Pratfalls and pitfalls

For the past two Friday mornings, I have joined a group of like-minded crafters in a local coffee shop to work on pine needle baskets. I had the idea of extending my skill by adding beads to my basket. I thought I had it all figured out.

When I finished the round, I discovered that my beads were on in inside of the basket, not the outside where they belonged.

My companions assured me that they thought it looked fine. I did not agree.

When I got home, I ripped out three rounds of weaving. This was not easy, as I had to pick out every loop. The whole, knotty business reminded me of the Gordian Knot. I wished I could just cut all the threads, but I was just mad enough and determined enough that I sought to save the thread and pine needles and re-use them. (That’s a Great Depression lesson learned at my mother’s knee.)

I then re-did the whole thing. This time the pesky beads stayed where I meant them to stay.

Gordian Knot

Why I’m telling you this is because I ran across the same thing in my story. For reasons I can’t (or won’t) disclose, one of my characters has to have her baby due in July. I counted on my fingers, the time-honored way to check the length of a pregnancy, and discovered that she would in fact be due sometime in March. That wouldn’t work.

I back-tracked and moved the scene where she announces her pregnancy further long in the book. This had the domino effect of making every previous and subsequent scene out of kilter.

I was so upset when I discovered this that I quit and spent way too much time tracking long-dead relatives on ancestry.com.

So now I have to cut each scene, place it in a separate file, and then replace it in the correct order in my timeline.

Even the thought makes my head ache. But it has to be done before I can move forward.

Sorta like my basket. I could ignore the mistake, continue on, and make an even worse muddle, or grit my teeth and do the unraveling called for.

This is what it’s like to be a writer. No one in their right mind would choose such a frustrating career. Frankly, it chooses them.

On the other hand, you don’t see a lot of people deciding to make baskets of pine needles and raffia, either.

 

 

Squirrels, Mark Twain, and pelisses

Well, that was fast!

One day I am sweating like a sumo wrestler just by walking to the mailbox, and the next I am rummaging through the closet for my sweater.

One thing about the cooler weather, I don’t have as much yard work to do. The grass  isn’t growing as fast, and the hedges and shrubs have slowed down in their efforts to add new little green leaves. So I have had time to get back to my book.

I feel pretty good about my writing this week. I’ve added pages and I can see where I am heading. I’ve gone over the last scene in the book so often that I’m now eager to get there.

The abrupt change in the weather reminded me of something, though. No, not Twain’s comment that everybody talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it. (Fact check: It might not be Twain who said it, but Charles Dudley Warner, who was an editor at the Hartford Courant in the late 1800s. There, now we’ve both learned something new.)

Image result for pelisse

A reader asked me what a pelisse was. It’s outerwear, essentially a long cape with sleeves.

I  try to be cognizant of the passage of time in my stories, noting the passing of one season and the advent of another by describing the weather as sit affects the protagonist. She might be glad for her straw bonnet on a hot day, or the the warmth of her wool pelisse on a cold one.  Candles must be brought out in the long, dark evenings while a rooster’s crow might wake her early on a summer morning.

If a story takes place in a short period of time, such as a few months or a year, it’s pretty easy. It’s more difficult if it spans a decade or more, which happens in the first two books of my historical series. In “Riverbend” and “Morven,” I solved it by jumping ahead a few years, hoping my readers would catch on without my explaining, “Now, 10 years have passed …”

I must get my present protagonist from seventeen to her mid-twenties without dragging the story out by describing each birthday. I don’t want to make a sudden leap, but had the idea of showing the passage of time by the dates on her correspondence. Whether that will work or not remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, I have a little success to report. I have complained about the squirrels eating the bird feed, no matter where I place the feeders. When one dragged a songbird feeder from the deck to where I found it in the yard, empty, I had had enough. I rigged a line from the persimmon tree to the post that holds the sun-flower feeder (that particular feeder is squirrel-proof, by the way) and hung my finch and chickadee feeders from it. It’s too high for the squirrels to jump up, and the line is too thin for them to crawl along it.

I thought I had the last laugh when I saw a squirrel attempt to reach the finch feeder. He made it, but the tube is glass, and he slid down it like a fireman on a pole, and fell to the ground. Several times.

Or has he simply figured out a way to spill the seed to the ground where he can eat it as his leisure?

You decide.

 

 

 

 

 

Tall mountains, big fears

It is a truth universally acknowledged that once you have faced something you feared and conquered it, you wonder why you were afraid in the first place.

I put off going to California to visit my middle son, Scott, and his wife, Dana, for three years. I considered driving there, or taking a train. Anything but flying.

But flying made the most sense.

It’s not that I haven’t flown before, and it isn’t that I’ve not flown by myself.  I took the three boys, the youngest not even potty-trained yet, from Pittsburgh to Tampa without a qualm. In the months after 9-11, I flew from Pittsburgh to Greenville, N.C., with a stopover in Detroit. Didn’t ruffle a hair.

I’ve flown from Atlanta to Frankfurt and to Rome, and from Charlotte to London. Nothing to it. The caveat is, my overseas flights were with a group and I didn’t have to worry. Just follow the crowd.

So why was I hesitant to fly solo to Los Angeles?

The answer in one word: the airport.

This was the view out my window that greeted me every morning  when I finally got to California.

I didn’t think I could navigate the huge, confusing airports without someone to guide me.

