Sunday, October 30, 2011

Fan Letters

"Hands down, the biggest thrill is to get a letter from a kid saying, I loved your book. Will you write me another one?" (Kate DiCamillo) 

Have you ever written an author a fan letter? When I first started writing back before the internet made communication instant and easy, I would get a few letters from readers sent to the publisher and then forwarded on to me. I got the most letters while I was writing my young adult fiction. A few times, a teacher would read one of my books to her class and then every child in her class wrote me a letter telling what he or she liked about the book. Such fun to read those letters and imagine the children listening to my stories and being introduced to the fun of reading. 

Now that I'm writing inspirational fiction for adults, I still get the occasional old fashioned letter from a reader, but more often I get e-mails from readers who contact me from my website. And I enjoy every one of those e-mails. Well, almost every one of them. Sometimes a reader takes me to task for some part of my book they didn't like or a mistake or mess-up I made. It's good to have readers to keep me straight. So even those e-mails can make me smile.

But my smile is a little broader when the readers are telling me they "couldn't put my book down." Or one man said I'd helped him discover the fun of reading again. Another reader told me that she did put my book down in order to go look up a Bible story my character mentioned. Fun fan letters or e-mails to get.

Back when I was writing the young adult fiction, I once had a young reading friend who wrote me like a pen pal. I wonder about her sometimes now that she's grown up. One thing I certainly never expected with the books I'm currently writing was to get a fan letter from a ten-year-old boy, but I did. Not a letter through the mail or an e-mail either. This kid was at one of the churches where my husband's group was singing a few weeks ago. I didn't get to be there because I have to sit with Mom on most Sundays now. But Chandler told my husband that he'd read every one of my Shaker books and then he found some paper to write me a note that Darrell forgot to give me. I stumbled across the note last week and of course, it made me smile and wish I'd been there to meet my young fan. 

Words can encourage or they can wound. Letters or e-mails from readers are usually encouraging to me. Chandler's note certainly was. I'm encouraged any time someone writes me and tells me he or she has read my books and are praying for me. One reader said she prayed for every author when she opened up his or her book. What a powerful gift to give someone she'd never actually met in person!

So thank all of you for your encouragement and for reading my words. And if you've ever sent me an e-mail or made a comment here, I promise to do my best to answer you. One thing you can know for sure. If you've ever written an author to tell that writer  you liked his or her book, you made someone smile. No doubt about it. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Signing Books in Cincinnati

I love book fairs. That's because I love talking books with other writers and readers. The only bad thing about book fairs is that I want to carry a heavy load of books home with me when I go. Of course it's fun seeing readers adding my books to their armloads as they walk around looking at the offerings too. Usually readers have so many choices that they have no trouble finding something that sounds like just the book for them. Sometimes that's my book. 

I went to the Books by the Banks last year and it was fun, but the crowd seemed to be lacking. Saturday that wasn't the case. People were still coming in to look at the books an hour before the event was scheduled to end. That's when a reader has to find the best books fast. A lot of kids were being introduced to the wonderful world of stories. This fair has events for young readers all day long. They got stories read to them. They danced. They had their faces painted and had balloon hats. The best part they had fun with books and authors. 
The fair had some famous names. Dennis Lehane was there with his mysteries or suspense novels. His books Shutter Island and Mystic River were both made into movies. A long line waited to have Judy Collins sign her memoir, Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: My Life in Music. Another interesting writer I met was Mary Ann Winkowski who was the inspiration for the t.v. show The Ghost Whisperer. She had a cookbook, Beyond Delicious: The Ghost Whisperer's Cookbook: More than 100 Recipes from the Dearly Departed. Now that's a title that almost demands you pick the book up and give it a look. 

Of course there were over a hundred authors there, so I could go on and on with the names. Robin Yocum shared a table with me and that's him in the photo above. He was a former crime reporter at a daily newspaper and had written true crime books. He was at Books by the Banks Saturday with his first novel, Favorite Sons. It was a mystery/suspense and sounded like a great story. I always enjoy getting to know the writers around me at book festivals. And as at every fair, I met some aspiring writers who hoped to someday be sitting on the other side of a stack of books at a book fair.

