Thursday, January 30, 2014

Bumpy Sledding and Editing

I've been away from home for a few days keeping my son's kids. Great kids, but lively. There was snow up their way and of course they wanted to go out and play in it. Trouble was the wind chill was double minus something. It wasn't so bad the day I got there and so we rushed on our boots and gloves and hurried out before dark to decorate the yard with some snow people. Then those minus temperatures helped the snowmen stick around. On the second day the boys wanted to go out and sled on their backyard hill. It was cold. We had to hunt boots and gloves. Took us thirty minutes to get dressed. They got cold and were ready to come in after about fifteen minutes. That's how it goes. But before they got too cold, we did find a little sled. Neither boy made it to the bottom of the hill, but tumbled off about halfway down and rolled the rest of the way. They both wanted me to sled down the hill, but this grandma has learned better than that. The last time I tried to go sledding several years ago with another grandson, I found out pretty fast that older bodies don't like the bumps under those little plastic sleds. So I can build snow people and I can launch my grandkids on the sleds with a little push, but I'm not seeking snow thrills these days. Don't even like slipping in ice on foot or in a car. Does that mean I'm over the hill or just finally getting wise?

My son and his wife were stuck in Atlanta for an extra night and day and so I was late getting home. Since I have a writing deadline looming, I checked back in my blog archives and found a time when I compared that bumpy sledding episode a few years ago to the "bumpy sledding" I was having as I tried to get my new story off the ground. I'm at the same spot now and doing the same as then - hanging on and absorbing the bumps because I think the story is there. I'm putting that story aside to work on the edits of Love Comes Home. No major rewriting, but the little stuff can drive me crazy. I've spent three or four hours on one scene the editor has asked me to do a better job of transition. I'm still not happy with it. It's funny how when I'm in the flow of writing things come easier than when I'm trying to untangle a bit of knotty writing.

So here are a few quotes I put in that long ago post about bumpy writing. I hope it will encourage you if you're a writer and help you understand some of what writers struggle with if you're a reader.

  • A writer and nothing else: a man alone in a room with the English language, trying to get human feelings right. --John K. Hutchens (A woman alone in a room, too. I do work much better when I'm alone.)
  • Writing is no trouble: you just jot down ideas as they occur to you. The jotting is simplicity itself-it is the occurring which is difficult. -Stephen Leacock
  • I think it's bad to talk about one's present work, for it spoils something at the root of the creative act. It discharges the tension. -Norman Mailer (I couldn't agree more. I simply cannot talk about my story in progress. One author I read suggested that if a writer tells her story, there's no need for her to write it.)
  • Make 'em laugh; make 'em cry; make 'em wait. - Charles Reade
That last one is advice I want to follow. I think I'll write those words in red on my desk calendar where I can see it every day when I start writing. I'll put it right beside the Proverb about how laughter works good for us like a medicine. Hope you have much laughter and smooth sledding!

By the way, how long has it been since you tried sledding down a hill?  Maybe that was today!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Snow Scenes - Real and Imagined

A snow day literally and figuratively falls from the sky, unbidden, and seems like a thing of wonder. ~Susan Orlean

Kentucky winters are unpredictable. We might have snow. We might not. When my oldest son was six, he got a sled for Christmas. We did not have sledding snow for years. Then the year he was eleven the heavens opened and we had piles and piles of snow. And some ice. He stayed out sledding for hours. It's a wonder he didn't have frostbite. Three winters in a row we had major snow and cold. 

At that time we were the only people who lived back our little lane that had high banks on both sides of it. The snow drifted solid as high as those banks and there was no way we were going to get out that road. My husband pulled the car out through the pasture field with his tractor. Then every morning he'd ride the tractor out to the main road, get the car and go to work. He brought in the groceries too. That year nobody actually drove up our lane until the middle of March when I had a family birthday party for my daughter. My brother-in-law had a big four-wheel drive truck and he "broke" the road. The kids and I stayed home except when we walked to my parents' house down the road. And of course, the kids played in the snow. They would take their little brother out and then he'd get stuck in the snow drifts and they'd have to lift him out. But he loved it too.

I remember three and four-week long snow days, and drifts so deep a small child, namely me, could get lost in them. No such winter exists in the record, but that's how Ohio winters seemed to me when I was little - silent, silver, endless, and dreamy. ~Susan Orlean

I don't know how long the kids were out of school, but it seemed like three and four week snow days. We could have had cabin fever. I'm sure we did have cabin fever. But now, I don't remember that. I remember eating a lot of popcorn and hot chocolate. I remember reading the Lord of the Ring books. The two older kids read them too. I remember card games and fires in the wood stove. And I do have to admit I remember being glad when the kids went back to school so I'd have more writing time again. 

