Guest Blog: Mimi Pockross

Author of Pulling Harvey Out of Her Hat: The Amazing Story of Mary Coyle Chase

 

Recently I sat in on a Zoom meeting of aspiring writers of all ages, but mostly young ones. The range in age was twenty to seventy-something and I was the seventy something. I had been invited because I had recently published a book and some were curious as to how I was able to do this. The subject for the evening was a general discussion of writers, playwrights and poets and the frustrations of trying to advance one’s career. 

There were about twelve of us and the median age was around 40. The twenty-year old was a student and had to leave in the middle of the meeting to study for exams. Another was struggling to write in between taking care of her ailing spouse. Another was in between jobs after she was let go during the pandemic, and another was a wife and mother of four grown children teaching at several schools while trying to write on the side. 

The complaints for all were about gender parity, ageism, writers’ block, rejections and a frustration with why they weren’t making as much money as Danielle Steele or Nora Roberts. 

I looked at the shining beautiful faces of these women, and I was not at all upset that I was in my older years even though my books have never yet made the best seller list. I sympathized with their struggles. They are basically mine as well. But there was a certain acceptance on my part of my strengths and weaknesses, my successes and my limitations that I believe only comes with age. And I had very few of their obligations! 

Perhaps the reason that I am relatively content is because my latest project, a book about a woman named Mary Chase who in 1945 when women were not a major part of the work force, won a Pulitzer Prize for her play about a six-foot-tall invisible rabbit named Harvey. She was 37 at the time, a wife and a mother as well. She was never able to match or exceed her initial success as a playwright, but she continued to write until she passed away at the age of 74 because she said that she always felt the most content when she was writing. 

Unlike most of my peers, who have long since retired and are either on the golf course each day or by the pool, having lunch with the girls or going to book clubs, I feel the same way as Mary Chase even though my achievements are not anywhere near the ones of Mary Chase. In my old age, I still want to keep plodding along. I’m just happy that so far my health has held up and I can take daily walks, enjoy my grandchildren and have fiery political discussions with my husband at breakfast as we read our morning papers.

I shared some of my life stories with these women, and they were actually appreciative even though I was hesitant to offer them. I told them about all of my rejections before I was successful in finding a publisher. I told them about gender disparities I experienced when I was a speech and drama coach and all the sports coaches received extra stipends and I did not. And about the lack of pay for a weekly column I wrote for two and half years and for which my publisher paid me a paltry salary and offered me golf clubs instead. And I talked about the need to balance one’s life with other pleasures rather than spending every moment trying to do better.

To be appreciated for my contributions to the discussion was a great feeling and one I did not expect, the feeling that by sharing my experiences and struggles, they might actually find some comfort. I’m looking forward to hearing more about their accomplishments. And I will not be envious.

About the book: Mary Coyle Chase won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1945 for her play Harvey. She received a record million dollars from RKO Universal for the rights to make the play into a film with Jimmy Stewart that premiered in 1950 and still remains a classic today. Altogether she wrote fourteen plays, three screenplays and two award-winning children’s books. She was a delightful and funny stay-at-home Denver mom who achieved international success as a playwright and author and whose own story is one that is now about to be told. See https://mimipockross.com/books/, pockrossmimi@gmail.com, blog: thelibrafileandstyle.blogspot.com

 

GUEST POST: AUTHOR SUZANNE YOUNG on WRITING

A writing career, in my opinion, springs from a love of words and of books. I’ve been an avid reader since about the time I could hold a book and a student of the English language since my earliest school days. I was the fourth of five children in my family and mostly ignored by my older siblings as the “pesky kid sister,” so I had plenty of solitary time to spend exploring people and places between the pages of any book I could get my hands on.

Our weekends, summers and most school holidays were spent at a farm near Hope Valley, Rhode Island. The main house and outbuildings had originally been a stagecoach stop on the New London Turnpike, one of the first interstate highways in the country, built originally to link Providence and New London, Connecticut. In good weather, Mother would say, “It’s too nice a day to be inside. Go out and play.” Often, I’d take a book, find my favorite apple tree and read away the hours. Apple trees are wonderful places to hide out because you don’t have to climb down if you get hungry.

In middle school … known as “junior high” in my day … I was blessed with the most wonderful teacher for both English and History lessons. I credit Walter Blanchard for recognizing and encouraging the writer in me. He gave essay assignments to the class and selected students read their work aloud. I remember him praising one particular piece of mine as reminiscent of excerpts from “Life with Father.”

