The Perfect Christmas
My ex-husband used to say I was the only person in the world who began planning the menu for Christmas dinner on the 4th of July. Admittedly, I am a firstborn, Type A obsessive personality, but the holidays require forethought. For instance, it takes me two months to dig around in the chaos that is known as our garage for the ornaments and the dancing, singing Rudolf my mother bought years ago because she was sure my boys would love it. And then there is the neighborhood holiday smack-down. Am I going to be second to anybody in our subdivision in getting up the outdoor lights and decorations? No, I do not think so! The old lady up the street put out her mechanical, lighted reindeer the day before Thanksgiving last year, so this year I began stringing lights on the trees adorning our front porch while my sons handed out Halloween candy. I started draping the mailbox in garland the next day for nothing more than the pleasure of knowing my mailman will report to others I was the first in the neighborhood to do so.
There are the decorations, planning the menu, and making the candy my extended family is expecting… Happily I do not have to figure shopping into my schedule, as my mother, brother and I long ago agreed instead of giving each other gifts, to simply buy ourselves something we really want. And my boys are old enough to say, “Mom, just give me cash because my cell phone bill is due.” Yeah, my last year Christmas present to myself was to stop paying my kids’ cell phone bills.
I decorate, I cook, I plan each and every detail to assure my family will have the perfect Christmas… But oddly enough some of my favorite Christmas memories are far from perfect. There was the year I forgot to remove the plastic bag of giblets from the turkey before baking it. Nothing says Merry Christmas like watching your family remove melted plastic from the roofs of their mouths. The year I had the flu, and rather than cooking Christmas brunch, I tossed pop tarts at my family, and used the tissue paper from gifts to blow my nose. And the first Christmas after my father passed away…
Christmas isn’t ever perfect. Even Mother Mary had to give birth in a barn. No amount of planning can assure we will not be fragile and flawed, but maybe that is what makes Christmas perfect. We see our shortcomings, our less than perfect attempts, and then realize those are overshadowed by the love and goodwill summoned by the season. I can plan and decorate and cook to my heart’s content, but it is most often overlooking the flaws and celebrating the love and goodwill that assures a perfect Christmas. A child born into a manger would for most be far from perfect…and we all know how that turned out.
The Thanksgiving Table
My father was not always the easiest man to deal with. Okay, fine… My father was never the easiest man to deal with. He was one of those gruff, tough types, whose vocabulary was as colorful as the sailor he once was. By the time I was a teenager, I swore he lived only to make my life a nightmare. My skirts were too short, I had on too much makeup, too much perfume, and I was not leaving the house with some boy he knew nothing about! The day I moved out of his house, he helped me pack my car, and then told me no matter how old I got to be, I would always have a home with him. The man I married, according to my father, wasn’t good enough, and the sons I gave birth to were his absolute pride and joy.
Of all the memories I have of my father, being at the Thanksgiving table with him are some of the most precious. Daddy loved Thanksgiving. When I was a kid his parents, aunts, uncles and their kids came to our house. I began saying Thanksgiving Grace when I was 12 years old, and Daddy would always end it by saying, “Amen, pass the turkey.” There were Thanksgivings after his parents, aunts and uncles were no longer with us. Thanksgivings when we argued about politics, Thanksgivings when my boys were still in booster seats and highchairs…and for eight years now Thanksgivings when my father has no longer been sitting at our table.
In my novel Willow Row, I wrote nobody is ever truly gone from this life as long as even one person who loves them remains. I wrote that because though my father no longer sits at our Thanksgiving table, he is still with all of us who loved him each and every Thanksgiving. This year after I say Thanksgiving Grace, my brother and sons will say in unison, “Amen, pass the turkey.” In that moment my father will once again be sitting at our Thanksgiving table.
I wish you and all those you love a blessed Thanksgiving!
A Crowded, Noisy House
Three generations of my family live in the big brick house in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains my parents built. When my father passed away eight years ago, I insisted it was too big, too much yard, too much work, and my mother should sell it. Thank God, she as usual didn’t listen to me. A few months later my sons’ father and I divorced, and my sons and I moved in. The too much yard is still too much work, but the house being big enough for three generations to retreat to neutral corners before blood is shed is a really good thing.
On an average day at our house there are six TVs blaring, cell phones ringing, my sons and their buddies stomping up and down the stairs, my mother and me trying to have a conversation over blaring TVs and ringing cell phones, and me yelling at my boys and their buddies to please keep it down so I can hear myself think! And on the weekends? It is even more crowded and noisy as friends and family join us for the chaos that is always going on in the big brick house in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains.
A friend once asked me with all that is always going on in our house, how in the world did I get any writing done? Oddly enough, a crowded, noisy house lends to my creativity. Whether I am writing novels, blogging, or posting on Facebook, family, friends and the chaos that ensues are always a cornerstone of my writing. I think those we share our lives with in the places we call home define us in many ways. Those things certainly impact me as a writer. In every story I have ever written home, family and friends are not only part of the plot. They are the plot.
If I didn’t live in the crowded, noisy house in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains my parents built, I’m not sure what I would write about. I am inspired by my boys always arguing, my brother and I fretting over our mother, and that on most days our kitchen is like Grand Central Station. Granted, there are days I sometimes think it would be heaven to live in a small condo with no yard, no teenagers crowding my kitchen, or TVs blaring. But, then I look around my crowded, noisy house and think what in the world would I write about?
Where Does The Time Go?
As a writer, I am accustomed to the fleeting nature of time. I sit down to write a blog, or a chapter on my work in progress, and suddenly an afternoon has disappeared. When engrossed in the pursuit of a story, time does fly. But, there is nothing like parenthood to assure time is fleeting.
My younger son turns twelve in a few days. I know every mother says so at one time or another, but I swear it seems only yesterday he was a chubby toddler with big brown eyes I carried on a hip. Suddenly he has become an adolescent nearly as tall as I am with a quick grin, and a charming nature I have to remember not to allow him to use to work me in the way he does the rest of the world. His older brother will be sixteen in a couple of months, so between the two of them I spend much time these days wondering where my little boys went, and praying these young men they have become will not so quickly grow up and away from me.
Where does the time go? It goes in the blink of a parent’s eye from a chubby toddler to a hormonal teenager. My mother often says, “The older your kids get, the faster your life seems to go by.” I think that may be because we know as parents our children are only completely ours for a little while. We know from the start it will only be a short time, and it makes that time all the more fleeting.
I am so proud my sons, of the fine young men they are becoming… However, rarely does a day go by that I don’t miss the chubby toddlers they once were, and wish as most parents do that time wasn’t so fleeting.
At our house three generations must navigate the sometimes slippery slope of being a family. I count as one of my many blessings the fact my mother and brother have kept me from the difficulties of being a single mother raising two kids completely on my own. They leave the parenting to me, but are always ready to back me up on those occasions when I am pretty sure I am going to lose my mind. The trick to three generations living under one roof is enough room for everyone to retreat to their neutral corners before blood is shed. And the importance of the Family Powwow can never been underestimated.
Any member of the family can call a powwow, though it is usually my mother or me, or even more often the two of us deciding it is time for the males in our household to be summoned, and asked if they have in fact lost their minds. You know… Things like, if you make a fried baloney sandwich in the middle of the night, clean up your mess so I don’t have a meltdown over the mess somebody made in the kitchen I cleaned before I went to bed. And the laundry room is not meant to be a closet, so PUT YOUR LAUNDRY AWAY! Then there are powwows called for fiscal updates. I generally preside over these meetings, where I produce weekly grocery receipts, gas receipts and utility bills exceeding $350, so everybody will have a better understanding of why my response to just about everything is, “We cannot afford that!” Because of Family Powwows my almost 12 yr old already knows to wipe down the stove after frying his baloney, he better get his laundry put away, and the cost of gas, milk, and the months we have to run the air conditioner AND pool pump.
Family Powwows are a way for us to air grievances and share responsibilities. But, my favorite aspect of them is they remind us we each have a vested interest emotionally and fiscally not only in our own life, but the lives of the people we love most. Family Powwows insure accountability, which in my book is second only to love in making a family strong. Well, those things and retreating to neutral corners before blood is shed.
Really? YOU Want Privacy?
Recently my sons banded together to propose perhaps I was infringing on their right to privacy. I have a Facebook page, a blog, and have been working on a humorous memoir on motherhood. They feel I should consider their privacy in my pursuits as a writer. Really? NO, REALLY?
I will begin with my right to privacy when every doctor and nurse on the delivery ward popped into my room, when I was preparing to give birth to flip back the sheet, and tell me how close I was to bringing them into the world. You want to discuss privacy? Oh, I do not think so! Then there was the time my oldest told his kindergarten teacher I said parents who take their kids to Chuckee Cheese should expect rotavirus. And when my youngest told his entire third grade class about me saying his father’s girlfriend dyed her hair so often it was obviously seeping into her brain!
I will not even begin to address the backlash caused by the number of times my sons have shared their mother’s liberal democratic opinions in what is a resoundingly conservative republican community.
However, no matter the total of embarrassing exchanges that go on between my sons and me, one ideal stands out for me. As a writer, I think a certain amount of truth is always important. Even in fiction, there has to be an element of truth for the reader. It is the truth we all seek, or at least close enough to human truth to make it believable. Whether writing fiction or memoir, it is honestly sharing human emotion and experience my readers want. So, my boys can complain all they like, but A) I owe them… And 2) I owe my readers. Either way, I am not worried about anybody’s privacy.
Even when writing fiction, readers can smell it when the story doesn’t come from the heart. There has to be honesty to evoke a certain amount of emotion. As a result, I sometimes feel sorry for my boys. They were born the children of a writer, which means I take my revenge where I can.
The Importance of Women
I am the mother of two sons. I grew up in what would be considered an old fashioned southern family. The men were the heads of our households. Their wives laid out their clothes, but they were in charge. My father was a gruff, tough Navy man, but when Mama was mad he sat down and shut up. She told him what his kids were up to, kept a house and a full-time job, and still somehow found the grace to act like she wasn’t the one giving more than anybody else under our roof.
Because of my mother, I learned the importance of a woman isn’t in competing for equality, but in the grace of knowing my own value.
I cook for my sons, and I do their laundry. I also flick ears if they forget to open a door for me, or pull out a chair. And I can assure you, their worst fear is me being mad. I don’t teach my boys I am equal to a man. I try to show them the love and respect I expect from others in my life. When somebody is willing to show you time and again they are willing to put you first, gender typically has little to do with it. I am not more or less because I am a woman, but perhaps what I demand from others should start with what I am willing to give. I don’t tell my boys they must respect me and consider me an equal because I am a woman. I tell them they must respect me because I am willing to extend to them the same. And I hope that is the sort of importance they extend to all the other people in their lives.
I think regardless of gender, we teach others in our lives how to treat us. My boys say I have a double standard because I insist they open doors AND respect women as their equals. I tell them when they can give birth, we will discuss them being anywhere in the ballpark of being equal.
As a writer that moment can often convey a multitude of things. If it’s romance that moment might be a first kiss, if it’s suspense that moment might be a victim’s last breath. Horror could mean that moment when a reader shudders, but keeps reading anyway. A writer should learn the importance of that moment, a pause in time when something of significance takes place, and alters the story with everything from joy to anticipation to nothing short of terror. I had that moment in Wal-Mart today.
Could there possibly be anything more terrifying than Wal-Mart on tax-free weekend?
I don’t do Black Friday shopping because honestly there is no gift and/or sale worth that sort of madness to me. But, tax-free back to school shopping? Yeah, there is something about tax-free socks and underwear that is akin to crack for me. It is an annual pilgrimage, and I set out with a school issued list and the determination I will even purchase the things listed in the out-of-the-goodness-of-a-parent’s-heart portion of the list. By the way… Given the amount of property taxes we paid last year, should I need to supply paper towels for classrooms in public schools? However, I digress. Suffice to say, I was in the middle of a swarm of parents and kids with long lists and short tempers. I was waiting my turn to sift through wide rule paper for college rule, when I saw what was obviously a mother and her son’s first school shopping adventure. He was gazing at washable colored markers like they were diamonds, and she was scooping up an armload of hand sanitizer.
He was excited, his mother was terrified, and for me it was that moment.
In that moment, I realized it seemed like only last year I was braving my first back to school tax-free weekend. I had a two year old on my hip, and a soon-to-be kindergartener, who picked out a backpack more appropriate for a grad student rather than one with Spongebob Squarepants like all the other kids. My son was excited about his first day of school, and I was terrified of…well, too many things to count. That moment was the first of many when I would realize how quickly my kids would grow up and what seemed like away from me. Today I have a seventh grader and a sophomore in high school. That moment when I realized how quickly that happened was perhaps the most terrifying of all.
It is easy for life to unfurl into what seems to be a rush of days, then months, then years. But, it is that moment that seems to define our lives. Whether fictional or not, first kisses, last breaths, and life’s terrifying moments sometimes stop us in our tracks. They remind us where we’ve been, how quickly we are getting where we are going, and make us appreciate all the more that moment that brings it all into focus.
Just What I Needed
I am a believer in what should be will be…just as soon as we learn to get out of the way of it happening. For instance, this week did not rank up there as far as good weeks. I stepped on a tiny sliver of glass, which is still embedded in my foot, on Tuesday, and on Thursday I sliced open my thumb while wrestling the pool vac hose from the jet. On Friday I stepped on a dead bird as I sprayed weeds, and made my cat swear AGAIN to stop bringing carcases home. I get it! She loves me. Therefore no more animals must die to prove it.
So, on Saturday morning, after rolling out of bed at 6:30 am to get the teenager to work on time, I wasn’t sure I would be good company for anyone. I was feeling stressed, grumpy, and when we say it is Hella Hot in the South in July WE MEAN IT!
Then my friend Betty and her girls showed up.
Betty is the sort of friend who loves me enough to say, “Do not ever wear that outfit again,” or “Did you mean for your hair to turn out that color?” We can go weeks and not talk because we have kids, careers, and God knows we have our mothers, but she is number one on my emergency contact list. Within an hour of Bet and I sitting by the pool watching her daughters and my sons splashing around in the pool, I forgot about the sliver of glass in my foot, the cut on my thumb, and when we started to sweat from the Hella Hot July afternoon, we jumped into the pool with the kids. We talked about what we are reading, and what I’ve been writing. It was a perfect afternoon.
In every novel I’ve written my heroine has a BFF, a friend who somehow knows just what she needs to make a bad week better. And how lucky am I that is one aspect of my writing I can claim is not purely fiction?
A Real Job
When my younger son was ten years old, I overheard him telling a friend his mother didn’t have a real job. She was a writer. I was a little indignant until I recalled being sixteen years old, and imagining my parents’ reactions if I announced I didn’t need to go to college because I was going to be a writer. I did take a few journalism classes in college, but they were so picky about always being factual, and not adding too many prosy details. I couldn’t imagine why anybody would want to write anything without adding prosy details. Then I took a couple of creative writing classes. Those were much more to my liking, though at some point the professor always found time to suggest the chances of becoming a published author were slim to…well…never. Years later, and I do mean many years later, when I finally got up the nerve to begin querying agents and editors with my writing, I could have wallpapered a room in my house with the number of rejection letters I received.
Every writer at some point faces the assumption by another it is not a real job. No, we don’t have to report in at a certain time each day. However, 80,000 word novels do not get written unless somebody is putting in some time writing them. It may seem to some we don’t have bosses. Yeah, well, check in on any author’s review page on Amazon, and see the number of readers telling them exactly how they could do their job better. And editors? Imagine your annual work review times a million. That’s what it can sometimes feel like to have an editor. Readers and editors are the reason I always suggest the first rule of becoming a writer should be DEVELOP A THICK SKIN!
If pressed, I guess I would have to admit being a writer isn’t like having a real job. We have no assurance months of long hours at our computers will yield pay. But, we do it anyway. We have no healthcare plan. But, we do it anyway. We have no paid vacation, and we do not have weekends or holidays off because readers and editors do not care if it is Memorial Day weekend. When is your next book going to be ready??? So, no, being a writer isn’t like a real job. It is an obsession we’d do for free, and are pleasantly surprised if/and when it financially pays off.
So, the next time I hear my kid tell somebody his mother doesn’t have a real job, I won’t be offended. Truth be told, he is right. I don’t have a real job. I have the job of my dreams, and I will always work really hard to deserve it!
No Explanations Necessary
I was recently asked to explain a comment I made in an interview shortly after the release of my second novel. I stated, “We writers are an odd lot.” I found the request funny given I would bet the majority of writers would say no explanation of that comment was necessary for them. Most of us learned at an early age we were…different. Because a love of writing always begins with a love of reading, we were the kids who got excited when assigned book reports. We skipped classes to hang out in the library, and didn’t go out with friends on Saturday night so we could stay home and finish reading The Hobbit…again. Okay, fine, maybe that was just me, but most of the writers I know can tell similar stories. A writer friend and I once laughed after admitting to each other we’d each called in sick to work after getting a new Anne Rice novel. My family can testify the release of a new Stephen King novel meant I went MIA for at least twenty-four hours.
Once a rabid reader becomes a writer it gets even worse. We sit at stoplights saying our character’s dialogue out loud, and hope the person in the car next to us thinks we are singing a song. There are times I do this at home, and my boys say, “Mama, you are talking to yourself again, and it is really creepy.” Not the dialogue, by the way. I think it is more I speak out loud for the imaginary people who live in my head. I understand my kids being a little freaked out by that. Sometimes I do it on purpose so they will go away, and let me finish Chapter Seven. Okay, fine, sometimes the dialogue is really creepy, but it’s what the voices in my head are telling me.
When I tell fellow writers I lived on only coffee and chocolate for three weeks, after barricading myself in a room the last time I started a novel, they get it. Other people think that is odd. Writers don’t ask questions, when you admit you drank wine from the bottle with a straw after a bad review. Other people want to stage an intervention. Like I have time for that if I am going to finish my current work in progress on time.
Among writers there is no need for explanations because we share common oddities. We understand sending out query number eighty after seventy-nine rejections. We get the only thing that will compromise our attention to our favorite authors is our attention to our own characters. We know others find us a bit odd at times, and we laugh and laugh and laugh, when they think we write for the money. Nobody skips class to go to the library, or lays out of work to finish a novel, speaks out loud what the voices in their heads are saying, or seeks a steady flow of rejection for money…though it is a nice surprise when and if all those things finally pay off. Writers can rarely explain why they do what they do to their own satisfaction, which means they are not likely to expect other writers to explain their oddities either.
So, when I say writers are an odd lot, few writers will take offense. They know it is often the absurdities among us that feeds the creative process. And for those things, no explanations are necessary among us.
Just Do It!
Daily I am asked in emails, messages, and in online chats how to become a writer. There is an endless supply of books, classes, workshops, etc. to impart a vast amount of knowledge most likely far beyond anything I could offer to address that question. However, I am a big believer in the notion the answer to many complex questions is often a very simple one. Therefore I will assert the way to become a writer is to just do it. Write! I promise I am not being patronizing, and I am certainly not trying to suggest being a writer is a simple matter. As a matter of a fact, I am saying being a writer is in no way simple, due to the fact any amount of success in doing it takes a lot of work. If you follow my blog, you know I state over and over writing is like any other skill. The more you do it, the better you get. For instance, most quarterbacks in the NFL started playing peewee football. Most writers I know, myself included, began writing with crayons. There is a reason practice makes perfect is such a popular saying.
There are numerous what I call systematic aspects of writing. Sentence structure, punctuation, outlines, synopsis, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH… If being a published author was dependent on the quality of outlines and synopsis, I would not be one as I am terrible at both. And it could be therein lies the difference. Not all writers become authors, but all authors are writers. Regardless of whether or not I was ever published, I would still be a writer. I was nine years old when I wrote my first short story, and have kept journals for nearly as long. I fell in love with the written word reading The Secret Garden and Little Women as a child. Storytellers were my heroes, and I began writing in an effort to be like them. I just did it. A lot. For many years.
Books, classes and workshops may go a long way in making one a better writer, but no more than writing so often it becomes a part of who you are. Just do it! Write. Everyday. That is what it takes to be a writer.
Writers become accustomed to being asked what inspires them. Other writers are generally on the list. I often tell the story of how at nine years old I read The Secret Garden, and decided I wanted to be a writer. Many years later, after the release of my vampire novels, when asked if I wrote them as a result of the Twilight novels I had to admit it was more due to being an Anne Rice novel junkie years before most reading Twilight novels were even born. But, oddly enough inspiration sometimes comes from more mundane, everyday aspects of life.
In my novels family is a prevailing storyline. I suppose this is a result of being raised by parents who constantly preached family comes first. ALWAYS! My alpha male heroes have brothers, or friends they consider brothers, they are one minute punching and the next defending. No coincidence I am the mother of a couple of alpha male brothers. In my novels there are gardens. Herbs, peonies, hydrangeas, roses… I grow them all inside and outside my imagination. And in the real world the only place I am happier than in front of a computer creating fictional worlds, is in my kitchen cooking. So, in my novels everything from prize winning potato salad to the perfect cornbread are other aspects of the storyline. And my heroines and their girlfriends always bond over chocolate truffles and good wine. My real life girlfriends will tell you how highly I rank wine and chocolate on the necessities of life list.
As a writer I believe the best inspiration comes from the things in my life some may think to be mundane and ordinary. Telling a good story is about conveying emotion to the reader. The only way I know to do that is to write about the things in my life that convey emotion for me. Readers don’t see those things as mundane and ordinary, if I am doing my job as a writer correctly. When I describe the begrudged devotion between brothers, or the importance of using a grandmother’s cured cast iron skillet to bake cornbread, and the secrets women share over a bottle of wine and chocolate truffles, readers get it. Readers know when a story is written from the heart. And writers know it is from the heart inspiration should be drawn.
Careful What You Wish For…
I believe I’ve mentioned before I’ve never been a young Mommy. My OBGYN regularly reminded me of that fact during both of my pregnancies. I was 33 when my older son was born, 37 when my younger son came kicking and screaming into the world. I thought it would be an asset. I’d lived my own life for years before marrying and starting a family, went to school, had a job I loved. I was sure my age and life experience would better prepare me for becoming a mother. I was wiser, stronger, more capable of dealing with whatever struggles parenthood would bring about.
Within twenty-four hours of becoming a mother I realized no age, no life experience, nothing…absolutely NOTHING prepares anyone for being completely responsible for a tiny screaming infant 24/7. Nothing, I tell you! I can clearly recall sitting in front of a fussy six month old saying, “This would be so much easier if you could tell me what I did to make you so mad!” I could hardly wait for both of my sons to start talking.
By the time they were six and two, I would pray for just five minutes. Five blissfully quiet minutes without my sons’ constant chatter. As they got a little older the talking led to yelling and yelling led to fighting and fighting led to punching and I had to shove the handle of a broom between them to pry them apart, send them to their room, and tell them I better not hear one more word! I would then go to them and explain how they had to learn to use their words, not their fists to settle their arguments. The little one would always remind I had just told them not one more word. The big one would add it was sort of like when I told them to close their mouths and eat. See? What could possibly prepare anybody for dealing with their own words being turned around on them by the very people they once prayed would learn to talk?
Then as it always does, time flew by… One minute I was begging my boys to please be quiet and let me finish Chapter Eight, or answer emails from readers, and the next, I realized hours would go by without me even seeing either of my children. By the time they turned eleven and fifteen, I would regularly go upstairs to be sure we all still lived in the same house. They would give me a disinterested glance as they looked up from the video game, or heaven forbid, turned down their iPod. Sometimes they didn’t even look away from the computer screen as I sat down and asked if their was anything they wanted to talk about. The same people, who would once describe in great detail to me things I really would rather not know, now looked at me like I’d grown another head as I made even general inquiries into their lives. Apparently adolescence robs boys of all words but fine, okay, no big deal, and Mom, I’m hungry.
Of all the things motherhood has taught me, being very careful is probably the most significant. First I couldn’t wait for them to talk, then I couldn’t wait for them to stop talking at times…and then I realized them not talking to me was in fact my greatest fear. It’s the whole circle of life thing, I suppose. And perhaps that circle’s greatest lesson is in knowing how careful we should be about what we wish for.
A Tough Week
Spring is always a hectic time at our house. I spend the winter months writing, so there is a long list of projects inside and outside the house that need to be tackled. I spend March and April babying seeds into sprouts, and then have to plan when and where to move them outside. The garage is a mess, as I haven’t paid much attention to it since packing away Christmas decorations, and the 11 yr old starts following me around asking when I am going to open up the pool. My typical answer is when he does not need a wet suit against the cold to get in. Amidst all the weeding and pruning and raking and mulching and planting, the teenager mutters over and over, “When you are too old to fight me, I am so selling this place.” I’m not sure what makes him think I will ever be too old to fight him. It’s not like he doesn’t see his grandmother and I go round and round on a daily basis.
On Monday, April 15th I’d been out in the yard for most of the day. It was getting to be time to pick my boys up at school. I knew they would appreciate it if I didn’t show up covered in potting soil with mulch in my hair. I went inside, and flicked on the TV on my way to the shower. I stopped when I heard that music and the announcement of a Special Report. That was never good news. To this day it reminds me of the first thing I heard on 9/11, before I watched a plane fly into a building. This time it was bombs going off in Boston on a day that should have been about accomplishment and celebration. I didn’t watch the reply of the footage that made my stomach lurch. I don’t know if it has to do with being a writer, and honing the skill of holding on to images in my mind to describe them in my writing, but once I see something, it sometimes takes me a while to keep it from playing out over and over in my head. That dazed, shocked expression of people as they realize horror is unfolding around them…
I knew I had to start thinking about what I would say to my kids. They are old enough now that it is difficult for me to shield them from the things that happen in this world I resent tragically marking their childhoods. I looked at the TV again, and decided I would start with a discussion about how many brave people I saw rushing toward the areas where the bombs went off in an effort to help others. Two had already exploded, and they hurried to help, knowing others could possibly go off as well. But, they rushed toward danger and horror anyway. I decided I would tell my children a coward motivated by what I believe to be true evil had taken innocent lives. And as always happens in our nation, cowardly evil was met with bravery, compassion and honor.
On Wednesday night, I was still sticking closer to a TV than I normally do, hoping to hear news of evil cowardice being captured. I was up late editing, and once again I watched an explosion burst across the TV screen. This time an unintentional fire that caused the explosion that would take the lives of people, and the firefighters trying to save them. I turned off the TV because it wasn’t even Thursday yet, and already the week had been almost too tough to stand.
Our country is often described as a deeply divided nation. I guess it would seem so to many, given we are such a diverse mix of heritages, political and religious persuasions. I see my country as I do my family. We haggle and fuss amongst ourselves, but I don’t care how mad a family member may make me, anybody else goes after them, and it will have to be through me. We put aside our differences, and come together when it counts. That is what I have watched my country do on what has been an extremely tough week. I can honestly say to my children, you live in a country where evil, shock and horror are met by prayers going up, and bravery and compassion spreading outward all over a nation. I don’t suppose there is anything more I could say as a parent that is a more true comment on our nation.
No Such Thing As A Bad Review
I believe I have mentioned before an author’s world can quickly go from shiny, sparkly to gloom and doom in a matter of moments. When that is the case, those moments are usually the exact number of how long it takes to read a bad review. I believe it was F. Scott Fitzgerald, who would often make the point if one wanted to become a writer, they must first learn to act like one. The first step to acting like a writer is to write. A lot. It’s like any other skill. The more you do it, the better you get. The second step is to learn how to become accustomed to some reviewers hating what you write. I am always a bit surprised by writers ready to give up as a result of a bad review. Nothing should prepare an individual for rejection as readily as querying agents and editors in the initial stages of getting a manuscript published before reviewers even have a chance to rant about how bad it was. At the top of a job description for writers, printed in large, bold type, should be MUST DEAL WELL WITH REJECTION! Somewhere within that description there should probably be mention of the fact the wrong response to rejection is, “Oh, yeah? When was the last time you wrote a novel? Never? That’s what I thought!” I say that in full confidence, because people who have written novels rarely give bad reviews of another writer’s work. Bad writer karma. Being a writer is enough of an up hill battle without adding bad karma to that climb.
