Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Reasons for Wonder

--Now that I've figured out how to add pictures to my blog and have the faster internet service to do so without it being like pulling teeth, I want to put a picture everytime I come by to talk to you. Even if the picture doesn't have a thing to do with anything I'd thought about writing. It's a nice picture though. Don't you think? And maybe I'll just talk about it anyway. Or about picture taking in general.

--I love taking pictures. Have ever since I was ten and got my first camera. I'm beginning to think my life began at ten. That's when I really jumped into the joy of reading and started writing my first novel. Maybe I thought I could illustrate my stories too. Not really. I just thought it was great fun to take pictures. My first camera was a simple little camera with those round flashbulbs you had to stick on for flash pictures. I saved up my money from birthdays and farm chores to buy film, the flashbulbs, and processing. I did mostly black and white film outside because color film and flashbulbs cost too much. Those black and white photos are still crisp and clear all these years later. The film had twelve pictures.

--When you just have twelve picture opportunities, you get choosy on what you want to shoot. At least you'd think I would have, but guess what was my favorite subject? Dogs, of course. My dogs didn't complain about smiling for the camera the way my sisters did. Now I have a digital camera with a memory card that will hold seven hundred pictures give or take a dozen. Not only that I get to review the shots right away and can hit the delete on the ones that make me look fat. Just kidding. I'm taking the pictures, so it's everybody else who has to worry about how they look. I did mess up and get my husband a camera last Christmas and so I'm appearing in a few more pictures now. Of course my favorite subject these days is grandkids. And dogs and wildflowers and sunrises on the beach.

--The picture above was taken on a vacation trip a couple of years ago. I love walking on the beach as the sun comes up. Actually I love walking on the beach any time of the day. There's something so peaceful about the water rushing in and out and the birds flying overhead or running along the edge of the waves to see what the waves may have brought them for breakfast. If you've ever walked on the beach I'll bet you're hearing the sound of those birds as you read this. Then another walker will come by sometimes with a toddler in tow and I get to witness the little boy or girl run toward the waves, rejoicing in the exciting wonder of the ocean. It's a wonder some of us never lose when we get to walk on the beach at sunrise. Or in the mountains or look at wildflowers or see a new baby. So many reasons for wonder. So many reasons to take pictures.

--Hope you have reasons for wonder and that you have pictures to remind you of that wonder. Maybe I'll come up with a picture about writing next time. But don't you think that a writer has to develop and nourish her sense of wonder so that she can tell her stories? Or his. The Saint Augustine quote below made me think. Perhaps people are the greatest wonder of all and aren't people what stories are mostly about?
  • “The three great elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of outer ocean on a beach.” - Henry Beston

  • "Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the oceans, at the circular motions of the stars, and pass by themselves without wondering." - Saint Augustine

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Forgetting the Writer and Living the Story

--This was my aunt's typewriter that is now mine and has an honored spot in my office. My aunt took a secretarial course at one time and enjoyed learning to type and do shorthand. She was like a granny to me and my sisters and I especially always had fun going to her house and getting to type on her typewriter. Perhaps that's where the initial seed to someday be a writer got planted in my head. Of course I thought it would be fun to be a secretary and take down dictation with all those little squiggly marks, too. But I didn't just think it would be fun to be a writer. I knew I was going to write. Being read was optional. Something I was definitely going to shoot for, but first came the writing. I'm thankful for readers now. Very! It's great fun to write stories that other people bring to life in their imaginations.
--I got a nice compliment from a reader the other day. Since I have always lived in this rural small town area, I can get some interesting comments on my writing from people who have known me all my life. The local folk don't quite know how to take me as a writer. A lot of them feel like writers should be somebody off somewhere living the good life and not a farm girl out walking her dogs or picking beans or buying groceries or whatever. I understand completely. Writers should be glamorous and mysterious. I always thought that too. That's why it took me years after I had some books published to be able to say right out loud that I am a writer. I'm not glamorous or mysterious. (Oh dear! Now I've blown my cover for all of you who don't live in my hometown and were thinking I might be either glamorous or mysterious. If I have to pick one, I'm going for the mysterious. LOL)
--Anyway, this local lady has known me for a long time. We had kids going to school together back when. But she reads a lot and has been kind enough to read my books. I am so blessed to have reading friends. To get to my point - finally - she told me the other day that when she reads my books she forgets that I'm the writer. She wasn't sure how I was going to take that, but it was definitely a compliment. I don't want any of my readers to think about who's writing the story while they're reading it. I want them to be so caught up in the lives of my characters that they don't even notice the words. I want the story to be going straight through their eyes and playing on the big screen in their imaginations. That is, after all, the magic and fun of reading. Having the story come to life in your head until you start wondering what happens to the characters after you come to the last word on the last page.
--Now if you want to think about me being the writer then as you're closing the book, that's okay. Especially if you're wondering if I've written any other books you might like to read. That's good. But I understood what my reading friend meant. I've read books by writers I've met and sometimes you can't keep from hearing that person's voice all the way through the book. You can't ever quite forget who wrote the book. That's not always bad, but I think it's better when the writer disappears and the story takes over. Don't you?
--I hope all of you have a sunshiny kind of week. We had rain all week, so the sun looked really good when it came out today. And may you enjoy many stories on your imagination's big screen.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Celebrating at Shaker Village

