Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Drifting in Time


My mom is one of the sweetest women anybody could ever want to know. She's had a hard week with maybe a heart attack or stroke and a couple of falls that have left her bruised all over. The worst of it is how confused she's been about how old she is, where she lives and who we are.
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We spent two days at the hospital that seemed more like two weeks to her. She was ready to hire a taxi to get home. The only problem was that she didn't know where home was. She had gone back in time and was ready to go back to the home where she grew up. She kept telling me, when we finally did get released from the hospital and were on the way home, that I wasn't going the right way. She didn't argue with me, but I could tell she thought we were going to end up in a desert somewhere. But she was polite to this strange woman taking her on all the wrong roads. She's better today. Knows I'm her daughter again. That makes us both feel better. I understand about dementia. We dealt with that problem with my mother-in-law. But it's still heart-breaking to see my capable, take charge mama who has always taken care of everybody else having trouble thinking.
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And so I decided yesterday she was drifting in time. Skipping back through the years of her life and stopping here and there. She picked the young years to latch on to. And why not? If you're going to wander through the years of your life, why not pick the good years? The years where you felt strong and able and enjoyed living. So if you are drifting along at thirty-five, there's no way you can think about having children years older than that. It's no wonder she wondered who the heck we were. She knew she had three daughters and what our names were, but her daughters were young. Not way older than she was herself. No way that could be. So maybe her thinking was reasonable and we were the unreasonable ones to keep trying to convince her of the impossible.
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You know that's what I do when I start a book. I drift around in time with my characters and I pick their best, most interesting years. Maybe not the years they enjoyed most, but the ones where the most happened. Like in The Seeker with the Civil War tearing the country apart or in The Believer with Elizabeth's father dying. I have to start my story in the moment of time in my characters' lives that is most dramatic.
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The Seeker is on a blog tour right now. I've been getting alerts of this or that review. It's mostly fun reading what people think about your story. Mostly. Of course this one reviewer said one of my books, and I honestly don't remember which Shaker book but I think it was The Outsider. Anyway the reviewer said my book made her want to - and I quote - "wash windows." I'm sure that was so she could look out on the beautiful world that had been made more beautiful by my enchanting story. Or she needed more light so that she could read every word. Twice. Or reading about the Shakers' desire for cleanliness inspired her to join in their war against dirt. I have to be honest. I've never read a book that made me want to wash windows. The afternoon sun shining through them makes me think about washing windows sometimes, but then the sun goes down.
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Thanks for reading. Hope if you're drifting along with some characters, none of them are making you want to wash windows.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Deadlines and Other Worries

Actually the deadline isn't that much of a worry. I like having deadlines. That means some editor somewhere is wanting to read my story and then suggesting ways I can improve it before readers pick it up. I'm always ready to improve what I write. Of course, I do admit I have times I resist the improvement, but usually if I read with an open mind I see what the editor or copy editor is seeing. I have one basic rule in editing to suggestions made by my editors. I tell myself if the editor had problems with this or that sentence or scene then I can be fairly confident that at least some readers will have the same sort of problems. I don't want my stories to be a problem to read. So I change it.
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Sometimes that means changing something else and that changes another thing. You know like those rows of dominoes that all fall down when you knock down the first one. What is a story except scene built on scene built on scene. They all inter-connect and must line up for the story to make sense. So if you change one thing then you have to be sure everything else still lines up the way it should. Gee, if my editor read that last sentence she'd be getting her red pencil out for sure. But I'm hoping you kind readers out there will understand what I'm trying to say. You know that old saying, do as I say, not as I do. Maybe that goes with writing too. Write as I say, not the way I write. Especially in this journal. Journals are for free thinking and writing, aren't they? Now I'm going to be like Sesame Street's Grover in that Hide and Seek book my grandkids love for me to read to them. He asks the reader to pretend not to see him on the page since he hasn't found a good place to hide. "Please say yes! Please say yes!" That's the only way I can write in a journal. Just as it spills out.
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It wasn't a good day down here on the farm yesterday with family health news. My mom fell and wasn't able to get up. Until she gets better, we'll have to stay with her around the clock. Not sure if she had a stroke or not. But we're praying that she'll begin to be more like her old self soon.
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And then my niece had trouble giving birth and now her baby girl, Emily is having breathing troubles and has been put on a ventilator. That's the family that has the little girl, Kaelyn, who is taking treatments for cancer. But the mom and dad and Kaelyn, too have such powerful faith and are so depending on the Lord that they are an inspiration to all who know them as they continue their faithful journey.
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My recent books have all shown the faith journey of my characters, but we all step out in faith each and every day. Some days are nothing but flowers and sunshine and some days it rains troubles. In my books, of course, there has to be a good amount of that trouble rain to give conflict to the stories and give the characters something to overcome. Life often is the same. Hope you are overcoming and looking forward to some days of flowers and sunshine. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hearing Voices