But, here’s what I find fascinating about bad reviews. Readers in numerous online chats will admit bad reviews sometimes drive their decision to purchase a novel as readily as a good review. A reader once told me, “I read a scathing review of a novel on Amazon, and I had to read it just to see for myself if it was really that bad.” I guess that falls under the category of no press is bad press. Readers in Amazon forums will often post they are suspicious of any novel that has only raving positive reviews. Most of them know books, like all creative productions, are always regarded subjectively. So, somebody somewhere had to hate it. Unless only the author’s mother or friends have read and reviewed it. Personally, I don’t think that is always a fair assumption, as I do not know many readers who have given my novels five star ratings. However, I also do not know those who have given them two star ratings. What I do know is I read those two star reviews far more diligently than the five star reviews. And I can honestly say they have made me work harder to be a better writer.
I don’t think there is any such thing as a bad review. Okay, maybe there is, but perhaps the key is in how a writer chooses to view a bad review. Rejection and bad reviews are part of the deal, when selling one’s soul to the written word. So, buck up, buttercup. Many reviewers trashed Tender Is The Night…but think about how that eventually worked out for F. Scott Fitzgerald.
We Never Know…
I am never shy about stating I am a Type A, obsessive personality with a real affection for lists and calendars. My family refers to me as Rain Mama. Mess with my schedule, and see what kind of fallout that creates. This week my boys are out for Spring Break, but I’d been called up for jury duty. I was already a bit off kilter because I didn’t have to make sure I had kids to school on time, but I had to be in court by 8:15. And I was pretty sure a judge would frown upon the PJ’s I normally wore at 8:15 AM as I delivered kids to school. I became a writer so I didn’t have to put on makeup before 7:30 AM…ever again! I resigned to this week outside of my normal routine by making my mother swear she would not allow my sons to eat dip and chips for breakfast, and would see to it when they put sausage and cheese bagel bites in the microwave, they would make sure they covered the dish. Sausage and cheese baked onto the inside of the microwave is the first thing I check for any time I am outside of our home for more than two hours.
I set my alarm clock, and blew the dust off my makeup bag at six-thirty this morning. I was nearly dressed, and ready to go, when my mother woke to tell me she’d received a phone call from one of my uncles late last night. My cousin, Jack, only weeks before his 69th birthday, had suddenly passed away as a result of an aneurysm. I was so stunned, I thought for sure I couldn’t have heard her correctly. Jack’s parents are nearing ninety years old, so I thought surely she meant she spoke with Jack, and my aunt or uncle had passed away. Jack was my mother’s nephew, but was six days older than her. This sometimes happens in large families like mine where women once had children over twenty year time spans. But, even in huge families like mine, nearly ninety year old parents are not supposed to outlive their children. I know this is what my Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Billy are thinking this morning, and how my heart grieves for them.
Though he was my cousin, Jack was to me an uncle. His daughter is my age, and when we were all kids, he would take my brother, me, and his daughters fishing at the pond on my grandparents’ property. He was six feet, three, with this booming laughter… Once my older son topped six feet, two, I began telling him he was going to be a big guy like Jack. Big guys with booming laughter and charming smiles were always like Jack to me. I was proud my son reminded me of that.
So, during this week, which was already outside of the normalcy I prefer, I have been reminded we never know. I was complaining about having to put on makeup before 7:30 AM one minute, and reminded the next some things cannot be put on a list, or in a calendar. If asked yesterday, I would have insisted it would be many years before my family would be faced with saying goodbye to Jack. As a result, today I will tell the people I love how much they mean to me, because none of us ever really know.
Jack would really like that.
What Time Is It… Really?
The Sunday after the switch to Daylight Savings Time is what I think to be one of the greatest testaments to the power of a collective mankind. And by the way, why does it have to be mankind? In this country we know there are more women than men, so can we not at least agree on peoplekind? But, I digress… In the grand scheme of the universe, time is often one of the enduring constants. I know Einstein was big on the possibility of the flexibility of it according to equations, but I am a writer, and therefore I do not do math. Unless it is figuring the ten percent off coupon on a pack of hot dogs, because I am the mother of a couple of boys who can eat an entire pack of hot dogs as a snack. See, there I go digressing again…
In the grand scheme of a universe based on absolutes we must endure no matter what the impact, twice a year we shift the balance of one of those absolutes. We change time. Fall back, spring forward… We manipulate people all over walking around asking, “What time is it… Really?” Imagine the utter chaos if our computer and cable boxes did not automatically fall back or spring forward? Even with that we will be announcing until June or December what time it really is. And after all that falling back and springing forward, are we really ever sure what time it is?
I have decided regardless of falling back and springing forward, there should be some absolutes as far as time. If you are hungry, it is time to eat. If you are sleepy, it is time to sleep. I am always of the mind it is wine time, whether you are falling back or springing forward. Time is relative. If we can manipulate time, then why would we not at least do so to live the lives we choose at our leisure? And If we are doing that, what does it matter what time it is…really?
However, if I had to choose springing forward is always the best. It makes wine time that much sooner.
That’s My Job…
Because writers often feel compelled to pick apart the mysteries of life, a few years ago I decided to ponder one of life’s greatest mysteries. What makes me happy? It was an aptly timed question as my marriage had ended, my father had passed away, and my children and I were moving in with my mother…all within a brief six month time span. Trust me, there was little happiness on that horizon. I’d spent forty years waiting for happiness to find me, and other than my sons, any glimpse seemed to be fleeting. I knew things were dire when my then seven year old sat me down to explain how important it was I begin to learn to be more independent of he and his brother. See? Happiness…fleeting…even when I gave birth to it!
So, being the ridiculously Type A personality I am, I of course made lists. WHAT MAKES ME HAPPY: A) Writing. Now that was some real therapy. There is little better to cure the reality that is not making you happy like creating a completely fictional reality that does! B) Chocolate. For the greater part of forty years I’d been trying to lose at least ten pounds. When my first novel was published, a dear friend gave me a box of chocolate truffles as a celebratory gift. I figured the writing worked out, so I ate the whole box in two days. How happy does the sugar rush from a box of truffles make a writer who is beginning novel No. 2? NIRVANA! C) Red Wine. I am the granddaughter of a Southern Baptist minister…who more than a few times was envious of my Catholic friends. When all the reports about how advantageous red wine could be in losing ten pounds came out, I started having wine time in the evenings with my mother out on the front porch. I figured her daddy the preacher would forgive us as I got to know my mother in the stages of our lives neither of us planned on, but were navigating together. D) Fresh Flowers. I decided life is too short to wait for the man who would bring me flowers. I began buying them for myself once a week. It may sound silly to some, but white tulips in my house, whether a man is there or not, makes me smile. E) Cooking. My house is always crowded with hungry people, so in that I find unequaled bliss. F) Gardening. Yes, I am that woman who starts seed plantings in toilet paper rolls, and knows everybody who works in the garden center at Home Depot on a first name basis.
What is my point in all of this you may wonder, along with whether or not I have pushed the advantageous amount of red wine far past acceptable limits? My point is happiness is not something that finds us. Happiness is most often what we put forth the effort to find. It is not a man, or a job, or even my sons’ responsibility to make me happy. That’s my job. And I am becoming surprisingly adept at it!
Enjoy your week all!
The Dead Of Winter
I love it! January is one of my favorite months of the year. Because during this month I turn another year older? Well, NO! And why would anybody with any sense even bring that up? I love January because it is the dead of winter, what I refer to as the quiet time. It is cold in E TN, so there is no yard work or spring cleaning to shame me into leaving the story I am writing to pull weeds or clean baseboards, nor is there the sound of the basketball my sons are tossing at the hoop in the driveway to distract me. It is dark by 6pm, so I can have my family fed, and be back at my computer by seven. Then there is the promise of snow days, when the two hours I spend a day shuttling kids to and from school can be spent writing! The scurry of the holidays is over, and there isn’t as much to do until spring cleaning and weeds lure me away from my computer.
I am often asked what inspires me as a writer, what fuels my creative process. Many things, but possibly the greatest of these is the time when the cold, quiet affords more time for the stories I want to tell before weeds, baseboards and a basketball hoop drown out the blissful dead of winter.
Not Even For A Second
I am not one of those women who lies about my age. I figure it is because none of the women in my family look their ages, so I can hope those genes hold for me. As a result, on the eve of my 48th birthday, I am actually pretty good with it. I attribute most of my peaceful resignation to those in my life who taught me with age comes some truly wonderful things.
My Dad repeated to me over and over all throughout my adolescence, “I wish I could give you my experience.” He would then go on to tell me how he knew no matter what he said, I would make many of the mistakes he warned against because there would always be a part of me that would insist it would be different for me. And as much as he hoped it was, it probably wouldn’t be. He could talk until he was blue in the face, and still it would only be the wisdom of age that would cause me to look back and admit he tried to tell me so. His mother tried to impress the same upon me when she would say, “Quit worrying about how you look, and go read a book, for heavens sake! Beauty fades, but knowledge is forever.” Then there was my mother, who no matter how often she heard how beautiful she was, seemed to be more pleased to hear what a good mother she was, or how valuable she was to her employer. She taught me for every year I was a mother, the more strength, wisdom and happiness I would garner. For that alone, there is no reason the passage of years should be a dreaded thing.
Are there days I look in the mirror and wonder if that is me, or my mother staring back at me? Yeah. Which only seems fair as since I became a mother there are times I open my mouth, and I would swear she crawls out. But, I’ve packed a lot into 48 years. I’ve made many of those mistakes my father warned me about, learned from them, and have begun to tell my sons how much I wish I could give them my experience. I read most of the books my grandmother the English teacher insisted I read, and it is amazing how differently I see life as a result of that knowledge.
All in all, no matter how I may joke about it, I do not think turning 48 years old is anything to dread, and certainly not lie about. It has allowed me the experience to admit my father was right…about so many things, the strength, wisdom and happiness of fifteen years of motherhood, and the knowledge only 48 years can bring. Of course there are days I would like to look and feel like I did in years gone by. But, would I trade that for what I have garnered in forty-eight years? No. I wouldn’t. Not even for a second.
A New Year
I believe I’ve mentioned before I vaguely recall partying like it was 1999. And I clearly recall my ex-husband trying to convince me we should prepare, as the dawn of the year 2000 could toss the entire world into utter chaos. At the time I had a three year old with a nasty case of flu on my hip, so the downfall of mankind came second to my earnest wish to get a good night’s sleep. The next thing I knew it was 2005, and a week later I turned 40. I still do not know how that happened so fast! But, at that time I had a four year old, who’d inherited his mother’s stubborn streak, so another New Year slipped past nearly unnoticed by me.
Oddly enough, as 2013 approaches I have gained a new perspective on the New Year. My sons are 15 and 11 now. They are no longer little boys who need me every minute, but young men, who with each New Year make lives of their own. My family is aging, and me along with them. My Baby Brother is a middle-aged man minding his cholesterol, and my mother’s steps have slowed a bit. She’s still as stubborn as she has ever been. That particular trait does not seem to ever skip a generation in our bloodline.
I guess it is the changes in all of us that have made me think of a New Year differently. The world didn’t end, or fall into utter chaos in 1999, 2000, or even on 12-21-2012. I finally got some sleep after nursing a three year old through the flu, and I proved to his four year old brother a few years later the only person more stubborn than him was his mother…and possibly his grandmother. My boys are getting older, and some days I certainly feel older. But, a New Year means we go on, and hopefully take the time to look back. I know far too quickly I will be looking back on 2013, when my sons were 15 and 11, as I do now on the years when they were little boys, who needed their mother every minute. I have no doubt the end of the world as we know it will be predicted again. The forecast of the downfall of mankind does seems to be a constant. I don’t think much about that sort of thing when looking to a New Year. I think about how grateful I am for years with lack of sleep, a stubborn four year old and an even more stubborn mother. Um, that would be my mother, not me… Okay, fine, it’s me sometimes. I look forward to 2013 as another year that will slip away too fast, and hopefully hold the sort of memories that will inspire me to see each New Year as a chance to be truly grateful.
Happy 2013 all!
Peace And Goodwill
It was a nasty divorce… Oh, yeah, high-priced attorneys and a bitter custody battle. He said/She said, and the legal bills to prove it. Along the path of life two people who vowed to always love each other became enemies, and the fallout was not pretty. Anybody who has been through it will tell you it is among the darkest days of their life.
In my case that darkness made me a believer in the light.
Anger and resentment are powerful motivators. They can take just about anything good that ever happened to you, and make it seem like an afterthought, a secondary situation to whatever has made you so angry and resentful. But, if a small part of you believes in peace and goodwill, then even in the darkest days a little light is going to shine through. See, in the days since those darkest days, a couple of lights in my life have made me realize were it not for their father, I might not know true, unconditional love. The sort of love I figure the Father has for me. Peace and goodwill don’t have to be just sentiments we aspire to during the holiday season. They can sometimes be letting an 11 yr old spend an extra night at Dad’s any time of the year, or helping a teenager pick out a gift for a former mother-in-law. Peace and goodwill can most often be found in the light of a child’s smile, and remembering no matter how dark the past, you should be grateful and willing to foster peace and goodwill.
Isaiah 9:6 ~ “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given…”
The Christmas Garage
In my family Christmas is a big deal. I mean it is a really big deal! My Daddy used to say it would not surprise him if Mama glued a wreath to the toilet seat. Much of our three car garage is devoted to Christmas decoration storage. So, each Thanksgiving Day, while the rest of the world sleeps off turkey with an afternoon nap, or watches football, or plots Black Friday shopping routes, I begin unpacking ornaments, and praying the lights on the tree will be blessed with the magic of actually working for the entire season. Then there is the search for Christmas stockings. I have to assume wherever it is socks go Christmas stockings must also go, because it seems I buy new ones every year, and still cannot find them the next. I unwrap the wooden reindeer my father made and my brother and I painted when I was in high school and my sons’ first Christmas ornaments. There are the Christmas dishes my grandmother gave my mother, another set my mother gave me, and the Rudolf that dances to Jingle Bell Rock my mother bought for my older son when he was two. After a few days of Rudolf dancing each time the motion sensor goes off, I will be removing his batteries. Then there is the plate my younger son painted in second grade, assuring Santa he had been a very good boy, and the ornaments my brother and I made when we were in elementary school.
I unwrap and unpack until the entire garage is a series of staging stations for all the things that represent Christmas to me and my family. These things will be distributed all over our home, inside and out, until there will be not a single space we look at and do not see the things that represent generations of Christmas celebrations. As glad as I will be when the tree is decorated, the garland is strung, and Rudolf is dancing for the brief amount of time before he gets on my nerves, I think the Christmas garage may be my favorite part of the holiday season. Unwrapping and unpacking all the things I cherish, and recalling memories of past holidays is a wonderful way to begin a new holiday season. In the weeks to come I will worry the tree lights may burn out, obsess over the menu for our Family gathering, and try to remember how many calories are in the egg nog I do so love. But, the afternoon of Thanksgiving Day in the Christmas garage may just be the most wonderful time of my year.
I know. A few days early, but if you follow my blog you know all about my whole Type A get it done early compulsion. I’ve been thinking all week how different Thanksgiving is these days from those I celebrated in years past. When I was growing up my father’s family came to our house for Thanksgiving. My grandmother and her sisters (all five were English teachers) would lecture me on the importance of reading the classics, and my Grandaddy would tell me to read what I wanted…as long as I read. By the time I was married, I would tell my husband we would be at my parents’ house for Thanksgiving because my grandparents and great aunts and uncles were gone, and I knew Thanksgiving just wasn’t the same for my Dad. Then my sons were born, and I had Thanksgiving at my house. By then my parents would have celebrated Thanksgiving in a bunker with bombs going off overhead as long as their grandsons were there. And then there was the first Thanksgiving after my father passed away and I was divorced and my boys were old enough to ask why they could not wear sweatshirts and jeans while sitting at the Thanksgiving table.
There have been generations of changes to my family’s Thanksgiving celebrations. This year my sons will go with their father to spend the holiday with his family, so there will only be me, my mother and brother. However, I am not any less thankful. Those boys may not be with me Thanksgiving Day, but they are still the reasons I am most thankful. My Daddy won’t be here to say, “Amen, pass the turkey,” after we say Grace, but the memory of him doing so is always with me. My grandparents and great aunts and uncles are also still part of what Thanksgiving means to me.
Thanksgiving isn’t just a day. It is a lifetime. And the older I get the more thankful I am, no matter where those I love are.
I say so each year, because it is true. I love Halloween! Autumn is my favorite time of year because it is spectacular living in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains when the leaves change, and the mountains are lit up with orange, gold and red. And let’s not forget it being Football Time in TN! On top of all that, there is an evening devoted to little goblins canvasing my neighborhood in pursuit of candy. As my devotion to chocolate is no secret, what could possibly be wrong with the pursuit of candy?
And all the spooky movies my brother and I grew up watching… I have filled my DVR with classics we will watch with my sons, who claim they are now too old to dress up and go door to door. I think it is just because they are old enough to figure out they can skim off the big bowl filled with my favorites that will be by our door. Hence the bag of Snickers I have hidden under my bed. But, I think the thing I love most about Halloween is the heads-up it gives us to the holidays being just around the corner. After all, show me a single Wal-Mart in this country where Halloween costumes aren’t just an aisle, or two over from displays of lighted Christmas trees.
I love Halloween because tonight the man, who was once Buzz Lightyear ringing my doorbell, will usher his daughter Tinker Bell up onto my porch. And my teenager, who was once Eeyore on his first Halloween, will answer the door and tell her how cute she is. Halloween is one more celebration of the present and past with neighbors and family that reminds us not to forget how quickly the years can go by.
Wishing all of you and those you love a safe, spooky Halloween!
It’s In The Blood
I have always been fascinated by the concept of nature vs nurture. I suppose partly due to I long ago decided genetics wasn’t the only factor in determining family. When I was ten, my mother married the man who became my father. From that day on, he nor a single member of his entire family ever treated me as if I was not theirs by blood. Today, when I stomp around the house complaining about TVs on in empty rooms or the price of milk, my mother shakes her head and says, “You are so much like your Daddy.” That’s always a bit surprising to hear, because it seems to me since I had my children, every time I open my mouth my mother crawls out!
So, I decided it is not blood that determines who we are, it is those who are part of our lives who impact us in ways genetics never could.
I always shared this opinion with my sons, and reminded myself again and again when my 11 yr old looked at me with the expression that makes him look so much like his father, I wanted to pinch his head off! And when I see so much of me in my Type A, stubborn, ambitious teenager, I assure myself that is purely nurture along with character traits often shared by firstborns. I also assure my boys regardless of nature or nurture, they have the ability to become anything they choose…as long as it is a profession garnered by a sound education, so they one day will be able to afford to provide me with the lifestyle to which I have always wanted to become accustomed.
Then in fifth grade, the firstborn placed in a county-wide essay contest. Naturally I was proud! I carefully placed his essay and the medal he won in the keepsake box with his name on it, and reminded that accomplishment would look really good on his law school application one day. When my younger son’s teacher pointed out to me after annual testing he scored unusually high on the writing portion of the test, I said that was fantastic! What eloquently worded decisions he would be able to hand down from the judicial bench he would one day sit on! And then a couple of weeks ago, the teenager asked me to proof a paper he was assigned to write for his freshman English class. I cried not only because my kid had completed a homework assignment ahead of schedule, but also because it was a damn good story. His teacher thought so too. Mr. Hensley suggested my son enter the story in some national competitions that award scholarship prizes. Mr. Hensley then went directly to the journalism teacher, who also oversees the production of the high school newspaper that placed second in a national competition a few years ago. Apparently my son has bumped the Honors Spanish he was to take next semester for a journalism class. I grudgingly agreed to this when he asked for my approval, though I did remind him being bilingual would be an asset when he one day made a run for the White House.
And finally, yesterday morning as the teenager got out of the car in the school parking lot, a woman hurried up to my window. I was thanking God I wasn’t still wearing pajamas because I had a few stops to make on my way back home. She eagerly shook my hand as she told me she was the journalism teacher. She said how excited she was my son had agreed to work on the newspaper. She said each year when some of her seniors left, she worried how that would impact the quality of the paper. But, then there were some of those “AH HAH” kids like mine. I did admit as a writer I was certainly proud of his abilities. I did not mention as I knew how frustrating, not to mention how difficult it could be to earn a good living as a professional writer, that I had intentionally never encouraged my sons to aspire in that direction in any way! The she said, “It is always so exciting to find a student who has writing in his blood!”
Well, now I have to rethink my entire theory! I do not like rethinks anymore than rewrites. And I tell you this. If my boys become writers, obsessed with their craft rather than Court Justices or President of the United States of America, it will have to be because it is in their blood!
The Patience Of An 11 Year Old…
I am always the first to admit patience is no virtue of mine. According to my mother, I came into this world with an agenda, and there would be no discussion of varying from my plan. My ex-husband once said I was the only woman in the world who began planning the menu for Christmas dinner during the 4th of July fireworks display. So, when the hand of fate rumples my neatly pressed tablecloth, I am not known for being kind about it.
My baby turned eleven on Sept 16th. I’m not supposed to call him my baby anymore, so y’all please don’t mention it. The first date for a party we set turned out to be a busy soccer game day for most of his buddies. I began muttering about how trying to get kids together these days was like trying to schedule a summit between heads of state. Soccer, football, karate lessons… While I prepared for meltdown when informing my son that date wouldn’t work, he reminded his buddies’ teams needed them, and we could have the party some other time. When we went to the video game store the next day to be told the game he asked for as a birthday gift would have to be ordered, my son reminded it was a good game, so he didn’t mind to wait. When I grumbled about why out of hundreds of games they had, they did not have the one he wanted, he said the store employees couldn’t help that game being so popular. And then this morning, I got up on the day of the party we were finally able to schedule in the park where my kid and his buddies could play soccer to find it is overcast and the chance of rain is pretty good! My son pointed out there was a pavilion at the park, and if it rained, that was no big deal.
Like most parents, I know I learn far more from my sons than they will ever learn from me. I didn’t know who I could be until they came along. And though I do not fear much in this life, I am terrified at the thought of not being the mother they deserve. I recently learned if an eleven year old boy can have patience regarding a birthday party and gift, then I need to stop worrying about the hand of fate and a rumpled tablecloth. I just need to realize how lucky I am to be sitting at the table with that kid!
Enjoy your weekend all!
A Writer Knows…Right?
I don’t know a single writer who has never been plagued with that dreadful, consuming insecurity at least once. Okay, twice. Fine, all the time! If you tell the whole world writing is your passion, what you feel you were born to do, then it would follow a certain amount of anxiety regarding the worth of your words is part of the deal. However, here’s what I find interesting, as well as fuel for this neurotic writer’s obsessive breakdowns. Concerning my first trilogy, the book I was worried was the weakest of the three I am overwhelmingly told was the best by professional reviewers and readers. Huh… Go figure!
The hero I thought was the best out of the three? Nope. I get messages all the time to counter my opinion. The favorite heroine of most readers who have shared with me? No, again. Not the one I would choose if pressed to do so. I love all my characters, and if I wasn’t happy with the story for the most part, I wouldn’t waste my editor’s time. But, there are always those nagging doubts, those things about even a story you love that make a writer stare up at the ceiling in the dead of night wondering…and wondering… Until said writer finally gets up, and starts tweaking a plot or character dialogue. Again!
Given all of that, I am beginning to think a writer realizing they do not always know might not be such a bad thing. Like many things, reading is subjective. I have friends who love one genre of romance and others who hate them. I have fans who tell me they aren’t so into vampires, but OMG, I LOVE Lizzie in Willow Row! Other fans write, when are you going to write another vampire novel? Maybe the best thing for writers to remember is we don’t ever know for sure which characters or plots might work for some readers, and not for others. Maybe the insecurity and rewrites and edits and edits and edits make us work harder to yield a better book, but what touches a reader could be something we almost nixed from the story.
So, no, I don’t think this writer always knows. But, I do know the surprise is sometimes the best part.
Just What I Wanted!
When the housing market collapsed, the neighbors who lived next door abandoned their home. We heard it was going into foreclosure. Even as bad as the economy was, I bet it wouldn’t stay empty long. It was a beautiful house built by a contractor for his own family. I did not even try to act like I was not standing in my driveway staring as cherry hardwood flooring and marble countertops were carried in while it was under construction. If you do not want me to stand in my driveway and stare, do not install my dream floor and countertops! I also figured as banks were far too quickly acquiring prime real estate in our area, somebody was going to get a sweet deal on 4,000 sq feet…of cherry hardwood floors!
After six weeks of the yard not being mowed, I wondered how desirable a house with grass edging up to two feet high would be to potential buyers. Who wants even cherry floors if they need a machete to get to them? I was told, no, I couldn’t have the yard mowed as I did not own the property. When I insisted my parents did once own the property, and asked if we could go retroactive as small animals and children were disappearing into that jungle, nobody was amused. Least of all me.
I started obsessing because that is what I do. I made lists of the perfect neighbors for that house. A) Must own lawnmower… A really big one! B) Delightful retired couple with grandchildren who only visit occasionally a plus. Our house, which does not have hardwood floors, mind you, is already crowded with my boys and their buddies more often than not. And yes, this is the reason I could never have hardwood floors. No wood is that hard. We are already considering ripping up carpet, and seeing what a crowd of boys can do to a cement slab. C) Must have cats, or cat-friendly dogs. Our cat is the only thing that prevents my mother from following me around non-stop, asking questions. Because I deserve brief lapses in order to hear myself think, I guard that cat with my life.
There were other things on the list, but if I go into them all, you will still be reading this post in about a week, even if you are a speed reader. Anyway, about the time the front door of the house next door was swallowed by the jungle, there was a tap on our backdoor. The man who tapped on the door was named Darryl. He and his wife were retired parents of six grown children, who all lived out of state. They’d just bought the house next door. He was going to get right on mowing that lawn, and some other landscaping projects. Oh, by the way, if their cat, Linus was a bother in any way all I need do is let them know. We chatted for a few minutes, and then I closed the door.
I ran to make a new list.
A) I want to win the lottery. B) I want to win the lottery. C) I want to win the lottery.
Have a blessed week all!
The Things Politicians Say…
I suppose during a presidential election year nothing should surprise us. I have always thought the first statement any educator should make when addressing students regarding American Government is politics is one really dirty business. To think that is a recent development is not so. In 1800 President John Adams’ supporters accused Thomas Jefferson of being an atheist intent on swaying Americans from God. During his run, Andrew Jackson’s wife was referred to as a woman of the night. And no, they weren’t talking vampires. In 1928 when Al Smith, a Catholic, campaigned his cross-country stops were often met by burning crosses courtesy of the Ku Klux Klan. Apparently the Klan didn’t realize Catholics are Christians, but then again these were people who tromped around dressed in bedsheets. Strong evidence white cotton worn over the head for too long decreases brain function.
I have always felt if you are going to run for public office, surely you know your life must become an open book, particularly regarding things like…oh, I don’t know…say, tax returns for example. Be prepared to be misquoted, misrepresented, out and out lied about, and to be forced to pander to the big bucks every politician needs to secure any election. I say if you are brave enough to seek public office, do so with a thick skin and the understanding all bets are off!
