Candy, Caroling, Community

suburb neighborhood clip art

As I sit in my bedroom and stare out at my neighbors’ snow-covered backyards, in the midst of the time of year commonly called “The Holidays,” I remember this special, wonderful season when I was a child. Thoughts and discussions about the word community have bounced around our media waves and public venues for the past few years. Some talking about the loss of community in our day. Trying to resurrect what has been lost behind 6-foot-tall fenced in homes, tiny front porches, and neighborhood sidewalks and streets devoid of people.

I’ve been pondering these changes over the last thirty to forty years in communities.  If you were a child in the 1970s like I was, you may relate to what I’ll be expressing here.

I grew up swinging on leathery-type seats with rusty chains to hold onto, pumping my legs to reach the sky so that I could jump out of the little seat, feeling the joy of that wisp of a moment of flying before my feet hit the ground–a ground of simple dirt.

old swings

I remember climbing up the huge metal slide’s ladder to its tower-like top. To my ten-year-old eyes, I had to be up at least twelve to fifteen feet from the ground. And being a fan of Mary Poppins, I opened my umbrella and jumped from the tower, waiting to glide gently down from the heights to land with a smile of triumph and contentment.

metal slide

Instead, that joy of flying lasted about two seconds before I came crashing down like a lead weight, hitting the ground hard and falling over on my side. I wasn’t hurt, though. But having learned that experiment didn’t work, I never tried the umbrella jump again.  However, it still was a lot of fun. I had such a fantastical imagination back then.

Every year, I looked forward to going trick-or-treating with my friends. And most every house, we knew the families that lived there. I knew these homes because the kids that met me at a mutual friend’s front yard would become acquainted with me, and soon, we’d all be playing together, the streets filled with kids playing ball, hide and go seek, ghost in the graveyard, and bloody murder (some folks don’t know this one, but it’s like the opposite of hide and go seek. The murderer hides and jumps out, surprising the group of kids going around looking for him/her, and the first kid tagged by the murderer had to be the murderer the next go around), etc.

We stayed out after the street lamps came on, and dove behind bushes, climbed trees, and hid behind anything we could find, while the person counted in the dark, then set out to find us. I distinctly remember one night, I hid up in a tree, and the kid never found me. I was such a monkey. So much so, my mother used to call me μαϊμού (Greek for monkey).

So, Halloween was lots of fun with the whole neighborhood participating. One year while we lived on Rhein Main Air Base in Germany, my mom dressed in black, painted her face white, and took residence in a makeshift coffin in the lobby to our stairwell (apartment building), so that when children came in, she’d sit up in the coffin, both terrifying and surprising them before they could scramble to the first apartment’s door. But it was all in fun because everyone knew everyone.

Halloween cartoon silhouette pic

So, it was in the past several months to year that I realized how important Halloween is because of its communal aspect. It was ruined in the mid 1980s and after due to sick people putting razor blades in apples, and other poisonous things in pieces of candy, followed by the disappearance of families’ cats (especially black ones) for other sick individuals who’d torture the poor creatures and kill them. When I was a senior in high school, a friend of mine lost her kitten Halloween night to some warped-minded teens who drowned her kitten in the local pool.

The communal aspect of Halloween splintered during and after this time out of fear and a new mistrust of fellow neighbors. I think this was also the time when privacy fences became popular. You no longer could see, wave, or converse with your neighbors while sitting in your backyard.

Back to my childhood memories when I recall community was strong. I remember with great joy the few weeks before Christmas, in the evenings, the faint but melodic voices of carolers outside our apartment on Rhein Main Air Base and off base housing in the suburbs of Virginia and Illinois at that time. I distinctly remember opening our third-story window at Rhein Main that overlooked the patch of cement below, and seeing a group of cheerful carolers, singing, despite the bitter cold evening. It made the coming of Christmas even more special.

Christmas carolers

But I’ve not seen any carolers since the one Christmastime at Fairchild Air Force Base back in either 2005 or 2006. It was both surprising and exciting to have encountered that, bringing a rush of sweet nostalgia through me.