My love of Rhode Island and U.S. history came from several sources besides our old farm. Again, I am thankful for my middle school teacher who regaled his students with snippets of history that weren’t in our school books … at least not in the 1950’s … like the fact that George Washington had wooden false teeth. My father was another rich source of local history and my mother took us to many local places of interest, like Gilbert Stuart’s birthplace in Saunderstown. During the school year, we lived in an old house on Division Street, a road that divides the towns of Warwick and East Greenwich. The house was built in 1780 by Jeremiah Greene, a favorite uncle of Nathanael Greene, and served as both home and medical office. Although I didn’t appreciate its historic significance when growing up, I did know that the house was drafty with a spooky attic that smelled of dry, dusty wood and an unfinished cellar that always seemed humid and cold. If you’ve ever spent a night in a creaky old house with steam heat emitted through radiators, you can imagine “things that go bump in the night.”

I was in my thirties when I read my first Agatha Christie story and got hooked on the cozy mystery genre. By that time, I had moved to Colorado and, as fate would have it, unintentionally and unwittingly segued from a career in writing to one in computer technology. I began writing programs instead of newsletter articles, but my spare time was filled with mysteries and suspense. Shortly before I retired from the tech industry, I decided to try my hand at writing fiction in the genre I’d come to love and completely different from non-fiction and technical manuals.

I began my new career by taking short story classes and quickly learned that fiction isn’t as much about writing as about telling a story … or spinning a good yarn. Writing was the easy part; plotting a who-dun-it was the challenge.

I have just published my eighth book in the Edna Davies mystery series which is set in Rhode Island. I’ve been pleased to have my protagonist touted as a cross between Miss Marple and Jessica Fletcher. My Colorado mystery, starring two elderly widows, may or may not be the beginning of another series. Time and my imagination will decide. 

Blurb: Murder by Invite

Edna Davies should be planning a wedding, but when her husband is accused of murder, she drops everything to prove his innocence. With her favorite detective otherwise occupied and her usual confidant in the hospital, Edna has nobody to help her except an old rival. Confusing the situation, a woman shows up who is a dead ringer for Edna’s best friend. Nobody knows who she is or where she came from, but Edna believes she’s the eye-witness who can clear Albert’s name. As she gets ever closer to identifying the doppelganger, Edna begins to wonder if she’s hunting the killer.

Reader reviews for books in the Edna Davies mystery series:

Murder by Mishap: “Loved the characters in this book. Had some good plot twists.”

Murder by Decay: “I shared Murder by Decay with my dentist. We both got a laugh.”

Murder by Exercise:

“Each book in this set seems to be better than the one before.”

            “An avid fitness nut, I often think of this book when I leave the gym. Great suspense!”

More about Suzanne Young can be found on her website: SuzanneYoungBooks.com.

Books may be purchased directly on Amazon or by clicking the link found on Young’s website.

(Please do not mistake her for another Suzanne Young who authors a young adult series that, apparently, is futuristic romantic erotica.)

THE ODD OLD COUPLE NEXT DOOR GET QUESTIONED BY THE POLICE

The Odd Old Couple next door take regular walks through their middle class, nearly suburban neighborhood. They’ve always taken walks, jogs, runs, and bicycle rides regardless of the area in which they lived. Some examples: years ago, when central San Francisco was the place they called home, up steep hills and down; once lost in Paris (which the Odd Old Man called “exploring,” not being disoriented) in a distinctly nonresidential district by the docks; then a shabby, low-income, blue collar community; finally urban, historic Denver.

In only one place were they ever stopped by the police. Their current middle-class area. “I don’t know whether to be thrilled the police are so vigilant,” says the Odd Old Woman, “or offended because the officer must have thought we were homeless bums, dressed as we were in our scruffiest exercise outfits.”

She gasps this as the OOCND are bent over in hysterics after the incident. The policeman, driving a car, halted to inquire, “Is he (the OOMND) chasing you?” She’d preceded her husband on the sidewalk on the jog,. Doubtful that she’d heard him correctly, she asked him to repeat himself, which he did. The OOCND exchanged disbelieving glances, clarified the situation, assured him the woman was fine, and held back laughter until the officer drove away.

Whereupon they thought of better replies they could have made:

* Yes, he’s trying to catch me, but he’s not succeeding. Can you help him?
* No, he’s not trying to catch me, and that’s the problem. I want him to catch me.
* Are you nuts? Do we look like either one of us is capable of being a threat to anyone?

Thankful they hadn’t been asked for i.d., because they had none with them, they now treasure the incident as an amusing, enlightening example of modern life in America.

WHAT’S OUR GRADE ON THE PANDEMIC?

Coloradans like giving grades to officials. For example, in 1982, a massive blizzard closed down Denver for days. When asked how he’d grade the city’s snow removal effort, then-Mayor Bill McNichols ranked it an “A.” Others, including newspapers, preferred “F.” I’ve always been sympathetic to the Mayor, since this was one of the worst blizzards to hit the city ever. Be that as it may, the Mayor went down in defeat at the spring election.

