Cemeteries

My sister wants to visit the cemetery. While we haven’t been there in years, I knew which one she meant, and was instantly flooded with memories. And the memory of boredom.

Our first dad died when we were young. After that, every Memorial Day, there was a trip to the cemetery. Mom would cut huge bouquets from snowball shrubs and rhododendrons taller than the house eaves. Us kids were required to go along, and the car would be filled with the sickening sweet scents of flowers, sap from cut branches and buds, and crushed leaves. Under it all would be the subtler scents of earth.

Snowball_flowers_(13985050634)

Wikimedia Commons Image, by Fulvio Spada

At the cemetery mom used a screwdriver to pull up the vase that invariably would have become overgrown with sod during the previous year. We got to run to the nearby fountain to fill the vase and then mom would arrange the flowers. And then stand there. We were required to also stand there solemnly.

Holly dad Aunty mom Lisa Steven neighbor

The sister held by our first dad, with paralysis taking over his right side. Aunty next to him. Me, blurry with movement sitting on the back step. Our brother’s little butt. Mom in the doorway in the dark coat.

I used to wonder what she thought about, while us kids fidgeted and waited for the heavy sigh and sniffled tears that said, finally, we could race back to the car and go home. Move on to more important kid things. As I got older I also wondered if there wasn’t a tiny part of her that was aware of the image she presented to all the other annual cemetery visitors – the woman alone with small children standing by a grave. Did people wander over after we left, to see the name of a man who died too young, with his Navy insignia on the headstone? Did they wonder what his story was? If he’d died in the Korean War, perhaps, since the dates were right? Did their imaginations conjure stories for the grieving widow, still so loyal? For the fatherless children? Of course they wouldn’t know that there was a second dad at home, most likely pottering out in the garage enjoying the rare quiet, with pipe in hand.

Dad 1990 flood

Second dad. Can you see the pipe stem (unlit at the time) in his left hand?

Later, more graves came along. Aunty, who was more like a grandmother. Her brother, Harry, who lived with her the last year of his life. The one us kids heard coming down the stairs with his signature slow, heavy tread, a week after he died. A great-uncle notorious for never knowing his slacks were unzipped (much to our entertainment) and who got his point across by poking people with his cane.

I find old cemeteries more interesting than new ones. Nine Mile Cemetery in Wallace, Idaho, is up a steep hillside among tamarack trees. I imagine the people there enjoying the view for centuries, since they are almost buried standing upright.

There was one cemetery in Dumfries, Scotland where the headstones were six-foot long slabs with the person’s life story carved there, still readable two hundred years later. The stories they wanted us to remember, beyond just their birth and death dates. The things they were proud of that no one, today, would know.

One of our grandfathers was buried in a small cemetery at the top of a hill in eastern Washington. You can stand there in the trees and hear the wind in their branches.

I have grandparents and great-grandparents and great-great grandparents buried in one called Cherry Creek. It’s also on top of a hill, but in northeastern Montana, where it’s all high mesas and wheat. Wild roses and sunflowers grow around the headstones and you can see for miles. The tiny church there used to double as a one-room schoolhouse that our grandmother taught at.

Montana 07 036

Photo doesn’t show the steep hillside below the truck.

Montana 07 031

I spent an overcast day years ago wandering Clare Abbey, near Ennis, Ireland. It’s the ruins of a monastery built in 1194, with the remains of a cemetery inside its walls. The Abbot’s grave is a small mausoleum and the ancient doors had big, rusty door knockers. I never had the courage to knock.

Those old cemeteries have stories.

Clare_Abbey,_(Brian_Borus_Abbey),20150904-DSC_6842-2

Clare Abbey, Wikimedia Commons, by Frank Chandler

Newer ones seem lacking in stories. Strategically placed water fountains, surrounded by small flat headstones that can easily be mowed over. I imagine the landscape crew gets impatient on Memorial Day weekends when they have to mow around huge bouquets of snowballs and miniature flags.

As I age, I find myself leaning toward cremation or the concept of green burials, where I can be placed out in the woods to decompose naturally and fertilize the trees. Of course there’s no profit for funeral homes in that type of burial so I doubt it will ever be allowed. It reminds me of a poem I read years ago about the business of dying, about how we have to pay to get our loved ones back.

DSC_0048

Cherry Laurel tree

 

The kayak community here recently built a beautiful bench and hiked it in to a quiet place in the woods with a view of the river where our Sam used to kayak. That, to me, is a perfect, and heart-breaking memorial. That would be a place to visit, to remember. A place that symbolizes the person being remembered and brings that person back to mind, more than a generic square of bronze in a green lawn.

In the meantime, when my sister comes out here, I’ll drive her to the cemetery and we’ll wander together trying to find all the graves of family that we’re probably the only ones left who remember.

Maybe we’ll take flowers.

And I’ll try not to fidget.

