Sunday, September 28, 2008

Celebrations

Hi, everybody. Hope you had a great week and an even better weekend. Here we are looking October right in the face. Around here, October is a busy month what with Homecoming at my church, Goshen. That's a big deal for us and in four years we're going to have to have a really big deal since the church will be 200 years old in 2012. Doesn't that sound as if it's too far in the future to even think about? 2012. But you know what? That's only four years away. I hope somebody at church is getting ready to pull out all the stops and do some celebrating. And I doubly hope they're not waiting for me to be the one getting ready because I'm a last minute type person. I always think there will be more time next month or next year and then pretty soon, here it is and I haven't done half I needed to do. I want to be a plan ahead Ann, but I think I may be a last minute Ann instead.

Except I did come under the wire, very comfortably, with my new Shaker book, The Believer, before the deadline in November. That's a good thing to be ahead on. Now I just have to sit back and chew my fingernails while I wait to see what the people who read it next think. First my agent, and then my editor. Eventually some months down the road, I'm hoping a lot of you will be reading it. Next summer is what I've been told, but that sort of thing is subject to change, so we'll see.

Of course, I've read the book. So many times I might have lost proper perspective. I think it's a good story. I didn't go to sleep reading it even though I knew what happened. That's always good. Of course, that was during the editing portion. I wasn't sure what was going to happen or at least how it was going to happen before I wrote the last few chapters. I did have an idea of where I wanted my characters to go, but sometimes it's interesting seeing how they get there. And sometimes you have to change where they're going to end up a little because it doesn't work to try to force characters to do things they don't want to do. Not without figuring out a believable way to lead them down the road you want them to walk toward your ending.

Anyway I mailed off the book last week and now I'm missing those people I've been living with in my head. But I might need to let my character-creating brain rest a few days while I get some of the other tasks of writing and promoting done. I've got several booksignings and events coming up. That's always exciting. I'll be in WV for their Book Fest on October 11. At 10 a.m. that Saturday, I'll be speaking on "Writing about Shakers and Other Odd Characters." How I come up with my characters. That should be fun and maybe eye-opening for me since I'll have to put some thought into how my characters come to life inside my head. Then the Thursday after that, Oct. 16, I'll be doing a reading/talk and booksigning at Joseph-Beth's Booksellers in Lexington with my friend and fellow writer, Virginia Smith. Check out her books at www.virginiasmith.org. Her new book for Love Inspired, A Taste of Murder, will be hot off the press. She'll also have her Sister to Sister Book from Revell, Stuck in the Middle. You'll like Ginny. She has a knack for humor.

Later in the month, the Patriots will be having their annual Homecoming Celebration on October 24 and October 25. That's always fun. I love to listen to the guys sing and it's fun talking to people when they come by the product table. Plus on that Saturday, October 25, I'll be in New Albany, Indiana at the Heaven Help Us Christian Bookstore doing a signing and talk during their five year anniversary celebration. I'll be there from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sounds like a busy day and great fun. Then in November I'll be heading to South Carolina for a couple of signings at Barnes & Noble in Greenville and Spartanburg. You can always check out my schedule on my website, www.annhgabhart.com for details.

So I'm looking forward to a lot of celebrating in the next few weeks. Actually last Friday I was in Bardstown, KY at a Reading Celebration for some young readers at the Nelson County Library. I was part of a row of authors that the young people had the opportunity to meet. I picked the spot beside Woody the dachshund who is quite a prolific little writer. Guess who the kids wanted to talk to most? It wasn't me. But Leigh Ann, Woody's mom, is great with the kids and I enjoyed watching her make all the kids feel special when they stopped by to see Woody whether they bought a book or not. And of course I picked that seat because I love dogs.

Then Yolantha Pace sat down on the other side of me and totally overwhelmed me with her beautiful spirit. She's a writer and poet who performs her poems. I'm hoping I'll get to see her do a reading sometime because she doesn't just read. She dances as she reads. So she's a writer and poet and dancer. And missionary. She has a heart for the Haitian children and had made beautiful prayer books and tissue holders and Bible covers to raise money for these children in desperate need. I was so blessed to have her sit by me and share some of her experiences.