However, as the American public are not running for election, is it fair for those running for public office to use us as a punching bag to further their agenda? I mean really… We’re not crazy enough to run for office. Why should we be put up on the chopping block? Anybody paying attention to politics recently in this country has been bombarded with the notion many Americans are lazy and irresponsible. Forty-seven percent to be exact, according to one candidate’s figures. Ironically the candidate who stated this is the same who assures he will see to it America is not perceived as weak by others all over the world. Damn those hidden cameras! Oh, well, maybe others all over the world who are now hearing what he says behind closed doors won’t equate lazy and irresponsible with being weak.
Now, I am a political geek, so I do follow what politicians say. Because I do so, I often know they are wrong. I have lived most of my life in the great state of Tennessee. Here the numbers of those receiving government assistance is among the highest on a national average, and our public schools rank among the lowest in the nation, not to mention globally. And whether haggling over middle-class being above $200,000 a year, or $150,000 a year, many household incomes around here are far below either. I know some politicians like to whip folks into a frenzy about certain groups taking advantage of benefits. But, there are concrete statistics that show in my home state, the majority of people receiving benefits of any sort are Caucasian and they do have jobs, unless they are disabled or elderly. As some of those people are my friends and neighbors, I know they are not lazy, or irresponsible. They are the working poor, many of whom could not afford an education that would break that cycle for their family. They work as hard and as long as some who make ten times what they make, so to discount them isn’t only unfair, it is disgraceful!
What is sad to me is when politicians try to deflect barbs coming their way by attempting to turn Americans against each other. Hey! You are running for public office. Stop trying to sic us on each other, and answer the question, for heaven’s sake! This proposal half of the people in this country are happy to live in poverty with only government assistance? What sort of rational person would believe that? Do you really believe a single mother waiting tables at IHop, trying to pick up extra shifts wants to get food stamps because she still can’t afford to feed her kids? Is that her version of living large in America? This is normally the part where somebody says she shouldn’t have had those kids if she couldn’t afford to feed them! So are you also in favor of the Personhood Legislation that will ban certain contraceptives? Why is it all children deserve to be born does not follow through to seeing they are fed five years later when a young single mother can’t get a job because she barely graduated from high school, not to mention couldn’t swing college?
How arrogant is it to think those of us who are not faced with that reality are better than, or more deserving than those who are? I am considered by some a success in life, but I will be the first to tell you my hard work was combined with being born into a family that could help me achieve along the way. So, no. I did not build that all on my own!
I know there are many who believe the poor just aren’t trying. What is unfortunate is there are politicians who know they believe that. It is heartbreaking to me those politicians and those who buy into their rhetoric are so eager to portray this country as something it is not. Forty-seven percent of Americans are not lazy and irresponsible. Politicians should be prepared for inaccurate assertions about them when running for political office. It comes with the territory. But, when the debate in our country becomes about how lazy and irresponsible almost half of Americans are, is that really pursuing the reality of our nation, or just allowing politics to unfairly define what most of us believe is the greatest country in the world?
I clearly remember the first message I got from a reader. My debut novel, Obsession Everlasting, released in 2009 had only been out a couple of months. Janie from Savannah, GA, where my vampire story unfolds, wrote me to say she liked the story, but most of all she appreciated me highlighting her beloved hometown. I printed that message, and still have it to this day. The first message from a reader ranks right up there with signing your first publishing contract, and seeing your name on the cover of a novel for the first time. Yes, writers want to impress agents, publishers, editors and professional reviewers. They are all important aspects of building any author’s career. However, it is the all important reader every author desperately wants to connect with.
I got other messages from readers after Janie in Savannah, GA. By the time my second novel was released, I was getting more messages. I read each and every, and responded as diligently as I did to Janie’s message. Even those who messaged me to say they didn’t like this or that about my novels, I read carefully, and responded to as well. I figure if a reader takes the time to contact me personally to tell me what they didn’t like about a story, their effort should be as appreciated as those who had only good things to say. Some of those not so glowing messages have made me a better writer.
Today, with five novels on the market, I fortunately spend at least a couple hours a day responding to emails and messages from readers. They range from those who have read my novels asking advice for their aspirations of becoming authors, to an 83 year old woman in Virgina, who wrote to tell me after reading my novel Willow Row, she lived a life similar to my character Grace’s life. She said having lived through the difficulties of race relations in the South, she also had fond memories of her time working for a family who never treated her as anything but family. It was important to her that people know even given our struggles there are always examples of love and respect throughout all the world. I printed that email out too!
When you hear or read an author stating it is readers who inspire us, that is not just a marketing ploy. Today with email, private messages and public posts on Facebook and Goodreads, and literally millions of other sites all over the internet, authors are hearing from record numbers of readers. Never in the history of the written word has it been easier to connect with our readers, and especially to learn from them. And it is often that connection which inspires us most of all.
My Favorite Hat
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t often feel their head spin as a result of the number of hats they must wear on any given day. We all have demands on our time, not to mention our sanity, and it is sometimes switching from one hat to the next that offers the reprieve we need to remember what is really important. My day always begins with the Mom Hat. Weekdays that hat has me jumping out of bed, banging on the stairwell wall, and waiting for one of my boys to holler, “We’re up, Mom!” They may, or may not be, but I know after I bang on that wall they will at least start moving toward the coming day as I throw waffles at the toaster, and swear we will all get to bed earlier tonight.
I deliver my older son to the high school and my younger to the middle school, after reminding we will listen to my radio station, or I will get out in the parking lot and let their friends see I still have on my pajamas. I rush home, because even I am not shameless enough to go to the grocery store in my PJ’s, to change clothes and hats. Actually this hat is more a crown… A Domestic Goddess Crown! I reign over the grocery store, Wal-Mart, and a kitchen where I am never sure how many I might be feeding supper. By 10 am, I toss off the crown, and on goes the Author Hat. I have put earplugs in this hat, so I can just smile, nod and keep writing as my mother goes on and on about what Aunt Carol told her she must remember to call Aunt Dot and tell her. I have five blessed hours before I put the Mom Hat back on, do the afternoon school run and help with homework and do laundry and remind a 10 yr old soap IS a customary part of showering!
I wear the different hats, usually wishing I could wear the Author Hat a little longer. If I just had time to finish that story… And then the 10 yr old asks if he can read me the story he had to write for Language Arts. I listen to the story he finished, realizing as much as I long for that Author Hat, the Mom Hat all puffed up with pride because my kid sure can tell a story is really my favorite hat after all.
Have a wonderful week all!
The Art of a Story
My brother is an artist. When he was three, he started drawing pictures we assumed he was tracing in coloring books. Then our parents realized his pictures weren’t in any of our coloring books. Today he does the most amazing portraits and illustrations. I was always jealous of his talent. In high school, I took art with the same teacher who had my brother in another class. After a few weeks she assured my attempts were admirable…but, my brother was indeed the artist in the family. I would quiz my brother on how he did it. How could he look at the face of another and render it line for line, expression for expression so clearly for the rest of us to see?
My brother said, “The same way you do it in your stories.” He said his art was a series of lines and shadows he saw. My art was a series of characters and emotions I saw. And we both transformed those things into a work others used to get a glimpse of how we see the world. His medium was charcoal and paint, mine was words. My brother made me realize writing a story is like rendering a painting. Words are shadows and colors and lines and landscapes… Layer after layer, a story emerges, and a readers sees a rendering much the same as they would see a painting.
I’m pretty sure my brother was just trying to make me feel better because I happen to know he got the lion’s share of talent. Not only can he render beautiful works of art, he can also write a really good story! But, he did help me to see what I think has made me a better writer. Telling a story is about building a visual for the reader. The clearer the picture in their mind, the more likely they are to see that world through my eyes.
Thanks for the prospective, Bubby!
It Is A Sickness, I Tell You!
I like order. Well, at least I strive for it. Given three generations of my family live under one roof, and it is not uncommon for my kitchen to be so crowded I must dodge and weave to get to the stove, I at least make valiant attempts at controlled chaos. And schedules… I love schedules! Each spring I schedule the things that must be done before a couple of annual parties we host in the summer. Yard work, home improvement projects, and keeping an eye out for hams going on sale… I schedule, plot and plan until at any given moment on any given day, I can recite exactly what I am scheduled to do as much as two weeks in advance. This could perhaps be the reason my boys refer to me as Rain Mama.
“Ten minutes to three on Tuesday. Time to trim the laurel shrubs! Time to trim the laurel shrubs!”
And no, that isn’t the sickness. I don’t think there is anything wrong with order and schedules and freaking out when somebody puts oranges in the bowl CLEARLY meant for apples! What is really strange is after six months of leading an orderly, scheduled existence that allows me to sleep at night with the assurance my kitchen cabinets are fabulously organized, each August the sickness returns. I can feel it coming on. One minute I am labeling and dating food containers in the fridge, and the next my mind starts to wander. A character, a plot, should my heroine be blond this time? In the middle of checking off the three page supply list in the hell known as back-to-school Wal-Mart, I wonder about book titles. Within a couple of weeks I am working on the novel for which I didn’t even sketch an outline. I mean really… What sort of Type A, obsessive personality doesn’t even outline novels first? It is a sickness, I tell you!
I stop planning meals. Instead I suggest my family order a pizza, and not even think about knocking on my door again! I will not have my nervous breakdown over Chapter Three interrupted. AGAIN! I stop color coding my sons’ closets, and instead start reverting to their habit of giving a T-shirt the sniff test before tossing it at the 10 yr old, so I can get back to my characters’ emotional tug-of-war. I don’t care if the kitchen is clean, and the apples and oranges in both bowls can rot for all I care until I finish THIS DAMN NOVEL! I only sleep two or three hours a night, if at all, which shouldn’t be surprising considering my diet consists of coffee and chocolate. Not only do I not have a schedule, I lose track of entire days. Which by the way reminds me the only person grumpier than a writer trying to finish a novel being interrupted is a teenager being roused out of bed for school because his mother doesn’t realize it is Saturday.
I am not alone in my belief writing is a sickness. Right this moment another is reading this and nodding along. I hear about authors who do outlines, schedule writing time, even to the degree of set word counts for each sitting. I wish I could do that! If I could, fruit wouldn’t rot in my house and my kitchen cabinets wouldn’t be a mess months out of the year. It seems I can’t build another world for my readers without letting certain aspects of my own slide for a while. And for a Type A, obsessive personality such as myself, that is a sickness, I tell you!
Have a great weekend all!
Once A Year…
I readily confess my main gig is raising a couple of rowdy boys. Most of my days are spent cooking and doing laundry and running a shuttle to and from wherever my sons are supposed to be next. I try to work in a little writing here and there, and spend a good deal of my time shouting for somebody to TURN THAT MUSIC DOWN! On a good day I can hear myself think. But, once a year it is all about the girls at my house.
Each July my mother and I gather together the women in our lives, who have been diligent enough to help us make it through our lives. The Ya-Yas! You know… The ones who always answer our calls when it has been a really bad day. The ones who say, “Please, do not ever wear that again”, or “Did you mean for your hair to turn out that color?” Some of us have known each other since grade school, or in the case of some of my mother’s Ya-Yas, every single second of my life. We’ve shared prom and weddings and the births of children. We were once mothers and teenage daughters. Now we are grandmothers and middle-aged daughters suffering our teenage children. So, in July, we figure it is only appropriate to celebrate the friendships that bind us all together. No spouses, no kids, only sangria and fatty food by the pool…as we talk about spouses and kids. We run homes, work jobs, and most days wonder how it is we are able to manage being everything to everybody in our lives. However, for one weekend in July we’re just Ya-Yas, sharing secrets and laughing at the absurdities and joys we’ve shared. The rest of the year can be a challenge, but once a year being a Ya-Ya is the break and blessing we all deserve!
Have a wonderful weekend all!
Frankly, my sole purpose when I signed on to Facebook was to interact with readers and other authors… Okay, yes, it was to pimp my books. I was pleasantly surprised it also turned out to be a great way to keep up with my extended family, renew relationships with friends I hadn’t seen since high school and college, and there is much to be said about spying on your kid’s page. But, not once in three years was I tempted to be a sorority girl, build a chicken coop, or any of the other things FB games encourage. If I’m going to build a chicken coop, it will be a real one. It would be just one more good excuse to afford the pricey nail gun I’ve had my eye on. But, I digress…
Then over the weekend I was suffering from a nasty case of bronchitis. I was high from the cough syrup I’d begun consistently sipping through a straw because I heard my family muttering about making me sleep outside if I kept them awake coughing another night. It was late, I was cruising FB and I saw a friend added to her Pinterest board. I decided since it felt like I was being water-boarded when I lie down, I’d check it out.
Within an hour I became a virtual hoarder. Quotes, books, fashion, home decor, recipes, gardening and DIY tips that made a frugal, Type A heart such as mine shiver with delight. I mean really, who knew there were so many uses for the cardboard tubes from paper towels and toilet paper? And I would pay that much for that outfit over my cold, dead body, but I know a few thrift stores where I could come close to it for a fraction of retail. I even found six sites with suggestions of how to re-use my cough syrup bottle AND the straw! I could organize boards, not to mention my pantry, pin quotes from my favorite authors, figure out why my Hydrangea wasn’t profusely blooming, and learn how to make lamps out of wine bottles… I had achieved Nirvana, I tell you!
In the days since, I am feeling much better. However, I have decided there is no need in my family knowing that. If they did they would expect me to get back to cooking, cleaning and doing laundry. All that will just have to wait. I am nothing if not a woman with her priorities in order! I’m about to pin over 500, and I am not going to let the real world interrupt my virtual lack of reality!
Wishing you a wonderful week all!
If ever there is a gathering of two or more writers, you can count on one particular topic eventually being broached. Rejection! No matter what sort of success one may eventually enjoy, I’ve never heard of an author who wouldn’t tell you they could paper the walls of an an entire room in their home with those polite form letters, which to a writer are something akin to having your flesh peeled back a layer at a time. The day I signed my first publishing contract, I pulled them out of a drawer, read them each carefully, and then poured the entire bottle of wine I uncorked to celebrate all over them! I toyed with setting them on fire, but it was a pretty good stack, so I decided not to press my luck.
So, then you’re published, and the entire world is bright and shiny…and then the reviews come in. Some are good, and the entire world is brighter and shinier…and then a review on the Big A reads, “Seriously? I am halfway through the book, but I doubt I will finish it.” Hey! Why don’t you just pull my liver out through my mouth and eat it right in front of me? And by the way, when a review begins with I’m not an author, I am just a reader… Suspicious at best, but I digress.
Rejection letters, bad reviews, requests for re-writes, nightmares about only your mother turning up for a book signing… The reasons for the importance of developing a thick skin as a writer are pretty much endless. Just like with any other career, the world is rarely a bright, shiny place all the time. And as an author, you’ll get to experience that on a far more public platform. But, there is much to be said for no guts, no glory!
A thick skin doesn’t mean rejection letters and bad reviews hurt any less. It means regardless of those, you still believe you have a story to tell. Even when it seems you are the only one who believes that, it is the one thing that will greatly improve your odds in the lottery we know as the publishing business. As a result, my advice is keep each and every of those rejection letters and print out those bad reviews. Instead of seeing them as a reason to doubt your talent, think of them instead as the thick skin which will encourage you to push through to a bright, shiny world! And just in case, always give your mother plenty of advance notice to all book signings.
Enjoy your weekend all!
Happy 4th of July!
Fifteen years ago, I got a phone call from my father. That wasn’t unusual given I was six months pregnant with his first grandson, so he called about every half hour to see how I was feeling. I would remind him it was July, and therefore the prevailing feeling among all pregnant women was IT IS HOT! He said I needed to come out and see how the house was coming along.
I was the first to clap when my parents announced they were selling the house I grew up in, and building a home where they would enjoy their retirement years. They needed less yard for Daddy to mow and less house for Mama to clean. I realized it hadn’t worked out that way when I met my father later that evening. Before me was a big brick house that would cause my mother to clean herself into a coma, and four times the grass that had to be mowed while I was growing up. A backhoe was parked near a big hole in the backyard.
“What is that?” I asked, pointing at the muddy pit.
“That will be the pool,” my father replied.
“A pool? Really, Daddy? You are going to clean a pool?” I only asked because according to my mother all my father cleaned were his golf clubs.
He nodded at my big belly. “One day he will clean it.”
I followed him around insisting the house was too big, there was too much property to be kept up, and a pool? Really?
The next 4th of July my father watched as I pushed his grandson around that pool in the little boat he bought, and Nick watched his first fireworks display from the front porch of the big brick house. For seven years we celebrated the 4th of July with my father at the big brick house. Daddy passed away in April 2005. By July 4th I was still wondering if I would survive that, as well as going through a divorce, so there was no 4th of July party at the big brick house. That was one of the few holidays I didn’t bake a ham or even make potato salad. But, it eventually dawned on me my father’s passing and my life not working out exactly as I planned didn’t mean I was any less blessed. My father worked hard for many years to insure his family had not just a big brick house, but a home where they could celebrate holidays and make memories with extended family and friends.
So, tomorrow, as it has been for years now, the big brick house will be crowded with family and friends to celebrate the 4th. I’ve baked a ham, made potato salad and brownies… I didn’t clean the pool. As my father predicted, that chore falls to his eldest grandson.
Happy 4th of July all!
The Levity Of The Smart-Ass Character
In every romance I’ve written there has been an ensemble of characters I follow through the series. As important as I think plot, setting and all the other aspects of any novel can be, I believe it is the personalities of all the characters and how they relate to each other that drives the story. No matter how dark a plot may be, the levity of the Smart-Ass Character can interject humor just when the reader least expects it. Somehow laughing at inappropriate times makes it all the more funny. I learned this as a child, when my cousins would make me laugh during prayer meeting while our mothers glared at us from where they were seated with the choir. Even with Mama’s death stare directed right at me, I laughed because the inappropriateness of it made it all the more hilarious.
In my Everlasting Trilogy, Reece is my beloved Smart-Ass. He’s cocky, irreverent, and the perfect foil for serious Simon and old fashioned Tristan. And the love of his life turning out to be the highly intellectual, stoic Dr. Sidney Campbell adds much to the argument opposites do in fact attract. In my new contemporary romance, Returning To Love, brother, Ryan, is a thorn in the side of his twin, Julian, and an embarrassment to ambitious little brother, Logan. The most enjoyable aspects of both these characters for me as a writer is beneath their Smart-Ass attitudes, they are fiercely loyal and find out in good time true love is no laughing matter.
Reviews of my novels often mention the humor in them. When you toss together an ensemble of characters with distinct personalities, it’s hard not to find something funny about how they relate to each other. Mix the levity of a Smart-Ass character into the fold, and the chances of the reader really laughing out loud drives the story for the entire ensemble.
Have a fantastic weekend all!
Just A Little Surreal…
Most days my life is no different than others, I guess. I worry about whether or not my kids take their vitamins, if my heart can take the price of groceries and gas, or if my mother is going to drive me right over the edge of sanity to which I diligently cling. I shuttle kids around, unclog drains, do laundry and cook and cook and cook…
But, every once in a while, I look around and think, this is just a little surreal.
This weekend I had the pleasure of attending Romfest 2012. Romfest was basically a couple dozen romance authors and readers converging on Gatlinburg, TN for cookouts, PJ parties, costume parties, and we even found time to fit in a few workshops amidst all that partying. I had the privilege of meeting authors whose work I’ve read for years. Sherrilyn Kenyon gave the keynote address at one of the luncheons. I sat there as she spoke of some of the authors I read growing up, how their books were the same delight to her they were to me, and how she dreamed of one day being an author. I chatted with Mary Wine, Mallory Kane, Lorelei James, Jennifer Estep, Trista Ann Michaels, and a host of others, all the while thinking this is just a little surreal! And as if all that wasn’t more than I could have ever dreamed of, I was then able to join all of them at a book signing…where people actually asked me to sign my own novels! Now, that was a whole lot surreal!
I wouldn’t trade my days of raising a couple of rowdy boys, or even unclogging drains, for anything. That’s the life I cherish, probably even more so because it makes my life as an author just a little surreal. I’ll get out of bed in the morning, tell the 10 yr old he cannot have cookies for breakfast, tell the teenager to go clean his room and TURN THAT MUSIC DOWN! I’ll unload the dishwasher, gather dirty laundry, and wonder what I’ll fix for supper… However, as I do all that, I will reflect on a weekend I spent as an author who got to realize a few dreams made all the more surreal by the real life I cherish.
Have a great week all!
The Turning of the Wheel…
In 1996 I drove an Honda Civic that had just ticked over to 250,000 miles. I loved my little Civic. I could park in spaces not meant for parking, fill her up, and drive for weeks… My father and husband were not such fans. They were Ford men, and regularly insinuated I was a traitor. I would inform them when they found a Ford that got the gas mileage my beloved Honda did, we would talk.
And then I got pregnant with my older son.
My father had long preached if a decent size pickup, or one of the SUV’s popping up all over the roads hit me in “that soup can you call a car”, I might not survive! You can imagine how he ramped up the rhetoric when he found out I was carrying his first grandchild. My husband jumped on that bandwagon with both big feet, and the next thing I knew there was a Ford Explorer parked in my driveway. I hated it! Parking it was like trying to wrangle a tank, I almost had a stroke every time I had to pay to fill it up, and it seemed like just a couple of days later, I was back to fill it up again. Every time I saw the kid across the street who bought my beloved Honda driving up and down the street, I cried.
And then my son was born.
I hated my Explorer a little less when I realized for just an afternoon visit to my parents’ house I had to pack the swing, exersaucer, bouncy chair… Babies required equipment. I reluctantly admitted I would have had to strap much of it to the top of the Honda. By the time my younger son was a toddler, I finally found a place for the Explorer in my heart. I knew if we were ever stranded, we could survive for days on all the Goldfish crackers shoved under car seats, and half empty sippy cups rolling around the floorboards. I decided the Spiderman stickers the boys plastered onto the back passenger windows were cute. Their father did not agree. Another couple of years, and I was hauling baseball bags, cases of Gatorade, and sometimes half the team. I lost count of the number of games I watched in the shade of the rear door of the Explorer we opened, and lined chairs up under. The Explorer became my beloved.
And then my boys started complaining.
My beloved Explorer was referred to as “Mom’s redneck wagon”. Okay, so the rear view mirror falls off sometimes, and the back bumper sits slightly askew. To open one of the passengers doors, we have to roll down the window, and pull the outside door handle because my younger son broke the interior handle in an effort to escape the vehicle after calling his big brother a “dumb jock”. My older son thinks I don’t know his complaints about my beloved Explorer coincides with the approach of him gaining his driver’s license.
So, this weekend I found myself on a car lot surveying rows of shiny Hondas. I thought of my son driving a vehicle that small. Yes, it got great gas mileage, but what if a big truck hit him? And I realized once again how the big wheel of life never stops turning. Probably far more quickly than I would like, he’ll be trading that shiny Honda that gets great gas mileage for a vehicle he can pack a family and the required equipment into. I also realized what made the Explorer I once hated my beloved. I raised a couple of rowdy boys in that Explorer. As a result, a shiny new Honda is going to be parked in our garage. But, right beside it will be Mom’s redneck wagon!
Enjoy your summer all!
I took a couple of writing classes in college. At that time becoming a writer was still a pipe-dream, but I figured a girl could dream…and take classes that didn’t bore her to sleep. I particularly liked one of my professors. She quoted Hemingway and her nose was pierced. It was the eighties, so she was the first person I ever met with a pierced nose. I tried not to think about what it would be like to have a cold and a diamond stud in your nostril.
One of her favorite topics to lecture on was the difference between writers and storytellers. Writers informed. They took facts and situations, and informed the reader on the specifics of reality. But, storytellers created. Storytellers took readers away from reality. She insisted neither was more important than the other. What was important was which we wanted to be.
It started me thinking…
I’d always been a history geek. I truly believed the more we knew about the past, the more likely we would be to not make the same mistakes. I had an uncle, who was internationally recognized as an expert on Botany, and his articles were usually a pretty big deal. Yet on any given day, I was far more likely to want to read a story. I’m not saying a good story can’t have a few facts thrown in for good measure. To this day I love historical romances because through them I learned the difference in a duke and a viscount, and still got my sappy Happily Ever After. And if as a reader I had to choose between being informed, or being taken away, I was up for the journey every time.
The writing professor said a storyteller doesn’t need facts. A storyteller makes the reader believe without them. That’s how you know you are a storyteller. To create a world and characters that makes a reader forget if only for a little while the parameters of reality… Well, just the thought of that made me decide I would rather be a storyteller.
Practice Makes Published
I am a true believer in there being few shortcuts to anything wonderful. For example, last year I had the privilege to meet Charlaine Harris, the author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels. She said, “Most people think I was an overnight success with that series. Not so much. I wrote other novels for years before my overnight success.” I often quote her when I am asked by aspiring authors for writing tips. The most important tip I can offer, in my estimation, is writing is like any other skill. The more you do it, the better you will become at it. I suppose there may be a few who out of the blue decided to write a novel, sent it to a publisher and WHAM, right out of the gate, they are a published author. However, I bet that is a rather small club. Most authors I know will tell you they began writing with a crayon.
Practice makes published. Developing the skills of writing takes practice. Often there is discussion of a writer’s “voice”. A writer’s voice is their skill, their perception, the mark of how they tell a story. I wrote my first manuscript when I was in my early twenties. It was dreadful! No, really… It was bad. It was really bad. It was bad because I was trying to write like Janet Dailey. She wrote the first romance novel I read, I admired her, and so I wanted to write like her.
But, I kept on writing. I wrote in my journal, my kids’ baby books, and a few other manuscripts. Once I gave up on trying to write like Janet Dailey, I started noticing Lisa Phillips’ writing improved with practice. Eventually my voice emerged. It wasn’t mystical, or overnight. It was a process. It was years of practice, and learning how to hone a skill that yielded a voice. Now, I have been quoted saying, “I believe most writers were born with that particular sickness.” I also believe it is that sickness that drives us to practice makes published.
Thanks Where Thanks Are Due
The last couple of weeks have been a very exciting time for me. Next month my fourth novel will be released by Black Lyon Publishing. So, there has been discussion of finals edits, blurbs, cover art, etc… Those are the sorts of things that make an author’s heart soar. After months of locking yourself away from the rest of the world to write a story, the hubbub that goes on before a release date is the best sort of confirmation it was worth it all. As with the release of each of my novels, I try to give thanks where thanks are due. I may write the story, but it is the support of others that in the end yields the finished product.
Kerry Jones McQuisten is my editor and publisher. She is also an author as well, which I think gives her a particular insight into the neurosis of writers. She gave me a chance to realize a dream I’d had since I was nine years old. There will never be anything I accomplish as an author I do not credit her with helping me achieve.
There are my family and friends. My brother, Michael, who helps maintain my website because I am a tech moron, my mother, Marty, my friends Lisa, Ashley, and Betty, who beta read my manuscripts for me, and my sons, Nick and Austin, who are always understanding when I say it is pizza, or leftovers for supper again because I need to finish Chapter Eight. And then there are the readers, the ones who take the time to tell me how much they enjoyed my story, and how much they look forward to the next.
Being an author may sometimes seem to be a lonely pursuit, but I have found the success of being one to be a collaborative effort. And this author realizes the importance of giving thanks where thanks are due. I may write the stories, but I am not the only one who sees they become a novel. To those who help in this process, I gladly give thanks where thanks are due!
The Eye of the Beholder…
I have long been a proponent of how someone looks should have absolutely no bearing on their perceived worth. This perspective most likely began with a grandmother who said, “Stop worrying about how you look, for heaven’s sake, and go read a book! Beauty fades, knowledge is forever.” I also spent years working with people with Cerebral Palsy and other disabilities. Through those I was fortunate enough to work with I learned a quick wit, sharp mind, and a determination to focus on what they could do, as opposed to what they couldn’t, was the definition of human strength and beauty.
