Monday, December 13, 2010

I HAVE AN AGENT!

I've signed a contract with a New York agent. A writer hopes, but this was a blessing beyond.

My new agent represents many well-knowns in Southern literature. Before he ever called me he had read the manuscript three times.

The response to my novel, The Sanctum, was nothing short of, hmmm ... is this supposed to happen to me? I shall ever remain humble here in North Carolina. I know from whence I came, and I understand there are no guarantees, even with an agent. But my God, I've got an agent! I'm still in shock.

So forgive me while I bury my head, once again, in my work, getting the manuscript seamless before my agent presents it to the publishing houses.

I guess it still feels surreal, like I don't want to jinx myself. You know? Anyway, I'll keep you posted. It's been a long, tough, road. And that's an understatement. Right now ... I'm still pinching myself. Well, darn. Merry Christmas to ME!

Blessings to you and yours this Christmas season.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Stay Tuned

It's December. A very exciting time for me. Yes, indeedy.

Thanksgiving was nothing short of wonderful with the family, but I'm already looking forward to the new year.

Unfortunately, I'm too busy (at the moment) to blog. So please forgive me. Just know, I have some thrilling news. You want to guess?

Yes! You are correct! It involves my novel, The Sanctum.

Stay tuned. I'll fill you in soon!

Many, many blessings to you and yours.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Thrill Of The Book

Book Clubs in Atlanta are alive and well!

I spoke to a group of lovely ladies Friday night in Suwanee, Georgia. Just outside of Atlanta, these women are serious about their books, let me tell you.

Great food, wine, and laughter filled the room of comfy sofas, chairs, and tables of four where the ladies sat, ate, laughed, and shared their reviews of books. I was in heaven. After I spoke, the questions were thoughtful and right to the point, like ... "which character in your stories do you most resemble?" and "how long did it take you to write each story?"

They shared with me their ideas of what makes a good book, why they put books down after the first few pages, and which books they've read recently they can't get out of their heads. For me, as a writer, it not only captured my attention, I took out my paper and pen and made a few notes. It's my opinion that if you want to hear your reader's voice, you need to get out there and find the book clubs. If women are your target market, you need to plant yourself in the midst of a room full of bookies, and I don't mean the betting kind. I mean the kind that keeps their noses between the pages of a good book. That's where you need to be.

My mother and my sister were there to hear me speak for the first time, which was fun. Since they live in the area, it was great to have them with me. Mom just couldn't get over how many women actually lined up afterward to buy my book. I guess it's not just "that writing thing" I do anymore, is it mom? It thrilled her to see me in action, and I think, after all these years, she's beginning to understand why I do what I do.

Southern Fried Women was published in 2006, and I'm still selling it. I sold 33 copies Friday night, as well as touted my new novel, The Sanctum. The buzz has started and I'm looking forward to returning to this same group of women when The Sanctum is published.

It's going to be an exciting winter for me and Michael. There is something new to tell you on the horizon. I'll keep you posted!

HAVE A WONDERFUL THANKSGIVING EVERYBODY!

Blessings to you and yours.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Book Club Excitement

There are two major book clubs in Suwanee, Georgia who have united forces and invited me to speak this month. I'm ready to head to the Atlanta suburb where I understand the wine will be flowing. You can't imagine the fun I have, speaking to a rowdy group of baby boomer women who love to read. They've booked the clubhouse, hired a cop, and bought their wine. Now all I have to do is show up, and we've got a party.

I'm grateful for opportunities like this to sell a plethora of Southern Fried Women. It's not unusual to sell 50, or even 100 books on a night like this. Especially before Christmas. Word of mouth is an author's best friend. That is what has sold this book more than anything else. The publishing industry is frustrating at best for most writers, and when you're published by a small press, there is no budget for promoting books. To say it's a challenge is putting it mildly. But I'm proud of the work Michael and I have done to sell thousands of copies of this book. And I'm more than appreciative of my readers. So when I'm asked to show up, sign books, and hang out with a book club, my answer is always a resounding, you bet'cha!

November is filled with Thanksgiving. It comes in different forms for me. As a writer, there's nothing better than to gather with your readers, tip a glass, and talk turkey. It's why we exist.

Blessings to you and yours.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Staring Me In The Face

Winter is staring us in the face, folks. We've had our first frost here in North Carolina. Strange, how I'm looking forward to it. As much as I used to hate winter, I find myself looking forward to it every year now. Maybe that's because I no longer have to drive in it much. That's the worst part about winter for many of us. Uncovering your car under feet of snow, driving to work in the cold and slush, and then avoiding the crazies on the road who think they're invincible.

But from where I sit, in my cozy little house, I can enjoy the elements without leaving the warmth of my slippers and robe. Well, hey, we have to find a silver lining in this season somewhere.

I'm excited at the possibilities of publishing again. It's staring me in the face, as well. I'm ready for it. In fact, I'm anxious for a bit of great news ... that I just know is right around the corner.

So stay tuned, keep warm, and I'll be back with the details. Later.

Blessings to you and yours.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Route Has Changed

Changes are inevitable in life. In yours and mine. What we wanted, even ten years ago, it changes. Even five years ago. There are blogs I've written, posted here back in 2005 and 2006 ... that I just read and laugh at. It's not that my heart's desire has changed dramatically, but our circumstances warrant change. We learn, so therefore, we change.

But the one constant in my life, other than my esteemed spouse, are my writing goals. The road to getting there has changed drastically. My ideas and opinions about the writing world and about writers in general have changed. I've crossed over a few bridges, and even burned a few. And yet, my dream is still intact.

I'll get there. I know it. The journey isn't over yet, it's just taking a different route.

Blessings to you and yours.

Friday, October 08, 2010

The Lesson of Giving

One thing I've learned in my life, is that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

Michael and I are often approached, sitting in traffic, at fast-food restaurants, even in the Walmart parking lot. Folks, seemingly down-on-their-luck, asking for money. It's difficult to believe them, sometimes. Are they just panhandlers, drunks, too lazy to go out and get a job? What? What makes a person lose all sense of dignity and expect a hand-out? In a split second, I have to decide--do I believe them, and am I going to give them money I don't really have to give?

You want to know my answer?

You bet I am. It may be just a quarter. Or whatever is floating around in my cup holder. I've seen Michael open his wallet and hand over a few dollars. Neither of us expect to be applauded for this, or even blessed for it. It's the humane thing to do, and also ... it's not up to me to judge this person. He or she may very well take my few dollars and head to the nearest liquor store, or crack house. I have no idea what happens to it after it passes from my hand to theirs. Then again, it may just buy a carton of eggs or a half-gallon of milk for his kids. Who am I to make that determination?

Someone once told me, if you give someone a gift, don't expect a thing in return. Otherwise, it's not a gift. Although, in many cases, the borrower becomes slave to the lender. The overwhelming feeling of obligation is not a good feeling. And yet, in this economy, I see the potential of the haves either helping the have-nots, or hording it.

Should we just hand over our hard-earned money? No. That's not what I'm saying. But when the opportunity arises for you to help in time of need, are you there? Don't give away every dime, you've got a responsibility to your own family. But can you bake a cake for an elderly lady next door? Can you give a bag of food to a needy family down the street? How about going through your closet and giving away those clothes and shoes you never wear?

"I've worked hard for my money. I'll be damned if I'm giving it away to some lazy, low-life who won't get a job!"

That statement breaks my heart more than the sight of any beggar on the street.

I've learned how to be generous, because I've been on the receiving end. Big time. That is the biggest lesson I've learned in my lifetime. And I'm grateful for it.

Many, many wonderful blessings to you and yours.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Rocks

Sometimes I'm a rock. In the midst of crisis, I can hold my own and everybody else's. And then sometimes I'm an emotional mess. Weepy. Sounds hormonal, doesn't it?

Today I'm filled with anger. Not a rage, but a grate-on-my-nerve "get-out-of-my-way" feeling and I can't seem to shake it. I need to give myself permission to feel this way once in a while. Give myself permission to feel irritated. I need to throw a couple rocks.

One thing I've learned, is that "wantin' ain't gettin'." It just doesn't work that way. Even in a lifetime of hard-knocks. It doesn't matter how bad we want something, even if we've earned it--most of the time, we don't get what we want. And sometimes, we don't even get what we need.

So yes, I'd like to throw a couple rocks this morning. Unfortunately, I throw like a girl, and it wouldn't do anything but hurt my arm. But if I had a basket of them, I'd throw them. As fast and as hard as I could.

To quote a line from Forrest Gump, "Sometimes there just aren't enough rocks." That is certainly the case today.

Blessings to you and yours and me and mine. I sure could use one today.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Forehead Knocker

It's a little ditty my mother taught me a long time ago. I taught it to my children, and now, I've taught it to my grandchildren.

You put the toddler on your lap, facing you. And you say ...

Forehead knocker (point the child's forehead)
Eye winker (point to one of the child's eyes)
Eye blinker (point to the other eye)
Nose dropper (point to the child's nose)
Rosemary (point to the child's cheek)
Rosecherry (point to the other cheek)
Mouth eater (point to the child's mouth)
Chin grinner (point to the child's chin - if it's a girl)
Then tickle her neck and say ... get her! get her! get her!
OR
If it's a little boy on your lap, you point to his chin and say, Chin grin 'em
Then tickle his neck and say ... get him! get him! get him!

