Thursday, May 29, 2008

Celebrity Playlists

It’s no secret. I’m a huge I-tunes fan. I love the 99cents-for-a-song deal. Trouble is, they add up, and before you know it, you’ve spent 20 bucks. But the amazing thing to me, are the Celebrity Playlists. Famous people who list their favorite songs. Every week, some famous actor/actress/singer posts their favorite songs, and it’s supposed to make us want to buy them. The Sex and the City ladies have recently posted their top tunes. Oh. So I looked.


Okay, not all yuck. But a lot yuck.

Do celebrities choose to be that extremely different just so they come off as cool to the rest of us? But I got to thinking ... hey, maybe they really do love those songs. Who am I to say what's cool?

Yet, just because it’s their favorite song list, doesn’t mean we have to buy it. I have to admit, though, a golden nugget often hides in a Celebrity Playlist. It’s either a song I’ve not heard, or one I’ve forgotten about. And if I find myself going back again and again to listen to the “sample,” I usually buy it and download it.

So, I started thinking again, I’m a connoisseur of music. Loving all styles of music, I glean from every category, except maybe rap (it's not singing) and the really hard, nasty stuff that makes absolutely no sense. I’m a child of the early days of classic rock, so naturally, I adore The Stones and the Beatles. But I was born into a family of fiddle players and banjo pickers, so country and bluegrass runs in my blood. I find myself drawn to movie Soundtracks. And I love Bach, songs from the 40s, and Elvis. I once downloaded Mel Torme. It’s great music if you’re entertaining a large group and you want to keep the evening lively. I’m all over the place when it comes to music.

When I’m writing, I live in my headsets. Usually, it’s soft music, new age, or some soundtrack that plays in the background, setting the mood for the scene, chapter, or the “movie” rolling through my head.

Driving music is usually, rock, pop, R&B, or country. Nothing like flying down the road to a little “Sweet Emotion.”

Bluegrass plays when I cook or clean or when I want to write about the rural South. I’m not really into the old stuff, mostly Alison Kraus, Gillian Welch, Dale Ann Bradley, and Vince Gill. Sitting around a bon fire at night, there’s nothing like bluegrass. Oh yes, my cousin, Clint Lewis, wow. Fantastic!

My cell phone rings to Brooks & Dunn’s, Red Dirt Road. What can I say? Love the lyrics.

Whatever my mood, I’ve got great stuff to listen to.

The list is way long but for what it’s worth, here’s my “celebrity” (ha!) playlist. It’s really, just the tip of the iceberg in my collection, Enjoy!

-Caribbean Blue – Enya
-Gabriel’s Oboe from “The Mission” – Ennio Morricone
-Theme to Out of Africa, Ghost, Rainman, Road to Perdition, Legends of the Fall, Dances With Wolves, Titanic, The Piano, Gladiator
-Photograph – Def Leppard
-Sweet Emotion – Aerosmith
-Mama I’m Commin’ Home – Ozzy Osbourne
-Kyrie – Mr. Mister
-Dancing Queen – ABBA
-Whiter Shade of Pale – Annie Lennox
-Missionary Man – Annie Lennox
-Crazy – Alanis Morissette
-No One In The World – Anita Baker
Anything Alison Kraus sings
-Gone Country – Alan Jackson
-Boondocks – Little Big Town
-Georgia Rain – Trisha Yearwood
-The Devil Had a Hold of Me – Gillian Welch
-Making Memories of Us – Keith Urban
-Gotta Keep Moving – Kelly Pickler
-Before He Cheats – Carrie Underwood
-Bless the Broken Road – Rascal Flatts
-Ruby With The Eyes That Sparkle – Dirk Powell
-This One’s For the Girls – Martina McBride
-I Need You – Tim McGraw and Faith Hill
-Colder Than Winter – Vince Gill
-Wave On Wave – Pat Green
-Caleb Meyer – Gillian Welch
-Redneck Woman – Gretchen Wilson
-Day Tripper – The Beatles
-Paperback Novel – The Beatles
-Revolution – The Beatles
-Alabama Bad – Marshall Chapman
-Jumpin’ Jack Flash – The Rolling Stones
-Ode to a Butterfly – Nickel Creek
-Copperhead Road – Steve Earle

