Thursday, January 31, 2013

Paper Airplanes and Homework

I just got home from spending a couple of days with my grandkids while their parents went on a business/relaxation trip. They take this trip every year and for the past several years I've gone up to their house to hold down the fort. Well, last year, the kids came to my house. My husband was out of town that weekend, but I lucked out with my daughter home that weekend. This year I went there, but my husband was able to go along to help. The twin boys loved that. We had two days of back to the past. It's been a while since our kids grew up. We're a little rusty - no, a lot rusty - at seeing to first grade homework, bath time, packing school lunches, getting kids up and off to school and keeping the peace between siblings. They say kids keep you young, but that's only for a few hours. After a few days, we realize we're not as young as we used to be!! But then who is? 

It's a funny thing about kids. The more fancy toys they have, the more they like the simple things. Like paper airplanes. The boys had a great time with the airplanes folded from a piece of paper. They'd climb halfway up their stairway and float them down into the living room. Over and over. 

Isn't that one of the fun things about kids? They don't get bored doing the same things over and over the way us older folks do. Kids don't mind seeing the same movie again and again. In fact, they sometimes will watch a favorite movie until they can say the dialogue with the characters. Reruns of their cartoon shows are fine with them. They pick the same book again and again and will beg to have it read to them five times in a row. Or more. The Monster at the End of the Book Starring Sweet Loveable Grover was a favorite this week. It's been a favorite with all the grandkids and with me too because it's such fun to read. Each grandkid has also enjoyed reading it with great expression as soon as they learned to read."You turned another page."

But the paper airplanes were a big hit. The noses of the planes would get crunched and the boys would hunt a new piece of paper. No piece of art by their sisters was safe. LOL. By the time we left they had a whole fleet of airplanes, all showing signs of many crash landings. 

Did you ever make paper airplanes? Did you fold them in fancy ways or plain the way the one beside the twins on the table? Sometimes the simple folded ones fly the best or maybe that's the only kind I can make fly. But then I can't fly kites either.

So we had a great time with the kids and a few tiring moments in those keeping the peace times. But there's nothing like a grandkid hug and kiss and an "I love you, Grandma." 

Have you checked out Jocie's Hollyhill Book of the Strange this week? Jocie had some homework of her own so she let Wes take over. She thinks you'll like Wes. You can click on the tab at the top of this blog to navigate over to Jocie's blog too. Remember if you leave a comment here and/or on Jocie's blog you'll get an entry into a giveaway for the chance to win an autographed copy of Scent of Lilacs. Three winners. Drawing on March 1. Also you can check out this Goodreads link for more chances to win a copy of Scent of Lilacs.   

Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Eating Meetings

"Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity." ~Voltaire

At my little church, we often have what we call "eating meetings." The practice of sharing meals seems to strengthen our fellowship, and the food's pretty good too. There's little better than an old-fashioned dinner on the grounds. Of course, things have changed over the years with our dinners. As you can see in the picture above that was taken on the day we celebrated our 200th year as an organized church here at Goshen, the dinners have moved inside. We have tables and chairs and air-conditioning.

It was a lot different in the years past. In the old days, a couple of the farmers in the church would sweep off their farm wagons and pull them up into the church yard. Then the ladies of the church, who cooked everything they could find in their larders, would load the wagon down with all sorts of dishes from fried chicken to chocolate cake. Somewhere at the end of the wagons, would be jugs of sweet iced tea or lemonade. 
(I borrowed the picture from a Mississippi church website I didn't think they'd mind. Old fashioned dinners on the grounds look a lot the same at any country church.)
I've been to church dinners where the food was out on the wagons, but by the time I started going to Goshen's dinners, they had a basement where they loaded down two homemade tables with their homemade food and then had a whole counter full of desserts. Folks got in line and came down the stairs, filled up their plates and headed outside to eat wherever they could find a spot. Sometimes the local funeral home would come out and set up one of their tents to give a little shade from the sun. We have a concrete wall around the parking area that works fine as a bench for the younger folk to sit and eat. The men would often congregate around the brick and concrete church sign to stand and eat. Then there were the church steps up to the side door that made more seating such as it was. People found a spot and enjoyed eating with their neighbors and friends and church family.