When Scott said I could skip LAX and fly into Ontario, a much smaller airport, I began to think it might be possible. I didn’t know that in trying to book a flight to Ontario, CA, the site read the “CA” as Canada and routed me to Toronto, Ontario. After three attempts, I finally typed in ONTARIO, CALIFORNIA. Bingo. And, Scott suggested I should leave from Atlanta so I could park my car at my oldest son Rob’s house for the week and not have to fight Charlotte traffic.

I drove to Atlanta and Rob drove me to the airport and came inside to show me how to use the check-in kiosk. Things had changed, and I grumbled, cranky old lady style, that I had tucked away enough cash to pay the baggage fee and hadn’t planned on charging it to my card. I was pointed toward my gate and arrived just in time to board.

I won’t dwell on the flight itself. If you’ve flown, you know all about it. If you haven’t, I don’t want to spoil your illusions.

All through the trip I feared I would, indeed, land in Canada. Needless to say, I was spellbound when I stepped out  of the terminal in Ontario, California, and had my first glimpse of the mountains.  Scott met me and we set off for their home which was very, very high up the mountain. The road was a succession of hair-pin curves, and when I dared look out the window to see the valley below — far below — my remarks were reduced to “Oh! How high are we? Has anyone ever driven off? How high are we?” 

I took this from the car window. It’s hard to tell, but that valley is waaaay down there.

We were very high, indeed. More than a mile above the Pacific Ocean.

 

I had a lovely visit, and then it was time to go home. I dreaded arriving in Atlanta and navigating the airport. Something told me it would be different from my previous experience.

I got off the plane and dutifully called Rob. Then I followed the crowd: moving sidewalk, check. Mile-high (or so it seemed) escalator, check. All the while following signs that pointed to Baggage Claim. At one point I couldn’t figure out what the next  step was, then realized I was supposed to get on the plane train, which looked suspiciously like an underground transit to me. Well, I had learned how to ride that  in London, so I got aboard when the doors opened and grabbed a bar as, just like London, no seats were available.

The next stop was Baggage Claim. I looked at a board to see what carousel my flight’s bags were  on, found it, and immediately saw my little green bag. I grabbed it, went outside, and there was Rob. We had timed it perfectly.

“How was your trip?” he asked as we pulled away.

“Wonderful!” I replied, and I meant it. I may have been preening just a little. Maybe all my fears were unfounded, but I had overcome them anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

Counting down

It seems I cannot stop making errors. I printed out out some bookmarks to bring to the book signing Sunday. Only after they were all printed and trimmed did I discover that somehow the most important information had been cut off at the margin.

The bookmarks are to advertise a promotion my publisher, Cleanreads, is doing starting Monday. My paranormal alternate history is going to be offered free in the coming weeks!

Maybe FREE is the most important part?

A Question of Boundaries September 9-13.

A Question of Loyalty September 16-20.

A Question of Time September 23-27.

Here’s what got cut off: Free e-book @ amazon.com

I do hope you will take advantage of this and get the books. Did I add, free?

Meanwhile, although I said I was through traveling for a while, I am going on another trip. In 2003 I wrote a book called “I’d Rather Go to California.” My doctor had calculated that it would be as many miles to drive to California as it would to drive to my radiation treatments 33 times. Hence the title. A few years ago my middle son and his wife moved out there, and they have invited me several times to visit. I finally said yes, and booked a flight.

Any burglars reading this, please note I have three attack cats and they are not declawed.

I am excited about finally seeing the Pacific Ocean among other sights. So, I am counting down the days until I arrive on the West Coast.

Meanwhile, Dorian came and went and I am happy to say my Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina families are all safe. Please say a prayer for those in the Bahamas, though. My heart breaks for the people there and the devastation they are going through. If you want to donate to help out, prayerfully consider the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). Every penny goes to relief and none to administrative costs.

Chapter headings and other catastrophes

I was determined not to let this week get away from me as last week did. Yet here we are at the weekend already.

I did get some yard work done, thanks to the cooler and less humid weather. I finally raked up all the pine straw in the corner of the yard between the fig tree and the creek–a project I would usually have accomplished by mid-May at the latest. Surprised a little toad that, instead of hopping away, sat there and watched. I guess I was his equivalent of a hurricane, destroying his habitat. I told him there was lots more pine straw on the slope to the creek that I won’t touch. because the last thing I want to do is fall in.

My writing is a lot like yard work. I plan to do so much, yet accomplish so little. I don’t know how other authors churn out three or four books a year. I only finish  book because people keep asking when the next one is coming out, and I have to say something. I prefer to work on the story in my head, not put it down on paper. Or keyboard, actually.

My upcoming book signing (2-4 p.m. on Sept. 8 at the Drake Gallery in Wadesboro, N.C.) spurred me on to get the book finished. I ordered a proof copy, made corrections. and uploaded the corrected version. Then I started on the electronic format, using Smashword’s guide. It wasn’t until I was linking the chapter headings to the index that I realized that in eliminating some nonessential parts of the story I had forgotten to change the chapter numbers. The book went from chapter 17 to chapter 20. People would think I had cut two chapters and wonder what they had missed. They would be right: I had cut two chapters, but they weren’t missing anything important. The story itself was intact.

I quickly made the correction to the print version, thankful I had not yet mentioned anywhere that it was available. I wanted the release date to be September 8, but Amazon insisted on releasing it a day after I uploaded Morven.doc. They don’t give you a choice, which I should have realized and held off until my preferred date. But what if it hadn’t been approved and wasn’t available on my target date?