Next up is the Kentucky Book Fair on November 12. That's always a great event as people are beginning to think Christmas and an autographed book makes a fun gift whether you're gifting yourself or a family member or friend. I've signed books and talked to readers at the Book Fair for a lot of years, but it's always fun. Monday I recorded a promo show for the upcoming book fair that aired on the Frankfort, KY cable channel last night. I did a program last year too. That time I got a copy of the show on DVD, but I never had the nerve to watch it. I really didn't want to see how I looked and sounded, but I guess it wasn't too bad or they wouldn't have asked me back this time. 

So have you ever gone to a book fair? As a writer or a reader? What do you like about book fairs? Do you like to talk to the writers about their books? 

Thanks for reading. And if you're in the Frankfort area on Saturday, November 12, I hope you'll hunt up my table and tell me hello. You'll be able to meet lots of writers there. Almost 200 of them. But won't any of them enjoy talking to you more than me. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Sky is Always There

 Leaves or no leaves, the sky is always there. The firs up on top of the Smoky Mountains are being killed by a very small insect. They say it is so small that it's hard to see, and yet it has destroyed forests of fir trees and denuded the tops of the mountains in places. 

We sometimes think if we can't see something, it doesn't pose much of a threat. And yet... There are many things we can't see. Things not discovered by humankind for centuries. The tiny germs that attack our health. The tiny germs that keep us healthy. Atoms, neutrons, electrons, sound waves, and more. Did you ever think about how the t.v. signal gets to your t.v. set? I mean really. We might know the scientific reason, but when you think about all those pictures and sounds flying through the air to this antenna or that. And now up into space to bounce back again to this or that satellite dish. My mother sometimes says, if it had been up to her, we'd still be living in caves. That goes for me too.

But I do have an imagination for storytelling. Saturday at the Books by the Banks festival in Cincinnati, several people asked how I wrote stories. How do you do it? Where do the stories come from? And I never have a good answer for them. It can seem as mysterious to me as those many t.v. signals flying to televisions all over the world. Maybe even more mysterious because those in the know can explain how the t.v. signals work. 

 All I can say is that the sky is always there and against that sky can be many different pictures. A person's imagination is the same. A sky waiting for the pictures to come - waiting for the story. This one bare and dramatic. The next colorful and adorned with leaves. Perhaps a majestic eagle flying alone or a formation of geese or a cloud of black birds. But the sky is there. And so the imagination is there waiting for images to show up against it.

What do you think about where stories come from? Or do you just think that some people have to stretch things to figure out a way to use the pictures they take? Whichever, imagination surely comes into play. We need stories and we need faith and love. And we need trees against the sky.

Thanks for reading. Hope you have a blessed and happy week.

"  You see things and you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, 'Why not?'"  (George Bernard Shaw)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Clouds Matter

"May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.  May your mountains rise into and above the clouds."  ~Edward Abbey

Sometimes clouds matter. In a landscape photo or in a story. This is one of many photos I took this week on a visit to the Smoky Mountains. For the last five years, we've rented a cabin and gone away for a few days with Darrell's brothers and sister and their spouses. After Darrell's parents both passed away, we didn't want to lose the kind of close contact that visiting parents helps keep alive during holiday visits, etc. But we all have extended families of our own now, and we don't make those Sunday afternoon visits we used to make to Darrell's mother and father. So we take these few days and talk and reminisce and enjoy each other's company every year.  And laugh a lot - even at the stories we've heard a zillion times.

On Tuesday, we decided to hike up to Clingman's Dome. The only problem was that it was such a beautiful day that everybody else had that same idea. Much traffic. Much people. No parking spots. No bears. That last might have been good. We did see plenty of evidence that bears had been there eating berries. They must avoid the interstate trails and paths on days like Tuesday when the foot traffic is thick. 