Oh let’s cut to the chase – too many to list! Bon Jovi, Bo Bice, BackStreet Boys, Bangles, .38 Special, Boston, Bread, Brownstone, Alan Parsons Project, ALABAMA, NSYNC, Argent, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, The Bangles, The Beach Boys, Benny Mardones, Billy Ocean, Bruce Hornsby, BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, Bryan Adams, The Calling, Carpenters, The Cars, Celine Dion, Cher, Christopher Cross, Clark Anderson, Crosby-Stills-Nash&Young, CREEDENCE, DAUGHTRY, Def Leppard, Don Henley, Doobie Brothers, Duran Duran, Earth Wind & Fire, Electric Light Orchestra, Elton John, Eric Carmen, Eric Clapton, FLEETWOOD MAC, Fergie, Foo Fighters, The Fray, Genesis, Gloria Estefan, Graham Colton, The Guess Who, Guns n’ Roses, Gwen Stefani, HEART, James Taylor, Jane Child, Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson, Johnny Hates Jazz, Jon Secada, Joni Mitchell, JOURNEY, KIM CARNES, LeAnn Rimes, LEONA LEWIS, Lifehouse, LINDA RONDSTADT, Lou Graham, Madonna, Maroon 5, Michael Bolton, Nelly Furtado, Nickelback, PETER CETERA, PHIL COLLINS, Pointer Sisters, R.E.M., Roberta Flack, Seal, Sly and the Family Stone, Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, Smokey Robinson, Sergio Mendez, STEELY DAN, STEVIE NICKS, STEVIE WONDER, Sting, Taylor Dayne, Three Dog Night, Tom Petty, Tori Childs, U2, Tears for Fears, Van Halen, The Who, Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops, ARETHA, BEE GEES, Four Tops, FRANKIE VALLI, Prince, Lovin’ Spoonful, The Mamas & the Papas, The Righteous Brothers, Steppenwolf, Steve Winwood, THE DOORS, Stone Poneys, Temptations, Tommy James

and on … and on … and on … Just because they're my favorites, doesn't mean they should be yours. Point is, start your OWN LIST!

Is there anybody I don’t particularly like? Yeah. Jimmy Buffett, Billy Joel, and John Denver. The final point, find what you like. Immerse yourself in music once in a while. Turn up the music in your life, get away from the TV, kick back and enjoy. Choose your own favorites, sink into your comfy spot with a good playlist and a great book. That's living large.

Blessings to you and yours.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Grandma's Apron

This was sent in to me by a dear friend. I have no idea who wrote this, but I loved it. It brings back so many memories of my Grandma King and her apron. She's gone now, but I can see her use her apron in each one of the following scenarios:

The principal use of Grandma's apron was to protect the dress underneath, but along with that, it served as a potholder for removing hot pans from the oven.

It was wonderful for drying children's tears, and on occasion was even used for cleaning out dirty ears.

From the chicken coop, the apron was used for carrying eggs, fussy chicks, and sometimes half-hatched eggs to be finished in the warming oven.

When company came, those aprons were ideal hiding places for shy kids.

And when the weather was cold, grandma wrapped it around her arms.

Those big old aprons wiped many a perspiring brow, bent over the hot wood stove.

Chips and kindling wood were brought into the kitchen in that apron.

From the garden, it carried all sorts of vegetables.

After the peas had been shelled, it carried out the hulls.

In the fall, the apron was used to bring in apples that had fallen from the trees.

When unexpected company drove up the road, it was surprising how much furniture that old apron could dust in a matter of seconds.

When dinner was ready, Grandma walked out onto the porch, waved her apron, and the men knew it was time to come in from the fields to dinner.

It will be a long time before someone invents something that will replace the 'apron' that served so many purposes. But you can bet, I'll be wearing one in the very near future.

Blessings to you and yours.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Commentary on Memorial Day

My grandfather was a veteran. My father is a veteran. My husband is a veteran. My son is a veteran. All three of my uncles were veterans. My great uncles were veterans. My family has a long and dedicated history of service to this country. In fact, on my father's side, we have documented history of a very, very great grandfather who fought in the Revolutionary War.

