Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What to Wear - Shaker Sisters Knew the Answer

What to wear? What to wear? That's a question that many of us ask as we stare into our closets every morning. But it wasn't a question that bedeviled the Shaker faithful. They knew what they were wearing. It could be they might be able to choose between a green dress like the one pictured or a blue dress or even a white dress. The blue and white dresses were considered Sunday dresses or worship dresses. The dress pictured here was worn by Catherine Allen who came to the Mount Lebanon Shaker village as a boarder in 1865 at the age of 13. She took to the Shaker life and eventually became one of the Central Ministry in 1908. The dress was typical of the Shaker dress of the late 19th century and early 20th century and was no doubt one of her better dresses. Prior to the 1860s, the Shakers' dresses were loose, high-waisted styles. This dress was fastened with straight pins instead of buttons, but this wasn't because of any dislike of buttons but simply because, at one time, the Shakers decided buttonholes were more damaging to the fabric and the dress wouldn't wear as long. Shakers were ever looking for ways to be thrifty. They did also use buttons on their clothing. 

I'm thinking about the dress and clothing because I was at the Shaker village last Monday and went through their museum where this authentic Shaker dress has been preserved. Then I met my agent, Wendy Lawton, for lunch at the Trustee House where once more I got to admire those beautiful staircases. And take another photo. I've got a dozen of them already, but the stairs demand a new photo each time. 

While we were eating, we were talking books of course. And I confessed that I don't often really think about that "What to wear?" question for my characters while I'm writing. I have to make myself add info about clothing. If it's a party dress, I make an effort the way I did in my upcoming book, Words Spoken True, and in the Shaker book I'm editing now that will be released next summer, The Gifted. 

 Of course, with the Shaker characters I know what they're wearing. Something like the photo above. The caps, the scarves, and the aprons were the important articles of clothing that set the image of the character in the readers' minds. I know a lot of writers go into major detail about the clothing of their characters and it's good to know as much about your characters as you can. But I'm more the kind of writer who has to remind myself that uh, she might not be able to do this or that with a dozen petticoats on. 

Sometimes I think the Shaker bonnets or caps are as worrisome for me as I always make them for my characters who come into the Shaker villages. I would have struggled if I'd lived in the time when women were expected to wear bonnets any time they were out in the sun. I'll take freckles any time.  

So I just let my characters grab whatever they want to out of their imaginary closets and don't give it a lot of thought. At least not until later when my publisher sends me a form to fill out telling what sort of dresses or shirts my people should be wearing for whatever era I've picked for my story. 

What do you think? Do you enjoy reading descriptions of the characters' clothing? Or do you just imagine them running around in blue jeans or flour sack dresses or do you not bother with imagining what they're wearing at all? For sure I'm not trying on a corset to empathize with my characters. I don't have to get squeezed until my ribs pop to know that wouldn't be pleasant. Or a bonnet. 

That's what imaginations are for. Mine to give you hints about what the characters look like and might be wearing and you to use those hints to awaken an image in your head. 
Happy reading! And don't forget just two days until I do the drawing for winners of my birthday giveaway. I'm giving away a Grandmother's Bible, an audio tape of rThe Believer, several autographed copies of my books, a mixed bag of other writers' books and a surprise. The surprise and a book goes to winner of the "Never Won" one of my giveaways before entrants. I think the surprise gift will be a Shaker cookbook or some Shaker spices. By the way, I ate the lemon pie Monday. This time I liked it. Yum!!

Thanks for dropping by. Leave a comment if you want to enter my drawing or just to let me know how things are going with you.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

And So It Begins

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.  Albert Camus

Summer departed last week and autumn came into her own. When I walked last week, I found leaves beginning to show their colors. I like fall. I like seasons. I've never wanted to live where it was summer all through the year - although a year in Hawaii might be interesting - and I certainly wouldn't want to be where it was winter with no real summer.  A little winter is okay, but I never want it to linger. I like welcoming spring. But fall is a good season here in KY and perhaps even better to the north where the leaves show more vibrant color. We haven't had remarkable autumn color in the last couple of years. Too dry. So we'll see this year although I'm noticing a lot of oaks with brown leaves as if they're dying instead of changing colors. 

I like using seasons in my books. I pick summer to tell my stories a lot of the time. That's the easy season because you don't have to put coats and gloves on your characters to let them out the door. The Outsider went through summer and winter with the soldiers fighting the War of 1812 suffering first in the heat and then in the cold and snow. My Hollyhill books had a year's worth of weather, starting one June and ending the next. Angel Sister was set in the hot, dry summer of 1936. 

