I finally completed a tablecloth I started embroidering 60 years ago. It is a stamped cross-stitch. Counted cross-stitch didn’t become a “thing” until much later.

I forget now why I bought the cloth and embroidery silk. Maybe I was bored. Maybe I wanted something for my “hope chest.” I do remember Mom buying it for me and I lugged it off to college. And forgot about it.

Then I graduated and got married. I dug it out and worked on it a little, but then the babies came and I put it up again.

It survived several moves. Every few years I’d “discover” it and add a few more stitches until something more interesting came up.

And so it went. Until I cleaned closets last Spring and found it again. I’d used some of the thread for other projects and almost threw it away. But then I searched online for thread and found the very same company I’d bought from all those decades ago and the colors still matched. So I ordered the skeins I needed. When I received my little package, I sat down and started embroidering. (And binge-watching “Ozark”.)

This week I tied off the last stitch.

 

Yes,  I hear you saying, “What has this to do with writing?”

The answer is: Perseverance.

Do you have a story you started years ago and stuck in the back of a desk drawer or in a box under your bed? Do you bring it out every once in awhile and decide it’s too much trouble, it will take too long to finish, you’ve run out of words? And put it back again?

Maybe it needs revision. (I had to pick out some areas and start again because I’d used the wrong color.) Maybe the pattern isn’t clear and you don’t know what it’s going to look like at the end. Maybe you’re just too busy living life to sit down and pick up the needle–I mean, pen.

But it nags at you and you can’t quite let it go. So you work on it for awhile and then you put it away.

And then one day you decide to just finish the d**n thing. And when you do…you’ve become a writer. You persevered.

Congratulations!

 

 

 

 

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Feeling validated

Well, whoop-de-do! My latest book, “Riverbend,” got a 5-star review in the September issue of Ind’Tale magazine. Naturally, I want to exploit this in the nicest way possible, which is to say putting it on Facebook.

But Facebook reaches only so many people. I’m sure that you (if you are a serious author) are always seeking ways to promote your book because frankly, we are the only ones who will.

I wanted the world (or those who don’t subscribe to Ind’Tale, which is a great on-line magazine, by the way) or follow me on Facebook to see the good news. But how?

I have often wondered how authors get those glowing editorial reviews on their Amazon book pages. Did the magazines and newspapers submit them? Common sense told me the New York Times has better things to do.

So like all curious people the world over, I Googled my question. And duh, you can do it yourself. Go to Author Central, click on the book page you want the review to appear on, and lo, there is a form you can fill out.  Look on the left side where it says “editorial” and click on “add.” You have to do it for both Kindle and print editions.

I didn’t copy-past the entire review as it was too long, and the rules say if you are copying another’s words, you should limit it to two sentences. So I picked the most glowing.

If you are not on Author Central at Amazon, why on Earth are you not? It’s another tool in your kit. Maybe not everybody visiting your book page will click on your link, but those who do get to see every book you’ve written, links to your bio, blogs, videos, or anything else you want to add.

I promised long ago to share any insights I have into the writing game, and sadly to say, promotion is a big part of it. Some of us are not good at self-promotion as we think it is tantamount to the bragging or parents scolded us for. We need to get over that notion.

You wrote a book. Now get out there and sell it.

 

 

Disaster preparedness

I love Nature as much as anybody: sunsets, beaches, mountain vistas …

But lately, Nature has been a little too upclose and personal. Ask anyone from Texas. Or Mexico.

If I had to pick between a hurricane and an earthquake, I’d pick neither, thank you very much.

It looks as if we’re getting something, though. A full-fledged hurricane or maybe some strong wind and rain. Not sure of Irma’s path. At one time predicted to roll over us, now maybe to the west, but wait, that could change.

So I went to Walmart yesterday to fill my gas tank, and get a few staples just in case. I remember Hurricane Hugo and the ensuing week without power. At that time we had a generator and lots of propane goodies like a lantern and stove. I no longer have any of those because I didn’t know how to use them and since Jim isn’t here to do it (or show me) I got rid of them, congratulating myself on the storage space I was saving.

I wish he were here now, not necessarily to fire up a propane lantern, but to talk me out of my misgivings about this storm. He was always  calm, but methodical. He knew how to get ready for an emergency without scaring me to death.

So anyway, I got the car gassed up and started looking for a battery for my heavy-duty lantern-type flashlight. I went to just about every store I could think of and finally went to an auto parts store. The clerk there told me they used to carry lantern batteries (the big, square 6-V kind) but now everyone had gone to LED lights.

