding the coronavirus. When I just can’t bear to listen to another phone call about the difference between a standard deduction and itemizing, I can look at Facebook without the boss knowing.

Since laughter is the best medicine I clicked on the link that said “Make a Face Mask from Your Underwear”. See, you’re laughing already. Curious, I played it. So you stick your head through one of the legs then pull it up over your face. Then somehow you twist the rest of it at the back of your neck and pull the other leg over your head like a hat.

Just type that into You Tube and a plethora of instructional videos will pop up. You’ll see all shapes and sizes of panties, boxers and briefs saving humanity from the dreaded coronavirus. It might be worth a try. Just make sure you wash your undies first.

All is Well

I haven’t written in about a month. The start to 2020 has been good, bad and everything in between. It’s tax season to boot. So I’m working overtime, trying to housebreak a new puppy and the hardest of all, avoiding the dreaded coronavirus. All are zapping me of energy in their own special way.

Today is my day off so we started out this morning at Walmart. All of our prescriptions have been refilled! Yay! Scratch one thing off the list. We nabbed the last jar of grape jelly even though there is not a slice of bread in the store to spread it on. And we got Richard some new underwear, just in case we run out of toilet paper. I’d say that’s a good day.

Later today Pepper goes to the vet for another puppy shot. We’ll put him on the scale and see how much he’s grown. He’s almost sleeping through the night. He starts to fuss after five or six hours in his crate. I’ll take it since I can see a full night’s sleep in my not so distant future. This week he learned to jump on the sofa and how to find the wonders of magazines and books on the coffee table. Suddenly a whole new wonderful world has opened up for him.

At the end of a busy day I will do what I do every night before I get in bed. I say thank you to God and the Universe for all that I have, a nice home, good health, a loving husband, friends and neighbors, a warm puppy by my side. I know in my heart that all this fear and worry will pass. If we use this time to be kind and supportive to everyone around us, we will come out the other side in a happier and kinder community. And all will be well.

Be grateful. Be well my friends.

Black Dogs are suddenly all the Rage!

I haven’t had the time to write much lately. There’s a new sheriff in town and his name is Pepper. Pepper is the cutest little cockapoo and he’s all black with just a tiny bit of white on his chin. He stole my heart at hello.

Before we picked up Pepper to bring him home, I read an article that black dogs are the hardest to adopt when in a shelter. I don’t quite understand that. The black dogs are just as cute even though they are harder to take a picture unless you can catch them with their pink tongue sticking out. The eyes tend to blend in with the dark coat so a twinkle isn’t easy to capture. We got him from a breeder and he was the last one left so maybe there’s something to that black dog thing.

All of June’s dogs were black, Mia, Molly and Shana the black standard poodle. She had these dogs in the days before smart phones and our craziness of picture taking at every opportunity. So I think June was just ahead of her time, picking fashionable black pets to go with the little black dresses she carefully selected to sell in the many stores where she worked as a dress buyer. June was quite successful picking fashions that flew right off the racks.

Much ado was made recently when an all black standard poodle was crowned Best In Show at the Westminster Dog Show. She was a gorgeous dog but I can do without the froo froo fancy haircut. Shana, June’s standard poodle, sported what was called a kennel cut, the same length all over, simple and classic.

June would be thrilled to know that her favorite black dogs are back in style. She would be head over heels in love with Pepper, running her fingers through his silky hair for hours on end. Oh, I forgot he’s a puppy and he won’t sit still that long. But she’d love him because he’s classic and all black. And I bet now that black dogs are all the rage, more will find their way into happy homes.

Memoir or Autobiography?

Many people ask me the difference between a memoir and an autobiography. The explanation is simple; the execution more complicated.

An autobiography covers all the events of the narrator’s life, in chronological order. It starts at birth or childhood and goes to the present with the intent of detailing their life history. A memoir on the other hand, focuses on one or a few events in the writer’s life with the intent of spreading and teaching a specific message.

The key word in memoir writing is focus. And trust me staying in focus is hard. When writing my story of June, I thought of so many more anecdotes that could have been included. But I had to remain focused! Some of June’s tales were funny or touching but didn’t help to move the story of our relationship with her dementia along. To write a good, readable memoir, the writer still needs to follow the rules of the craft of writing. In an autobiography, although good writing skills are a must, laying everything out chronologically doesn’t require quite as much thought about tension and story arc.