-- One of the nice things about getting older - and there are some nice things - is that if you want to celebrate a week after your actual birthday that's just as much fun as celebrating on the actual day. My sister and I have birthdays a week apart. A few years apart originally, but now we often celebrate both our birthdays on the same day. We used to do them separately, but then we got older and busier. My sister was just saying the other day that she thought she was going to have to re-retire. There just wasn't time to do all she wanted to do and keep the part time jobs she's held down since her first retirement. Me, I don't want to retire. I just want to work faster and better. That means I want the words to flow out of my brain onto my computer screen like water out of a water hose turned on full blast. But I have to admit that sometimes it seems like my creative hose has a few kinks that shut off the creative juices. So I'll just keep muddling along, digging stories out of my head one word and one sentence at a time. That's how even the most famous writers do it. One letter at a time. It's just how those letters and words are put together that make the difference.
--Anyway, I went to Shaker Village for lunch with my sisters and my mom Tuesday to celebrate two of us getting to start out a new year of life. I hadn't been to Shaker Village to eat at the restaurant for years and now I've been there twice in the last couple of months. Last time I was there I gave the workers a copy of my new book, The Believer. It was fun to hear from one of the workers Tuesday that a couple of them had already read the book and found it hard to put down. Those words are always music to a writer's ears. And it was good to hear that a couple of the people who worked there and so are immersed in Shaker history each day thought the story hit the mark.
--I did get the good news that The Believer was on a couple of bestseller lists, both the CBA (Christian Book Association) and ECPA (Evangelical Christian Publisher Association). Number 20 on the CBA list and number 15 on the ECPA fiction list and number 49 on the top 50 book list. What a blessing and a great birthday present besides!
--I've been trying to settle back into a working routine after the NQC and then my houseful of company for the renunion Sunday. And trying to get over a sinus infection. I finally gave up and went to the doctor yesterday. In between coughing and sneezing, I've been enjoying reworking one of my old novels set in Louisville during the 1850's, but meanwhile, my new Shaker character is beginning to talk to me. So I'm anxious to get going and figure out her story. I'm sure Lacey is going to give me an ear full.
--The picture above is the Shaker meeting house at Pleasant Hill, the Shaker community I used as a model for my Harmony Hill Shaker Village. Note the two front doors. The one on the west is for the women and the east for the men. I think. I knew I should have written that down. Maybe I did. I just have to remember where. Anyway this is where the Shakers labored their songs and went forth to exercise their dances to bring down glory. The Ministry, the Shaker men and women who made the rules for the village, lived upstairs and spent their time in prayer and studying Shaker writings. And making sure the brothers and sisters in the village were living the Shaker way. The building had peepholes built in for the purpose of watching. It was a strange way to live.
--Thanks for dropping by. Talk to you next Sunday. No birthdays to celebrate then, but there's always something to celebrate. Maybe sunshine after all the rain.