I did a live internet radio show last Thursday night on Amish Wisdom with host Suzanne Woods Fisher. Suzanne is the talented and popular author of Amish fiction and non-fiction including the best selling novel, The Choice. On her show that airs every Thursday at 5 p.m. EST she interviews authors of Amish fiction, Bed & Breakfast owners, and others who have a connection to the Plain life or are striving to live simple. I don't write about the Amish or have a Bed & Breakfast or make quilts, but the Shakers did have a song "Tis a Gift to Be Simple." They aimed for simplicity and plainness in all they did. Their furniture had no decorative swirls and designs. Their clothes were basic attire with no lace or fancy trimmings. Their houses and buildings were sturdy but lacked porches or fancy woodworking. And in their pursuit of the simple, plain designs they found beauty.
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So Suzanne asked me to be a guest on her show to talk about the simple ways of the Shakers. I'd not done a live radio show before and as it turns out, I still haven't - exactly. Oh, we were live (and maybe even lively) talking about the Shakers, but the internet station had server outages and nobody in my part of the country was able to get the show to come up. But you can listen to the archived program now at www.toginet.com/shows/amishwisdom. I even got brave enough to listen myself. I thought I'd better do that before I posted the link out there on Facebook or mentioned it to anybody in case I was glad the server was out and nobody heard me!!
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And while I wondered for a few minutes if that was really me talking, the interview didn't sound too bad. Isn't it odd how our voices never sound the way we think they will when we hear them recorded? I hear one tone of voice in my head and everybody else hears me another way. I remember the first time I heard my voice recorded. I was in high school and I vowed never to speak again. Of course that lasted all of five minutes. A friend sent a link, www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=why-does-my-voice-sound-different, explaining the scientific reason for this for those of you out there with inquiring minds who want to know. You can find an answer to almost anything out on the net somewhere.
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But voices are important. I used to have a part time job where I scheduled substitutes for the school system and I could usually tell on the first call if the person was going to be a good substitute or not. And not always by what they said, but by their voice. That's why they tell you to smile while you're talking on the phone if you want to make a good impression. I smiled some of the time while I was talking to Suzanne last week. I'm sure I did.
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Voices are important in fiction too. Dialogue is such a vital part of fiction these days. People like to listen in on your characters talking. At Bible study tonight, I got a really nice compliment from one of my church friends who's reading my new book, The Seeker. She said she just loved "hearing" Mellie (one of my characters) talk. And that's what I want readers to do. To hear my characters talking in their heads. Just the way I do. Just the way I hope you do if you read one of my stories.
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Hope all the voices you're hearing are saying good things!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Summer Time Blessings


Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it. - Russel Baker
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I like seasons. I like spring and autumn and even a few weeks of winter as long as the snow doesn't linger and the ice is only in the ice bins in the fridge. Hate those ice storms. And I like summer. Even when it's hot the way it's been this year here in Kentucky. It's hot!! In Kentucky we usually say it's not the heat. It's the humidity. This year we're saying it's the heat and the humidity.
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But we are getting rain. So it's not like it was a few years back when all the fields turned so brown it hurt your eyes to look at them and you wondered what the poor old cows were finding to eat. And do you remember how the grass crunched under your feet when you walked outside? Nobody made much money mowing yards that year. This year the lawn mowing people are doing very well, thank you. It's hot and it's raining and the grass is growing.
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I remember having hot summers like this when I was a kid. We didn't have air-conditioning. We didn't even dream of having air conditioning. That would have been crazy talk. We had fans and shade trees and creeks to cool off in on the hottest days the way my old dog is cooling off in the creek here. Now we have air conditioning and I have to wear sweaters in the house when it's ninety outside. Of course my husband is still sweating while I'm wearing sweaters. I think he'd like the thermostat set on sixty-five. Brrr!! I want to know it's summer even when I'm inside. We're not climate control compatible, but we compromise. He tries to keep his cool and I'm like Mr. Rogers putting on my sweater.
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But there are so many good things about summer. Kids are out of school so they can come visit Grammy and Pa. Fresh veggies out of the garden. Wading in the creek. Blackberries. Hummingbirds and butterflies. Ice cream. Family reunions. Vacations. Long days and walks at twilight. Lightning bugs. Swinging on grapevines. Sno cones and caramel apples at the fair. What do you like best about your summers?
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Of course a really good thing about the last three summers is the release of a new Shaker book for me. The Outsider came out in August 2008, The Believer is August 2009 and now The Seeker in July 2010. And the next one, The Blessed, may be out summer 2011. It's fun to have a book out in the summer time. Well, actually it's fun to have a book out any month of the year. That's what writers work toward - seeing their books out there in readers' hands. I've always thought about how neat it would be to go in a doctor's office waiting room or wherever and see somebody reading my book. Somebody I didn't know. So far that hasn't happened, but I do peer at the book title whenever I see somebody reading. Right now if you have a Kindle you can get a free download of The Outsider for the next few weeks. Free is a nice price! You just want to double check and make sure it's still free when you get ready to download since it is a limited offer. I think the offer is good for a couple more weeks.
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Also summer is the time when they announce the finalists for the ACFW (Amercian Christian Fiction Writers) Carol awards or what in years past were the Book of the Year awards. And guess what? The Believer was picked as a finalist in the long historical romance category. How neat is that? Last year Summer of Joy was picked as a finalist in the long contemporary category and now The Believer. Lots of great books on the list. When I find the official link I'll post it on Facebook or put the entire list on here Wednesday. Plus I'll be writing about a new giveaway.
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Thanks to those of you following my journal. Hope your summer is the best yet. Just remember this Swedish proverb. A life without love is like a year without summer.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Remarks that Sting

Criticism is something we can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing. --Aristotle
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Virginia Smith and I were all smiles after the Kentucky Christian Writers Conference a few weeks ago. Ginny was the keynote speaker and did a fantastic series of speeches about the writing road. She used her own experience including the potholes and bumps she has encountered and her words were very inspiring for the writers in attendance. And for the fellow staff people like me.
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I taught a couple of classes. One about character (twice) and one about revision. People actually came to listen to what I had to say about both. The room was overflowing for my first character class and then only one showed up for the repeat of the class - the staff person assigned to my class. So I told her the old joke about the farmer who was the only person to show up for revival services and the preacher asked if he wanted to just skip the service and go home. The farmer said, "Well, preacher, if I go out to feed my cows and only one old cow shows up, I still feed her." So the preacher got behind the pulpit and preached his entire message as if a hundred people were listening. When he was through he asked the farmer what he thought. The farmer gave the preacher a look and said, "Well, preacher, when I go out to feed my cows and only one old cow shows up, I don't give her the whole load!" That story's always good for a laugh. Especially when I tell whatever sparse crowd I'm speaking to that they're going to get the whole load. Another person wandered in and the three of us had a good class. The two ladies didn't seem to get over full even though I unloaded the whole load on them.
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At the end of the conference the attendees were asked to fill out evaluations of the classes they'd attended. Last week I got the summary of those evaluations and a few remarks from the people who had come to my classes. There was a star rating system with five stars being the best and one star being not so good. I got three times as many five star scores as four stars and only a few three stars. Guess which ones I think about most? The remarks were that way too. "Enjoyed." "Very entertaining." "Good speaker." "Good points." "Good presentation." And more along this line, but then there were those two or three remarks that sort of made the good ones fade like invisible ink. "Inexperienced speaker." "Hoping for more." "Not much new info."
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Now why, when I think about the evaluations, do I dwell on the ones that pointed out places I might have come up short? Do you think it was because I thought I did come up short? Why can't I just believe those thirty of so people who enjoyed the classes and gave me such great feedback?
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That's the way we are, isn't it? That critical word sticks to us like a cocklebur while we let the good words fly right past our ears. We need to accept the good. That's not to say that I couldn't have done better with the classes. I could have. Maybe that's why the remarks stung a little, because I saw the truth in them. If I teach more conferences I'll be ready to improve on what I did at this one. So maybe even though criticism can sting, we learn more from it than from praise.
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If you want to hear a live internet radio interview with me tune in tomorrow (Thursday) afternoon at 5 p.m. EST to Amish Wisdom with host Suzanne Woods Fisher. I'll be talking about Shakers and not the Amish, but it still sounds like fun. You can check out the website and connect at http://toginet.com/shows/amishwisdom. Plus you can leave a comment there to have a chance to win an autographed copy of The Seeker. The final winner in my June and July drawings was Anita from NC. She won the Shaker gift, a bun and bread warming stone, along with the copy of my book. I'll be doing a new giveaway soon.
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Love this quote below. Hope you have more love than criticism this week and every week.
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Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I may not forget you. Love me and I may be forced to love you. -William Arthur Ward

