Why We Need Mustard Covered Faces

Three hotdogs were not enough for the two-year-old.

Yellow mustard covered the boy’s face. He laughed when I took the plate away, and looked around for a fourth hotdog.

Every morsel he devours astonishes adults and older children. But, the little tongue licking ketchup and mustard off the plate to the point of painting his face reminds me to: just chill woman.

In moments when my toddler causes me to grab my stomach because I laugh so hard, I forget the 90 mph rush to accomplish every goal on my list.

Courtesy of http://www.daveabreuphotography.com/

Consider your goals and to-do lists whether they are for work, on a writing list, need-to-cook recipes, or personal. You feel you will not meet your objectives as you try to multitask. Sometimes we are bitten by the pressure of our goals instead of seeing them in good light.

Photo by Rebecca T. Dickinson

A moment—

fireflies in summer,

cute dog catching a ball,

or a toddler putting his face and mouth to a plate of mustard—

is all it takes to make us pause.

I know I need to:

  • Complete editing separate chapters for a nonfiction project.
  • Prepare to review a new project.
  • Wait to hear news on two prospects—news that could bring about good change.

I want to:

  • Have enough quiet time to read my online XHTML book so I can learn.
  • Study and learn SEO.
  • Complete Sons of the Edisto editing.
  • Research and add more agents to my list.
  • Edit more short stories.

BUT, you see two lists. Believe it or not, there is more.

Changes are on the horizon. Deadlines are coming. I need a mustard-in-the-face moment to remind me: it’s alright if you don’t finish everything this minute. I believe the same applies to most people who want to accomplish a lot in life.

I have split my passion between writing, education, and domestic interests such as cooking. I have wondered if I could work on my book while I earn an MAT. Both require dedication. Not to mention, I’m a mom. It is enough to blow the lid off the pot.

I’ll admit I have not written or edited in three days, with the exception of today’s blog, and I am glad. I needed to laugh, and regain a clear picture.

What makes you stop and think?

        Photo by Rebecca T. Dickinson

Post by Rebecca T. Dickinson


What Writers Learn

From http://buzzle.com

What Writers Learn

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Not true. Words hurt. They sting.

Writers hurt more when they receive a message via text, email or phone that their work is not wanted.What writers learn depends on what they are willing to take away from their experience and apply to their work.

Think of a time when you hoped so much for something. Maybe you waited for a scholarship, and it was awarded to someone else. You wanted to make a switch from waiter to prepping food. You thought you wrote a solid news style article and the piece is rejected.

Every professional or student has lost an opportunity to meet a goal. In a time when the economy speaks for employers and says, “it’s not you, it’s me,” you might feel like the problem is really you.

I spoke with a writer two weeks ago about her work. She began writing five years ago. She was an older woman who had a lot of ideas, history and stories she wished to put to paper. One year ago, she sent a story to a literary magazine and the piece was rejected. She said, “I didn’t want to send it out again.”

In 2010, I sent work to literary magazines and anthologies for the first time in my life. I had written since I could create sentences, and I stared rejection in the face. I’ll admit I cried.

I know what you’re thinking. Rejection extends its unwanted hand from more places than literary magazines, agents or publishers. Freelance organizations, full-time and part-time employers say, “No,” give no reply, or worse, you receive a little hope and then you’re turned down.

Back at square one. No publication. No job. No money to pay the bills.

What You Do

First you stop blaming yourself. You look in the mirror, take a deep breath, and look. I mean seriously look. You say, “I’m going to meet my goals.”

Guess what? You are.

You say, “I’m going to improve ____.” The blank is for whatever you want to improve whether the challenge lies in how you edit, write a cover letter, or write AP-style instead of fluff.

You’re going take on rejection instead of it taking on you. I am not saying we’re building bullet proof word vests. You are going to map out a new plan. Ask yourself questions: What do I need to improve? What are my goals? How can I stand out in little ways?

Words make a difference. The last question could easily become frustrating if I used How can I stand out over other candidates because you begin to beat yourself up in your mind. Think of little ways to make yourself stand out.

You are going to meet your goals. They will require reading, research, and thinking out problems. Through the experience you will grow and know your answer the next time a potential employer or literary agent asks you:
What do you believe makes you stand out?