Monday, September 21, 2009

And the Rain Came Down

--We had our family reunion yesterday. In the rain. At my house. We've been doing this reunion of my mom's side of the family for almost thirty years. In that time we've been rained on three times. A pretty good record. Except that two of those times were the last two times I hosted the party. I told them yesterday I was never having the reunion at my house again. I think they knew I was kidding. Uh, I think I was kidding. I mean I love having company. That's one of the reasons we decided to build on our gathering room, but we built decks too. I was hoping to use those decks and the yard, but the rain poured down all day. When I went out to look at the rain guage this morning, it was all the way full. Six inches. Now I'm not sure if I'd emptied it after the last rain, so it might have had an inch already in there, but then I'm not sure how much ran over after the guage was full to the top. I am sure we had a lot of rain. And my cornhole game boards looked very lonely out in the yard. I got Darrell to give me the game several years ago and I drag it out whenever we have company and either the weather doesn't cooperate like yesterday or we're too busy chasing babies to play. Maybe next time.
--We did have a good time visiting with all the family. Our number was down because of the rain and people wondering if they might have to sit on top of each other at my house. Some of them didn't know about my new gathering room. So those who came were relieved to see my multiple couches and chairs. Even so, we could have used more room, but I'm not ready to knock any more walls down right now. We did miss my son and his family, but it's a long drive from WV with a car full of kids. Maybe next year when it's at somebody else's house and it's not raining like you're thinking maybe you didn't notice somebody building an ark in their backyard.
--Everybody I've heard from says they had a great time at the American Fiction Writers Conference in Denver. My book, Summer of Joy, that was one of five finalists for Book of the Year in the long contemporary category didn't win. Oh well. It was fun being a finalist and since I wasn't going to get to go, I had practice writing an acceptance speech for my agent to read - just in case. Maybe someday I'll get to celebrate a win, but right now I'll keep celebrating having the chance to win. Even better than that I'll keep celebrating every time I see one of my stories in book form ready to move out into the world and get picked up by readers. It was a lot of fun meeting some of those readers at the National Quartet Convention and having reading friends come by the Patriots' booth to talk to me. I'm sorry I couldn't be there on Friday and Saturday, but my daughter and son-in-law don't get home very often. So it was a great weekend for visiting.
--The picture up top is all the family who came. That's one of the requirements at our reunions. If you eat the meal, you gotta take the picture. You can see the wet floor of the deck. What you can't see is my son holding my dog, Dub's leash to keep him for getting in the picture with his cone protective collar on. He was bumping into everybody with that thing. My other dog, Oscar, is front and center trying to lick anybody who will hold a hand down to him. Or toes. My little five-month-old grandbaby, Raegan, loves the dogs and thought it was funny getting her toes licked. I'm the one in the coral pink shirt squatted down by Mom who's sitting in the front. I'll post a few more of the reunion pictures on my Facebook page.
--Hope if any of you are having family gatherings you enjoy the fun of keeping up family connections. And that it doesn't rain on your picnics!!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me!