The weather can be a force in any book. A tornado blew through The Scent of Lilacs. A snowstorm stranded a visitor in Summer of Joy. Hannah made snow angels in The Believer. And the coming of spring played an important part in the plot of that story. Then of course, Lacey did her dandelion dance to welcome spring in The Blessed. Weather matters. I'm editing my fifth Shaker novel now. The Gifted will be released next summer. And the climatic scene is very stormy.

Do you notice the weather in the books you read? I try to make you feel it along with my characters. Of course I'm trying to make you feel everything along with my characters - love and joy, anger and despair. So why not rain and snow? Sunshine and shadows. 

Hope you're embracing whichever season is falling down on you right now wherever you are. Or in whatever book you might be reading. 

Oh yeah, if you haven't signed up for my giveaway - see the details of what you might win on my website News and Events page - you need to send me a message or leave a comment with a way to get in touch with you before the end of the week. But you can jump the gun on winning something before that. The Book Club Network is having a great giveaway Monday evening, September 26, at 9:30 p.m.  I'm giving away a couple of books. Several other authors are doing the same plus one author is giving away a Nook. You have to be present at the "live chat" to win. You can check it out at The Book Club Network. 

So great to have you come by.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Blogging - A Connecting Bridge

~ Your blog is your unedited version of yourself. ~   lorelle
How many blogs can a blogger blog before a blogger gets bogged down in all those blogs and feels blah? (Say that 10 times fast.) I'm not sure if I was trying to come up with a tongue twister this a.m. when I was tweeting on Twitter or if I felt the blogging blues coming on. Maybe not the blues. Maybe creative panic. I've written a lot of blog posts. What if I run out of anything to say? Maybe I've already run out.
But then again, maybe not. I'm pretty laid back about my blog. I've always liked writing in my journal and that's what this blog is for me. One Writer's Journal. But I do have to admit I might not write exactly the same things I might write in my notebook journal for my eyes only. A lot of the writing related entries in my journals that stretch way back through decades of writing are about the discouragements I've sometimes had to deal with while writing and getting rejections. A lot of the entries end with me trying to boost the spirits of one tired writer - me. 
While I don't know how many eyes are actually going to be reading this - maybe very few - I am aware of the potential of people reading my thoughts. And I do think Lorelle got it right in her quote above. Blogging here is a kind of unedited writing for me. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about what I'm going to write. I spend more time trying to find a photo to dress the blog up a little. And then once I find the photo, it usually makes a difference in what I write. Sort of like those improvisational actors and actresses who ask for ideas from the audience and then do a skit on the idea on the spot. That actually sounds like a great idea to me. Throw some ideas at me and let me try to come up with a few paragraphs. 
The picture above is one I took last year when I went to California and we rode down the coastline. When I was casting about for a picture and thinking about blogging, the idea of blogging being a bridge of communication between people came to mind. Tenuous, for sure, but I needed a picture and an idea. 
So do you think I've gone over the bridge and into the blogging blahs? Do I really want you to answer that? Yeah, go ahead. I like hearing what you're thinking. I like the description of a blog below. I think that about covers it all. That and a "blog is a bridge across the internet to connect a writer and a reader." So thanks for being that reader today.

A blog is a personal diary. A daily pulpit. A collaborative space. A political soapbox. A breaking-news outlet. A collection of links. Your own private thoughts. Memos to the world. ~(blogger)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Best Gifts and a Photo to Prove It

Birthdays come but once a year but if you do some finagling, you can make it last a little longer - a week or two at least. Maybe even a month. While you might not get those gifts stuck in amongst bright-colored tissue paper in gift bags or wrapped up with ribbons every day, you might get plenty of gifts if you look around for them. The sunshine. The birds. A good dog. A loving family. A letter in the mail from a friend. A Scripture verse to touch your heart. An e-mail from a reader. An encouraging comment. Good news about a book. A good read. To name only a few.

I got a gift today. My nearby grandkids came out with their parents to help me do some of that extra birthday celebrating. Then they even took a picture with me - all smiles - so I could count my gifts. While my granddaughter's little dog escaped the camera in this picture, my dog, Oscar, stuck his head in there with us. Some of my very best gifts. The other grandkids don't live close enough to come visiting very often, but it would have been fun to have had the whole crew around me under the apple tree. Enough for a baseball team.

When I think back on my birthdays, I don't remember the presents. I remember the people who helped me celebrate. When I was a child, my aunt always brought me a birthday cake. She never married and she doted on us girls. She loved making our birthdays special, and my mother gave her that gift - allowing her to be the one to bake and decorate the cakes and sew us dresses for our birthdays. 