So, when a friend recently said, “You always say how a person looks shouldn’t matter, but in your books the heroines are always beautiful and the heroes handsome.” My response to this is it is always about perspective. In my novels, the specifics about the characters’ appearances are given through the eyes of the person who is drawn to them, and eventually falls in love with them. My father thought my mother to be the most beautiful woman in the world. She disagreed, and possibly others might as well. However, he would have never been convinced of that.
I figure our eyes may see, but it is our hearts that perceive. And real beauty isn’t as much about how one appears to the rest of the world, but about how they challenge, comfort, or touch our hearts. Sappy, maybe… But, often true none the less.
Have a glorious week all!
Spring in E TN
It is glorious…really. I know, I constantly go on and on about how much I love the place where I’ve spent the majority of my life. But, in my opinion the only place more beautiful than E TN in autumn is E TN in spring. It’s not even April yet, but as we’ve been pushing eighty degrees most days for weeks, Mother Nature is just plain showing off! Forsythia, Redbuds, Dogwoods, and Dafodils are everywhere. One day I am making the after-school shuttle, the trees are bare, the mountains are hazy behind the clouds of winter, and the next everything is in bloom and the sunlight spilling down onto the mountains is so brilliant I can hardly see to drive.
It is magic, I tell you!
It is a magic that cues an annual shift in my life. Cold winter days are for spinning tales at my computer, and promising my boys pizza for supper if they will let me finish this chapter in peace and quiet. Spring? That means I have finished that tale, and am looking forward to a new release, so I can wage my battle on weeds. It means before I can blink the boys will be out of school, and I won’t have to jump out of bed, and rush to the car to get them to class on time in my pajamas. It means looking forward to our annual family Memorial Day pool party, and long, lazy days judging cannonball contests, and wine time on hot afternoons out on the front porch with my mother. It means growing my own herbs, and wondering if it is too early to set out tomato plants.
See, spring in E TN isn’t only glorious because of the Forsythia, Redbuds, Dogwoods, and Dafodils. It is about the promise spring brings. Working less, spending more time with family and friends in the place where generations of my family has done so… For me that is what makes spring in E TN so glorious.
Have a spectacular weekend all!
Typically one of the first few questions asked when another finds out you are an author is, “What inspires you?” The list of authors who inspire my own work is endless. I also believe many are born with such a desperate need to write it becomes an obsession, so there’s always that. However, as sappy as it sounds I am most often inspired by friends, family and home.
I have lived on the south side of the TN River in Knoxville since I was a young child. My sons are the fifth generation on my father’s side to grow up in this community. The chances of me going to Wal-Mart or the grocery store and not running into about half a dozen people I know are slim to none. Living in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains affords such amazing scenery it still takes my breath away many days, and I have been here the majority of my life. My next novel to be released in May unfolds in this area. Writing about the place where I grew up, and cannot imagine leaving, was a wonderful experience. I think where we come from has a big impact on our lives, and for a writer, perhaps even more so.
I have yet to write a story that doesn’t have some element of the importance of friends in my characters’ lives. I have friends I met in Jr. High. I am proud of that, mostly due to the fact I once read somewhere much can be told about a person not so much in the number of friends they have, but how long those people have chosen to be a part of their life. All heroines in my novels have at least one BFF, who helps them navigate the struggles and joys of their story. I feel blessed the same is true of my life.
Family first…always! This was a mantra I was raised with. My parents both believed family was a the venue in which we learned the most beautiful and sometimes frustrating life lessons. When I was a young adult eager to be on my own, if I didn’t make time to stop by my grandparent’s house at least once a week, I could count on a call from my father demanding to know why. Probably one of the most significant slants family has had in my writing is on the relationships between the male characters in my books. As the mother of a couple of rowdy brothers, I am often amazed by their relationship. One minute they are literally throwing punches, and the next, watching each others’ back. The begrudged devotion between brothers, or friends they consider like a brother, always makes for a good aspect of a story.
For a lot of writers inspiration often comes from those things in our lives that fascinate us most. Part of the obsession of writing begins with the need to soak up what goes on around us, and then weave those things into a story. This is one reason I often advise beginning writers to keep a journal. The feelings, experiences and people in our lives can often bring just the inspiration needed to spin a really good tale.
Have a fantastic weekend all!
When I was a kid, I dreamed my life would be one adventure after another. One of the many aspects of being a book geek… Truthfully, my 20’s were a time of adventure, most of which I to this day hesitate to recall. My 30’s were all about being who I thought I was supposed to be when I grew up. My 40’s, seven years into that decade, have so far been about being who I am now that I am a grownup as opposed to who I thought that person was supposed to be. Oddly enough, the book geek in me must admit it has all truly been an adventure.
Now, when early life is all about being a book geek, and current life is about being a writer, there is sometimes the need to reconcile the two. For instance, as a kid I was a huge fan of Nancy Drew Mysteries. Today I am the mother of a teenage boy. Trust me. There is nothing more mysterious to a mother than a teenage boy. In my teens I was an Austen fan. Jane Eyre…governess…quizzing the 10 yr old for his spelling test. See? I also read a lot of romances with hunky heroes, and the fact there has been a notable absence of those in my life is strictly beside the point!
I have read about history that shapes my perspective of the present, love that speaks to that of the people who matter in my life, and cookbooks that will assure my family bows at the feet of the Queen of the Kitchen. And I write. I write about history and love and food and how happy I am to be who I am now that I am grown up. Books have not only impacted my life, they made it an adventure. If I wasn’t a reader, I wouldn’t be a writer. I cannot imagine my life without that particular adventure.
Have a wonderful week all!
It Takes A Village
Being an author is most often a solitary endeavor. The only way to consistently produce is to lock yourself away, and just do it! Characters, plots, and Happily Ever After come at a price…a lonely one. Making a living off the people who live in your head can sometimes make you feel as if the world goes on around you, without you. So, once that story is told an author might be inclined to feel as if it is a creation singularly of their making.
Yeah, well, not so much in my case.
While I am locked away, I am fortunate enough to have a mother and brother willing to pinch-hit with a couple of kids as I wrangle another Happily Ever After. I have a fantastic editor, who truly cares about my novels as much as I do, and therefore makes me a better writer. And I have fans who take the time to write me to tell me they enjoyed my stories, which also makes me work harder to try to make the next one even better.
In May I will release my fourth novel. Each of them have taken a village to create. Sure I am the one sitting at the computer spinning a tale, but in no way could I do it completely on my own. From my children to my fans, I have many to thank for dream number four coming true. And I’ll work that much harder on number five in hopes they will know how much I appreciate them being a part of my village.
Have a wonderful weekend all!
Irons in the Fire
I pride myself on being an efficient multi-tasker. I can cook supper, fold laundry, quiz the 10 yr old for a spelling test, return emails, and argue with the teenager over how many boys we can crowd into our home for the weekend all at the same time. I can edit a manuscript, write a blog, argue politics on Facebook, and sign off on a new book cover all before rushing out the door to make the afternoon school shuttle. And then there is my mother… Have I mentioned my mother?
Between running a home, raising a couple of kids, juggling a writing career, and keeping up on everything from the school board funding of local schools to national availability of healthcare for women, I have a lot of irons in the fire. Many nights I crawl into bed thinking how much easier it would be to just not care. My boys don’t care if they wear clean clothes… Why should I? Then I think about, as I fall into a well-deserved coma, I truly do believe we are here to try to make the world a better place than we found it.
Okay. So my romance novels may not impact world peace. But, for some they are an entertaining escape from their hectic lives. And whether or not the South-Doyle Middle School stadium is demolished might not be the end of the world, but it matters to my kids. I happen to have very affectionate memories of that stadium at the school I once attended as well. And no matter how much she can sometimes get on my nerves, my mother devoted the majority of her life to me, so the least I can do is try to repay that sort of adoration.
I have a lot of irons in the fire. And each of them are my attempt at making the world a better place than I found it. As exhausting as it can be most days, when I crawl into bed for that well-deserved coma, I can do so knowing I deserve it because at least I am giving life my best shot.
Have a wonderful weekend all!
In the interest of life flying by, it seems just a couple of months since I was blogging about the last time I had spring fever. It is always a definitive time for me because I spend the winter months, when I cannot be shamed into yard work, hurriedly writing and editing. It’s sometimes difficult for me to concentrate on another world when the one outside my window is more inviting. It is difficult to pursue the Happily Ever After my hero and heroine deserve when chickweed is taking over what will be my herb garden. And I don’t care what my mother says… With the cost of gas and groceries, I WILL plant tomatoes and cucumbers around the pool this year! If she thinks that’s bad, wait until she sees the cow grazing in the front yard because the cost of milk is ridiculous. I have two boys. Milk is not optional!
Those are the sort of things that come to mind when the first short, cold days of winter yield to the longer, warmer days of spring. I start wrapping up writing projects knowing my war on chickweed is likely to win out. I’ll get back to Happily Ever After once the boys are out of school, and I no longer spend a couple of hours a day shuttling them to and from. But, until then, spring fever and the world outside my window are my Happily Here And Now.
Enjoy your week all!
Hot Fudge Sundae
I often credit my late grandmother, who taught for more than forty years, with putting me on the path to becoming a writer. She noticed when I was in the third grade I’d read every Nancy Drew Mystery in the Anderson Elementary School library, as well as all the titles at the South Knoxville Library. She personally went to the SK Library to tell one of the librarians she appreciated her making such an effort to gather Nancy Drew titles from other libraries to feed my reading addiction. And it was my grandmother who gave me the copy of The Secret Garden I credit with being the book that made me decide I wanted to write my own one day.
By the time I was a teenager, my reading habits had become a barter system between my grandmother and myself. For every title written by Austen, Dickens, or Twain I read, she bought me a couple of Harlequin Romances. For every essay contest I entered, we had a hot fudge sundae at Shoney’s, whether I won or not. And when I did win, I knew without doubt her bridge club would be forced to listen to her read that essay at least twice.
My grandmother passed away long before I saw my first novel published, but it was her encouragement of my love of the written word, and a supportive high school teacher, I thought of the day I held the first print copy of a novel with my name on the cover in my hands. I thought of her again this week when my novel, Rogue Everlasting, was nominated by Long & Short Romance Reviews as one of the best paranormal romances of 2011. She would be very proud, not only of others recognizing my ability, but even more so of the part she played in giving her granddaughter the confidence to write a novel in the first place.
So, win or lose, I am going to Shoney’s for a hot fudge sundae.
Have a wonderful week all!
Happy Valentines Day!
It is a day often held in various states of esteem, depending on your circumstance. I have single friends who dread it more than any day of the year, and married friends who insist spouses not spend money on flowers that will die. I think the majority are fine with the candy. For years it was about SpongeBob SquarePants, or Spiderman valentines at my house, but alas even that fun has now passed me by. The ten year old is apparently to grownup for that anymore, and the teenager assures me he is going to give having a girlfriend a rest for now. I am going to consider not having to argue with him over what is and is not an appropriate gift for a teenage girl, or having to help the little man address twenty-five valentines my gifts from my children this year.
With that said, there should also be the understanding every day is about hearts and flowers when you write about love for a living. And gentlemen, I will remind once again, if you truly want to know how to sweep a woman off her feet, romance novels should be at the top of your research list. Romance authors concentrate on the specifics of this day every single day. Trust me… We are the pros!
However, if you have, as many men in my experience often do, left research on this particular topic for the last minute, I am happy to give you the basics in a nutshell. Whether there will be flowers, jewelry, lavish suppers, etc… Above all else, look deeply into her eyes. Take her hand, place it over your heart, and say, “I love you! You mean the world to me.”
And DO NOT forget the candy!
At Least It Matters…
My mother has often said sometimes we have to tear a house apart in order to give it a good cleaning. It can be tiring, frustrating, and it seems there are always arguments about who made what mess where. I see many of the issues being debated across this country as being the messy business of cleaning house. When I think about it, I sometimes get tired, frustrated, and it seems we all have our own idea of who made what mess where. However, at least it matters enough for many to be up in arms.
There was a time the rights of women were not discussed because they had no rights. There was a time religious freedom wasn’t discussed, because there was one Church, and if you defied it, you most likely didn’t live to tell about it. And there was a time when even if you were, loved, or knew a homosexual, you sure didn’t mention it, much less scan the JCP sale circular to see what you were going to buy in support of one. There was a time when rights and freedom were won on a battle field in this country, and in the more than two centuries since, we have found we still have a long way to go to insure Liberty and Justice for ALL! But, at least it still matters. It matters today for those who would not even have been discussed at times in history.
As tired, frustrated, and sick of messes as I get, I am thankful it matters. I brought a couple of kids into this world. I want them to know about the messy business of cleaning house. I want them to see people stand up for rights and freedom, regardless of which side of the issue they are on. I want them to know we debate, use our power as consumers, and then we can go vote. It is how Americans clean house, and it still very much matters.
Enjoy your weekend all!
Now I Am Just Mad
I was raised with the southern sensibility ladies do not holler. To holler is to raise your voice…just in case you weren’t raised with southern sensibility. But, there are times raising your voice is, in my personal opinion, the thing to do. Like when your kid brings home a C on the test he assured he was ready for, or when another driver cuts you off… Yeah, my kid readily announces his mother doesn’t cuss…unless she is driving. And then some things are way past hollering, and right on to screaming.
Today, I learned the Susan G. Komen Foundation was pulling funding from Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings and treatment to hundreds of thousands of women, who would not be able to afford these screenings and treatment. Yes, I know many Americans think the only thing Planned Parenthood does is abortions. Unfortunately, if you think that, you have much homework to do on Planned Parenthood. As a matter of a fact, there are millions of people in this world today, including the biological children of women who after counseling at Planned Parenthood realized abortion was not their only option, who are here as a result of Planned Parenthood. For me personally, Planned Parenthood is another weapon against a deadly disease that has touched the lives of women I love. Breast Cancer is more likely to rob us all of the women we cherish if early detection and treatment is not available. And funding for early detection provided to Planned Parenthood makes a real difference in the lives of many Americans.
I follow politics in this country. I was raised in a family where political debates…okay, sometimes screaming matches, were the norm. However, in my estimation, debates should stop at the line where the lives of Americans are at stake. And really, if the idea is life is sacred, does it really make sense to yank funding for screenings and treatment that saves lives? I have for many years supported the Susan G Komen Foundation because I believed it was a foundation that put the lives of women above and beyond all else. To find out it is a foundation that is willing to compromise that commitment due to political pressure is a disappointment to me, and I am sure a number of others, who supported what it now appears was not their most stringent goal.
I hope millions of Americans are hollering about now. I hope our raised voices appeal to the Susan G Komen Foundation, and we can look past political wrangling to get back to the partnership between the foundation and Planned Parenthood that saves lives.
I LIKE Facebook
Writers are notoriously nosy. Often, knowing the business of others inspires us. Whether it is a work of fiction or non-fiction, it is our perception of the human experience that can drive us to tell a story. These days there is no better arena for the human experience than Facebook. For me personally, it is a wonderful place to keep up with my large, rowdy extended family, and it is amazing the things you can find out about your kids while cruising their FB page. As a writer, I can network with other authors, hopefully steer readers to my website, and find a wealth of fodder with a glimpse into the lives of others that will hopefully feed my muse.
Perhaps the magic of Facebook is it feeds our need to connect. Whether it is a marketing tool, a link with extended family, or a really good way to spy on our kids, it is the twenty-first century way of reaching out to others. Our world is no longer limited to those we see face to face on a daily basis, but maybe a hundred times that number we can connect with through a status update. We can LIKE everything from political endorsements to a person we have never met announcing they are going to be a grandparent. We can become an interactive part of the life stories of others. For writers, who are always looking for a way to connect with others in an attempt to have a better understanding of the human experience… Well, most of us LIKE Facebook.
Have a wonderful weekend all!
Love and Learn…
When my older son was two years old his father and I sat on the front porch watching him race across the yard in hopes he would soon tire enough to go to sleep without an hour of me singing Hey Jude over and over and over. Out of the blue, his father looked at me and said, “You know what I dread? I dread that first girl, that first love…the first time he gets his heart broken.” He shook his head. “I’d do just about anything to keep him from having to go through that.” To this day, I site that father’s concern for his son as the most loving thing I ever heard anyone say.
Twelve years later our son experienced his first heartbreak. He got into the car after school on Friday, announcing his girlfriend had broken up with him. I know, I know! He is fourteen years old, and there are probably many breakups in his future, but there is little more difficult for a parent than watching the child they adore love and learn one of life’s toughest lessons. When I came home from church one Sunday sobbing because the object of my affection asked another girl to the Valentines Day dance, my father hid the key to the gun cabinet from my mother as she assured her distraught baby girl, “Mama would take care of everything!”
It is excruciating sometimes, having a front row seat into the lives of teenagers. By Monday morning, I’d worried myself sick, and consumed a ridiculous amount of candy. She is a sweet girl, and they have friends in common, and they have every single class together! Oh, My Lord! By the time my son got out of the car to lope into the middle school, I was gasping into a paper bag to stay conscious… All day I fixated on the situation in my usual Type A, obsessive manner. Would they be able to deal with this sort of situation? Would their friends make it more difficult for them?
My father was right. Boys and girls should be kept completely separate until they are thirty!
By Monday afternoon I sat in the middle school parking lot nervously gnawing on a fingernail as I watched my kid come closer. He opened the door, tossed his backpack into the backseat and said,” Can we stop for an Icee on the way home?”
“Sure,” I replied, glancing over at him as I merged into the traffic. “Your day go okay?”
My son shrugged. “It was fine.” When I lifted a brow, he rolled his eyes. “We talked in seventh period. Everything is okay, Mom.”
I spent the rest of the drive home thinking many of the adults I know, myself included, could learn a lot from a couple of teenagers going through a breakup. His dad and I spent years in divorce court. Who knew we should have just talked in seventh period? The boy who was heartbroken on Friday now wanted nothing more than an Icee and to get home to play PS3 online with his buddies. And come to think of it, long before my mother got over plotting revenge on the object of my affection, I had moved on.
But, I still think my dad was onto something with that whole keeping boys and girls separate until they are thirty…
Webster’s defines it as: a house, apartment, or other shelter that is the usual residence of a person, family, or household.
My week began with an email from the male model on the cover of my novel Rogue Everlasting stating he was going to be in an article in Glamour Magazine, and there was a chance the cover of my novel would be there as well. Yeah, that is what anybody in the publishing business would list under the heading of ADVERTISING GOLD! A leading magazine that targets the exact demographic of readers most likely to enjoy my stories… Gold, I tell you! ADVERTISING GOLD! It is a wonder I didn’t break a hip with all the happy dancing.
Well, it was something about having to cut pages, so on and so forth… To say I was disappointed is an understatement. Fortunately I had a birthday over the weekend. As I make no secret of my chocolate truffle habit, family and friends had graciously supplied me with enough candy to address even that sort of devastation. By the way, for anyone who has ever wondered, the sugar in an entire box of chocolates completely overrides the sedative asset of half a bottle of wine.
It started snowing. No matter how disappointed life may leave you, seeing a ten year old rush from window to window in hopes schools will be closed the next morning makes you smile. Then there is nothing like a sugar rush to assure a weekly blog entry, as well as edits on a work in progress. So the cover of my novel isn’t going to be featured in Glamour Magazine? Well, not yet anyway. I have learned once again it is sometimes through disappointment we find things in life we should treasure all the more. I missed out on ADVERTISING GOLD! But, I have friends and family who care enough for me to feed my chocolate truffle addiction. And more important than any amount of publicity at my house tonight is enough snow to close schools.
Enjoy your weekend all!
Just A Number
I have always counted among my many blessings growing up surrounded by strong, smart, confident women. They often told me some things are just a number with only as much significance as I was willing to give them. When I was in the third grade, and I tearfully reported to my mother my best friend got seven more valentines than I did, she smiled and said, “How many valentines did you get?” She then sat down with me to go through a stack, patiently listening to me go on and on about each and every valentine, and all the details I could muster about the classmates who had given them to me. By the time we got to the bottom of the stack, I’d forgotten about the seven I didn’t get. Those seven were just a number that didn’t matter as opposed to the twenty-two my mother saw to it mattered more.
When I was a junior in high school, I complained to my grandmother I wore two sizes bigger than another girl in my class, who did not spend most Saturday nights sitting at home reading. She, being an English teacher of more than forty years, asked if that girl could quote Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, or Tolkien as she had seen to it I could. That conversation turned to our shared love of literature, and I forgot all about the size I wore, and how much I weighed.
The week I turned forty, I stood in my Aunt Carol’s kitchen lamenting I was officially middle-aged…if I was lucky enough to live to see eighty. She waved the hand that wasn’t pouring us a cup of coffee, and said, “You’ll be my age soon enough. Trust me. You will look back on forty fondly.” This was a woman who raised six kids, and had spent more than fifty years of her life married to a man from my bloodline. I already thought she deserved sainthood, so who was I to argue with her perspective on any aspect of life?
Tomorrow I turn forty-seven. Though there is a part of me that wants to wail and tear at my clothes at just the thought, the greater part of me knows it is just a number. The only valentines I need are from two rowdy boys, who have given every aspect of my life clear, concise prospective. I still sit at home most Saturday nights. However, these days I am more likely to be writing my own novels than reading those written by another. That far surpasses whatever size I might wear, or how much I may weigh. And as usual, Aunt Carol was right. I look back on forty fondly.
The women in my life, the ones who helped shape who I am and what I hold dear, taught me numbers are no more than the power I give them. Forty-seven is just a number. But, I plan to spend the next year seeing to it I look back on it fondly.
Enjoy your weekend all!
As my generation partied like it was 1999, I suppose most like me woke up to the first day of 2012 wondering what the hell happened? One night you are in a club dressed like Madonna, dancing and singing about a date that seemed far, far in the future, and the next you are watching a clock hoping your teenage son makes it home before curfew so you do not have to give the sermon that makes you wonder when you started opening your mouth so your mother could crawl out.
It all just went so fast! I do recall ringing in 2000. I was cleaning up after a two year old with a stomach virus, who was able to throw up everywhere except in the toilet, while his father filled the baby pool with water and stored extra canned goods just in case that whole world upheaval came to be. And 2006 was tough because it was the first holiday season and New Year without my dad. Though each year has significance, the good, the bad, and the ugly at times, it seems they all are rushing past at a much faster rate. My mother always says time moves faster the older your children get. Maybe that is the reason I feel as if it was just last week I was in the kitchen making grits, greens, black-eyed peas and cornbread for our traditional New Year’s Day meal.
I’ve said for the last several years I was going to slow down in the New Year. I was not going to let another year fly by before I knew what was happening. I will try again this year. But, I’m thinking maybe it is the days, weeks and months rushing so quickly, one after another that may make the dawning of a New Year so wonderful. It’s the chance to look back on the year that went by in a blink, remember the moments that made it special, and swear we will make more of those moments in the year ahead.
Wishing you all many special moments in 2012!
I’m not really good at it. Typically if I am not parked before a computer attempting to meet a deadline, blogging, returning emails and messages, or keeping up with fellow authors, friends, and family on Facebook, I am checking off To Do lists, or prying into the lives of my children. Somewhere in the midst of all that, I must find time to meddle in the lives of my mother and brother so they can assure each other I am not the boss of them! I always say vacations are for people who do not have kids at home…or my mother.
However, by the time the week between Christmas and ringing in the New Year arrives, even this devout Type A personality is ready for some downtime. The days are cold and short, so there’s no feeling shamed into yard work, and it really is bad luck to take down Christmas decorations before the New Year. My boys are out of school, so no morning and afternoon shuttle. I don’t care they may wear the same sweatshirts and pajama pants for days at a time. No laundry is a good thing. The fridge is packed with holiday leftovers. I dare anybody to march into my room to announce they are hungry and can’t find anything to eat. We will have sausage balls and ham until Easter!
It seems a shame not to take advantage of this time by rather than spinning my own tales, reading those of some of my favorite authors. And the family gave me a new flat screen TV and DVR for Christmas so I can record all the shows and movies I normally miss, and watch marathons as I work my way through leftover Christmas candy and wine. If I am really lucky, I might even get to take a bath without somebody banging on the door to tell me his brother hit him. HARD!
I know to many the week after Christmas is a let down, but for me it is the downtime I figure I worked hard all year to deserve. I would not change a thing about my chaotic life fifty-one weeks out of the year. Though I cherish week fifty-two before it is time to hit the ground running in another New Year.
Happy New Year All!
A Very Merry Christmas
Our household is a busy place. Three generations under one roof often means never a dull moment. I am always hurrying to meet a writing deadline, while trying to keep up with the busy calendars of a teenager and a ten year old. I hit the ground running at 6:30 am most days, and am lucky to call it a day by 10:00pm. There are the kids, the career, the brother, the mother. Have I mentioned my mother? It often becomes a blur of one day rushing into the next as I edit manuscripts and make grocery lists and help with homework and shuttle others to doctor and dentist appointments… By the time the holidays and all the demands of cooking and shopping and attending celebrations rolls around, I begin to wonder if cloning would really be such a bad thing?
And then Christmas Eve finally arrives. At our house that means sausage balls, hot wings, and steaks on the grill as we watch A Wonderful Life, and my mother, brother and I regal my sons with stories of Christmas Past we shared with the grandfather they barely remember outside of the memories of him we hope will keep him present in their lives. We open gifts, and then remind my sons as excited as they are about new video games and the music that will shake the rafters of our house, that is not what Christmas is about. We remind them whatever holidays families all over the world are celebrating, they all are about hope. The hope that love and forgiveness will always win out over the struggles of mankind.
It is passing on that hope to the next generation I call a Very Merry Christmas!
Santa baby, slip free cable under the tree for me
My boys need ESPN
Santa baby, and hurry down the chimney tonight.
Santa baby, reliable transportation too
Gotta get kids to school
Santa baby, and hurry down the chimney tonight.
Think of all the fun I’ve missed
Think of all the fellas my heroines must kiss!
Next year I could be oh so good
If you’d check off my Christmas list
Boo doo bee doo…
Santa honey, I want a crock pot and really that’s not a lot
I’ve been an angel all year
Santa baby, hurry down the chimney tonight.
Santa cutie, there’s one thing I really do need, the deed
to a grocery store
Santa cutie, and hurry down the chimney tonight.
Santa baby, I’m filling my stocking with utility company checks
Sign your X on the line
Santa baby, hurry down the chimney tonight.
Come and trim my Christmas tree
with a line of credit that is interest free!
I really do believe in you
Let’s see if you believe what it’s like to be me!
Boo doo bee doo…
Santa baby, forgot to mention one little thing, a ring
Teenager wants a new cell
Santa baby, forget the chimney and clean out the gutters tonight…
Hurry! Clean out the gutters toooonight!
Nuts and Bolts
I receive a lot of emails and messages from aspiring authors. Because I know how important encouragement is in the pursuit of any endeavor, I always try to be positive and cheer them on. However, I also try here in my blog to be honest about the world of an author not always being a happy, sparkly place. Yes, I believe it takes talent. It also takes what I see as the nuts and bolts of being a writer.
My brother is an artist. We knew by the time he was three years old, he was talented. Forty years later, when others gush over his latest portrait, he is the first to remind he has spent forty years honing his craft. I feel the same way when I read a glowing review of a book attesting to my talent. I think I was born with a devotion to the written word, and have had a love affair with books as long as I can recall. I also began writing short stories and in journals when I was nine. Practice goes a long way toward any hope of coming close to perfect.
