Stephie Smith never dreamed of becoming a writer until a series of her humorous essays about family were published behind her back. Unlike most things done behind her back, this one she actually liked.
And now she writes.
Join My Mailing List
Category Archives: Writing
I was brought up in a family of women. Well, obviously, there was a man—my father—but he worked long hours and when he wasn’t working, he was watching sports. My mother was also brought up in a family of women. So, my childhood relationships were with my five sisters and a mother who is clueless about men. Not that she didn’t try to educate us on the subject, but her nuggets of information weren’t all that helpful. (Men are arrogant … men are spoiled … men are idiots.)
Thankfully, I was precocious—okay, boy crazy was the actual term everyone used—so I began educating myself on the exotic species at an early age. And guess what I discovered? Boys are arrogant … boys are spoiled … boys are idiots … No, actually, I didn’t discover much of anything. I was too busy chasing boys.
It wasn’t until I started writing romance that I began to analyze men. Sure, I’d picked up information along the way there, but I never gave that information much thought—until a writing contest judge marked up my historical romance manuscript.
“A man wouldn’t explain himself,” she said. “He wouldn’t qualify his opinions, he wouldn’t notice the furnishings, and he wouldn’t think these things about the heroine.”
THE HELL YOU SAY was my knee-jerk reaction—I tend to react this way whenever I’m criticized—but the next day I was giving those criticisms serious thought. Of course, first I did defend myself to myself. I mean, I had dated plenty of men who explained themselves. Usually the explanations began with, “It’s not what it looks like …” and ended with the guy running after me, clutching a pair of somebody’s underwear in front of his naked penis. But hey, those were explanations, so that judge was obviously wrong.
I was trying to be open-minded, though, and besides, I have this irritating habit of assuming that everyone knows more than I do about whatever it is they’re professing to know. So I did some research on how to write men. I even took a workshop called, “Have you turned your hero into a woman? Writing men the way men REALLY are,” and I persevered through the workshop, while disagreeing with almost every rule the woman gave. A few are paraphrased below.
“Men speak in short sentences with no extra information or words. If the heroine asks him a question, he’ll answer it, but barely.”
Huh. This is not my experience. A normal response from my boyfriend when I asked him, “So, how was your day?” was along the lines of, “Well, first off, on my way to work this morning, the stoplight turned red just as I got there.” Thus began the recounting of his day’s events, each and every one. TMI, honey. Just say great or terrible and a sentence about why—unless you win the lottery, are the victim of a crime, or a bird shits on your head. In a case like that, feel free to expound.
“Men don’t want to discuss the relationship. They don’t even notice the relationship or the fact that it IS a relationship.”
If only that were true. I can’t tell you how many times another boyfriend started the conversation with, “We need to talk” and then proceeded to complain that I never discussed my feelings, he couldn’t tell where our relationship was going, blah, blah, blah. So Strike Two on the workshop about the way men REALLY are.
“Men don’t start their sentences with qualifying phrases.”
Oh, puh-leeze. I had one date with a guy who started every sentence off with, “In my opinion—and I’ve had a lot of experience with this …” I tried to turn the conversation to things he couldn’t possibly have had a lot of experience with, like a flying squirrel nesting in his oven batting, or a wild rabbit hopping in through his back door and then ping-ponging all over the house while he tried to chase it out, but no … he was totally experienced in every subject I brought up—in his opinion.
Okay, so maybe I’ve dated weird guys. I’ve been around a few hundred blocks, so I guess it’s to be expected. But my point is, no one can say men are this way or men are that way because men are people and people aren’t clones.
And then (dum-da-dum-dum), a few weeks ago a friend told me a story. She’d written her first novel and she wanted a reality check on the dialogue between two guys. In the scene, the hero and his best friend were discussing the heroine, and as the hero listened to his friend’s opinion, he privately wondered about the heroine’s character and her story. I was afraid my writer friend was asking me to be the reality check, but thank God, she had already sent the scene to a male friend. And this was his reply:
“When we meet a woman, we don’t notice that stuff. We’re just thinking body parts.”
