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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Rejections are stepping stones

I just cleaned out the hutches in my computer desk and found twelve letters. These were not just ordinary letters, but rejections from some of the best literary agents in the country. Now they sit in a Target bag, awaiting the walk to the dumpster.

In 2005, I began to send chapters of my novel The Kimono Lady Sings to agents. Postage was 39 cents back then.

Most of the rejections came in a form letter. Dear Author. One was a very light copied form letter, crooked on the page.

However, not all the rejections were tossed. One letter from a New York agency will remain by my computer. This agent took the time to explain why she was rejecting The Kimono Lady Sings.

She wrote:
Dear Alice,
Thank you for following up on my request and giving me the opportunity to read from THE KIMONO LADY SINGS. You have an eye for wry detail, and you write with great humor and pathos. Unfortunately, I'm going to pass. Though the situation confronting Nicole has the potential to be very inspiring, I had trouble connecting to her.

I hope another agent will feel differently, and wish you the best of luck in finding the right home for your book.


Because of this agent, I realized what was wrong with my novel. I had to make the narrative voice more compelling. While pulling weeds in my yard one afternoon, that voice came to me. The year was 2006 and by that fall, I had an agent to represent me. Bethany House accepted my novel, the title was changed to Rain Song, and in October 2008, it entered bookstores.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Read Part of Chapter One of Rain Song


[A few pages into Chapter One]........


Ducee traces the rim of her teacup with a bony finger. Slowly she says, "You aren't in control of everything or anybody. Remember that, Iva."

If I ever compile a list of my grandmother's sayings, this one will be at the top.

We know she will add another part to her thought, and she does. "Good things happen in fleeting moments. Enjoy what you can—those moments are sometimes all we get." She focuses on both of our faces and then, "Yes." There is a long pause as though she is remembering something almost lost, like one of those long-gone fleeting moments she wants to recapture in her mind. "Yes, that's it, yes."

Iva finishes her tea, pushes her cup and saucer toward the middle of the table, and smacks her lips. "Well, Grable's not having any good things happening these days. Having to do it all alone and then when Dennis does decide to come home, he has no patience for Monet. She is his daughter." She lights another cigarette and coughs.

I think of Grable and Dennis's three-year-old, Monet, the child no doctor at Duke or UNC hospitals can figure out. The child is wild, and my patience for her runs thin. The last time she overfed my fish, I screamed at her. Then I felt awful and bought her a coloring book and pack of Crayolas. Grable has aspirations that Monet will live up to her name and be able to paint like Claude Monet.

Grable also thinks Dennis will cut back his hours at the law firm, take some time off, and fly with her to an exotic country, preferably Costa Rica.

"Monet is a treasure," Ducee says with feeling. "Trying, but if you listen to her heart, she is charming."

Both Iva and I give Ducee looks as if she's lost her mind.

Iva crumples her empty cigarette pack. "Don't know why God made her the way she is."

Ducee starts to speak, but Iva interrupts. "I know, I know, you're going to say His ways are not our ways. And to trust Him and not doubt. Birds of the air." She waves her cigarette in front of her face. "I know, I know." She clears her raspy throat. That action always makes me quiver.

"Actually," Ducee says, "I was going to ask if you wanted more tea."

Iva places the end of the Virginia Slims in the ashtray and stands. "No, got to get to the Friendly Mart."

We know why. She just smoked her last cigarette. We watch her untie her apron and fold it on the back of the chair. She ruffles her dyed-platinum hair by running fingers through the roots. Her smile shows her gold molar. She thanks her sister for the day, extending her arm so that Ducee can touch it with her lips.

"See you tomorrow at church," Ducee says as Iva pulls on her short fur coat and fastens the pearl buttons.

Iva coughs. "The Good Lord willing and the creek don't rise." She squeezes my shoulder before striding for the front door. Iva is tall—close to six feet—and she has a way of easing across floors when she walks, like a waterbug skimming the river's surface.

Ducee tilts her head and looks at me through smudged bifocals. "Is it Richard?" she asks after Iva leaves the house.

I sigh. "Richard and I broke up last night." There, I've told her. Why does my grandmother always win?

She nods as though she already knew. That woman knows me like her famous family chutney recipe. When she looks at me, I swear she can see the missing ingredient.

"Why don't you come over for dinner after church tomorrow, then?" She pats my hand. Her hand is tiny, the skin thin with age spots and protruding purple veins. "I'll make barbeque chicken." She smiles, adding, "With the Smithfield sauce you like so much."

A moment passes and the silence eats at her. "Nicole, dear? You okay? Anything else you need to tell me?"

Can she see into my mind?

"No." I can't tell her that I've received a beautiful poem from a carp owner in Japan. Surely when she looks at me she doesn't know that, does she? I have also dreamed of him, although I have no idea what he looks like in real life.