So it was great fun sitting between Woody, the dog, and Yolantha, the dancing missionary. Made me feel as if I should be doing something a little more special. But you know, we're all who we are and the Lord gives us each our individual gifts. The Lord just wants us to be faithful with the talents we've been given. So we laughed and enjoyed visiting with the young people who came in to claim their reading rewards as we all celebrated the fun of reading and writing.

I hope all of you have plenty to celebrate this week. You know even when nothing special is happening, we still have plenty to celebrate. We're all gifted with dozens of everyday blessings every week. Friends and family. Church families. Food on our tables. Shelter in a storm. School for our children. Dogs and cats to pet. Babies who smile at us for no reason. Sunshine and rain. People who like to read. That's one of my best blessings. You all take care of yourselves this week and enjoy each day.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Wednesday Smiles

Hey everybody! Can you believe it is already the last week of September? You blink twice and summer's gone. I'm afraid to blink again. It might be Christmas and I wouldn't have those grandbabies a present under the tree. I sometimes have this little mantra going under my breath. "Get organized. Get organized." Maybe I should change it to "Chill out. Chill out." The true fun of Christmas is never under the tree anyway. Of course I'm not sure you could convince the grandbabies of that at their tender age. They get pretty excited about Christmas morning. Thank goodness their parents take care of that excitement time. But I do remember how much fun it was when mine were little.

So since time is flying by and it's Wednesday, I decided it was time for a few smiles. First I'll share what one of the ladies who came by the Patriots' booth at NQC told me. She had bought one of their little flag pins and was fishing in her purse for a dollar bill. She asked me if I knew a woman's definition of a miracle. I'm sure I looked totally clueless, so she let me in on the secret. It's when a woman finds what she's looking for in her first dive down into her purse. Whether you agree with her definition of a miracle or not, one thing is sure. She didn't experience anything close to a miracle looking for that dollar bill, but on the fourth or fifth dive, she finally found it. She had to work for that pin.

Here are some zany words of advice and a few definitions that make entirely too much sense.

  • Plan to be spontaneous - tomorrow.
  • On the other hand, you have different fingers. (This one's my favorite.)
  • Mosquito - An insect that makes you like flies better.
  • Dust - Mud with the juice squeezed out.
  • Yawn - An honest opinion openly expressed. (Hope you weren't yawning while you read my book.)
  • Gossip - A person who will never tell a lie if the truth will do more damage.
  • Adult - A person who has stopped growing at both ends and is now growing in the middle. (Ouch! I could have left that one off, couldn't I?)

Hope something makes you smile every day. Better yet every hour. No, not every minute. That would just be too much. You'd feel like a beauty pageant contestant and your smiling muscles would wear out.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Characters and the Things They Do

Hi everybody. I'm a little early this weekend, but Sunday promises to be busy. Besides catching up my blog is a good excuse not to be peeling apples the way I should be doing. That wind last weekend blew bushels off my trees. I sneaked over to my neighbor's house and left a box full on her porch. I'm thinking about finding somebody else to give another bushel to. Then I can get back to figuring out how I'm going to get the rest of them picked and canned or given away. They're nice apples and we've been eating them fast as we can. Us and the deer. My mama deer has started to feel so at home out in my yard now that she just looks irritated if I come outside before she's through eating. She'll run away if I insist, but she doesn't really want to. That bodes ill for her when hunting season starts. Not from me, but from some hunter in the area.

But in spite of the deer's appetite - and my dog, Dub, eats them too - there are still a lot of apples left. I'm hoping no more near hurricane force winds come along to knock them off before I can get some of them picked.