Aunty and us Easter 2

Aunty with us (I’m in the middle)

Shame In The Eye Of The Beholder

Sunshine On My Shoulders should be available in just a few days. As part of the publication process, I decided to go with a new cover artist, and then asked her to redo the covers of previous books. I’m beyond thrilled with the results.

I’ve been thinking about these changes, beyond just the business aspect.

First, let me say that there was nothing wrong with the previous cover artist. She was new to the trade and I was new to the design aspect, and neither of us knew how to make our needs clear. There were misunderstandings and mistakes on both sides. The end result was three covers I never liked.

There’s a bigger issue though.

Shame.

I wonder how many indie authors feel that. I’ve written about it before on this blog. The struggles to feel like a ‘real’ author when there isn’t a large publishing house behind the book.

There are a lot of things that contribute to this, like opportunities for beginning authors, but only if you’re traditionally published. Yes, there are some opportunities for indie authors, but the market hasn’t reached the point yet where they are equal. Same with trying to get indie authors through the doors of book stores and libraries. Which leaves many feeling not good enough.

Then there’s the indie publishing process itself. It’s so easy. Which results in millions of books. When I started this, the thinking was that if you were professional, if your product was polished, you’d float upward through the masses while those books that were tossed out with no editing, no writing experience, etc., would sink and disappear. Maybe they do, but again, with millions, if not billions, of books out there, that means a lot of sinking and rising to do.

If I look one of my books up and see that it’s ranked around five million, I don’t see rising going on, only failure on my part. After all, I’m just an indie author.

That underlying shame is not something I’m often consciously aware of. It doesn’t impact my writing. Nothing can take me out of the story world. But it surfaces when I squirm with certain phrases in the real world.

I’m an author. I say, I’m a writer.

I have published books. I say, I have stories out there.

I’ve been invited to speak at an author’s panel. I say, I’m going to talk about writing.

But with Sunshine, I realize that shame has always been there when I look at my book covers. Just that little brief feeling of uncomfortable. That back-of-your-mind thought where you wish your books looked better when you’re at those author panels.

That really never sank in on a conscious level until today when I saw the final concept for Sunshine’s cover. When I saw how professional it looked.

SOMS Screen Shot

Finally, after four books, I feel like an author.

And the weird thing, which is also rather sad, is that feeling like an author has nothing to do with the story, with the words inside that cover. My feeling like I have something now to be proud of comes from the beautiful artwork of another.

I don’t mean that I’m not proud of the story inside the cover. There are lots of pieces in there that I like. But I’ll be the first one to tell you that I see the world through words, not color and design. I can’t even tell what colors go together. It’s just that the visual, the first impression, all comes from the cover of a book.

That first impression, I think, just got a lot better. So a great big thank you to Monika Younger of Younger Book Design.

The other book covers should be redone before too long.

Feeling like a real author will take more time. Well, probably a LOT more time. But hey, I have a lot of stories still to tell, so we’ll consider that a work in progress. I’m sure I’m not alone in that.

When You Write Slow

Someone once told me that my books start out like an easy ramble through the woods and you don’t realize you’ve been sucked in until it’s too late.

tree on Mt Pilchuck

How long did it take this tree to get like this?

I liked that even though I spent an inordinate amount of time wondering if it was a nice way of saying I better work on pacing. Well, okay,  I still wonder that.

It takes me a while to write a book. I firmly believe that if I outlined in a traditional manner, I could publish books much faster. But that type of outlining has never worked for me. I prefer to amble along daydreaming the story.

On the positive side that means I usually don’t have a lot of revising to do at the end (unless my editor asks me the ONE question I never thought of that impacts the whole story…thanks, Susan Schreyer). It also means I’ve given characters plenty of time to show me who they are and how they fit in the landscape.

Mt Baring

Mountains – my favorite story landscape

But on the not-so-positive side, it means two things in particular for the story I’m writing now.

I’m working on the ending currently. And one of the characters finally decided it was time to tell me about family relationships. Really? You wait until NOW to tell me? Yes, okay, that makes sense as I think about it. Yes, okay, it ties perfectly to the theme of family angst in my stories. But still, NOW?

I started Sunshine On My Shoulders almost three years ago. At that time certain things were going on with the Sunshine mine in Wallace, Idaho. Now that I’m almost done, those things have changed so the story is now out of date. Some of the plot moments can be left because this is, after all, fiction. But as I revise, I’m going to have to bring several things up to date or the book will be ‘old’ before it’s ‘new’.

Does all that make me feel pressured to write faster? Not really. I enjoy the slow ramble through the woods. I love the process of the story unfolding in its own time.

I saw an article recently that questioned whether slow writers could survive in this day and age of everything delivered instantly and the vital need to stay in the public eye or be forgotten. I didn’t read the article. Why? Because the purpose of writing isn’t to quickly shove product into humanity’s hands. It’s to tell a story. And any story, in any writer’s hands, will reveal itself in its own time.

My stories just happen to be a bit shy.

taken by Art

There’s a story out there…