Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Gifts to Remember

Everybody likes getting gifts and most people do a lot of gift giving and getting at Christmas time. I hope your gifts this year all made you smile, but what was your best gift ever? Just for fun that's what I asked readers to tell me when they entered my last giveaway. Sometimes it's good to remember Christmases past to help all of us more fully appreciate Christmas present. I've been enjoying the wonderful stories people have shared as they entered their names in my giveaway. Oh by the way, I haven't drawn the winners yet so you still have time to pitch your name in if you want. Just leave a comment here or send me an e-mail before New Year's day.

Today I'm sharing with you some of the Christmas memories you've shared with me. One lady wrote in that she'd have to pick this Christmas because she'd survived a heart attack. That certainly could make a person sit up and take notice of the most precious gift of life. Along that line, one person claimed her daughter as the best present she'd ever received. She must have been a Christmas baby. Another told me about the romantic gift of her husband proposing on Christmas morning but what made it perfect for her was that he wanted to include her children from a previous marriage and so a family was formed there under the Christmas tree.

I shared the story already in a previous blog psot about the family who had all their presents stolen on Christmas Eve and the one about the innovative grandmother who made all her grandkids nightgowns but made a game of wrapping them in unusual boxes that made their gift getting a special fun time. I got one of those boxes this year - a box of stool softeners. Inside was a dog Christmas tree ornament, but the box got a few laughs. My son-in-law said it was the only box he could find that was the right size.

Other gifts mentioned were rollersates, a Barbie townhouse, and a beautiful doll cradle that the reader said was instrumental in making her the good mom she is today. One reader got a phonograph player with a mom who made sure a record was playing when she walked into the room. That was a magical moment for her. You youngsters don't realize that music wasn't always so instantly available as it is now. Someone else got a puppy delivered by Santa after she was beginning to doubt old Santa.


A WV friend says her family had fallen on hard times and didn't have any money for gifts, but then a neighbor asked her to come help her. When she got there, the neighbor had a little wagon loaded down with gifts for her and her family. It just goes to show what a difference a generous heart can make. Another reader mentioned a clarinet. She loved her clarinet and never felt lonely as long as she could make music. Then there was the reader who was blessed with a chest made by her grandmother. And I had to appreciate the reader who said her favorite Christmas gifts were those cookies and goodies she made to give to shut-ins. What a good ministry to have at Christmas time.

I may have already told you my own favorite Christmas gift was a fountain pen when I was maybe fourteen. I wrote dozens of journal entries and stories with that pen. Used up whole bottles of ink. With that pen I thought I could write anything and I happily headed down the writing road. And I have written about a zillion words since then, give or take a million here and there.

As I read through the messages of favorite Christmas gifts, what came through loud and clear was how so many of the favorite gifts represented love. So thanks for sharing your Christmas memories. We've got time for more if you'd like to share you best Christmas memory.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Loving our Gifts


"What we are is God's gift to us. What we become is our gift to God." (Eleanor Powell)
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Are you a good gift getter? This little granddaughter of mine is. She was happy over every gift - even a toothbrush and a stocking stuffer box of character inspired band-aids. Here she's happy about some princess pjs. And how about you? Do you pull the pretty paper off your gifts and then smile weakly as you pull whatever it is out of the box? Do you mumble thanks when what you really want to say is "What in the world is this?" Or "What am I going to do with this?" Or "Did you really think I was THAT size?" Or "Gee, I hope you have the receipt."
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I'm not the greatest gift getter. Even when it's something I like, my thanks are never the jumping up and down enthusiastic thanks that really rewards the gift giver. I'm the quieter, more reserved "thank you, that's so nice" type gift getter. And when it's something I have doubts about, I'm not a good pretender. My husband gave me a snuggy or whatever they were called last year. You know those blankets with sleeves. He thought I'd like it. I thought he should know me better. The bright pink thing is stuck away somewhere in the back of a closet. I wasn't good at pretending to be excited about the gift in spite of his good intentions. My bad. But..., he should have known me better.
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Sometimes we're that way with the gifts the Lord gives us. We all have special talents and abilities, but we don't always appreciate them. We open up our talent gifts and wonder why we couldn't have gotten something else. Something we might be readier to use. Something easier to use. Something more exciting than the gifts we've grown so used to we've forgotten their value. And yet it would be better to pull up our gifts and open them with excitement and joy and thankfulness. To say, yes, this is my gift. I'm going to use it to bless others whether it's a gift of song or story or encouraging words or a servant's heart or the ability to work or pray or to cook or to drive or to do whatever the Lord has enabled you to do to help yourself and others. I hope you can embrace your talents and gifts with joy as you use them to bless those around you. That's all any of us are asked to do. Oh, and smile when we count the blessings of those gifts. Maybe even jump up and down with excitment. That might be nice too.
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Hope you all have a wonderful Christmas with many perfect gifts of love and joy.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ready or Not Christmas Comes




Here's my next generation. Last year they all sat under the tree and smiled patiently. This year the twins were not in the picture taking mood and there weren't smiles all around. Getting nine kids to settle and smile is not an easy task. Did I say an impossible task? But a picture like this just makes it more real. Everything can't always go smooth. Snow and ice can come and spoil a holiday. Viruses show up and really spoil things. The perfect day doesn't always happen, but ready or not, Christmas comes.
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And aren't you glad that's true? I'd hate to think the blessings of Christmas were delayed because I kept saying I'm not ready. I don't have all the cooking and cleaning and preparing done. I don't. I didn't. But the kids showed up last Sunday and we had a family Christmas party. Tomorrow we're supposed to have another one, but one son is sick and who knows how many of the rest of his family might catch what he's got. But Christmas will still be Christmas. A million people, give or take a few thousand, will go to a church and watch little angels sporting tinsel wrapped halos sing to bathrobed shepherds with towels wrapped around their heads. Then the Wise Men will parade down the aisles to lay gifts before the baby in the manger. And all of us watching will remember about the greatest gift and the reason for the season. At that exact moment we'll be ready for Christmas whether we have all the Christmas chores done or not. We'll be ready in our hearts and that's the most important place to be ready.
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Wishing you a very joyous Christmas and a heart always ready for love.
~~

P.S. Remember to send in those e-mails or leave a comment to get your name in the hat to win some books and surprises. And tell me about your favorite Christmas gift. Sunday I'll share some of my favorite gifts and maybe some of yours too.








Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Love Behind the Gift

We had Christmas today with our two sons and their kids. The daughter comes next week. With adult children who don't live nearby, it's sometimes hard to get everybody's schedules arranged to have them all home at once. That's what this mama would like best. That's the way it was when they were little. All together. But kids grow up and have their own families. Their spouses have family to celebrate with too. I'm just glad I get to see the grandkids and my kids and my in-law kids too.


That's one of the best things about Christmas for me. Family. And I had plenty of family today even if all the kids didn't get to be there. My house was Santa Claus avenue today. Lots of presents for the little ones and the big kids too. Now boxes are stacked everywhere. Empty boxes waiting to be recycled and stored for another gift or ready for the trash bin along with those tough plastic ties they use to imprison toys in impossible plastic packaging. They must be afraid those toys are going to come to life like in Toy Story and revolt or something. Then there are the remnants of ribbons and torn bits of paper that look like confetti rained down on the floor not to mention the crumbs of cake and sticky spots of spilled drinks here and there. In other words it looks like we've had a family Christmas party.

And since we're talking about boxes - we sort of were, anyway - I want to share with you another of my favorite gift answers for my giveaway. In the giveaway the reader is entered in an extra drawing just by naming a favorite gift or Christmas memory. I shared one story last Thursday about a family who lost all their presents on Christmas Eve but still managed to have a good Christmas. This week's story is different. A smiling fun memory about a grandmother.


My reader says her grandmother always made her grandchildren nightgowns or night shirts every year and she had plenty of grandkids. Then to make the gift more fun she used various and sundry boxes to wrap them in. Like a cracker box or an oatmeal box. My reader said they always had fun comparing boxes and wondering what Grandma would come up with new each year.



