Tag Archives: writing

Writers’ prompts and sugar cream pie

I just got home from a writers’ retreat in Indiana. Because the internet was pretty much nonexistent at the state park inn where we stayed, I’m just now posting the blog I wrote (and wrote . . . and wrote) during a couple of rainy days and sleepless nights in the Indiana woods. Think “stream of consciousness” and bear with me, if you will . . .

Howdy from the Hoosier State!

I have driven through Indiana a few times on my way to Chicago, but I don’t think I’ve ever even stopped the car in this state, other than to pause to pay a toll. I was going to say I’ve never eaten a meal here or slept here, but I just this very minute remembered that I was in Indianapolis to work on a Revco Health & Beauty Expo sometime in the early 90’s.

Remembering that might cause a better writer to scrap that first, pointless paragraph, but I don’t know when “pointless” has ever stopped me from nattering on about something or other. Look through the backlog of my blog posts. You’ll agree with me, I’m certain.

I’m going to rationalize calling this my “first trip to Indiana” by saying that all big cities are so much like other big cities, and whether we stayed in a Hilton or Marriott or Hyatt more than twenty years ago in downtown Indianapolis, all Hiltons and Marriotts and Hyatts are about the same. For many travelers, that’s one of their virtues, like always knowing you’ll get basically the same cheeseburger at every McDonald’s on the planet, if a McDonald’s cheeseburger is, indeed, what you’re hoping to eat.

Consequently, staying at a name hotel in Indianapolis and spending most of my time at the adjoining convention center (again, a convention center is a convention center is pretty much just another convention center), then THIS is my first trip to Unique Indiana. Indiana in the countryside. The Indiana of small town Angola and the Pokegon State Park.

And I’m not sleeping at a chain hotel. I’m staying at the Potawatomi Inn at Pokegon State Park. Believe me (did I just sound like Trump there?) when I tell you it in no way resembles any cookie cutter chain hotel, from the most basic Motel 6 to the predictably fabulous Four Seasons. If the internet connection in my room wasn’t so unreliable (in fact, almost impossible to access for more than a minute at a time), I’d immediately hook up some hyperlinks here and maybe lift some info from the website, but . . . I can’t, so we’ll have to forego the history of the Potawatomi and/or Pokegon tribes, Indiana history, geography, what year the inn was built, and so on. (links added later)

Most importantly, I am here for an informal writers’ weekend. Yes! Me! There are ten other women here, some of whom are published authors and others, like me, in various stages of writing and wondering if we’ll ever be publisher-worthy. Last night we all went out to dinner at the nearby Timbers Steak House. It was the best meal I’ve had here yet, though I should warn any foodie friends that iceberg lettuce seems to be the star of every salad bar in this neck of the woods. In fact, going to the salad bar as opposed to being served a salad (which I prefer) is the standard, and also, you have to go up and pay the bill at a hostess desk after each meal, rather than have your waitress collect your credit card at the table.

Since I am tossing out unwarranted generalizations everywhere in this story, I will venture to say that perhaps this is an Indiana custom. Maybe they simply want nothing to do with the little padded folders where the bill is tucked inside and there’s credit card-sized plastic sleeve so just the tip of your Visa can peek demurely above the folder. Cash is to be hidden completely inside. That’s the norm in Ohio, anyway.

Potawatami princesses

Listening to Ellen’s story.

Anyway, after dinner we returned to the inn and commandeered the library to read some of our work to the group. Most of the other people staying in the inn were busy at a wedding in the ballroom, complete with flashing disco lights. Some of us wanted to crash the reception to hit the cupcake display after dinner, but we hadn’t had enough to drink at Timbers’ to be brash enough to actually do it. A rowdy little gang of middle-aged (and old) women crashing a wedding reception might have added an element of levity and surprise to the happy couple’s special evening, but it’s a crap shoot. And no one wants to piss off a bride, right?

Since this is, as always, all about ME (and don’t you forget it), I will tell you that I read the first couple of pages of the novel I’ve been writing for the last year or so. (We took turns reading out loud to the group.) I had never read or shared any of the story with anyone but my son Chris and his sister Grace, so I was pretty nervous about it. People said it was funny and that they liked it. They even laughed out loud! I felt like Sally Field when she won her first Oscar and sobbed, ”I can’t believe you like me! You really like me!”