You’d think we’d learn not to attempt this sort of challenge, but here I am ranking our country’s response to COVID. Why? Because thinking about the pandemic, certain elements stand out as especially good or bad.

Leading the pack is the medical research and development community whose reputation SOARED when they came up with vaccines in less than two years! And not just one, four or five or whatever. Do we realize how miraculous this is? The Black Death lingered for centuries, from about mid-1300s until mid-1700s, although it actually still exists but now can be cured. Small pox has been around since 350 BC and finally was thought eradicated in the1970s. Major polio epidemics were unknown before the 20th century, but were a terror throughout that century. I remember my parents prohibiting public pools because of polio’s threat. In addition, the medical people worked themselves to the bone for us and ours. Grade A++++

Amazing to me, some people, especially anti-vaxxers, seem to lack the most basic information about vaccinations and ignore the dangers to which they’re opening their children and themselves. So be it. No skin off my personal nose.

Next, businesses in general. While struggling to stay afloat, and sometimes sinking with their ships, the majority retained a nonjudgmental, supportive attitude toward the public. A number went the whole nine yards (alternately, the whole ball of wax) to support their employees and people in financial trouble with special services and goods. Chasing constantly changing government regulations, they performed well to continue their services. Grade: B

Then there are the government and nonprofit agencies large and small that struggled to do their best in the face of unknowns. While trying to evaluate the advice from “experts” of every type. Then interpret those for their staffs and the public, in the face of unknown financials, they kept their offices and agencies functioning. Grade: B-

What comes in at level of “C?” Probably the media, keeping in mind that their charge is to deliver whatever passes for news 24 hours a day. This leaves them in the unenviable position of having to create a new angle on tired information each and every day. With the dearth of gossip about celebs, they’ve been forced to focus on less interesting fodder, mostly about the pandemic.

At rock bottom—human behavior: A flat out F, for the entire population of the USA. Selfish, rude, annoying, All of us indulging in our favorite activity: busily judging one another, condemning friends, family and neighbors because they did or did not comply with whatever standard existed in each person’s individual opinion. I’ve seen adults scream at teens for walking in the park, customers in grocery stores malign the next person for daring to infringe on some nebulous barrier they thought would protect them, neighbors steal limited goods like milk and toilet paper because they feared to be left without. Vaxxers mock others for not getting shots. Antivaxxers mock in return for being robot rule-followers. Yes, if the future of the human race depended on our actions, we deserve no breaks. I hope at the next pandemic, we do better.

 

THE ODD OLD COUPLE NEXT DOOR KEEP THEIR HOUSE

“Housekeeping,” says the Odd Old Woman Next Door. “What a very strange term for the actions we perform around our home.”

She’s contemplating the never-ending list of work necessary to keep the place semi-decent and functioning. “Clean the carpets” has been registered for at least three years. When she discovered most services charge as much to clean a rug as the item cost to begin with, and the cheaper companies couldn’t or wouldn’t do the work inside the house, she was thrown into such indecision, she’s never proceeded to hire a company.

            The Odd Old Man Next Door has started making the bed. She’s helping him although, as usual, she’s several beats behind him. Most mornings nowadays, he’s half-way through the chore by the time she gathers herself together to join him. Should she allow this inequity to disturb her equilibrium?

            No, she decides. For years the chore was assigned based on the time each one arose. The last one up made the bed. Most times that was she, so she estimates she’d made the bed, oh, twenty years now. In fact, they used to have a kind of competition. If they got up at nearly the same time, the rule was that they had to crow, “Ta-dah” and throw their arms wide, to overtly mark the time of their activation. She almost always lost.

            Now they often get going at nearly the same time, so they’ve started making the bed together. The bone of contention: just what the proper manner is for arranging the final covers. They agree on the initial approach with the military method. They spread sheets and blankets evenly on both sides, tuck in using a hospital corner with a 45-degree angle, smooth any wrinkles out.

            The OOMND, having received instruction in the Marines, believes the top sheet should extend only about two inches above the blanket, then he folds the sheet edge down over the cover. The OOWND, being more feminine and inclined toward artistic design, feels the sheet’s edge should be folded down between four and six inches over the blanket. Each morning they commence a tug-of-war. He folds the top sheet down only two inches, using his four fingers as a rude measure. She then flicks the edge of the top sheet down another few inches, smooths it across the head of the bed. He pulls it up again for the proper military appearance.

            By this time, he’s bored with the routine and leaves, while she hurriedly re-positions the top sheet so it will cover the blanket by a good four to six inches. Then she pulls the spread up and over the completed bed. She believes he won’t notice her handiwork. And he doesn’t, so they’re both satisfied with the handiwork.