I wonder today what my grandkids will remember about coming home for Christmas. That it was noisy. That there were a lot of presents. That the punch was good. (I remember that from when I was a kid. One of my favorite things.) That grandma always, always gave them a book along with some other stuff. That grammy loved them beyond measure. I hope they have good memories the way my reader did about her grandma's present in the funny boxes. Sometimes it's not the present or even the box that's most important. It's the love behind the gift.


Merry Christmas!! You are a gift to me.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Favorite Christmas Gifts

I've been blessed with nine beautiful grandbaby gifts over the years and every year when we have a new baby in the family I take a picture of that baby under the Christmas tree because, in my mind, there's no other gift that can compare to the gift of a new life. Last year this baby's big sister wanted to be part of the picture too. Behind them you can see the nicely wrapped gifts that are going to torn into and scattered and perhaps become a favorite toy or just as likely be abandoned for the more fun boxes the gifts came in.
~~
Gifts are such a big part of our Christmas traditions and celebrations. So I want to include you in the gift giving and getting fun. I sent out a newsletter this week telling about a new giveaway. Books, of course. Don't you think you best like to give the things you most like to get? Although I'll have to confess that if I get many more books, I'm going to need to build on a room to turn into a library. Wouldn't that be nice? A whole room dedicated to books and reading. I can see the leather armchairs and footstools now. No t.v. or computer allowed. Just books. Of course the library shelves I'm imagining are full of those beautifully bound hardback books and not the colorful paperbacks stacked in my bookcase with covers enticing me to take a few weeks off and read, read, read. With the number of books I've been collecting lately, I'd need at least a solid month to even begin catching up on my reading.
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That's not going to happen, but I can dream. Of course there's that sticky little problem of how I want to write too. And deadlines looming and new books to edit. So I'll keep doing my best to find reading time because reading is necessary to writing. Reading is not only a pleasure; it inspires and educates and challenges. So that's why I'm giving away books. Some of mine, of course, but since my shelves are overflowing, I'm adding some surprises too. Maybe a book by another author. Maybe a Shaker Christmas ornament. Maybe a box of rocks. No, I wouldn't do that. Too heavy to mail. ;-) I'm not saying exactly what or it won't be a surprise.
~~
This giveaway is a little different. I'll draw five names from the "everybody" hat. That's anybody who sends me an e-mail or leaves a comment here on my One Writer's Journal. Then if you've never won anything in my giveaways and tell me that, I'll put your name in the "I never win anything" hat to be sure one of you won't be able to say that after January. Last, if you tell me your favorite Christmas gift, your name will go into another hat. So you will have lots of chances to win one of my books and those surprises.
~~
I've had fun reading about those favorite gifts sent in by readers of my newsletter. I've got enough fodder for all my blog posts until Christmas and beyond. (Gee, I sound like Buzz Lightyear.) You can be sure I'll report on my very unscientific poll of what gifts made us happy at Christmas time. To start off the Christmas gift report, I want to share a great Chrismas story from reader, Lana.
~~
Lana didn't tell me what year this happened, but I know you'll be inspired by her favorite Christmas memory. When she was nine years old, all her families' Christmas presents were stolen on Christmas Eve. Her mother - there wasn't a father in the picture - had hidden the presents from her five children in the trunk of her car. You can imagine how bleak Christmas morning must have been when Lana's mother discovered the gifts stolen. But she didn't let that spoil her Christmas spirit even though there was no money to replace the gifts.
~~
I'm going to let you hear the rest of the story in Lana's words. "So my mother did two things: she went to a loan company to borrow the money to purchase our first TV set (black and white) and she bought a huge dog bank and we began to save our pennies to replace our Christmas presents and each of us got to pick out a present we wanted. I got a Brownie camera! I was so excited. So we had Christmas in July that following year. I don't recall how long it took her to pay off that loan but it took a while. This may not sound like a favorite Christmas but it brought us five kids closer and gives us something to talk about today when we are all together."
~~
Thank you, Lana, for sharing that beautiful story of how your mother turned something so bad into something you now treasure as a good memory. Your story just goes to prove that love is the greatest gift and the one that we remember forever.
~~
So I'm wishing you all many great Christmas memories and treasured gifts. Share some of them with us if you want. It'll get your name in an extra drawing for that book and surprise. And come back on Sunday when I'll be sharing more of the gift stories I've gotten from you readers. Merry Christmas everybody!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Book Spotters


It's shopping season. People buy like mad this time of the year. We don't want to be Scrooges. Or at least most of us don't. I get to feeling a little Scroogy after I go shopping. I know that doesn't make a lot of sense, but since when does the way we feel have to make sense? No, I guess I get to feeling I shouldn't have bought this or I should have bought that. Or I should have put more money in the red kettle for those who might not have enough when I've been so blessed. I've always been able to buy Christmas gifts for my children and now also my grandkids.
~~
I've already told you that my favorite place to shop is a bookstore and my favorite gift to buy is a book. A favorite gift to get too even though it makes for a problem of not enough reading time and too many great books in my "to read" pile. Not a bad problem to have. Reading is the other side of writing and important to an author's knowledge base - both the conscious and the subconscious. Words bury themselves in your head while you're reading and then pop up like toast out of a toaster sometimes when you need that perfect word. Of course sometimes that perfect word is so buried you have to pry it out with a mental pick axe. But the words might not be there at all if you never read them. If you never saw how another writer used them. If you never rejoiced in a fine turn of phrase.
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One of the fun things about bookstore shopping for an author is not only buying books to read or as gifts, but checking to see if you might find YOUR book on the shelf. There's just something about seeing your book with your name on it on a shelf waiting for a reader to come along and pick it up and maybe carry it home. Of course bookstore shopping to spot your books can also be very discouraging if your books are nowhere to be seen while every other author in the whole wide world is there on the shelf in front of you. There may be authors who don't check for their own book if they go bookstore shopping, but I don't happen to know any of them. Maybe if you get famous enough, you just assume your book is there without having to look. I can't imagine Stephen King looking for his book, er, books, but I'm thinking he might have with that first book. I certainly did with my very first book many years ago, Unfortunately, since I didn't have a blockbuster first novel like King, I was disappointed a lot.
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Now I don't go bookstore hopping just to search out my book, but if I'm in a bookstore, I do look. And I have friends who like to tell me when they spot one of my books somewhere. If it's not in Kentucky, some of them sound sort of surprised. Like how in the world could that happen?Then I have readers who also do some book spotting for me. I appreciate that. That's what the picture is. Some book spotting at Sam's Club.
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If you've ever looked to see if one of my books is on the bookstore shelf where you shop, thank you. That makes you a book spotter and a friend.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Titling Questions for a New Book


Meet Adriane Darcy. Isn't she pretty? Okay, so maybe this is actually beautiful actress and model Alexis Bledel. But she is also the answer to a question on the titling questionnaire I just received from Revell.
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Filling out titling questionnaires isn't my favorite writing task. Yet at the same time it is definitely a favorite form to receive in my e-mail box. That's because it's proof that I have a new book in the works with Revell. This one is a historical romance set in 1855 Louisville with a working title of Words of Fire. It will probably be released sometime in 2012. That seems like a long time from now, but it takes a while for a book to go from me typing "The End" to being on store shelves with a great cover to perhaps entice a reader to pick it up and give it a look.
~~
That's what the titling and cover questionnaire is all about - to help the publishing company know more about my book so the perfect cover can be designed and the best title chosen to draw that book buyer's eye. So even though I struggle with some of the questions, I know the right answers - the answers that best describe my story and my characters - will end up helping to make my book more inviting.
~~
So that's where beautiful Alexis Bledel comes in. One of the questions I struggle with most is which actresses or actors would I chose to play the part of my characters if my story was made into a movie. I am totally out of touch with today's movie stars. My memory is all used up remembering characters in books instead of who plays those characters in movies. So with the magic of web searchers, I type in actresses with dark hair and blue eyes, and just like that up comes Alexis Bledel. Well, along with about a dozen other blue-eyed brunette actresses. But this photo of Alexis best fit my mental image of Adriane Darcy, the strong willed heroine in my book. The beautiful, strong willed character.
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And I don't think I'm the only author who has to resort to googling to fill out their titling and cover forms because I kept coming across the question, "What actresses have dark hair and blue eyes?" already out there in the search finds. You know I'm wondering if I might ought to go out and look for that actor or actress when I'm doing my character planning before I write a book. No, I think I would rather let the character spring out of my imagination and then find somebody who looks like her or him instead of the other way around.
~~
So meet Adriane Darcy. I think you might like her when at long last her story is ready for readers' eyes. Now are you wanting to know who I picked for Blake Garrett, my main male character? He, of course, is as handsome as Adriane is beautiful.
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I'm hoping to get my newsletter out the first of next week. I'll be doing some Christmas giveaways so go to my website www.annhgabhart.com to sign up for the newsletter. Thanks for reading and I sincerely hope you're enjoying the Christmas season.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Tree Fluffing and Story Fluffing Too