For an excellent example, go to my daughter-in-law's September 24, 2010 post at www.kidsandcoupons.blogspot.com. There you will see Andrew demonstrating it. Perfectly.

Blessings to you and yours.

Friday, September 24, 2010

They Don't Call It The Bible-Belt For Nothing

Hmm. Can one truly write about the South without including the spiritual? Someone once told me there's too much God in southern writing. I wonder if that person really knows what the South is all about? Sure, there's good, Christian people in every corner of this country. But down here, in the real South, they don't call it The Bible-Belt for nothing. In every southern tale I've ever read, God is mentioned many times over. In some novels more than others. But He's there, whether in the positive or the negative, He's there.

I've compiled a long list of books that are NOT published by the Christian publishers, are wringing wet with religion, and were New York Times Bestsellers. In fact, some weren't even set in the South. (i.e. - The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown.)

But the South is rich in religion, steeped in Christian heritage, and yes, as well as hypocrisy. Do you know how many churches are in the South? In any given town? Look it up. Writing about the edgy South, the dark South, the gritty South ... you better put God in it somewhere.

Otherwise, it's just feel-good fluff.

Not that there's anything wrong with feel-good, buttered-biscuit, sweet-potato fluff. I read it, if its good writing. But give me a story that feeds that spiritual part of me, and I'm happy. Even if it conflicts with my own beliefs.

I tend to weave God into my stories in bold and subtle ways. In the positive and in the negative. He shows up a lot. And that's because my readers are spiritual and/or religious people. They like it. I like it. My characters tend to be from a South of long ago, and if you know anything about the south of the 50s and 60s ... it rocked with God.

So give me a gutsy story that some author isn't afraid to write, and you can bet, somewhere inside the book, God is mentioned somewhere.

Blessings to you and yours.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Down Days

It's been a long month. So much has happened and here we are, nearing the end of September. My friend, Tina, came to visit. We spent the week doing "girlie" things, and taking in the sights and sounds of Bookmarks 2010 in Winston-Salem. I think that was the highlight of the week for Tina, getting her picture taken with Diana Gabaldon, one of her favorite authors.

When Tina flew out of Charlotte, Michael and I headed to Atlanta. My sister's 50th surprise birthday party lasted the entire weekend for me. Fun in the Hotlanta sun. Kathy's not at all wanting to face that big 5-0 birthday but she was a good sport about it, after all. I met two ladies at the party, friends of my sister, who are quite the book enthusiasts! Both belong to large book groups and one is a member of The Margaret Mitchell House. It was fantastic, spending over an hour with these ladies, talking about books. I find more and more, women and men, who love the time they spend with a good book. A real book, not a piece of plastic with words on a monitor. Until my generation dies out, there will always be book buyers. Real books, not fake ones.

Oh sure, I'll eventually break down, buy one of those cold, plastic, book monitors. But you can be sure, if it's a book I love, the hard copy, the "real" book, will sit on my library shelf at home.

Tomorrow, I'm off to speak to a group of book lovers at our local library, and of course, about my work. I'm looking forward to it. But today, I'm up to my eyeballs in laundry and unpacking.

There's something about being away from home that makes one so grateful for a Down Day. A day to regroup, think about your next step in the road of life, and just how blessed you are to have so many friends and family who care. Down Days are good to not only relax a bit, but to develop your next strategy. Eventually, you find, you can't make everybody happy. Things happen that folks take entirely the wrong way, they develop ideas and thoughts about you that you have no control over. They may be wrong, but you also discover you can't do much to change it. Possibly you've made mistakes, but it's done. There's no going back and redoing anything.

In the end, you know yourself, your own integrity, your own flaws, your own hopes and dreams. So you plow forward, have a Down Day, regroup, and hope for the best. That's it and that's all.

If you've had a busy month, like me, do yourself a favor ... and have a Down Day. I may, in fact, treat myself to an entire Down Week.

Blessings to you and yours.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

A Little Girl Named, Lily



Meet Lillian Marie. Our newborn granddaughter. Is she not just precious? Just look at that hair. 7 pounds 2 ounces, 19 inches long, she's sleeping peacefully on my shoulder, loving Mamaw's soft, squishy chest. Dreaming of things only babies dream. Probably of the Heaven she just came from. Lily already has her daddy wrapped around her teeny finger. And her mama, well, Annie is thrilled to say the least. We spent a few days, doing nothing but loving on this bundle of joy. She's not sleeping through the night, yet ... and I think her mommy and daddy are a bit sleep deprived, but oh my, the love of their life has happily consumed them. I'm one proud Nana, you can bet on it. I look forward to watching Lily grow. The happiness she already has brought me is priceless. There's nothing like it. Being a grandmother (or whatever word she chooses to call me) is just the coolest thing. It's nothing like it used to be. Grandma's are pretty cool these days, for the most part. But this little punkin, mmm-mmm, I'm living large today because a little girl, named Lily, has entered my life.

Blessings to you and yours.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A Southern Writer's Soul-Mate

I can't believe it's been a week since spending the day with my dear friend, Beth Hoffman. www.bethhoffman.net. WE, I really must say, are cut from the same burlap bag. I met her on her turf in Kentucky and we laughed all the way through lunch and dinner. Her wisdom, her humor, and her sense of style - I look back on it as one of the best days in my life. Swept up in our love of writing, sharing the pain and pleasure of our work, we didn't lack for things to talk about, I assure you.

Somewhere in time, our great grandmothers had to have rocked together in the same swing, and snapped beans on the same front porch. It's just that simple.

And it's not just that we share the same backgrounds, we also agree on many aspects of the publishing industry. Finding a writing soul-mate is a rare thing. Very much so. Therefore, I look forward to the future, knowing I have Beth Hoffman as my friend. A southern writer who gets me. Is there anything better?

Blessings to you and yours.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Frustrations

I'm frustrated over subordinating conjunctions. I tried to read an excerpt from some new book on writing, but my eyes crossed. If I had to read all the "how-to" and "don't-do-this" articles written for writers, I'd never get any writing done.

I tell great stories, I work harder than most, and I labor over words and paragraphs until I'm dizzy and sick. Do you, as a reader, care more about a misplaced comma, or that you've not wasted your time reading a dull book?

~~~

House Hunters. I'm sick to death of watching twenty-somethings buy a 4,000 square foot first home. They travel around with their real estate agent and complain about things like the color of the walls and laminate counter tops. My first home was a single-wide that we plugged up the holes to keep the mice from getting in. Olive green kitchen, purple bathroom, and red velvet bedroom. I didn't have the money to worry about chic and designer this and that. I was grateful for a roof over my head. But HGTV sometimes gets on my last nerve. I don't begrudge these young folks wanting a nice home. But I think we've gotten way to big for our britches in America. We want it all up front. That frustrates the hell out of me.

~~~

And last, but not least ...

I'm frustrated I haven't seen my baby granddaughter yet. I've seen pictures, sent via email, of her. Of everybody else holding her. But I've not even laid eyes on her yet. It's no ones fault, I'm just wanting to hold her. Naturally. She's beautiful, and I'm so proud of Annie and Aaron, but I'm really ready to be a grandma, whisper in her ear how much I love her, and snuggle her up to my neck. I'll see her soon, but it's not soon enough.

Blessings to you and yours.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Lillian Marie Is Here!

Born at 5:03 p.m today. 7 pounds 2 ounces. 19 3/4 inches in length. Black, thick, curly hair down her back, and she looks like her aunt Jill.

I'm so proud. I'm a grandmother once again.

Little Lily.

How blessed I am today.

Words can't even describe it.

Blessings to you and yours.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Congrats Ali and Roberto!

I am a hopeless, hopeless romantic. Oh yes, tis' true. I followed ABC's Bachelorette from the beginning, and last night Roberto proposed to Ali. The stuff fairy tales are made of.

But, from what I could see, this couple may really be in love. They just might make it, bless their sweet hearts. Certainly, farther than some of the others.

I'm not a fan of reality TV. I prefer fiction, of course. But the reason I stayed glued to Monday nights the past couple of months was because they chose a classy young lady for this season. Ali was truly, one of nicest and d0wn-to-earth girls I've seen on this show. Some of the sleeze the producers put on this show, Lordy, I realize it's for ratings. To draw folks in. In fact, I think their next show, Bachelor Pad, is all about sleeze. I won't be watching. I'm drawn to honest and wholesome. And that's what this year's Bachelorette seemed to be.

I hope I'm right. She was a sweetie, and although I rooted for the underdog, Chris, I changed my mind last night. There was no question once the show drew to a close, Ali was in love with Roberto, and he was just as in love with her. Sigh.

I know, I'm a hopeless, hopeless romantic. And shall forever be.

Blessings to you and yours.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Friday the 13th, A Good Day

My parents were married on October 31st. Halloween. I was born the next year on August 13th. A Friday. Friday the thirteenth. I've often wondered, after a string bad days, whether or not that had something to do with my run of bad luck. But then, after many, many blessings in my life, it's hard give merit to the superstition. It is strange though, how I can pooh-pooh it off, laugh and joke about it, and then turn around and blame it when something doesn't go my way.

