It’s always the season for books

While I love September and the onset of Autumn, there is also a feeling of sadness.  On the one hand, every beautiful day is a gift, for the next may bring cold weather, snow or sleet. So we cherish it, hanging on to each hour and minute. We take one more trip to the beach or mountains before packing up our summer paraphernalia for another season.

On the other hand, we know the clock is ticking, the leaves are falling, and winter will soon be here. It’s difficult to keep those thoughtstumblr_n169124Rsc1re1snbo1_500 from encroaching, even on the most blue-skied, sunshine-filled, dazzling day.

And so we feel just the slightest tinge of melancholy. Or maybe not. Maybe you are one of those people who love winter. You are waxing your skis, checking out the snowmobile, sharpening the skate blades in happy anticipation of those first, fat flakes of snow.

Not me. I’m airing my quilt, stocking up on hot chocolate, and loading my e-reader with books. I know what I’m doing this winter.

But in the meantime, there are wonderful sunny days ahead to enjoy and I don’t intend to let impending doom Winter spoil them. The Earth spins and each season has its turn. Maybe you favor one over the other, or maybe you take each one as it comes with its own special wonder.

Meantime, there are books.And I don’t even have to wait for Winter. I have a deck and a  comfy chair where I can watch the first leaves fall, the hummingbirds fill up for their annual migration, and the butterflies get drunk on the fermenting persimmons.

And read.




You can’t outwit nature

Two big projects completed this week! A high five to me, thank you, thank you very much.

Actually, the two were the Alpha and Omega of editing. I finally completed my line edits of a dear friend’s latest novel. I wanted to do a good job, so took my time and tried to be constructive.

At the same time, I was revising my own novel by incorporating suggestions from the person who edited it for me. I think I have it together, but I am letting it sit for a week or so before I re-read it and (if it is ready) send it off.

So, with those two jobs behind me, I turned my attention to the yard. Not the yard, actually, but visitors   to the yard. Which are squirrels and songbirds.

The squirrels found it much to easy to reach the suet by simply leaning over.

The squirrels found it much too easy to reach the suet by simply leaning over.

Believe me, they are the Alpha and Omega of guests. I have been spending way too much on suet cakes, which have been disappearing way too fast. Yep, squirrels. I tried about everything including stepping out on the deck and yelling “Thief!” at the top of my lungs. Which works for about 15 minutes.

I finally thought of something I hoped would work. I took one of Jim’s fishing poles and stuck it in the back, away from posts, trees, or anything else an enterprising squirrel could use to leap to his favorite treat. It is limber enough so that the squirrels (I hoped) couldn’t climb it, yet sturdy enough so even the woodpecker could get a purchase.

Seemed like a good idea. Alas...outwitted again.

Seemed like a good idea. Alas…outwitted again.

I was delighted when the birds found the new location within a day.

Not so elated when the squirrels found it, although it took them two days. I honestly don’t know how they managed to do it, but I saw one this morning dangling from the feeder and eating away to his hearts’ content.


Back to the drawing board.

It’s like writing. No matter how carefully we proof our work, those pesky squirrels (typos, grammar slips, plot holes) manage to ruin a perfectly good suet ball–er, manuscript. So that’s why we need a friendly editor.

Now if I can just figure out how to keep the squirrels from going fishing!



Balancing act

There are two things I love to do. One is writing. the other is working outside.

Lately, I wish I could discover something else to focus on.

Last week, I went to an island off the Georgia coast where I relaxed with family. My iPad inexplicably refused to pick up a signal (although no one else had any trouble getting on line). I took this as a sign to forget about email and Facebook and simply enjoy the hot days sunning, bathing, and shopping; and the evenings devoted to eating my fill of shrimp.

I came hope ready to tackle the yard and my rewrites.

Alas, “back home” we’d had 95-degree weather and no rain. My flowers were either dead or close to extinction. The grass crackled underfoot like walking on Wheaties. My blueberries resembled bunches of raisins. As if in defiance of the stunning heat, the hedges had thrust up new growth and looked like raggedy urchins in dire need of a haircut.

So there was that.

Then I opened up the edited ms.  To be fair, the woman who took on my novel and gave it her professional attention is right on with her comments and criticisms. I admit to vagaries of punctuation. I admit to discrepancies. I was prepared to dig in and correct all the places she had marked. That’s the easy part.

But it is harder to admit to the larger areas of character, plot and the mysterious labyrinth of foreshadowing without giving the whole story away. I am constantly going back to rewrite a paragraph or scene, then realizing it doesn’t work and rewriting it again. And again.

The more I work on it, the more convinced I am that the story is terrible, nonredeemable, and should be thrown in the trash.

That would be easy. All I have to do is tap the Delete button on my computer.

Then I re-read some of my own posts and remember that my mantra is perseverance. So I slogged on. Paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence.

This business of rewriting may be the hardest thing I have ever done. I keep telling myself that I have published with two different houses, and that one of my books is up for an award.

It’s just that I want this book to be better. Don’t we all want our next book to be better than the one before?

When it gets too frustrating and I want to scream and pull my hair out, I back off from the computer.

I go outside and work in the yard. So far, I have trimmed the hedges, mowed the front and back lawns–not of grass, but of weeds and buttercups, and watered the flowers.