To celebrate my birthday yesterday I thought I'd show you a girl who really enjoys her birthdays. This is Jillian at her birthday party in June. Somehow us older folks don't know how to celebrate with such abandon the way a three-year-old can. But I'm still thankful for every birthday and glad to celebrate. I've just stopped counting them up. That's how my kids have gotten older than me, I guess. You know it's not your own age so much as how your kids - who are supposed to stay young - are getting older. If they're that age, then it almost forces me as their mom to admit that the years are piling up. But so are the blessings. You can't have grandbabies without adding a few years on and grandbabies are worth those extra years.
--I did my book drawing where I'm giving a lucky reader a couple of books to celebrate me getting to start a new year with the chance to write a new book. And the winner is --- (drum roll, please) Alla of Kentucky. I'll be in touch, Alla, about which books you want. For the rest of you, I'll be doing another giveaway soon. Check here or on my website for details in a few weeks.
The worst thing I got for my birthday is a cold. Yuck! I've got the fashionable Rudolf red nose look right now. I took a pill but it must have lost its oomphf. I don't know how to spell that but you get the idea. We've been going to the Quartet Convention in Louisville all week. I love meeting and greeting people, but I doubt they'll want to meet and greet me today. I'll take my hand sanitizer along and keep my distance, so maybe I won't give everybody anything. It's not the flu. Just an aggravating head and sinus thing.
--But the NQC is always fun. I meet a lot of readers and lovers of gospel music from all over the country and Canada too. Some of them come back every year to the Patriots' booth to see if I have a new book. And the last few years I have been blessed to have a new book out. A lot of people are meeting a writer for the first time. One person told me last night that she'd never met a "real live author." I told her sometimes I wasn't so lively. I can't remember if she bought a book or not after that. :-)
--The Patriots sang their new release "American Christian" in a Showcase on Monday afternoon and everybody in the place (maybe 2000 or so) stood up to cheer. It's a great patriotic song about standing for what you believe. And then people keep coming by the booth to get the CD with "that song" on it. So that's been a spirit booster for the guys. I posted a picture of their booth on my Facebook page so you can go out and check that out to see how much they're waving the flag. That's one of the lines in the song "I'm a flag-waving American Christian." When they took the Patriot name they decided they would stand for God and country. So this song is perfect for them.
--I also did my talk at the Forks of the Elkhorn Baptist Church yesterday. It was the PrimeTimers group. A great bunch of folks and I appreciate them asking me to come talk about my writing. I'll try to post a picture later on.
--Out of time today. I've got to go walk Dub before we head back to Louisville. Poor old dog is still having to wear that torture collar. Yesterday morning I had him chained on the back porch to an old gas grill we had on the porch when he decided he was going for a walk. He pulled that big old grill off the porch and freed himself. I had to chase him down. So now he'll have to go in the basement while we're gone.
--Hope you have a beautiful week and play you some toe-tapping good gospel music. Bound to cheer you up.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Book Talks and Dub's in Trouble Again

Here I am with the Butler County Librarian, Kenna, after my booktalk yesterday in Morgantown. I appreciated those who were able to come and hope they enjoyed hearing about how I started writing and kept on writing. Sometimes the kept on part is harder than the start part. But perseverance generally pays off and it has for me since I now have books to talk about to readers.
-I love libraries. I owe a lot of my own reading education to my hometown library and then when I started writing there was a wonderful librarian here in Anderson County named Ann McWilliams who always went out of her way to help me find whatever research material I needed for my historical novels. She was the best and in large part because of her energy and drive we have the beautiful library we have today that is dedicated to her memory. I was in our library this afternoon to return an audio book and the place was hopping. Almost every computer was busy and there were even some people looking at books. At the Butler County Library, Kenna says the inspirational fiction is very popular and that the library patrons are reading my books, too. That's always music to a writer's ears.
-Well, poor Dub is in doggie jail again. Not the pound this time, thank goodness. This time the doggie jail is our basement. And he's there through no real fault of his own. He has itching problems and in trying to scratch his itch, he did something to his ear that made it swell up. The vet had to cut it open and drain it out. So now the poor old dog has on one of those Elizabethian (or as someone else said satellite dish) collars and he's not a happy puppy. He keeps looking at me as if to ask why I'm torturing him like this. And it's also torture for him to be confined. He's a farm dog. He's used to being out there smelling all the smells and watching the deer eat the apples off the tree. He doesn't bother the deer. He just watches and hopes they'll leave one of the apples for him. He's going to have a long three weeks.
-Next week is going to be very busy around here. I've got another book talk on Tuesday. They'll have to be polite and listen to me that day since it's my birthday. (And by the way, that's the day I'm drawing for the winner of my giveaway - two books to some lucky winner for my birthday. So you've got one more day to put your name in the drawing.) But we're also going to be at the National Quartet Convention in Louisville every day. If you're there come by the Patriots' booth and say hello. Their booth is in aisle ten or eleven. It's more fun if people stop and talk and I'll have my books there if anybody wants my autograph. Then next Sunday I'm hosting my family reunion. My daughter and her husband are coming in and maybe my son and his family so I might get to see the WV grandbabies.
-On top of all that, this is the week they announce the winners of the ACFW books of the year in Denver. I'm not going to be in Denver, but I'll be represented there by my agent just in case the unexpected happens and they announce Summer of Joy as winner of the long contemporary novel category. That would really be neat. But it's already neat that my book was a finalist. I did really enjoy writing my Hollyhill books and it's a blessing that readers have taken my Hollyhill characters to heart and enjoyed those stories as well as my Shaker stories.
- Oh yeah, and today is Grandparents Day. One of the kids at church asked what treat I'd bought to recognize the grandparents the way we do the Moms and Dads on Mother's Day and Father's Day. I told her grandparents didn't need a treat. They already had the best treat anybody could have - grandkids. I put this quote in the church bulletin today. "What a bargan grandchildren are! We give them our loose change, and they give us a million dollars worth of pleasure!" I don't know who said it, but I know a lot of grandparents who might have. Hope if you're a grandparent you have fun with your grandkids this week or maybe if you have a grandparent you had fun with them.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Families - Real and Imagined

