- Book Launch: This past Sunday, Off-Campus Writers’ Workshop celebrated the official book launch of ‘Turning Points,’ our 75th Anniversary Anthology. Over 125 participants gathered on Zoom for curated readings, remarks from our President, and info on Summer programs (we move to monthly workshops and then pick up again in September). I auditioned and was selected to read my short story ‘Outfit of the Day’ along with two of my fellow critique group members: Ronit Bezalel and Joyce Zeis. Because my story takes place in a coffee shop, I switched my Zoom background to embody the spirit (and aroma!) of a café (see photo above. Yes, you can find Zoom backgrounds for just about any occasion).
- My weekly writing workshops continue to be sanity-savers and reinforce why I need critiques- because it identifies the weak spots, it bolsters the plot, and it helps the story go from ‘okay’ to ‘hot damn.’ My Monday Writer Workouts are facilitated by Nadine Kenney Johnstone, who’s a force of nature as a writer, writing coach, and podcaster (Heart of the Story). This past week I workshopped with Ria Talken and it was an absolute gift to hear her reactions (a chuckle, a gasp) and to glean her perspective. Ria wrote a beautifully candid blog post about the experience and I implore you to check it out here, and follow her writing. She totally captures the Aha! of branching out beyond ourselves to create stellar writing.
- Pizza: Tonight, I’m heading downtown for al fresco drinks and wood-fired pizza. Last December, I took a StoryStudio class (via Zoom) on getting ‘over the hump’ with novel writing. The class concluded after 6 weeks, and I really felt the letdown- things were just starting to get in a groove! Some of us decided to try to keep the momentum going, so we continued to meet on Zoom every Thursday night: 1 hour of writing, 30 minutes of workshopping. Nearly seven months later, we are all planning to meet for dinner…which means I will meet them in-person for the first time. We keep joking about who will be surprisingly tall.
It’s been a surreal week and I was able to do something I’ve dreamt of for so long: walk into a book store and hold a copy of my book.
In sharing this news, I think it’s important to infuse this caveat: I’ve had many other writing/book projects fail. I had a children’s book and a literary agent that never crossed the publishing finish line. I lost my longstanding newspaper column during the pandemic (and learned of this by reading The Chicago Tribune). I had a book of columns get rebuffed. I’ve had a full novel get a ton of buzz from agents without a single bite. All of that was devastating. But I still kept writing.
We never quite know what makes some projects flourish while others flounder- timing, trend, and a handful of other unique details. But I am immensely proud to have my short story ‘Outfit of the Day’ anthologized in Turning Points, the 75th Anniversary Anthology put out by the Off-Campus Writers’ Workshop. It was a marvel to collaborate with other writers- my first time doing so (also my first foray into fiction).
In being a Winnetka-based writing group, I was so heartened to see the response of readers willing to order this book through our local, indie book shop, The Book Stall. When I received the shop’s weekly newsletter, I was astounded to see Turning Points prominently featured on their Bestseller list. It was truly humbling. It made me especially thankful for all of my failed endeavors- yes, you read that correctly- to be a writer to learn to hold hands with the heavy onslaught of rejection. To grow from it. To fuel for the next opportunity. To push for what seems impossible.
If you are interested in ordering Turning Points, please consider ordering from your local book store. If that is not a possibility, please consider Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or inquiring with your local library.
One last thought to anyone who writes or has an urge to write- just keep going.
It is delightfully surreal to share that I have a book coming out. My short story ‘Outfit of the Day’ will be published in an Anthology titled ‘Turning Points.’
The backstory: I am a member of Off Campus Writers’ Workshop in Winnetka. The group is marking its 75th Anniversary as a longstanding Chicago writing group and as such, is publishing a short story Anthology- a whisk of mystery, fantasy, contemporary, historical, memoir, and the many turning points that move us ahead.
