I’ve Made It

I am the newest health and wellness writer for spryliving.com.

I’ve had two articles go live on the site. Below are the links:

http://spryliving.com/articles/8-foods-dietitians-would-never-eat/

http://spryliving.com/articles/the-obesity-endometrial-cancer-connection/

I have gradually been building my writing business, Codemo Writing Services, which is a full-service freelance writing and web design firm.

I am also a regular contributor to Springfield Business Journal and Illinois Times.

Fiction has taken a backseat to building my freelance writing business and building traffic on my newest blog, http://mytimeinthestirrups.wordpress.com/.

Amtrak Offers Writers’ Residencies

This is such a cool idea. I’m surprised no one thought of this sooner.
http://www.thewire.com/culture/2014/02/inside-amtraks-absolutely-awesome-plan-give-free-rides-writers/358332/

Dreams Do Come True

I am one step closer to being a published author.

I have been riding an adrenaline wave since Monday night. When I learned an acquisitions editor was interested in looking at my horror manuscript, Guardian Angel, I immediately called my mom a little after 11 p.m. to share the good news with her. I next shared the love with my social media network. Out of respect for my sleeping neighbors, I limited myself to one shouted “Yes” when I got the news.

I don’t think I slept that night.

This is my dream. I have dreamt about this moment since I was five years old and writing my first short stories. I dreamt about this moment when I was writing my first “novel”, which was modeled after The Exorcist. I dreamt about this moment when I was submitting short stories to Twilight Zone magazine and receiving form rejection letters. It has only taken 50 years to finally stand on the precipice of realizing that dream.

I literally learned the meaning of the term, gob struck, that night. I was stunned, shocked, amazed. I still am.

Thanks Erin Lale, without whom this realization of a dream would not be possible. She is the acquisitions editor for Damnation Books (http://www.damnationbooks.com/index.php), a small press out of Santa Rosa, California that publishes dark fiction.

She started a discussion on LinkedIn, How to Annoy the Acquisitions Editor, part 73, which has been widely commented on. The far-ranging discussion has been both informative and amusing.

The following is an edited exchange between her and I that took place Monday night:

Roberta Codemo

I now have the impetus to finish my horror novel, which is based on a real life event that happened to me when I was a child. The manifestation in my book paid me a return visit about 20 years ago and I had to have the apartment I was living in at the time cleansed. Writing the book has been very cathartic; however, there are moments where I have to sleep with the lights on.

Erin Lale

Ooh, a scary book about a scary book. That sounds intriguing.

Roberta Codemo

Would you like to see it when it’s done? It’s titled Guardian Angel. What if Evil was your guardian angel and your guardian angel wanted you dead.

Erin Lale

Sure, that’s different, I’ll give that a read.

Who would have thought it could be that simple?

The adrenaline rush has now been tempered somewhat by the hard work I have ahead of me. I have set a goal of 2,000 to 2,500 words a day, every day, and plan to have the book completed within the next two months.

Dreams do come true after all.

Kissed by your Dream

I’m staring down the barrel of a loaded gun.

You know that hoary chestnut: Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. Well, I’m living proof of that. Only I didn’t wish for this. I should have listened to my father.

Once I thought it was the sweetest thing in the world to be kissed by your dream. I stumbled on it accidentally, my dream that is. I was 13 and perusing the stacks of my public library when I found it: Guardian Angel by Robert Colombo.

The world fell away when I pulled that book down off the shelf and saw my father’s picture on the back cover. My father – a writer? I turned that book over and over in my hands marveling that my father had written a horror novel. The only thing I’d ever seen him read was the sports section of our local paper.

I knew right then I wanted to be a writer, just like him. I slipped that book inside my jacket and stole it out of the library. Okay. It was in the adult section and I would have needed his permission to check it out. Somehow I didn’t want him to know I knew his secret.

That book was my ticket out of reality. I read it over and over again trying to absorb some of my father’s magic and writing bits and pieces of flotsam.

I never told him.

But, one day, that book was gone along with all my notebooks. In their place was a one word note: “Stop.” We never spoke of it. That was how it was in my family.

I put my dream away and got a sensible job. I became an accountant and I was good at it until the firm laid me off…well…okay…I was fired. I never was suited for life in a cubicle world.

I found the book in a box in the attic when I was cleaning out my parent’s house after they died. Somehow my dream was always waiting for me to find my way back to it.