Over the years, however, I've learned to use it in stories, in essays, and in speeches. A number is just a number. Thirteen comes after twelve. I didn't realize I was born on Friday the 13th until later in life when I looked at a calendar of my birth year. I think my mother decided it was best I didn't know. But now, I kind of like the mystic of it. In studying my family--mountain folk of Appalachia, these people lived and died by their superstitions, their gift of second sight, and of course, by the holy scriptures. Somehow, they rolled it all into one way of life.

But I like to think I've turned this adversity into my advantage. There's nothing I can do about it. Not a thing. And now, I have a little granddaughter about to make her entrance into the world, and unless her mama goes into labor within the next week, she may well be born on her grandmother's birthday. And this year, it is once again, on a Friday.

What a blessed day that would be.

Blessings to you and yours.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Reading By Candlelight

Due to a major thunderstorm this past Saturday, the power was out for eight hours. I watched the neighborhood change before my eyes. Folks sat on their front porches to brave the rising temperatures in their otherwise, cool, air conditioned homes. Kids played in the street. There was no noise of TV, heat pumps, radios, refrigerators. Nothing. Just people and quiet. It was awesome.

For eight hours I had perfect quiet inside the house, reading out loud. I've been reading a hard copy of my manuscript out loud and, wow! What a difference. You catch all kinds of little hiccups you wouldn't otherwise. But by evening, the light from the windows faded, so I gathered my candles and began to read by candlelight.

The mood was perfect for the book, it added to it somehow. A strange eeriness that brought it alive. I'm thinking that electric or no electric, reading by candlelight may be a way to do this from now on! You never know. What seems to be a major inconvenience can be a blessing in disguise.

Of course, after a while, I got tired of living in the 1800s and was ready to watch Jay Leno. The electric came back on by 10 pm but those eight hours taught me something. Sometimes when the thunderstorms of life seem their loudest, we learn our most memorable lessons.

Blessings to you and yours.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

The Inspirational Process

Inspiration comes to us in many forms.

For me it's all about the what-ifs. In creating the two main characters for my new novel, The Sanctum, I didn't just throw two people together and try to make it work. No. Although I had one of the characters developed somewhat in my mind, I took my time, thinking long and hard about a possible plot first. That's unusual for me, because my stories are all character-driven.

I knew I wanted to write a story that involved my three favorite aspects of story. The possibility of the paranormal, spirituality from different points of view, and like I said, a character-driven plot. Also, I knew I wanted to write this book in first-person from one main character's line of sight and reasoning. And last but not least, I knew I wanted the story to include an animal that has fascinated me all my life. I wanted to write about the wolf.

Since the day I let go of my first novel, Televenge aka The Rose and the Charlatan, I wanted to take a different route with this new story. That first novel's plot spanned a thirty-year timeline. Writing The Rose and the Charlatan was a labor of love that also spanned over a decade of hard work. It kicked my butt, but made me a much stronger writer.

So, with that said, as I contemplated the next book, I knew I wanted a coming-of-age story. I had a picture in my head of a fuzzy red-headed, young girl. And for a while, that was all I had. No name, just this image in my mind of a skinny, lonely, parentless, country girl who lived on a tobacco farm.

On January 29th of this year, 2010, The Greensboro News & Record published a special magazine dedicated to the new International Civil Rights Center and Museum, located in the old and newly restored Woolworth's building, in downtown Greensboro. In an act of courage, four black students sat peacefully at a whites-only lunch counter on February 1, 1960 and changed the world. The civil rights movement had begun.

There is another reason I wanted to write The Sanctum. A few southern writers today have pulled from deep in their memory, growing up under the care of an African-American woman hired by their family to cook, clean, and care for them. They fondly remember her as a piece of their childhood. Their family fondly remembers her. She will always be a precious piece of their history, inspiring them to write such books as: The Help, by Kathyryn Stocket; Plantation and Sullivan's Island, by Dorothea Benton Frank; The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kid, and The Queen of Palmyra, by Minrose Gwin.

But for me, it was quite different.

Although my mother and father taught me respect for all people, I discovered a great deal of prejudice in other branches of my family. My grandparents believed, wholeheartedly, in segregation. During a reunion not many years ago, a family of distant relatives arrived wearing Ku Klux Klan t-shirts. The town this reunion was held in seemed rather proud of their Klan history, printing old photographs of their Klan members from the 20s and 30s in the local newspaper. It affected me so deeply, I never returned to future reunions. This began my quest to write stories, uncovering the evils of racism.

I wish I would've had the wonderful memories of the above authors. But I am sorry to say, that was not the case. But quite possibly, the passion in my stories bubbling up from way deep down in my gut, will come alive for my readers in a totally new and unique way.

As I thought about the civil rights movement, I thought of it in terms of rights for all people. It wasn't long and two Native Americans came into my view. They didn't talk much at first, but within time I saw them clearly, and I heard their voices within this story, as well.

Living in the South, having spent a great deal of my youth here, I am naturally drawn to its conflicts. To me, racism is the biggest white elephant in the South. I began to think about my little red-headed white girl and placed her in the loving hands of the most opposite character I could create. A seventy-year old African-American male. A rugged individual who isn't afraid of his gentle side. The story began to take shape. The what-ifs began to roll. And each morning a little more of the plot was revealed with the characters telling me their story. I call this time, a time of "gleaning."

Like the gleaning of wheat, I gather tons and tons of notes, complete research, write dialogue, paragraphs, whole scenes, time-lines, and sketch out an outline. (Although I never stick to the outline, I still make one.) For some writers, I suppose it's called preparation. But for me, it's harvest time. I believe when God gives a person a talent, He doesn't just leave you hanging with it. I believe God makes sure stories are cultivated, planted, and grown inside the minds of writers long before any of us see the evidence sticking up through the dirt. We just have to wait, water it, let it grow, then harvest the story God gives us, using our talent to put it together.

For my new book, the wolf came into play. I have always loved the face of a wolf. Not the scary, teeth snarling face of Hollywood wolves, but the pack wolf in the wild. Wolves are about family and order. I suppose God cultivated my attraction to wolves from the time I first heard the story of Rome's Romulus and Remus, a pair of twins suckled as infants by a wolf.

In The Sanctum, the wolf is a subtle character, but still a voice to be reckoned with.

My best friend, Tina, lost her German Shepard last year to a tumor on his hip. She and her husband, Tim, adored their dog beyond reason. He was their autistic child, as far as they were concerned. I don't think they will ever get over the death of Casey. But he was not a dog anyone could just walk up to and pet. It seemed to me the ancient wolf in him was more prevalent than the domestic dog part of him. But I watched how my friends interacted with their "wolf-dog." And I began to study the wolf more intently, and discovered there were some folks who loved wolves. Still others loved them enough to create wolf sanctuaries. I got on-line and found a wolf sanctuary in the mountains, a two-hour drive away. After the winter snows had melted enough to allow safe passage, Michael and I went for a visit.

When we pulled up to the side of a mountain that led to the property where the wolves were housed, the sign at the bottom read, The Wolf Sanctum. Light bulbs, fireworks, shotguns, and pea-shooters went off inside my head! That sign confirmed the title of the new book. From that moment on, I called my story, The Sanctum.

The story takes place from November 1959 until March 1960. I'm realizing that not only is each book I write a journey to another time and place, it is my own journey of hope. The hope of dreams fulfilled.

In the end, The Sanctum came together as a coming-of-age story about giving sanctuary to those we love, the healing power of second chances, and overcoming prejudice during a volatile time in our country when the winds of change begin to blow.

I hope you will enjoy it.

Blessings to you and yours.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Wise Words From Maya Angelou

My sister forwarded me the following email. I seldom post stuff like this in my blogging, as they’re usually forwarded around the email circuit a few times. But I felt it was worth posting. Maya Angelou is one of my favorite writers, and this is a classic. I don’t know who originally put the following together, but kudos. I’m glad you did.

Enjoy.

Oprah recently interviewed Maya Angelou on her birthday. Oprah asked her what she thought of growing older. And, there on television, she said, regarding body changes, there were many occurring every day, like her breasts. They seemed to be in a race to see which will reach her waist, first. The audience laughed so hard they cried. She is such a simple and honest woman, with so much wisdom in her words!

Maya Angelou said, “I've learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow.”

“I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.”

"I've learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you'll miss them when they're gone from your life.”

"I've learned that making a 'living' is not the same thing as 'making a life.’”

"I've learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance.''”I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw some things back”

"I've learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision.”

"I've learned that even when I have pains, I don't have to be one.”

“I've learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back.”

"I've learned that I still have a lot to learn.”

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Blessings to you and yours.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Time Well Spent

My speaking engagement at the High Point Country Club was one of the best ever. Over thirty women gathered for their monthly meeting of the Triad Women's Forum. I was the guest speaker. I love venues like this. These women opened their hearts and received me with warm hugs and words I really needed to hear. Their encourgement and compliments sent me home wishing I could speak to groups like this every day.

