Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Storytelling Gift

The storytelling gift is innate: one has it or one doesn't. But style is at least partly a learned thing: one refines it by looking and listening and reading and practice - by work.  - Donna Tartt

I was once called a storyteller by a person I respected. I think it was one of the nicest things anybody has ever told me to my face. I want to be a storyteller. I have always wanted to be a storyteller. I like stories whether I'm telling them or I'm listening to them or reading them. In the photo above is my husband and his aunt who has many stories to tell. Not the kind I tell. Her stories are about things she's done, times she's lived through, people she's known. Her father, my husband's grandfather, was an entertaining storyteller. His stories had a basis in fact, but I'm thinking he could embellish with the best of them to make his tales entertaining. Aunt Annie doesn't embellish. She shares from what she's seen in her ninety plus years. My mother was good at doing that too before age related dementia robbed her memory. If only I'd known the right questions to ask sooner. 

The right questions - that's what I'm trying to find the answers to now as I research for my work in progress. Where am I going to take my characters? What was life like in that time? What would they have done, thought, seen? So much to find out. So much to imagine. I've already stumbled upon one major "bridge out" sign. One thing I planned for my character to do wasn't something a person her age was allowed to do. Should I bend the rules and not be totally true to the history of the time? After all, I am writing fiction. But I like to make the historical background of my books as accurate as I can as I look back in time. It was a discouraging discovery that my planned happenings probably couldn't have happened. So now I'm going to have to find a detour, a new way to cross my storytelling river. 

In this picture is one of the next generation of storytellers in the family. Several of my grandchildren show a love of stories. This one's stories spring from the imagination unlike her great aunt's telling of the truth she's lived. Perhaps we all have stories to tell if we can only get someone to listen. Or to read. 

I'm listening and reading and hearing the stories of the past. Now to shape those stories into a past and present for my characters. That is the challenge of storytelling. Fiction with truth in the background.

Thanks for reading. I hope you have a storytelling couch at your house and you can ask the right questions to bring the past of your family to life and to help your young ones dream their future.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Every Rock has a Story

"There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly;sometimes it's like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges." ~Ernest Hemingway
I'm writing a new book. The beginning hasn't been easy. The necessary time for working has been hard to squeeze out of my schedule. That's always true during the holiday season. There are always so many things to do - shopping and cooking and wrapping and decorating and cards and Christmas programs and parades and ...well, you get the idea. I'm sure it's the same for you. December brings us many good things to anticipate but it also slams us with lots of expectations. We have to do this or we have to do that. I mean, haven't we always made a fruit cake or a dozen kinds of candy or whatever tradition you want to keep going?

I love traditions at Christmas time. But I've lived enough years to know the best traditions are the fluid ones. The kind that can be adapted and bent to a family's ever changing life. Of course, it's not a tradition that I have to write a story in December. Often that's the month I've had to put my stories on hold for a few weeks. This year my plan was to keep writing, keep pushing out words, give myself a quota of so many pages a day, keep working while squeezing in as many traditions for Christmas as possible.

That's still my plan, but plans have a way of running off track at times. Especially when the words are stubborn, embedded in rock and I'm out of blasting powder. But every rock has a story and with patience and determination, I've chiseled out quite a few stories in my time.

This story is growing in my thoughts, developing even while I'm not thinking about it in that mysterious subconscious. My characters are beckoning me along their story road although I don't think they're quite sure where they're headed. Right now they seem to be hesitating, a bit confused, at every fork in their story road. But isn't that the way life is for all of us? Unknown turns ahead of us. At times we may want to linger in some grassy meadow of pleasure along our life's road, but always we eventually must go on down the road to the next destination. My characters don't have time to linger. They have a story to live and I have to find the words to tell it. And I will. If I have to chisel those words out of the rock of imagination or dip them up out of the well of experience, I will. I am a storyteller. That's what I do.

I hope you have time for all your traditions and to enjoy the wonder of the Christmas season. Thank you for reading.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Counting My Blessings on Thanksgiving!

