Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Grassroots of Patriotism

"The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage." Thucydides (Ancient Greek Historian and Author 460-404 B.C.)
We went to our grandson's elementary school musical program last week. Their teacher chose a patriotic theme and here in this picture they are singing a song about the red, white and blue of the American flag - the symbol of our country and the flag that many soldiers have followed into battle. The kids led all of us in the Pledge to the Flag and then they recited the Preamble to the Constitution. "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union..."
Some things just give a citizen chills and bring tears to the eyes no matter how many times you hear it, and hearing it from a group of fourth and fifth graders made it even more touching as it was easy to see their enthusiasm and pride in being American. At the end of the program the teacher asked the veterans to stand to be recognized. We did that this morning in church and more than half the men in our church were standing. These men served their country and came home to continue their lives. Others did not. Others gave their all in service to their country and tomorrow is a day set aside to remember those men and women.
My father didn't serve in World War II. He was exempted because he was a farmer. Two uncles were in the war. A cousin served in Vietnam and a brother-in-law worked on airplanes in the Phillipines during the Vietnam War. I'm sure all of you have veterans in your family you're proud of or perhaps you served in the armed forces yourself. If so, thank you. My husband sings in a Southern Gospel group called The Patriot Quartet and they have a song out on the radio "I'm Proud to Be an American Christian." In nearly all their concerts the song gets people on their feet and many times it's the veterans who are first to stand. They've put their lives on hold and stood for America before. And that's why I get teared up when I hear patriotic songs. Because being an American matters.
How do you feel when you say the Pledge to the Flag or hear the National Anthem?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Strawberries and More Strawberries

"Doubtless God could have made a better berry (than the strawberry), but doubtless God never did." William Allen Butler
I hate to say that I'm tired of strawberries. And I can't say that I'm tired of eating them. Just picking them. It's been a good year down here on the farm for strawberries. A very good year. We don't have a big patch but one day I picked three gallons. And they aren't those apple size strawberries you can sometimes get at Kroger. No, these are small and sweet, but it takes a lot of picking to fill your bucket. Especially when you're having to play the twister game to get them picked because you couldn't bear to plow or chop or pull any of those new strawberry plant runners. And now you certainly don't want to step on those luscious ripe berries. Seems like every time my foot slips it's always the nicest berry in the patch that ends up smashed underfoot.
These berries were hard coming. We used to keep a strawberry patch going all the time, but then it got weedy and my husband decided to burn out the weeds. He discovered strawberry plants don't like fire any better than weeds. So after a few years of no strawberries we were ready to try again. First we put them in a raised bed. They were beautiful, lush and green, that first year. You don't really have berries until the second year. One night in late September after they'd eaten all the apples off our apple trees and were still hungry, the deer ate every leaf on those strawberry plants. The next morning we had stems. But we don't give up easy. The next year we put the strawberries in the garden. Again green and lush plants. Again hungry deer. This was after I spent a good number of hours weeding all summer. They say third time's charm. But a fence to compare to the kind they build around prisons maybe did more than the charm. I weeded another year and said if the deer got through the fence and ate them off to the ground again, I was giving up on strawberries. But the fence worked. The first year wasn't too good for strawberries. Got a handful or two. Last year picked a bunch. This year abundance is the word. And I'm about ready for them to be through bearing. Then I can start picking the raspberries. On a farm, there's always something to be sure you get plenty of sunshine and exercise.
An interesting side note is that the character in my work in progress has been picking strawberries in my Shaker village. The Shakers made a lot of strawberry jam and what they didn't eat, they sold to the "world." So I'm figuring they had some big strawberry patches and that my character is probably even more tired of picking as I am.
Wish you were here. I'd bake us some of those old fashioned sugar cookies like my mama used to make and we'd have strawberry shortcake. Yum yum.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Moments in Time