We had an eating meeting at church today. Good food and a fine fellowship hall to enjoy it in. It would have been chilly to eat outside today, but there was something special about going to those dinners on the grounds when they were actually outside on the grounds. 

How about you? Have you ever been to one of those kinds of eating meetings?

Remember if you leave a comment, you're name will be entered for the giveaway on March 1. Three winners will get an autographed copy of Scent of Lilacs. Each time you comment on a different post, you get another entry, but you do need to leave a name or e-mail address. Oh, and tomorrow on the Hollyhill Book of the Strange, Wes is taking a turn reporting. Check it out Monday.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Staying Warm the Oldtime Way

We're having a cold snap here in Kentucky. Of course, it's supposed to be cold in January in Kentucky. But it's not cold all the time. We have days mixed in that are almost pleasant with sunshine and temperatures way above snow weather. Then we'll plunge back into the freezer. We're in one of those freezer weeks now with temperatures in the low teens. Not really all that bad. It's not minus anything unless the wind starts blowing. Then the wind chills might get a bit nippy. 

The cold spell got me to thinking about my growing up years. We lived in an old farmhouse. The front two rooms had been a log cabin, but the house had two back room and two upstairs rooms added on to it. The outside was covered with wood siding that had to be painted every five or six years. I painted it once. I didn't mind painting. I hated scraping off the old paint. 

Except for those old logs, the house wasn't insulated - at all. The cold winter winds pushed right through the cracks and crevices. You never had to worry about not enough fresh air. We slept on featherbeds under piles of quilts and didn't mind sharing that bed with a sister. And we wore our socks to bed. Some people who grew up the same way I did remember bricks heated on top the wood stove and wrapped in towels to warm the bed. My sisters and I were made of sterner stuff than that. Either that or we didn't have any bricks. LOL. 

But how did we keep warm? Wood stoves. By the time I can remember, my mother had an electric range for cooking, but she also still had the wood cookstove similar to the one above in the kitchen. In the winter she kept a fire in it mostly to warm the kitchen, but while it was warm she did cook on it. Notice the water tank on the right side of the stove above. That was an old fashioned water heater. The wood went in on the other side and had to be split in small pieces to fit. The top was a warming oven where leftovers could be kept for latecomers to the dinner table. The top burners lifted off - you had a special tool for this - so that you could poke the fire to adjust the temperature for cooking. It wasn't so bad cooking on a stove like this in the winter time. But my mother-in-law still cooked and canned on one for a couple of years after I got married. In the summer the kitchen would be stifling, but she kept her family fed.

We had another stove in the living room just for heating purposes. This was a fancy affair with a steel lining and a jacket over the steel outer part that served two purposes. It made the stove more attractive and made it less likely a child would get severely burned if he fell into it. We could bank a fire in it and have live coals come morning to start the heat going again. Less attractive was what we called the drum stove. That one looked to be made out of half a barrel with a tin top. It had four shiny legs and a stovepipe that went straight up out of the back part of the top of the stove. It had a lining that would burn through after a few years of use. Then sometimes small holes would burn through the sides of the stove. 

I looked on the internet for a picture, but didn't find one. I found plenty of drumstoves, but none like the old fashioned ones. The good thing about those stoves was how easy it was to start a fire in them and how quickly they heated up. The bad things about them were that the fire generally burned all the way out before morning and it took constant refueling to keep the fire going. Also, many a child suffered burns from stumbling into the stove. Including me. I don't remember it, but I have the scar to prove it. A small neat little scar shaped something like a diamond that looks more like a birthmark than a scar now.