There is one day that is ours. There is one day when all we Americans who are not self-made go back to the old home to eat saleratus biscuits and marvel how much nearer to the porch the old pump looks than it used to. Thanksgiving Day is the one day that is purely American. ~O. Henry

Thanksgiving is a great time to pause and think about our blessings. Family is certainly a blessing that has me counting. And grandkids are easy to name in that number. One through nine for us - all beautiful children who can make this grandmother smile. But I'm also thankful for the rest of my family too. My husband, my children and their spouses, my mother and my dad - though he's been gone over 20 years - my sisters, my in-laws and all the others in my extended family. That's one of the good things about living in the same place forever and having family that has done the same. So many great connections and family who are not only related by blood but by love and common experiences. 

My country church
I'm thankful for my church family and for a pastor who is able to open up the Bible and reveal its lessons and truths to me. I'm thankful for the Lord and the many times He has blessed me and forgiven me. I'm thankful for all the everyday blessings of life - blue skies and rain, flowers and trees, hummingbirds and snowbirds, breaks in the traffic when I'm merging onto a busy interstate, a car that starts when I turn the key, a child's smile, a baby's first giggle, a dog's wagging tail - just to name a few. So many little gifts of life to enjoy and appreciate. 

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. ~Thornton Wilder

Coming February 2012
So this Thanksgiving Day I want to be conscious of my treasures. I can't leave out the blessing of being able to live my dream of writing books and seeing them published for readers to share my stories. Each book a blessing. Each reader a blessing too. I thank all of you who have read my books or who peek in here at my journal from time to time. I am thankful for each of you. And for a new book to come in the new year and for the unknown blessings it may bring me in the months to come.

Give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way. ~Native American Saying

So may you have a blessed and happy Thanksgiving Day with many unknown blessings headed your way. As always, thanks for reading. Oh, and for those of you who didn't know the way I didn't know, saleratus means baking soda. A saleratus biscuit is a soda biscuit - the kind my mother used to make every day for breakfast.  

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Lifetime Commitment

 A wedding anniversary is the celebration of love, trust, partnership, tolerance and tenacity. The order varies for any given year. ~Paul Sweeney

My husband and I celebrated our anniversary yesterday. In rather laid back ways. No big trips or dinners. We went to Louisville to walk in the St. Jude Give Thanks. Walk. That was to support St. Jude Hospital that has done so much for my little great niece who has leukemia but is now in remission. This walk is a fundraiser the whole family takes part in to raise money for the hospital so they can keep helping children like Kaelyn. Then Darrell's group sang at a community center for a Thanksgiving dinner. The night before our anniversary we went to a booksigning of four writer friends. So I guess our weekend was full of the things we both love - family, books, and singing. 

 A long marriage is two people trying to dance a duet and two solos at the same time. ~Anne Taylor Fleming

We've been married forever. Well maybe not forever in the sense of history forever, but nearly forever in our own history. The battered and well worn picture above was taken the first year we started dating. We were at an amusement park with a church group and ducked into one of those little booths they used to have where you put in your coins and the machine spit out a strip of photos. Probably the very first picture of us together. We were both so young. And here's a recent picture. A lot of water under the bridge between the two photos. A lot of good times, a few hard times. 

Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads which sew people together through the years. ~Simone Signoret

That's how life goes. Many threads of life connecting us. It's the same with a book when I'm writing. I have to come up with those threads of life to make my story and people come to life. Of course I have to give my characters plenty of hard times because while happily ever after might make a good ending, happily the whole book through doesn't make for enough conflict to keep readers interested. Characters need problems to solve. 

Hope the threads connecting you with your loved ones this week are threads of happiness. Thanks for reading.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Lesson of the Garbage Truck

Is it really Friday? What happened to Wednesday? I think I missed it this week. I must have been looking to the right when it slid by on my left. As some people have been known to say, "Bless her heart!" In Southern lingo, that means "Poor thing, she's losing it."