We all enjoyed the walk to the top where the view was gorgeous even though the Frasier firs are gray ghosts now because of that European bug that has infested them. But you could see a long way and you could see the sky.

Ah, the beautiful sky. And what made the sky even more beautiful? The clouds, of course. And their shadows floating over the mountains.  " A cloudless plain blue sky is like a flowerless garden."  (Terri Guillemets)

And naturally my mind turned to writing. Just as a sky needs clouds so do stories. If my characters know nothing but blue skies and happy, happy days with nothing to work for and nothing to oppose them, then the story has no interest. I need clouds for my stories. And not just the fluffy white ones in my photo. I need those dark clouds that roll into all lives at times. Those dark clouds that rain down problems on my fictional people. 

Without problems, there is no story. That's why in my Shaker books, I always have a Shaker sister who isn't all sweet and kind. Conflict is a major part of any story. The character has to have obstacles in the way of his or her happily ever after. In fairytales it is often a witch - an easily identified bad guy. In more modern stories, the bad guy is not always so easily identified. And sometimes the conflict comes from people the character loves. Emotional inner conflict can cause a character to careen off on the wrong road. Nature can put up roadblocks with storms or mountain ranges or vast seas. Wars can threaten my characters' lives. 

But one sure thing in every story that holds a reader's interest, there will be clouds in that bright blue sky of their happiness. They will have to fight through those clouds or embrace those clouds or float over those clouds or maybe duck under them. Characters can't ignore the clouds forever - or even for a short while. They need to run toward that conflict or if they are too cowardly to run, perhaps fall into it even while they're trying to climb back up into the blue sky of their peaceful pasts.

But I'm wishing you all fluffy white clouds like the ones in the photo above. Thanks so much for reading.  Here's a cloud quote for the road. If it hasn't turned winter on you the way it has on us here in KY, get out and enjoy.

The air up there in the clouds is very pure and fine, bracing and delicious.  And why shouldn't it be? - it is the same the angels breathe.  ~Mark Twain, "Roughing It" 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Last Chance to Make It Right

"I have been correcting the proofs of my poems. In the morning, after hard work, I took a comma out of one sentence…. In the afternoon I put it back again.”– Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
Last week I got the pages of my book, Words Spoken True, scheduled for release in February. That's what's in the photo along with a list of corrections or places the copyeditor thinks still need some fine tuning. At this stage of the editing process, fine tuning is all you want to see the need to do.

Getting a book from my head to a book a reader can imagine in his or her head while reading takes a while. First I get the idea. Then I research the historical era I plan to drop my characters down into. Oh, and I have to think about those characters - what they did, what they liked, what they looked like, what they wanted, what problems they had - that kind of thinking goes on and on from the initial "wow moment" of getting an idea until I find those magical words "the end." It takes me months to get a story down on paper - well, on the computer. Then comes the editing part. I like editing. To me that's the easy part of writing. The pressure's off. The story's told. I just have to make it better by cutting out the words that don't fit and changing the words that have to be there but might be awkward.

To me, editing is the process of making the words disappear and letting the story emerge. I want my reader to forget she is reading and to live the story with me. I don't want the reader to hit a pothole of awkward phrasing that will jerk him out of the story. That's why I work so hard at polishing my story every chance I get. And there are plenty of chances. First I do my own editing before I send it off to the editor. I want it to shine for that very first reader. But generally, no matter how I think it shines, the editor sees places that need a bit more polish and sometimes a major overhaul.

Once those changes are made to the editor's satisfaction, then it's passed on to a copyeditor who pays attention to every potential pothole that's going to make the reading rough. That editor catches lapses in continuity of time or character traits or hair color or names or whatever. That editor points out when I've used a favorite phrase or word way too many times. I do have my pet words that my eyes simply must slide right over when I'm doing my early edits. I am getting better at noticing that sort of thing and fixing most of it before it gets to the copyeditor, but not all of it. Those are the galleys and where I can fix and rework to my heart's content with the hope the editor is going to agree I'm improving the writing and fixing whatever problems she might have noted.

