Tag Archives: childhood memories


This article was first published in the online literary magazine Women Writers, Women’s Books (booksbywomen.org)

My name is Josephine Strand and I’m the author of my first published romance novel, Misty Dreams, released in April 2021. I’m what is known as a literary late bloomer. Three years ago, I was a soon-to-be novelist past the age of sixty, and utterly unprepared for the work that goes into publishing a book—before and after it’s out in the world. Years of insecurities and setbacks prevented me from taking my craft seriously. I didn’t think I had it in me to write anything good enough to share with the world. I hope to inspire new writers with my story, and perhaps help them avoid some of the mistakes I made along the way.

Since my teens, writing has always been like a hobby, a sort of creative outlet. In my twenties, I wrote short stories and novellas, drawing inspiration from the famous authors whose books I read. I didn’t have a routine; I wrote when inspiration struck, and at my own pace, without the fear of failing or of anyone critiquing my work. When years later I was struck with the idea for a full-length, standalone novel, I went into it with the same casual, freewheeling approach.

During what I call the disillusionment period, I wrote the initial draft of Misty Dreams. I was living in Italy at the time, and although I was fluent in both Italian and English, it made more sense to write it in Italian, my native language. When my husband and I made the life-changing decision to relocate to the United States, my inner creative was shut down for years. The adjustment to a new country, a new job, a new life, left little time for fantasies. It was much later that I was seized by the desire to resume writing. I was going through empty nest syndrome and needed a distraction, so I dusted off my manuscript and started working on it sporadically. I translated it into English and played around with it, updating references to places and events to make it current. In the process, I was making it better and better, surprising myself. It was then that I began to see the possibility of turning it into a book. I was pleased with the result, and being able to share it with the world would represent the ultimate reward for all my hard work.

But I had a huge problem on my hands. Literally. In years of erratic writing patterns and utter disregard for wordcount, my manuscript had grown to around 360,000 words. And that was just the beginning. My writing hadn’t been seen by any eyes but my own. I had never belonged to a critique group or discussed my book with anyone. That’s when I knew I needed help.

My first step was to find an editor. I needed a professional to do a developmental check and reassure me my manuscript wasn’t a total train wreck. Besides, something had to be done about the length, and I knew I couldn’t do it on my own. It was thanks to my editor that I was able to shrug off my insecurities and take those dreaded final steps. Ultimately, through her expert advice and guidance, I was able to shrink my manuscript to just under 90,000 words. It was a daunting process, painful to say the least. Separating the manuscripts into two books would have been the easier way out, but the idea of ending Book 1 on a cliffhanger didn’t appeal to me. Thus began the slaughtering. It wasn’t just a matter of eliminating redundant words or tightening sentences; it meant cutting off scenes and killing off characters deemed ‘unnecessary’ to the advancement of the story. It was like cutting off pieces of me, one limb at a time.

It was during the final revisions that I began to query agents and publishers. I wasn’t holding my breath; the chances of a first-time author snagging a contract from a traditional publisher were a drop in the bucket. Since I wasn’t getting any younger, I allowed myself six months for the querying process. I submitted dozens of letters, only to receive a handful of polite rejections in return. I had lost enough time and I didn’t want to be stuck on publishing the old-fashioned way. One way or another, I was going to bring a book into the world, and if that meant jumping on the self-publishing bandwagon, then so be it.  

The decision was easy, but I was facing another quandary. I was going to have to promote my book myself. I didn’t have a strong following, and I had no clue how to go about getting my book into the hands of potential readers. I was social media-shy, and the idea of setting up advertising platforms seemed overwhelming. The huge amount of work to get my manuscript to marketable standards had taken up all of my time and energy, so that there was none left for building visibility as an author. I created a website but had nothing to put on it. I had a manuscript that was getting the last touch-ups, a bunch of cover designs I couldn’t decide on and was querying agents and publishers. I told myself I couldn’t possibly find time to create content for Facebook and Instagram to promote my book. I realized other debut authors were way ahead of me. They had a blog, a newsletter, a street team to cheer them on, as well as ARC readers pledging to post reviews on release day, and they were planning launch parties. It was a sobering discovery.