I certainly do not mean there isn’t much to be said about raw talent. But, as is the case with most really good things in life, paying attention to the nuts and bolts of any endeavor, and practicing your craft is most often what yields success. As a result I tell all the aspiring authors who ask my advice, WRITE. A LOT! If doing so is a joy, then chances are very good you have talent. And the combination of talent and honing your craft with hard work is what usually yields a career.
Have a wonderful week all!
The Little Things
I believe I’ve mentioned before the career of a writer can be a slippery slope. To many you are only as good as your last book. There is the manuscript being reviewed by an agent, and deadlines set by a publisher… It can be overwhelming, and make for a very long day if too much time is spent focusing on the realities of the world of fiction. Being as Type A as I am does not make the road any easier to navigate. There are days the ups and downs of the publishing business makes me wonder what I was thinking.
Then about the time I want to curl up into the fetal position because a plot is not unfolding as easily as I would like, I realize it is time to rush out the door to have Thanksgiving lunch with my ten year old at school. It might seem like a little thing, but I look forward to it all year. I love the school’s dressing, and anymore it is the only time I am allowed to have lunch at school with my son without being a total embarrassment to him in front of his buddies.
There are the times I’m scrolling through pages of sites about whatever topic I am researching for a novel while stirring the Hamburger Helper I’m making for supper, and I think being able to make my family a meal every evening might be a little thing in the grand scheme of things. I am still fortunate to be able to do it. There are the times I run my kids out of the room so I can work. However, there are also the times I can pick them up at school when the nurse calls to tell me they are running a fever, and not have to worry about taking sick days or vacation days at work when they aren’t any better the next day. I realize on those days that is not such a little thing.
I always thought the best thing about being an author would be seeing my name on the cover of a novel, or knowing others may appreciate the story I wanted to tell. Oddly enough, as appreciative as I try to be of those things, it is the little things I value the most. Seeing your name on the cover of a novel is great. Being able to work the demands of an author around the little things in life is the real payoff. Whether I ever make it onto a bestsellers list, or not there is a lot to be said for the little things I got to do while trying to get there.
Enjoy your week all!
As far as I’m concerned, brunch is the perfect meal. You can order eggs Benedict or a myriad of salads, dump fatty dressing all over them, and still feel as if you’ve stuck to the never-ending diet. And Mimosas and Bloody Mary’s cannot be too highly overrated. However, my favorite thing about brunch is usually I have it with girlfriends I cherish. We’ve known each other for years. We’ve seen each other through relationships, child-rearing, and loved each other enough to say, “Yes, that outfit does make you look fat.”
The lives of those of us who share brunch are sometimes complicated. We have careers, homes, kids, sometimes significant others (okay, I am the sometimes, and they are more regular with the significant other), and a ridiculous amount of our conversation is devoted to our mothers. We lament about not being as young as we used to be, but agree we wouldn’t trade perky anything for what we know now. We’ve been cheerleaders in each others’ lives so long a victory for one of us is a victory for all.
The devotion of the Mom’s Brunch friends often makes its way into my novels. Strong, smart, courageous heroines also need girlfriends to share secrets and chocolate…and Bloody Marys. The women whose lives parallel our own give us reassurance we are not alone. And even in a romance novel, a heroine needs a friend who loves her enough to say. “Yes, you look fat in that outfit.”
Tonight as I was waiting for the pan of cornbread I was baking to brown so I could add it to the mountain that would be made into the dressing my family slobbers over, I was cruising Facebook. I saw a post by a friend from high school commenting on the first Thanksgiving she and her family would spend without her husband, who had passed away. My heart wrenched. My father’s favorite holiday was Thanksgiving. When he passed away in 2005, I thought I would never enjoy that holiday again. I’d spent most of the Thanksgivings of my life with my father ending the blessing said at his table with, “Amen, pass the turkey.” I could not imagine Thanksgiving without him sitting at the head of the table, and our usual screaming match over politics and pumpkin pie.
However, a funny thing happened that first Thanksgiving after my father passed away in April 2005. As I waited for cornbread to brown, I told my sons how excited their grandfather would get over just the thought of me making my grandmother Cleo’s dressing from the cornbread I baked in his mother’s cast iron skillet she left me when she passed away. And of course I told them about, “Amen, pass the turkey.” My mother told them about the screaming matches over politics. She told them about how even though my father did not agree with my politics, he was proud he raised a daughter who had the nerve to lock horns with him, because he saw to it I knew my opinion mattered…even though I was WRONG!
That first Thanksgiving after my father passed away, and every one since, has been just as memorable for me as the ones I shared with him. As I told my friend from high school tonight, I realized nobody is ever really gone from here as long as even one person who loved them remains. And if that isn’t something to be thankful for, I can’t imagine what else would be.
I am wishing all of you and those you love a happy, memorable Thanksgiving!
Feeding Your Muse
Most writers will tell you inspiration comes in many forms. Sometimes we are inspired by a sunset, a season, a memory, or simply a story that has lived in our head long enough to demand to be told. Our muses take as many forms as the range of our emotions, and often spur us on to meet the challenges that yield our careers. It sounds almost lyrical, and creates a picture of the storyteller peacefully poised before a computer as an ethereal vision whispers encouragingly…
Truth is, it goes a little more like this…
The manor rose up from the shadowy countryside, the tender light of a witch’s moon spilling down to-
“Mom, my brother won’t let me have my turn on the PS3.” The 10 yr old crosses his arms over his chest, and juts out his bottom lip.
“Tell him I said it’s your turn,” I mumble. …a witch’s moon spilling down to-
“I did tell him. He punched me,” he reports.
“Tell him I said to come here right now.” …a witch’s moon spilling down to-
“Yes, ma’am?” The teenager towers over me with his best attempt at an innocent expression.
“Let your brother play,” I murmur. …a witch’s moon-
“But, he said if I made his bed, I could play for the next hour!”
“Tell him I said to come here right now. And we do not hit each other in this house,” I call after him as he lumbers from the room. …spilling down to-
“Yes, ma’am?” The 10 yr old is really more accomplished at the attempted innocent expression.
“Did you tell your brother he could play for an hour if he made your bed?” Witch’s moon? Will most people know what a witch’s moon is?
“Yes, ma’am, I told him that. Two hours ago!” The 10 yr old looks just like me when his eyebrows shoot up into his hairline.
“Tell him I said to come here right now.” A full moon… Everybody knows what a full moon is…
“Yes, ma’am?” Yeah, the teenager is as bad as I am at the attempted innocent expression.
The 10 yr old is hovering in the doorway, unable to resist watching his big brother stand in judgment. I wave him into the room. “Boys, do you remember how we talked about just because I work at home does not mean I don’t have to work?”
“Yes, ma’am,” they chorus.
“Why do I work?”
“Because video games are expensive,” the 10 yr old volunteers.
“And I eat every two hours and wear a size fourteen shoe that has to be special ordered,” the teenager adds, trying not to roll his eyes.
“What are those things called?” I prompt.
“Your muses,” they chorus.
“That’s right.” I glance at the doorway. “Work it out…without punching each other, or what will happen?”
“Your muses will die, and we will suffer,” they chorus.
In the inspired world of this writer, muses just don’t get anymore lyrical or ethereal than that.
Have a wonderful weekend all!
It Is All About Compromise…
My older son will be fourteen Monday. Just as importantly to him, three months ago he came to me to announce he knew exactly what he wanted for his birthday. “Modern Warfare 3, Mom!” I cringed. Guns, violence, and if I had to bet on it, language I would not find appropriate. Why my boys feel the need to step into a make-believe reality to live out some fantasy… Oh, wait! I write fiction for a living. This dawned on me this afternoon as my sons and I stood in line waiting our turn to buy the game my teenager has spent months waiting to play. I was feeling a little snarky, thinking wouldn’t it be wonderful if my boys were foaming at the mouth, waiting in line to buy a copy of a book? ANY book… Then I recalled my older son began reading the Harry Potter series after I bought him the video game a few years ago. And the 10 yr old is really looking forward to Sky Rim coming out the end of this week. I told him if he liked that sort of stuff, he would love reading about the legend of King Arthur, or The Hobbit.
There are times I think video games are a curse upon our youth. Like when I am jumping up and down in front of one, hoping my kids will at least attempt to pay me some attention. No wonder reading is such a tough sell these days, given all the tech toys our kids have at their disposal.
However, the real truth is, no matter what games our kids are into there is a book somewhere out there to closely follow that interest. Whether it be the playing soldier my teenager is all about, or the dragons, castles, and magic that capture my little one’s imagination, there is a story this mother hopes will intrigue them at least almost as much as the games they play. So, maybe we parents have an added bonus in feeding our kids’ addictions to gaming…
For each game, they should read at least one book to find it is the oldest form of stepping into another world, and becoming anyone you want to be. Now that is a compromise that will make me feel a whole lot less snarky.
Enjoy your week all!
If you follow my blog, you know my main gig is being a full-time mom to two rowdy boys, and I also moonlight as an author. In the real world I spend a whole lot of time in the kitchen. If I’m not in the kitchen, chances are good I am shuttling kids around in an SUV packed with groceries, sports equipment, and buddies my sons have invited for the weekend. My usual attire is jeans, sweatshirts my older son has outgrown, a ball cap, and sunglasses to hide the fact makeup is not a priority. I love that life, but must admit I look forward to being the author sitting at a computer creating another world.
Last weekend, I got to step into another world outside of my own imagination. My fellow author, Kimberly Adkins, kindly invited me to join her in New Orleans for a book signing, and to attend the Vampire Lestat Ball as well as the Witches’ Ball. We stayed in the lovely, historic Creole Gardens B&B, where we were pampered like royalty. I got to sign books and chat with readers, dress up in beautiful gowns, and be whisked away in limos to cocktail parties and balls. I got to watch my son marvel at one of the south’s most historic, decadent cities… It was another world, to say the least.
I thought about that other world this morning as I was shoving my hair up into a ball cap, and running to the SUV because my 10 yr old was insisting he was going to be late for school. I thought about it again as I was cruising the aisles of the grocery store, trying to remember all the things on the list I left on the kitchen counter, and again as I was planning what I would make for supper. I know I am blessed to live in my real world. And I am even more so to have spent a few days in another world that was for me a dream come true!
Thank you, Kimberly Adkins, for inviting me, and The Boutique Du Vampyre, for hosting our signing. Hope to see you all again next year for Halloween in New Orleans!
I know it is more than a week away, but I look forward to it so much each year, I generally start celebrating a little early. As a kid I loved it…except for the year my mother made me wear stirrup pants under my princess gown because it was so cold. I spent weeks looking forward to a puffy gown and crown, and there she was ruining it all with practicality! As an adult I’ve always loved Halloween because I never outgrew my love of playing dress-up as a kid. As a parent there were a couple of years it was a struggle. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to stuff a wriggling toddler into an Eeyore costume while a Type A, six yr old Power Ranger paces back and forth reminding it is almost dusk, and all the really good candy is going to be gone if we do not get a move on!
I believe I’ve mentioned before there is nothing funnier in my family than scaring the snot out of each other, so after my boys are through canvasing the neighborhood, we sit down to watch scary movies. This always provides my mother with the opportunity to jump out of closets and traumatize us all after we’re a bit jumpy. She so looks forward to it, we hate to deny her perverse glee. And this year I have decided to turn door-duty over to the teenager. Even the candy high I will be on will not lessen the depression of realizing kids that once crowded our front porch are now escorting their chubby cherubs up the steps. By the way, Darth Vader is now the proud daddy of Harry Potter and Princess Jasmine.
I love it all…the sound of leaves crunching and laughter as kids tromp through the yard, the doorbell ringing over and over as I barter with my ten yr old over his haul, my brother’s excitement as he cues up a horror flick he has been dying for me to sign off on being appropriate, or close enough to it, for my boys, my mother’s attempts to barter with me over what I bartered out of the ten yr old… I love Halloween for the same reason I love most holidays. It’s a chance to carry on traditions and make new memories with those I love most. Well, that and any holiday celebrating candy CANNOT be too highly overrated!
Wishing you all a spooky, spectacular Halloween with those you love!
Finding Mr. Prater…
I believe we all have people who come in and out of our lives, that make a difference we might not even acknowledge until we are much further down the road. One of those people for me was a teacher named Gary Prater. I began dreaming of seeing my name on the cover of a book after reading The Secret Garden, when I was nine years old. So, when I was a senior in high school, and Mr. Prater told me after handing back a paper I wrote on Shakespeare’s MacBeth, “Miss Phillips, I wouldn’t be surprised to see your name on the cover of a novel one day”, I figured I’d died and gone to heaven. Mr. Prater was cool. He could quote Shakespeare and he encouraged my love of reading and writing…
More than twenty years later, I finally bit the bullet, and began querying publishers with my first manuscript. I was knee-deep in diapers, looking for anything that might keep a full-time mother sane as I pounded out a romantic Happily Ever After. It was those words of encouragement from a high school English teacher long ago that gave me the confidence to finally pursue a childhood dream.
Years and three novels later, I am still looking for Mr. Prater. I have contacted former teachers and classmates, all to no avail. It is important to me to find him. I want this teacher to know his words of encouragement made a difference in my life. I have realized goals I am not sure I would have were it not for his belief in my abilities as a seventeen year old girl. I don’t think I would have had the confidence to pursue my dreams were it not for his encouragement. It is important to me he knows that.
I am not going to give up on finding Mr. Prater. And teachers, never underestimate the impact you can have on your students’ futures!
Enjoy your week all!
Peace And Quiet
Any author will tell you the greatest challenge in producing a novel isn’t always research, plot, character development… For many of us it is simply finding the peace and quiet to write. I often blog about living in a multi-generational home. It’s a big place, but between my mother, my brother, and my two sons, the noise level rates somewhere near a sonic boom.
There are six TVs in the house. Each are often blaring, whether anyone is in the room watching them, or not. My room is on the front of the house, which I thought would lend to more solitude. And it might were it not for the fact the rest of them know where to find me. The 10 yr old stops by every hour on the hour to report his big brother is not giving him time on the PS3. Then I have about ten minutes before I must leave my computer to go break up the brawl that ensues because the teenager found out his brother told on him. My mother stops by to tell me what Aunt Dot said during their phone call, which is exactly what Aunt Carol told me Aunt Dot said during our last phone call. My brother is probably the most considerate of my need for privacy. He only stops by to ask what we’re having for supper. I tried posting a sign on the door that read: DO NOT DISTURB UNLESS YOU ARE BLEEDING AND/OR ON FIRE! As that made no difference, I must assume my family cannot read.
However living in the midst of such chaos does add another element of pride when I finish a novel. Each time I look at a copy of one of my books, I think I got to tell that story…in spite of my rowdy family.
Enjoy your week all!
A Hero Comes Home
Most weekends in early autumn in East Tennessee are about football and tailgating. But, this weekend the streets were lined with many showing respect and saying thank you as Lance Corporal Frankie Watson came home. Frankie was a twenty-one year old Marine, who died in Afghanistan after being shot while out on patrol. I didn’t know Frankie, but I guess it is being the mother of two sons that makes my heart ache even more for his family and what they must be going through.
Regardless of our political stances, or even opinions on the wars to begin with, I have been very proud to see the outpouring of support from our communities for his family and the observance of this young man’s rightful place among so many fallen heroes. Every day young men and women of this country serve, knowing very well they might pay the ultimate price. I am awed by that sort of dedication, and humbled by knowing a young man who had everything to live for died as a result of his allegiance to the country my sons call home.
Rest in peace, Frankie, knowing there are a couple of boys in E TN whose mother made sure they knew you died a hero.
Agree To Disagree…
It is a concept wildly popular in my family…after the screaming match is over. Among those I love most are republicans, democrats, animal rights activists, hunters, homosexuals, heterosexuals, and Lord knows we sometimes disagree on the specifics of religion. We don’t do much fighting between the sexes because everybody knows the females in my family do more before ten AM than the males do all day. Even if they disagree, the males are smart enough not to argue. It wasn’t the holidays at our house until my father and I had our annual political argument over pumpkin pie, or some family members chewed their tongues off because I told my children, yes, Hannakuh was just as important as Christmas.
We argue, we yell, we complain… But, it is amazing what a platter of fried chicken and potato salad can do to bring us all back together again.
So, this week as I read posts on Facebook where my family argued everything from prayer in schools to deer hunting, I had to smile. It’s not really that we are all that disagreeable. I think it is more we were all taught our opinions matter. Our parents encouraged us to stand up and speak out for what we believe, even if they sometimes did not agree with us. As a writer that is priceless to me. Had I not been taught what I have to say may be of value to others, I may not have ever realized many goals.
Enjoy your week all!
The Real World
One of the requirements for being an author of fiction is being completely comfortable spending the majority of your time in imaginary worlds. When people and places that do not exist dance in your head, you decide to either take medication for it, or try to make a living out of it. If choosing the second, it isn’t long before the real world becomes a pretty dicey place. I was happily immersed in the fifth century where there were bloody sword battles, plague, a definite lack of emphasis placed on personal hygiene, and women were considered male property, when my publisher said, “Hey, why don’t you do a book signing?” You mean with people? Real people? In a place that actually exists? Well… Oh, Lord! The only thing that could be scarier than a signing with real people in a place that actually exists is no real people showing up at a signing in a place that actually exists! And I have to fly on a real plane to get there? I am not even brave enough to fly on imaginary planes.
For many authors a book signing is a much scarier place than the fifth century, even with the plague and nobody bathing. But, the reality of being an author sometimes means braving the real world, and hoping if nothing else, it will be frightening enough to steer you back into a world of your own making.
Looking forward to Halloween in New Orleans…no matter how frightening it may be!
That Day in September
A sunny September morning ten years ago began for me with the sound of my four year old signing along with Blue’s Clues, and his unborn baby brother jumping up and down on my bladder. I literally rolled out of bed, sure I wouldn’t be blessed enough to deliver my second child on his due date five days later. My four year old requested Lucky Charms for breakfast, but we both knew he was getting Cheerio’s with sliced bananas.
I was in the kitchen, slicing a banana when my mother-in-law called. At her insistence I turned on the TV in the kitchen just in time to see the second plane fly into the building. The rest of that day is sort of a blur. I recall my father coming through the back door to insist I stop watching the coverage as it wasn’t good for the baby for me to get so upset. I remember hurriedly turning off the TV each time my son came into the room. His father and I couldn’t understand what was happening, much less how to explain it to a four year old. On that day ten years ago the world changed, and I was desperately afraid for my son and another child I was about to bring into it.
Over the next five days there was shock and grief and mourning of the likes I could have never imagined. But, there was also heroism and unity as people of this nation reached out to each other in ways I also could never have imagined. Shortly before midnight five days after that September morning, I was blessed enough to deliver a healthy baby. A son, who for me was a reminder even in the midst of such horror there can be hope.
The world my children are growing up in is different since that day in September. They know of terrorism, war, economic collapse, and that every year on the anniversary of that day in September our nation sends up prayers we won’t ever see another day like that one. But, my sons also know of remembering fallen heroes, a nation continually trying to rebuild hope and prosperity, and how important it is their generation does not carry on the anger and hate that brought about such cruel, senseless loss of lives. Ten years later our children continue to be our brightest hope in a world that was forever changed on that day in September.
Stranger Than Fiction
Tom Clancy was quoted as saying, “The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.” As a writer, I know this to be fact. I’ve kept a journal of my life since I was a teenager. I can assure you, were I to pitch those volumes to a publisher, I would receive a politely worded thanks-but-no-thanks. There might be mention of too many loose ends as far as the plot was concerned, and not enough development of the main characters. In all honesty, I guess I would have to agree.
As far as plot goes, a single mother of two rarely knows what tomorrow may bring, not to mention how Happily may have hope of merging with Ever After. School has only been back in session for a couple of weeks, I’ve got one kid playing football and another juggling Honors Algebra as well as teenage hormones… I don’t know what day of the week it is half the time, much less how the plot between now and Friday is going to go. It’s only Tuesday…I think. Between now and Friday there could be whatever virus my boys may bring home, a pipe bursting, the dentist appointment I forgot about until an hour before I’m supposed to be there…and my mother. Have I mentioned my mother? Well, you know because you probably have a mother.
I try to plot my life. I have post-it notes, a calendar on my computer, my phone, and another in my purse overflowing with expired coupons. I try to plan and plot and still I end up frantically searching a calendar asking myself over and over what day it is so I will know whether to shuttle one kid to football practice, or ask the other how his Algebra test went. My mother is a daily concern. No need to refer to the calendar there.
Of course the main characters aren’t fleshed-out. Fleshed-out is an editorial term, by the way. It is a publishing politically correct way of saying the character is one dimensional. Hey! I have two kids! I haven’t so much as had a bath without somebody banging on the door to tell me he is hungry in almost fourteen years. So forgive me if being completely and totally responsible for two other human beings has depleted my multi-faceted persona. And exactly how fleshed-out can a nine year old be? He still wipes his mouth on his shirtsleeve. I think being expected to be a believable character is more pressure than the kid can stand. The almost fourteen year old might possibly be believable, but he has ignored me since he began going through puberty. Therefore, how would I know?
My life is most definitely stranger than fiction. But, in being so it is often what steers me into a fictional world of my own that makes far more sense. If the plot and characters of my reality weren’t unbelievable, I might not be as eager to create a realm of believability and a Happily Ever After I have yet to pencil into my calendar.
The Blame Game
In my experience it is a pretty futile exercise. My dad was the king of personal responsibility. The minute I opened my mouth to suggest my bad decision might possibly have been to the credit of another, he would lift a hand and say, “Do not tell me this is not your fault. Making a mistake is one thing. Not being responsible enough to own up to it means you aren’t smart enough to learn from it.” Yeah, there was no ‘the devil made me do it’ at our house. Before you started pointing a finger at others, you first examined your own behavior.
So, this morning as I sat and watched news coverage of our country’s continuing economic crisis, and a pending natural disaster that could be yet another devastating blow to Americans, I wondered what it might take for us to examine a little personal responsibility. I know some think global warming is a myth, but could the havoc we have reeked on our environment possibly be directly related to Mother Nature slamming us over and over worldwide? And it is not just big companies. All those personal environmental footprints might just be adding up to one big stomp with which we seal our own fate. While millions of angry Americans are pointing fingers at Washington grumbling about irresponsible spending, are they possibly living on credit cards in homes they had a inkling they couldn’t afford before the housing market came tumbling down? Perhaps not only Washington is responsible for an economy built out of a house of cards… Credit cards that is.
While it seems one disaster after another plagues us, it is easy to stand by and shake our heads, or lay blame at another door. I’m wondering if that may be exactly what keeps those disasters coming at us. Perhaps in the grand scheme of things personal responsibility is the real lesson. And until we learn it, what goes around will certainly come around.
Stay safe this weekend all!
It’s Football Time in Tennessee!
In the South it is God, family, country, and SEC football.
University of Tennessee fans start planning parties about the time spring practice rolls around. Whether braving the mob to tailgate before and sometimes after the game, or deciding to watch from the comfort of home with friends and family, fried chicken and hot wings are generally on the menu. By August the buzz is all about the Vols. The only thing left to do is watch our boys run through the T formed by the Pride of the Southland Band as they play Rocky Top while we all place our hands over our hearts and wipe away tears.
My aunt’s house is command central for football. We pack so many people into the den in front of the TV the big screen occasionally has to be wiped down from the hot air fogging it up. My last words to my boys as we get out of the car to haul in brownies, potato salad, and fried chicken are I better not hear them repeating any of the words they might hear shouted at the TV as we all jump to our feet over an official’s call, or a running back’s fumble. I even wear orange, though when I do it makes my hair look brassy and my complexion like I died last week. I am nothing if not willing to suffer for my team.
There is no other time during the year I miss my father more than on the football Saturdays he loved so much.
Football isn’t just a game for us. It is another aspect of tradition and family. It’s kids getting to see their parents behave inappropriately and say words they would be grounded if they dared repeat. It’s about my brownies, my cousin Steve’s sausage cheese dip, and Aunt Carol’s chili. It’s my cousin Deb calling every five minutes from the West Coast, where she has recruited an impressive number of UT fans. It’s my cousin Kathee asking how we could all be so riveted to a ballgame when there are such larger concerns going on in the world, after she admits she is there strictly for the wine.
Win or lose, football time in Tennessee is about generations of family gathered together rehashing play by play what might be just a game to many others. But, for us and countless other families, football in the SEC is another aspect of the time honored traditions we carry on to celebrate who we are and where we come from.
Have a wonderful week all, and GO VOLS!
Buck Up, Buttercup!
I recently had a conversation with another writer, who was having one of those days. Most writers I know have a long list of responsibilities outside of their craft, just as I do. Kids, family, homes to take care of, and many also work jobs along side their writing career. But, when you hear writers talking about “one of those days”… Well, your heart should go out to them because they are likely to feel someone has ripped theirs from their chest while it was still beating. There can be a whole lot of euphoria involved in a writing career. Completing your first novel, and then the moment you hold in your hands solid proof you really did finally do it. I know to many it seems all writers do is sit around making up stories when they feel like it, and then they watch the cash and accolades roll in. Um, no…not so much.
Those in the publishing industry refer to a writer’s work, because that is what it is. Coming up with seventy to a hundred thousand words that will capture the imaginations of others is not for lightweights. Then after all that angst and agony, and yes that is exactly what it is about sometimes, there comes those days. Rejection letters, no matter how politely worded, are written proof another does not believe in all your angst and agony as much as you do. Frankly, that is hard to take because of all the pep talks you gave yourself to push through while struggling to complete a novel.
Then there are reviews. When they are good, oh my… Are they ever good! For me it doesn’t matter if it is a professional review by a source respected within the industry, or a lady who taps me on the shoulder in Wal-Mart to tell me she enjoyed my last book. You say you like my story, and chances are good I will love you forever. Bad reviews? They are what I see as an absolute. I figure no matter how well developed the plot, how vibrant the characters, or how big the publisher, somebody somewhere is not going to get it. Subjectivity is something every writer must take into account. Especially with publishers, editors, and agents given the uncertainties in the industry today.
If writing can be so difficult, and the industry is so challenging, and somebody somewhere is going to take great delight in telling others the heart and soul you stuffed in between the pages of a novel isn’t worth the cost of the cover price, why bother? For most, we bother because it is our passion. I believe everyone has a passion in life, something you do no matter the cost because you know it’s one of the things you are supposed to do. When I talk to other writers having one of those days, I try to remind them even given the angst and agony and rejection surrounding what we do, at least we are fortunate enough to be one of those who have a true passion in life and the courage to follow it. And you don’t give up because of rejection letters and bad reviews. That is how you know it is your passion.
So, buck up, buttercup. Tomorrow is another day!
Lazy, Hazy Days…
It has been another brutal southern summer. Heat indexes in the 100 plus degree range and the storms that result in that sort of sweltering. Just about every afternoon at my house has been a wait-and-see if the power goes out from another thunderstorm blowing over the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. I’ve made sweet tea by the gallons and lost count of the number of watermelons we’ve put on ice. I’ve judged cannonball contests into the pool and we’ve welcomed friends and family to help us while away the longest, hottest days of the year.
And then today, I braved the crowds on tax-free weekend with school supply lists in hand. My older son soon begins his last year of middle school, my younger one his last of elementary school. Hence my sobbing in the checkout line as my boys rolled their eyes and prayed nobody they knew saw us. I consoled myself by thinking UT football is just weeks away. I would turn around and the Smoky Mountains would be lit up with the ruddy colors of fall, then next thing I knew it would be time to plan for the holidays. As Type A as I am, I begin planning for the holidays in September.