The book stands on a corner of my desk. The desk where I’ve written 10 books, five of which made the New York Times Best Seller list. I can’t complain. It’s been a hell of a ride. Except…

Where was I? Right. I’m staring down the barrel of a loaded gun. He’s standing here with a gun pointing at my head. Why? Ask him. He…sorry, I know you want to remain anonymous.

H…okay…it. Hey, if I can’t use h or h, it will have to do. It breaks into my house and points a loaded gun at my head.

What? Sorry, I was talking to it. It wants notoriety, it said. It wants me to tell its story.

Me? Right. I’ve got nothing. Zero. Zip. Nil. Listen, I know I’m a writer but you expect me to perform well under pressure with a gun pointing at my head. Hell, if I could do that, I’d still be in cubicle world. Okay?

I should have listened to my father. I should have stopped. But it’s too late now. I’m sitting here with a loaded gun pointing….yes, yes, I know I’ve said that already but it’s kind of hard not to notice the gun pointing at my head. If I could turn back the clock and forget I ever saw that book sitting on that library shelf, I would. But I can’t give it back.

Oh, shut up, you’re not the one staring down the barrel of a loaded gun.

Goodbye, Mom

Here is my NPR Three Minute Fiction contest entry:

Hi, mom? Are you there? Pick up. It’s me, Jenna.

(She pours a shot of Jameson’s, takes a long sip.)

I’ve missed you. I know that’s hard to believe…considering. You just made me so angry sometimes.  I don’t blame you for what you did.

(She takes another sip of whiskey).

I want to come home. It’s been so long. I haven’t seen you in, what, ten years.

There’s so much I want to tell you. God, I hate talking to machines. Why don’t you pick up?

(She rubs her forehead.)

Fine, then. Don’t pick up. What are you waiting for? Do you want to hear me say I’m sorry? Well, I’m not, okay. You’re the one that should be sorry.

(She downs the whiskey, pours another drink. She rolls the whiskey bottle between her palms, takes a deep breath, holds it, lets it out.)

Do you know what it was like? I was fifteen years old and living on the streets. Do you have any idea what that was like?

(She slams her fist on the table.)

How could you? What kind of mother does that to their own child?

(She watches her four-year-old playing with her doll in the living room.)

There were times when I couldn’t find a place to sleep I’d come home and curl up on the porch swing. Did you know I was out there? Would you have asked me to come in? I’d stare at the house and imagine what it must be like to be inside where it was all warm and cozy and safe. Then my stomach would growl and I’d remember I hadn’t eaten in three days. I hated you so much.

(She gulps her drink, swipes away the tears.)

Why, mom? Why did you do it? I know I wasn’t the easiest person in the world to get along with but I was your daughter. Did you even love me?

(She pours another drink.)

“Tough love” that’s what you called it. Tough love. Yeah, it was tough alright. But I survived. You made me a stronger, tougher, person because of it.

(She runs her fingers through her hair, takes a sip of whiskey.)

My shrink tells me I need to stop living in the past. But I can’t. It’s part of me. It’s who I am. It’s what defines me as a person.

That night, when I came home, I saw you watching me from the window. You probably thought I’d been out drinking, didn’t you. Well, you were wrong. A friend of mine died that night. Overdose.

When I walked in, you started screaming at me. Calling me a useless drunk just like my father. You said I’d never amount to anything. That’s when I hit you.

You kicked me to the curb like yesterday’s garbage. I ran before the cops got there.

(She wraps her hands around the whiskey glass.

You were wrong. I made it. It wasn’t easy, but I made it. You taught me I could survive anything.

Even this.

(She takes another drink of whiskey.)

I’m outside.  We need to talk. Not like this. Face to face. It was my shrink’s idea, okay, not mine. I don’t want anything to do with you. You’re dead to me.

(Silence.)

She erases the answering machine tape, reaches across the kitchen table and takes her mother’s lifeless hand. “Goodbye, mom.”

In Memoriam

One year ago today, my aunt, Waunita Bernice Jane Wilhelm Gregory, passed away from complications of a stroke. She was 80 years old. The daughter of Ira J. and Bernice Iverna (Lang) Richmond, she was born in Knoxville, Iowa on September 7, 1930.