I talked to a bookclub in Washington state last night. They were just getting started with their bookclub and were having their second meeting. I have always wanted to be part of a bookclub, but now I'm not sure I'd have time to get the books read before the meetings. Still what could be more fun than reading a book and then talking about it with other readers? My sisters and Mom and I do that sometimes. We don't always agree on which books are best, but it's fun talking about the different ones we read. My oldest sister has been keeping a list of the books she's read for years. I started doing that a few years ago, but I wish I had done it forever the way she has just so I could keep up with what I've read. Lately I haven't read enough fiction. A lot of history, but not so much fiction for the fun of it.

Stephen King says if you don't read, you shouldn't try to write. And I can't argue with that. I tell the young wanna-be writers I meet that the best thing they can do to prepare themselves to write is read. I don't think they believe me, but I know it was true for me. I'm thankful for the years when I was a teen and had extra reading time to let the words of other writers bury themselves in my brain while I absorbed how they managed to put together those words to make a story that entranced me. I am going to carve out more reading time somehow. I need those fresh words of other writers to keep my own writing fresh.

What I'm really wanting to write about tonight is one of the questions a bookclub member asked me last night. She wanted to know why one of the characters in my book, The Outsider, had done what she did. Why I let what happened to the character happen. That's a good question. I'm sure if you've read very many books, you've read a story where the character did something you didn't like. I certainly have. I've read books where I wanted to tear out the last chapter because I wanted a different ending. But as long as the author can make me believe that yes, that is what happened whether I like it or not, I'm okay with it. And that's what I try to do with my stories. The Outsider is set in 1812. Life was different then. Fevers were deadly. Women had few options for independent living. Most religions had strict moral codes. War was as much a struggle against the elements as against the enemy. I wanted to keep my characters within the history of the era.

But the real truth of why any of my characters do whatever they do is because that's just what they do. When I'm writing, the characters' lives unfold in my mind. At times I point them in this or that direction, but once I get them going along my story road, sometimes I'm simply along for the ride. I might have a general idea of where they're headed. Especially my historical books like The Outsider where I must fit my story into a history timeline. But I didn't have that with my Hollyhill books. Story ideas developed through Jocie and the other characters as I wrote. I didn't plan Wes saying he was from Jupiter until he said so. I didn't plan Aunt Love's story until I was writing it. So far my characters have come to life enough in my head that I've been able to do that. That's not to say I don't do a little guiding as I go along to keep from getting completely off track with my story. I suppose it's a delicate balance letting your characters tell you their stories and letting them take over your story. And you know, after I wrote that sentence, I'm not sure which way is best. What do you think?

Of course, every writer has his or her own method and way to write. What works for one might not work for another. And if I had wanted to, I could have told Wes that saying he was from Jupiter was just too crazy, but the story wouldn't have been as much fun and you wouldn't have gotten to know Wes nearly as well if I'd done that. And what happens in The Outsider fits the time and the history and the characters. I hope I was able to make any of you who may have read it believe that. That's the real trick - to make up a story that readers believe.

I'm available to talk to bookclubs anytime, so if you pick one of my books to read and would like me to give your club a call during your meeting, just contact me from my website, http://www.annhgabhart.com/.

Hope you have a great Sunday. I might tell another Quartet Convention story on Wednesday.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Blessing of the Dragonfly

Okay I told you I'd share this story from the NQC. I just hope I can do it justice. It brought tears to my eyes when my husband's friend from Canada told it to us.

Jason and my husband, Darrell, met at a singing school some years ago and hit it off because they are both bass singers and enjoy talking. Jason comes down to the National Quartet Convention every year and comes by to talk with us at the Patriots' booth in the Exhibition Hall. This year as he was leaving, he told us this story.

He is one of several brothers and sisters. Jason has been a Christian for a long time, and so when his father who had multiple health problems became ill with what proved to be his final illness, Jason told him he should bring each of his children to his bedside to ask them pointblank if they knew Jesus. Jason's father was a strong Christian who had no doubt of where he would be spending eternity after he drew his final breath. So the father encouraged each of his children to make a decision for the Lord. Then with his body wasted away by various diseases, he died.

