Wednesday, May 30, 2007

When Writers Share

Last Saturday I spent time with a room full of authors. Most of them self-published, or small press. All new authors ... for the most part. The event was scheduled for the public, but it turned out only a few interested fans showed up. But that was okay. It became a mini-writing conference for the writers.

It's good when writers share. Experiences, publishing woes, success stories, and a whole host of issues that plague us regarding the publishing industry. Some writers work harder at their craft than others. Some have to share their writing passion with a full time job. I realize I'm one of the lucky few who can devote my days to chasing my dream. It did not come without a price, however.

Most writers pay a price to write. We enter the arena with visions of some level of success. And sometimes, those levels are not attained for many, many years. How many folks can wait that long? How many people give up before seeing their work in print?

I know for me ... the editing process I'm now currently in, continues at a grueling pace. It's good when I can share that with somebody who understands. Many of my non-writer friends and family just don't get why it's taking so long. I wish I could explain it to them in better terms. But when you've promised your kids you're taking them to Disney Land, you can't expect them to be happy turning into a McDonald's playland. I want my readers to experience "Disney Land." I want Televenge to set the reading public on fire. I want that. So to that end, I pour myself into every word as I edit. Making sure the book is as fine a novel as I know how to make it.

I had lunch with two of my favorite writers today. Dena Harris and Ed Schubert We three seemed to have hit it off years ago. On occasion, we get together to catch up and see where everybody's at in their writing endeavors. As much as I see us struggle, I see glories ahead for everyone. Both Dena and Ed are professionals with a long list of published articles, essays, stories, and editing accomplishments. Our goals may be different, but our love for writing is very much the same.

My point is ... writers need to share. Whether by blog, at the kitchen table, in a writing conference, or on a park bench. A writer's best friend ... is another writer. Whatever you're going through, whether it be plotting your first story, dealing with your first rejection letter, or editing your first novel ... another writer lends the best ear.

Now I'm not talking about teaching. Just sharing. Listening. Being a writer friend. Every writer needs one. It takes the ruts out of the road and makes the success a bit sweeter.

I'm grateful for my writer friends. They're a loyal bunch.

Blessings to you and yours.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Design On A Dime

Spent some time in Atlanta the past few days ... or "Hotlanta" as it's known here in the South. Watching my daughter give a presentation for The Ohio State University at the Sheraton Downtown Atlanta was thrilling to say the least. She is the Program Manager and Coordinator for the Next Chapter Book Club. The program is part of OSU and she spoke to educators from all over the country on how to set-up and the benefits of New Chapter book clubs in their area for adults with mental disabilities. A wonderful weekly event held in coffee shops, tea rooms, and bookstores that's catching on throughout the U.S. I look for Jillian to appear on the Today Show at some point in time.

The next morning, Michael and I headed a few miles north of Atlanta to Barrow County, the new homestead of my parents ... and wow! What a spread. The new house is really something. Meandering the winding sidewalk up to the veranda reminds me of something you'd see in any southern movie. Mama has got this Georgia-presentation down pat. Twelve-foot ceilings, heart-pine floors, and antiques out the wazoo. The house is spread out on one floor. My parents now in their 70s, finally have the home of their dreams. I hope it doesn't take me that long.

Of course, little sister Kathy lives just five minutes away in a stately spread. We also toured her new house. She moved from just a few miles away to this new house. Beautiful, to say the least. The sprawling grounds are in the process of being replanted and landscaped. But I expect the next time I'm in Atlanta the place will look like something out of Southern Living or House Beautiful.

My family, I swear. If there is one thing we know how to do, it's decorate. We may not know much else, but we sure got the skinny on interior design. It's like an extra gene in our DNA. My mama, my sisters, and I can look at a bare room and in seconds -decorate it in our heads. We can walk into any antique shop, dollar store, or flea market and hone in bargains that will make a room pop. Let me tell you, Martha Stewart does nothing my sisters haven't done better. All of us have our own style, mine being closer to my mama's. We kick-butt when it comes to two things ... cooking and room design. Don't ask us about Finance or Politics. But we know our stuff when it comes to Chicken Pie and Shabby Chic.

And I think it's been passed down to the next generation, as all my 6 nieces and my daughter inherited a great eye for room couture. HGTV is our favorite TV channel. But truthfully, my family has been "designing on a dime" for decades.

