Every writer’s dream

The only people with whom you should try to get even are those who have helped you.  ~John E. Southard

Everyone who’s ever launched a career — especially a career in a competitive field — knows that you need at least one supportive boss who believes in your goals and dreams. Which is why I’m so grateful to have worked for several terrific editors who helped shape my writing life.

Two in particular are Mike Beeson (left in the photo) and John Schultz, both former editors at Royal Oak’s Daily Tribune.  How lucky I was to find them at a newspaper office in my own hometown. In 1985, John was the first to give me a regular column, a weekly small business feature that introduced me to countless shops, galleries, and restaurants in our community. While I wrote many stories for the Trib in those days, from theater reviews to news items, my weekly business column taught me how to meet tight deadlines while scouting new story ideas.

When I first started writing for Mike, he had just replaced entertainment editor Ray Serafin. Later on, Mike took over the paper’s lifestyles section and made my biggest dream a reality: He offered me a coveted column space in the Sunday paper — and told me I could write about any family topic that struck my interest. In 1998, my weekly “Life Lines” column won a first place award for local columns in the Michigan Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest. Several of those columns are reprinted in Writing Home, my collection of essays and columns.

All of this came tumbling back when my husband snapped the photo, above, at the opening of his first one-man show at the Lido Gallery in Birmingham last night (Oct. 26).

John, who co-authored a book on the history of Royal Oak last year, currently works as a copy editor at Hour Media. Newly retired from the Trib, Mike now has time to travel and visit his new grandchild.

Chatting about the “old days” with John and Mike, I also felt a rush of nostalgia for all the times I had to drive downtown to deliver my finished articles to the Trib’s editorial offices. Back then — before we relied on the Internet — editors and writers discussed assignments on the phone, face-to-face at the office, or over a burger at lunch. It wasn’t nearly as quick or convenient as sending a story via email, of course. But in the process, we forged friendships that have endured despite several career moves and changes. I wouldn’t trade those days — and everything I learned — for anything. — CL

Lessons in plaster dust

The fellow that owns an old home is always just coming out of a hardware store.  ~Frank McKinney Hubbard

My architect-husband, Doug, and I have owned five old houses throughout our 30-year marriage, including a Craftsman-bungalow duplex we’re renting out near downtown Royal Oak. We’ve lived in our circa 1926 Tudor for nearly 20 years, and just finished remodeling the upstairs bathroom last week.

When we were newlyweds, the two of us did most of the renovations ourselves, happily spending our free time tearing out carpeting or scouting the local flea markets for vintage light fixtures. After we became parents, we started hiring contractors to handle the heavy-duty projects — but we’ve always had a taste for plaster dust.

Older homes are a lot of work, of course. Yet there’s nothing like the sense of satisfaction we get when we’re renovating a building with its own history and character — a home that will be enjoyed by other families in years to come.

After we began remodeling the master bathroom this month, it hit me that home improvement is also a metaphor for self-improvement. With that in mind, I wrote “Life Lessons in Plaster Dust” for Royal Oak Patch. The column includes a few “before and after” photos of the project.  Please click here to read it. — CL

— UPDATE: After reading “Life Lessons in Plaster Dust” on Patch, Tom Bramford, host of the KCMO 710 (Kansas City) Home Show invited me to be a guest on his radio program. To listen to the podcast, follow this link.


Our town on Patch

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.  I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live.”  ~George Bernard Shaw

Like friendship, community building takes care and effort — and modern life typically conspires against it. Thanks to a troubled economy, people move around a lot more now.

And even if we try to set down roots, it’s not easy to connect with neighbors. If we’re not multi-tasking at the office, we’re all cloistered at home in communion with the TV or our laptops. Building a stronger, safer, cozier, cooler, and friendlier neighborhood involves moving outside our comfort zones to talk to each other, just for starters.

My community always tops my gratitude list. I’ve lived here in Royal Oak for 28 years, and I’m thankful to be surrounded by folks who’ve bothered to read my weekly newspapers columns for ages and, bless them, even purchased my books. So I’m more than a little excited to be a part of Royal Oak Patch, a hyper-local and interactive online news service.

I’ll be contributing a weekly Sunday column starting November 21st. I’ll be on my usual “beat” — sharing thoughts from the home front on issues that many of us wrestle with, no matter where we live: the new empty nest, aging parents, career changes and semi-retirement, difficult relationships, and the challenge of finding balance in a world intent on driving us all a bit crazy. From the perspective of my front porch and home office, I’ll talk about places close to home and people dear to my heart.