Monday, May 25, 2008 article from the Associated Press states, "... Military veterans are being buried at such a rapid rate that national cemeteries use heavy equipment to make room. 'We're still in growth mode right now,' said Bill Tuerk, undersecretary for memorial affairs at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. 'We're in a very high-demand time period, and we're trying to respond to it.' An average of 1,800 veterans die each day, and 10 percent of them are buried in the country's 125 national cemeteries, which are expected to set a record with 107,000 interments, including dependents, this year. And more national cemeteries are being built ..."

Memorial Day is a sad day. Yes, we love our parades, fly our flags, and salute our veterans as they proudly march past. But for me, it's a day to mourn those fallen in battle. To pray for peace. And to really begin to ponder ... who do we want next to lead our nation?

As a woman, I'm thankful George's reign is just about over. As a woman, I want an end to this war and the tears of mothers and wives in this country. And as a woman, one day before I'm gone from this earth, I want to see a woman in the White House. A woman with sons.

Then, quite possibly, there may be fewer veterans to bury in our future.

God bless our veterans this Memorial Day.

... and you and yours, as well.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Who'll Give A Dollar?

I'm a garage sale fanatic. A yard sale junkie. A flea market hound. Tag sale, moving sale, church bazaar, auction expert. I browse consignment stores, thrift shops, and every now and then, I'll "dumpster dive." Oh yes. True.

My parents are garage sale people from way back. Having found rare antiques, they've been hitting the garage sales since the early 60s. They can tell you a story about each piece of furniture in their house. Where they found it, how much they paid for it, what they wore and ate for breakfast the morning they bought it. But don't ask them what they ate yesterday. They probably won't remember. My point is, this has always been fun for them. It's rubbed off on their daughters, I can tell you that.

I bought a beautiful bench this morning. One that you put at the end of a bed, upholstered in floral material, with rolled arms at each side ... fifteen bucks. Perfect shape, never been used. I've seen them in consignment stores, stained and scratched, for fifty bucks. I've always wanted one. What a find!

In fact, I've converted my husband. He is now fully convinced we can furnish an entire house for next to nothing in price. Here's some tips:

- Don't waste expensive gas money going across town. Usually the best garage sales are in your own backyard. I've found my best buys just a mile from my own street.

- Get out there early. You'll find top notch stuff for dirt cheap at 6:30 and 7:00 on a Saturday morning.

- Garage sales are usually over by noon or one o'clock. But you can bicker on price as the day wears on. A five dollar item at 7 a.m. may cost only four dollars by noon. But don't wait if you really want it, because it'll be gone. I've learned the hard way.

- Most folks have garage sales to get rid of stuff. Making money is not the object of the game, it's just a benefit. So if you hit a sale that seems too pricey, walk away from it. Garage sale vendors need to learn that customers aren't going to pay store prices, discount and otherwise.

I once had a guy at a garage sale try to sell me some porcelain for $300.00. The retail sticker was still on it. I asked him what he was asking for it and he said, "I never used it, I'm selling it for what I paid for it." I laughed in the guy's face and walked away.

You got to be willing to nearly give things away. If not, sell them on eBay or put an add in the paper. Even though it may be a treasured find, I'm not going to pay much for your junk, no matter how bad I want it--no matter how much you originally paid for it. I'll take it off your hands for pennies on the dollar, otherwise, you can keep it. (That should be your yard sale attitude.)

- Get out there, rain or shine. This morning it poured rain. Who cares? It keeps the competition from walking off with that lamp you got your eye on. But, because of the rain, most yard sales listed in the paper never got started today. However, there were a few garage sales. That's where I found my bench. I found an antique mirror for 2 bucks at a church bazaar, held in their fellowship hall. The UAW was holding their parking lot sale for homeless veterans this morning, despite the rain. We stopped and walked around, getting wet, but I found a beautiful blue bowl. They wanted fifty cents, I gave them a dollar. It was for a good cause.

I'm happy with my haul.