She was my biggest cheerleader and my first listener. Blind from complications from diabetes, she would listen to my works in progress. – a children’s non-fiction manuscript, a picture book or a short story. It didn’t matter what I read to her. She encouraged me and liked everything I wrote. She believed in me. Every writer needs someone like her in their life.

I cherish the time I knew her. Growing up, I spent every summer until I was 13 on her farm in Mountain View, Missouri. Every August, for my birthday, my family would load up the car and we’d go for a two-week visit. Those were a grand two weeks – visiting family, bunking down in sleeping bags and blankets in the living room, playing outside from sunup to sundown, trips into town, canoe trips on the Jack’s Fork and Current Rivers, tick checks.

I would spend my days on the wide front porch pecking away on my portable typewriter while my siblings and cousins played. While they created imaginary games, I created imaginary worlds – words unspinning beneath my fingertips.

The carefree days of youth give way to age and time. I lost connections with my aunt and my family in Missouri. While we would occasionally see each other, the times were brief and fleeting. It was only sheer chance that I re-connected with her in 2009, after more than 30 years.

During a rough patch in my life in 2009, I took an extended trip to visit family and ended up on my aunt’s doorstep. She had buried two husbands during that time and moved to town. During the week I spent with her, she and I re-connected as adults. I was her eyes, and together we traveled – to see family, to Arkansas to her friends. I met an aunt Nita I never knew and our time together was special and healing.

I would call her on the phone late at night and read to her. Our conversation would start with general chitchat and I’d work up to the real reason I was calling her. I’d ask her if she wanted to hear what I was working on, and she’s say, “Of course.” When I was done, she’d say, “Go on. Finish it.” She always wanted to know what happened next.

At the time of her death, I was working on a horror novel. I would read her chunks of the novel, which was always in a state of flux. I don’t know how many beginnings I read to her. I need to finish it, for her and myself. She has a small role in the book, and it will, of course, be dedicated to her.

A poet in her own right, she would often share her poems with me. I only wish I had some to share here. Her second husband, Glydus Gregory, was also a poet and published a book of poetry. They belonged to the Mountain View Poetry Society, and my aunt’s poetry was included in the group’s 2005 chapbook, Dandelion Seeds.

I miss having her as my sounding board. Sassy ignores me when I read to her and my mother tries, but it isn’t the same. I know my aunt is watching over me and is celebrating my small triumphs with me. She would be so proud to know that I am now writing for the Springfield Business Journal.

I did not go to her funeral. I chose to remember her as she was – a vibrant woman full of love, laughter and life. At her funeral, a slide show of photos from a one-day trip my cousin Trisha, myself, my aunt and one of my aunt’s friends took while I was there in 2009 played. It is among the last memories I have of my aunt.

Rest in peace, aunt Nita. You are missed now and for always.

Image

I am stage right (or left) and my aunt Nita is in the center. I don’t remember who is stage left (or right). This photo was taken at Elephant Rock State Park.

The Supermoon, Spiders and Ice Cream Trucks

Last night, I sat outside on the front step of my apartment building with my Pomeranian, Sassy, and watched the supermoon rise over the apartment building across the street. The sky slowly lightened, the early evening darkness overshot with a white glow, as the moon ascended the sky. I waited in anticipation for my first glimpse of the full moon as it peeked over the top of the building.

There was a slight breeze, turning the night deliciously pleasant after another hot, humid afternoon. Sassy stretched out on the grass and I sat cross-legged on the step, watching a small black spider enjoying its evening meal of a flying insect several times its size that had had the misfortune to get caught in its web.

As I waited for the moon to make its appearance, I heard the tinny familiar strains of the ice cream truck coming from down the street. I checked my watch: 9:07 p.m. I wondered what an ice cream truck was doing out at that hour plying its trade when nary a child was about to witness its passage.

And a story idea was born, As I watched the moon tentatively peek over the apartment building across the street, its brilliant white light spilling forth and washing across the yard, I began thinking about demented ice cream truck drivers, the tinny strains of their musical trucks luring children from their midnight beds.

The moon slowly rose, its light softening the edges of the darkness. I waited, hoping the rabbit family I’ve seen nibbling grasses in our yard would come out and play. It seemed that kind of night where anything would, or could, happen.

After a while, Sassy grew restless and we went inside but, even then, I felt the siren call of the moon. It lured me out twice more, until it became tangled in the trees and I lost sight of it amid a haze of clouds.