Reality slapped me in the face. I had written my first historical romance solely because of the stupefied-at-first-sight reaction the hero and heroine had for each other. That romantic attraction between my characters was what kept me writing. And this guy was saying it was all a lie.
I took a minute to let that sink in and then I realized I didn’t care. I read and write fiction to escape reality, not live it. If men are really like this, then in my opinion, they shouldn’t be in a romance novel or at least, they won’t be in mine. I don’t want to read a romance where the hero is just thinking body parts. I want to read a romance where I close my eyes and sigh and whisper, “Oh, to have such a man think of me in such a way …” Because otherwise, what you get is pictured below. And who can live with that?
This has been an exciting week for me because I finally pulled everything together and published my book, Duke of Deception. And I sold over 400 copies this week. Better yet, I received emails from readers who loved it and that’s really where it’s at. That’s what I write for, anyway, to bring others joy or satisfaction or whatever good feelings they get out of reading what I write.
A friend once told me I never allow myself to feel the joy of accomplishment. He said I do something that someone else thinks is great, and then instead of celebrating my accomplishment with friends and family, I tell everyone why it isn’t really all that good. Instead of smiling, I go around frowning because something—there is inevitably something—isn’t perfect. Say, what? Do I really do that? Yes, I realized I do. I wondered if, when I finally published this book, I would follow my pattern. Guess what? I have not. YAY for me!!
From the very first day my book was on Amazon and CreateSpace, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment. I had finally published the book of my heart. I’d completely rewritten it four times, the final time going back to the vision I’d had of the story when I first thought of it many years ago. I’d changed that vision because of editors, the market, agents, contest judges—everybody’s opinions but mine. And yes, there are people out there who may criticize elements of that vision, but that’s what free choice is all about. I don’t read/look at the negative stuff because it’s my intention to feel good about this accomplishment for the rest of my life, and no one is going to spoil that for me—not even me!
So, I’ve been walking around feeling great, and it seemed to me that the world responded in kind. A couple of days ago I went to Publix, Wal-Mart, Pet Smart, and my mother’s apartment building, and I noticed that everywhere I went, people were smiling at me. I couldn’t figure out why and then I realized I was walking around with a big, stupid grin on my face. I couldn’t help it; I was happy and for maybe the first time in my life, I was really feeling my joy.
I drove home thinking about what my friend had said, and thinking about all those strangers sharing the joy I couldn’t contain. Evidently that old saying about when you smile, the whole world smiles back at you is true. I’m not usually much of a smiler so I hadn’t really known, and the more I thought about it, the better I felt. I had brought joy into the lives of all those people just by finally letting loose with mine.
Alas, no. When I got home I discovered the real reason people were smiling every time I turned around, and it wasn’t because of my infectious joy. The seat of my pants was ripped open from waistband to crotch … and I wasn’t wearing underwear.
Another assumption gone wrong, but what the heck. They still got joy, didn’t they? Or something like it.
Last night George Clooney came to me in my dreams. Well, he didn’t come to me. He was just there. Sleeping. On the couch. In his underwear.
WHAT? you must be thinking. You dream about George Clooney but he’s asleep on the couch wearing clothes? Yes, that’s right. He’s sound asleep (doesn’t even know I’m there), wearing a t-shirt and boxers. And there’s no room on the sofa for me.
This is pretty much the way my dreams go, and last night’s dream brings to mind one I had 10 years ago starring Richard Gere. I had recently undergone a hysterectomy, so I was having the dreaded night sweats. In my dream Richard Gere appeared near the foot of my bed wearing a tuxedo, an intense stare, and a sexy half smile. He reached toward me with his hand and said, “I want to make love to you.”
I would have fainted if I hadn’t been asleep.
So what did I say? “No, thank you.” Really. Then I elaborated. “I mean, not tonight, if that’s okay with you. I mean, can you come back tomorrow, or maybe even later?” All the while (in my dream), the thought is running through my mind that if Richard Gere gets into bed with me, he’ll notice how sweaty I am, and that would be so embarrassing. Even in my dreams I worry about what other people might think. My mother would be so proud.