I did my Christmas decorating today. It no longer looks as if I'm moving in or out with all the boxes - except for one room where I've got boxes piled to the ceiling for present wrapping. Well, maybe not to the ceiling, but a big pile for sure. You have to have the right size box for your present after all. But even though I have stacks of nested boxes, I'm sure there will be one present that defies fitting in a box. That's why they make those lovely gift bags that don't take any wrapping. Cram that elephant in there and and stuff a piece of tissue paper on top of it and you got it. Wouldn't you know though that I like wrapped and taped and ribboned packages better. So wrapping presents is my next Christmas deadline.

~~
That is, if I don't get a real deadline before then. I've got a book floating around out there in edit land and sooner or later it's going to land on my desk again with my editor's remarks and suggestions. I don't mind editing because I want to make my story the best it can be, but back when she first suggested edits might be needed her words were that the story might need to be "fluffed" up. That word has hung around in my head ever since. Might I say haunted my thoughts a bit. Fluffed. How do you fluff up a story? Fluff is what Winnie the Pooh got in his ear when he didn't want to listen to Rabbit. Fluff is what that plastic pretend like whipped topping is. Fluff is petticoats under a summer dress. Fluff is pink cotton candy at the fair. Fluffing is what you do to your pillow before you lay your head down on it to go to sleep.
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And at Christmas time, fluff is what you do to an artificial tree to make it look somewhat like the real thing. At least that was what I was doing this afternoon after I pried the pieces of my tree out of its plastic storage container. It was really crammed down in there. That in turn smashed the branch-like appendages together and bent the wiry arms in unnatural growing directions. In other words it looked nothing like a tree should look. So the plastic branches had to be fluffed. Fluffing a pretend tree is not my favorite thing to do in the decorating job.
But I did it. In most all jobs there are some parts that are less fun to do than others. Fluffing branches is the less fun task. Pulling out all my sentimental ornaments to put on those fluffed branches is much more fun.
~~
It can be that way with writing a book too. It's not all fun and games. It can be exciting to come up with a new story, but it can be challenging too. And sometimes discouraging when the words are slow to come. Other times it can be a little scary when you're not sure anybody will like the words when they do come. And it can be tedious when you have to go over those words time and time again to make them right. And sometimes you have to fluff it up. Whatever my editor suggests, I know we have the same goal. To make the story one that readers will want to read.
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Thanks for reading and I hope all your trees and stories will be fluffed just right.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Gifts of Love


December came in right yesterday with snow. My dog, Oscar, loved it. I liked that it didn't stick around. I'm not ready for snow on the ground. That's January's gift. Each season does have gifts it brings us and this time of the year is a good time to be thinking about gifts. I'm thinking a lot about gifts for sure and when I'm going to be able to get those Christmas gifts and wrap them and put up a tree to put them under.


But there are so many other gifts we can think about. Gifts that are far more to be treasured than whatever I finally get wrapped in shiny paper and put under the tree (that is going up this week - maybe.) In my Shaker stories, my characters talk a lot about gifts because the Shakers considered so many things gifts. They were gifted with song and visions. They were gifted with dance and work. They were gifted with spirit drawings.


My first Shaker book had a first working title of The Gift of Love. That evolved into The Gift of Knowing and was eventually changed to The Outsider. But the gifts of the spirit were always part of the story line. And love. Romance is a big part of most stories. We like to read about people falling in love. We like to think about falling in love ourselves or remember that magical time when we did fall in love.


And what better gift can anyone get than the gift of love? That's really what Christmas means to most of us. Love of family. Love of children. Love of God.


I'm thankful for my gifts. Especially those of love - a grandbaby's hug. A mother's kiss. A child's smile. A husband's help. A sister's friendship. A reader's kind comment. A dog's wagging tail. And I'm thankful for the gift of words and for the stories I've been given. Both the ones I've written and the ones I've read. And you can be sure some gifts of love are going to be in those stories.

Thank you for reading and may you be blessed with many gifts of love in this month of December.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Christmas Deadlines



"Each day comes bearing its own gifts. Untie the ribbons." - Ruth Ann Schabacker.



December is almost here. That means Christmas is right around the corner with all the traditional activities. There's the reason for the season - the birth of the Savior. That's good to keep in the center of our thoughts. Shepherds in the field watching their flocks. Angels singing on a starry night. A baby born in a stable and laid in a manger. Wise men bringing gifts. Beautiful images of the greatest gift. Christmas carols and songs that make those holy goosebumps crawl up your back. Kids in bathrobes being shepherds and wise men. Sparkling lights and decorated houses.
~~
I love Christmas. Really I do. It's just that it has gotten so it comes around so much faster than it used to. Every two of three months or so it seems. And it's like having a bunch of new deadlines. The getting the cards in the mail deadline. Shopping for gifts deadline. Decorating trees deadline. Baking cookies deadline. Wrapping those gifts deadline. As mothers and grandmothers, we feel like it's up to us to keep the traditions going. Our mothers did it. Our grandmothers did it. So we must do the same. We want to get the gifts that will bring smiles. We want to cook all the favorite foods. We want to make the day perfect for everybody.
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It's that making things perfect deadline that is so hard to meet. As much as we want to make things perfect, that rarely happens. The tree is a bit crooked on its stand. The rolls are a little overdone. The cake cracks in the middle. The sweater doesn't fit. The toy doesn't entrance. Santa forgets to buy batteries. Somebody comes down with a virus and spends Christmas in the bathroom. You get the idea. All those things have happened to us at some Christmas in the past. But this Christmas you still want things to be perfect. You want Aunt Suzy and Uncle Bill not to argue about politics. You want the kids to be sweet and generous and not overtired and cranky. You want to eat that piece of jam cake with the caramel frosting and not think about the extra five pounds you're going to have to lose next week. You want to say, "Yes, Virginia. There is a Santa Claus." And so each December you wipe away the less than perfect memories and remember all the wonderful times. You might not remember your favorite gift, but you remember how you felt because you felt loved. That's the tradition we're all trying to hang on to. The tradition of love.
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Hope you'll meet all your deadlines and find those perfect gifts and most of all that the warm feeling of love will wrap around your family and then it won't matter so much if Aunt Suzy and Uncle Bill don't think alike on politics. They're family and they're loved. Enjoy the gift of each and every day.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Gratitude Attitude


"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it." (William Arthur Ward)

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. I definitely don't want to have a present of gratitude all wrapped up in my thoughts and not present it to those who have blessed me. You, my readers, are a blessing to me - those of you who read my "whatever comes to mind" thoughts in this on-line journal and also those of you who read my stories. Thank you so much.
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I have so many blessings to count including the two books pictured here that will be released next year. The colors of the covers seem to have a complimentary scheme. Maybe that's so they'll look good on the store shelf next to each other. I can only hope. Angel Sister will release first in February and then The Blessed will come out in July next year. I'm being doubly blessed by that in 2011.
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But of course, there are many other reasons for gratitude in my life. A loving husband, three wonderful children and the three people they brought into our family and our hearts when they married. My beautiful, brilliant, talented grandchildren. (You get the idea - I am a grandmother after all. LOL) But I'm most grateful those grandchildren are healthy and happy with good parents. I'm thankful for my own health and that I can go hiking with my dogs and still climb up and down the hills on my farm. I'm thankful for two sisters who are my best friends and for my loving and giving mother. Mom's struggling now. Her memory is fading and without memory life gets very difficult, but she has been a blessing to me and so many people in her lifetime. I'm thankful for the sisters and brothers I gained when I married Darrell. I'm so blessed to be part of the Gabhart family and to have the memories we share of times with his parents. I'm blessed by my pastor and my church family and grateful to the Lord for the many showers of blessings over the years.
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I could name blessings until the cows came home. (Had to stick something country in here.) But I won't bore you with more. But I'd love to hear the blessings you're counting this weekend. Hearing from you is another blessing of my day. Happy Thanksgiving to you all.
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"The unthankful heart...discovers no mercies. But let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings." Henry Ward Beecher




Sunday, November 21, 2010

What's in a Name?

