Sunday, July 29, 2007

Time With Jillian

Where did the week go? I try not to go more than a few days between posts, but this week has flown by .... zoooommm! Actually, I'm sitting in Ohio at the moment, blogging from my daughter's computer in her very chic Columbus apartment. When she was little, I called her sissy-woo. Don't ask me why or how it got started, but she was sissy-woo. In many ways, she still is.

Jillian has spent the better part of the last 10 years in Buckeye country, attending college, getting her Masters, and landing a job with the University. She's a busy young woman and we're always lucky when we get to spend some time with her.

Today, we walked down a street in Powell. A vendor flea market, if you will. Shops of mostly antiques and collectibles. Right up my alley. Merchants pitched their tents down the main drag of town and sold wicker, china, quilts, etc. etc. ... dirt cheap.

I'm going home with a few more pieces to my porcelain flower collection. Jill says, "Geez, mom, that's such old grandma stuff." "Well, I'm a grandma!" And I love porcelain flowers. So when I see them, unchipped, I buy if it's a good price. In fact, Mike's pretty good at finding them. He'll spot one before I do, usually.

Together, we love antiques and old stuff. (Including each other.) We're even thinking we want to get into the housing market sooner than later, meaning, we're probably going to buy an existing house in the near future. Instead of building. Building has many pros and cons ... who knows, I may change my mind next week.

Thing is, we found an old house we love. An old 1800s farmhouse. Restored and just lovely. But, we'll keep looking, and hopefully, within the next several months, this house will still be available or we'll find something just the right place somewhere.

The history of any state can be seen in it's antique stores. For us, it's as good as a museum. Quilts, linens, old tin signs, toys, tools, china, paintings, books, furniture ... finding old things in decent shape to furnish your home ... to me, it's art and it's fun! It lends character to any home.

And this is a working trip ... doing a bit of research for the next book, as well as the final read on Televenge. August will be a clean up month. A time to get all the duckies in a row. A month to breathe and get ready for ... gosh, only God knows what's next.

The sequel to Televenge is slowly taking shape. I'm liking it. But in the meantime, I'll enjoy these few days with a daughter I seldom get to see. Some down time. A little time with sissy-woo.

Blessings to you and yours.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Daddy Talent

Oh, the joys of grandmotherhood! This is me kissing our sweet new punkin', Andrew Christopher, affectionately known to his Grandpy and Gramma Cable, as "Drewbie."

He is also the highlight of mommy and daddy's life, as well. In case you're wondering, everyone is wonderful. Drew has latched on to breastfeeding like a good little piglet should. Mommy Nicole is a baby-feeding machine. She's old hat at this now. She's taking these first few weeks of motherhood in stride, not letting anything bother her too much, and sleeping when her baby sleeps. I can't imagine a more natural mama. She adores him, and I watched Drew's eyes follow her. Oh yes, babies know their mommies.

Chris and Nicole have been coming to dinner on weekends for years. Just the two of them. Now it seems so strange that there's another little piece of them in their midst. I haven't seen Drew for a couple weeks, as all schedules have been busy. So here he is, one month later, and wow! What a difference. He's all filled out, puffy little cheeks, his umbilical cord is gone, and his hair is gone, too. He looks more like Chris than he did when he was first born and he seems so big already. He's thriving and we're happy to get a front row seat.

As they were leaving, Christopher said he had to get home to get a few things done before work tomorrow. I'm thinking he meant things for his job. What a shocker. "No," he said. "I've got some laundry to finish, some dusting, and the sweeping to do."

Michael can be proud of his son ... he knows the fine art of husbandry. I think young men like Chris are few and far between. He works three jobs and takes care of as much at home as he can, so his wife has time to recuperate and attend to their new little son. "I want her to enjoy him. I don't want somebody in daycare to raise him." He picks him up, holds him, kisses him, and changes poopy diapers. He's a shining example to other young fathers in my estimation. A beacon of light to struggling mommies everywhere who have to do it all.

I'm betting this "daddy talent" is passed on to Drew. I wonder how many men have really known the joy of tapping into their feminine side?

