Thursday, May 14, 2009

SPRING CLEANING by Jackie Lee Miles

I was doing a little spring cleaning when I realized how crazy I must be. Every cupboard is stock full of things I’m afraid I’ll run out of. Take toilet paper, for instance. Every bathroom in our home, which is two and a half, but when it comes to toilet paper that half-bath counts as a whole, because it’s got to have toilet paper. So anyway, every one of those bathrooms has a roll on the holder and ten rolls in the cabinet underneath the sink. That’s so we won’t ever run out. When any under-the-cabinet-toilet-paper stash gets down to four rolls it’s time to replenish, so then toilet papers goes at the top of my grocery list.

Next we come to Tide, I always prefer that when I do the laundry. There is a large box in the laundry room and two extra boxes stacked in a cabinet in the garage, next to six boxes of Kleenex, two bottles of fabric softener, three boxes of cling free sheets, eight rolls of paper towels, two extra large bottles of Head and Shoulders for my husband, alright I admit it, I use it once in awhile myself. Next to the shampoo are three jars of Pantene Restorative conditioners, which I can’t live without or my hair looks like a broom that has seen better days. Parked next to the conditioners I have neatly placed three large plastic bottles of various hand and body lotions that all promise to keep my skin smoother than silk. When I’m replenishing hand lotion, I can’t ever decide which one I should try next, so I usually select three and go from there.

In the pantry I have several large cans of coffee on the top shelf and enough Cremora to serve every Starbucks customer who desires it for the next two years. I have back-ups on mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, grape jelly, strawberry jam, pancake syrup, spaghetti sauce (I always doctor up the store bought kind and pass it off as homemade.), and scads of soup. Five kinds of Campbell’s for every flavor they make. God forbid I should run out of Cream of Mushroom. I might want to make a tuna noodle casserole and then where would I be?

This predisposition to hoard extras of what I consider to be essentials is probably a sign of a serious mental disorder. And it probably runs in my family. My mother has the same illness. Her pantry puts mine to shame. Mine has enough to stock a mini-market. Hers could easily stock Kroger.

This problem definitely spills over into other areas of my life. If my car even approaches the half-full marker, I am at the gas station pronto. And my office closet is fully stocked with two and three boxes of everything, along with two cases of copy paper. I have eight boxes of large paper clips, two boxes of six dispensers each of scotch tape, three boxes of file folders and four boxes of pens. There is a case of Pendaflex folders and four boxes of various size labels along with a half dozen boxes of various size envelopes. Need I say more?

I probably need to call a psychiatrist immediately and make an appointment. But then all I could tell him is that I have a fear of running out of stuff. How serious can that be? It’s not like I harbor a secret desire to kill my husband or my mother, right?

Lately, I’ve noticed that I have a fear of running out of words. This is a much more serious problem than running out of toilet paper. I’m in the middle of my next book and middles scare the he-be-ge-bee’s out of me anyway. So now where am I? It’s not like I can go to the store and stock up on words. Each night when I go to bed, I do a word count of how many I’ve typed for the day. It always sends a shiver up my spine. Have I filled up my four pages for the day? Are they any good? Will I find enough for the next day? Is there a closet I can store them in while I sleep that I can raid in the morning and get a major head start?

I always wonder how other writers manage to put so many words on the page. Do they have a secret stash somewhere that nobody has told me about? Is their brain riddled with more words than they can possibly put down on any given number of pages in their lifetime? Do they have an endless supply from some part of their brain that automatically manufactures words while they sleep?

Hey guys, let me know. I’m sick of hoarding soup and shampoo and coffee. I’d love to find a way to hoard words. So let’s trade. I’ll gladly give you what’s stashed in my closets. I guarantee that you will never run out of toilet paper.

And now for my assignment: How I got the call. After my children left home I decided to try my hand at writing and signed up for a writer’s conference. I took along the manuscript I was working on to get it reviewed by a professional in the industry.