- You remember last summer when I kept you up to date on these two guys' impending arrival. Well, here's Matt (left) and John at about 11 months old. Aren't they cute?

- I'm so excited about finally figuring out how to post pictures that I'm wanting to share. I've already been sharing over on Facebook. How many of you are social networking there? It's a nice way to keep up with far flung family members and check in on old schoolmates.
- When we start counting our blessings, family and friends are generally right there at the top. I have a great family including some sisters that I count as friends. I think sisters can make the best friends because they know you and they love you anyway. At least most of the time. I dedicated my new book, The Believer, to my sisters both by birth and by marriage. Since I was writing about a society, the Shakers, who valued that sisterly tie, I decided to celebrate my own sisterly ties. Thank goodness we don't have to wear bonnets or caps. I've always hated wearing scarves and hats.
- Family is important to my fictional characters too. When you think about a lot of the conflict in stories - and a story has to have conflict - it centers around the relationships between family members. So it's important that I know about my characters' families. Were they loved as children? Did their parents love one another? Did they have sisters and brothers? Were they the youngest, oldest, or one of the ones in the middle? There are so many questions to ask about your characters to make them real enough in your mind so you can tell their story. I'm going to start rounding up my new characters before long and deciding when they were born, how they lived. And then to really help my main character come to life, I'll probably let her tell me about herself in a journal.
- Next week I'm giving away a couple of books for my birthday. As I said on Facebook, a kind of reverse birthday present. But you readers are a gift to me, so this is sort of like a boomerang gift back to you. Leave a comment here or on Facebook. I have a fan page now. Not sure I know what I'm doing, but if you keep hitting buttons, something happens. Sometimes something not so good. Darrell's e-mail is down on his computer now. I hit one wrong button somewhere. Now I've got to beg somebody for technical help. I'll start with my son and work up to those guys on the phone in India or wherever. Wish me luck.
- I hope all the buttons you punch this week will be right buttons.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Weeds or Wildflowers?

Hey everybody! Look at this. I actually uploaded a picture. At least I think I have. Guess the truth will be in the pudding as the old saying goes when I try to publish this post. What's with this truth is in the pudding saying anyway? Do people say that because some pie maker bragged about their delicious custard and then some doubting eater said he wouldn't believe it was good until he tasted it? Maybe I need to go out on the net and look up the roots of that saying. Or could be I have the saying all wrong. Sometimes I do that. Mix up my old sayings with a bit of this one stuck in with that one. Sometimes the twisted result actually almost makes sense.
But back to my picture. That's me in the middle flanked by my agent, Wendy Lawton, on the left and my editor, Lonnie DuPont on the right. It was taken in front of my new mantel in my new room that turned out to be a great place to entertain guests when they were visiting here a couple of weeks ago. You can't see it but right on the other side of the room there's a table and chairs with windows all around where we ate and enjoyed the view while we were chatting non-stop. Wendy was entranced by the ironweeds that my husband had tried to get bushhogged the week before they came so things wouldn't look so wooly and weedy, but ran out of time. That was just as well since Wendy loved them so much she walked down to the fence to take pictures. To her they looked like wildflowers, not weeds. To Darrell, they're weeds that not even the cows will eat. Guess that's why they're called ironweeds - too tough for the cows to chew.
We have an artistic flower arranger at our post office and she's always got a beautiful vase of flowers on the counter. Makes standing in line at the post office not so bad. Last week it was ironweeds and black-eyed Susans. Very, very pretty. I keep thinking I'll take my scissors when I go walking and cut me some of the purple blooms, but so far I haven't. But it is funny how we can admire some unfamiliar (to us) flower when we visit a new area that the people there think of as nothing but a pesky weed. Of course my grandson loves the ironweeds. He likes to knock their stalks down with a stick - the taller and bigger the ironweed the better.
Actually I usually admire the weed flowers. I'm a fan of dandelions with their bright sun spots of spring-is-coming hope in March and April. Daisies growing out in the field cheer me up with their bright flowers. And this year we had a hayfield of Queen Anne's lace that smelled delicious. Whether the cows will like Queen Anne's lace flavored hay remains to be seen. How about you? Do you have a favorite flowering weed?
There's a little over a week to go before I draw for the winner of my book giveaway. An autographed book would make a great Christmas present if you already have a copy. So send me an e-mail from my website or comment here and I'll add your name to the pot. The winner will get a copy of The Believer and their choice of one of my other books.
I got a comment on my last blog entry asking about my Hollyhill books and whether the story would go on. I had so much fun writing about Jocie and her family and friends and there is still a lot to tell because the reader was right. Jocie's story is only just beginning. So who knows? That may happen. The other thing that may happen is that I may start a Hollyhill blog. Perhaps Wes's Hollyhill Book of the Strange. I'll have to give that some thought and see if I can find some more minutes in my day. But first I have to finish the edits on my next summer's book, The Seeker. Gonna do that tomorrow, God willing and the creek don't rise or the computer go down.
Thanks for reading. Hope you have a great Labor Day tomorrow. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Book Lover's Lunch