Although there were people who didn’t celebrate Christmas in my neighborhoods growing up, they still seemed to appreciate the carolers and listened quietly with smiles. Caroling was another communal activity in our neighborhoods. I miss it.

I think I actually started realizing the closed up neighborhoods/housing units after we moved to Pennsylvania and lived in a rental home that sat on about a half acre of land with it partly fenced with criss-crossed logs in the backyard and open front yard. No privacy fences. Why? Because these homes were build in the late 1950s. There was so much more space between homes and you could see your neighbors out mowing their lawns, watering their flowers, filling their bird feeders. It was charming.

Before that time, as an adult, I’d believed in privacy fences, and keeping locked up in my house and didn’t make much of an effort to talk to our neighbors, except the ones right next door to us, like in Fountain, Colorado and Callaway, Florida. But besides those instances, there wasn’t much communal activities going on.

I also remember when I was a teen living in Fairfax, Virginia. We moved to the suburbs in a court/culdesac, and a few of the ladies from the houses next to us and a couple down from us actually knocked on our door. My mom opened it, and I watched curiously behind her, as the ladies welcomed us to the neighborhood and gave my mom a casserole dish of something home cooked.

Neighbours stand eating around a table at a block party

At our court in Castle Pines North in Castle Rock, Colorado, in my last year of high school, the neighbors came together a few times in the summer for block parties. Don’t see those anymore.

We moved to Castle Rock, Colorado, October 11 of this year, and we’re in a nice neighborhood with large single-family homes close together, and paired homes (duplex/townhomes), in which we live. Obviously, we were here for Halloween. I went out and bought a moderate amount of candy, not sure if we’d have any children coming to visit our home, because the last two places we lived in Lancaster, PA, and West Roxbury, MA, we had zero children come around our neighborhood, which was, I must say, both surprising and disappointing.

Well, lo and behold, more than fifty precious children knocked on our door this year, asking for tricks or treats, and we had plenty of treats to give them. This experience brought back my childhood and the hope of community.

I walk this beautiful neighborhood and its nature trails as much as I can because I’m in my favorite state with its glorious Rockies towering on the horizon every day. And seeing children playing outside, climbing trees, riding bikes, skateboarding, riding their scooters, and congregating in their small front yards sparks the child in me and a wave of hope and joy wash over me.

Community is still here. I’d like to believe there are many other neighborhoods that mirror this one. Human interaction is needed so much these days, I’m cherishing this as long as I can.

What were your experiences in your communities growing up compared to now?

 

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Do You Have Confidence in Yourself as an Author?

silhouette woman looking out golden city window

From junior high school on–with the exception of playing sports in my local neighborhoods and at recess–I had little confidence in myself and didn’t have much self-worth.

But… a couple of years ago, I realized I haven’t lacked confidence in my writing abilities.

Okay, I must admit there was that one time my writing confidence did take a nosedive the first year I was in my online critique group because I didn’t understand how to take certain criticism or discern which feedback was apt to what I was trying to write and what wasn’t.

After a year or so away from the critique world and still working on my college courses, I somehow gained those important aspects of both knowing what critiques worked for my stories and learning how to critique others’ works much more effectively that benefited my fellow writers, as well.

So, after dragging you through my ramblings of my past writing adventures, I’m getting to the point of my blog post. Haha!

Today, I read an interesting article by a fellow woman writer about how she’s struggled discussing her writing work with people she doesn’t know. She would brush off the work she’d done, minimizing it as if it weren’t worth all the sweat and tears she put into it. Her experience saddened me.

love the work you do

It also made me realize that I’ve not felt hesitant about telling people what I do, or filling out my job as “author” on forms for anything from medical forms to school papers for my younger son. I’m happy to share that I write fiction works. Frankly, it’s really the only job I’ve ever had I’ve felt totally good about.

I know some writers don’t feel like they can say assertively, coupled with a knowing smile, that they are truly authors, that that is their job, not just a hobby. I’ve written on this subject before. Nevertheless, this article spurred me to write about it again.

