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)
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.