Southern Fried Women is still selling! The ladies stood in line while I signed their books. It did my old heart good. And, of course, I got to plug Beth Hoffman's book in the meantime! Oh yes, I did. Writers can either resolve themselves to total and complete competition with other writers or absolute support. I choose support.

I can't even count how many times I've talked about my friend, Dena Harris, during my speeches, encouraging others to check out her web site and buy her book, Lessons in Stalking. I've only met Jodi Picoult on three different occassions, and I've recommended her books for years. Now I'm toting Beth Hoffman's book everywhere I go. Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is a warm and wonderful feel-good read. It stirs the heart, and I have put it into many hands the past few months. It should be read and enjoyed. Kathryn Stockett's book, The Help, is another one of my favorites this year.

Writers should be part of other writers success stories. I've been told and have read that the industry is cut-throat. That may be the case, but I won't have any part of it. There are plenty of readers to go around, and although the tastes in reading varies from reader to reader, I will continue to market the books of my dear writing friends, as well as my own.

My focus has changed since beginning this journey. Someone said recently, that they haven't seen me at any writing conferences lately. Well, there's a good reason.

Where I used to spend boatloads of time and money on regional and national writing conferences, critique groups, classes--I find my time is better spent these days concentrating on producing the work. So, where is it you ask? Hold on to your hats, folks. It's right around the corner. After a few years of bumps and bruises, I'm hopeful. With two novels in hand, I hope to see the light of a publishing day in the very near future.

Conferences, critique groups, and classes are important and I do encourage writers (especially beginners) to take part and find the resources to attend as many as possible. But there comes a time when you got to write! There are only so many hours in a day, and when you divide those hours with the time you need to spend with family and other necessary daily functions (like cooking, eating, bathing, blogging and RESEARCH) well you get the picture. Your time for writing can slip away and nothing can bring it back.

One day I began to wonder how many conferences, critique groups, and classes was Harper Lee involved in? Or Margaret Mitchell. Or Flannery O'Conner. Or Eudora Welty. Or Truman Capote. Or Louisa May Alcott. Or even Dorothea Benton Frank, Barbara Kingsolver, Diana Gabaldon, Ken Follett, Anita Shreve, or J.K. Rowling. I know these writers gave of themselves by teaching ocassional classes, and probably did their fair share of marketing, but did they neglect their writing time? Of course not.

A writer can spend years in class, and never be published. I don't have that kind of time.

Now, I hardly put myself in the league of the above greats, but I'm striving for it. I'm working my butt off to get there sometime before I pass on. It's a goal, and if I see even a portion of it, I'd be thrilled beyond words.

It takes huge blocks of time to produce great stories, and although we never know it all--we're always learning more about our craft--I sincerely doubt I'll ever spend the kind of time I spent in years past on more writing conferences. Sometimes, you just have put your nose to the grindstone. Do what Diana Gabaldon told me once. Read. Write. Don't Stop.

So, in a nutshell, that's what I do. Throw in speaking engagments, where I continue to support other authors and sell my work, and my time is spent. I do look forward to coming up for air, speaking when I can, and meeting my readers--but if I don't spend time writing, then what a waste of the past twenty years. I got a lot of great stories inside me. It's not fair to keep them all to myself.

Blessings to you and yours.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Bits And Pieces of June

Much goings on, down here in North Cakalacky. Too many things to even blog about, actually.

I'm writing like mad, of course you know that. My research this month is taking me to Native American reservations, digging into the meaning of Wakan Tanka, and just what, exactly, is a peace pipe? And how, after all these centuries, does the American Indian seemingly lag so far behind in their civil rights? It's painful research. I learned that just because my great-grandfather's wife was a full-blooded Cherokee, it doesn't make me one. But what it does do, is cause me dig for terrible truths that will find their way into my books.

For the most part, June has been hot, hot, hot. Thunderstorms pop up every day, and so do the weeds in my flower garden. I manage to water the poor suckers every day, but that's about it. Every few hours, I stand, stretch, and walk around, just to clear my head. My story is all-consuming.

We had a baby shower for my daughter-in-law in June. Or rather, Jillian, Elaine, and Claire had one for her. Annie is coming right along, cooking that bun in her oven. The baby is growing and we're coming down to the wire. Michael and I will be heading to Ohio in the near future, this baby is a blessing for all of us. The parents have requested that they be alone with their new baby girl the first week of her life. Therefore, Mike and I will wait until sometime later to see our granddaughter for the first time. (I know, unusual request. My family is used to one big party during the birth of any new baby in the family. A party that starts at the hospital and lasts a full week. My mother stayed with me two weeks after each birth.)

But, hey, Annie and Aaron want that special time to be all theirs. I can understand that, as well. They want to do it on their own. I don't have a problem with that, at all. In fact, they may have the right idea. New parents are nervous enough, without everybody watching them, poking fun. And baby girl needs to bond to mom and dad, first. Not to her twenty-five other relatives who will be following her every move the rest of her life anyway. She'll get to know the rest of her crazy family soon enough.

So, I'm heading to Kentucky, soon, to see my dear friend, Beth Hoffman. I can't even tell you how much I'm looking forward to it. Beth Hoffman, NY Times bestselling author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, has been a great fan of mine, as much as I am of her. We have so much in common, and I'm just chomping at the bit to spend time with her. I'll keep you posted. If you have not treated yourself to a great read this summer, get Beth's book. It's a five-star read! You'll love it.

I'm excited about the future, my hopes are high, and although the hot weather is a drag, I'm thankful for every day. If you don't see a new blog, just know my fingers are flying across the keyboards. My novel, The Sanctum, is coming down the home stretch, and I'm loving every minute of it. It's a beautiful, courageous story and I'm looking forward to seeing it print!

Blessings to you and yours.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Writing Weather

The summer months have always been my favorite time of the year. Days are long, I personally don't mind the heat and sometimes even the humidity. It's like the sweating lodges of Native Americans, the bad inside us just oozes out our pores. Air conditioning is nice, but for the most part, I like bright blue skies and hot sunshine. Salads, eating light, ice cream in the evening, large glasses of ice filled with tea, hamburgs on the grill, summer tomatoes and corn on the cob--summertime trips to anywhere are the best.

On the flip side, I can hibernate in winter with the best of the bears. Tons of snow and ice, stock pots of soup on the stove, reading by the fire-curled up with my favorite blanket. I love looking at cold weather, I don't like driving in it. So working from home fits into winter for me. Blistery, snowy days can be heavy work days for me. For some reason, my mind flips into high gear on a day everybody else stays home to keep off the roads. I enjoy winter, as long as it's from my warm, snuggly house.

And who doesn't love a good thunderstorm? (I'm not talking about tornadoes, hail, hurricanes, and floods.) I'm talking about the storm that rolls in, bangs around a little, waters our gardens, and then floats away. Great stories have been written during thunderstorms, I am sure!

My point about summer/winter is this: As a writer, I pay attention to the weather. By itself, it is a great motivator. It can stir imagination, memories, and provide lines of prose for your readers, dropping them into season you want them to feel.

Can a writer make you feel the cold, the heat, a gloomy day even if the sun is bright outside your window? Too much talk about weather will cause a reader to skip to the next paragraph or close the book. But just the right amount, here and there, will keep a reader in the season you want them in. Even if it's July and they're reading about a Christmas blizzard.

Writing weather is a talent unto itself. It's all about paying attention.

Blessings to you and yours.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

A Short Blog

Working ten-hour days on this new book is kicking my wide behind. I find very little time for myself. Meals are quick or non-existent. I've realized I can go two days without washing my hair if I pull it back in a ponytail and don't look in the mirror. Quick showers mean my legs don't get shaved but once a week. My wrists ache, and I won't even mention my back. Makeup? I throw on some lipstick and blush once a week, if Mike is lucky. Grocery shopping? That's my husband's dirty job. I do laundry when there's not a clean towel, pair of socks or underwear to be found. And I'm praying my flowers will make it through the summer with my inability to remember to water them.

Oh yeah, and blogging takes a back seat to it all. So please be patient with me, and know that I'm writing a great story.

Blessings to you and yours.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

BRAVA!

http://bethhoffman.net/category/brava

Okay! So check it out! It's June and my summer juices are flowing! My new and dear friend, Beth Hoffman, New York Times bestselling author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, did me the honor of asking me to submit an essay to appear on her blog, BRAVA! It's the June issue, but be sure and read all past submissions! They're great! Interesting and funny people, Beth has invited wonderful authors to write on her blog.

Speaking of Beth Hoffman, do yourself a favor and check out her entire web site! http://bethhoffman.net/ What delicious stuff. This woman is made up of an eclectic mix of both North and South. She lives in Kentucky, but has spent a great deal of time on tour for her new hit book. We began emailing back and forth after I discovered she gave my book, Southern Fried Women, a five-star review on Amazon! When I wrote to thank her for that great review, our relationship took off like a rocket and we haven't stopped emailing since.

I think it's because we're made out of the same kind of mud. Our backgrounds are very much the same and we're both of the same generation. But it's our love for the written word that binds us. Our respect for each other's work. We think along the same vein and I feel within my heart, we honestly feel a mutual desire to see each other succeed in a great way.

