Wearing My Editor’s Hat!

As many writers have found, just having more time to work during the pandemic doesn’t necessarily make one more productive. That’s the case for me. So, in efforts to stay busy and earn some money while I’m at it, I’ve taken on many editing projects. In fact, I’ve completed around 100 manuscript edits since March.

Many of my projects have been children’s picture book edits, while others have involved middle-grade fiction and short stories for adults. I found most of these opportunities through online platforms that match freelancers up with clients. The feedback I’ve received from my clients has been very positive, which I find to be quite rewarding. I’m also excited to say that several of the books I edited are now published, such as the following:

                                             

I haven’t given up on personal writing and still attend my critique groups online. I’ve also completed several writing projects through these freelance platforms, as well, such as non-fiction articles, blog posts, and children’s leveled readers. All of this has given me something to work toward each day, which you all know can be a struggle right now!

In addition to communication with family and friends, my balcony gardening (and the challenge of the intense Texas sun!) also keeps me grounded. I finally took the plunge and purchased a fountain for my small outdoor space, which I love dearly. It’s no replacement for the Great Lakes, Atlantic Ocean, or St. Mary’s River, but it’s my little piece of heaven.

Lovely Sounds of Water

Leaders of the Pack

Lake Superior in Upper Michigan

While living in Upper Michigan, I had the opportunity to observe some rather unusual wildlife, including foxes and black bears. At times, the experiences felt a little too close for comfort!

An early spring walk near a Lake Superior beach offered one such encounter. A face-to-face meeting with an indeterminate species brought about a rather humorous situation, which I recently chronicled in my short story, “Much Different Animal.” I’m happy to say that my tale now appears in the U.P. Reader Volume 4!

The book has stories and poetry by authors who live in the Upper Peninsula or who, like me, have ties to that beautiful area. I asked those interested in winning a copy of this book to let me know in the comments. Out of a shoebox, I drew Maria Donovan at Facts and Fiction as the slip for the lucky winner! Thanks to all who entered, and I’ll be sure to post the story as soon as the rights revert to me.

Finally, with the title of this post, I just couldn’t resist the following video:)

Dime Novel: Abandoned in the Attic

House Built around 1900 in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

In a prior post, I wrote about finding a recipe notebook from the past behind a drawer in the kitchen of the house pictured above. That was only one of the vintage literary surprises this house held!

Thanks to Nona Blyth Cloud at wordcloud9 – Flowers for Socrates, I learned that today, July 30, is International Paperback Book Day. An early version of Penguin Books started publishing and mass marketing classics in paperback format on this day in 1935. This meant that more people could afford to buy books, which was certainly a wonderful thing.

As readers of my blog know, I enjoy collecting vintage titles. This topic inspired me to think about my own books. What is my oldest paperback book, I wondered. Then I was off to search my shelves. After checking out my lovely finds (sniffing and leafing through a few pages while I was at it), I proved what I had thought to be true. My paperback book dated the very earliest, 1891, was the one found in the attic of the house pictured, above!

The book is titled Married for Money and is written by May Agnes Fleming. This was such an exciting find, I remember, especially since nothing else very interesting was found up there in the attic. After I finished with my happy dance that day, I began to dig deeper and find out more!

Turns out that “Mrs. May Agnes Fleming,” as the book cover states, was Canada’s first best-selling novelist. In all, she wrote 42 “women’s dime novels,” and 27 of them were published after she died, which is true of my title.

May Agnes Fleming, 1840-1880
Offer on Back of Book; 160 House Plans for $2.50

 

Ad for Teething Syrup inside Book
Ad for Teething Syrup inside Book

My research also revealed The American Women’s Dime Novel Project! What began as research for a dissertation eventually turned into a website with information about these books written for working-class women, from 1870 to 1920. This interesting site offers articles, additional resources, author biographies, images, and even some of these novels turned into e-books!