I've gone through all those stages with Words Spoken True. Now I've got the pages. Now I can't just decide to rewrite half the scenes or whatever. This is the time for fixing typos and other minor changes. Little corrections because by now the big things should already be fixed. But it is one last chance to help make those words magically vanish as the reader imagines my story with me. My goal always is to tell a story about people that you want to invite into your hearts. I'm hoping you will love Adriane and Blake. They have a very romantic story set during a volatile period of history in Louisville.

So I'd best get to work reading through Words Spoken True for the last time this side of seeing it inside the fabulous cover that has been designed for it.

How do you feel about editing? Do you think the books you read have been carefully edited? Do you care as long as the story is exciting?

As always thanks for reading. This quote from Churchill made me smile. You know about what I'm talking. :-)

“From now on, ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I shall not put.”
– Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Desk Clean - Awaiting the Clutter of a New Story

If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what is the significance of a clean desk? (Dr. Laurence J. Peter)

I had a goal last weekend of cleaning off my desk. I put it off as long as I could Saturday. Even washed windows instead of tackling the piles of accumulated papers, book catalogs, notes and cards, to do lists, etc. on my desk while I was meeting some writing deadlines the last couple of months. Now I have more deadlines out there whispering "You'd better get started." But I needed to undo some of the clutter first. Give myself a fresh start. 

While I don't pretend to compare my books with Pearl Buck, I do understand where she is in the following quote. 

In a mood of faith and hope my work goes on. A ream of fresh paper lies on my desk waiting for the next book. I am a writer and I take up my pen to write. (Pearl S. Buck)

At a beginning. You can almost see that stack of paper awaiting the stroke of her pen. I understand the ream of paper. I know the feeling 500 fresh sheets of paper used to bring me. So many possibilities as I rolled that first blank sheet into my typewriter. Now I look at the blank computer screen. It doesn't evoke quite the same picture or feeling, but at the same time an almost unlimited space is out there that I can fill up with my stories. 

So I sifted through the piles on my desk and stuffed some things here and others there and found my desk. And my need to begin again. Perhaps my cluttered desk did signal a cluttered mind, but I don't know that I want a "clean" mind. A writer needs some clutter. I may need to push it aside so I can catch a clear vision of my story, but I will have to reach back into that clutter to pull out emotions and experiences and things lurking back there in my subconscious that right now, I have no idea are even there. But I have that "mood of faith and hope" that the right words, the right story will surface once I'm brave enough to type Chapter 1. 

It's a new historical. And so this last quote speaks to me.

The act of writing requires a constant plunging back into the shadow of the past where time hovers ghostlike.  (Ralph Ellison) 

That's what I'm doing now at the beginning. Reaching back into the past. Finding out things. Stirring them into the murky soup of story making and hoping for a boiling plot of true events peopled by my fictional characters.

But whatever I write in the weeks ahead, at least I did meet my goal and find the top of my desk last Saturday. New goal - write! What goals do you set for yourself? And what's your desk look like?

As always, thanks for reading. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Mushroom Ideas

"Where do you get your ideas?" This is surely the question most writers hear the most. At least this writer does. How do you think up stuff? How did you think up this particular stuff? Those are all good questions and ones that are not always easy to answer.

I've written a lot of books. Some of them have been published, and some of you have been nice enough to read my stories. And that's because you thought I came up with some interesting characters doing interesting things. Good ideas.

What is the beginning of a story? Is it an idea? Is that idea a situation or a person or maybe even a place? I've  launched into stories from all those beginnings. I'm at a beginning again. But not really a blank beginning. I know who I'm going to write about. I know the time period I'm going to write about. I know at least one of the places I'm going to set my people down in. But I still need more ideas. I need ideas to pop up like mushrooms.