A couple of months down the road, I will be complaining about the cold, and recalling an early August evening when I sat on the front porch watching the sun set on another lazy, hazy summer day. I will remember the smell of freshly cut grass, the sound of my neighbor’s weed-eater, and the sight of my 9 yr old and his buddies tearing around the front yard. Seasons seem to bump one into the next, and the memories link like chains until another year has passed, and I wonder where it went.
I’m looking forward to it being football time in Tennessee and the first cool nights of autumn. But as those temps drop and we welcome autumn to the Smoky Mountains, I’ll be glad my boys and I spent an early August evening on the porch together as we counted down the last of the lazy, hazy days of another brutal southern summer.
Enjoy your weekend all!
Please Do Not Go There!
It was recently suggested to me publicly voicing my political opinions might not be in the best interest of my career. What if a potential purchaser of my novels did not agree with my observation a Palin/Bachmann running ticket would indeed be an indication the end was truly nigh? Could my insistence politicians acting like bickering kids on a playground rather than reaching a debt deal could render me unable to afford the shoes my 9 yr old would need on a playground be offensive to some? What if my belief that when many in Washington spoke of not wanting to increase taxes was a tired old bait and switch where they failed to mention they were advocating the rich in this country not pay their fair share while millions more Americans fell headfirst into the poverty category was more economic suicide hurt somebody’s feelings?
I don’t want to harm my career anymore than I want to hurt anybody’s feelings. But, being a writer often means you are compelled to share with others all the things dancing in your head as you observe the world around you. I don’t need others to agree with my beliefs to make them more valid to me. And I don’t need to agree with your beliefs in order to respect them.
I think those who chose not to buy my books did not do so as a result of my political beliefs. I mean really, they clearly did not buy the book because I was having a bad hair day when the picture of me in the book was taken.
Wishing you all a great week!
Even a Type A list-maker sometimes has trouble setting priorities, when life gets to the point of there not being enough hours in the day. The older my boys get, the crazier our schedule, and building a writing career is not for the faint of heart. I have become amazingly adept at multitasking. I can flip a grilled cheese, answer messages on Facebook, send out emails, and still manage to articulate to my friend, Lisa, over the phone whatever nervous breakdown I suffered that morning. I carve out a strict writing agenda by reminding my family if they disturb me, I would suggest they be bleeding, or on fire. As my sons prefer to settle disagreements by throwing punches, bloodshed is most often the demise of my agenda.
So, when the 9 yr old asked if he could have a couple of buddies over to swim, and the 13 yr old went into meltdown because he was out of chips and salsa, I launched into my speech about how I had a million things to do that day, and if I was lucky, I would crawl into bed in the wee hours of the morning to indulge in the coma I most certainly deserved! They stood there with the deer-in-the-headlights look they get when my voice gets shrill enough to make every dog in the neighborhood start howling.
Could they not understand I had responsibilities and priorities?
Then I thought about my friend, Lisa, who earlier that month watched her older son leave for basic training for the Air Force. My 13 yr old already looks like he’s seventeen, so one glimpse of him was all I needed to remind me the days of my boys making lives of their own that did not include me daily were fast approaching. And when all was said and done, wasn’t one of the reasons I worked hard so I could judge cannonball contests?
I pride myself on a strict work ethic and the ability to prioritize a schedule that sometimes feels more like tactical maneuvers. But, there are just days when eating chips and salsa and joining in the cannonball contest should be an utmost priority.
Enjoy your weekend all!
Sex and the Romance Writer
Well, that title got y’all over here right quick, didn’t it? Note To Self: Begin all blogs with the word sex…
Contrary to what some might imagine, for this writer those scenes aren’t usually as entertaining to write as I hope they will be for my readers. As I was trying to explain to Jason, who was kind enough to message me fifteen times to describe in great detail what he thought I wore while writing those scenes, he is way off base. I don’t own a black leather bodysuit like Catwoman wore. But, chances are good when writing a love scene, my cat is trying to step all over my keyboard as I hurl a stuffed mouse that squeaks across the room in hopes Jasper will fetch. Sorry Jason. I’m even sorrier cats do not fetch.
I must admit those scenes can sometimes get steamy as I try to write and flip the fried baloney my kid requested for lunch. I mean what could be hotter than trying to describe a passionate kiss while listening to the debate going on between my boys that will soon escalate into the brawl that will cause me to have to leave my hero and heroin in order to shove a broom handle between my sons to pry them apart before I have to spend another afternoon in an ER? Yeah, it’s sexy writing about sex while my mother files by every ten minutes to remind that chocolate at my lips will eventually end up on my hips. Hey, if I am going to write about another woman caught up in the throes of passion, the very least I deserve is chocolate!
And would anybody like to adopt a cat, two boys, and my mother so my hero and heroine can get lucky before I have to start cooking supper?
I realize I am shattering illusions, but at least as a result if you read one of my heroes whispers to one of my heroines at a particularly pivotal moment in the story, “Mom, I’m hungry,” you’ll know what that is all about.
Enjoy your week all!
Going with the Flow…
Nope. Not really my strong suit. My family swims around in the sea of carefully prioritized To Do lists I leave laying around all over the place. Even as a child, I listed everything I had scheduled in a spiral-bound notebook with Holly Hobbie on the cover. By high school, if there was a committee or club with an agenda, I was usually the one making the list and organizing a plan of attack. My children have learned to suffer my Type A personality ways, though I do occasionally hear them mumble, “Rain Mama” under their breath.
I think maybe that is why books have always been so important to me. There is nothing better than getting lost in the world of an author’s making, where I can escape the demands of mine. As a writer, even though my creative process drives the story I am telling, I never use an outline, and sometimes have no idea when I write the first word how that story will unfold. I wonder how a woman who struggles with going with the flow in her real life can so easily do so in those other worlds I sometimes visit.
However, the author who goes with the flow has taught Rain Mama a few lessons. Though the author may not always know exactly how it will unfold, she knows in the end her story will be a happy one. Maybe it is the expectation of all will end well that makes suffering every detail of life a pretty moot point. I don’t know if I will ever be able to go cold turkey and give up my lists completely. But, I am learning the more faith I have in all will end well, the more often it happens.
Enjoy your weekend all!
Heroes, Heroines, and Happily Ever After
I think I was probably fourteen or fifteen when I read my first romance novel. Janet Dailey wrote it, and though I can’t recall the title, I do recall the gist of the story was an innocent, soft-spoken heroine patiently coaxed the tough-talking, self-absorbed hero into figuring out he needed to get over himself, and realize what he’d been looking for outside of earning millions and pursuing his bad-boy ways was standing right in front of him. His attitude adjustment resulted in her Cinderella lifestyle, and they both lived happily ever after.
To the teenage girl I was then, there wasn’t much that could be better than that!
In the thirty years since, the formula for happily ever after has been tweaked in a number of ways. Heroes today range from having fangs to being single fathers. And unless your heroine is still wearing a petticoat, the requirement of innocence is loooong gone. My heroines are typically butt-kickers with agendas of their own, who just happen to stumble across a hero who…well, frankly, needs a butt-kicking. And still somehow they both stumble into happily ever after.
I suppose a social commentary on the evolution of heroes, heroines, and happily ever after would state though the roles of men and women have changed over the years, one element remains tried and true. And perhaps the reason romance novels continue to bank stellar sales even in the most dismal of economies is because happily ever after will forever stand the test of time.
Respect the Decision…
I wasn’t one of those little girls who played with baby dolls and dreamed of one day being a mother. I had a little brother and half a dozen younger cousins, so I knew exactly how much trouble a baby could be! Years later, when I married, and my husband spoke of how complete a baby would make our lives, I would think, yeah, complete and utter chaos. And then almost fourteen years ago, I held my baby in my arms for the first time. My mother always told me I would never understand how much she loved me until I had my own child. Well, she was right. Again! I looked at that squalling, blotchy little baby boy, and for the first time knew exactly what the rest of my life was going to be about.
I think the love a parent has for their child is the closest we will ever know to what God must feel for us. I know my life spun on a dime the day I became a mother. I also understand our legal system, or at least try to as best I can. What I will never understand is how a mother, regardless of what our legal system decides, could begin to face a single day knowing her child was missing, much less harm that child herself.
I often say I truly believe in what goes around comes around. And as much as I might have to find a way to respect our legal systems’ decision, I also know as a mother there is a higher court to which I believe we all answer.
It’s All in the Details
When I was in college, I took a couple of writing classes. At that point in life, I wasn’t even considering making a living as a writer. I was bartending at night, and trying to get into a respiratory therapy program by taking classes during the day. But, I knew writing was something I loved to do.
The professor in my writing class said, “Being a good writer starts with understanding it’s all in the details. Sharing details with a reader means you as a writer must learn to stop long enough to take in everything that is going on around you, and articulate it closely enough that the reader hears, sees, and feels everything you do. When you learn to do that, you’ll not only be a better writer, you will be amazed at how it impacts your life.” Well, she said something close to that.
I was twenty-something, struggling to stay awake in class because I’d mixed margaritas until the wee hours of the morning at the restaurant I worked at the night before. I didn’t give much thought to what that professor said until years later, when I was expecting my first son. I decided I would keep a journal, so he could one day know all the things I thought about and did while preparing for him to come into my life. I realized because of that journal, I paid attention to things I might not have were it not for writing it. I stopped and took in what was going on around me more often. As a result I have clear memories of what was one of the most wonderful times in my life.
Life gets busy. Finding the time to stop and take in everything that is going on around us can be overwhelming at least, and sometimes terrifying at most. But, it is those details that often shape memories of times in our lives we most want to recall. The fact that my grandparents’ house always smelled like musty, old books and furniture polish, the first time my father let me drive his pickup, he wore the cowboy hat that made me cringe… And for months before my son came squalling into my life, I would sit in his nursery folding baby blankets as I wondered if the heartburn could get any worse, would I ever be able to tie my own shoes again, or would my baby have a dimple in his chin like his mother.
Years after I took a writing class, I realized that professor was right. Whether you want to be a writer or not, it is sometimes the small details of life that make the biggest impact. And if we don’t slow down to take it all in, we may just be missing out on the details that will one day shape the sweetest of memories.
You Don’t Miss a Good Thing…
I often blog about growing up in South Knoxville. My grandparents and father went to Young High School, my brother and I South-Young High School, and now my son attends South-Doyle Middle. See there was Young and South, then South-Young and Doyle… Anyway, besides merging schools, there have been changes those of us who grew up in this community watched over the years as the place where we spent our childhoods transformed with the turning pages of our calendars.
I can remember Young High School being where a Kroger is now. My grandfather and father went to watch the day the school where they spent their glory days was knocked down to make way for the grocery store I now wander around, trying to remember what was on the list I left at home. Directly across the highway from what was once a high school and is now a Kroger sits the South Knoxville Library. As a kid that library was to me what a video game store is today to my boys. Thursday was my favorite day of the week because the library stayed open until eight o’ clock. My mother would come home from work, and take my brother and me to the library. If we didn’t behave, then we didn’t get to go to the library.
Yeah, my brother and I were both total book nerds. Okay, we are still total book nerds.
At sixteen I would have given up my drivers’ license and my Journey album before my library card. The South Knoxville Library was where I went when I read every Nancy Drew Mystery my elementary school library had on the shelves. It was where I crammed bags full of Barbara Cartland’s historical romances, and where my mother would check out the Sidney Sheldon novels I would sneak and read. I could chronicle the early years of my life based on what I was checking out of the South Knoxville Library.
One of the storms that ripped through South Knoxville a couple of months ago caused severe damage to the library. About a thousand books were lost. If you want to see an author cringe, mention a thousand books lost. Then I spoke with one of my son’s former teachers who told me repairs of the damage done to the library may be too much for it to reopen. I don’t currently have a dog, but if I did she may as well have told me she was going to shoot it.
It’s not like reading books isn’t a tough sell to kids these days. Mine look at me like I announced I am going to shoot the dog they don’t even have, when I tell them to turn off the video game, and go read a book for heaven’s sake. They have cards, and have been in the South Knoxville Library more times than they can count because it is another family tradition they will participate in if it kills me!
Some friends told me this evening the library would reopen. I certainly hope so. The South Knoxville Library isn’t just a library to me. It is the place where I fell in love with books. It’s the place where my mother spent Thursday evenings with her children, and where I introduced my children to Dr. Seuss. I’ve learned to live with merging schools and numerous other changes to the community where I have spent the majority of my life. But, the thought of South Knoxville without the library where generations of my family spent time together, and I dreamed of one day being an author, would be a page in a calendar I would rather not turn.
One, Mississippi, two, Mississippi…
I have a bit of a temper. Others are often surprised. I speak in a soft, southern drawl and for the most part adhere to the polite manners my mother drummed into me. I say, “thank you, thank you so much”, “may I, please”, and “no, no, after you”. But, there are times I simply cannot muster gentile responses. During those rare times, I try to offset my head exploding and language even my father the former sailor would blush at by counting to myself as I take slow, deep breathes. “One, Mississippi, two, Mississippi…”
For instance, while driving down Chapman Highway with my child in the backseat, when the driver in front of me must first come to a complete stop before turning right, I say “One Mississippi, two, Mississippi”, rather than the really ugly word my nine year old would announce I use all the time at our next family gathering. Seeing the utility bill for another hot June in East TN? “One, Mississippi, two, Mississippi…” When my teenage son rolls his eyes as I tell him he better watch his tone… “One, Mississippi, two, Mississippi…” When I realize I did not do a backup of five hours of work on my new novel just as my computer crashes… “One, Mississippi, two, Mississippi…Oh, Lord, I am going to have a stroke, Mississippi!”
I’ve never been to Mississippi. Actually I have been through Mississippi on my way to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl years ago. GOOOO VOOOOLS! I am thinking I owe the state of Mississippi thanks. If not for Mississippi, I’d be hanging out a window driving down Chapman Highway calling folks some really ugly names in a not so soft, southern drawl, and my teenage son would be picking himself up off the floor over and over as we both suffer his adolescence.
I will forever be indebted to Mississippi. Well, at least until it’s football time in Tennessee!
Happy Father’s Day
The man I called my father wasn’t biologically linked to me in any way. I was ten years old when he came into my life. Honestly, had he not had a boat and a golden retriever named Prince I fell in love with on sight, I’m not sure I would have given the go-ahead when he asked my brother and me if he could marry our mother. They got married, and I got a father who took his role far more seriously than I would have liked.
By the time I was a teenager, I was sure he lived for nothing more than to make my life a living hell. Every morning he sat at the kitchen table, pretending he was reading the paper as he ate breakfast, when he was really waiting for me to come down the hallway. I was regularly sent back to my room because that sweater was too tight, and it looked like I painted on those jeans. The day he saw me in a cheerleader uniform, he clutched his heart, and ordered me to go put some clothes on!
When I was fifteen, I got a job at Burger King making biscuits on the weekends. He would get out of bed at three-thirty in the morning to take me to work. I’m pretty sure he was more proud of my first paycheck than I was. He taught me to drive in his Ford pickup, and didn’t even flinch when I drove up over the curb and plowed down a birdbath. He encouraged me to think for myself. I think sometimes he regretted it when we argued about everything from religion to politics. He walked me down the aisle, and I named my first son after him. He was with me for many memorable days in my life, and I was with him on the last day of his life.
My father taught me biology has little to do with being a parent. It is being there that makes a parent. And he always was, whether I wanted him to be, or not.
Wishing you all a wonderful day celebrating the fathers in your lives!
A couple of months after the release of my first vampire novel, I received an interesting email. It was from someone identifying himself as Prince Vlad. He was highly complimentary of my novel, (which of course is what made the email interesting to me) and assured my portrayal of vampires rarely drinking from humans was in fact accurate. I thought, okay, good to know. I mean who wants to offend the vampire community by inaccurately portraying them?
By the time my second vampire novel came out, Prince Vlad asked me to be his vampire bride. I told him I was all for it, though somebody had to drive the kids to school every morning…in broad daylight. As much fun as stalking the night might be, I had laundry, grocery shopping, helping with homework, as well as ballgames to attend. Some would say Prince Vlad lived in a fantasy world thinking he was a vampire, but I said he lived in a fantasy world thinking I had the time to be a vampire. After a quick rundown of my life, Prince Vlad didn’t offer to take my hand for all eternity again.
Now that my third vampire novel has been released, I have decided to exit the realm of the undead for a while. Prince Vlad says that’s a shame. I don’t know if I’ll ever write another vampire novel, or if Prince Vlad is in fact truly a vampire. But, I do know it was flattering to think if he is a vampire, he felt I did his kind justice. Between being a mom and a writer, I might not have the time to be a vampire bride, but it is nice knowing Prince Vlad thought I would make a good one.
Success Is Relative…
I began dreaming of being an author when I was just a kid. I’m pretty sure that dream was somewhere between being crowned Miss USA and touring the country with my cousin, Deb, as half of the singing sensation known as The Dixie Darlins. I gave up on being Miss USA when I realized my cousin couldn’t sing with me during the talent competition, and the dream of the Dixie Darlins died when I figured out half of a singing sensation should actually be able to sing (I’m talking about me, Deb, not you.). I almost gave up on becoming an author because it took thirty years for it to happen. Most likely it would have never happened had success for me not been relative.
I wrote my first novel when I had a baby on a hip and a four year old reminding me it was almost time for Blues Clues. It was nothing more than an attempt at preserving my own sanity. I wrote my second novel while saying goodbye to my terminally ill father and a marriage. And I wrote my third novel while suffering being the mother of a teenager and the daughter of a mother who kept telling me I was NOT the boss of her! During the most challenging times of my life, writing has always been a way to hold on to something I do purely for myself.
My third novel was released yesterday. As excited as I was, there wasn’t much time to relish that particular success. The PS3 went on the blink, so the teenager curled up into a fetal position and began whimpering. The 9 yr old asked if he could have a dozen buddies over for a sleepover, and my mother told me to bite her when I mentioned diet cola was listed nowhere on the nutritional pyramid. I went to my brother looking for solace in enduring the struggles of facing life in my household, only to be told at least I did not have to deal with me.
As a result of my relatives, I am well into my fourth novel. Any success I have achieved is strictly a result of them driving me slowly but surely closer to the edge. I suppose my success in realizing a dream being relative to the people in my life I love, but sometimes want to escape from, could be considered balance in the cosmos. Were it not for my relatives, I might not have achieved a dream three times over. And it is because of them I am sure a means of escape will continue to help me realize my dreams. Even if I’m not Miss USA or half of the singing sensation known as The Dixie Darlins.
In the last few months record number of storms, tornadoes, and floods have ravaged the southern states. Just this afternoon my family and I watched from windows as another storm approached, dark clouds turning early afternoon into what looked like twilight, and rumbling thunder shaking our house. My younger son has seen news footage of the damage done by tornadoes and floods recently. He anxiously asked if we would be okay. I thought about those who have lost cherished belongings and loved ones to nature’s fury, and how fortunate we are as I tried to reassure my son.
However ,as often happens, out of misery and devastation comes hope and proof of how resilient we can be as a result of that hope. Numerous local charities are mobilizing to lend aid to our southern neighbors, who have been affected by Mother Nature’s wrath. Those of us bothered by damaged roofs and vehicles are quick to say how fortunate we are that is the worst of our loss. And I wonder sometimes why it takes everything from tsunamis to tornadoes to make many of us realize how blessed we truly are.
The storms seem to have moved through East TN for now. We are even seeing the sun peek through clouds as they move over the mountains. But, I am still saying prayers for those who are trying to pick up the pieces of Mother Nature’s fury, and am thankful for the inspiration their hope gives us all.
Summer in the Smokies
I often say I appreciate living in a place where there are four distinct seasons. Nothing is more spectacular than autumn in East Tennessee…at least in my opinion. Then there is the snow on the mountains I can see out my backdoor in winter, the dogwoods blooming in spring, and the hot, humid days of summer. So far in the last three weeks it seems we have experienced all those seasons, one right after the other. But, today the sun finally made an appearance after days of overcast skies and record low temps. By noon I was opening windows, and wondering if tomorrow I would be complaining about the heat and humidity. And tonight I am sitting on the front porch, watching my boys flag down the ice cream van blaring music as it slowly rings our neighborhood. If fireflies start lighting up the lawn, it will be a perfect early summer night much like the ones I remember from my childhood.
Autumn in East Tennessee is spectacular, snow on the Smoky Mountains is a beautiful sight to behold, and dogwoods in bloom are a breathtaking sight. But, early summer on my front porch, watching my boys eat ice cream and fireflies light up the night may just be as good as it gets!
Happy Mother’s Day!
In my family mothers are revered year round. I am forty-six years old with two children of my own, and there is still little I do that I don’t first consider how it might reflect on my mother. I suppose that is only fair as she has always afforded my brother and me the same devotion. In my family you say “yes, ma’am” to your mother because chances are really good she has on several occasions told you she brought you into this world, and she can certainly take you out of it! She has loved you enough to make your life miserable at times, and she is not about to let you forget it. Much of our lives are balanced on the tenuous scale of what will Mama have to say about that? It is knowing no matter how old we get our mothers still afford us such fierce devotion that makes us revere them all the more.
Tonight my family will crowd my Aunt Carol’s kitchen around pans of manicotti, while everybody talks at once. It will be the best part of my Mother’s Day celebration. My sons will get to see generations of mothers being revered, and therefore hopefully remember to keep an eye on those scales the rest of my life. I can tell my boys they should respect their mother until I am blue in the face. But, I have a feeling it is seeing the relationship I have with my mother that might make all the difference. Becoming a mother defined every aspect of my life in more joyous ways than I can count. Being my mother’s daughter is another way I can teach my children about the importance of a mother’s love in all our lives.
I am wishing you all a wonderful Mother’s Day with those you love!
My earliest memories of my mother are of asking God to please let me be just like her. Smart, beautiful, and so much stronger than those who don’t know her would ever imagine. My father was a pretty tough guy, but when my mother cut her eyes over at him, he sat down and shut up. We all allowed him the illusion of being the head of the household, but we knew he wasn’t about to cross my mother. As a little girl I marveled at what it must be like to wield that sort of power!
When I hit the teen years, Mama and I often found each other on opposite sides of that line she drew in the sand. But, no matter how often we faced off in battle, I never for a second doubted my mother wanted me to one day be a woman we could both be proud of. Today I can honestly say what I see as my greatest successes in life I can trace right back to that woman I once battled.
Happy Birthday, Mama! I still ask God to let me be just like you.
I don’t know if it is being forty-something that makes me contemplate the ironies of life more often, or if I have just gotten better about paying attention to what is going on around me. Because I am forty-something… But, it seems as time goes on, I am often caught in a warp. Most of the time I am grateful for the loop. It reminds me how fortunate I am to be where I am in life. And other times it gives me a glimpse of a future I would really rather not think about.
My friend, Lisa, and I have known each other since seventh grade. We both once had overly protective parents, crushes on the same boy, and mothers who told us to get that “devil music” out of her house when we played our AC/DC album. Now we are both divorced mothers of two sons with aging parents and mortgages and the hope we can make it through the day without calling each other to share a nervous breakdown. So occasionally we decide we deserve an evening when we are not wearing baggy sweat pants and T-shirts, while making fourth meal for a teenage boy who is always hungry. This weekend we decided we would go see another high school friend’s band play at a popular restaurant/bar. I love their music, even though the friend who plays in the band doesn’t look a day over thirty. Were he not such a nice guy, I would punch him every time I see him.
When we arrived, the place was packed. UT played the annual Orange and White game that afternoon. Nothing makes southerners flock to watering holes like football. If we got a table in the dining area, we wouldn’t be able to see the band, but all the tables in the bar area were taken. There wasn’t even an empty seat at the bar. Y’all know this is where I began to stew over men sitting while ladies stood. A couple of guys at the bar must have read my mind because they finally offered their seats. Only after we told them our names, as one insisted. When we did, he replied “Hey, it’s Lisa Lisa!” Yeah, cause we have never heard that one before.
I don’t usually sit at a bar. Any time I do I hear my mother’s voice ringing in my head telling me ladies do not belly up to bars! When I was a twenty-three year old bartender making more than a grand a week mixing margaritas in a Mexican restaurant, she said that wasn’t the same as sitting at the bar. That kind of cash buys a lot of shoes. She more than understood an observance of priorities.
I was sitting at a bar with a friend I once sat with at pep rallies, watching a bartender who looks to be twenty-something sling beers while I recalled how many pairs of shoes a busy night like that would yield when I was in hers. I resisted the urge to lean across the bar and tell her to cater to the couple at the end of the bar. I’d bet it is their first date, and he would want to impress her by leaving a big tip. Again, my thoughts appeared to be broadcast as she hurried over to the couple. I watched my friend step up onto the stage and reach for the sax he once played in our high school band. Lisa was trying to ignore the guy leering at her like the boy at the pep rally she did not have a crush on all those years ago. Different place and time, but it felt like a warp all the same. I glanced at my cell to check the time as if my dad would be waiting up to make sure I made it home before my curfew.
As weird as the warps sometimes are, I enjoy watching different phases of my life overlap. I am lucky to still have friends I have known for more than thirty years. And that bartender was lucky more than my fair share of busy nights behind a bar made me a really big tipper!
I made it home just minutes after midnight to find my 13 yr old still camped out in the family room in front of the PS3. I suggest parents always complaining about not knowing where their kids are buy a PS3. Were it not for the mess in the kitchen, I would have sworn the kid hadn’t moved in the four hours I was gone.
“You are late,” he said, keeping his eyes on the game.
“I am not!” I insisted. “I said midnight.”
“You said before midnight,” he reminded. “You should have called.”
I opened my mouth to tell him I was only a few minutes late, and it would have been silly for me to call. Then time warped, and I heard myself telling him he should have called some Saturday night in the future. “You are right. I should have called so you wouldn’t worry.”
“Should have, would have… Sounds like excuses to me.” He sounded so much like my father I cringed, and wondered why I adopted yet another phrase my dad used for my boys to turn back around on me. “You are grounded, young lady.”
“Good!” I said with a smile. “I will spend all day in my room tomorrow doing nothing but reading a book, and thinking about my irresponsible behavior. There are leftovers in the fridge, and I guess you will just have to walk to the Game Stop. Goodnight!”
“Hey, wait! Mom!”
I say all the time in order to write about love for a living you must be a firm believer in the power of it. You have to know for those fortunate enough to experience it, there is that one other person who can with nothing more than a smile make the world come to a complete standstill. And there is little that fuels a writer’s imagination more than seeing proof of the undeniable power of love.
I pick up the 9 yr old at the elementary school at 2:45, which means we always have more than half an hour to fill before picking up his brother at the middle school at 3:30. This time slot is generally filled roaming around the Kroger in South Knoxville while I try to remember all the things we need I forgot to get when I was there the day before. My younger son usually plods along beside me, filling me in on his day, and assuring sugar in moderation is not harmful to growing boys. Whatever the topic, the kid rarely takes a breath as his little mouth runs nonstop. I do not know where he gets that.
I rummaged in one of the freezer cases, wondering if thin crust veggie pizza would be too much to ask of a national grocery chain, when I realized the 9 yr old’s play by play of the football game at recess had come to an abrupt halt. I looked down to find my son’s big brown eyes filling his face and his mouth gaping open. Normally it takes nachos or a new video game to produce that sort of result. I turned my head to see a beautiful little blond-haired girl with big green eyes following her mother down the aisle. She was smiling at my son…who I slapped on the back in hopes he would take a breath before his face turned any bluer. When the girl and her mother turned down another aisle, I looked back at my son.
“Do you know her?” I asked as he craned his neck to watch her disappear.
“Yes, ma’am,” he croaked. “That’s Maddie. She is the prettiest girl in the whole school. All the fourth grade boys are in love with her.”
