Tuesday, April 29, 2008

What Day Is This?

This past weekend is a blur. Friday we headed to Kentucky and the KYOWA 180 Writing Conference at the Greenup County Resort, in KY of course. Accommodating, the resort and grounds were storybook-beautiful. Much of the surrounding vegetation bloomed and blossomed, sending pollen and fragrance into the air. The lodge nestled itself into a hillside and every room had a view of the lake. Quiet, serene, one night of ... crack! Spring thunderstorms! The electric went off Friday evening ... long enough to shrug and say, "Might as well go to bed." But it was so dark, and so quiet, I had a quite a time getting to sleep.

Saturday, all was well and the sun came out. I sold books, spoke for an hour in the morning to a room full of romance writers, then headed to a quick meeting in Ohio. All in all ... another hurried weekend that's going to roll into another trip to Ohio this coming weekend. A couple's shower for my son and his fiance. In the meantime, I have an agent who wrote and requested chapters of Televenge, a meeting on Thursday, and final stories to read for the West Virginia Writers Contest.

It's no wonder we wake up one morning and ask our self ... "what day is this? May? I thought it was March!"

Blessings to you and yours.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Odds And Ends

First, let me get this out of my system ... I should NEVER gloat over the fact that the sun shines more in NC than in other states! LESSON LEARNED. Never, since I've lived here all these seven years, have I seen such a string of sunless days! I HATE THIS WEATHER!! To quote my best friend in Ohio, "....it's weather that makes you want to slit your wrists!" Okay, that's over-reacting, but I'm really not used to weeks of solid gray skies anymore. This stinking low has hovered over us now, for what--a month at least. It's depressing, and there's not a damn thing anybody can do about it. My apologies to Ohio. The South is stuck in your normal weather pattern ... maybe just to remind me that I should never gloat about the sunny South again.

I'm rapidly putting final touches to a speech I'm delivering this Saturday at the Dogwood Writing Conference in Kentucky. My speech to writers of mostly the Romance genre, will focus on issues of writing yourself out of a dark spot. It will be video-taped and hopefully, with any luck, I'll put pieces of it on the web. I've taken the speech, Coming out of the Dark and into the Life of a Writer, and put a spin on it. A new twist for a writing audience.

Michael and I have a few new projects on the horizon, and some very good news about Southern Fried Women! So keep your eyes open for these future blogs: A Re-release for Southern Fried Women ... Home is Where the Heart Hopes to Be ... AND Fearless at Fifty. The New Trend - Corporations letting go of their older employees. How to survive as a baby-boomer who's too young to retire!

Ah, the ranting continues.

Blessings to you and yours.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Making It Real

My favorites subjects in school were English, Art, and History. I remember those special teachers and have long forgotten the rest. I loved writing, literature, book reports, the history of my State, of America, and of the World. My imagination ran wild in those classes, whereas math, science, and french class--I wouldn't give you a nickel for. I hated those dreadful subjects then--and I hate 'em now.

So whenever a bestselling book is made into a movie, a book I've read and adored, I set aside writing time to watch the movie. Albeit, the movie is usually never as good as the book. (How can it be, now really?) But I still love to watch the characters come to life.

Lately, I've been wrapped up in my Sunday fix of the HBO mini series, John Adams. A mixture of everything I love. This Pulitzer Prize winning novel has captured my enthusiasm for not just a great story, but oh my gosh ... it has made the history of this great nation come alive for me. I remember that in high school I memorized the Declaration of Independence. In fact, for a project, my best friend at the time (Wendy was her name as I recall) together we made up a cheerleading routine to the Declaration of Independence. It was for "extra credit."

What sacrilege as I think of it now. How utterly stupid. I hope John Adams and the rest of the founders weren't watching. All I can say now is that ... we were young, and had no idea the cost paid for that magnificent moment in time where a nation of free people was born. The founders knew. They most certainly were aware of the unborn generations they would affect by their actions.

As I watch this program, I am in awe of the fight, even among the Representatives of the 13 colonies, to get to the point where they could agree in mass to break from England. The love story between John and Abigail is touching and heartbreaking. The hardships these people suffered in early America ... it boggles the mind. There's a scene where John Adams, as President of the United States, is searching a seedy section of some city for his son. President Adams is alone, walking up and down dim alleyways, dark and dirty streets, and I'm wondering ... where are his bodyguards? Silly me. Who knew what the President looked like back then? Nobody knew him! And the luxuries known to our Presidents today were certainly not available to George, John, and Thomas, our first three Presidents.