By Rebecca T. Dickinson

From Some Other Beginning’s End — The Last Chapter

Thanks to http://cocoafly.com.

Pitch black dominates the room. Five thirty in the morning. You have one more chapter to write.

“I thought you were getting back into your schedule,” someone says.

In a teenager’s groan of just ten more minutes, you roll over. The early mornings and the last chapter of your manuscript present a challenge whether you’re nervous about editing, or you believe you are saying goodbye.

Excitement races when we write the first chapter or the first scene of our stories. We are ready to escape with our characters. What about when you reach the end?

Remember when you began writing. Maybe you were in the third grade like me, or perhaps you began more recently. You imagined you’d write an ending to your manuscript, but you did not think it would come so soon.

Earlier this year, I met author, Joshilyn Jackson. As I wrote in a previous post, Jackson says, “Each book is like a boyfriend or girlfriend. When you are finished, you break up with them.” The break is clean and you feel good about the work you’ve done.

I find myself dragging my feet. Right now, I am writing two endings for different projects. Do you find yourself dragging your feet?

It is natural to feel scared or nervous when you approach the next stage of anything. The fun has not ended. Think of editing as getting to know your characters, plot, and words again. You dig deeper.

You research the best ways to edit.

If the prospect of editing is not the problem, maybe you do not want to say goodbye.

A great manuscript will go a long way if you put the faith, work and research into it. Seminsonic’s song lyric says, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

What is the beginning at your book’s ending?

By Rebecca T. Dickinson

When Naming Names

By Rebecca T. Dickinson

One of the most common conversations I’ve had with writers and friends lately is: What do I do about names in my book? or Can writers name real people in their books? The conversation crosses the road from creative art to business.

I know few writers who want to discuss the business side of writing, but I also know many writers and authors who understand knowledge is essential to move through the business world. I read about the various sides of the profession: from agents, numbers, what to say, how to market the book, etc.

The fact is business practice arm wrestles books and stories when it comes to names. Do you change the names? Do you change the name of the town?

Anna Fields’ book Confessions of a Rebel Debutante changes the name of the private girls’ school she attended in Winston-Salem, NC. She did not change the name of Winston-Salem.

Say that you know you’re writing about a controversial history of a town like me. Do you change the name of the town in fear of a lawsuit, or do you tell the real history with the town’s name intact? I believe you can get away with naming the town, because you are showing history.

In Sons of the Edisto I changed any surname connected to the town of Bamberg, SC. My father told me a man lives there who sues those he believes writes about the old families. Is it grounded in fact? I do not know. I’m not going to risk it, so I changed the names. I am keeping Bamberg’s name. While the town is not much to look at in the twenty-first century, its history is rich.

The railroad ran through Bamberg. Passengers from New York and Miami, Florida spent the night in Bamberg before traveling further south or north. A Ford dealership sat on the corner of Main Street and Railroad Ave. The city had gas stations in the 1920s, and auto mechanics. Bamberg also had a private black school with heating. Why would I want to deny the town its history, good, bad or indifferent?

Using people’s names is another story. In the case of a narrative or memoir, I believe it’s common sense for all names to change. What is the struggle for writers? The challenge is to find a name that fits the person they know so well. A substitute name seems fake at first, and a good writer knows he or she must make the name believable to them before it is presented to an audience.

I had a conversation with an English professor who is writing a memoir. It includes her twin sister who is now deceased. She said, “Every name I come up with for twins seems phony, and I just don’t know how to change them.”

You need to:

  • Reexamine the time period in which you’re writing, even if it’s in the present, and review popular or common names. For example, I looked graves from the 1920’s, ’30s, and ’40s. I searched for names with a rich Southern ring: Baxley. If you’re writing in the present time, look at names popular in baby books or online. Talk to people. They’ll tell you what names they like.

  • If a person is a real historical figure, I would not alter their names. Who is going to change President John F. Kennedy’s name if you’re writing about John F. Kennedy. Sons of the Edisto is based on a real 1924 election between Coleman Blease and James Frances Byrnes, but my two characters in the book, Daniel Baxley and William Levi Heber, are not those politicians. I am not writing about Blease and Byrnes. I am writing about the back door politics of the era.

