Thursday, November 20, 2014


I’m waiting today, only capable of small deeds like removing the salon-thickened flesh-toned polish from my gnarly toes. I hadn’t noticed the growing-out white spaces and the chips because I don’t like to look at my toes very often. However, to fill my empty waiting hours, I went to a yoga class, and when the teacher pointed at my toes, I looked down. She wasn’t commenting on my nails’ color or lack of it. “Weight on the outside of the arch, Jo. Your ankles are falling in again.” Then she added, “Aim your buttocks toward your feet, not your waist.” I knew what she meant.  We go through this every yoga session.

It’s hopeful, her desire to straighten out my pigeon toes and sway back.  It means she believes in me despite my inability to stand in a perfect Mountain Pose.  It’s great to be believed in, despite my flaws.

I suppose that’s why I gathered the energy and the courage a few days ago to offer a group of friends free copies of my ebook, EDITH. They only had to promise to review the book. My instructions:  Be truthful, but don’t make me cry.

Twenty people have received EDITH. And now I’m waiting, waiting for their reviews.  It’s only been three days, but surely at least one of them couldn’t resist tearing into the story and was so impressed she sat right down let Amazon know of her amazed opinion. Right?

The sane, adult part of me knows that even for my best-friend-writer, I would not have put down my Thanksgiving grocery shopping list and my seasonal to-do self-mandates to respond to such a request in three days. Even if they liked parts of the book, most folks read slowly and write even more slowly.  I must be patient, breathe, practice mindfulness, as I’m always advising my husband to do.

This whole process is a little like going to yoga and being told to tuck your buttocks. Even though I thought they were already tucked, because of the care I heard in her voice, I tried, and I discovered I could tuck even more.  A perfect Mountain Pose may be within reach.  When she murmured, “Looks good,” I believed her.

Whatever my reviewers say, I will be grateful for their belief in my writing, in my ability to grow as a writer, for the “good jobs” that some will say to encourage me to keep working on the perfect writing Mountain Pose. 

So instead of lolling about in this lethargic Waiting Pose, I’m going to stop looking at my toes and go out to pick up the turkey waiting for me at Zupans, She has a good reason feel lethargic.

Jo Barney Writes

Thursday, October 9, 2014


A little over a month ago I sent out a pile of queries to agents.  Each of them suggested that I would hear if he/she were interested in EDITH, and that might take four or five weeks.  So far, I’ve received two written notices of disinterest, and ten silences. I’ve forgotten how benumbing this kind of waiting is. In the past month, I’ve read four novels, every page of Bon Appetit, several pages twice until I realized I was too enervated to cook more than frozen pasta. In the mass of incoming seasonal catalogs, I’ve found potential Christmas presents for all members of my family despite our agreement that we won’t give each other gifts anymore. I’ve watched stupid stuff on TV that sent me to my white wine bottle. Waiting.

And as of today it’s been five weeks. I’ve gained five pounds. My knees have begun to crackle from disuse.  I’ve run out of books on my Must Read list. I realize I have to make some kind of decision, get back on track. But which track? Writing? Marketing? A new round of agent searching? Volunteering at the kitchen for homeless men? Knitting that sweater I bought yarn for ten years ago? No, can’t do that; the moths got there before I did. What, then?

One of the advantages of being almost eighty is that one realizes nothing she decides at this point is forever. Maybe if she’s lucky, for five years. The track she chooses should be fulfilling, brain-joggling, easy on the knees, lined with friends and occasional laughs. It would be comforting to move along this track holding hands with folks she loves. 

And who love her--despite the fact that her novel can’t find an agent, that despite spending hundreds of dollars on publicity, her other novels have sold three copies this summer.

And maybe because of those facts, a grand daughter tells me I am a role model for her--I just keep writing, no matter what. 

A kind of legacy, I guess. Maybe better than a grandmother’s book on her shelf.

So I’m in the midst of deciding. Writing beats knitting a sweater that won’t fit even if I could salvage the wool; it beats standing in front of huge grill stirring green beans and onions; it beats eating myself into late onset diabetes; it beats allowing my brain to dissolve into mush at a much faster rate than it is going now.

Yes. From now on, I just won’t think about selling what I’m writing. What a concept!

Jo Barney Writes

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

One More Time. . .

            I've just finished a novel that I like a lot. Edith! Finished!
            This morning I found myself copying down information on fourteen agents who say they are looking for fiction.  Already. I have begun the mental process of composing the hook of the first line of the query letters I will send out. Edith, a disappointed old woman, doesn’t much care that her husband of forty-seven years is laying dead next to her.  Her mind is on the Christmas strata she’s to bake in an hour or so.  Too long? Too depressing?  Not appealing to anyone except maybe other cranky old women? Try again.
            This research, mulling, word crunching is not an unknown activity to me.  I've sent out hundreds of queries in the past.  And received hundreds of rejections which were stuck in a desk drawer until I realized how much negative energy I was absorbing from them, coupled with the anxious weeks of silence that followed my electronic submissions.  I'm not sure why I'm thinking of trying one more time to find an agent.  Perhaps I just need the ego-boost an acceptance would bring. Or perhaps I remember the several lonely year-long efforts I've plowed through to sell my books.  Or maybe I'm looking for a knowledgeable hired hand who knows how to find the best publisher for Edith.  And once found, it’s possible I would benefit from the publisher's experts in the design process, in the distribution to bookstores and airport terminals, and even in getting of a newspaper review or two. 
            All these reasons for sending out query letters ring true as I evaluate them, but one more thought keeps rising unbidden to the surface.  “Yes,” I would really like to say. “Yes, I have an agent--she's terrific!" when friends and fellow writers ask.  I know, this is shallow, very shallow, but that is where I am right now, as I shuffle through Agent Query one more time. 
            But I do wonder.  Am I alone in this compulsion?  Do any of my other writing acquaintances, mostly self-published like me, ever spend a day wondering what it would be like to have a sympathetic partner, an agent, in this process? If so, what have they done about it?  Did they find one? Or did they come to their senses and return to the realities of indie publishing?  Will I?