Speaking of which, every Friday morning during spring and summer, Michael and I hit the local roads in search of deals. Coffee in hand and road map on our lap, it's the morning we go on the ever-exciting search for "buried" treasures. In garages. It's garage sale time! Yesterday, we found some real steals. A moving sale produced a Christmas quilt, an antique bowl, a copper bird feeder, a great black table, three paintings, a Longenberger basket filled with unique Christmas ornaments, a porcelain tea-pot, and a few other items I can't think of at the moment, all for $40.

They say one man's trash is another man's treasure. It's certainly the case in my family. We'll recycle our garage sale finds in years to come in our own garage sales, but in the meantime, we enjoy the adventure of going to them. The folks are friendly, they usually will deal with you on the price, and you walk away with something for a better price than you'd find in any store! My dad just bought a great flat-screened TV for his study last week for $25 at a garage sale. It's great!

Garage sale etiquette is important. Be friendly, have fun, and realize that not every house sells great stuff. Some garage sales are pure crap meant for the garbage truck. But most have hidden treasures. Develop an eye for them. And not all "rich people" neighborhoods give you the best deals. We stopped at a moving sale in Steeple Gate yesterday. A hoity-toity part of town. Big joke. These folks don't know how to "do a garage sale." Avoid these areas. They pay high prices for their stuff, so when they have a garage sale, they think their stuff is worth a high price. Not so. They need to learn a garage sale is a garage sale, no matter where you live. There are a plethora of them every week. So don't waste your time in hoity-toity neighborhoods.

Go to nicer neighborhoods in middle class America. You walk up to the house, it's clean, the garage is organized, and the people who live there smile and welcome you.

Guaranteed, you'll walk away with something you probably don't absolutely need, but for pennies on the dollar, you've got something you really like. I've seen all kinds of things sold at garage sales. Golf clubs, baby items, puppies, furniture, tires, knick-knacks from A to Z, kitchen items, curtains ... you name it ... we've found it at garage sales.

The end result is "design on a dime." Now we don't buy everything at garage sales. But for fun and flair (and more bang for your buck) ... you've got to think outside the box.

And you can get some great ideas for stories, too! Read my story, Vernell Paskins, Mobile Home Queen.

Blessings to you and yours.

Monday, May 21, 2007

A New Writer Sees The Light

Yesterday I spent an hour at the Historic Society of Trinity, a town adjacent to my own. Four or five authors gathered to display their books and talk to town folk. There was a special write-up in our local newspaper, and the ladies of the historic society were gracious and hoping for a nice turnout to show off the building and their efforts.

I guess local writers, though, aren't a very big draw. Some thought the low attendance was due to the Civil War reenactment close-by. Others thought the nice weather gave folks excuses to do yard work or go elsewhere. I'm not sure why, but it's a roll of the dice every time authors gather at events like this. With the exception of the big state book festivals (with celebrity draws) we small-time authors are a crap shoot.

I'm going to look back and laugh some day. :-)

But let's look at the positive. The newspaper article was nice coverage, it's an appearance on my resume, and I got to engage in the most interesting conversation with a lady, a new writer, from Winston-Salem. She's just beginning to chase her lifetime dream, and I detected a passion in her to express herself with the written word. Actually, that passion emanated from her, especially her pretty eyes. Her aspirations weren't lofty, she's not thinking any farther than leaving a legacy to her children, but her drive to write was strong and powerful. It moved me.

She said to me ... "All I've done all my life is change diapers and peel potatoes ... " She tugged hard at my heart strings. I want to see this woman achieve the level of success she searching for and greater. I'd love to see her name in print; her self confidence level go sky high. She's told herself she can't write fiction without a degree. I told her that's hogwash. She's told herself she can't get up and read her stories aloud. I told her about the Winston-Salem Open Mic and that I want to be there when she does it. She's told herself nobody cares, even though she's taking on-line writing courses. I told her that I care. We talked quite a long time and I'm hoping she was inspired by all the writers she met.

Here's the thing ... the Historic Society was a total success yesterday. The stars and moon and planets lined up, came together, to help this one little lady realize her own self worth as a writer. We may have walked away thinking, "what a waste of time," but when you look hard, this whole day might have happened for this purpose only. To positively affect the life of this one woman. Who knows, this little Southern woman may be the next Elizabeth Spencer or Harper Lee. And to think I had a part in that. Makes me smile, I don't know about you.