I had stopped writing about six months ago. I’m not sure why. Lost heart? Lost confidence? I can’t say for sure, but I just couldn’t seem to get back into writing. After sharing and seeing that complete strangers apparently think it doesn’t suck, I’m ready to get back to it. I still feel overwhelmed by the thought of trying to determine where the story goes next, but I’m going to stop being a wimp and go for it.

Meet the writers . . .

The ladies I met here for the weekend are an amazing group. I knew Pam, one of the organizers, from briefly chatting at last year’s Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop in Dayton. I’m not sure if Teri and I crossed paths in Dayton or not, but through mutual Erma Facebook friends, we became Facebook friends as well, and that’s the extent of my relationship to Pam and Teri. I’m not sure what possessed me to say, “Hell yeah, I’ll drive to Indiana for a long weekend to meet a bunch of people I don’t really know and spend most of the time alone in my room writing! Why not?”

It’s weird, right? But boy, am I glad I decided to come.

Most of the women know each other from a Cincinnati writing program called Women Writing for Change. Or for A change? I’m not completely sure, but it sounds like a wonderful thing for a writer to do. So there’s this whole contingency of Cincinnati women and not only are they interesting and nice and funny, but man, they can WRITE! Some women are writing novels or memoirs. Some are poets and Teri is an accomplished playwright who has a piece being staged in Chicago this summer. Listening to their work last night was humbling, and I felt so grateful to be a part of the group.

Pam is from Michigan and is in the final editing stages of her first novel. From what she read last night, I can’t wait to hear how the rest of her story unfolds. Suzanne, a college professor and a member of the Cincinnati gang, is writing a book about a young girl named Georgia and I really want to know how that story unfolds, as well. I need to mention Sandy (hilarious blogger), Ruthanne (spiritual and inspiring), Becky (won an Erma prize!), Claudia, Ellen, Suz (the fabulous poets) and finally, Lori.

Lori Duff, who flew in from Atlanta to join us, has written three books, is an attorney, a mother of two teenagers, a ghost writer, a blogger. I don’t know how she does it, but before I post this I’ll put in a link to her website. Lori’s humor is priceless and you’ll thank me for pointing you in her direction if you want a good laugh. She brought along her Frida Kahlo finger puppet, who I was happy to photograph frowning at a piece of pie. More to come on that.

I know I’m all over the place with this blog, but let me circle back to my impression of northeastern Indiana before I save this piece and run down to the Potawatomi dining room to meet the ladies for lunch.

First, it has rained most of the time we’ve been here. I’m not anti-rain, but undoubtedly Lake James – a gray, choppy body of water lurking outside the inn’s many windows – and the surrounding woods have significantly greater appeal when the sun is shining. It would be heaven to plop down in one of the Adirondack chairs near the water’s edge to savor a good book on a fine day, pages fluttering with the lake breeze. Sadly, that’s not happening on this trip.

And my rant on coffee . . .

Another thing that’s not happening on this trip is getting a good cup of coffee.

Uh, huh. You heard me. Indiana can’t make a decent cup of joe.

Potawatami breakfast

My first Potawatomi breakfast

Whoa, you say? How can you make a generalization like that, Kate? Well, I can because this is my blog, not yours, and it amuses me to make rash proclamations sometimes. First, the coffee in my room sucks. I finally made a pot using both a regular and a decaf pouch and it wasn’t awful. One pouch, as directed, produces a beige cup of blah. I couldn’t get into the dining room at the inn for breakfast yesterday because they were short-staffed and had a long list of boisterous families waiting for tables. The cup of blah and some Ritz crackers were my breakfast. Yum. And thanks, Indiana.

I thought I’d stop by the hotel’s little café, which finally opened at 11:00, counting on finally finding a decent cup of coffee.  Well, first, I had to make my own, choosing from a small selection of Keurig-type pods. I opted for the Robust Italian to counteract the effects of the Cup of Blah, but that was so freaking strong, I had to add water to it when I got back to my room. And it was not lovely Italian-type strong, either.

Oh, and the café had no creamer. Not even the powdered stuff that’s available in my room and at the coffee machine near the front desk (semi-drinkable). When I asked for cream, the young girl behind the desk acted confused and said all she had was some milk. I said, well, I’ll have some of that, please. She handed me a gallon jug of two percent and I managed to splash some into the pseudo-Italian sludge without slopping all over the counter, but it didn’t help much.

So this morning I decided to look for a local restaurant in nearby Angola (isn’t that an African country?) to treat myself to breakfast.