Jo Barney Writes

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


The four of us will come together at a beach house once again.  We’ll take stock of the wreckage eighty years has wrought to each of our bodies, smiling and remarking on the undamaged parts, hair or feet or narrow bodies, flinching a little at the age’s toll we see in each other’s slow steps, sun damaged skin, crevasses at the edge of lips, irises grayed by the medicine several of us drop into our eyes each night.

It’s appropriate that we meet this summer because my novel, based on our past comings-together, UPRUSH, was published this spring.  My friends read the original manuscript written five years ago and gave me their permission to go ahead with it, even though, in my story, one become a Lesbian, another marries a video-taping philanderer, and a third is sure the priest she loves will break down and love her back.  Pure fiction. The fourth woman is the most fictional of all, an author of enough successful books to become quite famous, buy a large stucco Spanish house, keep a long-haired blacksmith as her amanuens and her lover.  Well, I can dream, can’t I?

This meeting will find us husbandless, except for me--none of us with feisty lovers on our doorsteps.  At eighty, one looks backward much more than forward; we’ll share stories about almost-forgotten sorority sisters, dead old boyfriends, past professions, our latest volunteer chores. Perhaps this year we’ll schedule a session of plucking chin hairs with our tweezers as we did one year.  We’ll certainly anguish over the tags of skin that appear regularly on our necks, legs. We’ll hand around photos of smiling cheeks and bright youthful eyes that look a little like ours.

We’ll celebrate with a glass of wine or two our survivals despite the frightening, painful, unexpected events that have shaken us over the years. Some of our off spring will become subjects of “Oh, my God’ conversations.  No one is perfect, we’ll say, especially a parent. We’ll spend time consoling each other’s imperfections.

And when I come back home to my computer, I wonder if I’ll have another book churning in me. Like I did five years ago. About old ladies.  Maybe one of them is working on being crazy; another in false eyelashes is still looking for a warm body to wrap her arms around; another is afraid of the end of the road and the unmapped territory she’s knows is ahead; and the fourth uses a special computer to talk her stories into because her fingers have become knobs. They decide to live together, divide the chores, make long lists, writ large, of everyone’s appointments and medicines on the chalkboard in the kitchen.  And maybe they will do what the author in UPRUSH suggests: they’ll hire the yard boy to do more than mow the lawn.  At least until his mother finds out.

Damn!  This is how a story gets born.  I hope my friends like it.

Jo Barney Writes

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


I’ve had the fun of talking to four different book clubs in the past few months, the result of offering my words of wisdom about indi books, writing at an advanced age, street people, suicide, and last night we got into a great discussion about hemp milk.  A paper bottle of the stuff was offered to me and all I could think of saying was, “How does one milk a hemp?” The group was a lovely set of dieticians and medical  women, and the talk, as we enjoyed our vegetarian soup and salad, had veered away from  pedophilia, my subject, to nutrition, their subject.  It’s not polite to talk about bad things over dinner. 

They had, though, read Graffiti Grandma and when they asked how I knew so much about all those gritty things and people in the book, I answered as I always do:  “Google, of course.”  They seemed disappointed. I had not actually sat on curbs with street kids or wandered through Forest Park looking for a family’s camp.  And I had no answers for the homelessness we see on our urban streets. I was a little embarrassed.

It’s true that writers do not necessarily experience what they write about.  Their imaginations, their friends’ stories, and Google fill in the blanks.  I’m thinking of Hunger Games, and maybe Yellow Bird, two authorial flights into the What If world.  My latest book, Not There Yet, is such a flight, as I What-If’d my way into finding a dead husband in my bed on Christmas morning.  Not me, of course.  And certainly not Don, I assured him.  A whole story was built out of my imagination and supplemented with Google research into medications that could kill people without their knowing. Not There Yet is unfinished.  I have a couple of friends reading it who will let me know what I left out. Don is in a holding position, opinion-wise.

However, at this moment, I’m riding along on a crest of joy over the book that came out this month. UPRUSH. Once an ebook, I needed to touch and smell this story, so I re-titled it, formatted and published it as a paperback on Createspace, and when the proof came, despite its small imperfections of one sort or another, it was beautiful from the day it was born.  Inside and out.

It is a book based not on Google research, but on my own life and friendships.  Fictionalized, of course, the Lou character is not a lesbian, Jackie was only maybe a little infatuated with a priest, Joan didn’t end up with a philandering designer.  And the writer Madge does not have Alzheimer’s, although indications are that she may be wandering in that direction, my husband’s lost keys found in my pajamas this morning. The library in the Alzheimer’s center nearby helped me understand the disease, but that isn’t the story.  UPRUSH is focused on a question: How does one grow old and hold on to herself and her dreams in the process?

Once again, I don’t have the answer, but I’m not turning to Google to find it.

Jo Barney Writes