When I told my sister about the dream the next day—because let’s face it . . . the excitement of Richard Gere standing at the foot of your bed in a tux proclaiming he wants to make love to you is a difficult thing to keep to oneself—my sister said, “What were you thinking? You could have gotten in the Jacuzzi and he’d never have known you were sweaty.” I reminded her that I don’t have a Jacuzzi, to which she instantly answered, “It’s your dream. You can have anything you want.”
Evidently not. Evidently I won’t let myself have the good things of my dreams, or I’d have had Richard Gere and George Clooney … and a few other things I can think of.
As I end this blog it occurs to me that the very last thing I did before I went to bed last night was walk into the kitchen, turn on the light, and stare at my family room where my “new” sofa—the sofa in my dream—sits. The sofa belonged to my sister and it was new and in perfect condition when given to me, but I never cared for the pattern. So this week I pulled out the cushion and pillow covers that I had saved from my previous sofa, the sofa I’d had to throw out because a pygmy rattlesnake died in the bottom of it (thank you, mischievous kitties), and I put them on my sister’s sofa, and I rehung my old valances, thus changing my room back to the colors and patterns I love. As I stood there staring at the sofa, I said out loud, “Could that sofa possibly look any better?”
I guess the answer is Yes, it could. With George Clooney on it, even if he’s sleeping in his clothes.
I decided to fix my broken washer, or at least troubleshoot it in case I could fix it. The fixing part didn’t happen because like so many things I try to do as a homeowner, it came down to having strength. I couldn’t turn the washer over on its side to check the voltage of the drain pump, so all I really accomplished was draining out the water, learning how to remove the back plate and finding that I couldn’t get to anything I needed to get to. But what I did find out while I was back there was that the dryer vent was broken. The aluminum tube in the wall had cracked in half, and the hot air and lint from the dryer was blowing into the wall, right up into the main electrical line and the back of my new electric panel.
I went to post on my Facebook wall about it and I started my status post out with the words “Everything happens for a reason.” Then I stopped. I remember saying those words to a friend who was in the battle of her life with an aggressive form of cancer, and I remember seeing the look she exchanged with her husband. I had been talking about a situation involving me (getting a great agent who wasn’t able to sell my book), of course, not her, but she could hardly help but think about how her own situation related to that statement. It didn’t. And neither does it relate to so many other things that happen. What kind of reason can there be for a child running playfully away from his grandmother and getting hit by a car? What kind of reason can there be for someone to get a rare but fatal disease?
When you think about it, “Everything happens for a reason” is such a cavalier statement. I think we make that statement because we want to think God or the universe is looking out for us, sending us signals to help us in the journey of life. Maybe that’s true. Maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s true part of the time, and other times things just happen and there is no reason.
Someone once told me that I needed to look for something I could take away from a heartbreaking experience I had, something that might help me in the future, because otherwise I was going through the pain for no good reason. If I could find that person now, I’d say, “Guess what? Sometimes there is no good reason.” Because really, what helpful thing was my friend able to take away from the experience of losing her little nephew when he was killed by that car? If you can think of something, let me know.
I didn’t want to be cavalier, so I changed my FB post and started it with “The Lord Works in Mysterious Ways,” but the instant I saw the words I realized it’s just another way to say things happen for a reason. I thought about the (quite possibly) house-saving bit of info I learned about my dryer when I was trying to fix my washer, and I realized that I had noticed the last two times I dried clothes that my lint screen was lint-free afterwards, and in a house with 4 cats, there’s just no way that happens. I should have known right then that something was wrong with my dryer vent, but I had foolishly passed off that info as unimportant.
So then I changed my post to start out with the phrase, “God takes care of fools and children,” but that brought me right back to my friend and the tragedy involving her beautiful, loving, little nephew whose life was cut short for no good reason. My friend is on FB, and you’ve gotta know that the second she reads those words, that’s exactly what she’ll think about.
So I never posted any status. I couldn’t come up with anything to say about my experience except the fact that it happened (which seemed too boring to write) because life happens and you deal with it. And then it happens again and you deal with it again. As human beings we want to fit every experience neatly into a compartment, but there are some things that you just can’t cram anywhere because they don’t fit.
