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.
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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.
~~
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
~~
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.
~~

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.

~~
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.

~~

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?