That was the least of my worries. I had to fix those chapter headings fast because I had already ordered copies for the book signing! I admit it, I prayed over it. I had always laughed at people who prayed for things like an open parking place near the store. Surely God could not be bothered with such trivial requests.

But this wasn’t trivial to me. I asked God/Universe: Please let them not start printing the books until after the change was made. I had a two-day margin.

When the box of books arrived, I tore open the carton, opened a book, and flipped to the last chapters.

The book was the corrected version and the chapter headings were what they should be.

I did a happy dance and said another prayer of thanks.

So I am ready for the book signing. And this time a little ahead of the game as I am half-way through the next one. And with summer winding to an end, maybe I will have time to sit down and finish it.

 

A little rant and some advice

This is a world in which one has to be very aware and, need I say, suspicious of everything. You can’t believe half of what you hear, and even reliable sources can be wrong.

People  make a living from scamming others, preying on the most vulnerable. I watch the evening news in amazement as people recount how they willingly gave hundreds of dollars to strangers who tricked them over the telephone.

Today I have had (so far) four calls from “Apple” telling me there has been suspicious activity on my iCloud account.

I don’t have an iCloud account.

I think I am canny, but some day I suppose I will fall for a line. The caller would have to be a living human being, however. I don’t react well to mechanical, monotone voices telling me the IRS is out to get me. Or that my Microsoft account is 1) past due or 2) owes me a refund. (Refund for what?)

The thing is, I am very wary about handing over money. It goes fast enough paying bills I am sure about, and I’m not about to pay for something I’m not 100 percent positive I actually owe.

Several years ago, I almost fell for a call from my “grandson” saying he needed money because he and some friends had been arrested in Canada for possession of marijuana. The voice sound just like him. The tip off was that he called me “Grandma” which he never has. The grandkids have another name for me. And, after I got over my shock, I realized there was no way on Earth his parents would have let him go to Canada with friends no matter how much he pleaded.

So I know how easy it is to be scammed when it comes to family. We all have our weak points, and these people know how to reach them.

Even writers get fooled. I got a very nice comment on this blog. I was flattered and decided to reply and thank the person. Thank goodness I had some errands to run, so put it off until later. When I returned and clicked on the email, there was a huge red banner across it , telling me that this was a dangerous email and not to click on any links. I deleted it immediately, feeling a little sad that I didn’t have an adoring fan after all. Yep, flattery will get you in a whole lot of hot water.

We are aware of the most popular scams, and most of us know enough not to give out personal information, i.e. bank account or credit account numbers, over the phone unless we initiated the call. But every week, it seems, we hear of a new, clever scam. And every week, some poor man or woman loses their life savings.

So be careful out there. Remember, you can’t win a lottery if you never bought a ticket. That money dangled before you by an unknown caller is just a lure to relieve you of your savings.

 

A Little Side Trip

Me at Churchill Downs

Like the rest of you, I can’t believe summer is flying by so quickly. I had so many plans!

Three weeks ago, my sister came down from Pennsylvania for a visit. Sister time is so special, and we made the most of it, including a “side trip” to Kentucky.

We both had complete sets of china that needed a new home, so we  asked our grown children if they wanted the dishes before taking them to a thrift store or trying to sell them  on eBay. Nancy had Mom’s good company china, and I had my kids’ great-grandma’s set. (My ex-husband’s grandmother, not mine.) One of my sons asked for both sets. He and his wife run an air B&B in California, so they would be used and not stuck in a closet. None of our other offspring showed any interest, so he got them.

So, how do we get all those dishes to California from Pennsylvania and North Carolina?

Nancy brought hers with her, and we loaded her boxes and mine into the trunk of my car and set out for Louisville, where my ex-sister-in-law lives.  We often joke that I divorced her brother, but not her, and we have remained good friends. Meanwhile, my son flew into Louisville to meet us. Obviously, he  could not fly back with various-sized boxes of two sets of antique china, but his plan was to take them to his mother-in-law’s house until she and her husband drove to California some time this fall.

A round-about answer to the problem …

We had a lovely time in Kentucky, including a tour of downtown Louisville and Churchill Downs. I was amazed at the display of Derby hats, including one worn by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

We also toured a couple wineries. I tried Java Vino, a coffee-flavored wine. It was so good I bought a bottle. I may wish I had bought more.

Meanwhile, I plan to fly to California some time this fall. I have never been, so I am excited. It will be a way to celebrate the release of my latest historical novel, “Morven.”

 

 

 

A little push called a deadline

I know I slipped up last week by missing my post. This is what happened.

I was at the arts council returning the books I had “borrowed” to take to a meet-and-greet in another county. Yes, our local arts council sells my books in their gallery along with paintings, jewelry, baskets, pottery and other works by local artists. Well, the meet-and-greet was a bust in that no one came, which was a big disappointment to the organizers.

So the director at our gallery said, “We really need to have a book signing for you.”

I told her the arts council had hosted a signing for my first book, “Angels Unaware” when it came out and I’d love to do it again.

”Have you got a new book?”

”Yes,” I said, fingers crossed behind my back.

Prior to this, I had been asked to do a reading as a program for a women’s club, and I had agreed. I could read from my work in progress, that was fine. But at a book signing, I’d have to have real, actual books in hand to sign.

So, I have been busy trying to get the manuscript in publishable form. After cutting scenes and characters, I needed to make certain stray names or references to the cut material didn’t surface. I also had to create the cover, and that wasn’t easy. I’ve done it before, but this time I couldn’t get everything aligned in the template, creating many frustrating attempts before it looked right.