Today while I was walking I got to thinking about how I remember odd moments in my life. I'm sure you do too. Of course we all have those universal moments we remember. Moments of tragedy or world changing events so intense that we remember exactly what we were doing when we got the news. The bombing of Pearl Harbor. Kennedy's assassination. The space shuttle explosion. 9/11. Times seared in our memories. I'm not old enough to remember Pearl Harbor, but I remember all the others.
But we also remember other moments in time not so dramatic and that seem to have little reason to linger so vividly in our minds. Little snippets of ordinary moments come back to me like how a mockingbird used to perch in the topmost branch of a tree at my old home and sing while I hung clothes on the line. That bird not only sang but would also flutter up off that branch in a bird dance of joy. In another moment I remember the sweet weight of my baby daughter's warm body against my chest and how she giggled when I rocked her. I know how my father-in-law's whiskers felt under my fingers when I lathered up his cheeks to shave him after he got older and wasn't able to shave himself. I can remember how it sounded to open up the lid of the big red metal cooler full of cold water at the country store and pull out a glass bottle of orange cola. Or how the screen door slammed when I came in from school. Then there was the deliciously cool feel of the linoleum floor after I kicked off my shoes and peeled off my bobby socks and how those socks left a pattern of little indentions on the top of my feet. Little moments in time that stick in my mind for no other reason than they happened.
As a writer, I have to invent all those little moments in time for my characters. Of course in a story I need the big moments when a character is faced with challenges and life changing events, but to make my character really come to life in my head as well as for the readers, I have to know some of those little moments in time for my characters too. Those moments might not all make it into my story, but some of them will. Moments in time. That's what makes a story. Moments strung together in a forward march to find out what happens next or in flashback moments to see what happened before. Picking the right moments in time to put in a story - that's a writer's challenge.
What ordinary moments in time live on in your memory?
Oh yeah, and the peony picture is just for pretty. Second oh yeah - if you haven't signed up for my new giveaway, I'll be doing the first drawing for a chance to win an autographed copy of my new book, The Seeker, next week and then several more drawings in the month of June and July. Leave a comment with a way to contact you or if you don't want to leave your e-mail address here, contact me from my website, You might be one of the lucky winners. Plus if you'd like some bookmarks for The Seeker, e-mail me your address and I'll send you a few along with a signed book plate.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Peony

Peonies are my very favorite yard flower. They have always been so since I was a kid and one of my favorite games was jumping over the peony bushes in the front yard of my grandfather's house. I had to take a running leap and sometimes my foot clipped the green bush as I hit the other side. Don't ask me why that was so much fun. Just believe me when I say it was. Those bushes issued me a challenge every time I looked at them.
~~And then the flowers are so big and full with that great spicy scent. A rich flower that faithfully returns every year and requires hardly any maintenance. The white ones in my yard are taken from those jumpable bushes back when. I've got some pink ones too. Those are from my mother-in-law's yard. I dug up every bulb after her death and we were selling the house. They could have the house, but not her peonies. Of course peonies aren't perfect. The blooms are heavy and when it rains the beauty of the blooms hits the ground. That's when it's time to fill up a vase and enjoy the blooms and their distinctive odor inside.
~~Peonies also figure in one of my saddest memories. I had a beloved aunt. She never married and she loved me and my sisters like a doting grandma. And we loved her every bit as much. My aunt suffered from depression. One May over forty years ago while the peonies were in bloom her depression proved fatal when she committed suicide. I was a month from having my first baby even though I wasn't much more than a child myself at seventeen. And when the hearse came to get my aunt's body, the driver ran over the peony bush and mashed all those beautiful flowers. I wanted to lift those blooms back up, bring them back to life - to change what had happened. But I couldn't.
~~That's how life is. Full of tragedies. Full of beauty. Full of love and sometimes sorrow. All intermingled and twisted together so that there's no way to pull out the beauty without knowing the sorrow. So I rejoice in the peony blooms each spring and each spring I remember a time when the blooms were ruined. But I don't want to dwell on that sad spring. I want to remember the peonies in bloom and a little girl taking flight over the bushes and an aunt who loved me well.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Story Before

It was a busy weekend around here. Actually I don't suppose I was around here all that much. We were on the road to speeches and movies and weddings and singings. Friday I had the privilege of speaking to a group of grandparent tutors at their recognition and appreciation luncheon. It was good to hear about this great program to teach kids to read. These "grannies" and "grandpas" go into the schools and work with maybe five or six kids on their reading skills in half hour sessions four days a week. I once did some adult literacy teaching and I know how rewarding it is to teach a person to read. And these grannies and grandpas, on top of the satisfaction of knowing they have started these students toward a better future in school, they get lots of smiles and hugs from the kids who love the special attention. All the grandparents I talked to had a special spring to their step and a happy twinkle in their eyes. While most had a whole crew of grandkids and great grandkids of their own, they were happy to add a few "foster" grandkids. Many of them had been working with the program for five or more years and planned to keep at it as long as they were able. The program is funded by a government "Save the Children" grant. It's good to hear of a program that's working.