At his funeral, the preacher looked down at the casket and compared the man's body there to an ugly bug. Then he said that bug had split open and the man's spirit had risen out of it like a beautiful, graceful dragonfly. That dragonfly was on his way to heaven to be with the Lord. Jason said they were outside at the gravesite when suddenly a dragonfly appeared and slowly flew past his mother and then circled around through the gathering of mourners as if saying goodbye to each of them before it simply disappeared.

But that wasn't the end of the story. There was more. The father had a grandson whom he loved and had led to the Lord by his example of faithfulness and his witness. This grandson got married in an outdoor wedding some time after the grandfather passed away. The photographer took numerous pictures of the wedding party as is customary with weddings. When he showed the grandson the picture of the newlywed couple, he apologized for the dragonfly that he hadn't noticed in the corner of the picture and offered to airbrush it out. The grandson had not noticed the dragonfly on his wedding day, but treasured the picture that showed it there with him. An unseen blessing.

Time passed. Jason's mother died and they buried her beside his father. On the day of her funeral, a person who lived next door to the gravesite commented on how many dragonflies had been in the area the day before. The person had never heard the story of the dragonfly at Jason's father's funeral and so was amazed when Jason shared it with her. She said she had always noticed an unusual amount of dragonflies around his father's grave.

That's the story as Jason told it. Some things can't be explained with logic, but Jason had no trouble accepting with faith what could not be explained. The appearance of that dragonfly made his family feel loved and comforted.

So here's a quote to go along with the story. While you might not think the appearance of a dragonfly qualifies as a miracle, it definitely qualifies as love.

"Where there is great love, there are always miracles." ...Willa Cather

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Meeting People and Hearing Stories at the NQC

What a week! We were at the National Quartet Convention every night and didn't get home until the wee hours of the morning. I'm barely awake now, so hope what I'm writing is making sense. I didn't hear much singing since we stayed out in the Exhibition Hall all week at the Patriot Quartet's booth so we could meet and greet people. Thanks to all of you who came by to say hello and maybe take some music or reading material home with you. It was extra nice of those of you who bought my books to give to someone on your gift list. I love getting books for Christmas or for my birthday which just happens to be tomorrow. I'm getting older very soon. But one of the guys who came by the booth had some advice for me. He said a little old lady (no, I don't think he was talking about me!!) came up to him and looked way up at him since he's so tall. She poked him in the chest and told him age was mind over matter. That if you didn't mind, it didn't matter. So guess I'll try to be in that camp.

Actually ever since I lost my sister-in-law in a traffic accident twenty-seven years ago, I've welcomed with celebration every birthday I have. Because I know Joy would have liked to have had a lot more birthdays. She was the mother of three girls and nine months pregnant with a little boy when the back gate flew off a cattle trailer, hit a pickup truck and killed that man whose wife was also expecting a baby and then that truck hit the truck Joy was riding in head on. Joy's friend, who was driving her to the doctor, wasn't hurt, but Joy and her baby died. This happened on September 12, three days before my birthday. All this time later, it still colors my birthday with sadness. We never forget those we love. We carry them forever in our heart and our memories. And ever since I've buckled my seatbelt every time I get in a car.

I hadn't planned to write about Joy tonight, but as I said, I always remember her in a special way at this time of the year. She had so much fun. Loved to laugh and loved babies and was a heck of a softball player.

Back to the NQC, I'm going to be sharing some stories from the people who came by to talk to me last week. One guy had a remarkable story that I will probably tell you next Sunday or maybe on Wednesday. It will give you goosebumps and maybe make tears come to your eyes. But I need to think about it before I write it down so that I can tell it in the best way possible.