(Before you wonder why I didn’t hire a professional, let me say I have a BFA and feel competent to do this.)

I have ordered a proof copy and if I remember correctly from”Riverbend,” I will no doubt find errors on every page. Things look different in print than on a computer screen.

So that’s what I’ve been doing. There is nothing like  a deadline to get you moving on a stalled project

 

Backyard bullies

We all know what little bullies hummingbirds are. When I sit on the deck evenings, it is like the Royal Air Force meeting the Luftwaffe over the channel in WWII. I have even heard them body-slamming each other.

I didn’t know that wrens were also bullies. Yes, the wren couple is back, building another nest for a second family. I didn’t know that about wrens, either.

Father wren sits on the deck and warns every other bird away. I have a finch feeder and a suet feeder on the deck along with the bird house and humming bird feeders. I tried putting the feeders elsewhere, but the squirrels always found them. So far they are afraid to come on the deck.

Now the male wren in defending his territory has managed to frighten off the finches as well as the cardinals, mockingbirds, and woodpeckers that used to come to eat. He has not frightened the hummingbirds away. They just ignore him.

One last evidence of bullying: While watching the bird feeders in the yard (squirrel-proof) I saw a male cardinal take a sunflower seed from the beak of a sparrow! This was not a father feeding his young, this cardinal was definitely the boldest thief I’ve ever seen.

You are probably wondering what this has to do with writing. Nothing. It’s what I do when not writing.

I took this picture in the Tower of London.

As for not writing, I’ve been busy with that also. I decided to go ahead and publish the second book, Morven, in the series so that I can then finish the third one. Because it will be part of a trilogy, I needed to make the word count somewhat equal  in all three books. Riverbend, published last year, is 245 pages and 73,256 words (don’t you love the word count feature in Word?)

Morven came in at a hefty 355 pages and 103,680 words. No wonder no agent would touch it. Unless you are already established like Ken Follett or Edward Rutherford, you can’t get away with it.

I told a friend about my dilemma and she said she thought Riverbend was just the right length. Sigh. I love big, fat books with long, intricate stories, but I realize I am part of a limited fan club. If I want to sell my books, they had better be a reasonable length for today’s readers.

So I have been cutting. Long, descriptive scenes? Gone. Philosophical conversation? Deleted. Loving details of a room, a gown, a dinner? Off with their heads!

When someone said “Kill your darlings” I didn’t know what he meant. Now I do. Pardon me while I weep.

I am down down to 328 pages and 95,000 words. I still have a way to go.

The result may be a tighter, more easily read book. Readers will never know what they missed.

But I will.

 

Writing with joy

When I saw that Canadian author Louise Penny, author of the Three Pines mystery series, would be in North Carolina to kick off her book tour, I knew that I would go, no matter what. I immediately signed up for tickets, thinking the venue would be crowded. (It was.)

I, along with some friends who are also big fans, drove the two-and-a-half hours to Fearrington Village, where Penny was to speak. The  event was held in a building aptly called The Barn which can hold 500 people. We went in early to get good seats. So did 500 other people.

The wait was worth it. Penny is delightfully candid, humorous, and forthcoming. But there was one thing she said that drove everything else from my mind.

She had suffered from writer’s block after the publication of her first book. She eventually sought help from a therapist who told her she should not worry about editors, publishers, reviews, her family, or anything else, but write simply for the joy of writing.

Louise Penny

I haven’t got writer’s block — or do I? I dutifully put words on the page, but all the time I am thinking, why bother?

I haven’t got a nibble on the book that precedes the one I am writing. If it doesn’t get  published, the sequel is useless.

I could self-publish, which I have done, but I am of two minds about this. If it isn’t good enough for an agent to jump on, maybe it isn’t good enough to self-publish.

Then I read about authors who only self-publish and are doing very well, thank you.

So I got to thinking about why I am writing in the first place. To be rich and famous? Maybe, when I was younger, but it doesn’t appeal to me now. I have a good life and I’m content.

I have fans, and I cherish them. But I’m not writing just for them, either.

I think back to my first books, and how much fun it was to create my stories. Of course it was validation to get a contract from a publisher, or a good review from a reader. But the real joy was in the writing.

I need to get back to that and finish my book because it brings me joy to see it grow and develop. And yes, I want to share it once it is finished, not for praise or money, but because a story isn’t really complete until it is read. So I will look at other options for publication while knowing that this isn’t the reason for writing, but the final step on the creative journey.

So now that Louise Penny has, by a few words, changed my entire outlook, I say thank you. Thank you for seeing clearly what I failed to see: that you aren’t going to want to write if your writing fails to bring you joy.

 

 

 

My Secret Garden

Lawn maintenance has become a problem as I get older. I have not yet finished raking the winter accumulation of pine straw, pine cones, sweet gum balls,  and fallen twigs and branches from the periphery of the back yard. One reason is that I have been gone a lot this spring, and the other is that every time I think I have some part of it cleaned up, a heavy rain or wind gusts bring more debris down and I have to do it all over again.

One day I decided that I needed something less labor intensive. I decided to take out some of the ancient bushes along the front of the house that seem to need trimming about every other week. This wasn’t something I could do  by myself, so I called on Number Three Son to come up with his chainsaw.

Three of the five bushes gave up easily, but  remaining two had apparently petrified into stone. The chainsaw motor burned out before the job could be done. leaving two unsightly stumps.