Blessings to you and yours.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Creative Process

I love the creative process. It sounds simple, but really, it's not as easy as it looks. I have spent as much as three days working on one paragraph. Just like any artist, I tweak it until it sings to me.

My good friend and colleague, writer Dena Harris, once blogged that she loved putting the puzzle pieces of her research together for her articles, resumes, and the brochures she fine-tunes for her clients. ... check her out, she's fabulous.

But for me, the thrill is in finding the right word, group of words, creating the perfect sentence. Here's an example: I just spent the past twenty minutes dliberating over the following ...

By Tuesday morning the rain had not let up. A soupy mixture of mist, fog, and drizzling rain covered the sun, making the morning seem like the previous evening had never ended.

I didn't like the 'making the morning seem like the previous evening had never ended' part. It didn't sit well with me. And so, I turned it into ...

It became impossible to tell morning from evening. Nope, not good.

How 'bout this, It became impossible to tell the new morning from the previous evening. Uh, can you say, yuck?

So I tried this. It became impossible to tell where the previous evening stopped and morning began. Hmm. Some better, but not quite what I'm looking for.

I sat, drank my coffee, looked at the clock. Eleven o'clock and I hadn't had a bite to eat, a shower, or checked my email yet. But I couldn't move until I found the right words for this sentence. I plowed forward.

It became impossible to tell where the night stopped and morning began. I like it. But I'm not there yet.

It became impossible to tell where night stopped and day began. Perfect. I love it.

End result: By Tuesday morning the rain had not let up. A soupy mixture of mist, fog, and drizzling rain covered the sun. It became impossible to tell where night stopped and day began. Time stood still for Mavis.

Now I can shower, eat, and go on with my day.

I love the creative process.

Blessings to you and yours.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

After All The Stops And Starts

They say that writing a book is like dropping a rose petal in the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo. I suppose that's true. I'm sitting here staring over the edge of my hoped-for success. No echos. Not yet.

The frustration builds daily. It seems I've put my life on hold. Although there are certain family obligations that must be met, I've pulled away from writers' meetings, open-mic nights, and "fun stuff" I usually run to throughout the week. I don't answer every little email. Eventually, you have to get those little duckies all in a row and make choices. Strange how I've rescheduled most of writing life to ... write.

I choose to finish this book.

And yet, daily I have a mountain to climb. My problem is still the book's length. I'm struggling with it. I've already cut the book by a third, but I've had to add in pieces to strengthen areas and more specifically, show all dimensions of my antagonist. I've changed the ending, taken out lots of fluff, stripped over 100 pages, and (sigh) I'm still looking at a fat book.

The hard part is the struggle within me. Do I ignore the thousands of articles and advice from agents/editors/teachers/mentors who boldy declare, "Slim it, trim it, and grin and bear it, otherwise no publisher's going take a chance on a fat book." "Kill your babies." "150,000 words is the magic number!" "Take out what doesn't move the story forward!"

Problem is, in my honest-to-God opinion ... what I've left in is critical to moving the story forward. Now what do I do?

I realize those bottom-line dollars are sacred to the big dogs in New York. Fat books cost more money to produce, and who's going to take a chance on a (basically) unknown middle-aged woman from Greensboro, North Carolina? I've blogged about it, defended it, stated my defense, pouted, screamed, and threw hissy fits over it. But like my daddy says, "A pig's a pig. Ain't no use callin' it a rooster." There are decisions to be made. More choices to consider. Do I have to self publish to get this into the hands of readers again? Or will somebody bite on this?

I guess this is the part where faith steps in.

I feel like Tom Hanks. In Forrest Gump he ran from one coast to the other. Finally, he stopped and went home. In You've Got Mail he went after something he never had before, true love. At the end of Castaway he stood in the middle of a crossroads, hoping never to see water again, and made a decision to follow the wings that had really saved him. He realized it wasn't the picture of Kelly in the watch, although it had given him comfort. It was the FedEx package with the wings that had propelled his determination to fight for his life.