But then my mother tells about when she first got married and they only had the grate - that's the metal wood or coal holder in a fireplace. She says they slept upstairs and sometimes when they came downstairs on a cold morning, the teakettle sitting on the hearth would be frozen. So you can imagine how getting a stove where the fire would make it through the night and be easy to stir up and feed in the a.m. would make her very happy. Now I have a digital box on the wall to make me warmer or colder. But I don't have the fun of learning how to tend a fire to keep the biscuits in the oven baking and the bacon on top the stove sizzling and the grits on the back of the stove simmering. Of course, when I was a kid, I also got to have the "fun" of carrying in wood to stack on the back porch for the fire.

In my book, Angel Sister, my teenaged sisters, Kate and Evie, struggled to cook on a wood stove. It was a learned skill. One I hoped I learned well in my imagination to make those scenes real in that story.

Maybe the best thing about wood stoves and old farm houses is that they made for a lot of family togetherness in the winter time. It was too cold to get very far away from the stove so we didn't scatter into separate rooms until time to crawl in under all those quilts to go to sleep.

How about you? What can you remember about the "good old days?"

Don't forget. If you leave a comment you'll be entered in my giveaway for blog commenters only, and have a chance to win one of three autographed copies of Scent of Lilacs.  Every comment here or on Jocie's Hollyhill Book of the Strange gets you an entry.


Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Girl in the Picture

Some things are keepsakes that can't be gotten rid of even though they have no real value other than sentimental attachment. This picture is one of those things here at my mother's house that my sisters and I would never be able to throw away. When we were children, the picture hung in the corner of our aunt's living room. It was painted by my great aunt, Herve, who had a flair for creativity. She had a rock garden in her backyard that was a wonder, and when she decided she needed new flooring in her house, she simply painted her old linoleum gray and then dotted it with a variety of bright colors.  

I don't know when she painted this picture, but it was my aunt's house. Aunt Herve added plenty of personal touches, including my aunt's cats and dogs. She carefully planted the flowers in her picture the same as they were in the yard, if perhaps coloring them a bit brighter. She added plenty of bright birds too. Then there's the pasted on picture of the girl holding a cat. I always imagined I was the girl in the picture, but it most likely represented my older sister since I can't remember when the picture was painted and given to my aunt. But I wanted to be the cute little girl in the picture and so I imagined I was. 

Maybe that was the beginning of me putting myself in a story. That's a question I often get about my writing. How much of this or that character is me? Since I did use my hometown background in my Hollyhill books, readers ask if Jocie is me. And the answer is no. And yes. She isn't me, but she's the girl I imagine I am in the story. A writer has to get inside the skin of her characters, especially her viewpoint characters. And while I have several viewpoint characters in Scent of Lilacs, Jocie is the beginning character, the one the story rotates around. Things happen to her that never happened to me. She does things I would have never had the nerve to do. She is not me. But in a way, I am the girl in the story the way I was the girl in the picture. How? Imagination. 

Actually most of us are the girl in the story or the guy in the story when we're reading. That's why reading is such fun. We live their stories without getting all the bumps and bruises. We laugh with them and cry with them and share their adventures right in the safety of our favorite reading spots. I'm hoping some of you will imagine you are Jocie in Scent of Lilacs when the book is available again in March. Before that, I hope you'll drop by Jocie's blog to get to know the people of Hollyhill. Jocie or one of her friends will be sharing something every Monday for a while. Just click on the tab up at the top of this post or go to Remember too, if you leave a comment on either this blog or Jocie's blog before March 1, you'll be entered in a blog only giveaway for an autographed copy of Scent of Lilacs. I'll draw three winners and each time you comment, you'll get a new entry. Then maybe you'll be reading and imagining you're the girl in the story.

Thanks so much for reading my journal too.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Inviting You to Hollyhill

It won't be very many more weeks until Scent of Lilacs, my first inspirational fiction book will be available again for readers. The book has been out of print for several years, but in March it will hit the store shelves with a brand new cover. Some of you have already read my Hollyhill books and I thank you for that. There are three of them. Scent of Lilacs, Orchard of Hope and Summer of Joy. 