At the reception I literally bumped into Ron Pitkin, the president of Cumberland House Publishing. He was kind enough not to notice I spilled his drink and asked what I was working on. When I told him fiction, he promptly replied, “That’s a crap shoot.” Definitely not what I wanted to hear. I mean, I’d paid good money to come to this conference and he’s raining on my party, big time. “Well,” I said, “that’s too bad, because I have a dynamite opening line.” I was prepared to walk away, when he gently took hold of my elbow and said, “So what’s your opening line?”

“The morning I died, it rained.” Keep in mind this was long before The Lovely Bones.

“God! I want to see that book,” he said, doing an about face.

“Ah, I don’t have a book,” I said. “I have a great opening line and a hundred pages.”

He asked if I had it with me. “Of course. I’m getting it evaluated in the morning. It costs forty-five dollars.”

He told me to give it to him, he wouldn’t charge a thing. I immediately went to my room and brought back the pages. I had a prologue, and the last chapter and the epilogue along with the rest of it. It wasn’t finished, but I knew where it was going.

Mr. Pitkin thanked me and went on his way. Come Sunday morning with the conference over, everyone was checking out. I spotted Mr. Pitkin making his way toward me and thought, oh-oh, this is where he’s going to pull the rug out from under me and tell me to get a real job. To my surprise he handed me the manuscript and said, “I want this and I want it yesterday. Go home and finish it!”

I figured if I took forever to finish it he’d never even remember that he liked it. I stayed up and wrote around the clock for the next five days, took the weekend off, stayed up again and wrote around the clock for the next five days and sent it off to Mr. Pitkin. I marked my calendar for three months, thinking it might take that long for him to get back to me. I started in on my second book. Just like all the books on writing said to do. The following Friday evening my phone rang. I answered. A voice said, “This is Ron Pitkin at Cumberland House and we’re going to bring your book out in hardback.” I said, “Ya? And I’m the tooth fairy.” And I hung up on him. The reason I did this is that the only person other than my husband who knew I’d sent off the manuscript was a good friend of mine who can mimic any voice he’s ever heard. He’d been going to this conference where I’d met Mr. Pitkin for years and has heard him speak many times. It had to be this friend playing a joke on me. Not a very funny one either. I wasn’t amused.

I went upstairs to comb my hair and put some lipstick on. My husband was starving and wanted to go and get something to eat. Poor thing, he probably was starving. I stopped cooking when the kids left home and I took up writing. No sooner did I get to the bedroom when the phone rang. This one has caller ID, the others don’t. I leaned over and saw CUMBERLAND HOUSE flashing on the screen. I’d hung up on Mr. Pitkin for real!
I picked up the handset, leaned into it and barely whispered “Hello?”

“What’d you hang up on me for?” he said. “Ah, it’s a long story, a very boring story,” I said.

“Well, we’re bringing out your book in hard back and bumping back our memoir piece on Dale Earnhardt (he’d been tragically killed), to make Roseflower Creek the lead book. What do you think of that?”

I was hyperventilating and finding it impossible to speak. I did my best. “Didn’t you say fiction was a crap shoot?” I asked

“Yes—and it is,” he said.

“Then I think your crazy or my protagonist got herself a miracle. What do you think of that?”

Mr. Pitkin laughed and said he’d be seeing me. This is a true story and a pretty amazing way to get published. I feel very blessed.

Jackie Lee Miles is the author of Roseflower Creek, Cold Rock River and Divorcing-Dwayne. Look for her next novel All That’s True in the spring of 2010. Email her at Visit the website at


Elizabeth Bradley said...

Lucky you. But, you made your own luck!

Lynne said...

Re: the hoarding - you and I must be long-lost twins. My daughter comes over to my house with a shopping list and raids my pantry. I start to panic if my paper towel stash falls into single digits. And I just bought 30 cans of peas yesterday (my dogs eat a lot of peas) so I wouldn't run out.

I'm so glad I'm not alone!

BTW - LOVE your books!