“Never mind,” I said. We replaced the two shrubs that flanked the steps to the den with cypress that won’t need to be trimmed. Then, in the space between the ramp and the house where the other three were, I sprayed weedkiller. A week later, I raked  out the dead weeds and laid crushed brick. My palette was ready

I drilled a hole in the smaller stump to hold my bottle tree, and then cut the bottom off a planter and fitted it around the bigger stump. I filled it with some white pebbles Jim had bought years ago for an  ill-fated rock garden in the back yard (ill-fated because I had to  lug a watering can down there to keep the plants happy and I kept forgetting or going away for a week, and the plants always died).

Then I put in some yard art. Some I already had out back and moved to the front, and some I bought on a whim. I may add more, but I have to be aware of the hose because I do have some  live plants in the little patch between the brick and the steps. I have plans for this later, like moving the lily bulbs to the back because they are too tall. Which they weren’t when that bush was behind them. Such is perspective. I call new area my secret garden because it can’t be seen from the road. Only someone coming up the walk can see it.

But right now, a certain amount of work has been eliminated, leaving me time to concentrate on other things. I am looking forward to a picnic with my writers’ club friends today, and then on Tuesday, a trip to Fearrington Village in Pittsboro to hear Louise Penny talk about her newest book in the Three Pines series.

All much more fun than raking and mowing.

 

Are you a Wakian yet?

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood … cooler, bright blue sky, birds singing. Not the wren family, however. The little ones flew off on the one day I was gone, so I missed seeing the parents coax them from their nest. I sorta miss the constant chirping, but on the other hand, the quiet is nice, too. Except for that mockingbird who simply won’t shut up.

Thursday I drove to Durham to meet one of my favorite authors, Robert Macomber, who was a frequent guest presenter at our writers’ club’s annual writing conference.  Bob writes naval histories whose fictional protagonist is Peter Wake. We see the rise of the United States Navy from the Civil War to the  Spanish-American War through his eyes. His travels and adventures take him from Cuba to Central and South America, the West Indies, French Indochina and Samoa.

Bob has meticulously researched every fact presented in his books. If you haven’t read them and are interested in the “behind the scenes” story of the United States’ involvement in maritime history peppered with little-known events and well-known people such as Theodore Roosevelt, you will enjoy this series.  I just got the latest book (autographed!), “Honoring the Enemy.”

Robert Macomber, third from left, hoists a toast to friends and fans

Bob not only pens a great story, he lectures, sails, and hosts dinners for his friends using  the exotic recipes he has discovered on his research trips, accompanied by the appropriate wines, music, and scents. He is also a delightful conversationalist.

So I was more than excited to have the chance to meet Bob and Nancy, his wife, along with a few other “Wakians” as his fans are called, while he was between stops on his book-signing tour. We met for lunch, commandeered a large table and proceeded to eat, talk, drink, and laugh and cry, for five and a half hours.

It was a great afternoon in the neighborhood.

Avoiding distractions — or not

I promised myself I would sit dutifully at my computer and play catch-up. First on my list was reading three contest entries and then filling out the score sheet. I don’t take this duty lightly, reading each at least three times and then trying to leave thoughtful, encouraging remarks. I know too well what just one disparaging comment can do to a writer’s soul. I’ve been on that end, too.

But distractions happen, and this time the distraction was not the telephone, doorbell, or a sudden emergency with my computer. It was the constant chirping from a small birdhouse filled with baby wrens.

I knew they were there. I’d seen the parents busily building their nest, heard the first feeble chirps. Maybe if I’d kept the deck door shut, I wouldn’t have heard them, but the cooler weather was too enticing.

One evening earlier this week I sat out on the deck with my book and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.  The hummingbirds didn’t seem to mind, nor the the finches eagerly prising seeds from a cylindrical mesh sock. But the mother and father wren kept up a constant chatter. I looked up to see one parent scolding away with a bug in his or her beak.

I wondered how they could make a noise with their beak filled with supper for their little ones. Just as the thought crossed my mind, the bird gulped the tidbit down and flew away.  Then the other parent appeared, this time with a grub, and repeated the same scenario. Meanwhile, having been cheated out of their supper, the little ones cheeped pathetically.

It dawned on me that the parents would eat the food themselves before daring to cross in front of me to enter the birdhouse. Feeling like a schoolyard bully, I took my book and wineglass indoors. Peering out of sight through the screen door, I was relieved to see the parents resume their feeding ritual.

But this day, a day when I needed no distractions, the baby chorus had definitely increased in decibels. Even shutting the sliding glass door didn’t mute it. To add to the din, both parents kept up a loud, irritated cheeping of their own. I thought perhaps they were coaxing the youngsters from their nest, so I put my work aside and went to look. This event was something I’d long wanted to observe.

But no, the birds were scolding a cat, or another bird, or some other object of their ire. In between, they’d swoop in and temporarily silence their offspring with another morsel.

I eventually managed to put the outdoor racket from my mind, completed the score sheet, and sent it on its way to the judging coordinator.

I sometimes think I would be a more prolific, or at least a faster writer, if I didn’t succumb to such distractions.

But then, look what I’d miss!

 

 

 

 

Travelin’ shoes

You’d think after the trip to England and Scotland I took  last April, I’d put up my suitcase for awhile. But no, I went to Wilmington NC to see my granddaughter graduate  from community college. Then I drove to Pennsylvania for a week to see my sister. After one day at home to mow the front yard and wash some clothes, I headed out for Decatur, GA, to see my youngest grandson graduate from high school. Proud to say he made honor roll all four years and is now headed for Georgia Tech.