And so Wednesday passed and I forgot my post to my friends here on the great, wide web. I could make up excuses. Let's see. How about I'm trying to get started on a new book and that has my head in another place and time where I think it's Saturday? Certainly not Wednesday. Or how about that I'm back and forth between my house and Mom's so much I don't know what place I'm in, much less what day it is? Or it could be the problem is that I actually did some Christmas shopping before Thanksgiving. That has to mean the sun and moon are out of alignment and it's no wonder I can't remember what day it is. Or how about this one? The days whizzed by so fast they made me dizzy. It had to be Wednesday's fault, don't you think?

Whoever or whatever was at fault, I did remember that we had a Wednesday this week. And since it's less than a week before Thanksgiving, I thankful for that Wednesday and every day that gives me more opportunity to enjoy the world, to write my stories, to talk to friends. And to ignore the garbage trucks of the world. Where did that come from, I'm sure you're asking.

So here's a little story I came across as I was looking for something to put in my church bulletin. I can't forget there's a Sunday coming!  The author on the piece is unknown, but it could be any of us learning this lesson of the garbage truck.

     "One day I hopped into a taxi and headed for the airport. We were driving along when a black car pulled out of a parking space directing in front of the taxi. My taxi driver slammed on his brakes and barely managed to miss the other car. The driver of the car looked around and started yelling at the taxi driver, but the driver just smiled and waved in an honestly friendly way.
    So I asked him, "How could you wave so friendly like that? That guy almost hit us." That's when the taxi driver taught me what I now call, "The Lesson of the Garbage Truck."
    He explained that a lot of people are like garbage trucks. They run around full of garbage - frustration, anger, and disappointment. As their garbage piles up, they need a place to dump it and sometimes they dump it on you. Don't take it personally. Just smile, wave, wish them well, and move on. Don't pick up their garbage and spread it to other people at work, at home or on the streets.
    The bottom line is that successful people don't let garbage trucks take over their day. Life's too short to wake up in the morning with regrets, so: Love the people who treat you right. Pray for the ones who don't and love them too. Life is ten percent what you make it and ninety percent how you take it! Have a blessed, garbage-free day!"

Hope you don't meet any "garbage trucks" this week and that you will have a sunshine filled and happy day. We can also spread the sunshine to all those we meet. That's why I put the above photo with this. This sunset was lovely, but I almost didn't take the picture. I thought the light lines and traffic lights would spoil the beauty of the scene. But the beautiful sun sinking behind some clouds was still there. I had to choose what I concentrated my gaze on. Isn't that what we do every day? Choose to see the beauty. Work to make our worlds more beautiful.

Thanks for reading. Maybe Sunday won't sneak past me without me noticing.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Stories from Book Fairs

One of the best things about book fairs are the people you meet. Yesterday the Kentucky Book Fair seemed very well attended. So well that at times people were unable to freely walk between the rows of tables. I'd like to say the aisle got so congested in front of my table because of the lines waiting to grab one of my books, but that might be stretching things a bit. But I did have a lot of readers and friends stop by. Got to do a lot of talking. More than my granddaughter behind me wanted to hear from the look on her face in this picture.

Here I'm getting ready to sign a book for someone. It was probably a person I was supposed to know and I couldn't think of her name. I may have been acting cool and asking how to spell her name and she was saying S-u-e. Not really, but I can imagine that happening to me one of these days at a book signing. I sometimes go absolutely blank on names at the worst times. I did that yesterday for one friend. I was saved by the fact she didn't buy my book. Now, was that good or maybe bad? Whichever, I didn't have to be embarrassed by asking her name when I've known her since we were both kids. 

I didn't have too many unusual stories yesterday. I did have people coming back to see me from years past. A few that have come every year since I had The Scent of Lilacs there in 2005. (Thanks Beth and Julie and Sherry.) That's always encouraging. I had a lot of people looking at my books and then buying them for their mothers. Or great aunts. I have to bite my tongue to keep from pointing out that younger people can read my books too. 