Since the day for writing was pretty much shot anyway, on the way home from Berea we stopped in Danville and treated ourselves to a movie. We deserved a good one since we'd gone out on our anniversary to a movie that had to be the worst movie ever. So we picked Robin Hood. That brings me to the story before. That's what the movie was. I kept waiting for them to be hiding out in the forest and robbing the rich to give to the poor. You know, how I'd always heard the story of Robin Hood. But this Robin Hood was out there fighting with the kings, defending England against France, falling in love with Marion. I hadn't realized it was the story before. At the end of the movie it said "And the legend begins." The movie gave a new slant on Robin Hood and wasn't the same bit over.

That got me to thinking about the story before. While I don't always write the story before when I'm writing my books, I need to know it. What brought my characters to this moment in their lives? What has happened to them in the past to make them the people they are in this story at this time? While we do grab characters out of our imaginations, the best characters are the ones we get to know. We go back and meet their parents. We look around at the school they attended, at the jobs they may have had before our story begins. We know what colors they like and whether ragweed makes them sneeze. Best of all we get to know what they want and what they're willing to do to make their dreams come true. The story before. This movie told Robin Hood's before story the same as the Star Wars movies did a few years back when they went back in time for the beginning of the drama. Everybody has a story before and so do our characters. It's a writer's challenge to weave bits of that story before into the story now in such a way that a reader gets to know our characters so well that the characters become real in their imaginations just as they are real in the storyteller's mind.

In the books you read, do you like knowing the story before or do you want to fly on with the story now?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Next Thirty Years

~~Today is my great niece, Kaelyn's birthday. She's six. Some of you may have been following her or my reports on her on Facebook. But in case you haven't, here's a bit of her story. Last year before Christmas she got sick several times and couldn't seem to get completely better. They thought it was the flu and/or other common maladies that all kids have. But then the week before Christmas on the day the family was planning to start home for a Christmas celebration with the extended family, a lump came up under her neck. A visit to the doctor just to make sure it wasn't anything serious turned into three months at St. Jude's Hospital after a diagnosis of acute leukemia. They didn't get to go home. They didn't get to do anything except go straight to St. Jude's. Suddenly nothing was as important as getting this little girl the best treatment possible. And thank God for Danny Thomas and his vision of curing all young people of cancer with the best possible treatment center in the world. The treatments are horrendous but the care has been superior. She has now entered her second phase of treatment. The cancer is in remission and the battle is now on to eradicate it from her body forever. For two years she will have to undergo treatments every few weeks. For two years any time she so much as runs a fever, she'll have to go to the hospital. For forever she will float along on the thousands of prayers that have been offered up for her because of many churches taking her and her family into their hearts and onto their prayer lists and for all the friends and strangers who have read about her on Facebook and have prayed for healing for her. And today she's six and getting to eat pizza and birthday cake because her blood tests show her counts are up.
~~Some of you may have fought similar battles in your families for those you loved as you prayed for their healing. Sometimes that healing comes and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes accidents steal our loved ones before their time. We're tough and fragile at the same time. And we're not guaranteed tomorrow.
~~Not long ago on a long ride home from somewhere I tuned into a country station on the radio. A song came on where the singer was saying in his next thirty years he'd do things different. He'd live better, kick all his bad habits, love his family and more or less be a model citizen. I don't remember exactly what he planned, but the lyric "my next thirty years" caught my attention because none of us knows if we'll have a next thirty years. We hope so. We want to look that far in the future and still imagine breathing. But we don't know. We expect to. That's why I'm working hard to finish my current book - because I fully expect to be here on July 1 when I have promised to have the book finished. If we didn't expect tomorrow we wouldn't have much motivation for a lot of the chores or work we are doing today.
~~But I got to thinking about my next thirty years and you know what? If I make it that long I hope I'll be able to keep putting words together. Keep making reading friends. At least for part of those thirty years. I look back at the last thirty years and wonder how they could have passed so quickly. Some of the things I did during those years I might like to have a do-over, but there are no do-overs in life. There are only the next thirty years or the next thirty days or the next thirty minutes.
~~I'm glad today we can say Happy Birthday to Kaelyn. She should have many more than thirty years ahead of her now, thanks to the advances in cancer treatment and her wonderful dedicated doctors and nurses. But today she's six and getting to blow out those six candles and make a wish. I'm so thankful for that.
~~How do you feel about your next thirty years? What would you like to write in your journal thirty years from now? Whatever it is, I hope it will be joyful. Maybe I'll look back in my journal to thirty years ago and see what I was expecting in the next thirty years. I published my first book 32 years ago.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day!!