  • Most importantly, if you’re not happy with a substitute name, don’t use it. Find something else.

When I wrote We Never Said Hello, my published short memoir, I changed my husband and son’s names. Due to the sensitive nature, I wrote it in such a fashion I never needed to give any other character a name. My poems and Cooking Sketches are my most personal works. Most of my poetry is more prose poetry, but I write it so no one is ever named. I also want the reader to interpret the poem or story’s meaning for his or herself.

Whatever you are working on, I suggest reading about your genre to learn more. You’ll do a great job.

Runs in the Family: Lisa See’s Shanghai Girls

By Rebecca T. Dickinson

“We all look around until we come to my mother, who has not said a word since the men entered our home. I see hardness in her I’ve never seen before. Maybe we’re all like that with our mothers. They seem ordinary until one day they’re extraordinary.” (p. 58)

                       courtesy of http://lisasee.com.

Shanghai Girls reminds me of great barbecue. You want one more piece. The meat is great, and you wonder what the cook put in the sauce. The book reads great, but if you’re not ready for a dark non-stop journey, it will not settle well in your system.

I’ve read Peony in Love and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Lisa See remains one of my favorite authors. Shanghai Girls takes a new, twisted road into the world of arranged marriage, a gang, bombs, Japanese invasion and war crimes, racism, illegal immigration, and the fear of communism. At the heart of the book rests the relationship between two sisters, Pearl and May.

For the purpose today’s post, I chose to focus on the family theme. See says she likes to write about the relationships between mothers and daughters and sisters. While I do not have a sister, I understand the family correlation. See says sisters must rely on each other, but they also know where to stick the knife.

“I’ve loved my sister from the moment she was born, but for too long I’ve been like a moon spinning around her entrancing planet. Now I whirl away as the anger of a lifetime boils out of me.” (p. 296)

The above quote extends to all family rivalries and some lifelong friendships. The book spoke to me on a personal and storytelling level. When I read books, I study what the author does, and See composes beautiful descriptions. She also puts as much feeling into the relationship between May and Pearl as possible. The story is a love story: caring, laughter, jealously, heroism, and forgiveness.

Pearl envies May’s beauty and career. May envies the fact Pearl loves her husband and is respected for her brain. Jealousies heat up in their journey, but ultimately, they try to save each other. They share a secret no one can know.

I could not put the book down.

There are two weaknesses in the book. The first, and I’ve read this in other reviews also, is the book ends too fast. See races to the end. The action is still strong, but that brings me to the next point.

 courtesy of http://amazon.com.

When you read a book full of action whether it is suspense, horror, emotional impact, or war; I believe the reader deserves a short break from Action Point A to Action Point B. It might be a good place to build a character or show a little back story. I am not saying drag the story out, but just like a good movie, give the reader a chance to breathe. Shanghai Girls lacked recovery time.

As I said, the book reached me on a personal level. I have a close extended family. People know each other’s business before anyone understands what is happening. In the process, words are thrown out like tacs in the road.

In reaction to the book and recent events, I wrote this sappy poem. Family is a love story; more like a love story that evolves from an arranged marriage. In the end, life is happier than in Shanghai Girls.


I wanted to say, “thank you” for the recipe book you gave to me

in Christmas 2010 to let you know I made the buttermilk chocolate brownies.

It came from a recipe within the book that never collects dust,

but pride or sorrow stepped in to say words as heartless

as a priest who kicks a homeless man into the snow.



I made you a layered nacho dip without onions you despise,

because I wanted to say, “I love you” in my creative way.

But, you were in no mood to consider love,

or the things others had to say.



Do not worry for I never forget who stood by

when my first marriage broke apart.

I know who gave my son his special blanket;

gave me a piece of the Berlin Wall;

and who took care of me in Puerto Rico.



But, you were in no mood to hear gratitude.

You chose to wipe out good feelings by

kicking us in the gut with words sharp, made to sting.

I wanted to say, “I love you,” yet “You’re a mean mom,”

and “shut up” were the only words you could say to me.