The snow this winter isn't nearly that deep. No drifts over the fence posts. But it has been very cold so the snow we did get is staying around. I like walking in the snow and I like taking snow pictures. And sometimes I write snow scenes in my stories. 

"I'm working on a snow scene right now, and it's summer. It's hot, and I will get chilly. I'll have to turn on the heat. My wife walks in, and it's 95 degrees in the studio. I know it's nutty, but it's a projection you have where you step into the painting." ~Thomas Kinkade

I understand that. The same as he is with the painting, sometimes I get so deep in my story that I can almost feel the snow and ice in my face as I write. I heard the ice hitting the cabin windows and breaking down the army tents in Christmas at Harmony Hill. I was with Hannah in The Believer as she defiantly made snow angels at the Shaker village. I was driving through the snow with David and Leigh as they stepped closer to love in Summer of Joy. The same can be true with hot weather scenes, so I guess right now I need to be writing about summertime to keep me warm. 

Hope you stay warm and enjoy the snow if you have it in your world. I always think about leaving a lot of happy tracks when I walk in the snow. That's what the dogs and I did today because snow can be fun. Just ask a boy with a sled. 

What do you like about snow days? Or do you get cabin fever?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Some things I've Learned as a Writer

I started writing when I was around ten years old. That means I've been writing a very long time. Sometimes with success. Sometimes without success - at least in publishing that writing. But the actual writing was always successful because words spilled out on paper. Perhaps not the best words. But words were written. 

In those childhood days, writing was simply for fun. The words bubbled up with joy and spilled out all across the notebook paper. The ink tracing of words somehow magically made a story. It was only later that I began to desire readers. The stories hidden away in notebooks were no longer enough. I wanted to write stories that not only came to life in my mind, but that would wake up readers' imaginations too. And so began my career as a writer.

Along the way I've discovered a few things about writing.

First and early on I learned that everything I wrote was not going to be golden. Writing was a learning process. I could improve. I could find ways to write better.

Second, I learned that writing better didn't guarantee that what I'd written would turn out to be what others wanted to read. 

Third, I learned that even when what I wrote found no ready readers, it was not wasted effort but instead practice. I had to write those words to get better at writing so that when I did find the right story to write, then my words might be so well written they would disappear before a reader's eyes as the story sprang to life in his or her imagination. 

Other things I've learned:
...that talking about writing is not writing. 
...that if I don't apply my fingers to the keyboard, nothing gets written.
...that I can't talk too much about a story before I write it or I lose the excitement of writing said story.
...that persistence is as necessary as imagination in getting a book on a store shelf. 
...that rejection, although painful, is not fatal unless you let it be. 
...that writing is hard work no matter how much you love writing.
...that even on the days when the winds of creativity don't blow on your writing sails, you can still write words that turn out to be not half bad.
...that it is easy to get distracted and do anything but write even when you badly want to write.
...that the most important person to believe in your writing is yourself. You are the one alone in front of the blank page. 
...that the most important thing I did to prepare myself to write was read and that even now after all these years of writing, reading other writers' stories is still as necessary as when I began writing.
...that even when I thought I should give up on writing, I couldn't. 

I am a writer. That's what I do. Thank you for reading some of my words. 

What lessons have your life or work taught you?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Blue Monday

Have you heard about Blue Monday? Up until today, I thought Blue Monday was simply one of my favorite candy bars made right here in Kentucky. And it is. But turns out a few years ago, a company decided to do a publicity campaign by naming a Monday in January as the most depressing day of the year. I read about it in the newspaper today, so of course, went out googling to see what I could find. And as with everything, lots of info is waiting out there in the internet world. There's even an actual formula. It's weather (not so hot - literally - for many of us in January) plus debt from overspending. Add to that the time since Christmas and the time when we are facing the fact that we've failed to keep our New Year's resolutions. Then divide it all by low motivational levels and the feeling that you ought to be doing something about all that and you get a day when all is gray in our lives. Sadness reigns and we are encouraged to muddle through the most depressing day of the year. 