Monday, July 12, 2010

Celebrating Twins and a Hometown Book Launch


Whew! Whoever said twins were no more work than one couldn't have been talking about toddlers. We had the boys here at the house for a few days last week and believe me, I got my exercise without worrying about setting aside time for a walk. There wasn't any setting aside time for anything except chasing boys. Especially when we went outside to see the dogs. They liked heading off to do independent adventure seeking then with one boy going one way and the other boy going the opposite direction. As they hightailed it for the field or the garden or the far reaches of Africa perhaps, they'd sometimes look back at me and grin while they kept trucking until grandma grabbed one of them up and then ran to cut short the other's journey and make them come back to the yard.
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But aren't they cute? And you will notice that I'm still smiling. Hair is only half combed and if you could see the floor in the picture, you'd wonder how we could walk for the toys scattered everywhere. What is it about kids that dumping toys you've just picked up is the most fun of anything they can do? For sure there were lots of hugs and kisses to go around.
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But Sunday morning I packed them up and took them back to Mom and Dad. Then I had to rush home to get to my hometown book launch for The Seeker at the local library. I've been doing this every time I have a new release for the last five or six books now and it's always one of the most enjoyable events I do. Friends from church and neighbors and people from town who've known me since I was a kid growing up here come out and we talk books. They listen to me talk mostly, but then it's great to hear what they have to say. We laughed a lot yesterday. They thought it was funny when I told them how I'd left things at the house with the trashcan in the shower stall and the toilet paper up on the windowsill and cereal scattered to the four corners of the kitchen. They were a good bunch and I always feel so honored that people will take time out of their busy schedules to come listen to me tell them about my books. They were a good looking group, but I forgot to give somebody my camera to take pictures while I was talking so you'll just have to take my word for it. There were also several people there from our Central Kentucky writers group and I really appreciate their support.
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I had thought about making brownies and lemonade, but I was being too optimistic on how much time I'd have to cook, etc. while the twins were here. Way too optimistic. Darrell had to go to town to get food. :-) But I did take Dove chocolates that have those inspirational messages on the inside of the wrappers. I read one that seemed to fit the day. "The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate."
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It was fun celebrating a new book with my hometown friends. Hope you have good things to celebrate this week.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

It Starts with Two





It starts with two. A man and a woman meet and some spark ignites in their hearts. They maybe dance around one another for a little while until they decide to become lifetime partners. Then they get married and have children. That's the way it was for my mother and father-in-law. My mother-in-law didn't get married until she was 26. She said she had plenty of offers but she wasn't about to get married during the worst years of the Depression. Besides she had to wait for the right man to come along - a tall, handsome man named Truman who'd been batching for a while. He was 29. I don't know how they met. I should have asked. Maybe at a church. Maybe through mutual friends. But they did meet and married and didn't waste any time having a family. Five kids in ten years. Then those five kids grew up and each met somebody who made a spark ignite, got married and started their families. Those children carried on the family tradition until now after 60 some years the family has grown to 68 (I think, but there are 2 babies on the way) counting spouses who become part of the family when that spark gets serious. About half of those came to our house for a reunion Sunday and here we are minus the picture taker. You can't have a real reunion without making everybody line up for a picture, can you? Some of the men groan and the kids act up, but you need a picture to remember this moment in the life of the family.