Thing is, you've got to love bargains in order to do this. For every great sale, there are five sales filled with pure crap. You have to weed through it. Overlook the scratched and dented. You never know what you're going to find.

Blessings to you and yours.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

For The Love Of The Name

I've been poking around in my notes, searching for the right name for a new character. She's a bit silly and brash, but her heart's in the right place. The poor girl isn't aware that folks go out of their way to avoid her. Mostly because every word she says is the truth. Her social skills evaporated early in life, but it doesn't make her less attractive to one peculiar man in town. She's the town misfit. The woman that's never asked to parties, church events, or to join the literary league. All because she calls it as she sees it. To say the truth hurts in Hillsville, is mildly stated.

I love this character. I'm attracted to her innate desire to become loved. Liked even. She's flawed in that she was born with a curse. A curse to tell nothing but the truth. Right now, my problem is naming her. Naming a character is not as easy as you might think.

I've struggled with names in the past. To pull a name out of thin air doesn't work with me. It has to feel right. I have to see the face with the name, at least in my head. I know what my characters look like and their names have to match. Otherwise, you run the risk of losing the punch that character brings to the page. For me, Scarlett OHara could never have been called Jane or Betsy or Cora. She was Scarlett! That name will forever be synonymous with the character. Get it?

I collect names from everywhere. From people I meet, names I overhear, baby books, and from folks I've known in my past. Here are a few of the names I'm considering for this wonderful character in my latest story: Leola, Hennessy, Faye, Pudge, Sioux, Jule, Atlanta, Readith, Macel, Dulcie, Bella, and Izzy Mae. Oh yes, all quite Southern in origin.

I may not hear her name until the story is finished. To fully develop this character, I have to name her. But the plot is in full bloom at the moment, so maybe it's just not the right time to know what to call her. It may come to me in my sleep, as has happened in the past. And then again, she may tell me herself.

I love it when that happens.

Blessings to you and yours.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Just Give Me A Great Story

I once had someone say to me, "Truth is stranger than fiction because it can be. But fiction has to make sense. It can be as fantastic as you care to make it, but it must have an inherent logic to it at all times."

My question to that is – logic to whom? What is logical to me is not logical to someone else and vice versa. What is plausibility? To whom must it be plausible? This whole issue with logic and plausibility, I believe, lies in the lap of the reader.

My best friend, Tina, is part of a large book club in Ohio. Like a litter of starved puppies, they devour one story after the other. Their opinions vary -- widely. Each member takes a turn and chooses their "book of the month." But in the meantime, my Tina will read an average of three or four novels in addition to the book-club pick. She's got more books in her library than Congress.

A voracious reader, Tina is any writer's best friend. She eats, sleeps, and breathes books. Has been helplessly addicted all her life. Would rather read than eat. She's been known to go without a shower for days and days while her nose is stuck in a book. I remember when she read the Outlander series, her speech turned Scottish for a while. If she loves the book, Tina will immerse herself in the story. She allows herself to be transported into the midst of the action. And she's not all about one genre. She'll read anything that appeals to her. She's my best critic, by far.

She should've been part of the industry, gone to New York, worked for a major house. She knows every major and mid-list writer. Tina is a great reference for me. But I have to laugh when I get the call after a bad book. Her comment usually goes like this. "... oh my God, Pam ... how did this book get published? It was awful! Just awful. I could barely get through it! And then there's your book, a page-turner, a book just waiting for a publisher!"

Well, of course, she loves me. She knows how hard I've worked to get Televenge into the light of day. Her advice and edits were critical on this book. But we don't always agree. Some of the books she's read and not liked, other readers absolutely love. And yet, certain scenes, characters, and whole books that make sense to her and are totally logical, have made no sense to me or a few of the readers in her group.

My whole point here, is that logic and plausibility and backstory and even, yes, the craft of writing itself (to a degree) ... is subjective. (I can hear the boo and hiss from the creative writing teachers now.) I agree, you need to know the rules before you break them. But I'm finding that most experts believe unless it's written a certain way, unless you follow their formula for story arc, character development, and conflict enhancement, then you can kiss your chances of publication good-bye. Unless a book grabs them by the balls in the first two pages, they (or their 22 year old assistant) fast-pitch it into the slush pile. How sad for them.