Although they’re called “dime novels,” my particular book was marked “25 cents.” Inflation, I suppose? If you’re interested in the history of women’s literature, please be sure to check out this fun and informative website!                         ~Becky

Twisty Path of Life

At the beginning of June, five decades will have passed since I graduated from high school. How in the heck did that happen? In some ways, this seems impossible, as if it was just yesterday. In other respects, this feels like lifetimes ago, and in a way, it was. I’ve experienced several different lives since then. I’m sure many of you have the same thoughts about the passage of time.

High School

After high school, I lived life in reverse order. Before attending college, I was married and started raising my two daughters. Together, the three of us “went away to school” after a divorce changed our lives. But the direction I began in my bachelor’s degree program wasn’t the same career I enjoyed until retirement!

Ready for our Big Move

My work life after college began in office administration. I was never crazy about my supervisory position, but years went by before I took the next leap. Becoming a teacher had always been my dream, but that hadn’t seemed like a solid choice when I first entered college.

Office Supervisor

The twisty path of life finally led to a career in teaching. I didn’t take a direct route and was certainly one of the older student teachers in my college class that semester. I’ve never regretted the decision to make that change and appreciated the support of my entire family. For me, teaching was a calling. Not without challenges, it was still the perfect career for my needs.

As ‘Mrs. Wishy-Washy’ at school one Halloween!

Now that I’m retired, my wide background is certainly an asset in my writing and pursuit of freelance projects. In fact, my non-fiction piece about career change appears in How I Switched Careers. This e-book is free for a few days, so I hope you’ll take a look!

In checking out the stories in this publication, it appears more common for people to switch FROM teaching to another career, instead of turning TO teaching, as in my case. To each their own…I loved it. Most of us enjoy a chance to tell parts of our life stories, and this type of project was a great opportunity for me to do that!

Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #9: Sewing Up Memories

As my regular readers already know, I adore bookstores, especially those that feature used books! To put an even finer point on that, I love the shops that carry other various types of vintage items, such as maps, magazines, product leaflets, branded recipe booklets, and the like.

One of my favorite such spots is located in Moran, Michigan, called “The First Edition, Too.” It was there where I was thrilled to come across the 1939 Singer Illustrated Dressmaking Guide pictured above. This was especially fitting, since I sewed as a teenager in Michigan on my mother’s Singer, which now “lives” in my Texas apartment. The slim booklet shows drawings of sewing strategies such as shirring, insets, and pleats. There are even sections all about sewing for infants and making “first school dresses.”

Martha Kennedy, who blogs at I’m a Writer, Yes, I Am,” wrote a great post about her grandmother’s sewing machine. This got me thinking more about my own, shown above! Martha’s appears to be older and much more ornate than mine, as a treadle machine compared to my electric model. As you can see, I still have the original box with attachments.

I found an interesting website for the International Sewing Machine Collectors’ Society (ISMACS), where I zeroed in on some info about my machine. Based on the serial number, mine is a Singer series AH model and probably purchased about 1947-48. This makes perfect sense, as that would be around the time my mom had her first baby, my older sister, Terri. She may have sewn her infant layette on that machine!

Looking through old pictures, I was pleased to find one from when I was about six months old. My mother’s Singer sets next to the couch behind me. Although Mom sewed quite a bit when her kids were young…clothing, doll clothes, and items for the household…I think she used it mainly just for mending in later years. I’m sure happy my mother hung onto this machine, since it brings back such sweet memories for me.

In honor of Mother’s Day, I’ll share one more photo, showing my maternal grandparents (Rudolf & Frieda Witzke), Mom (Ella Witzke Ross), Aunt Frieda (Mom’s older sister), and my older sister, Terri. This photo was taken in Tawas City, Michigan, on my 1st birthday, and I imagine my father, Philip Ross, was the man behind the camera. Now I’m wondering if Mom sewed those cute, gingham kitchen curtains on her Singer!