Going away for a weekend is one thing, but a week or more is another. Luckily I have friends willing to check on the cats to make sure they have food and water, (and clean the litter boxes) while I am gone. And, with this heat wave and no rain, to water the shrubs and flowers I have added to the front yard.

I have one more trip planned for this summer to Louisville KY and maybe a jaunt to the beach. My motto is: Go while you have the chance and the stamina!

And need I mention the friends who make it possible? Of course I return the favor or show my appreciation in some way. We support each other.

That’s why I like to write books about women and their circle of friends. “Angels

For the past three years I have planted the Easter lily I got from church … look how they have multiplied!

Unaware” and “The Lunch Club” are my favorites in this genre. My work in progress is also about friends…the ones you don’t recognize until almost too late.

So in between travels and visits, I am slowly getting the pages written. It’s another way to travel, back in time and entering a world long gone, meeting people who become real to me as I learn their hopes and dreams and share their disappointments.

Whether you travel in “real time” or through the pages of a book you re reading (or writing), I wish you a happy journey.

 

 

Is it Summer yet?

Where I live in North Carolina, it feels like August. It has been unseasonably hot (or if you believe in global warming, as I do) maybe it is seasonably hot. Just a new normal. Honestly, it feels like late August and it isn’t even June yet!

I’ve been putting many, many hard hours doing yard work. I wish I could say I have been weeding pretty flower beds, but mostly it has been just keeping up. And I am not even doing that as I am behind with my raking up the winter’s accumulation of pine straw, pine cones, sweet gum balls, and general sticks and twigs along the creek edge of my property. Don’t get me started on mowing the yard! What with the rain and sun, the grass seems to grow an inch overnight.

In the interest of making the yard less labor-intensive, I took out six bushes along the front of the house, cutting my pruning chore in half. (Actually, I didn’t take them out. My son did, bless him.) Then we planted some dwarf hydrangeas and vintage gold cypress that won’t need so much care and will add color to the front.

I still have to pressure wash both decks and repaint them. Hopefully, my kids will organize a work party and come up to help me with that.

Along with that, I’ve been traveling. May is graduation month, so there is that. My granddaughter graduated from community college and my grandson will graduate from high school May 31, so there were trips to Wilmington and one coming up to Atlanta. In between, I am going to visit my sister in Pennsylvania! Lots of driving, but my motto is go while you can.

So as for writing … not so much. I am diligently trying to get in at least 1,000 words every day, but some days I just don’t have the time or the energy. I’ve been sending out queries but nothing to report there yet.I continue to be hopeful that some day someone will read my first 10 pages and be blown away and beg for the rest of the manuscript. However, I am realistic and know that the chance of that happening is slim.

And, this weekend I will be attending an author event which is always fun. I love to meet new readers and other authors! Maybe I will even sell a book or two, who knows.

So between writing, gadding about, and yard work, the summer is flying by before it even gets here. I do find time to sit on the deck evenings and watch the birds. A pair of wrens has nested in the birdhouse on the deck rail, and a cardinal mama is guarding her eggs in the gardenia bush. The hummingbirds are on their nests now, but soon will be coming back to fiercely guard “their” feeder. The purple finches and sparrows are at the finch feeder, and a mockingbird is enjoying the suet ball. All of which proves entertaining not only to me, but the cats, who chatter their teeth every time they see a bird. I keep them strictly inside as I do not want to encourage murder.

I hope everyone had an enjoyable Mother’s Day and that you are making Memorial Day plans. Before we know it, it will be Fourth of July!

Yep, summer isn’t even here and  it’s nearly over already.

 

 

 

 

 

What century is it?

I had a phone call this morning. It took me a minute to understand what the caller wanted.

“I’m sorry,” I said contritely. “I had to get my head out of the 19th century.” I’m not sure she knew what I meant, but if you’ve ever been reading an engrossing story, only to jerked back to the real world by an interruption such as a phone call or a child crying, you will understand the disconnect. It’s the same with writing.

I had been working on my novel, which takes place in 1820, and at the moment the phone rang I was wondering just what a person back then would put on a bruise and a nasty gash. After I answered the caller’s question, I went back to work.

Unfortunately, Google could not solve my problem. I’m sure people without access to the Mayo Clinic or its 200-year-old equivalent had plenty of home remedies, but it will take more research to find out.

I think some writers do all the research they will need before beginning their novel. Others may do research when and as they need it. I like to finish the story and then go back and fill in the gaps if I can’t find what I need right away. Stopping to look up a cure or a fashion detail can lead to hours spent musing over different websites, each one leading me down another path until I realize I’ve wasted hours reading information that, while fascinating, will never find a place in my story.

Distractions such as phone calls or enticing detours are the pitfalls of writing from home. I could take the phone off the hook (at least my landline, which most of my friends use). But then they would simply call my cell phone. If I managed to ignore that, they would worry and come knocking on the door to see if I was all right, so that wouldn’t work.

As for getting lost in research, that is my own fault and I know I need to be more disciplined. It’s too easy to type in a few words and see the wealth of information that pops up.  Back when the world and I were younger, finding out an elusive fact meant getting into the car and going to the library, filling out a slip of paper to hand to the librarian, waiting for her to bring you a book, taking the volume to a table, and then copying what you needed into a notebook.