I love studying the craft of writing and I love real life stories. Memoir is the perfect vehicle for my creative outlet. I think I have several more life stories to share with the world. You might want to read about the time I rafted down the Colorado river through the Grand Canyon, the challenge changing me and my life permanently for the better. I often think about my summers at the lake or reconnecting with high school classmates after forty years. These events changed me in some way, reconnecting me to what matters in this life.

And maybe someday I’ll be able to piece all my memoirs together and end up with my autobiography. I’ve got a way to go.

Showing My Flaws

Flaws, we all have flaws. We may not always be in touch with them or admit to having them but they are there, fresh and raw when uncovered. I’m typically a very private and often shy person, so laying all my imperfections out on the table for the world to see didn’t come easily.

I knew in my heart, that the story of my relationship with my stepmother June, was the one I needed to tell. Getting my inner most feelings out and onto the page was a therapy of sorts. I’d spend much of my writing time with tears streaming down my face. I often wanted to give up, the time invested was often too painful. I wanted to move to something lighter, funnier like my first book, One Clown Short. But the funnier stuff simply wouldn’t come out of my writer’s mind. Only my inner demons could make their way onto the page.

One of the first rules of memoir writing is to show your flaws. It seems people love to hear about other’s insecurities and ultimate personal miseries. It’s called the human condition. Or misery loves company. Maybe that’s true but I want to think I shared much more than that.

Friends and family started reading my book and their comments floored me. Some had been through similar situations with elderly family members and believed they were all alone. Others related to my struggle with alcohol or the burdens left behind when someone dies. I finally realized that I didn’t write A Bittersweet Goodnight in a vacuum, and even though I often felt alone, I never was.

The night I walked onto stage at the Royal Palm Literary Awards to accept my award, I cried. When I saw the cover for the first time, I cried. When I sold my first book on Amazon, I cried. Now that others out in the world have read my story and found something within its pages they could relate to, I no longer feel the need to cry. I’ve sent my story out into the universe, flaws and all, and it feels good.

We All Have a Story to Tell

We simply need to learn how to tell it, so that others can find it interesting. That’s the hard part. We all have our own style, likes and dislikes and each of us beats to our own drum. I know that A Bittersweet Goodnight may not appeal to everyone but I’d like to think I told my story in a way that others could relate to it and glean at least something that might touch them in their own life.

As I’ve written before, trying to sell my book is a mystery and a nightmare. It’s difficult to sort through all the different avenues promising to sell thousands of copies of my book if only I would fork over $200, $300 or even $500 to do so. When it comes to an author and their “baby”, everyone has their hand out. So I decided to start with a simpler option. Lots of memoir authors are willing to read a free copy in exchange for reviews on Amazon. I decided to start simple and join the crowd.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs. I always enjoyed reading them in the past and I’ve broadened my choices to help fellow authors. The books have ranged from stories of stepmothers, to growing up in the sixties and seventies, to a stand up comedian, to a famous singer and actress.

I find all of these life stories fascinating. I truly do, it’s my thing. My only wish is that some of them would spend more time on the craft of writing while telling their story. The first rule of writing is show don’t tell. Show me with words the brilliant hues of an amazing sunset don’t say the sunset was pretty that night. Show me with words how the smoky hazy cocktail bar made you feel the day you met the love of your while life sipping on a martini. Don’t say you met him at ladies night out.

I want to feel what you felt, see and smell what you saw. I want to be in your shoes. I hope that you walked a few steps in my shoes while reading A Bittersweet Goodnight. I hope that other writers, famous ones with household names included, will see my words as coaching and not criticism. If any of us is going to truly succeed as an author, we can’t just place words on a page. We need to work hard to make them dance, sparkle and shine.

Stepmother by Marianne Lile

I’ve been mixing things up a bit lately and haven’t done too many book reviews, but after I read Stepmother, I knew I had to write a review. My memoir, A Bittersweet Goodnight, is about my relationship with my stepmother, June. And it contains a few bits about my own experience being a stepmother. I believe this book is a good compliment to my own story.

The author fell head over heels in love with an older man who had 2 teenage children. That’s how it starts, falling in love without thinking about what that might mean once living under the same roof. She tried so hard to fit in and blend the family but hit a roadblock every single time.

Although my situation is different, they all are, it is so much the same. The stepmother is always viewed as the outsider by the children, the community and often even the husband. Society has some skewed view that the stepmother is second class and unable to care and love for children and families that are not her own. This is so wrong.

While I didn’t think this book was particularly well written, the message hit home. Whatever made Marianne mad, made me mad because I’d been there and felt those same crushing emotions at times. Stepmother is a great guidebook for those of you out there struggling to blend your family together. You will find within these pages comfort and understanding. You are not alone.