I went to the Village Kitchen, recommended (I guess) on Google Maps. It had a string of stars and claimed to be popular with the residents. I could have stopped at Bob Evans or even Tom’s Donuts along the way, but no. I passed them by to make a special trip to the worst family restaurant in Angola.

But who knew that the Village Kitchen would not only have yet more dishwater-inspired coffee, but also serve the saddest excuse for “hot cakes” that I’ve ever eaten? I really didn’t think it was possible to screw up pancakes, but these were so dry, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the cook decided to get ahead of the game on a dull Friday afternoon by frying up a huge stack of pancakes to have on hand for a busy Sunday morning. Or maybe they made too many on Saturday?

What was served to me were two dry, lukewarm hot cakes with a slightly melted ball of bright yellow margarine sinking in the center. I do believe the cook grabbed some old pancakes, plopped on the disgusting wannabe butter, threw the mess in the microwave for fifteen seconds, and told the waitress to give ‘em to that old fat lady who drove up in the car with Ohio plates. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened. Needless to say, I didn’t each much. The bacon was good, though. Nice and crispy, as requested. Maybe the cook felt bad about the pancakes and made decent bacon to compensate. Sadly, it just didn’t have the gravitas to shore up the terrible hot cakes and coffee.

And Indiana’s State Pie . . .

I returned to the inn, worked on this again for a while, then it was time to meet the writers for lunch in the Potawatomi dining room. As it turned out, the only option on Sunday is the $15 brunch buffet.  Call me picky, but I didn’t want a damned buffet, either. I don’t eat eggs, so the omelet station held no appeal to me. There were chafing dishes with deep-fried, breaded blobs of things, some grayish Brussels sprouts, fried chicken, dried ham, etc. There was the ubiquitous salad bar with iceberg lettuce and cottage cheese and some scary pale pink pudding. Yogurt, maybe? The ladies liked a vegetable soup that looked suspiciously to me like the leftover veggie medley from last night’s wedding buffet drowned in a mystery broth.

After nibbling on a few  entree-type offerings I decided to head to the dessert table. There wasn’t much left so I chose what looked like a piece of custard pie. I then learned from the omelet chef that it was actually Indiana’s State Pie – Sugar Cream Pie. I had never heard of a “state pie,” so I was excited to try it. I’ve been disappointed by pie in the past, but it’s a rare occurrence. Pie usually delivers.

Potawatami pie

Frida Kahlo (courtesy of Lori Duff) gazes at the Indiana State Pie,   sugar cream pie, in disgust.

And wouldn’t you know it – sugar cream pie is one of those odd pies out. It was not at all custard-y. It is dense, bland, and extraordinarily sweet. It tastes like nothing more than solidified milk and sugar. Not even a hint of vanilla. Everybody had to try a bite, of course, and my favorite comments came from Lori who called it, “Diabetes on a crust.” She also said, “That is such a white person’s pie.” You can’t argue with that. I’ll bet it’s Mike Pence’s favorite dessert.

So there you go. As disjointed as this piece is, I do hope that I’ve amused someone. If not, I can assure you that at least I amused myself. Don’t take any Indiana criticisms to heart. It just looks like more Ohio to me, except, thank heavens, we don’t have Mike Pence. If forced to make a choice, I’ll reluctantly take John Kasich any day.

Watch for Sugar Cream Pie on the White House menu. Coming soon – whether we want it or not.

Potawatami group shot

The sun finally came out Sunday afternoon and we found these remnants of silk flowers left behind by the wedding party on the inn’s patio. And here we are – the Watomi Writers Group. Or maybe the Potawatomi Princesses. Fabulous, right?

No more whiny baby, and congrats to my writing buddies

So, I know three people whose pieces won prizes in the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ annual column writing contest. Kudos to Elaine Ambrose, Lee Gaitan and Molly Stevens – funny ladies and talented writers all.

In fact, there are just three prizes so the only question will be who lands first, second, or third prize. Geez Louise! These ladies can WRITE, so it’s anybody’s guess at this point. They’ll find out at the NSNC national conference in June.

In case you’re wondering, I met the trio at last year’s Erma Bombeck Humor Writers’ Workshop in Dayton. And as I stumble through this, my first blog post in months, you might legitimately be wondering, what the hell was Kate doing at that conference and where has she been lately?