I really enjoy meeting people at the NQC because they come from all over to hear the singing. I talked to lots of people from Ohio and Illinois and quite a few Canadians. I talked to Gospel music fans from California, Tennesee, Georgia, Alabama, Missouri, Wisconsin, and even Maine. The Maine lady said she lived about as far to the northeast as you could get. A 17 hour drive. She was a minister and she and her husband were taking a trip to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. There were also people from North and South Carolina, Louisiana, a lot from Texas. They were worried about Ike flooding their homes. And of course, Kentucky. I've probably missed a few states. So if you talked to me and I left your state out, let me know. And some of you had already read or had bought my new book, The Outsider to read. That was really exciting for me. Then you were kind enough to come back and buy some more books. I hope all of you who did buy books enjoy the stories. And that the rest of you will think about getting my books later on to give them a try.

Last night when I got home at midnight, I had to do a little cooking for our family reunion today. How come everything always has to happen on the same weekend? We had a good turnout, but we missed my aunt Margaret who passed away last month. She always enjoyed being with us and sharing her memories at our reunions. She hosted it nearly every year when we first started having the reunion twenty some years ago. She always ordered up perfect weather when we were at her house. Every time I have it, it's either 95 degrees in the shade or raining. Today my sister was the hostess. It didn't rain, but Ike sent us such gusty winds, we had to hang onto our plates. That chicken from Kroger was trying to take wing again. But we had fun looking at old pictures and playing some corn hole games. I didn't win.

Hope you have a loving family and that you enjoy getting together with them on a regular basis. I am blessed with a beautiful family and with all of you friends out there.

Talk to you Wednesday.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Remembering 9/11

Today is September 11, 2008. 9/11. Seven years ago we all watched in horror as terrorists used our own airplanes to attack our country. The sight of that airplane flying into one of the Twin Towers and then later, the towers collapsing while firemen and policemen were trying to help people get out is something none of us can ever forget. So we do remember. We continue to feel the horror of that day. We grieve for those who died on the ground and in the air. We remember the heroic courage of the men and women on the last plane who kept the terrorists from reaching their target even as we wanted it to be like a movie where they would have landed safely. But it wasn't a movie. It was real and so we grieve while we remember those who died and keep praying for the families and our country.

I'm at the National Quartet Convention this week with my husband who sings with the Patrioit Quartet. We were at the Quartet Convention in 2001 as well. The arena is next to the Louisville Airport where there is a hub for UPS planes and usually planes are taking off over your head all the time when you're out in the parking area. But that week, no planes took off. The skies were silent. And our hearts grieved.

I chose a quote for this week from Sir Winston Churchill who led England through World War II.

"All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom; justice; honor; duty; mercy; hope."

We remember with gratitude in our hearts the many servicemen who have carried out their duties with honor to preserve our freedom and let us continue to hope.

God bless America!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Creating Characters with my Friends

Hi, everybody. Well, I had my book event at the local library today and some friends and family were sweet enough to show up and listen to me talk about my writing and how I come up with characters. That was sort of a warm-up for my talk in West Virginia in October when I'm speaking on "Writing about Shakers ... and Other Odd Characters." I think I'll need to do some more practicing before then.

I did enjoy the talk today. I used to be painfully shy when I was a child, but I outgrew it. Now I love to talk to people one on one and I like to speak. I still sometimes get a few butterflies, but then I just go out and have fun sharing about my writing and trying to get a chuckle out of my listeners now and again. I can understand why stand-up comedians stay in the business. It's fun being able to make people laugh.

Of course the people at my event today were friends who looked kindly upon me and I knew they weren't going to boo and hiss no matter what I said. My favorite part of any talk is the question and answer time. I used to go to a lot of schools and the kids would come up with the most fun questions. Adults sometimes have to be jump started to get them to ask questions. But today we got started talking about the Shakers. I think some of the people listening probably knew more of the history than I did. So that's when I shut up and listened. That's the best way to learn new things.