My aunt died the year I got married, and so birthdays changed. Now the family celebrated birthdays by getting together for dinner. Mom treated us by making our requested favorite dessert. As the years passed, the kids came along and I did my best to make their birthdays special so they'd have good memories of their birthdays the way I did. We did have one disastrous party where we invited 10 or 12 boys. And they all came!!  Quieter parties but just as much fun were when we invited their cousins over. We had candles and cakes that I decorated much the same as my aunt had decorated mine. Nothing fancy. Just shaky writing in pink or blue or yellow icing of "happy birthday" with whichever child's name. Then the kids had so many birthdays that they grew up and got married and had kids of their own to have birthday parties. Now they get to make their children's birthdays special and I go and enjoy. 

I enjoy my birthdays too. Everybody at church sang happy birthday to me this a.m. We have a tradition of giving money to the Children's Homes on our birthday. Then we sing and pray blessings down on the birthday person. What more could anyone want for their birthday? Blessings and joy. And when I got back to the house here, a few hugs and smiles from the grandkids and a little slice of Key lime pie. 

What do you like best about your birthdays? And do you have one birthday you remember better than the others? 

Me, I remember turning 13. Not because of anything that happened or that I got as a gift. I just remember thinking that now I was a teenager. It seemed like a magical age that was going to change everything for me. And you know what? I guess it did. Now here I am all these years later but I still like celebrating birthdays. 

Remember that one way I'm celebrating is by giving away some books and things in my birthday giveaway. If you haven't signed up for the drawing, you can do that by sending me a message from my website, or leaving a comment here (with contact info if I don't have your e-mail already) before the end of the month. That's when I'm picking the winners - four of them.

Thanks for reading. Tell us about a birthday you remember or a gift that was special for you. I enjoy hearing from you.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Birthdays and Other Blessings at NQC

Meet the Southern Gospel group, the Patriot Quartet. My husband, Darrell sings bass with them. That's not him up on the big screen. That's the lead singer, Joe White. Darrell's the one on the far right. The shot I took of him up on the screen was fuzzy, fuzzy. I never claimed to be a professional photographer. If I had been I'd have taken a lot more shots and then maybe had more good ones. The other guys are tenor, Eugene Hoffman and baritone, David Combs.

The guys are at the National Quartet Convention in Louisville this week. They sang in a showcase on Monday, but don't get to sing on the "big stage" as all the singers call it. They do have a booth in the exhibition hall where they meet and greet fans and try to schedule concerts at new churches or singing venues. They love to sing, but they also feel called to share the gospel in song. And they do a great job.

The guys let me set up my books on their product table and so I get to have a little book signing and talk books with people from all over the country. Texas won out on Monday. All those people were trying to get away from the heat and dry weather. Most of them said they'd been seeing smoke from the wild fires. Later in the week, the tour buses start pulling in from all over. I've been having my books at the Patriots' booth ever since The Scent of Lilacs came out in 2005. And so I've made some reading friends over the years. On Monday I got to share my new books with several of them. Readers like Fonda who hunts me up every year. I'm going to use her name in a book one of these days.

Darrell and I have been going to the Quartet Convention for years. I talked to a man from Texas (of course) on Monday who said he'd been to the first Quartet Convention held in Memphis 53 years ago and had been to almost all of them since except for a few years when their children were very small. So I tried to think how many years straight Darrell and I have been going. We started going when they held the Convention in Nashville. We didn't get to go for the whole week, but would go for Thursday, Friday and Saturday. They moved the Convention to Louisville 17 years ago and I know we've been every year they've had it there. So I'm guessing 21 or 22 years, maybe more, maybe less.

One thing I do remember is that I've had a terrible cold on at least half of those years. Probably more. NQC, tissues and cough drops - they go together. But at least I've never wanted to sing at the NQC.  Good thing because most years I've barely been able to talk. This year I'm okay. I can talk and shake hands with people without thinking I might be "Typhoid Mary." Thank goodness!

Another thing about the Quartet Convention is that it swallows up my birthday. Every year I spend my birthday at the NQC. No parties. No cakes. No presents. Well, last year I did go shopping and bought my own present - a gorgeous Gospel Singer outfit to wear to the fancy ACFW dinner I attended the week or so after the NQC. I said I was going to wear it one night this year, but if I do, everybody will think I'm one of the singers. And what if they ask me to prove it? I'd be in trouble then. Of course I did teach my little granddaughter the song "The Bear Went Over the Mountain" today, so I could sing that. She was very cute singing the song. Only she said the bear didn't see the other side of the mountain. She sang the bear saw "me." (A grandmother has to sneak in a grandkid story every once in a while.)