It amazes me when two women come together and form, what I feel, to be a lifetime bond. I've experienced friendship with other women writers, and some of them were fleeting, but some were deeper, cultivated, and have grown stronger. It all comes down to being made out of the same kind of mud. I told Beth that some day she and her best friend, and me and my best friend will sit around a lunch table, hang out, drink "iced tea," roll onto the floor laughing, plot stories, and just plan share our lives. That's the best part of having friends, isn't it? Real friends who can share your burdens and your joys in life.

I was truly thrilled and honored to have appeared on Beth Hoffman's Brava! And if you have not experienced her book, let me introduce you to Saving CeeCee Honeycutt. There's a reason this book is hitting the bestseller lists all over the country. Find out for yourself and pick up a copy. It's a great read for the beach or anywhere!

Life is good on Brava! Thank you, Beth!

Blessings to Beth and her fans all over the world!

Monday, May 24, 2010

An Old Soul

I'm wondering if the sun will ever shine in North Carolina again. Dreary days are good once in a while. They're good for curling up, reading a good book, and making soup. But a long string of them are depressing! It might as well be Ohio! Augh!

I'm finding myself deep in research at the moment. Pouring over old maps, specifically a 1958 map of North Carolina, books on wolves, interviewing those who lived and worked in the towns of the late 50s that I'm writing about, gathering photographs, absorbing a real feel of place and time. I am taking a few liberties, but for the most part, I want it believable to my readers.

It's not as easy to write about history as you might think.

I think it's easier to write about a world where sleek, thin computers rule, cell phones ring, and IPads rest in the hands of those lucky enough to afford them. It's the world we know, right now, as it's happening. Times have changed so drastically from the 1950s. Fortunately, I'm old enough to remember a lot of the early 60s. At least from a writing standpoint. Or maybe it's just that I'm an old soul.

I'm not necessarily into nostalgia. "The good ole' days." They were not good for a lot of folks. But they were rich in story and that's the heart of my interest. Rich fertile dirt, stuff I can plow up and harvest. Don't get me wrong, every once in a while, I find myself wanting to watch a high-tech movie, or read about the here and now. It's a nice diversion for me.

But within my own writer's mind ... I can get into a 1945 Ford pickup and let it take me where it wants to go.

I guess I am truly an old soul. I think of my stories in sepia tones, dusty, and cracked with age. And I suppose someday my body will be there as well. Knowing who you are as a writer is half the battle.

But in the meantime, my cell phone is ringing, and a light is blinking on my monitor. I have an email. This old soul may just have to dig out her turquoise princess rotary telephone someday ... and hook it up.

Blessings to you and yours.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Resting On Our Laurels

I'm reading a book by a well-known author. One who pumps out a novel every year or so. The reviews on the back are stellar. The Boston Herald, Baltimore Sun, Washington Post Book World shout the author's praises, calling him/her gifted, as the author has won many publishing honors. I would have to agree the stories hold my interest and I'm always satisfied once I'm finished reading.

But here's what bothers me. As a writer, there are things you just don't do. For me, the stakes are even higher, because I have no laurels to rest on. For the sake of not embarrasing this author, I'm not naming him/her. It is not my intention to do that. There is nothing to be gained by it. My question is this: Do editors just skim the work of popular writers? Are popular authors so pressured to finish their next book, that they depend too much on editors?

In the book it reads: She pushes the hair off her face and tucks it behind her ear.

Then, on the same page, about three paragraphs down, it reads: Her hair falls across her face again, and she tucks it behind her ear.

It's not a huge mistake, and most readers would not even recognize it as one. But to me, as a writer, I would find another way to say tuck it behind her ear. Or write something else, entirely.

Lord knows, when I read my earlier published work, I cringe at the mistakes I find. I'm not beyond making them and all writers do. But I would like to think we all get better with practice, and that someday, if I am ever blessed with the kind of critical acclaim this writer is blessed with, that I will continue to pour over my manuscript as I do today. And before it's published, I trust my editor will do the same.

I have become anal to a fault. Maybe it's a good thing, and maybe it's not. But this I know for sure--should I ever have any laurels, I'll never rest on them.

I don't know who said it, but I once heard we are only as good as our last book. I have to agree.

Blessings to you and yours.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Perfume and Pot Roast

I sold more copies of Southern Fried Women this weekend, at two Mother's Day events. It's always good to stand in front of a bunch of women and talk about my stories and my world that moves my imagination. The people I know who cause me to want to write about them. The places I've been that leap into my head when I'm plotting a story. The stuff I make up, but feels real. Very real.

At the moment, I'm up to my armpits in story. I'm in the process of writing The Sanctum. The zone, as many writers call it. I'm writing ten hours a day. The scenes are coming at me as if some major league pitcher is throwing me a bunch of fast balls. I'm afraid I can't get them written quick enough and I'll end up forgetting words and pieces as they fly in and out of my head. When I'm like this, nothing gets done around the house. Meals get missed, dirty clothes pile up, and dust -- well -- who sees it anyhow?

That's NOT a good thing. I've got something going on this Saturday that demands I clean my house. So I'm torn! I need to get on my hands and knees and clean the kitchen floor. Damn it. When all I want to do is sit at the computer and hit a home run! It's awful. Every waking minute, I'm consumed with this story. I feel like if I could just stay in my office, have Michael throw me a sandwich every once in a while, I'd be in heaven. All I want to do is write! I don't want to waste a second when I know my protagonist is hanging off a cliff!

Life is like perfume and pot roast that way, isn't it? They both smell good, separate and in their own way. But mix the two and it's nauseating. That's where I'm at right now. My life smells like perfume and pot roast. I'm overwhelmed with it. I can't write a long blog today. Chanel No. 5 is wafting around my computer and I've got a pot roast in the oven.

But I'm loving every minute of it.

Blessings to you and yours.

Monday, May 03, 2010

A Howling In Boone

We met our dear friends, Bill and Margie, this past weekend in Boone. If you've never been to Boone, NC, make it a destination. Set in the North Carolina Appalachian Mountains, the town is filled with things to do, great shopping and restaurants, and lots of history. Also, Appalachian State University is located in Boone, and its football team beat Michigan a few years ago! Yay! As I am a total Ohio State fan, that little game between App State and Michigan thrilled me to no end! Anyway, the four of us relaxed and had a great time. Great wine, great food, great friends.

On Saturday, we wound our way around a few mountains and headed to Bakersville and the site of The Wolf Sanctum. A place for me to complete some research on my new novel, The Sanctum. I needed to get a feel of the place, the smells, the wolves' reaction to me--all the little details I could get about them. The fact that each wolf eats 50 pounds of raw chicken a week, that they will live on this sanctuary the rest of their days, and that they still howl at the moon. All these fascinating little facts are important.

The Wolf Sanctum is run by a 62 year old woman, Liz Mahaffey. She takes in wolves who were bred in captivity by people who didn't know what to do with them when they started acting like ... wolves. She's an amazing woman; her strong, tan arms are scared and scratched to pieces. Well, after all, she does interact with these wonderous creatures. But her man-like arms fascinated me. A fact that will definitely make it into the story. I had to see for myself how one would come to love an animal like this to put ones own life aside and care for them. They are indeed, beautiful. Their eyes haunt you for hours afterward. They're definitely spiritual. You can feel it.

I hope to have pictures to post here or on my Facebook pages in the near future. These animals weigh up to 120 pounds, some of them. Their huge, knobby feet are twice the size of any dog alive. They're extremely intelligent and powerful - and yet, you can see they are tolerant of those who stare at them through their large cages. The Sanctum gives them protection on a beautiful mountain, on 150 acres, where they can live 10 - 14 years vs. 7 years in the wild.

The word wolf means family in some cultures. It's fiercely protective its pack and territory, but only fights when necessary. In Native American myth, the wolf is the teacher. It was not until the advent of keeping domestic livestock that the wolf took on a sinister aura, by the Christian world.

I stood in awe of these wolves, and came away with a more clear picture in my head of their part in my novel.

Please put Boone on your list of places to visit, and add The Wolf Sanctum in nearby Bakersville as a must-see.

Blessings to you and yours.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Do You Know Your Neighbors?

How well do you know your neighbors?

Mike and I watched a movie last night, The Lovely Bones. I read the book a few years ago, but the movie took it from black and white into full living color. Most of the time, I prefer the book to the movie, and The Lovely Bones was no exception. But, for me, in this case, the movie added to the book.

I had an experience as a young girl of 16 that left me totally shaken for about year. I had just made Junior Varsity cheerleader before summer vacation. During the hot months in Ohio, way back in 1970, we had very little to do other than lay out on our favorite beach towels, listen to Diana Ross and the Supremes on our transistor radios, and eat concession stand food at our local swim club.

There were no cell phones, personal computers, or places to hang out like shopping malls or even a local soda shop. For a small family fee, you got a summer pass that allowed you to swim in a dirty lake, complete with diving boards, life guards, a grassy beach, and sliding boards. Man-o-man.

But it was heaven to me, because all my friends were there. My world was very, very small back then.