Half the fun of this new venture is that I’m working with veteran journalists I met through other newspaper gigs in my hometown. And one of my neighbors, author Gerry Boylan, is a fellow columnist. In his inaugural Patch column today, Gerry offers the best description I’ve ever read about Royal Oak: “It’s apple pie ala mode, a drive right down the middle of the fairway, a strike over the middle of the plate, someplace that feels like home the day you move in and that’s why you don’t move out.”

Even if you don’t live in our town, you’re always welcome to visit Royal Oak Patch. Drop by and see what we’re up to. — CL

Support your local authors

Miss a meal if you have to, but don’t miss a good book.” — Jim Rohn

Earlier this year, I went to a friend’s book signing event that was so well attended it brought tears to my eyes. My friend and his co-author gave a wonderful presentation to a standing-room-only crowd — and sold more books than they’d initially planned.

I was reminded of my very first book signing for Writing Home at our local Borders. Before the signing, I worried that only a handful of relatives would show up. Imagine my surprise, and gratitude, when I walked into Borders and saw a line forming at my table — a line of new friends, old neighbors, and column readers from all over the community. I sold so many books that the manager invited me back to do another book signing at holiday time two months later.

All of this got me thinking: What if I could provide a similar supportive experience — a huge book signing — for other authors in my hometown, all in one location? And what if this book sale event could also serve as an opportunity to encourage aspiring authors who want to learn more about getting published?

The first annual Royal Oak Authors Book Fair sprouted from that seed. Thanks to the Royal Oak Public Library, a dozen authors from Royal Oak will gather for a community book signing and public panel discussion this Saturday, Oct. 9, 1:30 – 4:30 p.m.

Nearly every literary genre, from fiction to self-help will be represented at the Fair. Many of Royal Oak’s authors have been featured nationally and are “best-sellers” in their own right: Book Fair authors and publishers will include: Gerry Boyan, David Clements, Judy Davids, Steve Haffner (Haffner Press), Dr. Charles K. Hyde, Steve Lehto, Trevor McCauley, Maureen McDonald, Eleanor Payson, John S. Schultz, Tom Weschler, and yours truly.

So bring your questions on publishing and the writing life to our panel discussion at 1:30 in the Royal Oak Public Library Auditorium. Help us celebrate the printed word. And plan to do some book shopping afterward. I’ll be signing copies of my own book, plus you’ll find several books on Detroit’s automotive history; fantasy and sci-fi novels: a biography on Bob Seger; a hitchhiker’s novel; a photo-history of Royal Oak; a self-help guide; plus memoirs, murder mysteries … and more! — Cindy La Ferle

Royal Oak Authors Book Fair poster (above) designed by Judy Davids. Click on the poster for a larger view.

Doing something

One is not born into the world to do everything, but to do something.” — Henry David Thoreau

It’s that time of year. Everyone is gearing up to run marathons and raise funds for a favorite cause or organization, whether it’s breast cancer or juvenile diabetes or the local Boys & Girls Club. I used to feel guilty for not joining Detroit’s annual Race for the Cure, but my bionic hip replacements weren’t designed to meet the long-distance challenge.

Several years ago I came up with another way to honor my paternal grandmother, Ruby Gullion, who had breast cancer. At least once a year, I volunteer to lead writing workshops for William Beaumont Hospital’s Sharing & Caring, an educational support group for breast cancer patients, survivors, and their families. My workshops always focus on the healing aspects of writing and sharing our stories. Since many of the women who attend are new to journal-keeping and personal writing, my job is to talk up the benefits and give them the tools to begin.

For starters, I ask the participants to list a few of the lessons they’ve learned from breast cancer. Or to write about the strengths they didn’t know they had until they were diagnosed and treated.

Giving them 20 minutes of free-writing time, I tell them not to worry about editing their work or even completing the exercise. The goal is to get pens moving and thoughts flowing. Those who are comfortable reading aloud are invited to share what they’ve written with the group. Invariably, every lesson, every story shared, touches another woman in the group who needed to hear it.  Most of the women are amazed at what they’ve put into words — and the evenings typically end with tears and hugs and promises to keep on writing.

As many teachers will tell you, I always end up learning more from my “students” than they learn from me. Sharing their struggles, fears, triumphs, and courage, the breast cancer patients and survivors I meet at Beaumont always remind me to treasure every single moment I’m given in this life.

I may have donated my time, but I walk away richer for the experience.

I share this information for two reasons. First, I want to underscore the therapeutic, connective powers of writing — and to remind everyone that “getting published” isn’t necessarily the goal of a writing practice. Secondly, you don’t have to run a marathon or walk miles to support a cause or organization you believe in. You have gifts and talents that you can volunteer to share with others who need your expertise. So get out there and do something. — Cindy La Ferle