 

 

Three Ring Circus and Publishing News!

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World Circus Day falls in April. The concept of a circus appears to have begun in ancient Rome, in seated arenas where spectators viewed various types of sports and games. Traditional circuses of more modern times were often traveling shows that included performances with clowns, acrobats, and trained animals.

In my small town, a dilapidated circus caravan arrived each summer and set up tents in the ball fields near the local school. As a kid, a visit to the circus filled me with a mix of excitement and dread. I looked forward to the fruit-flavored snow cones Mom and Dad promised when the show ended. I always hoped that would be the year I could buy a too-expensive, feathered Kewpie doll from the vendors. The trapeze artists and tightrope walkers showed off amazing skills. But what if they fell? I wasn’t fearful of clowns, but the ones made up to look sad concerned me.

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The worst part was the poor animals. Sometimes we saw them, pacing in their small cages, between shows. The view across a field often included elephants with legs chained to metal stakes in the ground.

I clearly remember the summer when I was about eight years old. I sat under the hot circus tent with my family, listening to the applause from the crowd directed at little dogs riding tricycles. A trio of huge elephants then lumbered into the ring. The trainers put them through their paces to the sound of music, but one of the giants didn’t comply. A circus worker wielded a hooked pole. He jabbed at the elephant with the stick that seemed as though it could tear the animal’s papery ears. I wanted to cry. I wanted to run. Trainers finally led the elephants from the tent, and I was glad it was over.

Later that afternoon, a neighbor told us that circus workers had walked the elephants to the nearby creek for a drink. The animals escaped up the other side! A mix of fear and relief washed over me. The elephants were free! But what if they walked down our street and bumped into our house? I waited nervously, wondering what would happen. My parents assured me the circus workers would find the elephants. Was that what I wanted?

elephant bathing

In the evening, we learned the elephants had walked through my grandmother’s garden! She was away from the house, but neighbors spotted them. When Grandma returned, she found footprints and smashed vines in her garden as proof!

That same week, a little dog wandered the sidewalk of a house across the street. The family took it in as their own and discovered the animal was eager and willing to do a variety of tricks. They named her “Trixie” and always believed she was an escapee from that same circus.

Trixie

Thankfully, the use of animal acts for entertainment in circuses has now decreased, and that type of exploitation in many countries is now almost non-existent. In 2016, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival highlighted five major circus disciplines: acrobatics, aerial skills, equilibristics, object manipulation, and clowning. It also showcased the occupational culture of circus artists but didn’t involve exotic animals. That was a wonderful step in the right direction! In fact, numerous circuses that have been around for years are now closing. Other circuses have evolved or begun as animal-free entertainment.

I’m pleased to say that my children’s story, “Freedom,” based on that ‘great elephant escape,’ now appears online in Smarty Pants Magazine for Kids. My alter ego, Becca, is much braver than I remember being as a child. In the fictional ending of my tale, her feelings about the imprisoned animals empower her in a humorous fashion. Hope you will enjoy reading my story, which is linked above!                             ~Becky

elephant river

Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #8: Delivered to Your Door

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Written by Jessica Potter Broderick and Illustrated by Jean Tamburine

Home food delivery from grocery stores and through a variety of home meal services  has made a resurgence in the last few years. With the current needs for social distancing and quarantines related to the coronavirus, this practice will likely become even more common.

From my childhood in Tawas City, Michigan, during the 50s and 60s, I have a clear memory of our milkman from the local dairy, Nelkie’s. He was a handsome, dark-haired chap named Tony, who wore some type of white jacket or uniform. I don’t remember his vehicle, however. In my mind’s eye, I can still see several glass bottles of milk set into the frosty snow on the top step near our front door.

Time went by, and one day I realized that Tony the milkman had disappeared. The dairy remained, but home delivery must have been suspended. Evidently that was common for the times, as mentioned in this interesting article about the history of  home milk delivery. Yet another nostalgic piece of our past that no longer exists.