The name of a man is a numbing blow from which he never recovers. ~Marshall McLuhan

  • Do you like your name?
  • Have you changed your name from the name your parents gave you?
  • Are you burdened with a nickname you hate?

I'm creating characters right now. Well, a couple of the characters have been walking around with me for several weeks. One of them had a name before she had much of anything else. The name was the beginning of her created self. The other one waffled back and forth with a name and eventually found the one that fits. The third character is still nameless. At least mostly nameless. I've named him a couple of times, but I'm not sure either name is going to stick.

So when I'm in the "who in the world am I going to write about next" stage of story development, I think a lot about names. And look at a lot of names. I have a falling apart baby name book. I've bought a couple of newer ones, but it's that book with no cover and big sections coming loose that I go to. That is the naming book. I've been searching through it for a strong name for this third character. A name that lets you know right away that this character is the one you need to pay attention to. This character is going to play a major role in this story. This character is named......????

I may have told you before that I was never all that crazy about my name. I like it okay now, and even when I didn't, I would have never thought about changing the name my parents - or my big sister if you believe her story - picked. But characters are different. Characters can undergo name changes with hardly a bat of the eye. And no legal fees. So why not? A character needs a name that fits.

You see when we were born, our parents were just guessing at the kind of person we'd grow up to be. A Lucy? A Josephine? A Matilda? Harry? Hiram? Hastings? But it's different with characters. We know what kind of person he or she is or was. Our job is to help the reader meet that person. And one way to begin doing that is with the right name.

Do you think names shape people? I might have been a different person - say somebody who ran for office - if I'd been named Barbara. According to one of my name books - not the falling apart one - Barbara is a very strong name. And yet, I've never named a character Barbara. I don't know why not. It's a perfectly respectable name that can be shortened into a decent enough nickname or two and it doesn't end in "s." That's a sorry reason for rejecting a name, but I still think Hanks's looks awkward on the written page. Correct perhaps but awkward. I have enough to worry about ferreting awkward phrasing out of my writing without inviting any poorly named characters to my story.

But I do love coming up with the right names for my people. You know maybe we should have a childhood name and an adult name. They could be the same, but they wouldn't have to be. Some of the Native American tribes did this, didn't they? And I think I have heard the Amish have family names they don't share with the world people. Or could be I dreamed that. So maybe I'll dream the right name for my character.

And so? Do you like your name?

Words have meaning and names have power. ~Author Unknown

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Team Kaelyn


Some of you who follow my posts on Facebook and have been following this blog for a while know I have a great niece named Kaelyn who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia the week before Christmas last year. She's undergoing treatment at St. Jude's and has 91 more weeks of chemo. She's a beautiful little girl and when she was diagnosed she had beautiful long wavy hair. Now of course she has no hair and every time it begins to grow back in, she has to take more chemo. That's her with her little brother and new baby sister.
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A little girl who knows the family donated her hair to make Kaelyn a wig, but Kaelyn is too young to worry about hair once it started falling out and they shaved it off. Her dad shaved his head too. In fact she doesn't think a lot about her lack of hair at all if the story her grandmother told me is any indication. Her grandmother said Kaelyn was out with her family at a restaurant when a woman started talking to them. Kaelyn being an outgoing child volunteered the information that they were in Memphis because she was a patient at St. Jude's Hospital. The woman smiled and told Kaelyn, "I know." Kaelyn's mom said that after the woman left the table, Kaelyn looked up at her and asked, "How did she know I was a St. Jude's patient?" Her mom didn't point out Kaelyn's bald head. She just told her it must have been a lucky guess.
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Kaelyn has people all over the country praying for her. Her dad's a preacher and her mom's a beautiful Christian wife and mother. The whole family has been an example of faithfulness and love. Kaelyn tells doctors and visitors that she has Jesus in her heart. By the way, she's six now, but was five when she was diagnosed. Since then Kaelyn's mom says they've seen the good in people. Strangers pay for their meals in restaurants. People who have never met Kaelyn or any of the family pray for her every day. And because she is a delightful child, St Jude's has asked her to do some ads and personal appearances to help raise money to keep the hospital going and for more research for cures. No child with cancer is turned away because of inability to pay. You can imagine what a blessing that would be if you had a sick child who needed such intensive and expensive treatments to give her or him a future. A lot of Kaelyn's family will be walking in the Give Thanks Walk this weekend to help raise money for St. Jude's. It's a cause we can believe in because we've seen the hope it gives families. We've seen the miracle of a fifteen percent survival rate when Danny Thomas got the vision to establish the hospital going up to eighty-five percent. Now their goal is to to make that even higher. They don't want to surrender any child to cancer. You can go to my page where I'm supporting the Give Thanks Walk if you're interested in helping out. https://waystohelp.stjude.org/sjVPortal/public/displayUserPage.do?programId=601&userId=565096&eventId=110410
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So watch for Kaelyn in an interview with Matt Lauer on the Today Show this coming Monday, Nov. 22. I think she's going to be talking about losing her hair. Whatever it is, you'll have to love her, bald head and all. She's also in a commercial with Dwaine Wade. (I don't think I spelled his name right, but the basketball player.) So even though we would have passed by this ordeal for Kaelyn if we could have, we can see how the Lord is letting Kaelyn shine her light - his light in her - for the world to see even in the midst of this desperate trial. And we're all blessed as a result. So keep her and her family in her prayers and if you see a little bald-headed girl with a million dollar smile, you just may be seeing Kaelyn.
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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Writers Groups and Book Fairs

I had a great weekend of writing events. Friday I got to meet with a writers' group and talk writing and books. Is there anything more fun than talking books? Oh yeah, reading them. This group had lots of great questions. Some about the Shakers. More about writing and the process of publishing. These writers knew some about publishing because they gave me a book they'd published with a poem, story, or other piece written by each of the group members. What a thrill to see your words in print!

I don't have any problem remembering seeing my first pieces in print in this or that magazine. And I actually had a poem printed. My second sale ever. As I told the group Friday, I got a whole three dollars for it. But seeing the words "by Ann Gabhart" was (as they say on that t.v. commercial) priceless. I didn't use the H. in my name then. I started doing that when I published The Scent of Lilacs. I was trying to make a new beginning with that book since I'd had several very discouraging writing years prior to that.

I was an interested observer as the writers' group picked a topic for a poem for their next meeting. They had written down suggestions for maybe ten or twelve topics. Then they voted and chose "A turn in the road." I wondered if I'd be able to write a poem about a turn in my road. Probably not. I was never much of a poet in spite of that three dollars I earned with four little rhyming lines once. But I might have thought about a story with a turn in the road. In fact every story has some turns in the roads of the characters. Without a few turns and bends, problems and challenges, you don't have much of a story. So I was impressed with their enthusiasm for writing and their willingness to use their creative energy on a suggested topic. I was never crazy about suggested topics for writing even in high school English. I always wanted to come up with my own idea. Guess that's why I've never been a member of a writers' group.