But since I'm talking about older readers, I did have one beautiful 93 year old reading friend come by my table to get my book. She grew up in the same little community as my mother and I think she's still trying to sort out which parts of Angel Sister are based on true happenings. I tell her only the background of the story, but she's not wanting to believe that. She's wanting to skip back through her childhood in the pages of the book. And why not? That's what books can do for us. Take us on an adventure in living.

Probably the cutest story I've ever carried home from a book fair, was the one where the husband brought his wife to the fair as a surprise anniversary destination. He'd even bought her one of my books before they got to the fair since, never having attended a book fair before, he didn't realize the books would be available on site. His wife was so happy she sparkled - she felt that loved. 

And isn't that what most all of us want? To be loved enough that someone will make the extra effort to give us a day to remember. To have someone know us that well. That's all we want. That and oh yes, of course a good book. 

Book fairs - always days to remember. Do you like book fairs? Do you have a hard time deciding which books to buy? I had several of those stop by my table. Can a fast talking author get you to carry home a book you didn't really plan to buy?

Thanks for reading. Hope you have a wonderful week.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Counting the Years at the KY Book Fair

The Kentucky Book Fair is celebrating writers and books again this Saturday, November 12, for the 30th year. There's a great article about the Fair in the Frankfort State Journal today talking about how it got started and naming over some of the famous writers who have signed books there. Kentucky Book Fair: Still Going Strong 

A few names most would recognize are former first lady Rosalyn Carter, Hall of Fame baseball legend Mickey Mantle, humorist Erma Bombeck, David Eisenhower, grandson of the late president, track star Carl Lewis, basketball legend "Pistol Pete" Maravich, and Kentucky native, Barbara Kingsolver with her first book Bean Trees. So you never know what new writers destined for fame you might meet at a book fair. 

Of course the fair always has a row of Kentucky historians, but one of the perennial favorites for many of the thirty years of the fair was Thomas D. Clark. You couldn't meet a nicer man than Dr. Clark. He was always interested in the people talking to him. He died a few years ago at the age of 101.  

I don't know how many years I've been privileged to attend the KY Book Fair. One of their main criteria is that the authors have a new book each year. I don't think I was there for their first event, but I went for several years straight in the 1980s with my young adult books. Sometimes sold out of books by early afternoon. Then I missed several fairs when I had those lean years without a new book until The Scent of Lilacs was published in 2005. Now I've had the fun of going to the Book Fair every year since. Some of the same readers come back to see me year after year and one of these days I may even remember their names. I need to keep cheat sheets because I do remember their faces. And often recognize those names when they graciously tell me who they are - again. 

Betty Mae Hodges and me at KY Book Fair 2010
It's also fun getting to know the writers who sit next to me or behind me or across from me. One year, I think with my second Hollyhill book, Orchard of Hope, I sat between a true crime writer and a woman whose book explained how to use Tarot Cards. That was an interesting year! A couple of years ago I was fortunate enough to share a table with Jan Watson, a very popular Christian writer from Lexington. Christian writers seem to have a way of embracing one another as friends from the first hello and that was certainly true with Jan and me. Last year I was seated with Betty Mae Hodges signing a memoir of her grandmother,  The Red Can. This year I'm going to get to know a new writer, but I  know we'll have stories to share. 

But as always the same as at any book signing, fair, book event, the best part is getting to talk to readers. Those of you who follow my on-line journal know that's something I love to do - talk. Whether it's with my fingers here or in person. If you're in the area, I hope you'll come talk to me face to face at the Kentucky Book Fair Saturday. I'd love to meet you if I haven't already, and if I have already, I'd love to talk books with you again. 

Thanks for reading. I do very much appreciate each of you.                    

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Making Time

"Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in."  (Henry David Thoreau)

How we do talk about time! We save it. We waste it. We beg for it. We need it. We wish for it. If I only had more time, we're wont to say. With time, I could do so much more, we promise. Where did the time go, we ask. And the truth is time hasn't gone anywhere different than it has since the beginning of time. It ticks by. Each second irretrievably gone as it makes way for the next second to follow.

Leonardo da Vinci said, "Time stays long enough for anyone who will use it." He certainly used his time to make a place in history. Perhaps that was part of his genius - the mastery of his time.