My past, all wrapped up in a FedEx box, gives me the determination to sit here every day and finish. After all the stops and starts, I'm within days of finishing. It's tight, and yet I have to play Sophie's Choice. How do I do that? I've got to make a raft, find a ship, fly home, save what's left of me and publish this book.

If anybody has an inner tube out there they can throw me ...

Blessings to you and yours.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Gifted Musician

His name is Clint Lewis. He's related to me. Somehow. His grandpa was my grandmother's nephew ... or something like that. Anyway ... we share DNA. And that pleases me. Because Clint has a gift. A talent. He has found a way to make wood and string sing. A gifted musician, you'll soon be able to hear his music on my web site.

I ran into him at the reunion and said, "I've been trying to reach you!" I discovered Clint has been playing since he was basically out of diapers. They used to stand him on a stool just so he could play the upright bass. The stories passed around about him are becoming legendary. Amazing.

His family brags. They tell stories of Clint, how his timing is impeccable, how he feels the music as it flows through is fingers ... they beam. Clint is their boy. I asked ... has Nashville ever come calling? His mama gave me a resounding, "no." And hopes it never does. Clint, it seems, is married and happy, and loves his family and his life. I believe them. I see it in is face and hear it as he plays. He's at peace. You can feel it. And that's a rare thing today in men that age.

Clint makes appearances around the state, at churches, fairs, and get-togethers such as the Sample Family Reunion. He lives in a town, that by some standards, is still just an old coal town. Not much happens in the the hills and hollers around Dille. But the land lays rich in history and story. The spirits of those passed on linger in the wild woods and along the creeks that tie together these mountains called Appalachia. They hold the soul of this young man. They want to keep him near them. He is the result of their hard work, their heavy labor, and the reason they worked so hard for the land they left to him. To tell their story, through his music.

Tall, blonde-headed, and soft-spoken, his eyes smiled whenever he took off his sunglasses. A cool looking musician, he had no hoity-toity airs about him, and told nobody his name unless they asked. He is loved greatly by those who know him. He stood all day, changing instruments occasionally, and sang the songs of his childhood and his ancestors. Songs he's recorded on CDs. Down the Road and Windy and Warm. I wonder about him ... his life ... where this will eventually take him.

I can't help but feel God's call on him.

I watched his family play until late in the evening. Then, I watched him pack up his guitar, bid a few good-byes, and disappear into the darkness. It made me a little sad. I wonder if Clint knows how his music touches lives.

He's touched mine. I hope to see him again next year. Maybe meet his wife and talk more to the family about him. I wonder if this is how Vince Gill got started?

There are two who've passed on, looking over that bow of heaven. Proud and pointing out their grandson ... I'm sure Clint thinks of them often. He's dedicated one of his CD projects to them. Orval and Granny Pete are still listening, Clint. You can be sure of that.

Blessings to y'all.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

MickDonna Farm

MickDonna Farm. Sound familiar? Mick and Donna are my second cousins. Mick's daddy was my grandmother's little brother. Make sense? He's a decorated Vietnam War veteran, a wheeler and dealer at flea markets, and a kind soft-spoken man. His wife, Donna, has worked 30+ years at Dow Chemical in Charleston. Sugar and spice and everything nice, that's what I think of when I think of Donna. The two of them have created a piece of heaven and from their hearts they welcome in the entire family each year for the annual reunion.

The past few days have been almost heaven. West Virginia. Not the song ... the real thing. Our yearly family reunion for the Samples Family.

In case you're interested ... my grandmother's maiden name was Samples. All of her dozen or so brothers and sisters (now deceased) had lots of kids. Those family members (hundreds of them, along with friends and neighbors) gather once a year to recall old times, eat lots of good home-cooked food, and play bluegrass music until midnight.

I’ve blogged about the reunion in past years, but this year was extra special for Michael and me. We were blessed that Mick and Donna, who own the property the reunion is held on, asked us to stay with them in their trailer. Their home away from home. They live in a beautiful home in Charleston but during the summer and for reunion days, they stay in their 16 by 80 foot trailer nestled on their 90-acre farm. A farm high on top of a mountain. You can get real close to God up there.