I dream big about everybody. But if my hunch is correct, then yesterday's efforts were totally rewarded.

It was a great day. I love what I do. And when I see someone else come to the knowledge that that they too, are a writer ... it's a very blessed day.

Blessings to you and yours.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Grey's Anatomy Gripe

I think the kind of writer with the hardest job would be for TV. You never get to give a satisfying ending. There's always a cliffhanger. No real conclusion.

Take my favorite show, for example: Grey's Anatomy. Because I used to work with medical students, interns, and hospital residents on a regular basis, Michael usually tapes this show for me and we'll watch it at our leisure. (It's actually about the only show I watch. I stopped watching American Idol this year mid-season ... that's a blog for another day.) Thing is, when I worked in the hospital with these people, they're actually like the characters at Seattle Grace in so many ways.

These amazingly brilliant young men and women have spent their whole lives in school. Most of them have little business sense (as running your medical practice is not taught in medical school) and even less sense in making relationships work. Their whole thought process is wrapped around their studies. Their lives are about one thing ... the practice of medicine.

So, in one way ... having residents with messed up lives is believable. But let me gripe for a second ...

I'm watching the show's final episode last night and I realize ... I really don't like Meredith Grey. I have no sympathy for this chick, at all. She, to me, has a cold, cold heart. I think she must've inherited it from her crazy mother. But she's about to lose McDreamy and it's like ... oh well. If she does care, will she ever show it? C'mon writers! Give us something to care about in this character! Everything bad that happens to her is her own fault because you've made her so uncaring and cold. (Or so it seems on the surface.)

Derek (McDreamy) has not only been understanding and patient for weeks and weeks, he's just poured out his heart to her. "I can't leave you," he says ... that whole speech would've thrown most women under the table. My God, did you see the way he said her name? I cried. And she just turns and walks away from him. After the wedding that wasn't, Meredith walks up the long aisle, stands in front of all the guests to announce the wedding is off, then says, "It's over ... it's so over." Ugh! She's put all her eggs into Christina's basket believing if Christina can marry and make it work, then she can, too. I love my best friend, but I don't live my life according to her next move.

Ugh, I say, again. Christina is the worst person for Meredith to base her fairytale decisions on!

This whole thing with Burke and Christina ... unbelievable to me. Burke deserves better. Christina pretending to want to marry Burke, then when she gets jilted at the altar by him she runs home ... finds him gone, and Meredith cuts the dress off her while she's screaming, "Get me out of this dress, I'm free, Dammit!" Puhlease. The dynamics between Burke and Christina have always been explosive to me.

For the past however many seasons they've paired these two up, I've never felt she loved him like he did her. Never. There was no surprise here. She turned into something she didn't want to be because she thought she loved Burke? Some women can't have it all. Not because it's not possible, but because it's not in their character or makeup. That's Christina.

Don't get me wrong, I love the character that Oh plays, but Christina is not marriage material, in my opinion. Not at all. Stop trying to marry her off. Poor Burke. He need to turn gay or something.

Then there's this kinda-sorta love triangle with George, Callie, and Izzy. Izzy got over Denny fast, didn't she? And since George has failed his boards, is he going to retake his internship or do something else? My guess, he's going to leave Callie, his wife, and end up with Izzy. But that'll take the whole next season to do. But Callie will be pregnant. My guess.

Isn't it strange how all of a sudden Callie is now Izzy's boss? Callie seems to have the great job and career, but a shaky marriage ... and poor Bailey has a great family life (or so we're lead to believe, although does she ever go home? We never see that ...) but now her career is shaky since she's lost her bid for chief resident.

Boy ... is this a soap opera or what?

And then there's Alex, Addison, and Mark ... I love and adore Addison. She's my favorite character. I wish her the best as she leaves Seattle Grace and goes off into the crazy world of private practice. But Alex and Mark? Give them a life or something. They're pitiful characters. Gesh. They need more meat to their stories, in my humble opinion. We need to know more about them. Give me some backstory!

My favorite part of the final episode is where the Chief finally figured it out. After all those years of putting work before family ... family is more important. Let's hope the writers don't take that away from him.