I believe many of the finest and best stories ever written, will go unread. All because writers are at the mercy of opinion. These unknown writers don't even get the chance to market their work, because some industry professional who has been in the business since God was a boy, believes they know best.

I say, just give me a great story. As much as I believe every writer should study the craft and write well, I want a story that moves, inspires, and makes me cry. Or laugh. Or cleverly holds my interest until the writer's skill sneaks up behind me and shocks me with a powerful punch to the gut. Break the rules and give me an unnamed lead character, as with Elizabeth Kostova's, The Historian.

Of course, not every book is good. Not every story can be published. But don't force your formula, your opinions, your "doesn't fit my list" on the rest of us. The Internet has been instrumental in bringing readers and writers together, bypassing major book publishers altogether. I believe the face of publishing will change in the future. The rules will change. Opinions will change.

Because in the end, all we really want is just a great story to read.

Blessings to you and yours.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Inspired By My Elders

Last evening, my friend Dena and I spoke to a lovely group of seniors at Well Spring Assisted Living Community in Greensboro. These folks wanted to hear our presentation on the topic of "Passing Down Your Family Stories." Many in the group filled shoe boxes with photos, notes, and letters, expressing interest in writing their memoir. A few were storytellers. Others, just came for the pure entertainment of it. One thing for sure, it was fun! I'd return in a heartbeat. Even to just sit and talk with these folks.

Dena and I could've listened to their stories for hours. Some were retired professors, teachers, homemakers. One man wanted to write his own obituary. They were interested in how to get started and I think we helped them with advice like--set aside ten minutes a day to just jot down notes and memories in a notebook. Keep your pen and paper handy because you never know when inspiration will strike. Develop a ritual. Find your own writing spot and train yourself to enter it at the same time every day. Make it a good habit. Use your five senses--allow them to dig into the cobwebbed corners of your memory. On and on ... we spoke for an hour, answered questions, laughed, and then ... we listened.

What we took home from this beautiful facility, was the warmth of these folks. They reached out and we reached back to embrace them, encourage them. In return, they removed a little bit of our apprehension of growing old. It's scary to many of us who lead full lives with so much left to do. But for me, I looked out over the room of beautifully lined faces, and realized these people were happy. Really happy. They're content. They've lived, loved, and learned how to accept the fact that old age can be a beautiful place to be. One woman told me they're all busy, every day. That's one of the reasons she came to hear Dena and me. To figure out how to squeeze more time out of her schedule in which to write!

This gorgeous facility gives these folks not only a sense of security, but of family, and purpose. How wonderful. Yes, it's truly more blessed to give than to receive, but in this case--I enjoyed receiving inspiration from these gracious senior citizens.

I suppose my point is that although we went to Well Spring to give of ourselves, we took with us even more than we gave. My heart is full this morning.

Don't you just love it when that happens?

Blessings to you and yours.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Mom's Day All Year Long

Every morning I get up and read my normal blogs, along with coffee in hand. And then I think ... I've got to blog more than once or twice a week. Though my once or twice a week is consistently that, I know I may attract more readers if I'm a daily blogger. It's often difficult, however, to find that much interesting stuff in my daily life/routines. Although my friend Dena, would disagree. Except Dena writes some great and funny stuff. Me? I tend to ramble on when blogging. Check it out.

Anyway, yesterday was Mommies Day. I wished Mike's mom a happy one, then my mom by way of telephone, my kids called ... all is well in the world. Just another Hallmark holiday. It's my opinion that every day should be Mom's Day. For every good thing a mother does during the course of her lifetime, think about it, who could ever repay her? We need to send mom a card or flowers or a good book just on a whim. In August. Or November. Who cares if it's not her birthday or Mother's Day? Do we really need a corporation like Hallmark or Walmart to tell us when to celebrate Mom? Or Dad, for that matter?

But we do it in May for those who forget. Actually, I plan to give my mother something very special in the near future, so all I sent was a card. She'll have to wait a couple months, and then we'll celebrate big time. My point is, you don't have to give your mom a thing on that May holiday. Maybe a phone call or a card, but presents are not the goal. Gifts from the heart come at the most surprising times. That makes the whole idea of "Mom" more special.