~~One thing all of us have in common is that we have a mother. Father too but it's not Father's Day so we're not talking about him today. Here's a picture of my mom and my youngest granddaughter. Nothing like a baby to bring joy out in a mama, grandmama or great grandmama. It is such a blessing to be part of a family that can enjoy the interaction of several generations.
~~I've been posting Mother's Day sayings on Facebook this week. The one I found that I liked best was by Jill Churchill. "There's no way to be a perfect mother, and a million ways to be a good one." None of us are perfect. But most all of us work hard to be good moms. Love can cover a multitude of mistakes. I made some with my kids that I still regret, but life moved on. The kids survived my imperfect mothering and thrived under my mother love.
~~But thinking about moms got me to wondering about the mothers in my novels. And you know, I haven't written about many good moms. Anyway not that were still breathing when the story is happening. In my Hollyhill books, Jocie's mother deserted her when Jocie was five. That isn't one of the million ways to be a good mom for sure. Adrienne comes into the story more in the Summer of Joy and I hope I made her real. She was very real to me and a very important part of the story in the first two books even though she only appeared in those stories in Jocie's and David's memory. In the third book, I tell some of the story from Adrienne's viewpoint and I think the scene in the doctor's office where she's getting a diagnosis of breast cancer is one of the better scenes I've ever written. Nobody else has ever told me that, so that might just be a writer's delusion. I also had Leigh's mother in that book - another mother with some issues. In fact reading those books, nobody would know what a great mother I have. Nothing of the mothers in those books came from personal experience with my own mother.
~~Gabrielle's mother in The Outsider wouldn't win any mother of the year awards either and after they join the Shakers, Gabrielle and her mother have a Shaker sister relationship. In The Believer, Elizabeth has a good mother, but she dies before the story starts. In The Seeker (in stores soon!!) Charlotte's mother died when Charlotte was fifteen. I'm beginning to note a trend here. But I'm saved from being too predictable by Angel Sister due out in January 2011 where Nadine is a wonderful mother. My kind of mom. And breathing all through the story. That's a good thing for that story. In my next book I'm going to have a fantastic mother character who lives to be 102. ;-)
~~I sent out newsletters. A lot of them bounced back at me. I loaded them up with too much info and pictures, I guess. Someday I'll learn this stuff - maybe. I'll try to resend tomorrow. Anyway I am doing giveaways in June and the first week of July for autographed copies of The Seeker when it comes out. If you want to enter in the fun, just make a comment here or send me an e-mail from my website, I'll be doing a drawing every week in June and then the first week in July doing two drawings with one just for those of you who haven't yet won one of my books. Then I'll include something from the Shaker village gift shop in one of those drawings. Not sure what yet, but something Shaker related.
~~Hope you had a great Mother's Day with lots of good times and that you were able to tell your mom you loved her. But if she's no longer with you, I hope you have many good memories that make you smile and remember the million ways she was a good mom.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Sweeping the Shaker Way