 I appreciate the many kind comments I've gotten about the stories. Scent of Lilacs got a starred review in Booklist with this review. Thirteen-year-old Jocie Brooke prays God will send her a dog and wishes her senile aunt would stop quoting scripture. The setting is semi-rural Kentucky. The story revolves around Jocie's dad, David, a newspaper editor and the "interim" pastor of a little Baptist church. Where is Jocie's mom? She left seven years ago, taking Jocie's older sister with her. David's strange marital status explains why he's always "interim" and also why he's so sad. Jocie gets her mutt, the onslaught of Bible verses is ameliorated, and real drama emerges as Jocie explores her family's secrets in this universal tale of growing up. 

I call my Hollyhill books Small Town, America stories because I  pulled so much of the background for the books from the little town here in Kentucky where I grew up. All the characters are completely made up - and none of you hometown friends are going to convince me differently. Well, maybe there were a few minor characters I might have pulled a bit of this or that from someone I remember from years ago. Maybe. The thing is, all my characters in all my books probably pull a little of this or that from people I've met or read about or imagined over the years. That's where characters spring from - that mysterious well of experience and imagination in a writer's head. 

I did enjoy writing about Jocie Brooke and her family and friends in Hollyhill. I especially liked it when Jocie and Wes, who was a grandfatherly figure to Jocie, got to talking. In Scent of Lilacs, I have them thinking about writing a book called The Hollyhill Book of the Strange. 

So guess what? Jocie and Wes are writing it now to celebrate the re-issue of the Heart of Hollyhill series. Once a week I'll be visiting Hollyhill and let Jocie or Wes or who knows who in Hollyhill tell us what's going on there. I started to just substitute the Hollyhill posts for my regular Wednesday night posts here on One Writer's Journal, but a name like "The Hollyhill Book of the Strange" simply cried out for its own space. So here's the Hollyhill link if you'd like to go over and see how Jocie is introducing her new venture. With a little help from Wes, of course. 

If you grew up in a small town or community, I'd be glad to hear the "strange" things you might remember about your towns. Who knows? Jocie might suddenly remember something along the same lines that might have strangely happened in Hollyhill. :) Small towns are great places to grow up, but they are also hot beds of interesting and unique characters who give rise to some entertaining if odd stories.  Maybe even a little strange.

Let me know what you think. Either here or on the new blog. Leave a comment here or there before March 1 for a chance to win an autographed copy of Scent of Lilacs. I'll give away three copies and your name will go in my hat twice if you comment both places. Thanks for giving Jocie's new venture a try. Happy reading!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Audacity to Begin Again

"In every artist there is a touch of audacity without which no talent is conceivable." ~Johann Wolfgang von Goeth
Tomorrow I will begin. I will sit in front of my computer and think of all the blank pages ahead of me. I will invent characters. I will imagine love and despair. I will seek action and listen to see if I can hear my characters talking. I will dance them this way and that and hope beyond hope that I don't have them doing any kind of jigs they absolutely would never do if I wasn't pulling the strings and making them act contrary to their character. I will believe that I have a story to write.
"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
While Pearl Buck published books before I was born, I am old enough to remember the smooth promise of those reams of paper there on your desk. The blankness of the sheets just begging for words to spill across it. Your words. My words. No computers when I began writing, but it wasn't the dark ages. There were typewriters. So my creative process has been attached to a keyboard for a long, long time. But the thought of taking up a pen to write speaks to the urge in every writer to spill stories out on the page.   
Chapter One. Two plain words, but two words that are an enticing invitation into a story. Then I will need a great first line. Sometimes on this loop of writers I'm part of, we'll all share the first line of our works in progress. It's fun to see all the different ways we introduce our stories. Of course, I don't have to have the final, revised perfect first line tomorrow. I'm a long way from my story being in front of readers where I need to have such a great first paragraph that a reader will be caught and not want to stop reading until she or he reaches the end. Right now at this beginning stage, I can have any first line as long as it entices me into the story and makes me want to write the next paragraph and then the next.
That's the real secret of writing a book. Writing one paragraph, one scene after another. Oh, but what are those scenes going to be? That is the question. That is what will make me stare out my window in front of my desk and not see the birds flying in and out to the birdfeeder, but instead see the story playing out in my imagination.
It's hard to write those first words, Chapter One. I never feel ready. I never think I know enough about the history of whatever era I've chosen. I always feel as if I need to find out just a little more about the characters' background.  After all, it's their story. But there comes a time when you just have to start. And so, we'll go on a tour of discovery, the characters and I, and hope we can figure out what happens next.
Yes, I do hope I have the audacity to begin again. To write yet one more book. Audacity - some of the synonyms for it are courage, bravery, boldness, nerve, daring. While it's true that perseverance is a very necessary attribute to a writer and talent a good companion to have on the writing road, here at the beginning, with nothing but the blank screen in front of me, audacity is the word I need. The courage to begin. The boldness to believe it possible. The nerve to try to make fiction real. Audacity. I can use a double helping next week.
Also, next week, I'm hoping to unveil a new feature here on One Writer's Journal as I get ready for Scent of Lilacs to be back out for readers in March. The Hollyhill Book of the Strange, or should that be the ordinary?
Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Leaving Happy Tracks