I did my character exercise with them. They weren't really into it the way most of the groups I've had do it. Maybe they were like me with my suggested topic reluctance. They all wanted to come up with their own names, their own person and not have a community person. One of the writers said he already had his story half written about our woman character named Reeny. I think that was her name. I liked Reena better, but it was their character. The point of the exercise is that we can invent a community character like Reeny but then each of us would write a totally different story from that jumping off spot. Someday when I have a longer workshop, maybe we'll write those stories. Gee, maybe I do like suggested topics after all if I'm doing the suggesting. ;-)

But our writing time ended and I had to hurry home to get ready for the Kentucky Book Fair on Saturday. I love book fairs when lots of readers are wandering around looking at everybody's books. And thank you to those of you who carried off my books. I heard from one of those readers who has already read my book, The Believer. In one day. I think she's my new best friend. Back when I wrote young adult fiction and was at this same book fair, a young girl bought one of my books in the morning and came back before I left that afternoon to say she'd already read it. Thank goodness she liked the story and didn't want a refund.

Thanks for reading. I hope you find lots of good books that keep you smiling. I smiled so much yesterday that I felt like a Miss America contestant. But a good book can always make me smile and there were good books all around me.

P.S. See, you guys at the writers' group were right. I did blog about you.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bears and Books


I'm a day late with this because I've been running into bears. Well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but I have been out of touch and internet deprived for the last few days up in one of those cabins perched on a mountainside slope in the Smokies. And I did see a bear. Right on the front porch of the cabin we rented. The bear was after the garbage and when he didn't find anything to his liking, he came over to peer in through the glass doors to see if he should hang around and wait for something tasty to be carried out to the trash cans. We tried to take pictures through the glass doors, but the cameras failed us or perhaps the dark defeated us. This photo is a free photo attributed to pdphoto.org. Our half grown bear was disgusted with our lack of garbage and all the staring out the windows and ambled off down the hillside. I'm sure he was back today after we left to check out the garbage again. The cabin owner is going to have to get new and improved garbage cans.
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We've been to this same cabin three years in a row. We feel a sense of ownership for it. But alas it's up for sale. We priced it, but it was a bit out of our range for a partial week trip once a year. Like from here to Mars out of our range!! Money aside, it's a fact that all us sisters-in-law get along great now, but joint ownership of a cabin in the mountains might upset our peaceful relationships. Still, wouldn't it be nice to own a cabin on top a mountain?
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I'm talking to a writers group tomorrow and then the Kentucky Book Fair is coming up Saturday. That's always a day of fun for writers and readers alike. I'm hoping I'll have time to Christmas shop some books. Especially for me!! If you can't buy yourself a book for Christmas, what can you buy? Actually I prefer to wait until after Thanksgiving to think too much about Christmas. So Christmas can wait until December - except for the books I'm going to buy at the book fair to give away at Christmas.
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I'm talking about plot and character to the writers group tomorrow. I know we'll have fun and maybe I'll learn enough that when I get back in front of my desk, the words will spill out and my story will come clearer.
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November is when a lot of writers do this program where they keep a count of their words and they try to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. I don't want to do that. I don't want to have to do that. I do need to start writing so many words a day, but 50,000 in a month is insane for me. And I doubt what I wrote would be worth reading. Of course the idea is to let the story all spill out and then do some - uh, more like a lot of editing. It is good to let the story spill out without jumping into criticism overdrive. A lot of bad writing can be fixed if you go back and pick up the pieces.
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I read an article about the novel in a month plan. This writer suggested that readers are the ones we should be boosting. That it would be better to pledge to read so many books in a month instead of spilling a flood of mediocre words on the page. I do believe that reading is vital to a writer. We learn as we read and not just the facts of the page but the natural feel of putting words together to tell a story. I will ever be grateful for my highschool years when I was able to read and read and read.
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And I do appreciate people who read. If you make it to Frankfort to the Book Fair, please come by and say hello. I would love to meet you in such a wonderful atmosphere of books. You can meet 210 writers!! There might even be a bear or two hanging around - a Berenstein bear or maybe a writer who sat up all night doing his words for that November novel and is now as grouchy as an old bear.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Gift of Time




Time is free, but it's priceless. You can't own it, but you can use it. You can't keep it, but you can spend it. Once you've lost it you can never get it back. (Harvey MacKay)

That's a great quote for a day when we were gifted with an extra hour. Of course most of us slept through our gift as we got back that hour we lost last spring to Daylight Savings Time. Some people love DST. Some people say they'd rather be more in tune with nature and live by sun time. But gaining the hour got me to thinking about time and how our lives are so regulated by this or that clock. Then as I was looking through my pictures to come up with a clock or watch, I saw these trees. And they seemed timeless to me. Some of them have been growing in that place in California before California came to be. I was thinking time might strip away some of their limbs or turn their bark a ghostly gray, but the trees aren't worried about the minutes and hours ticking past the way we are. No wristwatches on their branches.
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But then I stopped in my thought tracks and realized that trees do tell time. They mark their age by the rings of growth and show the change of the seasons with their leaves. The sea too as it pounds into the rocky shoreline is measuring time with its waves. Tides in and out can be predicted with the same precise timing as the sun rising and setting. Time is at the very center of nature.
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"To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven." Ecclesiastes 3:1. That has to be one of the most well known verses in the Bible. Time is part of our lives whether we ease along in life stretching out the hours and enjoying the ride or if we rush and run and think we must use every minute frantically getting something - anything - done. I'm afraid I've been in the rush and do time lane too much. I don't know that I want to stop doing. I just want to note the moments as they pass. Enjoy the time. Unwrap the gift of time I've been given.
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I put a poem in our church bulletin today that I'm sure many of you have probably already seen in some pass along e-mails in the last few years. It is supposedly a poem written by a terminally ill girl. Now whether that is true or not, I don't know. No name or source was given in the little pamphlet where I found the poem. But these are the last few lines.
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When you worry and hurry through your day,
It is like an unopened gift...thrown away.
Life is not a race; do take it slower.
Hear the music before the song is over.

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Hear the music and savor the minutes. Oh yeah, if you're in the area you can savor some of those minutes next Saturday enjoying a great day at the Kentucky Book Fair in Frankfort. There will be over two hundred authors there - including yours truly - and it's a great day to do some Christmas shopping. An autographed book makes a fun gift. Come by and say hi if you come. I'll be smiling and doing my best to enjoy the moments. It won't be hard surrounded by all those authors and books. You can check out the author lists and books at www.kybookfair.org.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Be Encouraged


"Correction does much, but encouragement does more." Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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See this tree out on that rocky point. The lone cypress is one of the highlights on the 17 Mile Drive along the coastline between Monterey and Carmel. The brochure stated that the tree had survived on that open rocky point for over 250 years in spite of the storms that blew in off the ocean and the winds that tossed waves up on the rocks. Because it's become admired for its lone stand, a stone wall was built around its trunk to protect it from the sea. People are ready to do whatever they can to help it continue to cling to its lonely and at times harsh outpost. That's so we can stop on our drive, take pictures and be encouraged by the sight of one tree keeping its lone vigil.

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Be encouraged - that was the theme of Kyle Duncan's talk to us at the Books & Such Writers Retreat I attended last week in California. Kyle is an executive editor at Bethany House and is as friendly and approachable as his wonderful smile suggests. Actually his talk was titled "Five Things Your Editor Won't Tell You," but when he told us to be encouraged, that's when I sat up and paid notice.

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Everybody needs encouragement in his or her life. Especially writers. Sometimes we're like that lonely cypress tree out there on the point all by ourselves being buffeted by the winds of criticism and the waves of change in the publishing industry. We sit in front of our computers and write our stories and hope we'll be able to hang on in the face of whatever storms come our way. Perhaps personal storms that steal our writing time. Or professional storms that set our stories adrift in a sea of no interest. Or emotional storms of discouragement.