So I bought one. And two packs of AAA batteries to back up the ones that came with it.

I also bought lamp oil for the two antique oil lamps in the den. I fired one up and it still works, so it’ll be all right if the smoke doesn’t drive me out of the house.

Food? Breakfast bars, some tinned meat, another loaf of bread, a big jar of peanut butter and a box of crackers. I figure I can pop up some corn ahead of time and put it in a bag. Won’t be able to brew coffee, but I can make cold-brewed tea.

And of course, wine. And books. Which I will read by the light of the new LED lamp or kerosene lamp or my flashlight. Because how else do you pass the time with no TV?

Of course, I am figuring some days without power if the wind is strong enough. If it is stronger than knocking down a few trees and takes my roof with it, all of the above is moot.

Maybe none of this will happen, but I’d rather be prepared. In 1999, Jim prepared for Y2K by stocking up on all the aforementioned things that I just got rid of. No electronic meltdown happened as predicted, but we did get 16 inches of snow New Year’s Day, almost unheard of in the N.C. Piedmont. And the power was out for a week. So it all came in handy and he couldn’t wipe the smirk off his face for a month.

So wherever Irma heads, be careful out there. And be prepared.

 

 

 

 

To this point, I’ve considered historical fiction as beginning with Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear and ending with All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. I read all of Auel’s books, but confess I never read the World War I classic.

However, I notice a change creeping up on me like gray hair and arthritic knees. The big thing now is World War II novels, such as All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and Kristin Hanna’s The Nightingale. If you haven’t read these two novels, stop right now and get them from your library, download them on your Kindle, or do whatever you have to do. I’ll wait.

These are both marvelous books that take you right into the war and its effects on those who lived through it … or didn’t. But as I read them, I wondered, “How is it that these are labeled historical fiction?”

Isn’t history events that happened before you were born?

I haven’t been coy about my age, but evidently I am older than I thought. You see, I remember World War II. Not as a historian would view it, but through a child’s eyes. I knew there was a war going on, I just didn’t exactly know what a war was.

Thank God for that.

To me, war meant Victory gardens, and a scarcity of certain commodities like sugar. I knew sugar was scarce because my mother complained bitterly when she was ready to make jam from the berries she grew along the side of our vegetable garden and couldn’t buy any, even with her ration book.

War meant saving bacon grease in a tin can, and rolling string into balls. It meant carefully peeling the tin foil from its paper backing after unwrapping a stick of chewing gum and saving it.

War meant seeing beautiful wrought iron fences disappear from the lawns of stately homes and drawing the shades down at night so not one glimmer of light could escape.

These were minor and forgettable things compared to what others went through. But we didn’t know about the others. Not then. We didn’t know how blessedly safe we were.

But war  touched many other children: children shot, starved, gassed. The novels I mentioned brought this home to me. We know war is evil, but until a skilled writer brings our emotions to the fore, we can’t really understand what it is like. Hanna and Doerr put us in the picture, and after reading their novels, we can’t say we don’t understand any longer.

And still it goes on. And on. Korea, Vietnam, Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria…

I would love some day to know that all wars belong in the historical category. I know I won’t live to see it, but I hope my great-grandchildren will.

And they will read the stories and thank God such madness has ended.

 

 

 

 

The Kitchen Table

The theme this week for the group, Upbeat Authors is ‘Places you’ve found inspiration for stories’. As you can imagine it’s a theme that is seductive in it’s range. I thought of places I’ve lived, places I’ve hiked and places I’ve worked -all have sparked ideas but the one place that has been a constant place back to my earliest memories has been the kitchen table. It has always been a meeting place in my family. I remember sitting at or under the table listening to my mother and female relatives. It seems men were in the living room or out in the yard.

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But in the kitchen, at the table, sat the matriarchs and the sisters, cousins and daughters. Best friends and even the Avon lady gathered at the kitchen table -there were plates of cookies or a coffee cake and ruling all was the fountain of elixir –the MrCoffee machine fueling the words. All news, gossip, raves, rants and sorrows were shared over coffee at the kitchen table.