And maybe that's as good an answer as any to that question "Where do you get your ideas?"  They pop up on that rich decaying matter in your brain. Decaying sounds bad, doesn't it? But that's what mushrooms like. Along with moisture. In some ways everything we store away in our heads - if not decaying - is percolating and getting older each day. And all that "stuff" buries itself away there in our brains and then suddenly while you weren't really paying attention, a mushroom of an idea has appeared so suddenly that you are surprised. And a little amazed. Like these mushrooms in the picture above that popped up in my backyard last week. An idea can  grow overnight and keep growing or putting off spores that will grow another idea. And on and on.

Mushrooms are very remarkable plants. They have no roots, no stems and no leaves. They grow so fast that you almost feel as if you can see them growing. And that's what you want your story ideas to do. Grow and grow and sprout in unique and interesting ways. Mushrooms are really lovely when you look at them closely. Amazing bits of God's creation. And with a purpose. A way for nature to use up everything. Writers have to find a way to use up things too. Ideas let that happen.

And so to begin again. To appreciate the ideas popping up in my head. To know which mushroom is good to keep and which needs to be tossed.

Thanks for reading. A writer's journal can be mushroom thoughts with little anchor and that is the good thing about a journal. You can let your thoughts pop up in any direction. I hope your week will be filled with the sunshine of love and laughter.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Dementia - The Memory Thief

Me and Mom 

“In Alzheimer's [disease] the mind dies first: Names, dates, places-the interior scrapbook of an entire life-fade into mists of nonrecognition.” - Matt Clark

My mother has dementia. Perhaps not quite the same as Alzheimer's but definitely closely related like fraternal twins. I haven't studied up on any of it, but I have seen the memory thieves in action. My uncle was diagnosed with Alzheimer's while he was still an active, healthy man. He began to escape from whatever was stealing his thoughts by walking. He'd walk for miles. I saw him once while he was walking and he had the expression of a little boy who has gotten away from his parents and is out looking for something. He didn't know what - but something. My mother-in-law had dementia, but she never really suffered from it. She was blissfully unaware of how forgetful she was. In fact, she was a diabetic who lived in great fear of having her feet amputated. She did end up having her leg amputated above the knee but never realized it due to the advancement of her dementia.

I learned a lot while walking down the dementia road with her, but none of that prepared me for my own mother's walk down that same road now. Mom is not blissfully unaware. She knows she can't do what she wants to do, but she also can't remember her age - 91 - and so somewhat accept the forgetfulness and inability to think clearly as a natural part of aging. 

A sad part. I know one woman who had been through the dementia trials with her mother. At the end when her mother was dying, she said she just wanted her mother to speak her name. To remember. You know what? I think her mother was speaking her name in her spirit's heart, shouting it as loud as she could, but the rest of her body failed her and didn't allow the sound out to her daughter's ears. 

The loss of memory is not a natural part of aging for everyone, but I do think it is more prevalent now because people are living to older ages. I suppose our brains age the same as our joints, but there are those fortunate older people who never lose their ability to think clearly. What a blessing that is for them and for their families!

I partly started thinking about this today because I forgot that it was Wednesday last night and so forgot to do my Wednesday posting. That's another thing children of dementia sufferers worry about. Is it beginning with me? That name slipping my mind or that roll of stamps I hid away somewhere and now can't find. That call I promised to make and totally forgot. That Wednesday I forgot to post here on One Writer's Journal. Uh-oh! Actually I'm not too worried about forgetting that. I think my circuits just get overloaded at times and I have to rest them for a while. Not enough of that rest time lately. But someday I may face the same trials of ill health and dementia, but for now I'll just hold my mother's hand and try not to worry about a future I can't know.

And I'll remember something fun. The picture here is me when I published my first book in 1978. It was a historical romance for the general market about the settling of Kentucky. I got my picture in several newspapers. I was so young and I sound it in my quotes in the articles. A lot of years since then. A lot of stories and more books that I was able to share with readers. But one thing I said then that's still just as true. I always wanted to be a writer. I still do. Sunday - if I don't forget what day it is - I'm going to write about beginning a new book.