This is my first published work of fiction. It’s a process that began way back in October of 2019- yes, simpler times. What I love about Anthologies is that there is a little something for everyone. In my critique group alone, there were stories of a long-fought war, a high school student attending Turnabout, a neighbor curious about a new baby, and a cherished puffer coat passed down to a friend in need. All of these short stories tugged at me in unique ways. As for my story? It appears under the section titled ‘Unexpected Outcomes.’
You can preorder ‘Turning Points’ at The Book Stall in Winnetka. In belonging to a Winnetka-based writing group, it was important to us that we support our local, independent book store. Thank you for shopping local and for supporting the amazing contributors of OCWW.
Two fat ceramic pigs perch on my shoulder
Are they Shreks?
No, I mutter, they’re cookie jars
Cracked antiques with stutter paint
My parents, I say, they were into them
There was a time when they were really into them.
Yes, I recognize that the balloons in the living room are more blue than green. I did not appreciate that realization at 11pm last night.
Kids sleep through vacuums, thunderstorms, and house alarms, but drop one balloon softly into their room and they will stir and thrash in their blankets while I cower in the hallway. Leprechauns don’t get caught making mischief. They just don’t.
I continue to be very Irish and very much not into Irish foods. Even Irish soda bread, the one thing I’m sorta okay with, tasted less than okay this morning. What is going on with that, I ask you.
She: has pulled out every article of green clothing she owns. Gold ribbon in hair for golden coins.
He: is uninterested and possibly, influenced by school and the concept of cool. Orange shirt and jeans.
Just yesterday, I entered the 7th circle of hell (PartyCity). I found myself running amok, placing strand of beads and shamrock headbands into a basket. Plates, cups, napkins. Green, green, green. $62 worth of festive.
And for what? For whom? For why?
Is this the new normal? These little holidays holding joy that allow us tiny celebrations in an era that has felt hard to celebrate? I thought about this as I considered our later plans: green milkshakes, spun in the blender, crushing ice into cream. Everyone’s tongue will be green.
This morning? Her little footsteps hurried to the top of the stairs. A gasp. Wonder. Awe. WOW.
I smiled a leprechaun’s smile.
Either 5am or 7:47am
There is no in-between
The house is quiet and heavy with slumber
Even the shutters join in, and silently snore
We’re running late (and nobody cares)
Sun, then snow, then sun again
Snow will always be the last to leave
So keep the heavy jackets with heavy blankets
and hold them until the grass stains
Robbed of light to be given light
A trade off
We love…to hate
As we throw the alarm
There is no in-between
Of Daylight Savings Crime
-Kelly Q. Anderson
I grossly underestimated the intensity my children have when it comes to trapping a leprechaun. This morning, my daughter ran screaming into my room to tell me that the ‘green stuff’ in our house had been moved, therefore, tiny little leprechauns were out making mischief.
When I asked her to clarify, she pointed at a small green stapler on the countertop and a spice jar of Bay Leaves next to it (basically, the casual, everyday mess that is my kitchen).
“See? Look at this stuff just laying around,” she confirmed. “Hey, did you by any chance hear tiny little voices saying ‘tee hee hee’?”
(she was not please by this response).
Yesterday, I took my kids and their active imaginations to the library, where they beelined for Irish-themed books (as well as some historical ones for Wells, who is getting a kick out of history). I agreed to make a lot of green food this month (they requested green beans and mint milkshakes). I also made a tentative plan to try and attempt my family’s famous Irish soda bread recipe. Every cardboard box has been claimed in order to craft the most skilled and accurate leprechaun trap.
We are full tilt for mischief. Here’s hoping you are too.
(today I participated in a workshop through Off Campus Writers Workshop and there were some brilliant grief prompts presented by Chen Chen, who served as instructor/moderator. Here is what came out)
Dear ambitious scholar,
Grief is my dog’s collar tucked away in a box, high on the shelf in my closet.