Just watching the differences in time, how small pox spread and how Abigail dealt with it ... John Adams' desperation to insure the colonies become a free nation for his children, and their children ... ah, well ... the whole made-for-TV story moves me. Alas, this is one movie I am watching where I have not read the book first. So I'm anxious to read John Adams afterward, to see if it is indeed, better than the mini-series.

Although I loved History class, they were in essence just stories to me back in school. I loved stories. But History is reality. And as much as I loved it -- it was not real to me. Oh sure, I memorized the long list of Presidents, I learned about the wars, the immigrants, the Gold Rush, and the Great Depression.

But until my grandparents disclosed their fight to stay alive during the 30's, it was just a story to me. Until I walked the coal camps of Appalachia for myself, I found it hard to relay them to my reader.

The Vietnam War was worlds away from my door until the names of young men I went to school with turned up in our local newspapers as M.I.A.

Until I visited reservations in Arizona and Oklahoma where American Indians still struggle after centuries, I'm afraid it would never have become real to me.

As I walked the hallowed halls on Ellis Island, those thousands of tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free, would never have come alive to me.

Exploring Williamsburg, walking her cobbled-stone streets, visiting Monticello, Mount Vernon, Philadelphia, and the tobacco plantations of the South, my mind's eye was dim as to what our founding Fathers saw until then.

The day I walked over the vast battle grounds at Gettysburg and then at Appomattox, the Civil War's blood bath was not a part of me until that day. I read the books, but to see where history was made, the story was not real until standing on the ground where those soldiers fell.

Until I visited places near and dear to those who fought for civil rights, Martin Luther King's struggle was only pages of History. But to really listen to him, feel the inflections in his speech, to hear his voice, then study his words, walk where he walked ... well, his mission, though respected, wasn't as real as it has since become.

I love reading stories that become real to me. And although I read many books that take place in countries or places where I have never stepped foot, I often like to research the areas for myself, online, just to see a picture of the land, the people, or something to give me a connection to the place. I'm not always successful, and I may still love the story, but when it becomes real to me, then the story sticks in my head for a long, long time. That's why a movie like John Adams is important. It makes it real.

Maybe that's why I love to write about the South. I know this place. Place is about touch and smell and sight ... the senses that glues the story to our memories.

So as I watch John Adams for its final episode tonight, I fall in love with History all over again. A history that screams out ... "This is how these people lived, they REALLY lived here, they walked and talked and founded this country on little more than guts and an instinct for survival!"

They weren't perfect, these Founding Fathers. Issues of slavery were ignored for another 100 years. Women had no say, except in private, with any matters of government. But the men who put together the foundation of our freedom, they were men who took a stand against tyranny. It was a start. God help us, it's still not perfect. I wonder what they would think if they could see us now?

Anyway, kudos to HBO for making it real.

Blessings to you and yours.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Use Rejections

Writing is a profession where you pour your guts out on the page, spend years writing the best story your mind, heart, and fingers can produce, labor days and nights on perfecting work that may or may never be seen ... and somebody is always waiting in the wings to tell you how bad you suck.

Sometimes, after reading over your work for the millionth time, you still find mistakes. You cry, pound your fist on the keyboard, run your hand through your hair and think -- they're right. I do suck. You begin to understand that perfection can only be born out of rejection. And yet, even then, the perfect manuscript does not exist.

Rejection is not only part of becoming a bonifide writer, it's essential. Each rejection is a brick upon which we build our tower to Heaven. A writer who has not experienced the critical reviews of their peers, the public, and those within the industry is missing something special. The chance to experience the rush of adrenaline that fuels the fire inside to never give up. It's truly a rush.

Recently, I've read some amazingly bad reviews on books I've devoured and loved. Books I thought incredible. AND I'm licking my own wounds, as well. Though I'm satisfied and thrilled with the response to TELEVENGE, there has been rejection. BUT what's finally sinking into my thick skull is how extremely different opinions run in not only the written word, but in every aspect of life. Think about it. How different we all live. Our religious beliefs, political agendas, the area of the country we were born and raised. Think about the differences in even you and your best friend. Or those you've known all your life. Within your own family! Every one of us look at books, movies, and life in general ... different, to one degree or another. So why sweat the rejections?

Remember that even rejections vary in size and shape. In stupidity and brilliance. In kindness and cruel. Every opinion varies from one degree to another. It's just an opinion, after all. And of course you've heard the trite, old, and crude saying ... opnions are like assholes, everybody's got one.