Late in the night, I woke. My bed overlooks a window, and as I lay there, I saw the moon shining through my window. I woke with visions of demented ice cream truck drivers in my head. I sense a story developing here.

Sins of the Mothers

Below is my round eight entry for NPRs Three Minute Fiction. For reasons I will not discuss, I have chosen to withdraw it for consideration in the contest. This has nothing to do with the fine staff at NPR who coordinate and run this contest.

Sins of the Mothers

She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. Her decision was made.

She stepped outside onto the wide wraparound porch and stared out across the land. The fallow field ran back to the distant tree line. Somewhere an owl hooted and was still. She hugged herself against the crisp night air.

The wind shifted, bringing with it the dry dusty smell of corn from a neighboring field.

Her baby kicked. She placed her hand on her belly, could feel its tiny feet beneath her skin. Five months along, two months longer than her first pregnancy. This was her miracle baby.

A wave of nausea swept over her. She sank down onto the porch steps. Crooning an old familiar Scottish lullaby, she rocked back and forth, soothing herself as much as her baby.

She had grown up here, had entertained thoughts of moving back and raising her child here. This land was MacMillan land.

Her husband didn’t understand. He’d grown up in the city, had never felt dirt squish between his toes or plunged his hands into rich dark soil warm from the summer sun.

“It’s a fair offer,” her attorney had said, when he called her. “The land isn’t good for anything.”

“It’s my family’s land,” she‘d said. Though truth was, it had been years since she’d set foot on it.

“Think about it,” he’d said, before disconnecting.

Her husband wanted her to sell it.

“It’s my decision,” she’d argued, packing a suitcase. “I’m the last one.”

She found the book jammed behind an empty shoebox in the back of once had been her parent’s closet. She shivered as her fingers brushed across the worn leather. She pulled it out and turned the small volume over in her hands. Embossed on the cover in gold calligraphy was “The Book of Naming.” Her fingertips tingled as she cracked it open.

Inside was an accounting. The book was a litany of horrors. A story of human sacrifices, ancient rituals practiced to a forgotten fertility god, rites passed down in her family from one generation to the next.

Alpin

Coleen

Payton

Heather

Constance

Kenneth

Andrew

Colin

Douglas

Christine

Beth

Logan 

Lynsey

Rose

Wallace

Eric

Wynda

She stared up at the harvest moon and whispered each name. Sixteen children. Sixteen small sacrifices. Their forgotten bones buried in the field behind the house.

Wynda. She spoke the last name aloud. Her name.

She picked out Orion’s Belt, the Summer Triangle, and the Big Dipper. She used the pointer stars in the Big Dipper to find the North Star. Her father had taught her the names of the constellations before they’d moved away when she was five, too young to understand. She only remembered raised voices, sudden silences when she walked into a room and, more than once, her mother crying, silent sobs shaking her shoulders.

Her parents chose to give her the gift of life. They paid a high price for their disobedience. The land failed them. They had sacrificed everything for her, as they struggled to eke out a hardscrabble existence.

Tomorrow this land would belong to the TRC Development Corporation. The sins of the mothers buried beneath concrete and asphalt.

Her baby kicked again, harder. She rubbed her belly, watching the Milky Way wheel overhead.

She doubled over with a hard cramp. It felt as if someone had punched her in the stomach with an iron fist. Her baby’s kicking stuttered, paused, ceased.

She struggled to her feet, as she felt wetness between her legs.

Late Night Ruminations

I’m scared. So I am writing and eating Hershey’s Kisses milk chocolate. Putting my fears and worries down in writing helps me make sense of them. Eating chocolate, well, one can always find a reason to justify eating chocolate, even Hershey chocolate.

As I write this, I’m on the southbound Amtrak heading for St. Louis. My mother has an intestinal blockage and was hospitalized this evening. She is in Barnes Jewish West. This isn’t the first time. She was hospitalized for another blockage last year. One thing I can say about my mom, she’s a survivor. She’s been through a lot the past few years.

She is a ten year plus colorectal cancer survivor. She was diagnosed at stage four, after the cancer had already spread to her lungs. Lately, however, she has had numerous health issues, including persistent chronic leg edema that has left her unable to walk without a walker. She is in constant pain and her health is on the decline. 