I do enjoy the NQC and I'm old enough now that the day I celebrate doesn't matter all that much. Sometimes I celebrate a new year for a couple of weeks. And why not? A new year is worth celebrating. I'm looking forward to the year ahead. I'll have another couple of books out there for readers. I'll be sure to get to talk books with a bunch of new reading friends and some old reading friends too. I'll get to tell some more grandma stories and share some of those special grandkid moments as they celebrate birthdays and other special events in their lives. I'll get to count blessings until I run out of numbers.

Each of you reading this is a blessing to me. Thank you so much for giving me a few moments of your time. And don't forget to enter my birthday giveaway if you haven't already. Details are on my News and Events page on my website, but you can throw your name in the hat by leaving a comment here. As long as you leave a way for me to get in touch with you in case you win. I'll be drawing for winners the last of September. One of the winners will get that beautiful grandmother's Bible and others will get books and more. 

I put this quote in my birthday newsletter, but I love it. So seeing as how it's almost my birthday, I'm going to use it again. Don't birthday people get to some extra privileges? And for sure I wouldn't be the age my birth certificate assures me I am.

How old would you be if you didn't know how old you were? (Leroy Satchel Paige)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Week No Planes Flew

There are days in our lives that we will never forget. The 9th day of September 2001was one of those days. We remember exactly where we were when we first heard about the planes flying into the Twin Towers. Some of us were watching the news when that second plane crashed into the second tower. Even more of us were watching when the buildings collapsed.

And we knew, as we stood transfixed in front of our televisions, that people were dying. Firemen had run into the buildings to rescue people and lost their lives in that horrible moment when the buildings came down. There were still rescues, miracles of survival, but there were also many who were not rescued. And we watched and thought of how our world was forever changed. Then we prayed. We held hands and looked to the Lord for help, for comfort, for hope for the days to follow.

I was at home - probably trying to write something, but I really don't remember that. I do remember my daughter-in-law calling me and telling me to turn on the television since she knew I probably wouldn't have the t.v. or radio on.  I saw the replays of the plane hitting the building over and over and I saw the towers collapse. Even thinking about it now ten years later, my heart grows heavy with the memory. 

There were other memories in the days that followed. It was the week of the National Quartet Convention then the same as now, and we went on to Louisville to the Fairgrounds where the convention was going on. But it was strange. Nobody knew what to do. Should they continue on? Should they just call everything off and send everybody home? In the end, they continued their program with tributes and prayers and patriotic speeches, but there was a surreal feeling to it all. What were we doing? And why?

The fairgrounds is next to the airport in Louisville where there is a busy UPS hub. I remember how very odd it felt with no planes taking off or landing. Normally a plane would be going over every few minutes. But the rest of that week, all planes were grounded. The skies seemed too empty. And, with our innocence lost, we waited and worried about what might happen next. We still wait and worry. 

Now we know what can happen. We remember those first responders - the firemen and police officers. We remember our soldiers who volunteer to protect our country and way of life. And we remember those who have given their all in service of our country. Our little town of Lawrenceburg, KY has a beautiful memorial to our soldiers called the "Healing Field." It's a moving memorial with flags to represent soldiers who have given their lives for our country.

And so we remember.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Finding the Best Words to Tell the Story

" And that is all there is to good writing, putting down on the paper words which dance and weep and make love and fight and kiss and perform miracles."   (Gertrude Stein)

Words - the tools of a writer's trade. Words tell your story. Words make your characters leap off the page and come to life. Words plunge those characters into disasters or lift them up into joy. George Bernard Shaw has a true view of words in a story. " Words are only the postage stamps delivering the object for you to unwrap."  The object I'm trying to deliver for readers to unwrap is a story. 

I've been editing the galleys of my book, Words Spoken True, that is scheduled for release in February 2012. So tonight, since I have been engulfed in words for several days now, I'm very conscious of how much difference a right word can make or the trouble a wrong word can cause in a story. Words Spoken True deals with words in another sense too since the characters in it are newspaper people whose lives revolve around the words they put out on the street for the people to read. The power of the printed word. 

I never wanted to be a journalist. I always wanted to make up my stories, not report true stories. But I seem to enjoy making up stories that have newspaper editors as characters. David in my Hollyhill books is not only a preacher, but the editor of the small town's newspaper. I wrote a couple of mysteries that have yet to be published where one of the main secondary characters is the editor of the town's paper. Newspapers have played a big roll in the history of our nation and they certainly play a major role in the history of this new book of mine. 

So words have been my focus this week. I've read through this story at least a dozen times, probably more, and each time I find things to rewrite. I find words that clutter and must be removed. I find words that might be okay, but aren't the best to tell my story. The first words are not always the right words. 