“Really?” I tossed a couple of pizzas into our cart. “As you are in fourth grade, I assume that means you too.” His face flushed as we strolled down the aisle.
“I think she knows who I am.” He shoved his hands into the pockets of the jeans with grass stains on the knees.
I wondered if just once he and his buddies could play something besides football at recess as I grabbed a bottle of stain remover from a shelf. “What do you mean you think she knows?” I asked. He only shrugged. “Don’t you talk to her?” He looked at me like I asked for a kidney. “Honey, she is just a girl. She may be waiting for you to talk to her.”
“I doubt it,” he replied, giving me the you-are-just-my-mother-so-what-would-you-know look.
“I happen to know for a fact when boys are too afraid to talk to a girl she sometimes ends up at home alone on Saturday night reading The Hobbit.”
“Nothing,” I insisted. “My point is maybe she thinks you are the cutest boy in the whole school, and she is too afraid to talk to you. So now here you both are not talking to each other.” He rolled his eyes again. “Tomorrow you go right up to her and say hello.”
“I can’t do that,” he gasped.
“Of course you can! I am telling you, she is probably wondering why you never talk to her.”
He was trying not to look like he is looking when we passed her and her mother as they stood in the checkout line. A little part of my heart was breaking as I realized there was now another female who scared my son more than his mother. He hesitantly lifted a hand and waved as we passed them. I held my breath until the prettiest girl in the whole school waved back at my son.
I watched that boy walk on air for the rest of the afternoon knowing there was little greater in life than the power of love.
On average I receive about two dozen messages a week from aspiring writers. Very often they are the same questions. How do I find a publisher? Do I need an agent? What should I include in a query? Should I consider self-publishing as opposed to traditional publishing? And the list goes on.
Though I have been published by a small press, I by no means consider myself an expert on the publishing industry. But, I can tell you what I know as a writer. It is a sickness. For years before I finally summoned the courage to query publishers, I kept journals and wrote stories I never dreamed anyone would ever read. When my older son was a toddler, I wrote simply out of the hope it would keep me sane. By the time my second son came along, I had drawers filled with journals and manuscripts that were my attempt to hold on to a sacred corner of life that was not devoted to those I gave birth to.
If I was down, I wrote. If I was happy, I wrote. If I was determined not to finish my kid’s spaghetti… Yeah, I wrote. My brother is an artist. He says if he never sold another piece of his work again, he would still draw. It’s part of who he is. Writing is the same for me. I think writers are born. Whether we are ever published or not, it is part of who we are. So whether you write fiction, non-fiction, or whether you are ever published, if for you writing is a sickness, you have a really good start. Most published authors will tell you few of us started with the illusion of fame and fortune. We write because we don’t know how not to write. We become published because we don’t give up. Why would you give up on something that is part of who you are?
Write the best book you can, research publishers and agents and self-publishing and DO NOT GIVE UP! If being a writer is part of who you are then chances are good somebody else will recognize it as well. Maybe even before you eat your kid’s spaghetti!
More than three years ago, I began writing about a cast of vampires, whose eternities unfolded in Savannah, Georgia. I chose Savannah because when I went there as a little girl for the first time, I decided it was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen. Historic homes and buildings and sunny beaches… I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to live there. Well, at least not for another thirty-five years. And then my imagination kicked into overdrive.
On June 1st the last book in my vampire trilogy, Rogue Everlasting, will be released by Black Lyon Publishing. This trilogy will always hold a special place in my heart. No matter what I do as an author in the future this trilogy was the realization of a dream I had as a nine year old reading The Secret Garden. Writing these stories helped me through a pretty rough patch in life. For me they are proof if you want something bad enough, and are willing to work hard for it, the dreams of a nine year old can come true.
I am immensely grateful to fans of the Everlasting Trilogy who have taken the time to contact me and give me feedback, my editor, Kerry, who is an absolute dream to work with, and my boys who never once complained about hot dogs, or pizza again, so I could finish a chapter. Through these three novels I have learned much about the publishing business as well as myself as an author. I may be saying goodbye to these characters, but the lessons I learned through the process of bringing them to life in someone’s imagination besides my own will always make them special to me.
Happy reading all!
I started babysitting when I was twelve years old because my father looked at me like I lost my mind when I announced I wanted a sixty dollar Aigner purse for my birthday. He said a purse was for carrying money, and if I was crazy enough to spend that much of it on one, he suggested I get a job. He then went on to give me the speech about how the law stated he had to shelter, feed, and clothe me, but nowhere in that mandate did he see the mention of designer clothes, shoes, or purses. By age fifteen, I was clocking in at a Burger King at five in the morning on the weekends to make biscuits, and at eighteen I was knocking down more than five hundred a week waiting tables at an upscale restaurant. At twenty-something I learned spending the money that should have gone to pay the utility bill on a new pair of suede boots meant I couldn’t see how fabulous those boots looked on me because after spending that much money on shoes, I couldn’t afford a flashlight.
I got married at thirty, and jumped at the chance when my father offered to rather than pay for a big wedding, add to a down payment on a mortgage. And then I became a mother. Designer clothes were sort of a waste on a woman who was just hoping to get out the door without spit-up in her hair, or pulling out of the driveway without the diaper bag on the roof of the car. When my second son was born even someone with my limited math skills could calculate the probability of raising two children and putting them through college without clipping coupons and praying they actually liked Hamburger Helper was slim to none.
And then my older son became a teenager…
I stared at the ad my son placed before me. “You want me to pay a hundred and thirty dollars for a pair of sneakers you will outgrow in three months?” He already wore a size fourteen shoe, so it wasn’t like we wouldn’t have to special order them, and pay even more for that and shipping.
“But, look,” my son pointed out. “They have air cushioned soles. I’ll be able to slam dunk with those shoes.”
I looked up at him in disbelief. “You are thirteen years old, and already six, two. That is as close to slam dunking as anybody your age needs to be.”
“Mom, please…” he whined.
I closed the circular he fished out of the paper with a sigh. “Did you know you were almost twenty-three inches long at birth?”
He fell down into a chair at the table. “Yes, ma’am,” he muttered.
“You came into this world almost two feet tall. And I haven’t stopped making you something to eat in the last thirteen years.”
“Mom,” he groaned.
I lifted a finger. “You are going to college, if I have to go with you to make sure you get there. Unless you want to be paying off student loans for the rest of your life, I can go eighty bucks on new sneakers. You want those shoes,” I said nodding at the circular. “You’ll have to come up with the rest.”
“How am I going to do that?” he demanded.
“Rather than spending all your Christmas and birthday money on video games you’ll save it, and buy new shoes,” I suggested. “Just make sure you always pay the utility bill first.”
“Ma’am?” he asked, giving me a confused expression.
“Never mind,” I chuckled. “I don’t know anybody who can have everything they want. If you could, I have to wonder how special anything would be. If you want something, then figure out a way to earn it. I promise when you do, it will mean more than if somebody just handed it to you.”
“I have thirty bucks left from the Christmas money Mimi gave me,” he murmured.
“I might be willing to pay twenty bucks to have the garage cleaned out…and my car washed.” I set a sandwich in front of him.
“Twenty bucks to clean out the garage and wash your car?”
“Take it or leave it because that is a four dollar sandwich,” I pointed out.
It’s difficult to avoid when it’s nearly seventy degrees, and it’s not even March yet. When I was growing up, I dreaded spring. My mother didn’t just spring clean. She spring cleaned, painted, wallpapered, and redecorated. My father would say all the holes she put in the walls moving pictures and mirrors around would one day run together, and the house would fall down. If that were to happen in spring, I wasn’t sure he would notice. Not only was there the usual yard work he would sentence my brother and me to, but in spring he started obsessing over firewood. He would volunteer to cut down trees for friends and family members. We would drag limbs, stack logs, and rake up the mess. To this day the sound of a chainsaw makes me cry.
I swore when I grew up I would never let the first signs of spring turn me into some crazed maniac with a To Do list designed to torture innocent children!
And then the other day I was standing at the patio door looking out on an afternoon that seemed more like one in April than February. I was thinking the ornamental grasses needed to be cut back, and the patio needed to be pressure washed. While I had the washer out I might as well do the front porch and shutters… While I was dragging things around the garage to get to the washer, I should do some sprucing up there because we were going to need the tools to clean out flowerbeds and prune hedges.
“What are you doing?” my 13 yr old asked shrilly.
I turned, and recognized the fear in his eyes. He saw that gleam in his mother’s eyes that told him leisurely winter weekends were coming to an end…and I was going to work him and his brother like mules. I started rattling off the To Do list as he winced with every word.
“Cheer up, buddy! It could be worse,” I assured, patting his back. “At least I don’t have a chainsaw.”
Happy Valentines Day!
If there is anything I know to be true, it is to write about love for a living requires a devout belief in the magic of it. The hearts and flowers of love as I call it. Fast beating hearts, first kisses, and turning up the love songs on the radio that once made you roll your eyes. Though I think many wonder if there is truly as much romance as ‘hooking up’ going on today. Call me old fashioned, but I believe there is. Every once in a while I see something that restores my faith in that romantic notion.
My Valentines Day started off in crowded doctor’s office where I decided I had no choice but go after the virus my sons brought home from school just about rendered me unable to get out of bed. I’ve been a mother long enough to know a good case of bronchitis when I hear it. As my sons were feeling better, and therefore wanted to do things like eat and wear clean clothes, I had no choice but to loiter in a waiting room that was standing room only. As I stood, I looked around at the number of men with their butts firmly planted in chairs while half a dozen women stood lined up along the wall. Shame on you, I thought, vowing to be ever as diligent about flicking my boys on the ear if they forgot to open a door for their grandmother, or dared take a chair while a woman stood. Old fashioned, I know, but it is a real pet peeve of mine.
As I was lamenting to myself about chivalry being dead as a doornail in that waiting room, I stepped aside as the door opened. A man came in wearing coveralls and a pair of work boots that looked like he had been plowing the back forty with his feet. He had on a baseball cap which he quickly pulled off his head. I smiled. Wonder how many times his mama flicked him on the ear for wearing a cap in her house? He had two large bouquets of roses and a box of candy. And I mean the good stuff. If there is anything I know it is chocolate. Those were truffles.I leaned closer as he passed just in hopes of getting a whiff of them.
The man, who I guessed to be in his early thirties, went to the counter where the receptionist was grinning from ear to ear. She held up a finger, rushed down the hallway, and a minute later a nurse followed her back down the hallway. I was already tearing up by that time, but when he gave her one bouquet for being his Valentine, and then said the other bouquet was from their children… Just about every woman in that waiting room was already sniffing from whatever crud had driven her in there, and he’d just made it worse. The nurse hugged him. I thought, honey, you better not let him go!
I’m wishing that happy couple and all of you a very romantic, Happy Valentines Day!
Backhands, Wet Dishrags, High Heels, and Meatballs
When the parental debate of whether to spank or not to spank arises, I am torn. I’ve never spanked my boys other than popping chubby little hands when they were toddlers, which was more to get their attention than anything. It wasn’t really any sort of moral decision on my part. By the time my older son was five years old his arms and legs were so long I couldn’t reach him to spank him when he started flailing around.,
I learned with my children long, drawn out torture worked far better. If they didn’t pick up their toys there was no watching Disney Channel. If they misbehaved in school no playing sports. If they talked back to me disrespectfully then the PS3 was off limits. There were times they would beg me to just spank them instead.
The trick to it was never blinking. I knew if I made a single threat I wasn’t prepared to follow through with my credibility was shot, and those kids would run over me from then on. I once saw a mother threaten to spank her kids seven times in one hour if they didn’t go get their playroom cleaned up in the next ten minutes. I thought, after the first three times you didn’t do what you said you were going to do those kids stopped giving the last four times a minute’s thought.
However I was raised in a family with a devout belief in sparing the rod spoiled the child.
My father never spanked me. He preferred public humiliation and stunting my social life. If friends called after my nine o’ clock phone curfew he would answer, telling them when they asked for me I had broken my leg and they had to shoot me, or I ran off with a clown and joined the circus. He spanked my brother, who said he would rather be humiliated.
The grass was always greener, I guess.
Mama was a backhander. My brother and I would start arguing and punching each other in the car and her arm would come over the seat. We’d be crouched down trying to avoid that backhand as she asked if we wanted her to pull that car over right that minute. I often thought about agreeing to that rather than her swerving all over the road as she tried to drive and swat at us. As we got older she sometimes had to pull a chair out from the kitchen table to hop up onto it to smack the sass out of my brother as she called it. When I was sixteen I slapped a hand to my hip and asked exactly when I got to start picking out my own friends. I saw a flash out of the corner of my eye, my cheek started stinging, and I was suddenly facing in the opposite direction.
My Aunt Sue had six boys. One Sunday after church a mere thirty or so of my family decided to go out to eat. With her big brood she had to drive a bus. It came to a halt in the parking lot, and boys spilled out all over the place. Two of them started bickering and shoving and one ended up slamming a door on his brother’s hand. Aunt Sue reached down, pulled off a three-inch heel, and started chasing that boy around the parking lot while he tried to shield his head with his arms crossed over it yelling, “Mama, stop! Watch my eye! Mama, please stop!”
But, the undisputed champion of corporal punishment was Aunt Carol. She didn’t care whose kid you were. If you were in her house eating her baloney sandwiches you were fair game. One night after she fed close to a dozen kids loitering around her kitchen she told my cousin Deb and me to go right then, get our showers, and when we got out put our dirty clothes in the dishwasher. Well, of course we knew she meant the washing machine. I begged Deb to stop as she draped our clothes over dishes and glasses, and closed the door of the dishwasher with a giggle. She said her mother was always saying we needed to listen to her, and do exactly as we were told.
A short while later Aunt Carol came storming into the den whirling a wet dishrag over her head. I started running as fast as my short, chubby legs would carry me. Deb was faster. When we made it into the hallway she cut me off. That dishrag popping against the skin on the backs of my knees was worse than the switch she would snap off forsythia bushes. And Aunt Carol didn’t give up. She’d chase you as long as you ran. We all learned soon enough to lie there and play dead so she’d move on to the next kid.
One night she was rolling out balls of hamburger meat to press into patties, and my cousin Steve said something she thought was disrespectful. All of a sudden she started firing meatballs at him as he ducked and dodged trying to get out the door. About once a month she’d pile kids into a station wagon, drive to the Juvenile Detention Center, and say that was their next stop if they kept on trying her. She had all her kids convinced there was such a thing as Fed Up Mother’s arrest.
I still say yes, ma’am to my mother, and Lord knows I say it to Aunt Carol. When my sons get a little rambunctious I tell them about backhands, wet dishrags, high heels, and meatballs. I think they’ve decided I might not have spanked them so far, but there’s no telling what I am capable of given our gene pool.
That Whole Glass Is Half Full Thing
I recently received an email from a twenty-eight year old young woman who saw me mention I was diagnosed with Lupus several years ago. The young woman received the same diagnosis the week before, and was reeling from all the information she was trying to gather from doctors, and in research she was doing on her own. It can be extremely overwhelming as Lupus often affects different people in different ways, as most autoimmune disorders do. For me the diagnosis was somewhat of a relief. I had gone from doctor to doctor with a myriad of different symptoms over the years to be diagnosed with everything from Pernicious Anemia to thyroid disorders to I was a Type A personality who couldn’t sit still, so I was simply wearing myself out. As overwhelmed as I was with the diagnosis, I was a little relieved to have a name for the variety of symptoms I’d juggled for much of my life.
My heart went out to this young mother of two. I had been there, done that. There is nothing more difficult than trying to muster the strength to run around after a two year old when all you want to do is go back to bed, and pull the covers up over your head because you feel so bad. I was finally fortunate enough to see a doctor who said, “Lisa, there are some things you have to try to see as the glass being half full.” Right, I thought. That’s easy for you to say. You aren’t the one whose immune system is attacking your thyroid to the point of making it so hyperactive you are so thin you look like a concentration camp refugee and all your hair is falling out! And you know next month your immune system might go after something else besides the cold you got from your kid, and then you have another whole set of new health issues to endure.
My doctor suggested rather than being so focused on the symptoms I was experiencing and the depression that many people with Lupus suffer from as result of the frustrations of the disorder, I should focus on the things I could do to stay as healthy as possible even given my diagnosis. Oh, nooo… I knew where that was going. He was going to start talking about nutrition and regular exercise and vitamins. And the power of positive thinking… I didn’t think positively. I looked out on the horizon of life, and anticipated every single thing that might go wrong, so I could be prepared when it did. I was already storing canned goods and bottled water in my garage in anticipation of the coming apocalypse.
After another six months of spending more time in a doctor’s office than anywhere else, I decided I was desperate enough to try just about anything. So little by little, I began to make small changes in the way I ate. Instead of spending hours online reading about all the ways Lupus could affect my life, I went for walks instead. While I was walking, instead of thinking about the coming apocalypse, I thought about how lucky I was to have two healthy boys and a loud, loving, loud family all of whom drove me crazy. Instead of lying in bed at night counting all the things that had gone wrong that day, I listed all the things that had gone right. Next thing I knew I went from getting less than four hours of sleep a night to eight. And OMG the difference it made in not only how I felt, but my skin! To a woman over forty, nothing short of murder is acceptable for better skin. I stopped eating anything that came out of a box or can. I drank a glass of red wine on the porch in the evening as my kids told me about their day, rather than obsessing over mine. I switched from milk chocolate to dark chocolate because I wasn’t giving up chocolate for any reason. I stopped drinking diet sodas, and drank green tea instead. It was the proverbial snowball, and that glass was more than half full day after day.
In the last year, I have been healthier than I have ever been in my life. I’m not saying always trying to see the glass as being half full is a cure for Lupus. And positive thinking cannot completely undo all of life’s challenges. But, I learned there is something to be said for concentrating on blessings rather than struggles. When you do, you might find the struggles are a whole lot fewer and far between.
Now I just have to figure out what I am going to do with all those canned goods and bottled water.
As the mother of two rowdy boys, quiet time isn’t something I often get to enjoy. Then there is my extended family, which when gathered together rates somewhere between a riot and a sonic boom. Since the holidays that joyous noise is still echoing in my head. There are the boys’ ballgames where I’m trying to keep up on the parental gossip going on in the stands, while some kid’s grandmother slaps me on the back every five minutes and shouts, “That’s my grandbaby!” as he sinks another three-pointer to tie the game. Her grandbaby is on the opposing team, so I’ll get to hear my kid complaining about him all the way home. And then there is my mother… Have I mentioned my mother?
There is the phone ringing, and the timer on the oven going off, and the TV blaring, and my boys arguing, and the cats swarming around me, meowing because they are hungry, and my mother, my brother, my kids, and my mother!
Tonight I stepped out onto the porch to let the cat out. The silence was like a little slice of heaven in the midst of all the noise constantly surrounding me. There was this beautiful full moon over the mountains that were covered with snow. It was freezing, but more importantly it was so quiet I didn’t really care. I could smell woodsmoke from chimneys, see stars, but I couldn’t hear a thing on a cold winter night in East TN. Okay, I could hear the muffled sound of video games coming from the family room where my boys played, but other than that, there was complete silence. I sat down on the steps, shivering with the cold. It was still worth it just to relish a little quiet time away from the chaos of life as I know it.
Those are the kinds of moments writers want to write about. The moments when the world around you takes your breath away, and you wish everybody could smell woodsmoke, see stars, and hear nothing. I love every season we enjoy in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, but tonight there was something about the quiet time of a cold winter that may make the rest of the year pale in comparison.
I’m hoping you all have a wonderful week filled with quiet moments that take your breath away!
Another New Year…
It is official. Holidays 2010 ended with my neighbors kids’ setting off bottle rockets just after midnight last night. We welcomed 2011 at my house the way my family has for generations. Cornbread, black-eyed peas, and greens swimming in pork fat. I may have adopted a vegetarian lifestyle, but my family will not be swayed. I am exhausted from endless hours in the kitchen over the last couple of weeks, but it was so worth the memories of another holiday season welcoming friends and family to our home for celebrations. As much as I enjoyed the rush of the holiday season, I am looking forward to the long, cold, quiet days before we welcome spring to the Smoky Mountains. There will be more time for writing, reading the work of some of my favorite authors, and the lazy snow days my boys pray for.
The last year was filled with blessings I hope not to forget during the struggles of the new year ahead. I often say I believe life is about balance, and realizing what goes around comes around. So this year when having a teenager in the house makes me doubt my sanity, or the weekly grocery bill gives me a stroke, or my mother makes me want to bang my head against a wall by telling me I am not the boss of her, I will think about my house being loud and crowded with family for our annual Christmas gathering and counting down to the New Year with my boys as the neighbor’s kid set off another bottle rocket. The blessings far outweighed the struggles in 2010. Here’s hoping the same is true in 2011.
Wishing you all a happy, healthy, prosperous 2011!
A Few Of My Favorite Things…
For me a few of my favorite things are the “Oh, look!” moments as my family prepares for the holiday season. I can recall being a kid helping my mother drag out all the decorations, and listening to her say it over and over. She would unwrap the angel that went on the top of the tree, or the ornaments my brother and I made in school, and always said “Oh, look, Lisa!” as if she just unwrapped something so valuable. I’d smile and nod because I thought it increased the odds of the Easy Bake Oven I mentioned to Santa. I honestly thought my mother was making a big deal out of an angel we’d had for years and a few ornaments obviously fashioned by a 1st and 4th grader.
It took a few years, two kids, and an appreciation for a family I now realize is my greatest joy for me to experience my own “Oh, look!” moments. The angel atop the tree when I was a child had to be replaced by another several years ago. When I unwrapped her this year guess what I said? She is special to me because the last Christmas I shared with my father his dog kept knocking the tree around, and Daddy would send me up onto the ladder to straighten the angel before Mama noticed she was about to topple over. There are the first Christmas ornaments my parents bought my boys. When I unwrap them and say “Oh, look boys!” I know they are smiling and nodding because they’re thinking about video games and new cell phones. I wonder what their kids will be thinking about when they smile and nod years from now? There are the wooden reindeer my father made and my brother and I painted, the Happy Holidays tray my cousin Diana made for us the Christmas before she passed away, the Christmas dishes my grandmother gave my mother I hope to pass on to a granddaughter one day. I unwrap gift after gift, all the things that bring back memories that are so valuable to me. Nothing will ever be more precious than my last Christmas with my father and my cousin, or my first with each of my sons. And though I can clearly recall a few of my favorite things being the Easy Bake Oven and Barbie doll Santa remembered to bring me, today most of them are the same things that once made my mother say, “Oh, look!” as she unwrapped the gifts of cherished memories with friends and family.
I am wishing you all the happiest of holiday seasons!
Slip a new washer and dryer under the tree for me. I’ve been an awful good girl! Santa, baby, hurry before the extended warranties run out!
Santa, honey, what I really could use is FOOD for the 6’2″ 13 yr old who wears a size 15 shoe! You can keep the duplex, but please make the checks out to the mortgage and utility companies. Santa, sweetie, what I need is the deed to a dairy farm, because the price of milk is ridiculous indeed. Oh, and there’s one more thing! A ring… I don’t mean the land-line. I need GPS cells, so I can track who in my family is where, spending what???
Think of all the fun I’ve missed, think of all the boys my heroines must kiss so I can afford all of this! Santa, honey, can we please talk about my mother, and why my sons cannot understand my tendency to smother?
Ba-doopy-do…I need shoes too!
Santa, sweetie, what about tires for the SUV I need to haul groceries, Gatorade, ball bags, and half the team? Come and fill my Christmas tree with coupons and a credit card that’s interest-free… I really do believe in you, let’s see if you believe in what it’s like to be me!
Ba-doopy-do…I need chocolate too!
Santa, baby, forget the chimney and please clean out the gutters toooonight!
The Name of the Game
I’ve mentioned before how regularly I get comments from people on how thrilling being an author must be. And I often say how blessed I feel to be doing something I’ve dreamed about since I was nine years old. However even dreams come true sometimes aren’t as sparkly once you get up close and personal. The truth is being a writer is often a lonely, frustrating, demanding pursuit that requires diligence and discipline as you try to allow your mind to wander to that creative realm where none of those things impede on a story that will whisk your readers away from their struggles with the same.
About the time you’ve become comfortable with locking yourself away from the rest of the world to finish a manuscript, it’s time to shift into what I affectionately refer to as promo overdrive. There’s dealing with editors, publishers, an agent, if you haven’t been politely declined to the point of sticking needles into your eyes, and can no longer query the thousands out there. There are blog tours, online signings, and nightmares about bookstore signings in which only your mother shows up out of the same sense of obligation that had her sitting on the front row at your elementary school Christmas pageant. You’ve spent months with fictional characters who do and say whatever you want to now be thrust back into the real world…where people have opinions…about the heart and soul you stuffed into a novel. They’re called reviewers. And they are not your mama!
From the moment of beginning a novel to the giddiness of release date, the roller coaster ride can leave an author paralyzed with fear one moment and then jumping for joy at the realization of a dream that can sometimes feel like a scourge on the soul. Like most industries the name of the game in publishing is meeting customer demand. Resting on the laurels of one title every so often rarely yields a career. So even while navigating promo overdrive there is the urgency to begin the next novel that will start the roller coaster ride all over again. Just when wondering if the vicious cycle might be too much to bear a reader emails to inform she’ll be naming her baby girl after the heroine in your last book, or the reviewer who got an advanced copy of your title months ago gives a glowing appraisal that was more than worth the wait.
The world of an author becomes all sparkly again, though the essentials are the same as with most professions. Hard work, diligence, discipline, dedication to readers, and developing a thick skin for reviewers who are not your mama are the name of the game especially while making dreams come true.
The Perfect Holiday
My suggestion would be don’t hold your breath.
As I see it perfect holidays rank right up there with perfect families and pigs flying. The expectations alone are often overwhelming. Added to that are usually the long list of disasters from holidays gone by. There was the year my grandmother called two hours before our Thanksgiving dinner to announce she invited my father’s third cousin twice removed and his entire family to be added the eighteen my parents had already invited. And they would be an hour or so late. This pushed the guest total up to twenty-six, and my mother only had twenty-four place settings of good china. It was the first time we had ever heard my mother use that word as she wrestled a twenty pound bird back into the oven, and slammed the door. She and my father had a particularly loud discussion about HIS MOTHER. I thought Mama was completely blowing the situation out of proportion until eleven years later, when my mother-in-law announced hours before my first Thanksgiving dinner for my new husband’s family she had invited my brother-in-law’s in-laws. I’m pretty sure the neighbors heard me use that word several times as my husband and I discussed HIS MOTHER, and I made a few suggestions as to what he could do with that bird.
Then there was the year I prepared Thanksgiving dinner with a 103 degree temperature which caused me to forget to remove the plastic bag with the gross stuff from the turkey. I was too high on cold medicine to care about my family peeling melted plastic from the roofs of their mouths. There was the year my father and I had a shouting match over pumpkin pie after he announced he would be a whole lot more thankful if his daughter wasn’t a bleeding-heart liberal with an affection for Slick Willie. There was the year my brother announced after pulling a 4.0 at the University of TN college “just wasn’t for him”. It took myself and two cousins to revive my mother, and the other twenty family members to restrain my father. Let’s see… The year my beautiful baby boy spit up into the sweet potato souffle, the year my Aunt Gracie kept asking over and over whose house this was and who are all those people, the year my second beautiful baby boy rode his Powerwheel Harley through the living room and over his grandmother… I could go on and on with the not so Norman Rockwell tales of Thanksgivings Past.