Memories spilled from the circle of women. Mom and Gram with my sisters and me shared the latest letters from aunts in Ohio and D.C. After school girlfriends and homework littered the table while dreams and crushes were shared. My family was definitely populated with more women than men and yet, this oddly gave the men more power. They ruled from their place at the head of the table but it was only for quickly eaten meals. Suppers were times when we listened to tales of bravado and masculine work dramas, while my mother sat silent eating her supper of dry toast and black coffee. We never questioned her diet, it was why she was thin and pretty. Suppers were times of extremes and their memories provide tension and black moments in my writing.

But the rest of the time, the kitchen tables of my life had more healthy, happy times. Scrabble games with Gram and Mom enveloped me and my sisters in fits of giggles. I learned some words and combinations sounded funny, their music was joyful. Even at the end of my Grandmother’s life a gift of a can of baked beans from Harris Teeter sent her into peals of laughter. Her last name was Harris and the Harris Teeter brand caused her to lose it, the contagious laughter leaving us gasping for air and wiping away tears. I think this love of the sound of words made me fall in love with poetry.

Listening to stories and memories around the kitchen table. It was the throne of matriarchy in my family. So much of my life was filtered through the gatherings at the table. So many old stories became the spark of a story that made me wonder ‘what if?’ The kitchen table in my life became the opening line for so much of my life and what I write. Certainly every poem ever published bore circular fee cup stains from the kitchen table. #UpbeatAuthors

Family secrets

Secrets and lies. Every family has them. Events are omitted purposefully from the family history, questionable relatives are white-washed, stories are half-told or not at all.

This makes for great reading. We want to know why and who and how. We cheer the plucky heroine as she unravels the mysteries of the past to explain the present.

I’ve been playing with writing our family history. I say playing because, like the tablecloth I’ve been cross-stitching for 50 years or more, I pick it up and put it down again, leaving it for months at a time. I could tell the story with no trouble. It’s what I put in and what I leave out that makes me give up and go to something else.

There are amusing anecdotes that come easily. But how do I write the sometimes horrendous events that also make our family who we are? Does posterity really want to know? Do they need to know? Or should some secrets stay buried until they are pushed so deep that no one remembers?

It’s easier when you are writing about fictitious characters. They can be as angelic or evil as our imaginations can paint them. Their stories hurt no one except other fictitious characters. And as the author of their imaginary lives, we can heal them with our words.

But in real life, the truth can hurt. It changes how we feel about not just our forebears, but about ourselves. If they are not who we thought they were, then we are not who we thought we were.

So I write a few pages and then come to a stopping point when I realize I don’t really want to include some things. I wrestle with the necessity for telling the whole truth or not telling the story at all. I hope some day I will be brave enough to include the ugly as well as the noble.

It’s much easier to write fiction.

 

 

And the winner is…

Nature is trying to kill me.

I don’t mean tornadoes or erupting volcanoes or  tsunamis, or any other horrific events. My demise will be slow and tortuous. My enemies are chiggers, hornets, fire ants, wasps, and poison ivy.

Not that they are lethal in themselves. Except maybe fire ants. I hate fire ants and can see no Earthly good in their existence except to provide snacks for guinea hens. I have spent the summer putting poison on their nests, only to see another pop up, or after a good rain, as many as 20 new nests. It gets discouraging, but I can’t give up because they would gleefully sting me to death if they had the chance. I know it and they know it. So the battle for survival continues. Image result for poison ivy

There is a hornet’s nest in a bush in front of  the house. I accidentally discovered it when trimming the bushes. A swarm of hornets flew out and chased me across the yard. They did sting my left hand, which swelled up to the point I had difficulty pulling my glove off. I’ve avoided that bush ever since. I’m afraid to spray the nest because I think they will rush to defend it and this time it won’t be just my hand that gets stung.

After my first bout with poison ivy I learned to recognize the plant by counting. “Leaflets three, let it be; leaflets five, let it thrive.” But it is more difficult to recognize the vines, which also can give you a bad case of itchy, oozing sores.  I’m just sayin’ there are several types of viney plants in the part of my yard that used to be a jungle of privet, honeysuckle, poison ivy, cat brier, and the English ivy my husband planted not knowing that while ornamental up North, it is an invasive species not unlike kudzu in the South. I can’t tell the difference when  I’m uprooting vines. So I pull them all and pray.

I know when I’ve been careless when I feel my skin begin to burn. Then the blisters come, but I must be getting immune because they don’t last as long as they used to. So score a mini-victory for me.

It’s a constant battle, but I have a feeling that in the long run, nature will win. She is more tenacious and has more weapons at her command, and they will no doubt still be stinging and biting long after I am gone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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