Plain or fancy, the words need to fit the story. The words inside the quotation marks need to be words that would come from the mouths of my characters. And so I examine every scene, every conversation to make it the best I can. I edit by ear. The words sound out in my head as I read and sometimes while I'm reading along, suddenly I bounce into a chug hole of awkward writing. That's what I'm trying to take out. I'm trying to make the reading road as smooth as possible for my readers so that those readers will not get bounced out of the story. That means paying attention to details. Things like not using the same word over and over. My pet words in this one were "a bit." Everything was a bit this or that. Of course I was also too fond of "still" and "just." Still, it's just so easy to use them a bit too often. :o)  

There are plenty of details to watch. Details like being sure the POV is clear in each scene. Details like paying attention to the time line and the names of minor characters. Details like not having your characters need to be contortionists to make the movements you have them making. Details like chopping out those adverbs and letting your dialogue do the work instead. 

So I've been smoothing out the road my words have made in hopes that the reader will pick up my book and not be jerked out of the story by sloppy writing. Details. That's what editing is about. Making the story right. Making the story sing. I'm hoping I got the details right, but I'll have one more go at it to correct minor problems when I get to review the pages before the book goes to print. And again I'll be reading and editing by ear. 

How do you like the cover? I like how the town of Louisville is behind my beautiful heroine. Adriane is beautiful in the book, but of course she cares more about writing stories for the newspaper than she does about being beautiful.  

What do you think about books you've read? Can you tell when the authors are careful with details? Or do you even care as long as the story pulls you in? 

Thanks for reading. And don't forget about my birthday giveaway. You can check it out on my website and send me an e-mail to enter or leave a comment here. I'll be doing the drawing for four winners the end of September. Remember if you've never won anything from my website to tell me that to get your name in the bonus drawing.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Labor Day and Shakers

Shaker Kitchen tools, etc

  “Do your work as if you had a thousand years to live, and as if you were to die tomorrow.”  (Shaker Saying)

The Shakers believed in work. In fact they believed their work,  whether it was making chairs, weaving cloth, peeling potatoes, tanning hides, or any of dozens of other tasks, was an act of worship. They considered that work and the faithful performance of their duties a way to show love and obedience to the Lord. The "laboring" of songs and dances in their worship services was how they kept their spirits inspired and their minds focused on the Shaker way.

So celebrating work and workmen would have been something the Shakers were ready to do everyday. We are celebrating laborers tomorrow. At least that was the initial reason for the Labor Day holiday. Now many consider it the last gasp of summer before cooler weather sets in and school starts in earnest. But the origin of the holiday is much more involved than that. I looked it up to include in our church bulletin today. I don't know what I expected to find. Perhaps that, like Mother's Day, some person had decided we needed to celebrate the hard workers in our country. But this holiday is different.

It originated during one of the most dismal periods in America's labor history. In the late 1800s, workers had to work 12 hour days, 7 days a week in order to eke out even a meager living and often under the harshest work conditions. Children as young as 5 or 6 labored in mills, factories, and mines, earning a fraction of what their adult counterparts made. 
On September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers took unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City, holding the first Labor Day parade in U.S. history. The idea of a “workingmen’s holiday,” celebrated on the first Monday in September, caught on in other industrial centers across the country, and many states passed legislation recognizing it.

Congress would not legalize the holiday until 12 years later, when a watershed moment in American labor history brought workers’ rights squarely into the public’s view. On May 11, 1894, employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago went on strike. The government sent in U.S. marshalls and the military and a number of the strikers were killed. President Grover Cleveland attempted to reconcile with the labor movement by making Labor Day an official federal holiday and the act was rushed through Congress and signed into law 6 days after the end of the Pullman strike.

I have always known Labor Day was for workers, but I never before dug into the history of how the day came to be. We sometimes think things have always been the way they are now or the way we remember them in our lifetime, but when you explore history your eyes can be opened to how much things have changed - and how much better things are for the common laborer in this day and time. We may be struggling with unemployment but none of us have to send our children out to work in factories in order to have food on the table. Our children go to school. Our workplaces are required to be safe. And tomorrow we'll have a day off work to celebrate the working men and women in our country. 

The Shakers would have understood that. They celebrated labor. But even more they believed in God dwelling within man and his work. One of their best known sayings was "Hands to work and hearts to God."

Hope you have a wonderful Monday holiday and get a rest from your labors. Thanks for reading. I'll leave you with one more Shaker saying. 
 “Man is more precious than anything he makes, and the best product of industry is character.”