Three Weeks Round Up

By Rebecca T. Dickinson

Ideas run around my mind like the Tasmanian devil. I know it’s because the last three weeks have taken consistency out of my family’s schedule due to moving and reorganizing a kitchen. So, I’d like to wrap up the most relevant lessons I have taken time to consider.

  • No matter what, take one section at a time when you pack. Otherwise the entire room will swallow you whole. What did I learn from packing? People will go crazy to the point of insanity. My two-year-old son adapted to the move better than John and I.
  • It takes more than one week to organize a kitchen where a blender once had one beater, and no one knows what the purpose of my pastry cutter is, or why I keep cloves of garlic instead of just garlic salt. For me, a kitchen is where the heart of home beats. Love is put into food, and Dad loves being the assistant chef. He pretends he has his own cooking show. I also believe I put the best of myself in this second art.
  •  Hope and laughter remains strong. I know a job waits out there with my name on it. I still plan to attend graduate school whether in the fall, spring, or another year, and finish editing my two books. (One I’m obligated to complete by the autumn, hopefully.) Sons of the Edisto deserves completion above all other projects. A good editor in the early stages of Sons said, “If you love something enough, you will make time for it.” I believe in the statement. What is it you want to make time for?
  • Writers have more tools than ever to find a route to publishing whether it’s self-publishing, an e-book, or a good agent. I am researching agents who might make a match for both projects. I look to see what they’re looking for, and what they specifically look for in a query letter and book. I read articles about agents. Kristin Nelson said in her Friday blog that it is good to take the prologue out if your manuscript is requested.
  • Other writers have asked my opinion about narratives and memoirs since the move. Why? I’m not sure, but I’m grateful they think my opinion is worth something. I think because there are so many writers it is our nature to compete, but with more available options, it is easier and better to aid one another.
  • I went to a writer’s group today, and I feel refreshed and inspired to move Sons of the Edisto along. I am in the third part of the book as far as editing, but I feel positive about the work I’ve achieved.
  • Writing about food comforts me, and a side project will be Cooking Sketches, some of which I will post in The Write to Cook posts. I taught my Dad how to crush and chop garlic cloves yesterday. He says, “Where did you learn that?” I said, “You didn’t think all those hours of watching the Food Network went to waste, did you?”
  • Finally, despite surrounding circumstances, I keep writing and editing. Maybe I’m insane, or maybe I fell love long ago. There is no pulling me out.

What are you going with your goals?

No, We Can’t Go Out Again

By Rebecca T. Dickinson

You want to give it a chance. There is no reason why you should not. You’ve been interested for a long time.

When dating, you meet the person you think—for whatever reason—the two of you should go out. You go on the date with the girl or guy, and you discover your gut feeling was right. What happens when that same premise takes place with a book?

Have you ever had a book you’ve wanted to read for a long time? Perhaps you are intrigued by the subject matter, and you’ve craved that bad boy like a big steak.

I felt the same way about The Autobiography of Henry VIII
by Margaret George. I’ve wanted to read this book for years. I cannot express the sincerity of that desire. But, as with Henry’s multiple marriages, I doubt I can complete it. I’ve set it aside for two weeks, since it takes me a while to read books anyways. It is not in my nature to just give up on a book, especially one I have wanted to read for a long time.

From the time I was ten, I was interested in Tudor England. I read everything historically I could find, including a book about the Tudors’ Welsh origins. What was wrong with Margaret George’s book?

George is a great writer. When it came to Thomas Moore and Anne Boleyn, I faced a few problems. George portrays Boleyn as ignorant and into witchcraft when history shows she possessed intelligence and an interest in changing religious policies. George’s Henry is obsessed with Moore as much as you’d expect him to be with a new wife. Moore doesn’t do things Henry’s way and the back and forth between the two takes up most of the first half of the book.

Stuck at page 472, I think I could finish it so long as I step away from it. I often read other books at the same time. I’ve continued reading Charles Lindbergh’s biography with shorter novels. Now I’m reading Henry VIII The King and His Court because it’s been a few years since I have read Tudor literature, historical fiction or analytical.

Have you ever had a book you just thought: This won’t work? If so, what book?