But isn't that what great writing is all about? Giving us so much conflict that it wakes up up at 3 a.m. and we realize we love the story so much we decide to blog about it the next morning ...

Hmmm... there's no gripe in that.

Blessings, Grey's Anatomy writers ... on a great season! Here's to the next!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Baby Shower Boppy

Saturday, Michael and I gave our son and daughter-in-law a baby shower. How appropriate, the day before Mommie's Day ...

Almost a mommy, Nicole is in her last month of pregnancy. Little Andrew gets the hiccups and moves around a lot these days. I'm anticipating an active baby. But everybody's healthy and the nursery is shaping up quite nicely. No themes, (themes are out, they tell me.) Painted a UNC blue with lots of baby-stuff sitting around, Christopher (the baby daddy) is hoping for a sports fanatic. No doubt, this little boy will be one, even if he gets to choose his own teams. I'm sure, it's in his DNA.

But, as I watched Nicole open gifts, I thought about how time has changed in thirty years. Wiper warmers? What the hell is a wiper warmer? I don't know about you, but we just used a wash cloth, then threw it in the washing machine to be used again. And Diaper Genie? It's a contraption you feed a dirty diaper to. It bags it and stores it. No fuss, no muss, no smell.

I remember coming home from work to a sink full of dirty cloth diapers that needed to be rinsed out and washed! Wasn't no "genie" in my house. Just me, up to my eyeballs in stinky-poo.

Nicole opened one gift and said, "Oh! a Boppy! I wanted a Boppy!" Huh? Michael and I just looked at each other. What in God's name is a Boppy? Evidently if you breast feed, this pillow, that fits around your body to support baby and mommy, is a life-saver. Beats the rolled up blanket we used all to hell. Boppy. Hmm. I wonder how much money somebody made thinking that up?

The list of new-fangled devices for first-time parents is endless. I really don't know how we survived.

Our way of life changes every ten years, they say. Does it improve? I would like to think so. All I know is that every baby, regardless of whether its parents use Pampers, Huggies, or old-fashioned cloth diapers ... should be loved.

I know this one will be.

Blessings to you and yours.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

A Case For The Longer Book

With everything that goes on in a writer's world, the ultimate project exists in the writer's mind constantly. My manuscript looms over my head and seeps into my thoughts at every quiet moment. Even in the midst of a crowd.

Last evening, I participated in a Rotary Fund Raiser. Although I'm not sure they raised much money, the folks who attended had a good time. Friendly and warm, these Southern Guilford New Generation Rotarians, threw a nice bash. Wine, cheese, breads, quiche, fruit ... all of my favorite foods. I had a tough time keeping my fingers off the cheese tray. It was fun to talk with the "head honcho" Rotarian again. Mitzi Ellis, a fellow Mountaineer from WV, and I were able to catch up and report on our experiences in speaking to Rotaries across her region. She's an outstanding woman, a District Govenor, who loves Rotary and what it stands for.

The event was held at a very cool and trendy frame shop, The Artery Gallery, on the edge of the UNCG campus. David, the owner, is probably one of the nicest guys Michael and I have met in the past year. We wish him and his group every success.

And yet, as I sat there last evening, my subconscious was working on my book. Everyone knows I'm working on it. Everyone who has talked to me at some point knows it's in process. Besides the edits, I'm subconsciously searching, thinking, figuring out one thing ... places to cut.

Ah, but here's the sweet part. The brain is an amazing organ ... it works when we think we've shut things down ... even in our sleep. I know I've already honed this book into a slimmer, sleeker piece. I know to the depth of me, it's going to astound and amaze some folks at what I'm cutting and changing. The fat and fluff is gone. What's left, I believe, is my best work. But, in the end, what I'm NOT going to have is a typical 300-page novel.

Not at all.

I see what's happening here. This is new, fresh, and I'm excited this morning.

I've been corresponding with one of my readers. Elaine's recent e-mail to me struck me as not just funny, but she touched something that came alive in me. Elaine wrote: "... honestly, I can't imagine how much you could edit out and it makes me mad that there are those who want to make every novel into a cookie-cutter format. How boring. Not to paint too broad of a stroke here, but to me there's nothing more ho-hum than the standard 300-page novel. Yawn ..."