You have no idea how very close I am to deleting the above and postponing my return to another day when I might feel funnier or more, er, writer-ly . . . .

Well, what happened is that I submitted my own work for publication a few times this year – to one contest (not the NSNC), and for inclusion in two anthologies of humorous essays.

I didn’t make the cut.

Since these groups receive all kinds of entries and assume that we’re all adults who understand that not everyone can be chosen every time, no one sends an email saying, golly, we LOVE your story, and you almost made it! You were THIS CLOSE!  So sorry. You’re an amazing, funny writer. You’re cute and kind, too! Promise us you won’t give up and definitely send us more of your stuff soon. Hugs and kisses . . . .

ArnoldThumbsDownNo. That doesn’t happen.

You may (or may not) be surprised to learn that I am a FRAGILE FUCKING FLOWER. I’ve got the body and thin skin of a plump-bottomed Bartlett pear. You’d think I’d grown up in the era where even the kids on the losing team get a trophy for showing up and a consolatory cone with sprinkles at Dairy Queen. No. I’m way too old for that. There weren’t even any girls’ sports back then, come to think of it.

Anyway, feeling crushed and cranky, I decided to stop writing. Oh, I never intended to quit forever; just long enough to give my tender little ego time to heal. Long enough to gather up my courage to try, try again and face the traumatizing possibility that an editor or judge may not choose me . . . again.

Pathetic, right?

I knew it. I know it. Then last month another very funny lady who I am honored to be (occasionally) confused with on Facebook, Kate Mayer, was named a 2017 BlogHer Voices of the Year Honoree.

Kate wrote that she had been aiming for 100 rejections and it was finally starting to pay off. I doubt Kate even came close to 100, but the fact that she could SAY it and have that kind of attitude just knocked my zebra-striped socks off. Right? Yay, Kate!

So I’m back. And I’m meeting some other Erma-ites for a writing getaway in Indiana the weekend after this. It’s time to get back in the saddle. Time to toughen up and quit being a wuss and remember that I’m writing because I love doing it. Rejections be damned. And in honor of my many writing friends who keep plugging away and occasionally – and deservedly – get recognized for their work, I’m going to make myself a Rejection Chart to fill up with star stickers for every effort and hang it on my office wall.

Stars for effort in the face of rejection – and maybe a trip to DQ – shall encourage me to plop my pear-shaped ass in front of the keyboard once again. Thanks, ladies!

Oh, I’m back in the saddle agaaaaaaaaaaain!

See? See? It worked!

Yee ha, buckaroos! Please note, I would never, ever, ever own a gun, let alone wave it around while riding a horse. Just want to make that clear.

Yeehaw, buckaroos! Please note, I would never, ever, ever own a gun, let alone wave it around while riding a horse. Just want to make that clear.

I wrote the most pitiful post ever yesterday and today I am – drum roll, please – writing again. Visit my “real blog,” weheartricksteves, to read my first post about the trip to Alsace with my intrepid buddy, Sue Brooks.

Here’s what I finally figured out. You may say, well, DUH, Kate. What the hell?! But here it is:  I am a morning person. I am most creative and energetic early in the day. As the hours and minutes tick by, I become progressively duller and slower (unless fueled up with a cocktail in the evening, at which time, one little drink can get me all riled up and chatty again).

Although my poor relatives came over via Ellis Island and were most certainly of peasant stock from various parts of Europe, somehow I acquired (by osmosis?) a singularly Puritan work ethic. I get up, and after breakfast, I jump in the shower then promptly sit at the computer by 8:30 (well, 8:30-ish these days) to answer emails, pay bills, and generally do whatever is expected to be a responsible business owner, head of household, and generally productive member of society.

After I finished doing my REAL WORK, I would allow myself to consider writing. But by then, the bloom was off this chunky old rose. I didn’t feel like being funny, or not in any (there’s that word again) productive manner.

Well, I’m turning a new leaf. (More botanical references) This morning I grabbed my first cup of coffee and sat down to write. I finished the pot, taking a break to feed my ever-patient pups, and wrote and wrote and wrote. It is now 11:15 and I am still in my nightgown and I’m still writing and dammit – I’m not going to feel guilty about it! To hell with you, Puritans! This is the new plan!

Not that I think my clients pay any attention whatsoever to my blogs, but on the off chance someone from Rite Aid or NCAN reads this, don’t worry. I’m there for you, my darlings. Until retirement shall we part.