Since then, I’ve come a long way in overcoming that last hurdle. Yes, I was late to the party, but I showed up for it. I made up for lost opportunity by dedicating myself wholeheartedly to improving my marketing skills. I don’t have a huge following, but I’m working on it, acquiring more confidence along the way.  Writing my book has been one of the greatest accomplishments of my life, and now as a published author, it continues to give me joy through the feedback I’ve gotten from readers. But I regret letting my insecurities get in the way of my writing. I could have saved myself a lot of time if I had believed in myself a bit more. The best advice I can give new writers is, don’t let self-doubt and lack of self-confidence hold you back. Learn the fundamentals of writing and become more competent in your own abilities. Finally, look beyond your goal. Writing a book doesn’t end at the words ‘The End’. There’s so much work to be done, before and after the publishing process. Ultimately, all this can be immensely gratifying almost as much as the writing itself.

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Review: Of School and Women, by D.S. Marquis

Of School and Women by D.S. Marquis is a riveting, nostalgic dive into the past. It’s brilliantly written and humorous, cleverly mingling cultural nostalgia with great life lessons. I wasn’t living in the United States during the 80s, but in all democratic countries the same fundamental changes in standards of living were taking place, and similar critical societal issues were being felt worldwide. It was like hopping into a time machine and being brought back to a simpler way of life, of better social communication, and a time when we were devoid of today’s existential worries.

Lynette and Marie are two college students in Tallahassee, Florida, who despite their different personalities become fast friends and confidantes, while navigating life’s challenges with bravery and resourcefulness. Through their commitment to their education and work, they are determined to put past mistakes behind them and build a foundation for a better future.

The story touches on some sensitive themes, like drinking, drugs, domestic abuse and human trafficking, though the details are woven naturally and casually into the narrative, without weighing it down. It paints a vivid picture of life before the internet and social media, when interpersonal relationships meant getting together and enjoying each other’s company, or simply showing up to apply for a job. The unrestricted comings and goings in Lynette’s workplace are a great example of the higher degree of freedom enjoyed back then, when circulating liberally in airport terminals was a luxury no longer accessible in today’s society.

D.S. Marquis does a phenomenal job of recreating the spirit, the vernacular and carefree, unhindered lifestyle of the times, tapping into her own experiences as a college student. The characters are vibrantly relatable, each in their own captivating way, the narrative attention-grabbing. It certainly gave me more than a few smiles while reading.

Not quite fiction, nor non-fiction, but thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking. A refreshing, evocative read, one I recommend to all readers over 18.

BOOK TALK: How I got hooked on reading

When I was a young girl, the local library was one of my favorite places in which to spend the afternoon hours. It was before the internet, even before computers made it into our homes. It was where my friends and I would meet to do research for a school project, do our homework, or simply take out new books to read. There was always an excuse to go to the library.

When I think about my childhood, the same memory invariably pops to the surface, the one of when I visited the local library for the first time. The passage of time may have enhanced the visual aspects, but the memory is real, as are the feelings it aroused. I can visualize the exact moment it happened and feel the same wonder and delight at seeing so many books all in one place. A whole new world had opened to me, and I was hooked. Nothing made me happier than bringing home new books to read. Being a new immigrant in an English-speaking country, I struggled at first, but as my understanding of the language improved, I was enthralled by the countless stories I could read.

Like most typical seven-year-old girls, I was initially drawn to fairy tales. Their magical allure pulled me in, transporting me to wondrous places inside my head. But best of all, they all ended in a happily-ever-after. I later discovered classic children’s books, like Little Women and Pollyanna, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. But my favorite of all time is Anne of Green Gables. I read all eight books numerous times through the years. I was fascinated by Anne’s hyperactive imagination and upbeat attitude, and by her ability to make people see the world differently, even the most cynical ones, like the grumpy Marilla. I’m delighted to say that it’s my daughter’s favorite classic as well, and we long ago promised ourselves a trip to Prince Edward Island, which life’s circumstances have caused us to postpone several times.

As I grew into my early teens, my reading preferences extended to more modern adventure books, like The Famous Five and The Secret Seven series, by Enid Blyton. I went through a phase in which I was enamored with everything ballet, and devoured ballet novels faster than they could be written. My favorite were the Drina series by Jean Estoril. I’m pretty sure I read all eleven books in the series. It was around that time that I started to write my own stories. I’m firmly convinced that if Anne of Green Gables built me as a reader, the Drina ballet series made me as a writer.

What kind of books do you remember reading as a child and which are your favorite? Please let me know in the comments.

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Laughter is the best medicine

Laughter is the best medicine. How many times have we heard this phrase? Experts say it’s good for our health. Among other benefits, it boosts the immune system, relaxes the muscles, and reduces stress by releasing endorphins, making you feel less burdened. I’m a firm believer of this theory. Who doesn’t need a little less stress in their life? But as a teenager I was convinced that one could die of too much laughter.