There are days when I think I need to rent a cabin for a week and take with me only a couple of pens and some paper. No phone, no Internet, no books or television. I’d be forced to write without interruption.

But honestly, I don’t think I’d last a day.  There are only so many hours you can spend in a book whether you are reading it or writing it.  You have to come back to the real world eventually.

We just want our return to be on our terms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading, Writing and … Arithmetic?

All morning I have been going over figures, adding and subtracting, and being surprised when they all balanced at the end of the column.

No, not my checkbook, but the accounts of our writers’ club, for which I, in a mad moment, took responsibility for when the former treasurer resigned. We have two, a savings account and a checking account. Savings is easy: I just add in the few cents interest earned each month and it is done.

Checking is harder in that I am prone to make deposits and forget what they were for … dues, book sales, donations? Ditto with checks. Luckily for me our bank sends a copy of each cancelled check with the monthly statement or I’d be really lost.

It isn’t that difficult if you keep up with it. Alas, I sat down to do a report for an upcoming meeting and realized I hadn’t done one for almost a year! I had made a monthly report highlighting any notable expenses, but as for a typed-up, official report — nada.Image result for adding machine clipart

When I finally got all the figures neatly typed up and exported to a .pdf that I put on our website, I vowed never to let it slide so far again. But I probably will, simply because I hate figures. So why do I do it? Because year after year, when we hold elections, I beg someone else to take over the job. And no one does. I realize that if I were to be hit by a bus tomorrow, someone would have to take over, but knowing my fellow club members no one will be over-the-moon happy about it. I expect plenty of grumbling.

Until that day comes, I will do it not because I like being a martyr, but because I know if a club is to survive, every member has to do his or her part. Even writers clubs, where you would think all we do is sit around and listen to each other read at Open Mic or hold critique sessions. Our club does a little more than this. In the past we have written and presented an outdoor drama, held a two-state-wide writers conference, and hosted story-telling events and workshops on writing. To do all these things, money has to flow in and out.

And someone has to keep track of it.

So I’m not complaining. I’m just explaining why I haven’t written a word on my WIP today.

We writers just love excuses!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The (He)art of Journaling

Some years ago, my daughter-in-law presented me with a blank journal. I was pleased with the gift and vowed to use it to record only happy thoughts and experiences. I realized I had been a little negative lately (had she picked up on this?) and that I needed to change my perspective. Focusing on at least one good thing that happened each day would, I thought, condition me to look for the good rather than the bad.

It wasn’t as easy as it sounds. There were days where nothing good seemed to happen at all. I learned that if I  wanted to write something positive, I had to look for it.

Then the unthinkable happened. Jim died unexpectedly and my world was torn apart. For weeks, months, I howled my grief and despair on the pages. I blamed the doctors who didn’t think his infection was important enough to follow up  on. I blamed myself for not making an issue of it. I blamed everyone and everything until I realized that blame was worthless and not helping me heal.

Then I started writing about all the little things I had to do, a check list of sorts. Insurance, deeds, titles, credit accounts, all had to be sorted and reassigned. Every time I accomplished something on my list, I made a note of it. Sometimes it was easy, and more often it was hard and complicated and frustrating. The more difficult it was, the more satisfaction I took in recording the task’s completion.

When everything was sorted out, I began recording the little (and big) jumps I made out of my safety zone. There was the first time I ate in a restaurant alone. I was on my way home from an appointment. It was noon, and I was hungry. I said, “Why not?”

Afterward, I wondered what had taken me so long.

I learned to drive the riding mower, something Jim had never wanted me to do. I guess he was afraid I’d turn it over or something. Now I use it all the time.

I learned to pump my own gas. Can you believe that?

There were many little and big things I had to do for the first time, and I managed to do them all. Not that I’m asking for a pat on the back, but it is surprising how we let our partners take sole responsibility for certain chores. I know of husbands who couldn’t for the life of them figure out the checking account or which bills are paid when when their wives died. Or who couldn’t cook a simple meal or figure out the washing machine. So don’t you men shake your heads at me!

I think all marriages should do a little cross-training, like companies do with their employees.

Now when I journal, I write down things I have done for the simple reason that I like reading back over the entries and remembering the visit, the trip, or the fun luncheon with friends. I also write down when I’m feeling blue or lonely, because those days still come. Not as often, but still … And writing about my feelings helps me understand them and accept them.

Many people journal for many different reasons. I think those reasons can change with life circumstances, as mine did. No reason is better or worse than another.

If you are a writer, you might want to try keeping a journal. You can start with writing down one good thing that happened today.

 

 

 

Home again, tired and happy

I was off social media during my trip last week. First, I carried only my phone, and that just to take pictures. Second, while in London I could not access my mail, Facebook, or Instagram. The clerk at the hotel said, when I complained that I could not get on their WiFi, that I needed a new SIMS card. So I went to an electronic store and a very nice young man inserted a new card and then told me I would have a new phone number and lose all my contacts. I said, “No, thank you,” and he put back my old card, no charge. Did I say he was nice?

Then in York, my phone “woke up” with a chirp the minute we entered the hotel. Instant access to their WiFi! I post some pictures and wrote a couple of emails to assure my family I was fine and having a good time.

Understatement — I was having a wonderful time, a fantastic time, a superlative time. Our guide was as informed as he was unflappable. No matter the emergency, he coped with humor and grace. Thank you, Stefan!