Staying with family made the visit much more special as we didn’t have to think about going back to a hotel at night. Instead, we went four-wheeling, sat around the campfire until late, and enjoyed our cousins as they played banjo, fiddle, upright bass, mandolin, and guitar. We don't have to bring in any old band, most everybody who shows up, plays something. One sits down to rest, another picker takes their place. It's something to watch.

A fox invaded our camp the first night and took off with my shoe. (It sure didn’t help that I stepped in a pile of bear crap. Oh yes, true. Bear poop. There are lots of black bear the area.)

Our family tree was displayed this year. Written neatly on poster board, it was nailed to what else? A family tree. Along with pictures of family members now deceased.

I’m covered with chigger bites, but I don’t care. They’ll go away, eventually. Michael and I took the four-wheeler over the countryside, through several creeks, around the mountain, and across land that many of you only see in the movies or in your dreams. Despite the economic problems WV has faced, some of its people still live way below the poverty line, the state has made great strides in tourism. The Appalachian Mountains are breathtaking and majestic. They still hold magic for me and great stories that burn in my brain waiting to be written.

Daddy was a bit under the weather this year, but he was there in rare form. By Sunday he was hopping on back of a four-wheeler and heading off into the mountains with his cousins in search of the old homestead where grandma was raised. The place, now crumbled, is buried under generations of leaves and underbrush. Dad is one of the elders now. I suppose someday, I will be, too. Along with Mick and Denise and Charlie and Steve and all the rest.

There’s an old graveyard high up on the mountain where a confederate soldier is buried. Some of the graves date back to the 1700s. I stood and looked down at PVT. Clarke's grave. I wondered about this man and what he had gone through. Covered with lush mountain vegetation, if you didn’t know this old graveyard was there … you’d never find it. Believe me.

The “town” of Strange Creek is not a town for tourists. Only folks who have family or a reason to be there travel to Strange Creek. The one-lane roads and bridges that curve and dip into the area can be dangerous. You go slow. The wooden bridges, the windowless Masonic Lodge, and old houses dating back to the depression give the entire town its ominous and foreboding appearance. But the folks are truly sweet and friendly. Yet, Strange Creek is not a destination by any means.

And I could go on forever about the music. Tomorrow I’ll blog special about that. About my little cousin Clint Lewis and his family. About Rad and his famous banjo. If Nashville ever wanted to hear what bluegrass really sounds like, they need to head to the Samples Family Reunion every Fourth of July.

A slice of earth and sky, MickDonna farm holds a part of my heart. I only hope someday the rest realize how special this family is and will come to enjoy it as much Michael and I do each year.

Blessings to you and yours.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Getting Motivated

I love fresh air! I love a day with lower humidity and the air blowing into the house. I keep my office window open and the morning breezes are like aroma therapy. On the front porch, birds sing nestled inside my hanging ferns. In the distance, a cow is calling her calf. I can't work, I want to go for a walk!

It's been hard getting back into the swing of writing since taking a week off. I thought it might make me want to dig in with a vengeance and renew my vigor to finish my book ... but instead, all I do is stare at the computer screen.


How does a writer get motivated to return to work? It's not writer's block. No, not at all. There's lots of stuff running through my head, it's my fingers that don't want to work. I keep thinking that this coming weekend is our big family reunion in West Virginia, that I'm going to be out of the office for three more days ... aw heck, maybe I shouldn't bother "digging in" until we return.

See? If left to our own devices, we writers can talk ourselves right out of working. There's something to be said for being in "the zone." Those fifteen hour days are yes, grueling, but they're also exhilarating. You get so much done and you feel productive and proud of your daily accomplishments.

But even after my well-deserved break last week, it's become apparent, I don't want to return to the grindstone. I'm bucking my appointment with finishing that query letter! My work ethic is waxing cold today. It bothers me.

We can always find a reason not to work, I suppose. And sometimes our motivation for finishing grows dim over time. But suddenly, we look out the window and imagine that house in the country we want to build, that front porch, those same sounds of summer and we get a glimpse of the future.

... and we return to work. I've got to get busy!

Blessings to you and yours.