Do everything you can possibly do to learn the craft and be the best writer you can be ... and then, in the end, write for yourself. Use rejections. Don't let them use you!

Blessings to you and yours.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

What Do You Bring To The Page?

As a writer, I've wondered what I offer to my readers? Do I possess what it takes, really? What do I have to say that anybody wants to hear? Some books are lofty volumes of prose that deliver profound messages, soothing to the ears. Some keep you spellbound with intrique or humor. And then some curl the hair on the neck as you quickly turn the page to discover the killer. Besides constantly polishing your knowledge of the writing craft and striving for the title of great storyteller, I'm finding there's another element to this writing thing.

The author's ability to share knowledge, life experiences, and enlightenments within the context of a story. To make it matter.

What have you learned or experienced in your life that you bring to the page? Many of us bring our writing degrees, our teaching degrees, our years of contributions to magazines, lit mags, newspapers, and we bring awards. Oh, so many writing awards. And, that's wonderful. Commendable, in fact. But that's not what I'm talking about.

To quote Dorothy Allison (one of my favorites.) She made this profound statement at the Maui Writing Conference. " ... writers come to the page for many, many reasons. In fact many of us do come in the hope of justice! We do come in the hope of balance! We do come with an agenda of love! But I'm telling you now, lots of us start with a desire for genuine revenge."

Do you bring revenge to your written pages? Anger? Truth?

"Are you saying there has to be some deep, dark reason why we write? Can't I just write for fun?"

Well, sure you can. And many do. But once again, in my humble opinion, the writing that lasts for generations ... is written from the cobwebbed corners of a writer's mind. Those basements and attics where the writer fears to tread, but goes anyway.

"But," you say, "I write humor."

Ah, yes. Dissect that humor. Much of our humor also comes from pain. You know that old cliche spoken in the midst of a pissed-off moment ... "We're going to laugh about this later." Laughter through tears ... it's a powerful emotion. Take it to the page.

"Do you mean, then, write what you know?"

Not just what you know, but what you feel. What you've seen. The gut-wrenching moments in your life that cut deep into your heart. Write about that. Write about the scars. Who gave them to you, and how you healed, or how you still suffer from those scars. Give your character a piece of your life story that you want to share with the world. Dig out the best and worst of your memories, and include them in your stories. Write not just what you know, but what matters. What has brought you out of a dark spot? What makes you uncomfortable? Write your passions, your desires, what moves you. Write that.

Those are the guts of a good story. Bring that to the page.

Blessings to you and yours.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A Piece Of Heaven

Driving down a country road, far from the sound of traffic, I could see the roof line in the distance. A distinct three chimneys, one on each end and a third, ramming itself through the center of the old house. 1888. That's when it was built. A relic. A piece of North Carolina history.

The front of the house faces the South, while the country road slides along the Western edge of the property. When you pull into the drive, you're on the North side of the house where a new crop of asparagus is peeking through their raised beds. A potter's shack nestles itself near the tiny, rich tomato and lettuce garden that hugs the gravel walkway to the entrance. And what an entrance ... tulips, a mixture of new flowers, wisteria winding itself up and over a white picket fence and an archway ... a rock garden that bids you welcome like a friendly dog with a wagging tail.

Greeted by a wide, covered back porch, comfy furniture bids you to take a seat before even knocking on the door. Once inside, the restored elegance of the place made me tear up. Several times. Six fireplaces, a side porch, a fireplace in the kitchen. I saw myself there, fixing an amazing dinner for family and friends. A large dining and living room lead into the magnificent master suite and office. A perfect office. The whole house smiled at me.

Full of glorious light! Surprising! Large windows let in the light in every room. No closed blinds! 2,000+ square feet of first floor living. Perfect.

Upstairs, two large bedrooms and a shared hall bath, completely updated ... just the ticket for guests. Speaking of the stairs, nice and wide for an old farm house, and open. The wood work, though painted, is original to the house. In fact, most of the walls and ceilings are as well. The wood floors, redone to a glossy-wood shine, reflect the mood of the place. A shiny, happy place. An old place. Just what we want.

Large closets, pantry, laundry room/half bath ... what more could one need? Except a beautiful new barn and two old, restored outbuildings. Nearly a two-acre spread in the middle of the most beautiful farm country God ever made. Quiet. Relaxing. Unique. A home looking for a new owner.

I'd love for it to be us. Who knows?