I went to lunch with some book lovers today. My favorite kind of people to be around. Maybe because I'm a book lover too. My love affair with books started as soon as I learned to read and found some books that said something besides, "Look, Jill, look." Or "Run, Jack, run." Or maybe it was Jan and Jack in those reading books. Very boring. The only fun thing in those books was Spot the dog. I was such a dog lover even then that I didn't mind reading, "Jump, Spot, jump." I wanted him to jump right out of the book and be my dog. But that's another story I'll tell another day - my dog hunger.

I remember one of the first books I read was about a horse called Penny. Then of course I read Black Beauty and Tom Sawyer and Little Women. I pretty much read any book I picked up. I would even read this one old book at my aunt's house with morality stories. The only one I remember now was something about the kid not cleaning his plate. I was a picky eater back then, so guess that's why that one sticks in my head. But I always wanted to be reading. A good book was a treasure, a treat, a reward. I still feel that way, and I try to write my books to make others feel that way. Each new book is a gift to my readers. "Here, try this story," I'm saying. "Jump in and live with my people a while."

So I got to have lunch today with a couple of other writers. Jan Watson's new book, Sweetwater Run, was released in August the same time as my book, The Believer. She's very popular with her readers because her characters spring so fully to life in their imaginations and because she's just extra fun to be around. Then I got to meet Kathy Thiessen who has published a cookbook called, Somewhere in Thyme. Now isn't that a great title? She was sweet enough to give me a copy and the friends with her said it would make me want to cook. So I tried to give it back. No, just kidding. It's a beautiful book and I'm enjoying all the great illustrations that Kathy took herself. She's not only a talented cook, but a talented photographer with an eye for beauty.

The other ladies there were members of a bookclub. I love bookclubs. I wish I could talk to a different bookclub every week in person or on the phone. It's so much fun to talk to people who love books, and maybe the most fun when you get to answer questions about your own book. Sometimes people expect wiser answers about why you let this character do this or that, but quite frankly sometimes the answer is just because that was what happened. When those characters come to life in your head, they can lead you down some odd paths as they show you their stories. Jan said people keep jumping into her stories in minor roles and then end up telling her "Hey, you've got to tell them my story."

That's happened to me a few times too. Aunt Love in The Scent of Lilacs was that way. I didn't really know her story until she sat down and told it to Wes and Jocie. But it had to be told to make the book work. Little sister Hannah might have been my surprise character in The Believer. I enjoyed getting to know her while I was writing.

Hope you are reading a book with characters you're having fun getting to know this week. And thanks for reading. I said I was going to only write two or three paragraphs, but I guess I had some thoughts that jumped up and said I had to tell them too. I'll work on being more concise next time.