I saw so many historical buildings and cathedrals that my head is still spinning. I can’t

When asked what the E R stood for, the guide replied, “Elderly and Rude.”

tell  you the highlights as they were all highlights: St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, York Minster … The replica of the Globe Theater (built by American Sam Wanamaker when he discovered there was no site in London honoring Shakespeare) … the London Eye. And yes, I did ride it, fear of heights and all. The views were awe-inspiring.

The Tower with all its bloody history (I did not go down into the dungeon. It was, frankly, intimidating) … Christ Church in Oxford and Shakespeare’s home in Stratford-Upon-Avon with friendly and knowledgeable guides … the play that night: “The Taming of the Shrew.” The roles were reversed with women playing the men’s parts and vice versa. Our hotel dated back to 1637! Creaky floors and winding corridors. No ghosts, though, I’m happy to report.

Edinburgh was everything I had expected. Our hotel was smack in the middle of the Royal Mile. I could have spent hours at the castle, but there was shopping to do! And yes, I did try the haggis. I sorta-kinda-liked it, but some of my traveling companions wouldn’t even try it.

Now I face the daunting task of sorting through my  pictures and trying to remember what everything was. It helps to have the itinerary at hand and check the date stamp on the phone camera to know which stained-glass window belongs to which cathedral!

I meant to write last week, but pulled into my driveway at 9:30 p.m. completely worn out. It took me two days to get back to speed. Jet lag is a real  thing, folks!

And I must also get back to my work in progress. I have missed my characters and I think, judging by the nagging in my head, that they missed me, too.

 

 

 

 

Leaving on a jet plane

I usually don’t post on social media if I am going away. I will tell about a trip after I get home, but don’t want to advertise that the house will be empty for a weekend or a week. Well, not exactly empty. There are three attack cats. They will attack the dust bunnies under the bed if they hear someone come inside. Honestly, they flee and hide if they hear a car turn into the driveway!

But last year I signed up for a home protection service and feel confident that if anyone tries to break in they will be sorry. I accidentally set off the alarm once and the shrieking siren just about broke my ear drums.

I said last week that I would be in Stratford-upon-Avon. That’s one of the stops. We fly out to London Friday (by the time you read this on Sunday I will be in London!) and will spend three days there. Then to Stratford, York, and Edinburgh.  I signed up for this tour two years ago and thought the day would never come, but now it is here. I checked the weather report this morning for London and know I will have to pack warm clothes. Their spring is like our winter. But that won’t deter me. I visited Austria in March and nearly froze in spite of my heavy coat and sweaters. The Mediterranean cruise was better, but there is a reason for those deck blankets. You need to bundle up.

You have guessed now that I travel in the off-season when accommodations are cheaper. It has just worked out that way, but I seem to take a major trip every 10 years, which means getting a new passport each time. I don’t renew because I don’t expect to ever travel abroad again, and then up pops an opportunity. And I never miss an opportunity to go somewhere.

Someone recently quipped that if you look as bad as your passport photo, you are too sick to go. My photo is terrible, but I’m not staying home because of it. I’ve got comfortable shoes, a light, but warm, jacket, and I’m ready to go.

I will be posting pictures on Facebook and Instagram if you want to follow:

https://www.facebook.com/ansonwriter

https://www.instagram.com/sandybruney/

I’ve been faithful about writing every day on my WIP, but next week I will be keeping a journal instead. That way, when I get home, I will be able to recall everything I saw and did.

Then, vacation over, back to the drawing board — er — computer!

 

 

Distractions and how to use them

I “wasted” too much time on ancestry.com this morning. I meant to finish up one line and ended up tracking another … it’s so easy to get ensnared in following the elusive clues, combing through records and family histories. The further back you go, the more things get disoriented — dates don’t match, wives seem interchangeable with mothers, children have the same names, especially if one died young and a subsequent child was given the deceased sibling’s name.

I haven’t found out anything terribly interesting. There are a lot of Ladies and Sir Knights and Barons, but I don’t put too much stock in it. I believe other ancestor-hunters love titles and appropriate them whenever expedient. I have one ancestor who is

said to have been godfather to William Shakespeare. I’m going to visit Stratford-upon-Avon in a few weeks and  maybe I will have the opportunity to check that out. And I had a boatload (pun intended) of dissenters who came to America in the Great Migration. A few even came over on the Mayflower. (My Mom would have loved that!) One pastor who left the Church of England was told to immigrate or face prison. He made the wise choice.

So I guess it’s no wonder that my characters in my latest story are searching for their own families. Orphaned at a young  age, Bethann runs off to seek her mother’s family when the one she was adopted into morphs through death and marriage. Sounds easy, but this is in the early 1800’s and there is no ancestry.com to help her. The best she can do is hop on a stagecoach and visit the town mentioned in her mother’s Bible, and begin asking questions.

Henry thinks he has found his family, after discovering that he, too, was adopted. But he is tragically misled and the consequences will be deadly if others learn who he really is before he does.

The theme running through the story is what family is and why it matters. I know people who were adopted and don’t give a fig about finding their birth parents, content with the family they were given. Others sought desperately for answers, trying to fill a need that ate at them until it was satisfied.

I’m not desperate, just curious. I started looking because we don’t know a lot bout my father’s family. The paternal line ends in a few generations, but I researched my grandmother’s side and found a rich history that I might have been unaware of if I’d stayed with the paternal side and gave up after finding the dead end … or “EOL”.

I think I know now why my father tended to preach at us kids. He had it in his DNA on his mother’s side.

 

 

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