I was completely fearless at 16. After all, what did I know of the big, bad world? Not much. The Vietnam war raged on our television sets, as well as the civil rights movement and hippie protests, which were all promptly turned off in my home. We watched more enlightening shows, like Lawrence Welk, The Andy Griffith Show, and Mike Douglas.

All I knew is that every day I got to put on my over-sized t-shirt over top my two-piece (not bikini) bathing suit, throw my swimming paraphernalia into a hot pink patent-leather beach bag, and trudge a mile to the swim club every day. I walked down a long side street, then cut across a small field, around a camping area and ended up at the entrance to our favorite summer hang-out.

One particularly hot day, walking past a stretch of houses under construction, I got whistled at by some of the crew. (Girls got whistled at a lot in 1970.) But I kept on walking, ignoring the snide remarks, and made my turn into a more desolate patch of overgrown bush, weeds, and little trees. I had just walked down a small dirt and gravel hill when I heard something behind me. Thank God I turned around. There behind me, about twenty feet away stood a man with dark sunglasses hugging his head, his black hair slicked back, and all he had on was his watch. His hands covered his privates.

I had plenty of time to run. But I didn't. I was a sheltered girl, unfamiliar with the horrors of humanity. I stood there thinking I'd accidentally caught one of the campers taking a leak in the field. I had plenty of time to run from this would-be rapist, but I froze. Literally, I froze. Because this guy walked up behind me and began to grab at me from behind. Then, I realized what was happening to me.

I began to fight and kick like a wild cat. With him behind me, digging his dirty nails into my chest and shoulders, we fell backwards and with him being naked, I think it hurt him. Because I felt him loosen his grip, but we were both still on the ground. He never got to do to me what he wanted to do, because I remember that I had cried out for God's help. And whether you believe in divine intervention or not, I really don't care, because literally, that's what happened next. I felt myself pulled to my feet. I took off like a bullet.

Little did I know, my neighbor, a boy my own age but tall and strong, was following the same path and heard me scream. He ran toward the commotion, but got there in time to see this lunatic pull on a t-shirt and run bottomless the other direction. I recall that my neighbor said he took off after him, but lost him in a cornfield or something like that.

I ended up in shock, my knees bleeding, my hands full of dirt and gravel and blood. There were other cuts and bruises, but I sat in the office of the people who owned the swim club and shook until way after the police were called, and for days afterward.

But that was it. Two detectives came to our house, questioned me, and wanted me to walk the path over again while they followed me. My dad said, "Are you out of your minds?" That summer, Daddy built us an inground 20 x 40 swimming pool. He had three younger daughters. He would continue to shelter us for years afterward.

Despite the fact that I had a witness, the owners of the swim club started rumors that I made the whole thing up to "get attention." Man, I didn't need that kind of attention. I wasn't the type to mangle and bruise my body for just attention. Ha! The kids at school eyed me warily for months, not knowing who to believe. Obviously, the idiots who owned the dirty lake didn't want bad publicity. But it didn't matter, the place went downhill even farther after that.

I spent the summer in seclusion. I couldn't even go to the store without seeing this guy in my head, possibly looking for me. But it taught me some very valuable lessons. I learned how to defend myself after that, and I never took my innocence for granted again. Even that same summer, my mother sent me to spend some time with my grandmother. My aunt and I walked to the library one day, and a man exposed himself to me in the library. What a summer, huh?

I couldn't get away from it. The world had changed from Leave it to Beaver to The Streets of San Francisco overnight.

So when I watched The Lovely Bones, this all came back to me. I was fortunate not to have ended up like the girl in the movie, but it's something that still occasionally haunts me, all these years later. In fact, I still carry the small, faint scar of this guy's fingernail curve in my shoulder.

Our parents lived in a world of closed minds and rose-colored glasses. We could ride our bikes or walk for miles, play alone or with friends anywhere we wanted. That stopped with my generation. My children were never out of my reach. I knew exactly where they were at all times. Today, it's even worse.

My question is, do we really know our neighbors? The rapist-murderer in The Lovely Bones lived across the street from his victim in a nice middle-class and well-cared-for home. I know, the book was fiction, but is it really? I don't say live in fear, I'm saying be fearless and find out who lives next to you, or who is working in your neighborhood. Your neighbors may be wonderful people. It's nice to think we give them the benefit of the doubt. But after watching that movie last night, and with what happened to me, I understand why most of America can live beside a person for twenty and thirty years, and still never know their first name.

Blessings and God's protection to you and yours.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Priceless Commodity

I think blogging is one way for some to express their humor, views, philosophy, and just plain show off a little. Blogging is a way for some to get it off their chest, which I most certainly have done. But it's also used to gather "followers," build platforms, construct the beginnings of new ideas, innovative proposals, and open doors of communication between one person and their readers.

I've been blogging for five years and for me it's been a tool to say what's weighing heavy on my mind. Nothing more, really. Sometimes I've used it as a way to start a story, or try out a few new ideas for my next group presentation. Today, I'm blogging to myself.

I don't pretend to be an overly intelligent woman. I'm average, I suppose. I don't think of myself as a special gift to anybody. (Although my husband, would disagree.) But I do believe my "talent" more than not, exists in the written word. Sometimes it's not as much a talent, as it is plain old common sense writing. And unless it's a prepared speech, I write better than I speak. But this morning I awoke to a gift. A gift of wisdom. They say, that with age comes wisdom, and I'm a believer.

I wish I could've tapped into this wisdom thing a long time ago. In my twenties and thirties, when I thought I knew it all. I thought I'd paid my dues by the time I reached mid-forties. But as I sit here, at mid-fifty, I realize we never stop paying our dues. We just get wiser as to how to live with those dues, or rather the consequences of our actions.

If you've made mistakes in your life, small ones, big ones, or mammoth ones ... you've had to deal with guilt, failure, and lost love as a result. There are no easy answers, there is no easy way to put it behind you, short of suicide. So you hope as time marches on, the sharp edges of your mistakes will begin to soften. You pray for healing, you make changes, you hold up a mirror to your face and bust your butt to become a different person. You make serious strides for happiness and hope that those you love will see you in a different light.

Eventually.

I may not have the wisdom of Solomon, but I do know right from wrong. As clouded as it was in my past, those clouds have given way to bright blue skies. For me, I can't make those same mistakes. But I also see other things more clearly.

I see good, honest, hard-working people and value them, am proud of them, love them. But I also see, that someday, even though they've never made the horrible mistakes I've made, they also will live with regret. Of one kind or another. We all do. It's a fact of life, and nobody is exempt from it. Nobody. The question is, how will they live with it? The answer is, with the same hope of forgiveness they gave to others.

My point is, even though you grow older and so much hurt is behind you, it still rears its ugly head from time to time. Out of nowhere, suddenly you're blindsided. It's different now, however, because age and wisdom are involved. It still hurts, but the old you is gone.

You've gathered all the ingredients for forgiveness-happiness-love, prayed the necessary prayers, lit the candles, and surrendered your tongue to nothing but kind words. Yet in the end, those you love and cherish the most in your life, have become your accusers. Silent accusers. You've moved on, healed. It's a shock when you realize--they have not. You're left not knowing how to react. You wonder what can I expect, if anything, in the future? And for a moment, you agonize over what to do next.

Thank God for wisdom. Wisdom is powerful. Because in wisdom, we do nothing. We count our blessings, and there are so many of them. We see others who are so destitute, who suffer much worse pain, who cannot aquire wisdom because the clouds are way too dark and thick.

This little blip called life has its peaks and its valleys. When we're in the midst of the valley, it's as though we've lost our eyesight and all we can see is our misery. But I've learned not to wallow in that valley anymore. I really don't, because I've come to realize I've done my best these past twenty years. I've tried to be the best I could be and most of the time, I've felt pretty good about myself.

I was reminded this morning that Jesus was accused by those He loved the most, and He ... was sinless. Thus, just get over it. And do it quickly. Because we are not sinless, it doesn't matter who is right and who is wrong. Not anymore. Keep a wise tongue at all times, and let go of the rest.

Some relationships may never heal completely, they may never be the same or what you want them to be. Unconditional love does not come without a price. And then sometimes, you never receive it from those you want it from the most.

So, that's where your wisdom comes in. I appreciate what I have, where I am, and look forward to harvesting more and more wisdom as time marches on.

It has become a priceless commodity.

Blessings to you and yours.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

No Dizzy Blonds Here

I'm overwhelmed with life, and story, and a spinning head. I've been suffering with Vertigo since Sunday night. It's worse than major surgery, I swear. I couldn't open my eyes for hours; I was a dizzy mess. It's scary, really. There's not a lot you can do, other than suffer it out for the week. It's better now, but I still get spells and have to just lay on my bed and wait until it passes.

In the meantime, all I can do is think about my busy schedule that's coming up, all the housework that isn't getting done, and the next chapters in my book that are clamoring to appear on the page. I just hate not being able to work at my normal pace. It's like putting me in a straight jacket.

So as I sit here, writing this blog, I'm thinking I need to get back to my story while I feel good enough to sit here. I'm hoping (since I feel good at this moment) that the worst is over and I'm on the mend. I would not have made a good drunk. I don't like not being in charge of how my head feels.