I had shared with her a recent e-mail I wrote to one of my favorite authors. The essence of my e-mail read like this: "... writer to writer, do I trust my gut and submit it or do I tear it apart and sacrifice this story because "nobody publishes long books from unknown authors." Do you have any suggestions?"

Here's the author's timely response: "Dear Pamela-- If you're convinced the book is the best it can be, then I'd say go ahead and submit it. If an acquisitions editor thinks it's a great story, but has problems with the length (and they may very well think it's fine as is) they'll tell you that, and most likely offer to work with you to reshape it, if necessary. Personally, I don't think 210,000 words is all that long. (grin) Good luck! --Diana"

That e-mail was from Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series. One of the most outstanding storytellers of our time, in my opinion.

Now I'm not in any way, shape, or form comparing myself to the great Gabaldon. But after discussing the book length at length with Elaine and Tina, two of my voracious readers, as well as several leading "book people" in the industry, and then receiving this e-mail from Diana ... I'm convinced that, yes, I'm cutting the book, but it must remain a book of substance. A longer book. That's all. I'll roll the dice, take my chances, and bet in the end. I'm well aware of the risk. But, nevertheless, it's not going to be a cookie-cutter, 300-page piece of ho-hum "been there-done that" literature.

And the chips will fall ... wherever they fall.

Thank you Diana, thank you Elaine, Tina, and the rest of you who have encouraged me to write the book I was meant to write.

I rest my case.

Blessings to you and yours.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Back In Time

I write a travel column for a magazine, called The Piedmont. Day Tripping in the Piedmont. In case you didn't know, the Piedmont is the foothills. The counties in Virgina and North Carolina just south of the Blue Ridge; one of my favorite places in the world. This column is an easy assignment, one we enjoy.

Yesterday, we visited Chinqua Penn in Rockingham County. A vast estate in Reidsville 25 miles north of Greensboro. If you haven't seen it, make it a destination. Of course, I'll write all about it for the magazine, but I'll give you a preview here ...

The home was completed in the late 1920s by Thomas Jefferson Penn (1875-1946) and his wife, Beatrice Schoellkopf Penn (1881-1965.) Chinqua Penn reflects their elaborate lifestyle of entertaining, traveling, and collecting fine art and furnishings from around the world. Featured on A&E's America's Castles and acclaimed as an architectural American treasure, the plantation is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It's a 27-room English countryside mansion filled with furnishings from 30 countries. Surrounded by 22 acres of beautiful gardens and historic landscape, suffice it to say, my first impression was these folks had more money than they knew what to do with. Elaborate and ornate and valuable are just some of the words that came to mind as I walked into this house. As my folks collect antiques, I have a good sence of the value of "old stuff." But then the word magnificent bubbled off my lips more than once. This is North Carolina history, staring us in the face.

Michael and I received a personalized tour from the current owner, Calvin Phelps. He took us "behind the scenes." Yet, just like the Biltmore, it's exquisite. I could actually picture these people living there. Hosting grand parties, in the style of "The Great Gatsby." I have this thing I do when it comes to history. I can open my mind's eye and see the past.

There they were, the old cars lined up in the driveway. I could see Mrs. Penn in her youth, her flapper-type dress, her headdress. I pictured her holding a cocktail and a cigarette, laughing. Then I saw her as a middle-aged woman, thick around the middle, gray hair, eating breakfast with her cocker spaniels at her feet. I saw it all, easily. Her presence, in particular, is very strong in that house. Little has changed, even their bedding is the same as it was.

The one thing I noticed is the the current owners have immense respect for the property and plan to restore it to the beauty it deserves. Chinqua Penn is a fantastic place for weddings, parties, and should be one of your destinations in the near future.

Of course you can read more here:

Go to Chinqua Penn, open your mind's eye, see the past and ... go back in time. There's nothing like it.

Blessings to you and yours.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

I'm A Storyteller!

What a special day. I spoke to several book clubs at the Lincolnton Cultural Center. A beautiful old turn-of-the-century building that sits in the middle of town. These book clubs had all read Southern Fried Women. It's a thrill walking into a room full of people that are there because they want to hear what you have to say and ask questions about the stories that moved them the most.