I do think some things happen for a reason. I think I didn’t sell my book (even though I had a fabulous agent who loved it and thought she’d get into a bidding war with it) because the book wasn’t ready, I wasn’t ready, I didn’t really want to publish the traditional way . . . take your pick; all those statements are true. But everything doesn’t happen for a reason and we should know that for this simple reason: Whenever you use a qualifier such as everything, nothing, always, or never, you can just figure that you’re gonna be wrong because somewhere there’s someone who can give you an exception.
Not that I’m crying. I haven’t yet and I may never. Or I might. It depends on what happens and how I feel about it. Or just plain how I feel.
The point is, this is my cancer experience and I should be allowed to get through it the way I want to, assuming that what I want isn’t illegal or doesn’t hurt anyone. And when I say doesn’t hurt anyone, I mean physically. Because here’s how I plan to handle this:
I’m not answering questions. That doesn’t mean you can’t say you’re sorry to hear about this or that you’re praying for me (pray for me!!) or any of the other things you might say/write to someone who’s having a difficult time. But if you don’t already know the details (and few people do), I don’t plan to tell you. If this hurts your feelings, I’m sorry, but not sorry enough to answer your questions. There are several reasons for this:
- Health is a private matter for me and I’m not comfortable sharing the details of mine.
- I don’t have the time. Answering one question brings on a slew of others. What kind is it? Where is it located? What kind of treatment are you getting? Can it/has it metastasized? What’s the prognosis? How did you find out? How do you feel? Etc. And I’ll get the same set of questions over and over. This will stress me out majorly. Like everyone else, I have things to do. I love my day job and I’m busy from the minute I get there until the minute I leave. In addition, I would dearly love to self-publish the books I have written (and am writing), and I’m busy the rest of the hours trying to pull that together.
- I don’t want people feeling sorry for me, or wondering if I’m going to beat the odds. If they don’t know the details, they have less information to ponder. In fact, they won’t even know the odds.
- I’m a little bit scared. I don’t know what’s going to happen or how well I’ll deal with it. We all hope we’ll deal with upsets gracefully, but grace under pressure is not something I’m known for. I suspect there’s little chance of a personality change now, and it’s just better for all of us (really) if people aren’t asking me for updates. Besides, I don’t want my life to be about this cancer. If I become cancer-free, I’ll let you know. If I die, you’ll hear about it. For everything in between, life goes on, and I plan to keep living mine.
For those of you who know the details, that part I wrote above about this being my cancer experience and I should be allowed to get through it the way I want to, still goes. I should be able to express my fears without being told that I have to be positive every minute of the day, without being told that everything will be fine because God would never let anything happen to me. I believe in God and I believe in being positive. But I also believe that sometimes you just need to talk about what you’re feeling and what you’re fearing, and when people love you, they let you do that.
What’s the affirmation for today?
The knowledge that I seek is within myself awaiting my question.
It took Leonardo Da Vinci 12 years to paint Mona Lisa’s lips. That’s what I learned from my iGoogle fact for the day. Evidently he couldn’t get them right. I’m thinking it went something like this:
Leo shows the unfinished painting to his cousin. His cousin says it’s great! Leo should finish it as quick as possible and sell it! Maybe it’ll make him famous!!
An exuberant Leo shares the conversation with a fellow artist and shows him the painting. Fellow artist says, “I hate to be the one to tell you this, but it will never sell. Not unless you change her lips. An enigmatic smile? The public doesn’t want to look at that. And the lips are the focal point; if you don’t get them right, you might as well hang up your brushes.”
Leo is affronted. The lips look great, and anyway, this is the painting of his heart. He doesn’t care if anyone else likes those lips. He’s painting it for himself. Everyone else can go to hell.
A few weeks later Leo is still thinking about those lips. It would be nice to sell the painting. He needs the money, and maybe it will lead to other painting jobs. His cousin hadn’t mentioned anything wrong with the lips, and if he’d thought something was wrong, he surely would have said something, right? Hmmm. He asks his cousin about the lips specifically and is told the lips are great. Perfect. Nothing wrong with them. But it bothers Leo that his cousin can’t remember exactly what they look like. Was she laughing, his cousin asks Leo. Leo decides family members may not be the best to ask opinions of and takes the painting around for comments.