You see, my father was constantly telling jokes and making funny remarks. When we gathered with family or friends, he was the proverbial life of a party. He was loved by everyone, young and old. No one could make me laugh like he did, and sometimes I’d laugh so much I couldn’t stop. I’d lose my breath, literally. During those terrifying incidents, my lungs felt like they would burst, and I would have to isolate myself in a place where I could calm myself down and breathe air back into my lungs. I did this in secrecy, worried I’d be made fun of. In hindsight, it was probably more in fear that my father would stop making me laugh.

But can you die from too much laughter, I’d sometimes ask myself?

Not according to my father. Laughter adds years to a person’s life, he would always say. I believe that’s why he lived a long and healthy one. To this day, I’m terrified of losing my breath, which is probably the reason I’m not a good swimmer. Staying underwater for more than ten seconds is an impossible feat for me. Being stuck in the MRI tube holding my breath for twenty seconds at a time is pure torture. Not to talk about plunging down a sharp drop in a roller coaster. The first and last time I ever tried it, I thought I wasn’t going to make it out alive. But I’m not terrified of laughing anymore. Now that my father is no longer on this earth, I miss his clever jokes and his positive outlook in life. He taught me to always look on the bright side of things and to never stop laughing, so I look for humor wherever I can find it—in a baby’s gesture, a puppy’s cute trick, a funny movie or book, but often I look for it in my memories of him. Sometimes, though, I long to experience those breath-stealing, lung-bursting, all-consuming laughing fits, because despite the agony they brought, they marked some of the happiest moments of my life.

Image from Pexels

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Fields of Poppies and Other Childhood Memories

How many times do we come across an image that reminds us of something we experienced in the past? Imagine a vast green field scattered with bright red poppies as far as the eye can see. It may sound unoriginal and travelblog-ish, perhaps, but for me it has great meaning. Poppies represent one of the best memories I have of when I was a young child. I find them evocative and inspiring. As a child I may have taken them for granted, but as an adult, they always bring a smile to my face. These fragile looking flowers have deep roots and a too-short lifespan. Yet they’re resilient, and every spring they show up, popping up from the wreckage of winter. Unsurprisingly one of the first items my husband and I bought as newlyweds was an oil painting of poppies. It traveled with us when we moved to the U.S. and still hangs in our house today.

According to studies on childhood autobiographical memory, memories with strong emotional associations are most likely to stay in your mind longer, possibly forever. Coming across this image sparked an involuntary memory associated with a grassy field close to my grandparents’ house. It was a place where I liked to play whenever we went to see them, a sort of overgrown, natural playground where poppies grew plentiful in the springtime. I have vague images inside my head of a family picnic amid a sea of red and green, of treasures found embedded in the soft earth—a shard of pottery from broken stoneware or glass from a vase. I saw my grandparents for the last time when I was seven years old when I left Italy with my family, yet I envision them so vividly in my mind.

Some of my best childhood memories are associated with my passion for reading and writing. As a young child, I was enamored with pencils and notebooks. A neighbor family had five children, all much older than me. At the end of every school year, they would tear off the written pages of their notebooks and give me the part with the blank ones to write in. I lived for those special gifts. Sometimes, if I was lucky, they’d give me some colored pencils. I treasured those pencils like nothing else, even saving the broken tips inside a small pill box. What I thought I could do with those tips is still a mystery today.

Then there’s my paternal grandmother, whom I credit for my thirst for storytelling. One of my earliest memories is of my cousins and I sitting around our ‘nonna’ and listening to the stories she told, stories I couldn’t get enough of. Only years later did I find out they were mostly made up, conceived on the spot, though no less enthralling to the ears of small children. Back then, books were a luxury we couldn’t afford, and public libraries were nonexistent in our small town, so television and my nonna’s storytelling were the only ways to feed my imaginative mind. No matter how progress and technology have changed the way we listen to, see, and share our stories, those memories continue to inspire me in my own writing and in my everyday life.

Music was also a big part of my past. My father was a drummer in a band. He played at weddings and events, and all through my childhood and into my teens I would often tag along with him. I associate music with the happiest times of my life and have a greater appreciation for it because of those treasured moments. I studied piano for a few years, though sadly I wasn’t blessed with good hand coordination and was never very good at it.

Every one of us has experiences that stay with us for life. They create our purpose, determine character and values. When I think back to my early years, I feel comforted by the memories I still preserve and often find myself yearning nostalgically for a time when things seemed simpler and easier. As the years progress, I cling to these random shreds of joyous moments, blessings that helped shape me and make me who I am today.