I would've never made a good dizzy blond, either.

Blessings to you and yours.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Mourning in West Virginia

If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you know I’m a coalminer’s granddaughter. My story, Coal Dust On My Feet, published 2006 in my collection of short stories, Southern Fried Women, is near and dear to my heart. Based on a real town with real characters, it's a love story set amidst the longest and most violent coal strike in our country’s history. A story that involved my family.

So when I read the following essay, published in the April 14th newsletter of the West Virginia Writers, I had to give honor to it.

Mourning in the Mountains
By: Denise Giardina - writer-in-residence at West Virginia State University. This essay was published in Charleston, WV on April 6, 2010

People in West Virginia had hoped that on Monday night we would gather around televisions with family and friends to watch our beloved Mountaineers face Butler in our first chance at the men’s N.C.A.A. basketball title since 1959. Men working evening shifts in the coal mines would get to listen thanks to radio coverage piped in from the surface. Expectations ran high; even President Obama, surveying the Final Four, predicted West Virginia would win.

Then, on Tuesday morning, we would wake to triumphant headlines in sports pages across the country. At last, we would say, something good has happened to West Virginia. The whole nation would see us in a new light. And we would cry.

Instead, halfway through Saturday night’s semifinal against Duke, our star forward, Da’Sean Butler, tore a ligament in his knee, and the Mountaineers crumbled. And on Monday evening, while Duke and Butler played in what for us was now merely a game, West Virginians gathered around televisions to watch
news of a coal mine disaster.

On Tuesday, the headline in The Charleston Gazette read instead: Miners Dead, Missing in Raleigh Explosion. And we cried.

Despite the sunny skies and unseasonably warm weather, the mood here in southern West Virginia is subdued. As of Tuesday afternoon, 25 men have been confirmed dead, two are critically injured, and four are missing and presumed dead. Their fellow West Virginians work round the clock and risk their own lives to retrieve the bodies.

Already outrage is focused on Massey Energy, owner of the Upper Big Branch mine. Massey has a history of negligence, and Upper Big Branch has often been cited in recent years for problems, including failure to properly vent methane gas, which officials say might have been the cause of Monday’s explosion.

It seems we can’t escape our heritage. I grew up in a coal camp in the southern part of the state. Every day my school bus drove past a sign posted by the local coal company keeping tally, like a basketball scoreboard, of “man hours” lost to accidents. From time to time classmates whose fathers had been killed or maimed would disappear, their families gone elsewhere to seek work.

We knew then, and know now, that we are a national sacrifice area. We mine coal despite the danger to miners, the damage to the environment and the monomaniacal control of an industry that keeps economic diversity from flourishing here. We do it because America says it needs the coal we provide.

West Virginians get little thanks in return. Our miners have historically received little protection, and our politicians remain subservient to Big Coal. Meanwhile, West Virginia is either ignored by the rest of the nation or is the butt of jokes about ignorant hillbillies.

Here in West Virginia we will forget our fleeting dream of basketball glory and get about the business of mourning. It is, after all, something we do very well. In the area around the Upper Big Branch, families of the dead will gather in churches and their neighbors will come to pray with them. They will go home, and the same neighbors will show up bearing platters of fried chicken and potato salad and cakes. The funeral homes will be jammed, the mourners in their best suits and ties and Sunday dresses.

And perhaps this time President Obama and Americans will pay attention, and notice West Virginia at last.

West Virginia Writers, Inc. Established 1977 http://www.wvwriters.org/

Blessings to the people of West Virginia this day and in the days to come.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A True Writer

Every year I purchase at least one new book on the business of writing. This year, the Writer's Guide to 2010 tickled my interest. (Writer's Institute Publications/Editor Susan M. Tierney/Publisher Prescott V. Kelly)

I'm reading a section called A Mosaic of Images by Cindy Rogers and there I find the best description of a true writer that I've heard in a long time. Cindy quotes Annie Dillard from her essay, "Living Like Weasels." Cindy compares the essay to the tenacity of writers. Cindy says about reading and writing "... I will never give them up; I will let them take me wherever they want, until my eyes burn out, until my flesh falls off in shreds, until my bones unhinge and scatter."

Powerful. The cliche 'until I die' seems rather boring after reading the above.

Blessings to you and yours.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Fingers For Rent

I've been plowing my literary field this spring. My office is a mess. I've written scenes for my next novel; they're splayed across a long, skinny table as I work relentlessly on this story. I'm concentrating on my research and pulling it in as needed. In a few weeks I'm visiting a wolf sanctuary. If my suspicions are correct, wolves are not what they have been portrayed. A critical piece of the narrative, the wolves represent the strange and the misunderstood. That which needs protected. Not destroyed.

As I roll deeper into the story, I'm finding--once again--my characters have voices of their own, totally separate and apart from me. It's a bizarre metamorphosis. I look down and suddenly my fingers are those of a thirteen-year-old girl, fair and fragile. Within minutes, they turn old and masculine. They're covered with tobacco that clings to my arms like pine resin. They belong to a black man who types as fast as the wind. He's got a few things to say. Because it's 1960, and the times, they are a changing.

A scene change and my hands belong to another character. They're slow and angry, and hot to the touch. Dangerous. They belong to a man, this time he's white and wrinkled. The fingers pound the keys and occasionally they ball into a fist. But just like that, they fade into another set of hands and suddenly I'm needing to get up and find my own fingers again. I need coffee. A break. It's not easy allowing these characters to flow through you and come out your fingers. It's not easy.

I have to laugh. I think I've read and studied every good book on writing from here to eternity in the past twenty years. But nobody can teach you how to tell a great story. Don Maass has come about as close to anybody I've heard, but in the end ... I've learned it's almost a spiritual thing. My explanation is that we have to become somebody else.

We have to look out the eyes of the man/woman/boy/girl/animal we're writing. A good storyteller can write it down and make it believable. But a great storyteller can become his or her character and make it real. I've learned that, I can only hope that in the end, that is my accomplishment.

One does not write to fulfill a fantasy. Or to become rich. A real writer writes because if they don't, they go mad and become a conglomerate of all of the characters stored inside them. Or worse, the writer shrivels up and fades away. Take away a writer's pencil or keyboard, and you strip the soul away. A writer is many people, patiently waiting for their turn to tell their story.

That's it. It's how God made me. I can't help it. I plow my literary field and life goes on. Until one day when it stops. Hopefully, by then, every character inside of me will have had their chance to use my fingers.

Blessings to you and yours.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Good Friday Thoughts

It's difficult to put into words, really, my random thoughts about this day.

Years ago, Good Friday for me meant a four-to-five hour Holy Communion Service, which consisted of a hell, fire, and brimstone sermon, worn-out choir numbers, a miracle massacre healing service, concluding with a candlelight "shhhh, angels are in the midst of us" communion service. Long, drawn-out, Hollywood productions where we sang the Old Rugged Cross over and over and over. But I honestly believe few of us really knew the true meaning of that day.

Guilt and anguish washed over me for just wanting to be home, filling my kids Easter baskets with jelly beans, Reese's peanut butter eggs, and those marshmallowy peeps. (Hey, it was the 70s, we didn't do nutrition back then.)

My point is, I was always so wrapped up in a Please God, get me out of this church service prayer, that I never saw Good Friday for what it truly was. I was forced to go to church, at gunpoint it seemed, and then blasted out of my pew with fear, guilt, and shame for not wanting to join the rest of the congregation while they flocked to the altar for their weekly obligation of weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. If the preacher didn't see us prostrate at least once a month, then we were not walking in the "divine" will of the Lord.

As far as I know, this is still going on in that messed-up church- to this very day. I know. Sick.

So, Pam, what do you believe about Good Friday?

Do I believe Jesus was brought before Pontius Pilate and that he had him flogged until the flesh fell off his bones?

Yes. I do.

Do I believe that Pilate declared Jesus innocent, washing his own hands in water to show he had no part in this condemnation?

Yes. I do.

Do I believe Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified in order to hold off a riot and ultimately to keep his job?

You bet.

Do I believe Jesus carried his cross to the place of the Skull, or Golgotha as it is known in Hebrew, or Calvary-the Latin word for the site of execution?

Yes.

Do I believe Jesus agonized on the cross for six hours. And that during his last three hours on the cross, from noon to 3pm, there was darkness over the whole earth?

Absolutely.

Do I really believe when Jesus died that there was an earthquake, that tombs broke open, and a centurion on guard at the site of crucifixion declared, "Truly, this was God's Son!"

With all my heart, I believe it.

Did Jesus die for the sins of the world?

Yes. He did.

Was he resurrected on the third day?

Yes, He was resurrected!

Is Jesus the Son of God?

Without a doubt.

I never doubted it. I never doubted the story, because my heart tells me it's true. I believe we were created to worship Him. I never believed anything less, than Christ, His blood, and his righteousness.

But at least now, I can focus on the message, and never again the delivery.

Blessings to you and yours on this Good Friday.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Deer Hunter Is Having A Girl

Received a telephone call today ... my son, Aaron and his wife, Annie ... are having a girl.

I'm thrilled!