After I talked we did a fun exercise of creating a character together by brainstorming a bit. It wasn't long before we had a young woman named Peggy (nickname for Margaret - somebody explain to me how that makes sense) who was 25 in 1941 and her fiance had gone to France in WW II and been killed. She had red hair and was Irish American. Her parents came over from Ireland and settled in New York where she was born, but then they moved to Tyrone here in Anderson County. Some wanted her to be expecting. Others thought that was going too far for 1941. And so we were able to see how all of us could have taken the same 25 year old woman named Peggy and come up with a totally different person who could live a totally different story. As I tell people who tell me they have a wonderful idea for this or that story. It's not the idea so much. Although having a good idea is great. But it's how the writer develops the idea.

I read once that there are only about ten original plot lines. Don't ask me what they are. I don't think anybody wants to tell!!! But that writers have used those basic plot lines in thousands and thousands of ways to write entertaining and different stories. So maybe someday I'll write a story about Peggy. Of course I might have to change her age and where she lived and even her name. I never liked the name Peggy that much and my characters, at least the main characters have to have a name I can like. But I do plan to write a book about WW II after I finish my Shaker books.

The work on my new Shaker book is progressing. But next week won't see much working time for me. It's National Quartet Convention time in Louisville, Kentucky, and the Patriot Quartet have a booth there in the exhibition hall. It's fun meeting all the other singers and gospel music lovers, but it doesn't leave much time for home stuff. So if you come to the Quartet Convention come by and say hi.

And oh yeah, I went out surfing on the net to see what was happening with my book, The Outsider, and came across a bestseller list for Christian fiction. What do you know - my book was on the list! It was number 20 out of 20, but it was still on the list. That was neat. I've never been on any kind of bestseller list before, at least to my knowledge. And half the credit surely goes to the beautiful girl on the cover. Even if you haven't read the book yet, you can take my word for it that she is just the perfect Gabrielle. It's a very eye-catching cover. Now if I could just get my local Wal-Mart or Kroger store to stock some of the books. That's the closest thing we have to a bookstore around here.

Still it's not very far to Frankfort where the great people at Corinth Christian Bookstore carry my books and are very supportive. Plus they have a beautiful store and bend over backwards to help people find what they need. Hope you have a great Christian bookstore near you. There's just something different about walking into a store where everything inside has something to do with the Lord. It's not exactly like being in church, but it's not far from it.

A special thanks to everybody who has entered my book giveaway so far and who have said they enjoyed my newsletter. If you would like to add your name to my e-mail list for an occasional newsletter - say every two or three months - just go my website and send me an e-mail. That's how you can enter my contest too. I'll be drawing for the winner of a complete autographed set of my Hollyhill books, The Scent of Lilacs, Orchard of Hope and Summer of Joy.

Last of all, but certainly not least, I've enjoyed hearing from you after you got the newsletter and also the comments people have posted here. That's the best thing about doing a newsletter is hearing from some of my friends.

May your cup so overflow with blessings this week that you end up drinking from your saucer of life. With joy.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Truth or Fiction

I did an interview yesterday with a writer who said he never read fiction. He didn't like fiction. He wanted to read true stories and obviously thought fiction a waste of time. And so he asked me why anyone would want to read fiction. What is the purpose of reading made up stuff? I said of course, entertainment. Reading is fun, and being caught up in a story is great. I told him fiction could sometimes be truer than non-fiction in the way it touched the reader. You can be the characters in a fiction book in a way that you can't in a book about a real person. That person has already lived his story and you're just along for the ride in the back seat watching the real events happen. But a fiction story - that's different. You can jump right inside that character and live the story along with him or her. You're not just riding along. You're driving. So what's your answer? Why do you like to read fiction? Or do you?

Here's a couple of quotes I found in John Bartlett's Familiar Quotations that give a viewpoint on fiction that I can go along with.

The first is by William Makepeace Thackeray from The English Humorists (1853).

"Fiction carries a greater amount of truth in solution than the volume which purports to be all true."

The second is Ernest Hemingway quoted in Hemingway: The Writer as Artist by Carlos Baker.

"All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer."

And so that's what I can aspire to - writing a book that lets my readers own it in their hearts.

Have a great rest of the week.