"The footprints you leave behind will influence others. There is no person who at some time, somewhere, somehow, does not lead another." ~Unknown

Freshly fallen snow seems to shout an invitation to get out and see what wildlife tracks might be found. But you can't search for tracks without your own footsteps giving evidence that a two-legged animal has been this way. When I look back at the trail I leave in the snow, I sometimes think of a song popular some years back about leaving a lot of happy tracks everywhere we go. The song is talking about more than the physical trail we leave behind as we walk through life but also all those people we touch on the journey with our actions and our words. 

"A bad word whispered will echo a hundred miles." ~Chinese Proverb

Words are an audible track that can show up behind us for years and years, especially if the spoken words, or written words too, were unkind or thoughtless. Sometimes the dark smudge of such a footprint can be unintended, words misunderstood. At times we might not realize we're stepping on someone's feelings with a heavy tread.  

I've got a few words echoing around in my head like that. Some of them that might not have even meant to be bad or at least personal, but for this or that reason the words stabbed me in a tender spot and got stuck in my thoughts. A casual acquaintance once made what seemed an offhand remark about my Shaker books. It wasn't even his own words, but he repeated something he'd heard someone else say. I've been writing a long time, so my skin is pretty thick about that sort of thing. I know everybody isn't going to like my every written word. Yet, for some reason what this man said burrowed down under my skin and has made a continual worry spot for me as it pokes at my writer confidence. I don't think he intended that to happen, but I'm not absolutely sure of it. 

Then there is the time when it was my words that injured. A beautiful young family joined our church - a bright spot for our little country church. The mother was an enthusiastic worker. I thought I was cheering her on in every way, but then she looked at me one day and said I was against everything she wanted to do. I was astounded and crushed that my words had been discouraging to her when I had intended support and encouragement. I begged her forgiveness, but it was too late. My words, however unintentional they had been, had left the wrong tracks in her mind. That's been years ago, but it still makes me sad to think about it. And it makes me try to be much more aware of not only what I'm saying but what the other person is hearing. Often it is not the same thing. 

Now with the internet and so many words flying across the social media networks, there is even more chance that wrong words will wound or words might be misunderstood. Those word trails don't disappear with the next breath either. They linger in the internet world. So I try to consider my words before I open my mouth or hit send. I want to leave happy tracks.

"Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while and leave footprints on our hearts. And we are never, ever the same."  ~Unknown

Hope every footprint on your heart sparkles with happiness. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Ready, Set, Type!

And so 2013 has begun. Tomorrow starts the first full week. Most everybody has gone back to work and the kids are hitting the books again. Guess it's time for this writer to start making a book again. Time to think about new characters or about how the old characters have changed as the years have passed since I'm going back to Rosey Corner. Time to think about how to make this book better than the books before. How to make it a story readers will not only want to read, but a story they will like so much that they tell their friends to read it too.