So that’s it, mes amies (that’s “my friends” in French and you can read all about my BEST TRIP EVER to France on my travel blog in the weeks ahead). I will now mosey on in to the shower and since I’m feeling so damned full of myself right now, I will even take the boys for a little stroll before lunch (and before it gets too freaking hot and humid to even consider it).

Have a great weekend!

Paper or plastic?

As a writer and lover of books, I’m so conflicted about technology and how we read books now. When I first got an e-reader, the Canadian Kobo brand, I vowed I’d only use it to read books when I travel. As a compulsive reader, when I knew I’d be spending many hours in planes and airports, I would pack three or four books to see me through a ten-day trip. That’s a lot of extra weight in your luggage!

My Kindle

My Kindle

My son Chris actually forgot the Kobo in the seatback pocket on a flight from Paris to Rome (wow – how fancy pants does THAT sound?! If only we were truly the jetsetters that kind of comment might imply.). So for Christmas that year I treated myself to a Kindle Fire. And now, dear readers, I’m hooked.

I still go to the wonderful Madison Public Library pretty regularly, but honestly? I’m afraid my days of buying actual hardcover or paperback books are over, at least when it comes to novels, memoirs, etc. – books you’re likely to read once, and that’s it. Now, a how-to book of any kind where you might want to flip back and forth and re-read sections, refer to directions, and so on, still works best in paper, at least for me. If I actually were to read the directions on my Kindle to learn how the bookmarks work, I might change my mind. However, at present, if I want to go back to search for anything on my Kindle I’m pretty much SOL.

The exception to that rule, for me, is the cookbook. I am by no means a great, or even good, cook. I’m not especially inventive and I don’t find passing time in the kitchen experimenting with new recipes to be particularly entertaining. I’d usually rather read a book by Michael Ruhlman or Anthony Bourdain ,or perhaps watch a DVR’d’ episode of“Top Chef,” than puzzle out a recipe that, in my hands, may turn out to be inedible, anyway.

Having said that, you won’t be surprised to learn that I haven’t cracked open a cook bookscookbook in ages.  But . . . I am probably cooking more new foods than I ever have before due to television and the internet! The last time I bought a cookbook, I’m not sure the Food Network even existed. I definitely wasn’t on Facebook or Pinterest. Nowadays, if I try a new recipe, it’s because I saw something that looked amazing on TV (and then searched for directions online), or someone posted a recipe with a mouth-watering photo on Facebook or Pinterest (I am SO trying those Snickerdoodle muffins – thanks, Cindy W.!). And if I want to find out how to make something, I generally Google it and just choose whichever recipe looks good and appears to be within the feeble grasp of my limited culinary expertise.

So are we fast approaching the point where actual, physical books will become extinct? While I sincerely hope that’s not the case, here I am with my Kindle. Here I am with a device that not only contains as many books as I probably have on the shelves in my living room, but that also  allows me to hop onto the internet to refer back to projects and directions I’ve posted to Pinterest, or maybe even to search for a demonstration on how to make a decent pie crust on YouTube.

But wait. There’s more. Here I am, writing to my heart’s content in a public forum. I have no idea how many (read: few) people read this, but regardless – it’s my creative outlet and I love doing it. I could be chit-chatting to myself in a journal that no one would read and no editor would ever publish, but instead, I can share this with you at no cost or risk to myself or a publishing house. I have to tell you, I’m really grateful for that. Thank you, WordPress! Thank you, anyone who is reading!

It used to be that if you called yourself a writer but had nothing published, well . . . really? Sure, buddy. The internet allows a host of talented writers (and plenty of not-so-talented writers, but if you love to write – so what?) the opportunity to put their words out there, whether they ever make a dime for their efforts or not. Going public takes some courage. And at the same time, it is so amazingly rewarding to hear just from one person now and then who says, “nice job!”

But back to paper vs. screen, I’m still conflicted. As much as I love the physicality of books, I suppose that what matters is the essence of the material, the writing itself. I love interesting information, whether it’s the story of a young man’s experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador (I’m reading that now: The Gringo by J. Grigsby Crawford) or how to train my dogs to sit and STAY (an ongoing process that requires much patience on my part). I am in awe of brilliant fiction. Here are just two novels I’ve recently read and loved:  Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, and The Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (both purchased for  my Kindle library, BTW).

Does it matter if we read these things on paper or on a screen? Or is the important part simply the act of reading and loving the written word?

What do you think?