My favorite shirt, the chambray button-down from that classic secondhand store, is fading away. I found two more holes this morning, one of which was hiding in plain sight near my elbow. It won’t be long now. I used to think it would crush me to lose this shirt- not the jewelry in velvet boxes or the designer trenchcoat- but this, this faded, tattered shirt with the heart-shaped pocket. It’s lesser now, the crush of it all.
I have been furious with my writing lately. It’s never been easier or harder. I’m writing everything: poems, fiction, nonfiction, and sex. Yes, sex writing was a whole class. The hours are long in the writing chair, in front of the writing screen.
All this writing has allowed me to manifest though. To bring out the grief without yelling at my kids or pulling at my hair. I continue to tread water in an angry sea. Yet I force the handholding of language and grief. Say it out loud or it doesn’t count.
What am I to do next and how can I do all of it? Everything within me is desperate to come out. How do I know the way? How do I know the path without directions?
Ambitious scholar, take notes and take your time. You will get there. You will get there.
The new year has rolled out and the rollercoaster has begun. In just the first half of January, there have been dramatic shifts and prods within social media, government, law enforcement, D.E.I., journalism, and more. Brad Montague touched upon the enormity of this time as ‘toomuchery.’ The world keeps changing, the world keeps staying the same. Routine mixed with chaos, stirred with uncertainty. What happens when our very democracy is under violent attack and my child approaches me and asks for help with homework? He’s working on calculating area. Length x width.
The other day I impulse bought a set of clearance rack barrettes from Target. As if that would help anything. As if it would lessen the anxiety. But they sparkle on Zoom. They shimmer under the light of our dinner table. They help hide that awkward hair length I’m at- the growing-out-phase. But really, there is no help for moving through uncertainty. Sparkle is merely a distraction.
Family continues with distance and technology, and the occasional freezing cold walk at a forest preserve.
Our dog, Putter, continues to burrow on our laps and spread the warmth wherever she goes. In the ever-chill of a midwestern winter, I don’t really mind it. I’m just not always ready when I’m sitting down with coffee and a furry bundle leaps into my startled lap.
On Tuesday, Fitz cracked open an Ina Garten cookbook and made the fanciest comfort food he could find: lobster BLTs. They were sensational. A hall-of-fame kind of sandwich.
Clean, purge, donate. Every year this happens. The doling out of holiday decor, the sweeping removal of it, and my insistence at stripping things down, down, down to necessity. In a world of no control, I have to stop myself from pacing or organizing. In doing so, Fitz dug through office drawers and uncovered a treasure among relics (a rolodex! ancient biz cards!). Before the world changed and tilted, he had purchased a pair of earrings on Etsy for me. My initials. The two letters that have been singular in my identity for so long. A really lovely, thoughtful gift. It reminded me of that moment in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Clark is in the attic, attempting to discreetly hide presents…until he uncovers a dusty Mother’s Day gift from 1984. Oops.
I picked a helluva time to start school again but the program was just too good and the Instagram ad hit at the right time. Despite the chaos of schedule, I have really enjoyed eCornell. I’m studying Diversity & Inclusion.
Every day is still fresh. Every opportunity is still present. Yes, this year has already been too much, but many days lay ahead. Many days lay ahead. Start me up.
There is a saying in yoga that you can always go further. Master a pose? Now try it while shifting the gaze or taking a bind (think arm wrap or twist). There is always a way to challenge yourself and go deeper into the practice. To be a student of yoga is to be committed to continued learning.
It surprises people when I share that sometimes the hardest part of a pose is the breath, the direction of my eyes, or the ability to move into balance. This morning’s yoga Zoom focused on Wild Thing, a heart-opening pose. The cue for going further was lifting the foot off the floor. In a photo, this probably doesn’t seem like a monumental change, but it requires way more focus to hold (and some muscle shaking).
A few attempts were made on this pose as I moved through the sequence, but don’t worry, there are some good outtakes in which I fell over. The failure is part of the process, too.
As you move through your day, and the weekend, carry the mantra within and apply it wherever it is needed: go further.