I spoke for a good 30 minutes, a speech about "Mama" and about my religious upbringing. It's a lot of fun making folks laugh. I never thought of myself as a humorist or a comedian, but my audience did their share of laughing ... and that's a good thing when it's supposed to be funny. Since Mother's Day is around the corner, I thought it was appropriate.

Because, after all, my mama was one funny woman. She still is. I love to tell stories about her church experiences ... laid out and glued to the floor. An emotional Pentecostal woman, Mama spent a lot of time "slain in the spirit." This one time my little sister looked up at the sign over the altar, "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." We were sitting on the front pew, as usual, waiting for Mama to finish communing with the Lord. Anyway, my little sister looks up and me and says, "Do you think we wore her out?" It's a moment I'll never forget. We still laugh telling that story.

My speech is full of homespun love and memories, ones that stir the thoughts of my listeners. The response has been overwhelming. I was thrilled today when one of the ladies came up to me afterward and said, "I forgot the time, where I was, and everything around me! I could've listened to you all day, you are a real storyteller."

That's when it hit me. I am a storyteller. That's my calling.

I've said it often. I even blogged about, talked about it, I've called myself a storyteller for quite some time. But today, someone I didn't know, out of the blue, confirmed it for me.

I didn't need to get slain in the spirit to realize it. I just needed a sweet little lady to tell me.

A special day, indeed.

Blessings to you and yours,

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A Kinder World

Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle. ~ Anonymous

I'm not sure who wrote this, but it's good. If the world were even 1% kinder ... just think how much better life would be for all of us.

Think about your own life for a second. You know the mind battles you've been through or are currently fighting. The discouragement, the disappointments, the failures you've experienced. We all have them. It's part of the human experience. Combine that with real-life traumas, such as death, divorce, bad health, and financial hardships. Think of how many people in the course of a day whose paths you cross are going through some of the above and you don't know it.

Could you be a bit kinder? Don't you wish someone would've been more considerate toward you?

Life is a series of overwhelming moments. Ever notice that some folk have that same old monkey on their back? That mangy dog they can't run off? What small event needs to take place for life to improve for people like this? A raise in pay, a new pill, a better doctor, or a car that works? Sometimes I think we're products of our environment, but we can change that. We can work towards better health, improved living conditions, a healthier bank account. And yet, as easy as that is for me to say ... I know (from experience) that even when you try ... it just doesn't always happen.

It's easy to pass judgement... "Well, if they would just (fill in the blank.)" Or, "... mind over matter, if they'd just put their minds to it, they could do it!" The power of positive thinking makes me laugh. What is it that makes some feel so superior? I think there must be a combination of thoughts and actions before good things start to happen.

Depressing subject, isn't it? But the good news is this: No matter where we are in life, we must learn one thing - contentment. We may not get to where we want to go as quickly or easily as we think we deserve. But we must be content and find a measure of peace in our circumstances. No, life isn't fair. But happiness comes to those who in the darkest of moments, have learned how to smile. Don't get this confused for setting goals, searching for a better job, or dreaming of a happier tomorrow. All I'm saying is, be content in the moment. Otherwise, you'll find yourself miserable. And you know what "they" say ... misery loves company. We make everybody around us miserable.

So smile. Laugh, even. And be kind in the process.

Now turn it around. Look at ... the guy next to you on the bus, the woman behind you at the grocery, your mail carrier, your stylist, the man who works on your car, on and on .... think of the people you see in just one day while you're out and about. What are their lives like? For the most part, they're like the rest of us ... living day-to-day, hoping for a better tomorrow, wishing we'd lived a healthier yesterday. We need to remember to be kind to one another. And often, they're carrying burdens animals shouldn't bear. Go out of your way to be kind when you suspect this is the case.

In my youth, I had a short fuse. As I grew older, loved and lost, suffered and triumphed, my fuse grew longer. I became a different person. Tolerant, observant, kinder. I'm not perfect, none of us are. If I sound preachy today, I apologize. I'm just feeling that kindness is in short supply these days. We, including myself, need to be reminded.

Try to be kind to the next person who cuts you off in traffic, seems rude and uncaring when he/she delivers your pizza, or checks you in at your doctor appointment and doesn't even look at you. You have no way of knowing what that person is going through. One act of charity could change their world.

And yours too, for that matter.

Blessings to you and yours.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Are The Best Things In Life Really Free?