Some people collect Little Golden Books, while others seek the Junior Elf BooksI love both and often look for them when I visit used bookstores. When I saw the Junior Elf Book pictured above, Milkman Bill, it brought back so many childhood memories and sensations. Surely you can see why it was a necessary purchase? The original price tag still stuck to the cover says 15 cents. I paid a bit more, but it was certainly reasonable at $1.00.

The story centers on a little boy, Dickie, who’s been sick in bed for three weeks. The doctor has told Mother that Dickie must drink more milk to get better and stay strong. If only staying healthy was really that easy! Dickie has many questions for the milkman, and the reader learns about the entire process, from cow to home. The book ends with Milkman Bill promising Dickie and his family a tour of the dairy the following week. This slim volume, published in 1960, smells exactly the way an old book should!

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Dick and Jane had a milkman, too!

Boo Boo’s 15 Minutes of Fame

National Walking the Dog Day – Who knew there was a special day on the calendar to celebrate walking the dog?! When I saw this announcement,  I thought back to a newspaper picture from 2012 I had saved in an old, decorated picnic basket. On the day captured above, I took my dog, Boo Boo, for a walk near what was then my home in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. I remember that autumn afternoon in mid October was beautiful…sunny and mild with plenty of colors remaining on the trees and ground cover. I can still smell that musty scent of fallen leaves.

A gentleman from The Evening News drove by and stopped to ask if he could take our picture. I agreed, thinking this would somehow immortalize my aging Shih Tzu. I spelled our names for the man, and he went on his way after clicking this photo. As you might notice, when this was published in the newspaper, my name is misspelled, but Boo Boo’s is not. Seems only right, since it was my faithful friend’s 15 minutes of fame.

I loved taking this sweet dog for walks, even in cold and snowy weather. We both benefited from the exercise and fresh air. It gave us time to be alone. I often talked with him about the things on my mind, and he was a wonderful listener. We had some adventures on our strolls, as well, such as near misses with skunks and snow plows. Over the years, we met many cute kids and sometimes scary stray dogs, who always wanted to come close and say hello. I was lucky to share many hours with such an affectionate and determined little guy and miss him more than I thought possible! I still walk, but it’s just not the same.

Younger Days with a Shorter, North Carolina Haircut

Children’s author, Elizabeth Stevens Omlor, and illustrator, Neesha Hudson, have captured the joys of walking our furry friends in their adorable book, Walk Your Dog. Important themes of teamwork, cooperation, and patience are beautifully addressed. You might want to look for it at your local library or bookstore!

Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #7: Chosen

Snowbound Books in Marquette, Michigan

When I scan the shelves in a bookshop, sometimes a volume chooses me! Irresistible qualities include eye-catching titles, outstanding cover art, smells that spark memories, or an author’s name that rings a bell.

For about two years, I had the pleasure of living in Marquette, Michigan, situated in the Upper Peninsula and perched on the shores of Lake Superior. A variety of bookstores graced that town, but my absolute favorite was Snowbound Books, within walking distance from my home and pictured above. At that time, the store’s vintage paperbacks huddled together in one section, and I always checked them, on the hunt for Dell Map Backs or other interesting finds.

During one of my frequent visits, a 1950 Pocket Book Mystery entitled Beyond a Reasonable Doubt chose me to be its owner. I had nothing to say about it. The book wasn’t a Map Back, but I had to have it, all the same. The title wasn’t what grabbed me; it was the author’s name…C.W. Grafton. Could they be related? One of my favorite mystery authors is Sue Grafton, author of the Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Mystery series, beginning with A is for Alibi. Hundreds of mystery authors could have the last name Grafton, I supposed.

In those hazy years before the Internet, facts and details weren’t available instantaneously at our fingertips like they are today. Months passed before I knew the answer to my question. Yes, they were related! C.W. Grafton was Sue Grafton’s father, who practiced as a lawyer and published three mystery novels. My new collection search had been born!