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I've been keeping a writing journal ever since I started writing seriously for publication. It's my way of having a record of what I've written and when I wrote it. I celebrate my writing victories there, but it's also the place I write about my frustrations and disappointments. I can open those notebooks up to some years and see some storm of rejections or dismay on most any page. I'll prove it. I'm opening a book at random. On a Tuesday in 1997 this is a bit of what I wrote in my journal. "I've been putting off writing here because things are so flat, so depressing. I got a rejection on Freaks finally - only took them 9 months this time....I'm so low I could crawl under a snake." Yikes, that sounds awful, doesn't it? But even when I was lowest I always tried to end my journal entry with a positive thought. That entry ends with "Courage! Willpower! Discipline!" Sometimes you have to be your own cheerleader, your own encourager.

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So it was good to hear Kyle tell us writers to be encouraged. The book industry is still looking for great books. Readers are still looking for books to entertain and enlighten them. Writers are still clinging to their lonely outposts and hoping that the words they're writing will find some sunshine and sparkle as their new stories sail out to readers. Sometimes those writers gather together together in a beautiful place to hear words of encouragement. Sometimes those writers have to chase after their own encouragement.

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May you be encouraged in whatever dream you're chasing this week. I'll leave you with another quote I came across "I am not afraid of tomorrow for I have seen yesterday and I love today." William Allen White.
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What encourages you?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Home Sweet Home


It's a long way from Kentucky to California and a long way back. Glad I wasn't walking the way the pioneers did or perhaps jogging along on a horse or in a covered wagon. One thing though, I'd have gotten a lot better look at the country that way. I watched out the planes' windows (I had window seats all but once) when we weren't above the clouds. I saw snow-covered mountains. I saw rivers snaking across the countryside. I saw shadows of the clouds on the ground. I saw lots of brown looking earth and mountains and cars that looked like ants trundling along strips of black.
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I also saw a beautiful sunset, but didn't attempt to take a picture. Once you're in one of those plane seats next to a big guy, you don't have room to shift your arm enough to turn a page in your book much less wrestle your bag out from under the seat in front of you to find your camera. Guess that's why Kindles are getting so popular with travelers. They don't require more than a whisk of the thumb or finger to get to the next page, or so they tell me. I'm still in the book age, the feel-it-in-your-hands and paper pages age. One good thing, you don't have to turn off a hard copy book when a plane is taking off.
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Monterey Bay was beautiful and it was fabulous meeting other Books & Such writers. Pictures are popping up all over Facebook. Laughing, smiling faces. Or very intense faces as we all tried to learn how to play Bocce. I had never even heard of Bocce before last week. It's sort of like horseshoes with rolling balls and no dirt. I played and promptly lost.
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Oh well, I had the ocean vistas to make up for any Bocce disappointments. The water was a beautiful blue and on the last day we were there the waves were crashing into the shore. Because of the rocky coastline, the waves can be fierce. We had thought about going out whale watching, but the boats wouldn't go out because of the high waves. So we drove down the coastline instead. Just as well. I wouldn't have been able to spot any whales if I was leaning over the rail losing my breakfast. What I really wanted to see was an eagle, but no such luck. That's on my bucket list. To see an eagle flying free in the sky.
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But now back home to reality. Books don't get written by thinking about writing them or talking about writing them. Books only get written by fingers pressing down keys on a keyboard. Still it was great having a little one on one time with my agent and with my editor. They both asked me what next. I said a Shaker book, but they were meaning after the Shaker books. I'm thinking a new historical novel. But that's what the Shaker books are too - historical novels. So who knows? Now I'll just remember the ocean and the sound of the waves crashing and think about how each wave made its own new mark on the sandy beach or did its best to wear down the rocks. That's the way it'll be with my books. Each one will have to mark out its own path.
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Hope you're having a great week with lots of paths open to you. Good paths that lead you to happiness. I'm happy to be home and putting me fingers on that keyboard.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Writers' Retreat and Fun in Sunny California

No picture and I'm a day late. I'm doing my Wednesday blog on Thursday. Not only Thursday but Thursday in California and that means I'm even later. But it's not every time you can sit on your veranda watching and listening to the ocean crash against the rocky beach in your fancy hotel supplied robe and write back home to your friends. Okay, that was taking a germ of truth and turning it into fiction. I do have a very tiny veranda but it's still dark (my head can't get off Kentucky time) and the cord for my lap top that won't hold a charge isn't long enough to reach. And although the ocean is out there and making that great crashing noise it is on the other side of the hotel. You know where those people who weren't too cheap to pay the extra whatever amount of dollars to have that ocean outside their windows are sitting on their verandas. At least will be when the sun comes up. But I am writing home to friends and being very sorry I didn't bring the cord to connect my camera to the computer so I could share one of the beautiful pictures of the ocean with you.
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I have seen the ocean a lot because who wants to stay in her room when you can go out and walk beside the ocean. It's a beautiful place with a lot of history. I'm learning all about Cannery Row and why it's called Cannery Row. That's due completely to John Steinbeck's book. The town grabbed the name and now it's a tourist destination with lots of shops and restaurants. No more sardine canning factories.
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But back to the retreat. It's a fun time my agency Books & Such have organized to give their clients a chance to relax and learn and meet each other. I've never been to a writers' retreat. This is my year for firsts. I went to my first writers' conference and now a retreat. This is similar to the conference. I'm not holing up in a quiet secluded corner writing a bestseller. Some of the other writers here might be and I'm sure our agents would have no problem with us skipping some of the sessions if that was the result. I am getting some great writing tips and promoting tips and best of all meeting so many new writing friends. I met Lauraine Snelling who has to be the sweetest lady in the world. She endorsed my novel, Angel Sister, that's coming out in February. Even better, she gave me the friendliest hug when we met Tuesday night. There are famous writers all around me and I'm hoping their knowledge is rubbing off on me. I keep telling people you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but then in my heart I'm not all that old. I think I probably can learn a few more tricks.
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I'll be sharing more with you in the weeks ahead. My blog imagination has been grabbed by several ideas and you know you're going to have to be looking at some of these pictures I can't upload right now. LOL. But I'll close today with the two words that have been ringing in my ears since I heard Kyle Duncan, an editor with Bethany House, talk yesterday morning. He said to be encouraged. And so I am. I hope you are too - that you are encouraged on this day and that you carry the seeds of encouragement with you to share with others. Thanks for reading and I'll be anxious to talk to you Sunday. I'll be back on Kentucky time then for sure.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Naming Characters - What's in a Name?


I know this picture doesn't have a thing to do with naming characters. Or then again maybe I need to look deeper. The open gate, the roads running together speak of possibilities. I took this picture last week at the Shaker village near me. My new characters might walk down these very roads in my story. They will be facing new vistas, new paths. But first they have to have names.
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In a little book I have called Craft & Technique by Paul Raymond Martin, he has a paragraph about "The Name Game." He says some writers think they can't proceed with a story until they name their main characters. His advice is to pick a name, any name, just so you can get started writing. I'm one of those writers who has to have her characters named. At least my lead characters. How can I know who they are until I know their names? And saying just any Tim, Jim or Sally isn't going to work for me. I have to know what their names are. That's not to say that a character I forced a wrong name on didn't look me in the eye a few pages later and tell me emphatically that if I thought that was her name, I'd better think again.
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I'm thinking names now for my new book. I'll have lots of names before I'm through. Many of them will be minor characters I'll name on the spot when they make their entrance onto my story page. I want those names to be right too, so their names get changed more often than my main characters. I keep a running list of every character I name in a book and every dog, horse or cat plus all the place names. Saves a lot of grief a few pages on down the story road when I meet that character again and think "Oops! What was his or her name?"
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A list keeps me from using pet names I like over and over. Each book needs fresh names unless I'm letting an old character appear in a new book. I did that in The Seeker. Those of you who read The Outsider first know which characters I'm talking about. I haven't decided yet if I'm going to let any of my former characters make a cameo appearance in my next book. That could happen or not.
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Before I can even consider that possibility, I have to come up with my names. And so I'm searching through name books and waiting for the right names to leap off the page into my imagination. Then I write the name down and try it out with a last name. It has to sound right. I usually end up with a whole page full of names and I keep trying them out in my imagination to see which one is going to fit my character.
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Sometimes when I come up with a name, the character pops up too like a jack-in-the box saying "Here I am. Here I am." That's how it was with Lacey, my main female character in my Shaker book, The Blessed that will be out next summer. Other times my character lingers back in the shadows of my mind and is reluctant to come out where I can see if the name fits and if she is going to let me get to know her well enough to tell her story.
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So I'm trying to get the possibilites for the new story to come into focus along with the names. I hope you are having a week where possibilities of good things are coming along and that the names of the characters you're reading about or writing about fit them. I used to think my name didn't fit me. But now I think Ann is a good name for me. I'm just who I am, and a simple name with no pretentions fits. But when I was a kid I wished for a glamorous name with more than one syllable. LOL