As a writer, is there such a thing as setting limits to your networking? Are we writers so enamored in our search for platform that we risk life and limb? How do we draw the line between writing and publicity?

These questions ran through my mind coming home from Asheville, NC this past weekend. We were invited to spend an "all expenses paid" weekend at the Crown Plaza in Asheville. Grey Rock Land Developers, we were told, were offering a fabulous weekend of free room, food, entertainment, fun, networking with high rollers, and a tour of the HGTV Dream Home, as well as their resort properties. Michael and I, because we're looking for land, and because we're always looking for ways of meeting people, decided this would be a lot of fun.

Friday evening was truly a blast. A shuttle ran from our hotel to The Biltmore Estate. There, we had a free tour of the estate (our third trip through the house.) About halfway through, climbing several flights of stairs, the rooms became hotter and muggier. (No air conditioning at the turn of the century.) Although I'm a huge fan of The Biltmore and its exquisite rooms filled with "my favorite things," antiques, after the tenth guest room I told Michael, "let's get the hell out of here." So we found our way out of the house and wound our way through the lush gardens to the tent area where they were serving drinks and dinner.

"Ahh, now it's time for real networking and fun," we said. Magicians entertained us as they performed card and coin tricks from table to table. I got to know Andrea and Scott and their little girl, Lindsey. A doctor from Greensboro, Scott and I had a lot in common and just plain fun talking about the medical community.

Another great couple, Kaye and Gino ... Gino was Italian and believe me, he looked like he'd just walked off the set of the The Sopranos. If he would've told me, "I know a guy," I would've believed him. Gaylord Perry, the famous baseball player, sat at the table next to us, and John Anderson (Country & Western singer) was on stage. Lots of "mucky-mucks," if you know what I mean.

So Friday night, we had great food, drinks, dancing, entertainment, fun, and okay ... a little networking. Afterward, we trudged back to our room and conked out. Saturday we woke up ready to view some gorgeous mountain property and opened the curtains to nasty rain and fog. How much property do you think you can see in that kind of weather?

You guessed it. Zero.

But, the show must go on and so it did. Unfortunately, miserable weather makes for a miserable time. Though there were huge heated tents on top of the mountain near the property, (all first-class---carpet, restrooms, and full buffet breakfasts and lunches) I heard some horror stories from folks who took the shuttle up the mountain. The 30-45 minute ride turned into three hours for some folks. Thank GOD Michael and I decided to drive up ourselves.

We should've been given an option not to tour the property. Due to the nasty weather, it was plain dangerous, in my humble opinion. But, instead, we put on ponchos and hopped onto a "mule." Not the donkey kind, the four-wheeler kind. We were jostled and tossed about as we wound our way up and around newly cleared out paths through Grey Rock property. Through pouring rain and flinging mud ... spinning our tires through mud ruts ... some over two feet deep. I held on for dear life, except one hand held onto a large golf umbrella that covered us and kept a little of the rain off. I felt, no lie, like my vagina was going to fall out. After 45 minutes, and our sweet guide saying, "I swear there's an awesome view over there!" Mike said, "I think we've had enough."

Our faces and clothes speckled with mud, we had a laugh when we got back to the tents. My makeup had run down my face, my hair that wasn't covered in the front was soaked, and my feet and hands were froze. Like I really want to network looking like that! My poor husband, being the motion-sickness person he tends to often be, was ready to throw up. By the time we got back to the hotel room, we just wanted to shower, crawl under the covers and stay there until checkout the next morning. Both of us sick to our stomachs, chilled to the bone, we felt as if our whole bodies had been shook. As if we'd been in an accident or something worse. Had we known, we would've declined the tour.

Now my son would've loved it! Younger people who hunt and climb would've had a ball. I love the mountains, I love the outdoors ... hiking, fishing, etc. And we are truly in the market for a nice piece of property. But this was too much for me. And did I do any networking on Saturday? Well, I gave a book to a sweet little gal who drove us back down the mountain to our car. That was it.

My point is ... all that glitters isn't a golden networking opportunity. We did have fun, don't get me wrong. Friday night at the Biltmore was worth the trip. But nothing in this world is for free. All in all ... it was NOT a networking weekend as I thought it would be. It was two free nights in a nice hotel. But we paid for it in reality. My back is telling me this afternoon, we paid for it.

Live and learn, eh?