Everything looks great! Her grandparents are in hog heaven today, as well as her Aunts and Uncles. Baby Girl's not even here yet, and I feel as though we know her already. The ability to tell the sex of a child before it's born makes the whole process much more real and closer to us somehow.

My son, who served his country as a U.S. Marine and sports arms the size of Montana, those tree-trunk arms are ready to hold his baby girl. The thing is, although Aaron has a neck as big and round as a tractor tire, works on jets, drives a pickup truck, and hunts deer in his spare time with bow, muzzle loader, and a Remington ... having a girl is perfect.

Yes, perfect. For Bub's heart, as I've seen and experienced on many occasions, is soft. I think a girl will soften it even more. His wife, Dr. Annie, a college professor, is as precious is the day is long. She's smart and funny, and thank you Annie, you did good!

Their little girl will be the best thing that ever happened to both of them. I'm quite sure. Get some rest, Annie and Aaron ... I love you both.

Aaron's comment to me on the phone this morning made me laugh -- "Well ... Mom," he said, "It's all good. Except with a boy you only have to worry about one penis. With a girl, I'm going to have to worry about a hundred of 'em."

It'll be fine. His Remington shotgun may come in handy for something after all, besides deer.

Blessings to you, my little grand baby girl.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Supernatural Animal Connection

The story goes that my cousin's dog came up missing early one morning. My cousin, Margie, is blind. Her seeing-eye dog, a Labrador retriever, served as her eyes and lifelong protector. Her dog had been her best friend and partner for over 13 years.

Margie's brothers, my cousins David and TJ, set out on a hunt for her dog. They searched everywhere thinking that when Margie got out of bed, she would worry about her dog. Finally, after a three-hour search, they found him--near a creek a couple miles down the road. He had laid down and died.

When they arrived home, concerned about how to tell Margie about her beloved dog, they found that Margie had passed away in her bed some time during the night. Stranger than fiction, isn't it? A sad, sad story, but wondrous in another way. For it seems to me there is a world unknown to us. The world of animal connection.

Of all the animals in the world, I believe our pets hold a special connection to the human world we cannot see or hear. For centuries, our domesticated animals have been loved, nurtured, adored, and unfortunately abused, by humans. We've taught birds how to talk, dogs how to sniff out drugs and cancer, and I've heard of more than one cat that has saved their owner from a house fire.

I was told in church many years ago, that animals do not have souls. As God made man a little lower than the angels, he also made animals a little lower than man. That when a dog dies, that's it. No life after death for animals. I think that's a load of crap. (The ministry I grew up in dished out a lot of crap, as if every member were mentally challenged with no mind of their own. Things have changed.)

Obviously, I no longer believe that. I believe the bond between humans and their animals is often stronger than to other humans. For example, my dear friends, Tim and Tina. Their German Shepard passed away last year from a tumor. They're still grieving. The death of their dog, Casey, altered the course of their life. I don't believe they'll ever get over it. They'll get used to being without him, but never over it. My dear friend, Dena, does not have children, but don't tell her that. Her Lucy and Olivia kitties are her babies.

The unconditional love we receive from animals is a God-given virtue. It's why so many fight for animal rights. They've experienced that love somewhere along the way.

When I hear about someone who has abused an animal, I find it's always a demented and tormented individual. Somebody who needs either locked up, sedated on heavy doses of drugs, or wrapped in a straight jacket. Someone who should neither own an animal nor bear a child. And when you find a ferocious dog, it's usually because a human has mistreated it.

There are things in this life we cannot see or hear as humans. Dogs and cats, it seems to me, were created for our pleasure and enjoyment. We cannot hug a lion, but we can purr along with our kitty-cats. We cannot romp and play with a grizzly, but God has blessed us with the companionship of our pooch. We cannot hop on a rhinoceros, but we can trot all the way to the next county on top of our palomino. Only in Heaven will the lion lay down with a lamb.

But your animals are your extended family members. They deserve love. They know us, often, better than we know ourselves. They talk to us in ways we don't think about. They save us from cancer, fires, floods--from death.

I believe, with my whole heart, God gives us the desires of our hearts. He did not give you the love of your dog or cat to never see it again after its passing. I believe Margie and her dog are together in Heaven, except now, Margie can see her dog. Your precious pet that is loved by you is awarded a piece of your soul. You'll see it again.

I'm sure of it.

Blessings to you and yours.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

This 'n That (or rather) Bitch, Bitch, Bitch

Don't you just want to kill somebody when you receive an interesting email, telling you they're going to give you some great information, teach you something you've been wondering about, and then they lead you off into cyber-space, making you SEARCH FOR IT? I received an email yesterday from a well-respected local editor who promised a tutorial on when to use the word which and when to use that. Although I'm relatively sure I know how to use these words, I thought I'd take a look and see what Ms. Editor had to say. Not.

I like to click and go directly to what I want to read. I WILL NOT spend my time clicking and searching and clicking and searching. Nobody's information is worth that.
***
In comparing the area I just moved from to the area I just moved to: in a word - LITER. I don't understand it. I recently lived in a beautiful area, consisting mostly of people from the North (transplants) educated folks, professionals living in high-dollar homes. So then, in order to downsize, save money, return to full-time writing, I now live in the real South. For the most part, this town bulges with blue-collar folks who have lived in NC all their lives. Sprinkle in a few red necks, lower-priced homes and what do you got? Liter. The town I'm living in is covered in it. The previous place was liter-free. Go figure.
***
For me the negative to living in a neighborhood - clueless neighbors who keep dogs on chains, in backyards, fenced up and barking their poor heads off. All day. All night. And don't give a damn about their neighbors. Time to call Animal Control.
***
But we did have a successful garage sale in Blue-Collar Town. Sold a ton of junk, people got great deals, and we made some extra cash. But I think the best part of hosting a garage sale is the socializing. People get to talking and don't want to go home ... the most memorable conversation was with the lady who talked to me for twenty minutes about her love-affair with her cast-iron skillet. "If somebody would tell me my house is burning down and I can only take two things, I'd grab my kitty-cat and my iron skillet. Don't nobody in my house mess with my skillet. You reckon I love my skillet more 'n my husband?"

Now that's a priceless line for a writer.
***
It's Sunday Night, time to veg out in front of the TV, find a movie, clear my head for the week ahead. Y'all have a good week ... I'll do the same.

Blessings to you and yours.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Gifts Of Old Age

Sometimes when I look in the mirror, I don’t recognize what I see. Where did the angry young woman go? Who is this person gazing back at me with crow’s feet at the corners of her eyes, sagging chin, and thin lines on the edge of her smile? Then I take a second look and realize that time has taken her away, replaced her with what's staring back at me. A different woman is beginning to reemerge from years of distrust and suspicion that was chiseled away by grace and mercy.

A mellow tongue, a quiet disposition, and peace in my heart. Age does give women a few gifts. But we have to learn to accept them. Some women refuse the precious gifts of aging. Instead, she's holding on to the demons of her youth.

Some hold on to their short-tempers and manipulative ways. They enjoy shutting down people who get in their way and avoiding those who put a mirror in front of their face. It drives some women nuts if anyone interferes with their plans. They don't like anyone to think of them as poor or needy. If you catch some women when they're in the mood to socialize, you’ll love them. Shower them with compliments and they’ll deliver the sun and the moon. But controlling women hate being told what to do. Deception is her middle name. These ladies (if you can call them ladies) honestly believes the world owes them a buck. Their sense of entitlement is unparalleled. I've seen them chew up girlfriends and spit them out, repeatedly.

When you attempt to uncover a woman like this, she flies into a full-blown war defensive. You can’t out talk her. You won’t win. There’s no such thing as an intervention. Borderline Personality Disorder, I believe it's called.

By the time they're in their 50s, they're already old, bitter, ugly, and on their way to becoming alone and miserable old hags.

It makes me thankful that when age handed me my gifts, I took them and never looked back.

Blessings to you and yours.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Courage Versus Fear

Someone recently asked me - "As a writer, what is your definition of courage and fear?"

This was my response:

In terms of writing, courage is not confidence, nor the opposite of meekness. It’s feeling a measure of confidence, and then acting on those feelings. It’s a quality of spirit that enables you to face the moment, whatever comes, and keep on going.

Courage allows you to see, hear, smell, and taste things as they really are. Courage makes you face facts, unfiltered by rosy daydreams. Courage frees you to be creative. It pushes you to prepare for the unknown without obsessing over it. To be open to what may come.

A writer can’t be open to new ideas if dazed and confused by fear. Courage enables you to be prepared and wide awake in every situation.

There were times in my youth I didn’t write because I was afraid of failing. I didn’t prepare for success because I was afraid it might happen. I didn’t look, really look, into my past because I was afraid of what I might find. As I grow older, I don't give myself those options. Not anymore.

Fear is passive-aggressive. It’s the lazy writer’s excuse for not moving forward. It’s a great immobilizer, an avoidance technique.

Fear puts the focus on what we might encounter, distracts us from what’s actually there. Courage empowers a writer to pay attention.

In the end, a writer can do without a lot of things. Remembering your journey is not one of them. Courage is the other.

Blessings to you and yours.