~~Whenever I go to the Shaker village not far from my farm, I feel as if I've gone back to a different moment in time. I can't deny a feeling of peace in that place. Even though I've read a lot of Shaker history and know their Societies were not always peaceful and trouble free, still I feel the peace there as I walk along those tree-lined streets and gaze at the sturdy buildings that have lasted far longer than their Society did in that place. The Shakers sought peace and union with God and their fellow Believers by putting their hands to work and giving their hearts to God. For many of the Believers it worked. They did find peace and purpose and walked the Shaker way with gladness and devotion. Others did not and went back to the "world."
~~The Shakers did their best to be self sufficient with each member working for the good of the whole. Then as their numbers grew they needed a way to keep all hands busy so they began to manufacture items for the world like these flat brooms. A Shaker man in one of the eastern villages came up with the idea for a better broom and a way of stitching the broom flat. Today re-enactors in the village still make brooms the Shaker way. Then they ape the good business sense of the Shakers and sell the brooms that were made for the entertainment of the tourist guest in the village's gift shop. That's where these brooms in the picture were. Waiting for someone to carry them home and put them to work.
~~The Shakers are long gone from this Shaker village of Pleasant Hill. The pathways and buildings are empty of all but tourists and workers. Nothing is left now of the people who once lived and worked there except a few markers in their graveyard. But if you try you can hear the echo of their songs and the stomp of their feet in the meetinghouse. You can imagine with very little problem a Shaker sister's skirt whirling about her as she spins in religious ecstasy. And you can wonder at this contradictory people. Every action of their daily lives was disciplined and ordered by their Ministry, but yet their worship could be open and free. In reading accounts of some of their spirit visitations, they sound like children playing pretend.
~~My Shaker books are not so peaceful. In The Seeker first one army and then another marches through the center of the village destroying the peace of the place. Just a few more weeks until the book is out to bookstores. I received beautiful postcards and bookmarks today. If you would like some, contact me from my website, and I'll send you some. You can also click on my Facebook page and/or sign up for my newsletter from the website. I should have a newsletter spinning across cyberspace by the end of the week. There will be news of how you can enter several drawings to win a copy of The Seeker in July.
~~Have you ever visited a Shaker village? What did you like best about it? Maybe you bought a Shaker broom. Hope you have a great today and a better tomorrow.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Messy Desks, Deadlines, and Writing Classes

~~~Here's my granddaughter ready to take over her grandma's place as writer for the day. She's a super fast typist, but it's a little hard to read all those words she types without concern over proper placement of letters. Free flowing thoughts - er fingers. Perhaps good for the creative energy.
~~~I'd like to blame the messy desk in the background on her, but I have to admit the mess is all mine. I like a neat desk, but I think papers reproduce overnight and spread like creeping kudzu. Scattered about in no particular order I have bank statements, calendar books, church bulletins, books of inspirational sayings, and info on my computer that's still not working properly and all my troubleshooting isn't fixing.
~~~Everybody groans when I say the word "Vista." I hear all of you out there groaning now. I don't really care what operating system I have as long as it operates. I've always been that way about cars too. As long as the motor turns over and starts purring when I turn the key, I'm happy. Of course I like one that's small enough to parallel park with ease which means my husband considers it a toy car. So we usually ride together in his van.
~~~But one reason my desk is so messy is that I'm having to push toward a deadline and do some promo things for The Seeker that's making an appearance at the same time as the deadline. It's good to have something to blame your mess on. Everything that comes up I say I'll do that in July the same as I did last year. I didn't get everything done in July last year. Some of those "to do" things are still on my list. My list is turning yellow with age.
~~~But before July, I'm going to be leading a couple of classes at the Kentucky Christian Writers Conference in Elizabethtown the middle of June. I hope - really hope - to have my book finished before then. The two classes I'm leading are about developing characters and revising. The revising one sounds so dull that nobody will probably come to that one, but making your writing better by careful editing and revision is definitely worth the time and effort.
~~~I'm beginning to worry I may have gotten in over my head with these classes. I taught a community ed writing class for several years and enjoy teaching, but the people coming to this conference will probaby know more about writing than I do. I go on instinct a lot. You can't teach instinct. But maybe I can share some of the things I've discovered in my many years of writing. That's one thing I'll probably have on most of the attendees, the number of years I've been at it.
~~~But if you were coming to my class, what would you like to know? What questions would you ask? What tips would you share about character development or revising? If you've got an extra minute, let me know.