Blessings to you and yours.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

A Humbling Experience

After finishing Southern Fried Women, and in the midst of speaking every week and selling my first book, I have been faithfully working on my novel, Televenge.

In January this year, I sent my 745-page manuscript (I know, eek) to several readers, 2 line editors, and 2 bonifide editors who "edit" for a living. Overkill? Not really. Most writers, after finishing what we feel to be one the final drafts of the manuscript, will send it to an editor. After several years of hard, hard work on this manuscript (it's not a book until it's published,) I finally got it down from over 1,000 pages to 745 pages. I felt it was time to send my umpteenth draft off to be professionally edited.

Editors (usually professionals you pay for) will check for all kinds of things. Story structure, scene and character development, pacing, conflict ... trust me, there's a laundry list of items an editor looks for. Line editors check for punctuation, spelling, grammar, and whatever else their eyes pick up.

It's a humbling experience.

On a story of this magnitude, I know it still has to be cut. I only had two people who made suggestions as to huge chunks of the story to cut. A few said, "Cut this and that, but not this, and certainly not that!" The rest said, "Don't cut a thing!" Well, as much as I would like to think New York would agree, it's just not realistic. So ... how did I sort it all out?

What I did was this: I made a master copy. Then, as the edits came in, I slowly and very, very carefully (I'm sooo anal) went through each and every page, transferring the changes, corrections, etc. onto my master copy. That way, as I rewrite and retype, I've only got ONE copy to look at. And it was interesting, as well, to see how many agreed and disagreed on certain things that needed changed, which made the decision easier for me. I'm just starting the retyping and cutting. It's another long, slow process. It may not be the best way, but so far, it's working for me.

(Still wanna be a writer?)

I figure, in the past two months, I've poured over 2,980 pages of my manuscript. (That's four copies X 745 pages.) That does not include the copies from readers who just gave me their overall opinions and my final editor who is suggesting major pieces to cut. That one, I've saved for last. I know ... why make edits on things you might be cutting? I guess normal people would look at it that way ... but God knows ... I ain't normal.

I'm just not sure where I'm cutting ... exactly. I have a good idea, but I want to get every "i" dotted and every "t" crossed first. I want to change lay to lie and shudder to shutter. Geeez. I've got to determine if I can do without certain characters and scenes as I go through them. It takes heavy-duty thinking. You've really got to wrap your head around your story. It's mind boggling and you need lots of alone time and quiet time. You stay up late, you work non-stop.

Please pray for me.

Often, my eyes go crossed and my head pounds. I have to get up and walk, get something to eat, or get away from it for a few hours. I've spent days laboring over one paragraph. I've gone back and changed one word five times. I've erased holes in the paper ... this final draft looks like a road map. It's by far the hardest and yet, most rewarding job I've ever had. God help me, but I'm determined to get this story into a tight, crisp, shorter, ripping-great book if it kills me.

But needless to say, it's been humbling.

Blessings to you and yours.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Today I spoke at one of the more interesting meetings. A Rotary Meeting at Lowes Motor Speedway. In the Speedway Club right above the track. Down below us, Dale Jr. ran his famous 8 car around and around the track. It wasn't an official race; maybe they were just practicing. Who knows? But it was quite the place. Not a die-hard Nascar fan, I found myself wanting to see a real race. From the comfort of the Speedway Club, of course.

I started thinking ... this is one of the last "free" speeches I'm scheduled to give. I'm at a starting gate of my own. Waiting for somebody to raise the flag and yell, "Lady! Start your engine!" and I'll be off ... racing around in circles? Well, not exactly. I'm racing toward a finish line, in hopes of a win. And if I'm lucky, there will only be a few "caution laps." I may even get a flat tire, a close miss from some hot shot driver, and I pray not to run out of gas before the end of my race.

The challenges are many ... for every writer. A constant call to perfection plagues us around every corner. As a speaker, we've got one shot to dazzle and amaze our audience. There's no rewrites allowed. No do-overs. So it's a race to finish in good standing. A win every time.

Well ... we can hope.

I sold another 16 books today to this small group of Rotarians. I was pleased with the response. But I'm looking forward to moving into different venues. Larger groups. I've been racing the hometown tracks ... I'm ready for Lowes Motor Speedway!


Blessings to you and yours.