Word of mouth is still the very best advertisement a book can get. Haven't you sometimes told someone that they should read this or that book? I certainly have. I've had plenty of people tell me the same. Read this. It's great. That's the kind of book I want to write. That's the kind of book I'm guessing every writer wants to write.

I need to get busy figuring out my new story, or I'll be staring at a deadline and wondering how in the world I let so much time slip past without getting the story going soon enough.

Alas, there are always reasons not to write. At least for me. Some really good reasons. My hours taking care of Mom. The grandkids. They do grow up so fast. Getting the church bulletin ready. Laundry. Cleaning. Cooking. Walking to clear my head and help me think about the new ideas. Taking pictures of the snow and icicles. (I had to get that picture in here somewhere.) Sometimes the reasons not to start typing Chapter 1 are things that need doing writing wise. History books need reading. How can I possibly write anything until I know more about the time period? Maybe I should do some research on the internet. And while I'm signed in, I might as well check Facebook to see if anybody left a comment. Or there might be a new e-mail. From my publisher. They might need something. 

They do! They need me to write a book. I need me to write a book. I want to tell a story - a new story. It won't be easy. It never is. At least not every day. Some days the words will come hard, but they always have eventually come. And if all goes well, if all goes the way it has in the past, I'll get to tell a new story in 2013. That's what I do. So, ready, set, type!

What are you "ready, set, go"for in 2013?

Nancy of FL did finally get in touch and claim her 1st prize - the bookends, the autographed book, The Bridge, by Karen Kingsbury and she picked my book, Orchard of Hope. Thanks again to everyone who entered and joined in my Christmas fun. You're the best. Plus I see I hit 100 in followers. That deserves something special. I'll come up with a new giveway soon. Maybe one especially for you reading friends who take the time to read my on-line journal. Thanks so much.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Dream Big

The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark. ~Michelangelo

At this time of the year, everybody talks about making New Years' resolutions. Here are some you might hear or even make yourself. Lose weight. Eat healthier foods. Exercise more. Read through the Bible. Finally write that book you've always wanted to write. Go back to school. Spend more time with your family. Do a kindness every day. So many good things we can resolve. But what about dreaming? What about thinking about what we want to happen in the year ahead? Do we aim too low with our goals? 

Years ago when I was just a kid who didn't know any better, I aimed high. I played on my aunt's old Underwood typewriter and dreamed of being a writer. I had no idea how to go about making that happen. I just knew I wanted to write down stories. I wanted to see those stories in print. And I had the amazing dream that somebody might someday pay me money for my words. Me, a farm girl who had never met the first writer. Me, a girl who had chores like stacking wood on the back porch for our wood stove and feeding the chickens. Me, a girl who only had a very few books she could call her very own. (I love libraries.) What were the odds that girl would ever figure out how to write a story, much less a book? Slim to none. Yet, there's that shelf of books with my name on the fronts under that old typewriter. Having that happen once was a big dream for me. Having it happen over and over again was a very big dream. 

 Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world. ~Harriet Tubman

In October I went to a writers' retreat where we were all encouraged to dream big. What did I want to accomplish in my writing life in the year to come? What did I want to do in my personal or spiritual life in the months ahead? Was I afraid to challenge myself with big dreams? What big dreams could I dream? I think I had a hard time coming up with what the leaders of the retreat considered "big" dreams because my published books were already big dreams coming true for me. But I could dream more books. I could dream more readers. I could dream about bestseller lists or award ceremonies or maybe movies made from my books. Those could be my big dreams, and I do dream about some of those things. I do want more people to read my books because I love sharing my stories. But at the end of the day, I can't get away from the truth that I'm already living my big dream of writing stories and having them out there for readers, and that somebody is paying for my words. Simply, without a doubt, amazing! 

I'll keep challenging myself to keep dreaming. I'll challenge myself to make each new book better in some way than the last! I'll dream of tomorrow's book and aim high. And I'll try never to forget how blessed I am to be living that long ago dream.

 God's gifts put man's best dreams to shame. ~Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How about you? Are you dreaming big for 2013? I hope so. Thanks so much for reading, and don't forget - you are in my dreams!