Becky’s Collection

I don’t need much of an excuse to stop at a used bookstore or collectibles shop that might feature books. This new quest was one more reason to pull over when I saw a promising business sign. Decades went by, but I found all three! Which is my favorite? The paperback on the left is important, since it was the first. My purchase of The Rope Began to Hang the Butcher, on the right, was exciting because it was the last and completed this collection. The book shown in the middle, The Rat Began to Gnaw the Rope, is my favorite, for two reasons. First, this copy still proudly wears its jacket, however tattered. Second, the book is dedicated to C.W.’s youngest child, Sue, his other daughter, Ann, and wife, Viv. The family is shown below with the book in a 1944 photo, with Sue on the right.

The Grafton Family in 1944

Over the years, I’ve read interviews in which Sue Grafton explains she was the survivor of a difficult childhood, due to both of her parents suffering from alcoholism. In her semi-autobiographical book, Kinsey and Me (2013), she credits her father with her own passion for the mystery genre, which served her well. Sue Grafton died in 2017, at age 77, just one book shy of the entire alphabet. I’ve read all her alphabet mysteries except the last one, Y is for Yesterday. Guess I don’t want them to end…

Sue Grafton

 

 

River to Skate Away On

Becky at 5 with new skates
Becky at 5 Years with New Skates

Like most children growing up in Northern Michigan in the Fifties and Sixties, I learned to ice skate. I wasn’t talented, since my ankles were rather weak, but I enjoyed the activity. The holiday season transports me back through the years to the ice ponds of my youth. The current temperatures here in Texas have even stayed low enough to help the temporary rink at the corner stay frozen, and I enjoy watching the skaters from my second-floor perch.

In childhood, we often skated to music at the large ice rink in a neighboring town. Memories of frozen toes and the song “Sugar Shack” surface when I think of those years. Before the climate started to change (and before we knew it would turn into a crisis), a winter recreational area called Silver Valley, in the Huron National Forest situated near my hometown, offered toboggan runs, skiing, and frozen ponds for skaters. Being a cautious child, skating was the only thing I wanted to try, and I remember the rinks being much too crowded for my taste.

Log Warming Shelter at Silver Valley

Even closer to home, we had several other options. My clearest recollection is the time my dad shoveled the snow off a large area of ice on the creek behind our house. My mother was prone to worry, so the creek was a place she often warned her children to avoid during the other seasons, for fear we would slip into the water. With that same fear in the back of my mind, the idea of skating on that frozen version still seemed scary to me. I imagined the snapping turtles, snakes and minnows underneath the crust just waiting for me to fall through. My brother and sister agreed to try nature’s ice, along with a group of neighbor kids. Who was I to chicken out, so I finally agreed and followed my father toward the creek.

The surface was a bit bumpy, but I was just hitting my stride when I heard Dad yelp in surprise. My worst fear had come true, and he’d fallen through the ice! With a pounding heart I skated his direction, near the bank. As it turned out, his one leg had gone through just to the knee. He said it was a mushy spot in the ice caused by some trickling water entering the creek. Not sure if it was from a natural spring or some type of city pipe. That was all I needed, and I hung up my skates for the day!

One year, my dad made an ice rink right in our back yard. Just as he would come home from work in the warm seasons and turn on the hose to water the flowers, that winter, my father often got out the hose to add more water to form a new layer on our rink. That was also a little bumpy, I remember, but it was fun to skate in our yard and quite a novelty to share with our neighbors. I asked him about that, years later, and he admitted it was a lot of extra work, but he knew we liked it, and he hated to give it up once he got started.

1961 – Big Sister, Terri, and Becky  Skating in Yard

I couldn’t possibly write about ice skating without including one of my favorite songs, “River,” by Joni Mitchell. Sad but lovely.