Then I go back to revising.

There is something to be said about balance, but I think I already said it.






Taking a break

I guess Spring Break is officially over and everyone is back in school or back to work.

I don’t know how it is with everyone else, but here in North Carolina, Nature is popping out all over the place. I am working as hard as I can just to keep up. I realize now that although I did do some yard work last summer, with Jim gone the chores have increased. I am pleased to report that after some experimentation and studiously reading the operating manual, I managed to start the tractor. I drove it around the yard a few times to get the hang of it, then attached the wagon and toted several loads of wind-blown branches and limbs to the curb to be picked up by the city

I haven’t lowered the blades to mow yet, but after doing the back yard yesterday with the push mower, I have a feeling that is in my near future.

And after a trip to Atlanta, I realized that if anyone was going to wash the car, it would be me. Sitting under a maple tree for a few days left my nice white car covered with those little seed thingies that look a lot like worms. I was surprised to find they left a dirty imprint that had to be scrubbed off. No soap, rinse, dry, and you’re done.

Yes, my life has changed. A lot. I still cry. I still have times when I wonder if I am going to be able to make it alone. Then I realize that I can and that I am. I surprised my oldest son by accepting his invitation to spend Easter in Atlanta with him, my daughter-in-law, and grandson. It’s a six-hour trip and I did fine, thank you very much. I used to hate getting on and off the Interstate, worried I wouldn’t be able to get back on. Not rest areas, they’re super easy, but gas stations and restaurants. Now I wonder how I could have been such a wimp. I got gas and lunch. I no longer feel conspicuous eating alone.

My new-found courage falters when someone innocently asks how Jim is doing and I have to tell them he’s gone. I cleaned out clothes this morning but could not bear to throw away the hat he wore outside all last summer. I still think of something I want to tell him, then realize I can’t. People tell me this is natural. Some people tell me in time it won’t hurt so much and others tell me the pain never goes away.

So doing yard work helps, and visiting family helps.  And writing helps. I actually have an idea for a new story, but not until I finish editing the last one. I’m eager to get started. Right now I am imagining the characters, the setting, letting the ideas roll around in my brain. Pretty soon the characters will demand to tell their story, and I will sit down and let them use me as their conduit.

And my mourning break will be over.




Combating chaos

Summer and yard work — something that wasn’t synonymous for me until last year, when I noticed nature was taking over over back yard. Privet and both English ivy and its evil cousin poison ivy had crept in like Malcolm’s army. My tidy German soul took offense and I took up pruning shears to combat  it. I found I enjoyed making order out of chaos.

All last summer I chopped limbs and yanked up roots, no doubt confounding the trash men who came around every Monday morning to a new heap of black yard trash bags. I wore out several pairs of gloves and two pairs of rubber boots.

I didn’t finish the task, and started where I left off as soon as it got warm enough this year. It’s beginning to look like I never will be done, as along with the new pruning, there is the maintenance work where I have already chopped and weeded.

I have discovered there is something about using your body that shakes your mind loose. While working in the yard, I do a lot of writing — in my head. Scenes are played out, characters are given more layers.  I play with ideas for a new story or try out possible solutions to a plot line that has wandered out of control.

If you are stuck in your story and can’t see how to correct it, or if you are stuck completely and avoiding your computer (or legal pad, if you write your first draft by hand), let me suggest finding some task that uses brawn and not so much brain. You may not want to do yard work. Taking a long walk will do the trick just as well.

It doesn’t matter what activity you decide on, but it has to be outside the house, completely away from your writing environment.

Let your story flow freely through your mind.  Unleash the power of your subconscious. Explore possibilities without censoring them.

Then, when the aha! moment arrives, you can go back to your writing.

And bring order to the chaos of your manuscript.









The call of the…fig trees?

I must have spring fever. I can’t seem to settle down and write, although I am so nearly finished with the first draft that I can see me writing “The End.”

But blue skies and balmy temperatures lure me outdoors. Instead of revising paragraphs, I’ve been pruning trees. It took three days, but I topped all the fig trees to a height where I can pick the fruit before the squirrels get them later on this summer. I had to stand on a step stool and reach over my head, so it was slow going. Lots of rest time. I keep a lawn chair back there so I can sit and admire my progress.

I say fig trees, but it originally was one tree. Then Hurricane Hugo  came and laid it flat. There didn’t seem to be anything we could do about it, so it stayed that way. Eventually, the log took root in the soil and from it sprang a little forest of fig trees. These grew, as I mentioned, to a towering height that only squirrels could reach.

So I decided to cut back the brush that had grown up since Hugo’s visit and veiled from sight the extent of the new growth. Now that I have cleared the undergrowth and trimmed the trees it looks so inviting I plan on replacing my aluminum-and-web chair with a sturdy bench. I envision it as a bower, giving me shade to read under, and in time pluck a fig from its branches to enjoy along with my book. (You may notice I’m ignoring the accompanying mosquitoes and other creepy-crawlies. They don’t go along with my vision.)

But that’s in the future. Right now I need to get back to that other job that beckons and finish the darn book!

So do I work indoors or outside?

Maybe a little of both, letting the weather dictate my choices.

It’s all about balance.

Keep writing!


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