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Enthusiam and Yeast in Fiction








"You can do anything if you have enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is the yeast that makes your hopes rise to the stars." ~ Henry Ford

I came across this great quote on Facebook the other day. I started to repost it, but then I wanted to say more than the FB police let me say. I always want to say more than the FB police will let me say. I make a game out of weeding out unnecessary words and letters on my posts. I don't know if I could ever get a tweet done, but I'm thinking about trying it just to practice brevity. And being enthusiastic about it.
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I'm a bread baker. I got some sourdough starter years ago and have been making bread ever since. I like making bread. I like eating bread. And my grandkids like making bread too. You can see the enthusiasm in the faces of these two dough kneaders. Of course with the enthusiasm my grandchildren show for kneading the bread, the floor and cabinets get dusted liberally with flour and sometimes their fingers get covered in gooey dough. But there is just something about kneading dough and then watching the yeast in it make it rise.
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That's what I liked about the quote - the idea of enthusiasm being yeast to make your hopes and dreams rise and take wing. If you can't be enthusiastic about your own hopes, then they're going to be like those grocery store helium balloons. Up for a while and then gradually losing air and sinking lower and lower until you can't find a hope anywhere.
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Oh, but enthusiasm can work wonders. And it's sometimes catching. One person's enthusiasm can shake awake another person's enthusiasm. And pretty soon the whole stadium is cheering. Or everyone on the team is playing his or her heart out. Or the whole church is on fire for the Lord. Or one author is sitting in front of her computer hitting keys as fast as she can to make words spread across the empty screen. Or a reader is telling all his friends about the great book he just read.
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It's easy to be enthusiastic about some things. Grandkids! New books coming out! The Seeker and then Angel Sister to start out the new year. New characters and new ideas! I'm grabbing hold of some enthusiasm to help me start writing Shaker number 5. You can do anything. That means it's going to do more than get me started. It's going to push me through the middle doldrums and right on past the panic of finding the perfect ending. Enthusiasm. I can do anything if I have enthusiasm. It's going to make my hopes rise the way my bread loaves do sitting on the counter next to a warm stove.
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Hopes and dreams? Find the ones that wake your enthusiasm and you can do anything. Do you believe that is true. That if you want something badly enough...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Day at Shaker Village

I met a writing friend for lunch at the Pleasant Hill Shaker Village near here last week. And as always I was drawn to the beautiful curving stairways in the Trustee's House. I made those stairways a reason for Adam to go to the village in my book, The Seeker. It's fun to use places in the real Shaker village in my fictional Harmony Hill Shaker village. But I am writing fiction so at times I have to find a new place that will work in my scene.
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I bring that up because my writer friend asked me about the pool of water in The Believer. She wondered where it was in the village, and I had to admit I invented that particular spot. I thought there could be a pool of water like that on the extensive Shaker property, especially with the river on one side, but I hadn't actually seen one like it or read about one like it. I made it up because I needed a way to get Elizabeth and Ethan together in a scene. That can be difficult in a Shaker village where the leaders are determined to keep the men and women separate.
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My friend was a little surprised by my admission, but a writer does what a writer has to do to make her story work. That's not to say that I play fast and loose with the village setting. I don't. I like staying true to the layout of the village buildings and to the village's history. But a pool of water in the middle of the woods seemed to be an okay invention.
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It was a stressful day for my friend. She had an auto accident on the way to Shaker Village and had to have her car towed. Her phone wouldn't work, but the deputy sheriff was kind enough to bring her on out to Shaker village to meet me. (I posted a picture of her getting out of the sheriff's car on Facebook. She was a real sport and kept her million dollar smile on her face.) Our meal wasn't nearly as relaxing as she'd hoped since she had to keep thinking about what she was going to do next and how to get a rental to get home and where and how to get her car to a repair shop in Louisville where she lives. Her cell phone wasn't getting a signal so she had to borrow mine or the village's to make the necessary calls. Then we look at the beautiful staircases and she gets ready to take a picture and her new camera won't turn on. I know about then she's thinking what else can go wrong while she was wishing she'd stayed home and never ventured out to meet me. But she put on a brave face. We ate our lunch, strolled around the grounds, met the oxen, Star and Moon, in training, and then headed for the car rental agency. We had to go all the way to Frankfort for that because the one in nearby Danville didn't have a car to rent. We get to Frankfort and all they have in a gold colored truck. Mary decided gold would work.
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But the village was beautiful as always, or perhaps even more so because of the beautiful fall colors and being with a friend. Mary's hoping to write an article about the Shaker village and maybe about a writing friend who likes to write stories about the village. Or one very like it.
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Hope you have a good beginning to an even better week.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Simple Gifts

My editor e-mailed me with some questions about the Shaker song, "Simple Gifts" this week and that got me to thinking about the song. "Tis the gift to be simple, tis the gift to be free" is probably the best known line of a Shaker hymn. Many people sing it incorrectly as "Tis a gift to be simple," but that little change of the to a makes a world of difference in the meaning of the song. The lyrics and music were written in 1948 by Shaker Elder Joseph Brackett of the Sabbathday Lake Village during what the Shakers called an "Era of Manifestations" or "Mother's Work." During this time many Shakers received what they considered "gift" songs from the spiritual realm.

I'm not sure if this elder felt that divine inspiration, but his song has certainly come to represent Shaker music. But it's gone farther than that. It began its rise to popularity in the "world" in 1944 when it was used by Aaron Copland in the ballet Appalachian Spring. Many who hear the song think it has a Celtic background. It does have a very lyrical sound and you can almost imagine someone playing the song on a flute as they dance across green fields. Of course the Shakers didn't have musical instruments until very late in their history. Their voices were their musical instruments.

"Simple Gifts" has been adapted and arranged many times over the years. You sometimes see the song with two additional verses that were not of part of the Shaker song. Perhaps the best known adaptation of the tune is Sydney Carter's "Lord of the Dance" in 1966. But it's been on t.v. (Little House on the Praire) and in the political realm too. John Williams incorporated the tune into "Air and Simple Gifts" that was performed at President Obama's inauguration in 2009. It's gone off to school and been a popular piece for various schools' drum corps and marching bands including the WV Mountaineer Marching Band.

The Shakers might have liked the idea of people marching to their song since many of their dances were marches. In this one they bowed and turned as they danced and sang. It is one of the songs the historical interpreters use when they demonstrate the Shaker worship at Pleasant Hill, the Shaker Village near where I live. Popular songs were shared between villages and this is one sung by all the villages.

So now you know more than you probably ever wanted to know about a Shaker song, but for fun you can click on the video above and listen to a beautiful rendition of the original words and tune by Judy Collins. Enjoy. I may post a different video of the song on my Facebook page. Come on over and join my page. I post something at least once a day. You can just search for Ann H Gabhart and look for my author page or click on it from the Facebook symbol on this blog or my website.