Fellow artist / agent / broker (FAAB)#2: “The lips? Yeah, there’s definitely something wrong with them. They’re too full. Full lips used to be in but they’ve been done to death. People are sick of full lips. You need to thin them out.”
Leo doesn’t want to, but if full lips had been done to death…. He thins them out–a little.
FAAB#3: “The lips aren’t full enough.”
Leo tells FAAB#3 that he thinned them out based on comments. FAAB#3 says, “Who told you that? Full lips are still selling. Full lips will always sell; they’re a mainstay of portraits. But they have to have something unique. Extra spit on the bottom lip or one of the corners turned down in a sneer. You know, something that instantly grabs the attention.”
Leo can’t bear the thought of making her sneer, but he did like the full lips, so he changes them back. Then he adds some spit–er, glow–to her bottom lip.
FAAB#4: “What’s that on her lip? Is that a sore? No one’s gonna buy a painting of a woman with a sore on her lip, especially if she’s smirking about it.”
Smirking? She looks like she’s smirking? Leo tries to ignore that comment. He’s got enough to think about with the sore–glow. He decides he must have done a crappy job with the glow if FAAB#4 thinks it looks like a sore. He works on it another year, all the while worrying about that smirk.
FAAB#5: “I love it!! Unfortunately, I just brokered two paintings that were exactly like this–you know, enigmatic smile, a touch of glow on the lips. I’ve got to have something different now.”
Leo kicks himself for taking so long to get the glow right. Now he’s missed the boat–the one carrying all the other artists.
FAAB#6: “You’ve obviously spent a lot of time on this painting and you’ve done a good job, but it just isn’t unique enough. It’s like every other painting that’s selling right now. Can you change her dress to red? And while you’re at it, maybe you should do something about those eyes. Squinting is always good. Goes great with red.”
Red? Squinting? Leo’s not changing her that much, even if it means not selling. But if all these other ones that are selling are just like his, why can’t they sell his too? He’s more than willing to change the lips since they’re the focal point and if he doesn’t get them right, no one will give it a second look. But he’s not changing anything else. Nothing else needs to be changed. Squinting? Really? No. Hmmm. Maybe he’s got the whole look wrong. Maybe he should ask other people.
FAAB#7: “What’s with that weird smile? It’s way too subtle. People want to know what she’s thinking about. If you’re gonna have her smile, then have her SMILE. What you’ve got there isn’t a smile.”
Leo explains that he wants people to wonder what’s behind the smile. It’s part of the mystique. FAAB#7 snorts in disgust and walks off, leaving Leo to ponder whether or not he should just paint a big toothless grin on her face and be done with it.
Leo keeps working on the painting but he doesn’t know what to do with the lips, so he just goes over the rest of the painting, strengthening the composition, perfecting his style. He decides he’d better start keeping a list of the changes so he doesn’t do the same ones over. Full lips with enigmatic smile–no spit. Slightly thinner lips. Full lips again with enigmatic smile and spit. Full lips with enigmatic smile and more natural looking spit. Full lips with enigmatic smile and more natural looking spit but with a red dress and squinting eyes. No!! Scratch that one.
FAAB#8: “You’re very talented and I’ve no doubt you’ll sell soon. But the rest of the painting doesn’t seem to flow with the lips. Maybe the style isn’t quite the same? Maybe you’ve worked the lips too much?”
Leo wants to scream. Hell yes, he’s worked the lips! But what does the FAAB means by “too much”? How can it be too much if they’re still not right? Maybe he just needs to start completely over with the lips because his style changed while he was finishing the rest of the portrait. Maybe fixing isn’t the answer. Maybe he needs to recreate from scratch.
Leo recreates the painting of his heart from scratch. Hey, wait a minute. Those lips look just like the first lips. Dang it! Now what? He’s spent 12 years on those lips, only to end up back where he started from.
He looks at Mona Lisa. She appears to be smirking at him. Where the hell is that red paint?
(Yes, I’m sure it went something like that.)