Writing stories is in my blood. It’s part of who I am. It’s my talent God has given me. Sure, there are times I write something, set it aside, only to pick it up a couple weeks later, and think, “What is this crap?” But, thankfully, that doesn’t last.

start to be great

My editor loved my changes/revisions to my novel, Passage of Promise, for which I added around 25,000 words. She did the last proofreading, editing, and formatting for my novel in many different forms for future publishing.

I then sent out a query letter to a publisher that takes Orthodox Christian fiction.

In April 2018, the editor of this publishing company said the story had promise (no pun intended!) and resubmit it at a later time.  So, I have and am waiting to get an email back, asking me for the first three chapters and synopsis of my story, or that they aren’t interested. If the latter happens, my editor said she’d publish my novel for me. So, it’s a win-win either way for me!

may your ideas and novels be accepted

What it comes down to is I love to create stories, characters, and immerse myself in their worlds. I would love for people to read my works and get something profound, joyful, moving, and satisfying out of them.

The future of what happens with my stories is unknown. But what I do know is that I’m happy just to have created and finished writing a fantastic novel and have two more waiting in the wings for future publishing, and that already makes me a success.

triumphant woman facing the sun

What is success to you in your writing endeavors?

 

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The Importance of Critique Partners

hands stacking

This Friday, I submit my revised and finished manuscript of Passage of Promise, to my editor for a last proofreading and closing comments on the improved changes (they are improvements to me!) I made.  My awesome editor will have my manuscript from November 1 to November 18.

After four years working on this novel, I’m so excited to be at this phase in my project.

BUT…

I wouldn’t be where I am today without the loyal and steadfast critiquers (called critters from here on out because that’s the nickname used in my online critique group, and I like it), who have given me many valuable suggestions, sincere comments, and thoughts on my characters and plot of Passage of Promise. It’s because of them that my story is where it is now–sharper, stronger, more moving, and powerful.

I truly believe this.

Most fellow writers who follow my blog already know the importance and value of a critter or two in helping to sculpt and carve out your stories.

But for those of you, who are new writers, or perhaps if you all are like me…always learning…you may find this post beneficial to your writing journey.

If you are starting out, and even if you’ve written stories over the past several years or decade, find yourself a good critique group, either in person or online. You can find in-person critique groups through local and state writing groups.

critique group irl

I used to be part of Pennwriters when I lived in Pennsylvania. They had critique groups. You can search the groups and other authors to find which genres match up with your own, or that you like to read/critique.

As of today, I’m part of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW) organization/group, and I couldn’t be happier. Through them, they have workshops, critique groups, and my favorite–writers conferences.

writers conference pic

Each year, RMFW holds a writers conference in or around the Denver area, and it seems to be around September. So I’ll have to wait a bit, but that’s okay. It’s another great event to look forward to here in beautiful Colorado!

For online groups, do some research in finding the best groups for you. There are also some critique groups on Facebook that you can join if you’d like. Some are especially for finding compatible critique partners.

Whatever avenue you take in participating in a critique group, will be an experience you, most assuredly (if it’s a good group), will cherish, grow from, and learn from, which will only strengthen your writing skills and talent.

walk with others

When I get to writing acknowledgements in the opening pages or pages in the back of my novel, I will be giving credit to the critters who helped me through the revising, structuring, characterization, and plot of my story. They were part of the process, making me think, encouraging me, uplifting me, and giving me constructive criticism that caused me to go back and transform my novel that was dull and lackluster to something bright, bold, and beautiful.

**One little warning: It may take you a while to settle into the right group or partner with the right person. It’s a relationship, really, and it needs to click, where your partner appreciates your work, understands where you’re coming from, what you’re looking for (you should tell your partner/partners this from the get go, of course), and in return, respect and appreciate his/her/their work. Because sometimes you can get real bears who aren’t out to give you good, constructive criticism but rather sour, condescending critiques on every aspect of your work, wanting you to write the way they do or steer your plot in a direction you’re not comfortable with. Over time, through trial and error, you learn a whole hell of a lot on which particular critiques to accept and apply to your characters, plot, etc. and which ones to kick to the curb. Nevertheless, It’s all worth it. You learn and grow and become a stronger, more experienced, and better writer!

Now, go out there and find yourselves an awesome group of critters to walk alongside  and encourage you in your writing journey!

success silhouette

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