Love is free. You can give it to anybody at any time. We don't need Hallmark to do that.

Blessings to you and yours.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

You Can Feel It

I arrived home from Ohio with great expectations. Contemplating the marriage between my son and his future bride, I feel a certainty. This one will defy the odds. You can just feel it.

Aaron Christian and Anne Marie. Or Annie, as she's called by those who know and love her. The couple's shower, given by Uncle Gordon and Aunt Elaine, was a total success. A beautiful day for Northern Ohio, the guys went golfing early in the morning, and later ... everyone gathered on the farm to celebrate the upcoming nuptials.

For two people who do not like to be in the spotlight, Annie and Aaron were certainly the center of attention last Sunday. But along with that, Auntie Elaine and her dear friend, Jane, put on a regal shower ... We feasted on top-notch food, wine, and exquisite cupcakes for dessert. Everyone introduced themselves and told their relationship to the soon-to-be bride and groom, and then the comfortably-seated 40+ folks in the room watched as this precious couple opened their gifts.

No longer in their twenties, this 30-something couple are in control of their direction. You can feel their devotion to each other. I think we all felt it.

Later, a gaggle of golfers lined up to hit golf balls across the pond, hoping to be the first to hit the dock. My friend, Tina, won that honor. When the air chilled, it was time for a bon-fire. Cigars for a few, cold beer, and side-breaking laughter rolled around the fire from each of us. Though most who lived a distance away left before dark, the rest stayed and shared memories, stories, and tales of yesteryear.

Uncle Gordon and Aunt Elaine have been surrogate parents to my children for many years. Aaron lives on their farm in the "extra" house. A large farmhouse behind the main house. Gordon raises Clydesdale horses on this gentleman's farm. Watching those magnificent beasts in the pasture at sunset brings a sigh of peace to your lips. Tranquil and inviting, this patch of land has been home to G&E and their two beautiful children for the past few decades. Their farm is the perfect spot for a shower, or a wedding, or a tractor ride.

It was a quick trip, but one of the best trips ever to Ohio. It was wonderful to see my sister and her two lovely girls, as well as meeting all of Annie's family. Michael, as usual, snapped tons of pictures. We enjoy ourselves with any trip to Grand Maples Farm. This was definitely another treasured memory. We now look forward to June and the storybook wedding. Between a conservative country boy who loves to hunt and a liberally dark-haired beauty, a doctor who said, "Yes. Yes, I'll marry you." No two people could be so different, yet so perfect together. You can see it, you can feel it.

Thank you, G&E, for all you've done. We all appreciate it more than you know. This shower rates as one of the best ever. A first-class event for a first-class couple.

Blessings to you and yours.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Smelling History

The High Point Literary League hosted Erik Larson this week. Author of The Devil in The White City and Thunderstruck, I found him entertaining. Especially because he put us in a time machine and transported us back to turn of the century Chicago. Can you imagine?

A writer of historical fiction, Mr. Larson evoked our senses ... especially that of smell. "If you opened this time machine," he said, "and stepped out into the Chicago of the past, the first thing your mind would register is that of horse." Yes, horse. He pointed out that during this Gilded Age in Chicago, there were over a million horses at any one time in downtown Chicago. Each horse excreted 30 gallons of urine a day. Allow your sense of smell to take over. Nasty.

Ha! It made me think of our country's history and how technology and our modes of travel have changed not only the landscape, but what we hear and smell.

Evidently, back then, every man smoked cigars. (Probably to cover their own smell or that of their horse.) But Mr. Larson was quick to point out those were the two most dominant smells of any city. Horses and cigars.

As a writer, we must not forget to titillate our readers with the sense of smell. There's no more powerful sense that can pick us up and transport us back in time.

Smelling Chicago of the past was fun. It made me think of how other smells bring back memories of my own past. Like opening a box of Pampers- (My early years as a new mom.) A freshly mowed lawn- (Summertime as a kid.) The inside of a freezer- (My grandma's basement.)

Smelling history. It's like stepping into your own time machine.

Blessings to you and yours.