I celebrated my birthday all month, but the month is over. So I drew the winners for my birthday giveaway. Drum roll please. Here they are. Marci of Washington was the grand prize winner of the Grandmother's Bible and she picked my book, The Blessed. I wish all of you who told me such great reasons for wanting to win the Grandmother's Bible could have won it, but I only had the one Bible to give away. Jill of Iowa won the assortment of books plus my book, The Outsider (her choice). Debbie of Kentucky won the audio version of The Believer and picked my book Angels at the Crossroads because she already had all my other books. (Debbie, you rock!) Last was the Never Won winner and that's Teresa, also of Kentucky. She gets the surprise which turns out to be a Shaker cookbook from the Pleasant Hill Shaker village near me and a copy of one of my books. (Teresa, you have to let me know which one you want.) Thanks to everyone who entered. The chance to win the Grandmother's Bible made it a popular giveaway. Now I'll have to think up something new to give away to start the fun again and have some new winners.

Thanks for reading and hang onto those memories as long as you can. I know I hope to even while I twist and turn some of them to sneak them into my stories.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Country Church Homecoming at Goshen

"Homecoming means coming home to what is in your heart."

We had homecoming at Goshen today. That's where I've been going to church ever since I got married a lot of years ago. At the time, my husband's family lived just a mile or so down the road. When all these little churches were started up, people were coming to church in buggies or maybe walking. So it was like the one-room schoolhouses. You needed several spread around the county to make the trips short.

Even after cars appeared on the scene, people were thrifty. They'd survived the Great Depression. So if they moved closer to another church, they changed their memberships to that new church. You went to church with your neighbors. It's not like that at our church now. Most of our community church-goers go to the big church out on the highway. And a lot of our members drive past other churches to come to Goshen. Some even come from adjoining counties.  

Our church was established 199 years ago. Will be 200 years in January, but we'll wait to celebrate until October. That's because Homecomings at Goshen happen in October. The first Sunday in October and Goshen go together. Above is a photo of half the sanctuary this morning before the services began. Those of you who go to huge churches are probably smiling now and thinking how very small we are. Even smaller than your Bible Study groups. And you'd be thinking right. Even our building is small. I went to one of those mega-churches once and our whole church could have sat quite easily in their lobby. Maybe two of our churches. But Goshen has endured and a lot of people remember learning about God and how to act in church right there on those pews.

Of course, our pews haven't been modernized with cushions for all that many years. And you can pretty much count on the truth that there were some major discussions about what color and what type fabric went on those pews. The really funny thing is that our little committee agonized over fabric swatches. Looked at dozens of them. Discussed them at length. And then the person who ordered the material got the numbers mixed up and we ended up with something about the same color but totally different in every other way. Maybe that was the Lord telling us to quit worrying about the "little" things.

Patriot Quartet singing at Goshen
That's another thing little churches do well - disagree. And sometimes that leads to two little country churches. Actually our church did split in the mid 1800s. New Goshen, the church that split off "old" Goshen, stayed a viable church for a good while. But Old Goshen is the one that's still got its doors open to the community around it and to the world too.

We didn't have regular preaching today. That's another thing about little country church homecomings. You got to have singing. That works out well since my husband sings bass for a gospel quartet, the Patriot Quartet pictured here. And they sing the Gospel message, so that works out too.

After the singing service, we all made a bee-line for our fellowship hall and the fried chicken waiting for us there. Actually I always go straight for the salads and then the desserts. A person can eat beans and potatoes any day. But not every day you have a brown sugar pie and a blackberry pie sitting in front of you. Good food, great fellowship and fabulous singing made for a typical Homecoming Day at Goshen.

Hope you had a fun weekend. I was busy at booksignings Friday and Saturday and then Homecoming overwhelmed all else since I had to come up with a couple of baskets of those covered dishes.
I'll announce my giveaway winners Wednesday after I've had time to contact the winners.

Thanks for dropping by. Wish you could have been at Goshen's homecoming dinner today.