Talk to you again on Sunday. Oh yeah, and to the winners of the birthday celebration giveaway, your books are in the mail. Except Amy's. She still hasn't gotten into touch with me.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Story Glimmers


A writer needs time to gather a story. To let the glimmers spark out of that mysterious dark center where stories are sometimes born. But there are times when the glimmers sparkle but are as elusive as a sunbeam. You see it but you can't really grab it. Sometimes the story glimmers tease you and entice you down the wrong story road. And yes, sometimes a writer can't just sit back and wait for the glimmers to settle in her head to light the way to a story. A writer has to grab a flashlight and go hunting in the dark for that story.
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I'm definitely at the glimmer stage with my next story. And about ready to grab that flashlight and venture out into the dark unknown. The glimmers are there, but they aren't very bright. I see a Shaker sister keeping a journal. Perhaps she's sitting at a desk like the one above and dipping her pen into a pot of ink before carefully forming the letters of her words. She doesn't want to make a mistake because she's writing the history of her sisters and brothers. I see another character, a young sister, who is enchanted by the possibilities of life. But I don't yet know when. Or what. Maybe I can't know what until I know when. I think it's time to read some history. That always helps me focus on an idea or even discover an idea.
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And yet I stall. I have to do these other things. I have a deadline to come up with discussion questions for Angel Sister. I have questions to answer for someone to do an article. I need to update my events calendar. I need to copy edit Angels at the Crossroads so I can get copies with the new cover. I need to do this blog entry. All these things are writing related. If I'm doing them, I'm surely working. Surely writing.
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But the truth is, I'm not. Those things are important and need doing. The same as the clothes have to be washed and the meals cooked. My mom has to be taken care of and the grandkids visited. The deck needed a second coat before winter sets in. (And I got that mostly done this afternoon and am paying the price with sore muscles and blisters and too much sun.) But I'm not writing. I have to do all those other things, but I want to be writing. I want to be chasing down those story glimmers. And yet I stall.
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It can be a fearsome thing to write that first word. Will it work? Will the story magic happen again? I've done it many times. I'm confident the words will come. The story will be there if the characters are there. It is time to grab my flashlight and pursue those characters.
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I got the proposed cover for The Blessed, my Shaker novel that will be out next July. I'll post it here soon. And I also got those Blue Monday candy bars so I'll be mailing out the packages to my birthday celebration giveaway winners next week. No mail on Monday. Columbus Day. But Sunday has an interesting date. 10-10-10. Hope you have a day of perfect tens.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Blank Page Full of Possibilities



A leaf covered wagon road through a woods can be a path of possibilities to a hiker. Who knows what might be around the bend? Deer or a hawk whistling a warning to the woods inhabitants below or a beautifully decked out maple tree. Perhaps there will be nothing but more of the same, but in this case the same is enough if I'm the hiker hearing the crunch of the autumn leaves underfoot with the autumn scent in my nose.
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"We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize." (Thich Nhat Hanh)
That's true not only for a path through the woods, but also when a writer like me sits down in front of a computer and faces that blank page/screen. So many possibilities. So many directions to take. Is this the story road or perhaps only a detour? A pleasant detour perhaps, but one that doesn't lead to the possibilities of our story.
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That's where I am now. Staring at the blank screen and considering the possibilities. I've written four Shaker books. All my characters made their way to my Shaker village by different roads. And now I must find another new road to travel for this next journey to my Harmony Hill. I am going to write my "what if" question this week. I am going to find a road to start down even if I have to chop down the trees of blocked thoughts to make my new road. Another quote I came across when I was looking for inspiration is this one from Jeri Ryan. "Impossible is a word humans use far too often."
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I'm not saying impossible. I know I can find my right characters. I have many times before. One character already is in my thoughts - a Shaker sister who has a rich history, but she's not the main character. I see that girl, my main character, vaguely the way one might spot movement out of the corner of one's eyes. She's there, but she's not yet playing out her story in my mind. She has no name, no age, no desires. Well, that last is not exactly true. Even with her playing just outside the comfortable range of my eyes (mind) I know a few of her desires. But are they story making desires?
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That is the question I will have to answer, and when I answer it I will have to keep in mind this Mark Twain quote. "Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn't." I have to make my story believable. If my readers say (as I wanted to say in a book I read recently) that what I wrote could have never happened, then I've lost them. The magic aura of story over their minds has been shattered. It doesn't matter that every bit of the book is not true from Chapter one, word one. The story has to read as if it is true. Truer than truth, because amazing things can happen in real life. Amazing things can happen in fiction, but if they do, the writer better write about those amazing things in such a way that the reader is ready to say, "Okay, maybe it could happen this one time."
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What about you? Have you ever walked down the magic roads of possibilities as a writer or reader and had the magic fade? Or did each new bend in the road just make the possibilities more enchanting?
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Here are the winners in my birthday book giveaway. Linda of PA chose my book The Outsider and also gets The Carousel Painter by Judith Miller. Dee of VA picks my book, The Believer, (and plans to give the copy she already has to a friend, bless her!) and gets a Shaker bookmark. Sylvia of Nova Scotia wants The Seeker and also gets The Shunning by Beverly Lewis, Jo right here in KY picked Summer of Joy and will get an autographed copy of A Daughter's Legacy by Virginia Smith. Amy of MO and Marilyn M haven't let me know yet which books they want. So Amy and Marilyn if you're reading this and didn't get my "you're a winner" e-mail, get in touch. Thanks so much to all of you who joined in the fun of my birthday giveaway. For sure I'll be doing something new around Thanksgiving or Christmas. So stay tuned. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Happy Possibilities


Where do you feel happy? And if you found such a place, how often would you make every effort to go there? This would be a place where you would feel loved and worthy and safe and engaged in life. No boredom there. No hard testing. Except, of course, some of us are happiest when faced with challenges that we have to give our all to meet.
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That's probably why people run marathons. I haven't decided that would be a happy time for me. I love to walk, but running 26 miles is another matter. But my son-in-law and daughter enjoy testing themselves by running in races and feeling the accomplishment of finishing with a faster time than they did in the last race.
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Me, I'm happy when I'm writing and it can certainly be challenging to come up with the right idea that can start the snowball of story creation rolling. At times the idea can explode and lend itself to a dynamite beginning that maybe writes itself but then somewhere along the story writing way will come some writing doldrums. I usually have a few stretches of doldrums when I'm writing - times when I wonder if I'll ever finish this story or even if it's worth finishing. And yet I'm only really happy when I'm somewhere in the process of telling a story.
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Not that I don't get happiness from other things. I certainly do. I love my family and I'm crazy about my grandkids. I am blessed with a life chock full of happy possibilities. Even now staying with Mom so much, there are happy possibilities as Mom and I spend more time together than we have in years. Of course there are also the happy times when I do get to go home and just be me. And part of me - a big part of me - is a writer. That was part of me before I ever met my husband. It can be a frustrating part - a maddening part - a consuming part. But in the center of all of that it can be a happy part.
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I got going on the idea of where to find happiness from our Sunday bulletin today. In the printed material on the back the writer asks, "Where is a good place to find happiness?" And he suggests we might answer "the church." I do hope you expect to find that inner happiness so necessary to your well being in your chuch. I do. But I also know I need to be writing words that will slide one sentence into the next and the next until I have a story going. And then I'm happy - at least until I hit the doldrums. ;o)
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I've been so busy this weekend with the trip to Books by the Banks in Cincinnati and then staying at Mom's and trying to cook for Homecoming meal and going to Homecoming and then back to Mom's that happiness hasn't been much on my mind. More survival or perhaps endurance is the better word. Maybe I'm running those races just like my daughter and son-in-law, but they're private races - races to get everything done and some words written too.
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I haven't even been home long enough to pick my winners for my birthday giveaway, but by next blog post for sure. Oh yeah, and I just put the flower picture because I liked it. It's been way too chilly today as if winter is trying to leapfrog over autumn and so I needed a little bright time. Plus, the area where I took the picture of those Dutchman's-breeches is one of the places I can always find a good dose of happiness while I'm hiking. Church is another, especially on a day like today when we were celebrating 198 years and welcoming so many friends back home.
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Where is a good place for you to find happiness?