We'll see what blessings God bestows on two middle-aged wanna-be new home owners.

Say a prayer, wont you?

Blessings to you and yours.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Ahhh ... SUNDAYS!

Mow the grass ... trim ... pull weeds ... Michael's job for now ...

Read the newspapers ... Real Estate Section ... Book Section ...

Catch up on the news ... current events ... wish I hadn't ...

Church ... sometimes ... or catch a televangelist or two ... or not ...

Laundry ... 2 loads ... whites first, then darks ... on the even weeks/wash sheets ...

Sunday dinner ... begin planning at 7 a.m. ...

A drive in the country ... on sun-filled days ...

Stop for ice cream at the dairy in the country where the cows come to the fence ...

Lay on bed, front porch, couch ... some place comfy ... read novel ...

Visit an open house ... for the fun of it ... or to dream ...

Phone parents ... daughter ... son ... laugh ...

Itunes ... dig it ... listen and enjoy ...

Watch the History Channel ... Discovery Channel ... learn something new

Listen to sports TV ... from the other room ...

Watch an HBO movie ...

Write a note to a friend ... or two ... or three ...

Drink wine ... or a pitcher of rum punch ... or a case of cold beer with ribs on the grill ...

Blog ... Read favorite blogs ...

Plan the week ahead ... the month ... redo calendar ...

Up the stakes to a new story by adding a character to the mix of misfits ...

Go grocery shopping at favorite grocery store ... buy at least one thing you don't need but want ...

Stop at favorite boutique ... do the same ...

Play with grandson ... hug him to pieces ...

Garage sale ... slam on brakes ... bicker on price ... fill the trunk with treasures ...

Take a long bath with candles ... music ... glass of iced coffee with cream ... and a magazine ... try not to drop into the bubbles

Try to forget troubles ... try hard ...

Go to bed early ... and dream about a new house ...

Feel hubby warm and snugly next to you ... all day ... all night ...

Be glad this week is over ... be thankful we're one week closer to our dreams coming true ...

Believe it ...

Ahhh ... SUNDAYS!

Blessings to you and yours.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

A Learned Virtue

Suddenly, (there's that drat LY word again) I realize I've not posted a blog for a few days! My calendar gets tighter as the year progresses. A few more churches have booked me to speak and I'm preparing for a keynote I'm giving in Kentucky this month, and as usual, I'm absorbed in writing most mornings. I feel I've become a morning person lately ... God, forbid.

I received a request from an agent, just yesterday, for the first three chapters of Televenge. And while that is a very good thing, and I'm excited to receive more interest in my novel, I find myself getting a bit antsy. But something stops me and I realize, that like a tomato plant--unless you water, fertilize, prune, and hoe the weeds around it, that juicy BLT you love in the middle of summer, just isn't going to happen. So you do what you're supposed to do ... and WAIT.

This whole process of getting an agent is a lesson in the art of waiting. Patience, it seems, is truly a necessary virtue all writers either must possess or learn quickly. I did not inherit patience. Neither my father nor my mother had a great deal of patience in their early years. They've got it now, but I remember when they didn't. I, like my folks, had to learn patience the hard way.

It certainly comes in handy these days. But like my friend, Jackie, says, "Sometimes we have to take the ego out of our work." We have to believe in ourselves, in our product, do our part, then let the publishing process do its thing. Timing, chemistry, the alignment of the stars and planets, maybe that's all part of how things happen.

My point is, you can miss a bus because you weren't supposed to get on it. Sometimes, we rush around and go crazy because we're late for work when minutes earlier, a plane has crashed into the skyscraper where we would've been sitting in our morning meeting. Our car won't start and we cuss and fuss and kick the tires, then hear about the five-car pile up on the interstate where several have lost their lives. An interstate where we would've been at about the time of the accident.

Sometimes we walk where angels fear to tread. It's an old saying, but as I grow older I believe in the power of my gut, or my spirit, or whatever you want to call it, when it whispers to me ... slow down. Stop. Don't go. Wait for their call. Send one last query letter.

My patience may be worn, but it's not worn out. It's thin in spots, but it still holds together. I can't always locate it, but it finds me. I don't recognize it at times, but it follows me like a shadow. My patience is as dear to me as an old friend. As comfortable as warm, soft jammies. The older I get, the more I treasure my patience. It had to grow on me. I didn't like it at first, but now, I couldn't survive with it.

Patience. Waiting. Endurance. There are no better friends to a writer.

Blessings to you and yours.