Since the death of my mother, Ducee has practically raised me. Although I lived with Father until I graduated from high school, during those years, my summers and school breaks were always spent at Ducee's house. She knows I have a mole the shape of an apple on my lower back and that even at age thirty-one, I continue to sleep with a cloth kimono doll.

But there are still lines I draw. She doesn't get to know everything.

Sometimes, though, on chilly, dark nights when the only sound in my house is the humming fish tank, it would be nice to sit in Aunt Lucy's wingback chair, curl my legs up under me, and just spill it out.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

It all started with one message....





So here's an unlikely story... A romance that started on OKCupid over a year ago and led to a meeting in DC, a relocation move to NC, engagement, and marriage! No wonder Carl and I are so fond of OKCupid, even paying acknowledgment to this free dating site on our wedding day (2/7/09) in Las Vegas.

We were both only looking for friendships and then, well, you know how it can be... In fact, the funny thing is that Carl was ready to delete his profile the very day I joined the site. My picture caught his eye, he read my profile, and felt we had a lot in common since we'd both lived overseas a large percentage of our lives. He sent me an email in January 2008.

I, on the other hand, was a bit more reluctant... I didn't want to jump into anything quickly. I had only been divorced four months. But you know how these things can move along even when you are "trying" to be careful---you email using OKCupid's messaging site, then you IM, then email using private email addresses, then phone calls....

After you've talked a total of 100 plus hours, you do wonder what the other person sounds like without access of a cell phone. What would it be like to be sitting right next to him drinking coffee and talking? I was curious and really enjoyed the evenings on the phone with Carl. He had a great voice and was funny, caring, sensitive, honest, and such a good listener.

Distance was not on our side. In fact, we lived 600 miles apart. Nevertheless, we picked a halfway spot of Washington, DC and met on 3/7/08. Nervous? That's an understatement. The rain was pouring, traffic was bad, as it often is in DC, and I was ready to turn around and head home. What was I doing anyway? Carl was already at the meeting spot, so, I had to carry on with our plans.

We greeted; he hugged me, and then we got to experience time together. Lots of hours to drink coffee and talk, while listening to each other's voices without the aid of a phone.

We knew we were already good friends because we had been honest in our sharing over the phone during the three weeks before we met. However, there were no guarantees that we would feel that "spark" between us. We worried. What if she smelled bad? What if he chewed while food flew out of his mouth?

This story continues because upon that first meeting, we were relieved to feel that chemistry between us. Yes, I smelled nice thanks to Elizabeth Taylor's White Diamonds and Carl actually had pleasant table manners, even holding his fork and knife in that proper British way.

And so there were more meetings and Carl moving to be near me, and although it took me months to agree, an engagement on New Year's Eve. After that, it was finding the best weekend to get married (i.e., when there were no book signings going on).

Monday, February 16, 2009

Free is good!


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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Married in Vegas!


I know, it sounds like a movie. Couple drink too much one night
and the next day they are husband and wife.

Carl and I met via an online dating site. We emailed, talked on
the phone each night and then met in DC in March 08. The only
problem was he lived in Buffalo and I live in Durham, NC. So,
he moved down here.

We went to Vegas twice last year, but I wasn't ready to get
married. But suddenly, after we were engaged in Raleigh
on New Year's Eve, going to Vegas to be married sounded
like it really fit with our love story.

We flew to the glitzy neon city and were married on 2/7/09
at the Little Church of the West.

Then we pranced around the city with my bouquet of red
roses and got all the attention we needed! They love you
when you get married in Vegas. Must have something to do
with Elvis and Priscilla.

What a fun time we had!

Happy Valentine's!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Daniel's Smile


Twelve years ago my four-year-old left without saying good-bye.
I know he would have whispered that word---if he could have.
Instead, some of his last words to me were,
I want to go home.


Daniel struggled to live, but the staph infection took over his cancer
body. I held him when he breathed his last on February 2, 1997. The dying don't scare me anymore.

From Daniel I have learned that some days a smile from a loved one is
enough. The problems of life might be fierce, but when it all boils
down, what is left is this: Being loved and loving is truly what it is
all about. Daniel loved well. He generously gave stickers to those
who visited him during his weeks of chemo.

My diagnosed son who lost his hair at age three told me he didn't want
anything bad to happen to me. He protected his baby brother and looked up to his big sister. He shared jokes and videos with his dad. The nurses came to see him, even after their shifts and during their time off.

When Daniel died, our hearts ripped apart. Raw, aching, and painful. We had such hope that he would live, that a miracle would occur right there in the hospital room.

Slowly, over the years, we learn how to piece our hearts together again. Slowly.

We miss him and the void his life has brought is there each day.

But most importantly, Daniel will always be remembered by his smile and love.