But these days, we are so sure we can make time that we even add and subtract hours. Last night we added back the hour we subtracted last spring. That's what has me thinking about time. That and the fact that lately a question surfaces in my mind several times every day. How much time do I have? Not the big question of how many days I have left here on earth, but the little question of whether I have enough time to do this or that task before I must do this or that other thing.  

Time has been something I've seemed to have in short supply lately. Of course, that's not true. The time in my days is the same. It's the use of my time that is giving me troubles. Perhaps this quote explains my problem. "Time is like a handful of sand - the tighter you grasp it, the faster it runs through your fingers." (Unknown author)

I don't have as much available to work time as I did before my mother began walking through her confusing valley of dementia. But I still have time enough if I could only reach for that time with determined patience and not worry that it won't be time enough. Then again, who among us knows if we'll have time enough? And time enough for what? Perhaps that is the question we need to answer first. What is it that we want? Tomorrow when we look back on today are we going to be pleased with our spent time?

I know you've heard people say use it or lose it. But with time it passes whether we use it or simply let it slide past. So here's one last quote from A.A. Milne that I'm hoping will inspire me as I come up with a new schedule for working in the weeks ahead. "Time is swift, it races by; Opportunities are born and die...Still you wait and will not try-A bird with wings who dares not rise and fly."

Do I have enough time? I suppose only time will tell. But I don't want to be the bird with wings who dares not rise and fly.

What do you think about time? Do you have time enough for the things you want to do? My wish for you is that joy will fill the hour glass of your life. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Judging a Book by the Cover

One of the most exciting parts of getting a book published is seeing the cover that the publisher's art department creates to represent your story. I really like the cover for my new book releasing in February. The girl looks like Adriane in the book and I love the city backdrop. The story is set in 1855 Louisville and I think the cover shows the historical setting well. What do you think?

Book covers have trends. For several years, the popular chick lit books all had feet or legs of the character model. Many historicals in the inspirational field showed the model in whatever pose but only from the shoulders down. No face. Some readers prefer that. They want to come up with the character's looks on their own and not be distracted by an actual photograph that might have a model who doesn't look the way they envision a character in the book. Lately a lot of books have had the head of one of the characters - sometimes both male and female characters - sort of super-imposed on the background. Then along came those books that hardly had pictures on them at all and only the title shown in a dramatic way. So many ways to make a book cover.

How that cover comes about is a question I get at a lot of the talks about writing that I do. People will ask who did I get to do the cover or did I do the cover. They are very curious about the process. Most publishers work hard to present a book with a great cover. That's because the cover is the first enticement to a reader when a book is there on the store shelf with dozens of other books. A great title helps too, and of course, many readers pick by the writer's name if they've read and liked previous books by her or him. But readers enjoy finding new writers, new books. That's when that first impression is so important. 

My current publisher, Revell Books, comes up with eye-catching covers that capture the spirit of the book. While I would have never thought of using the cover they did for Angel Sister, it was perfect. Lorena was plucked right out of the pages of my book and she has the perfect look on her face as she's looking up at her "angel sister." That cover attracted a lot of readers' eyes and I think encouraged some of them to give my story a try. By the way, I just got some good news that Angel Sister was picked as one of RT Book Reviews Top Inspirational Novels of 2011.  That has me smiling, but then every time somebody has told me they enjoyed reading my story about the Merritt family, I've been smiling. 

Then one last book cover. Everybody knows the Amish fiction is very popular with readers in the inspirational market right now. And those covers usually have a model wearing a bonnet of some sort. My Shaker books aren't a lot like the Amish fiction because the Shakers were quite a bit different from the Amish, but the Shaker girls on the covers attract the eyes of those who enjoy Amish fiction. I'm grateful that many of them have also enjoyed the Shaker stories. So here's my new cover for The Gifted that will be out next summer. A few sites have given a peek at the cover and it's out there on the internet bookselling sites, but this is the first time I've put it out for eyes to see. 

What do you think? Do you like the cover? Does a great cover make you pick up a book to read?