Tonight, I found out she has been having medical issues I haven’t been aware of. I just wish I either lived closer to her or had a car. She needs someone with her with a medical background. Unless her doctors can figure out what is going on, I’m afraid her family is going to have to make some hard medical decisions.

Reminders of mortality are everywhere. I’m turning 50 next year and have a friend who is celebrating his 50th this year. He has been taking stock of his life, ruminating on where he has been, where he is now and where he is going.

I have been taking an accounting of my own life. And, to tell you the truth, I feel like an abject failure at times. When I was in high school, I wanted to be a neurosurgeon. I had dreams of going to medical school. I cannot tell you the conversations I had with our family doctor, Dr. Bill. He was so proud I wanted to follow in his footsteps and become a doctor.

I gave all that up for the life of a writer, and have spent the past two decades running away from writing. When I was 17, I was in such a hurry to grow up and be on my own. Going to school, juggling three jobs and supporting myself, I kept pushing that dream further and further away. I never had time to write, as I pursued a collective litany of jobs that led nowhere and provided little satisfaction. Writing, like any tool, if unused, gets rusty. I gave up on the dream, but, fortunately, the dream didn’t give up on me.

I wonder what I would have accomplished if I hadn’t given up on the dream. Where would I be now? The missteps you make in your youth can come back and haunt you when you’re older. We can play the game of “if only I” or we can move forward.

In the overall scheme of things, we are insignificant specks in the grand universe. Consider this. Does what we do truly matter to anyone except ourselves?

Change

I have lost my voice. On March 2, I was hit by lightning while walking across a parking lot. As a result, because of extensive nerve and muscle damage, I no longer have full use of my right hand. I am typing this post left-handed. It is a rather slow and tedious process.

There was severe weather in the area. We were having a full-out thunderstorm with driving rain. I had my umbrella up. At one point, there was a simultaneous thunder boom and lightning flash. Part of the lightning stroke arced over and hit my umbrella, what is called a side flash. I smelled something burning, felt an electric shock in my right hand (the one holding the umbrella handle) and saw sparks shoot out the handle of the umbrella. My first thought was: “Did I just get hit by lightning?” Other than a damaged hand and a singed umbrella, I was otherwise unhurt. I’m fairly lucky.

I am adjusting to a one-handed life. I’m reminded of an old Mash episode where Major Charles Winchester operates on a young soldier and has to amputate his right hand. When the soldier wakes up, he lashes out at Winchester for cutting off his hand. It turns out the soldier is a concert pianist. I feel a little like that soldier.

I am a writer by trade. My life has been on hold this past month. Other than for a story submission to NPRs Three Minute Fiction contest, I have not done any writing. I have deadlines and commitments. I have an article to write for the Illinois Times. I have various writing projects I want to pursue. I have spent the past month bemoaning the loss of my voice.

Just like the soldier in the Mash episode, I have to adjust. As Major Winchester gave the soldier piano scores for the left hand, friends have offered me voice alternatives such as Dragon. I have been resistant to change but am finding I need to open myself to it. I still have a voice. I just need to learn new ways of expressing it.

It feels as though I’ve been granted a new lease on life. This event has marked a turning point in my life. My life has been steered in a new direction. Full of my new-found knowledge about lightning, I am putting together a lightning presentation. I am working on storytelling programs. In fact, I will be telling spider stories for students in the young naturalist program at Lincoln Memorial Garden.

Most importantly, I have realized writing is what I want to pursue. It is what I am. I was happiest while pursuing a freelancing career last year until the work dried up. I was let go from the temp job I was working because I am under medical restrictions. I don’t want to put myself in that position again. I want to be responsible for my own income, not fattening someone else’s pockets.

I recently purchased the May issue of Shambhala Sun. The lead story is about embracing change. I am a Buddhist. A major tenant in Buddhist philosophy is the concept of impermanence. Everything changes. Nothing lasts. By embracing impermanence, recognizing that change is an inevitable, painful part of life, it allows one to come to terms with change. Rather than finding change frightening, one can find within it peace and understanding. With that understanding, one progresses along the path to enlightenment.

Change. It’s a big part of my life right now. According to my hand specialist, it may take up to six months for the nerve damage in my right hand to fully heal, if it ever does. Nerves grow at the rate of one inch per month. We won’t know the full extent of the muscle damage until the nerves heal.

There is a lesson here for me. Nothing happens without reason. I just have to be open to it and accept it.