Oddly enough it’s recalling all those disasters that are a favorite part of our holiday celebration. Aunt Gracie is no longer sitting at our table, nor is my father. And my boys don’t remember spitting up in souffle, or running down their grandmother. But, they love hearing all those tales about not so perfect holidays shared by their not even close to perfect family. They know shouting matches, mother-in-laws, and cooking nightmares aside we’ll all come together and find more than enough for which we are thankful.
Wishing all of you a joyously flawed Thanksgiving!
I don’t believe in coincidence, or even luck. I like to think there is a grand plan which we all contribute to with everything we think, say, and do. What goes around comes around… I also believe we are all given many opportunities to be in a specific place at a specific time for reasons we might not understand at that moment, but will find later was our chance to impact the lives of others.
I had one of those moments a little over a year ago.
I hadn’t even had time to fully relish my boys being back in school, therefore allowing me to devote more time to writing the stories that would hopefully balance out the ever-rising cost of child rearing. Then the 8 yr old sneezed on the way home from school, and my mother’s intuition kicked into overdrive. Sure enough by bedtime he had a raging fever, that barking seal cough, and I knew neither of us was getting much sleep that night. By the next morning his brother had chimed in with the same symptoms, and I had our pediatrician’s office on the phone. Advised to give it another twenty-four hours before bringing them in where they might contract something else on top of what they already had, we spent night number two with no sleep as I forced fluids and handed out Tylenol.
By ten the next morning I was sitting in an office knee-deep in coughing, sneezing, cranky kids, and their even crankier parents. Besides my kids being sick, my entire work schedule for the week was blown, and I had not figured all that Tylenol and Pedialyte into the budget. I knew from the sheer number surrounding us we were no less than an hour from being seen, and the adorable 2 yr old licking snot from his upper lip was anxious to share whatever he had with my kid as he climbed up into his lap. That’s what happens when you teach your kids to be kind to other children, I thought irritably.
In the midst of all the chaos I looked up from the magazine I was flipping through to see a woman who didn’t look a day past thirty toting an infant carrier come into the waiting room. A boy toddled along behind her, holding the hand of a little girl who looked to be four or five years old. A nurse came in with a thick chart, and sat beside the young mother. Now if you follow my blog, you know I have a shameless habit of overhearing others’ conversations. I chalk it up to the curious mind of a writer. The nurse kept her voice lowered, but finite hearing is one of my Mommy Superpowers.
In the infant carrier was a six week old baby girl named Hannah, who had Down Syndrome. Hannah also had a heart defect that required immediate surgery. I couldn’t hear the name of the hospital where the surgery was to be performed, but I did hear the young mother ask if there was a Ronald McDonald House in the area. She went on to explain her family wouldn’t be able to afford other accommodations, and would have to take their older children with them as well. The nurse assured she would check on it, and left her with a pile of forms to begin filling out. I thought of the expenses I had when my father was in a local hospital. Parking, cafeteria food due to not wanting to leave his side, time missed from work… I also knew as a former health care professional the chances of a patient recovering from any injury or illness were much better when they were surrounded by those who love them.
It seemed like forever before that nurse came back out. I was ready to jump up and demand she better not dare tell that young mother already facing what had to be one of the most difficult times in her life there was no Ronald McDonald House. And she didn’t. She said there was one within a few miles of the hospital. I will never forget the expression on that young mother’s face. I know a blessing when I see one unfolding. In the midst of what that family was going to face a Ronald McDonald House meant they could all face it together with the support of others who knew exactly what they were going through.
I looked over at my two strong, healthy sons, with the exception of a virus they would recover from in days, asked forgiveness for the woe-is-me I had indulged in, and said thanks for being in that place at that moment. Since that day a percentage of every royalty I earn goes to Ronald McDonald Houses. In a single moment I saw exactly what a difference those houses make in the lives of injured or ill children and their families. I know there are so many charities that need and deserve our help to make a difference in the lives of others. But, I will always believe I was sitting in a waiting room that day so that I could share with others Hannah’s Story. And I hope in doing so her family’s struggle makes a difference for many other families and the children they love.
The True Meaning Of Service
When I was in the seventh grade the South Knoxville Optimist Club sponsored an essay contest in celebration of Veterans Day. I entered because my grandfather was active in the club, and because I’d won a contest they sponsored before, and scored free dinner at Shoney’s for my family. Even in those days there wasn’t much I wouldn’t do for a hot fudge sundae. The essay was to be about what Veterans Day meant to me. Frankly at that point in my life I gave far more thought to how I could make my hair look like Farrah Fawcett’s. I certainly hadn’t mulled over Veterans Day for any length of time. My grandmother suggested I interview my father and grandfather, who both served in the military years before I was born. I knew they served. We had the pictures to prove it, as well as the letters they both wrote to my grandmother while they were away. However I had never asked either of them about their time serving their country.
I won’t get into all the specifics of what each of them told me, but I will say there was a common theme in both conversations. My grandfather and father were both educated men, who traveled all over the world thanks in part to their service. They ran a successful family business while raising families of their own, and trust me, being married to my mother and grandmother couldn’t have always been the easiest thing in the world. They each had a list of accomplishments to be proud of. But it was apparent to me after those conversations serving their country was what they considered to be defining points of their lives.
While writing that essay I learned things about my father and grandfather I might never have known, and even more about what it really means to love this country. I was raised to believe when you love somebody or something sacrifice and service are part of the deal. I’m not suggesting those of us who have not served in the armed forces don’t love our country. But, I am suggesting one of the ways we can all serve is by honoring those who have as often as we can. Today I have friends and family members whose sons and daughters are serving in a time of war. As a parent I cannot imagine any greater pride, or fear than knowing your child is willing to sacrifice and serve the country we all love during these turbulent times.
I am grateful for a seventh grade essay contest that taught me the real meaning of Veterans Day. I am grateful for my sons growing up in a country where so many served and died for the opportunities and freedoms they enjoy. And I am grateful to those serving today and their families who carry on the proud traditions of service, sacrifice and love of our country.
Writers Never Stop Reading…
Well except maybe when your deadline looms. And your kid is sick. And your mother… That list is simply too long to get into.
One of the biggest frustrations I face as an author is there are so many books and not enough time! Yes, it’s the same dilemma I faced before I became an author, but now the problem is twofold. Before I didn’t have to be careful not to mention to my editor I loved the new Sookie. What? Sookie? Noooo! I said bookie. I am almost finished with the revisions of my new bookie!
Now I have to figure in all life’s responsibilities and writing around an addiction I have harbored for most of my life. It is embarrassing the things I will do to feed my habit. If I hear there is a traffic slow down on the interstate due to construction, I pull off the road to read one more chapter. I swear to my family when I get home later than they expected it was construction. Didn’t y’all hear it all over the news? I hide books under the bleachers at my kid’s ballgames, and if anybody is interested there are copies of various titles stashed in rest stops from TN to GA. I sometimes have to leave them and run because my boys frisk me and are threatening to found a twelve step program for readers/writers who lie to their children.
I have had numerous close calls in the grocery store as I read and shop. So shoot me! I didn’t mean to bump into your cart, but I have deadlines and kids and do not even get me started on my mother! Now is your ankle broken, or not because if it is I can get in at least one more chapter before the paramedics arrive.
Happy reading to all my fellow junkies!
Build Your Brand
The days of readers only knowing as much about an author as what is reflected in the bio on the cover of their novel are long gone. These days even authors writing for large publishing houses with deep pockets for promotion are expected to put themselves out there. For those of us writing for small presses, or self-publishing, being out there is an even bigger must. If you think what readers perceive about an author personally doesn’t matter, check out any number of boards, chats or sites that should soon convince you otherwise. How you market yourself is just as important as how you market your novel. You are your brand, and every second you are out there for public consumption will likely reflect on your success as an author.
I want to build a following not just for the genre I write for, but specifically for my books. The ones I have published to date are set in the South. Trust me, I am as southern as anybody should ever aspire to be. So on my blog, in interviews, even on my facebook page, I often refer to living in the South and comment on how that reflects on everything from how I cook to how I speak…y’all. In my novels, female characters often interact over chocolate cake and truffles. Anywhere out there I put myself, I make no bones about it not being too far from a chocolate fix. The bonds between family and friends are always a part of my plot, so I often discuss more about my family and friends than I hope they ever find out about. My novels are going to appeal to readers looking for a more traditional romance complete with prose and fairytale-like settings. Therefore I comment on everything from chivalry to not giving up hope of my own knight in shining armor sweeping me off my feet one day. I just hope when he does we’re in the kitchen so he can catch a pile of crumbs or cat food while he’s at it.
I think after pouring as much of our heart and soul into a novel as an author does, we should also do the same with how we portray ourselves to readers, potential agents, editors, publishers, anybody and everybody involved in the industry. Writing the best book we can is the first step, but how others perceive us personally could also determine how far we get on a career path.
We all fall victim to them. For instance, it’s only two days until Halloween, and I haven’t bought the first bag of candy for good reason. I simply cannot be trusted. Besides, my little one is getting old enough to rigorously defend himself when I imply he must have eaten that whole bag of Snickers. And then there are boots… I can muster all sorts of restraint for most aspects of fashion, given the fact jeans and sweatshirts are appropriate attire for a woman who spends a good portion of her life sitting on a bleacher, or helping a bear scout construct a rocket. However, I have on occasion been tempted to sell my soul for a pair of Ralph Lauren boots.
My other guilty pleasure began at age fifteen, a weakness that later in life saved my sanity.
My grandmother majored in English Literature at the University of Tennessee back in the 20’s, and went on to teach for more than forty years. At twelve, I was given a required reading list that included Dickens and Twain, which was later expanded to cover Shakespeare, Austen, and Fitzgerald. So you can imagine my grandmother’s dismay when she asked me as a teen what I had read that week, and I reported on Janet Dailey’s newest Harlequin Romance. When she paled and clutched her heart, I quickly told her it was sort of like Jane Eyre for my generation. I then explained I knew the difference between a duke and a viscount thanks to Barbara Cartland historical romances. Her disappointment was still apparent.
That was my first brush with romance novels getting what I see as a bum wrap. Trashy, racy, unrealistic, frivolous… Yeah, so what’s your point? I’m a woman eating a bag of candy at a time, who would sell her soul for shoes. We have already established I have my weaknesses. I’m also a dedicated mother, businesswoman, and I can quote classic literature in my sleep. So if you see a novel with a bare-chested hero in my hand, please do not underestimate my IQ.
Now let’s list some other facts about romance novels. Such as, during the recent economic downturn, romance was one genre of the publishing industry that continued to show a profit, therefore possibly allowing houses to continue to release titles in other genres as well. So, all those who turn your noses up at the mere mention of happily ever after in favor of “real literature”, please say “Thank you! Thank you very much!” And in numerous surveys over the years, romance readers report they have more frequent and more satisfying intimacy with their partners. Partners, you may now proceed to my Amazon page, click on buy now… And feel free to leave “Thank you! Thank you very much” in the comments on my site, if you are so inclined.
I write romance novels because the businesswoman side of me knows it can be profitable, and it’s a wonderful way to escape a busy life of catering to others to do something just for me. But, mostly I write them because I love to read them. And there are millions of others who share this particular guilty pleasure if the very black sales figures are to be believed.
So, I say eat candy, buy shoes and proudly wave those covers with bare-chested heroes!
When you write about vampires, shape-shifters, witches and zombiesHalloween is pretty high on the list of favorite times of the year. That coupled with the chocolate I’ll be able to skim from my kid’s haul makes me one happy mommy/writer! My mother would let my brother and me stay up late and watch all the scary movies with her, so to this day we try to get in a horror marathon after my boys have canvased the neighborhood. After a couple of hours of sitting on the edge of our seats, it is great fun for my mother to hide in closets and jump out at us to see if she can make us scream. Like my brother and me, my kids avoid closets and peek around corners to be sure Mimi isn’t lurking. In my family there is nothing funnier than scaring the snot out of each other.
I particularly enjoy greeting the goblins coming to our door. “One Reece’s Cup for you… Two for me!” I’m always amazed at how the tiny pumpkin in a stroller last year is now a fairy princess with really great shoes. Though it is a little disturbing when you realize another tiny pumpkin in a stroller belongs to the grown man who once showed up at the door every year as Darth Vader. “One Reece’s Cup for you… Three for me!”
When visions of vampires and werewolves dance in your head year round, often fueled by the chocolate stashed beneath your bed, it’s wonderful to enjoy a time of year when others are on the same page. Whatever your family’s traditions surrounding this time of year I wish you a safe, Happy Halloween!
The Stories We Tell…
No matter what a writer sets out to say there are always elements of who we are woven into the story. Even when creating completely fictional worlds as I do there are still often elements of a writer’s reality threaded through the story. Which is why I have yet to write anything that isn’t shaped by the importance of friends and family. This week I was reminded why those elements often find their way into the stories I tell.
My mother is the youngest of seven siblings, so family is something that has never been in short supply. Like most families we don’t see each other as often as we’d like, but when we do I look around at all those people and think were it not for Jesse and Cleo sneaking off to get married all those years ago none of us would be here to argue and laugh and wonder why we don’t make the time to do it more often. And while having dinner with high school friends I have known for more than thirty years, I realized people often come in and out of our lives as wonderful reminders of who we once were and how that shaped who we are today.
I was asked in an interview once what I thought made a really good story. My reply was heart. Not just the hearts and flowers of romance, but the elements of a story that give the reader a glimpse of who the writer really is. I am thankful this week for the family and friends who have shaped my life and given heart to the stories I tell.
Have a wonderful week all!
Are You Kidding Me???
I would be interested to know if anybody else stumbled into forty-something, looked around and said, “Are you kidding me?” Actually I’m pretty sure I’m in good company. I’m beginning to think of my generation as those who live life with school calendars, coupons, parental power of attorney and date planners clutched in one hand and a prescription for antidepressants in the other. We’re the people wedged between aging parents, who thanks to medical advancements are still fit enough to drive us closer to the edge and kids ready to shove us when we get there. For us keeping up with the Jones’ is wondering if we’ll end up as close to foreclosure as they are. Our children live tech know lives while we fumble for reading glasses to try to make out the text we may or may not know how to return.
However we do know what WTF means because we mumble it under our breath all the time.
I’ve become accustomed to saying are you kidding me over and over. Like when the cashier at Kroger gleefully hands me my receipt and says I saved fifteen dollars, but glosses completely over the fact it cost me over three hundred dollars to feed a family of five that week. Or when my mother announces she is going to trim the crepe myrtle beside the driveway…from the roof. Or when the 13 yr old needs $200 to play basketball, the 9 yr old chips a tooth…again. And all the while I’ve got deadlines to meet because it is fall and I have boots to buy in an effort to make up for ANOTHER laugh line I see when I look in the mirror. I laugh a lot. It’s that or sit in a corner rocking back and forth as I wait for the next crisis my family orchestrates.
Life might not be what my generation imagined at twenty, but if we are lucky it’s close to what we worked so hard for the next twenty years to build. And if we are really fortunate those years were filled with family, friends and a faith that taught us it’s the unplanned messiness of life that brings the wisdom few of us would trade for even a day of being the blissfully ignorant twenty year old we once were.
Enjoy your weekend all!
Patience has never been my strong suit. According to my mother I came into the world with an agenda and the Type A personality to pursue it. I have long fantasized about how many more things I could mark off my never ending To Do list if not for those pesky hours of sleep. Alphabetizing the spice cabinet, making relish out of all the Granger County tomatoes I hoard all summer and knocking out four novels a year instead of three… While much of the world pays tribute to the long, lazy days of summer I’m getting all the stuff done I don’t have time to mark off the list during the months I spend shuttling my boys to school, ball gamesand scout meetings. My life is a constant whirlwind and I like it that way!
However there is something about the first cool days of autumn that always make me slow down and take notice. First of all, there’s SEC football. Who in their right mind can’t make time for that? There are bright, sunny afternoons sitting on the porch looking at the mountains and wondering how many more crisp nights before they explode into breathtaking colors. There’s my favorite sweater I’ve had since college my Aunt Carol begs me to throw away every year. I wore that sweater helping my dad put up firewood, raking leaves in the yard of the first home I called my very own and Trick-Or-Treating with my boys when they were still toddling. I am not throwing it away. I don’t care how ragged it gets! And there are the hours I spend in the kitchen making pots of the chili, beef stew, cornbread and apple pies that announce the season to my family. We spend a little more time sitting around the table or out on the porch and I’m far less likely to worry about To Do lists and word counts for novels.
I know I should be better about it year round, but there is something about autumn that makes me more thankful for little things I take for granted the rest of the year, the times and traditions I want my sons to look back on and be as thankful for as I am. So today I put on my ragged sweater and stirred up a big pot of chili because the game is on soon. That spice cabinet will still be there when I get around to it, but autumn in the mountains only lasts so long.
Enjoy the autumn all!
Be Careful What You Wish For…
This time of year is ridiculously busy around my house. The boys are back in school so it’s homework, scouting events for the 9 yr old and fall baseball and basketball for the 12 yr old. Both my sons are diligent about volunteering me for everything from class field trips to organizing fundraisers. And rarely does a weekend go by that my house isn’t crowded with hungry kids sprawled across the family room floor doing battle on the PS3. For the most part I enjoy the insanity of my life, but it does often make the peace and quiet needed to write awfully elusive. So I am often wishing I had more time to just sit, listen to my muse and write without feeling guilty about all the things that need to be done.
Yesterday I decided my boys were due for haircuts so I got out my handy-dandy Wahl clippers and ordered them out onto the front porch. I’m a big believer in paying nobody to do what you can do yourself. I proceeded to drop the clippers onto my left foot and break a bone. While my family stood around watching my foot swell to three times its normal size, I said some really ugly words…
So now here I sit with my foot propped up and my laptop front and center. Apparently my family can make due with takeout and all those ugly words I said yesterday have made them fearful of intruding on my solitude. And I’m wondering just how much my muse had to do with me having no choice but to slow down and give her due. Under the guise of always trying to see the glass as being half full I’m going to knock out a chapter before the pain med kicks in and remember from now on to be very careful what I wish for.
Vampires, Werewolves, and Witches… Oh my!
I recently overheard a conversation between two women as I sat in the bleachers watching my kid’s basketball game. One was lamenting over her daughter’s current obsession with a certain young vampire. Okay up until then I hadn’t been actively eavesdropping, but I tuned in on that comment. The woman just couldn’t understand the “sudden obsession” with all things paranormal. This always makes me chuckle as I was reading Anne Rice years before many debating Team Jacob and Team Edward were born. Today my boys and I eagerly await the next Harry Potter flick as much as my mother and I did a new episode of Bewitched when I was a kid. I also clearly recall how long my younger brother was grounded when he cut out the lining of my father’s favorite coat to make a costume so he could look like a teenage werewolf. And though I am sure there are those who might disagree, my vote for character building across the genres will always go to Tolkien and the magical elves of Middle Earth.
I will agree the popularity of Paranormal Romance has given the fascination with spooky creatures a new spin. It’s getting a little more difficult to feel sorry for the tortured vampire and werewolf when they are the ones always scoring with the hot chicks and living happily ever after. But, readers being captivated by tales of blood lust, full moons and magic aren’t anything new. From the magical fairy tales read to children to the most wicked of supernatural grownup tales many have long been eager to give a little love to creatures of the night.
Have a wonderful weekend all!
Chivalry Is Not Dead!
I spend a great deal of my life in Wal-Mart. I’ve got two boys and three cats so I shop in bulk…frequently. Today I was still bleary-eyed from my 8 yr old hosting a sleepover and trying to meet a self-imposed deadline for a short story I have been working on for the last week. It had been raining all morning and the sun had finally come out to turn East TN into something akin to a sauna. I steered an overflowing cart across the parking lot swearing I would never again brave the Saturday crowds. I slung sacks into the trunk and realized since I had dropped my boys off at their dad’s house, I would be the one toting all those groceries into the house…
Out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of a woman pushing a cart piled just as high as mine was. A boy who looked to be seven or eight plodded along beside her. She glanced over at me as I closed the hood of my trunk and leaned over to whisper something in the little boy’s ear. He nodded and jogged across the parking lot. “Can I take that for you?” he asked. I told him he certainly could and thanked him as he pushed my cart toward the corral.
I write about heroes for a living, about chivalrous men, who win the hearts of heroines with their selfless deeds. Today I saw a good example of behind every hero there is probably a parent who taught him what it is to be chivalrous. That mother in the Wal-Mart parking lot was hoping for the same result I am when I flick my boys on the ear to signal them to offer their chair to a woman in a crowded waiting room. Chivalry isn’t just an old fashioned ideal. It’s a time honored way for young men to exhibit self-respect by extending that same respect to others.
I’m betting years from now that little boy in the Wal-Mart parking lot gets the girl because his mother taught him the importance of chivalry.
Happy Labor Day!
This holiday weekend is always of particular importance to me. Not only is it often the kickoff of SEC football (GO VOLS!), it signals the end of another brutal southern summer. I know there are probably still weeks of hot afternoons to contend with, but cooler days here and there make me giddy with the thought of those mountains lit up with red, gold and orange. Kids are back in school so nothing short of Thank You, Lord, suffices there. I’ll no longer have to obsess over leaves on the bottom of the pool and I’ve harvested enough basil to last until spring. And Labor Day always brings to mind the man who taught me life is often hard work across the board.
My dad cussed like the sailor he once was, feared nobody but my mother and had no patience for anybody who didn’t give any job their all. “If you’re going to do it, do your very best” was his motto. If I had a dime for every time I heard those words I wouldn’t have to plead with my sons not to outgrow their back-to-school sneakers before Halloween. We had a few tense confrontations over the years as to whether or not I was doing my very best. Then I began doing so just so I wouldn’t have to hear it from that ornery old man.
I don’t cuss like a sailor unless I’m behind the wheel and there is an idiot in front of me, I fear nothing, but not being the mother my boys deserve and I work hard. Whether it’s writing, parenting, or all the endless chores involved with having a home and family, I work hard across the board. And I’m pretty sure one day my boys will say they wish they had a dime for every time they heard their mother say, “If you’re going to do it, do your very best.”
I’m missing one particularly ornery old man this holiday weekend and hoping all of you took time to spend it with those you love.
Outlines, Synopsis, and Happily Ever After…
To be as ridiculously Type A as I am I am not what I deem a schematic writer. I don’t begin a novel with an outline or even a synopsis. As a matter of a fact I equate a synopsis with a root canal and thank God, my publisher feels the same way. I sit down and begin with CHAPTER ONE. I have an idea of the characters I want to bring to life which leads to the story I want to tell… It’s sort of like when I tell my boys we’re ordering pizza for supper, but I’m not really sure if they’ll want double pepperoni or extra cheese.
I am certainly not discounting the importance of pacing a plot or building a conflict characters must over come. But, for me the creative process is more about being true to characters and following through on what they would do or say. I write about love and happily ever after for characters who, whether they are vampires, witches, or shape-shifters, are looking for the one who will comfort their tortured souls. Which gives all of us something in common with vampires, witches and shape-shifters. And it’s a lot of fun to fly by night when you are creating a vampire looking for his soul mate. Yeah, really bad pun, but you get my point.
The schematics of writing can often be an important element of any story. But, sometimes the best part of happily ever after is being surprised by finding out if it’s going to be double pepperoni or extra cheese.
Research: The Necessary Evil…
I am a self-proclaimed history/geography/literary geek, so research is one of the elements of writing I most enjoy. If I am creating a hero who is a thirteenth century knight…such as in the second novel of my Everlasting Trilogy, Knight Everlasting… Surely y’all saw that coming. Anyway the last thing I want is the reader jarred from the story by a hero from the thirteenth century who looks at the heroine and says, “How you doin’?” Thirteenth century heroes don’t say that. They say “Good eve, my lady.” And then he goes on to hopefully mesmerize the reader with ridiculously charming chivalry women from any century cannot resist.
And setting? If I am writing about… Oh let’s say Savannah, Georgia…such as in my Everlasting Trilogy. I know good and well y’all saw that coming. I want the reader to smell the wisteria, hear the ocean churning into shore and see the beauty of The Jewel of the South. By the time a reader closes that book I want them to feel as if they have been there whether they have or not.
How the characters dress, what they eat, what they hear, see and most of all feel… I want to pull a reader into a world of my making that is real enough not to jar them back into their reality and at the same time magical enough to be a place they could have never been before seeing it through my imagination. For me that is the best part of being a writer. And the only way to convincingly do so is through the necessary evil of research.
The Glamorous Life
Years ago I watched a movie starring Meryl Streep where she played a romance author. Granted it was a spoof, but I recall thinking if any of that is even close to truth… She floated around in frilly dresses with hair and makeup just right and wrote passionate stories of happily ever after as she lived her own with some hunky guy whose name now escapes me. Okay, yes, she was shallow, spoiled, but I’m telling you spoof or not it only served as another kick in the pants to pursue my dream of being an author and living the glamorous life.
Well, now I’m an author. Let me tell you in my personal experience that movie wasn’t just a spoof it was one big fat lie! I don’t wear a lot of frilly dresses. As a matter of a fact last week after spending 18 hours writing a passionate story and sweating blood over how it would end happily ever after, I got into the car to run to the grocery store to buy food because I can’t write and keep my sons from foraging the kitchen… Anyway I looked down as I pulled out of the driveway and realized I still had on pajama pants. I would have gone on, but the 12 yr old pleaded with me, reminding me it’s a small town and some people do know I am his mother.
Hair and makeup? Yeah, right… I said that with a snort by the way. I wake each morning groping on the bedside table for the elastic band that will hold my hair into a tight ponytail until it decreases blood flow to the creative parts of my brain needed to finish chapter seven. I have two kids and deadlines. As well as a mother. On a really good day I get to run through a shower. If I took time to put on makeup it would completely rule out the allotted time for tossing hot dogs at my boys as I nod at whatever my mother is saying while I draft chapter eight in my head. And as a true romantic I must believe there is some hunky guy out there looking for me and happily ever after. I’m just too busy writing about romance to know his name.
In case my point has escaped you, my life could not possibly be any less glamorous. But, while I shop in pajama pants on the occasions the 12 yr old doesn’t supervise me going out the door, wearing no makeup and my hair in a ponytail so tight my eyes are slanting, I’m still living the dream. It’s not as glamorous as I once thought it would be though it is no less my dream come true.
Friday The 13th!
I have always been more a believer in what goes around comes around than worrying about Friday the 13th, broken mirrors, or walking under ladders. I even have a black cat named Millie and the only umbrella I own is open inside because it won’t close all the way since my 8 yr old sat on it at the 12 yr old’s baseball game.
However it’s only the day before Friday the 13th and already this week has given me reason to pause. The washing machine went on the blink Monday. I have two boys. Hell would be an eternity with my sons and no washing machine. On Tuesday morning the PlayStation 3 stopped working. Correction: Hell would be an eternity with two boys, no washing machine and no PS3. And on Tuesday afternoon my mechanic announced I need new tires. By Wednesday morning I ordered the 8 yr old to sit on that umbrella until it closed, gave my neighbor my only ladder, covered every mirror in my house with bubble wrap and I am trying to convince Millie blonds really do have more fun.
And then tonight I sat down to have supper with my mother, brother and my boys. I’m thinking the part for the washer has to be ordered, I have to pack up the PS3 and ship it to another country for it to be fixed and I’ve already used all the bubble wrap I can afford on the mirrors. And will somebody please explain to me why black rubber could possibly cost that much? Then my brother told a silly joke that made the 8 yr old laugh so hard Sunny D spewed out his nose, which of course made us all laugh. The 12 yr old said my spaghetti rocks and my mother told me to go relax for a while because she was cleaning up the kitchen.
Friday the 13th may be looming, but what goes around came around my kitchen table tonight. As a result I was reminded even bad luck isn’t so bad when you’re surrounded by those you love.
Back To School…Thank God!