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For fun and to honor Truman and Christine who wore hats to church, we all wore hats to church Sunday. I'm not a hat wearer, but my daughter-in-law went shopping and found me a hat. I wore it but maybe I should have looked in the mirror when I put it on. With the whole clan coming to my house I didn't have much time for mirrors. In the good old days, hats were a necessity for going to church. Every woman wore a hat, but then one day some person who must have been a lot like me said hats weren't necessary any more and a lot of hatmakers went out of business. But I've used hats in my books. When you're writing historical fiction, things like what a character wears to church or wherever can help set the time period. In my Hollyhill books, I have one of the characters wearing a red hat to church to show the change in her spirit. Of course with my Shaker books, all the Shaker women characters are wearing bonnets. (My last two main characters didn't like wearing the bonnets. Maybe I made them too much like me.) Not much variety of clothes in a Shaker village since they dressed in like clothing. They did wear various colors and were the first makers of those beautiful Dorothy cloaks.
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I'm off this morning to get my grandbaby twins for a little stay here while the rest of the family take a break that combines fun and business. I'll be taking them home Sunday before I have my hometown book launch at the local library on Sunday afternoon. That's always a fun time when I get to talk about my new book and give away some books and hear what my hometown reading friends have to say. If you're in the area, come on down. You can check out the details on my schedule on the website.
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And now to Sunday's winners of autographed books. This is the two winner week. I was so busy Sunday I forgot to draw for the winners until Monday. The winners are Juanita and Donna V. I'll be sending you an e-mail to get your addresses. One more drawing next Sunday. If you've sent me an e-mail, your name's still in the hat. There we go with hats again. Maybe next time I'll talk about the different hats a writer has to wear. Hope you're somewhere cool. It's hot here in Kentucky!! Might flirt with 100 degrees tomorrow.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Best Part of Book Launches


The best part of book launches has to be meeting readers. Signing books is fun too, but I love to hear what readers have to say about my books and books in general. There is a lot of discussion going around now about whether print books will survive with the onslaught of e-books.
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So I've been asking people what they think and how they like to read. In my totally unscientific poll, it's almost one hundred percent that the readers want to hold the book in their hands. And some of those people were part of the younger generation. They all said the electronic reading devices probably would be nice for people when they're traveling or waiting in the doctor's office or such as that. But they want a book in their hands when they settle down in their easy chair to read or prop up on pillows to sneak in another chapter before they turn the lights off at night.
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Did any of you ever read under the covers with a flashlight when you were a kid? I would have if I hadn't been worried about getting in trouble for using up the batteries in the flashlight. The more reading minutes the better.
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Uh-oh, I took off chasing a rabbit there. But then what are journals for except to chase a few random thoughts?
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I did have a nice book launch at Corinth Parable Bookstore in Frankfort. I love talking about writing and books and the best thing is I get to do it again this Sunday when I have my hometown book launch at the Anderson County Public Library. I might even try to come up with a real talk instead of doing this random stuff. Of course I think I'll be babysitting my twin grandbabies for a few days this week so I may just be full of twin stories. They're almost two. That would probably be okay since a lot of my reading friends have grandbabies too. ;) If you're in the area, come on down to the library Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. Don't worry. I promise no more than two grandbaby stories and I always give away some books and who knows? If I have time in between chasing those babies, I might even make brownies. For sure there will be chocolate.
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We had our big Gabhart reunion here Sunday. That's why this post is late. I'll post a picture of me in my hat Wednesday or you can go check it out on my Facebook page. We had fun. Hope you had fun on the 4th too. And what do you think? You want to read e-books or print books?