At any rate, this campaign has caught our attention and now we're trying to figure out exactly which Monday in January is actually that most depressing one. Some say the third Monday or tomorrow. Some say the first Monday. Some are too depressed to say anything. If only we all had a Blue Monday candy bar and a sunny window and a great book to read, then blue Monday would be a thing of the past. That sunny window is actually what the psychologists say we should seek out to chase away the winter blues and everybody knows a little chocolate can be a spirit lifter. 

By the way, the same man credited with figuring out a January Monday is the most depressing day of the year, also decided on the happiest day of the year. That, he claims, falls generally in June between the 21st and the 24th. Those can be some pretty nice days of summer with plentiful sunshine and they sell those chocolate bars all year long. 

So how do you feel about it? Do Mondays make you blue? Is tomorrow the most depressing day of the year? I would think not since many people are having a school and work holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Maybe they (whoever they are) should pick a different Monday.   

 "You can't change what happened last week, but you can learn from it and choose happiness this week." ~Anton K. Kressnig

I'm for that! Let's choose happiness this week. Thanks for reading. By the way, starting in February I'm changing my blog schedule a bit. I'll just post here once a week and move Jocie's Hollyhill blog post to Wednesdays. After all, I've got a book to write. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Some Things Learned in Life

...that one of the most fun things you can do is take a walk with a grandkid and a dog.
...that the best classroom in the world is at the feet of an elderly person.
...that just one person saying "You've made my day" makes our day!
...that having a child fall asleep in your arms is one of the most peaceful feelings in the world.
...that being kind is more important than being right.
...that you should never say NO to a gift from a child.
...that sometimes all a person needs is a hand to hold and a heart to understand.
...that it's those small daily happenings, that make life spectacular.
...that even the Lord didn't do it all in one day. So what makes me think I can?
...that when you harbor bitterness, happiness will dock elsewhere.
...that a smile is an inexpensive way to improve your looks.
...that love, not time, heals all wounds.

I found those in a pamphlet that has ideas for church bulletin fillers and I put them in our church bulletin a couple of weeks ago. All but that first one. That's new, one I added as something I've learned on my own but I think most grandparents will agree with me. There's just something about seeing the world fresh through the eyes of a young child. 

What are some that you would add? Things you've learned over the years? How about that life is short and that you really should "stop to smell the roses" along your journey?  
Or that the weatherman is wrong as often as he is right. 
Or that a merry heart really does work good like a medicine just like it says in Proverbs.

Now it's your turn. What are some things you've learned in life?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Stay Calm and Be Optimistic

A computer once beat me at chess, but it was no match for me at kick boxing.~Emo Philips

Ahh, computers. They drive us batty at times but we love them anyway. Many of us now carry a computer of sorts around in our hand or stuck in a pocket or attached to our belts. That phone that does it all from surfing the net to taking photos of ourselves. So many of them that a new word is in our vocabulary - selfies. 

And sometimes that computer breaks or starts acting squirrely and we have absoluting no idea of why. A new update? Driver problems? Operator trouble? That's probably the one the tech helpers groan about the most and the reason one of the software companies is considering changing the command "Press Any Key" to "Press Return Key." They get a the flood of calls asking where that "Any" key is.

Dealing with people is probably the biggest problem you face, especially if you are in business. Yes, and that is also true if you are a housewife, architect or engineer. ~Dale Carnegie

Trouble is, it's not only the tech support guy dealing with people. The poor schmucks with the computer problems have to deal with the tech guy too. Of course, after listening to a half hour of how much some recorder values your business and a human being might be with you very soon and then getting music that no one in their right mind would ever intentionally listen to piped directly into your ear, you're ready to talk to any person, even somebody named Bhuzti. It doesn't even matter if it's obvious from Bhuzti's first hello that he's talked to one too many idiots already before you hit the jackpot and got connected with him. You feel lucky for about one minute and then the tech guy insults you by asking if you have the computer plugged in. While we might not know a control panel from a game of solitaire, most all of us do know how to plug something in. After we assure Bhuzti that we have the device plugged in, things generally go downhill from there.   

I actually talked to Bhuzti a couple of weeks ago. I was trying to help my sister get her wireless router to work. She has tech phobia and so I stepped up to bat for her. Stayed on hold for at least those thirty minutes. Heard their plea over and over that if I'd just go on-line to their website all my problems would surely be solved quickly and easily. But I'd chased down that trail without success before and was stubborn. I was determined to hold for that human they said might someday help me. 

I was about to give up when Bhuzti came on line and of course asked me that plug question followed up with the information that these routers were very easy to install and all you had to was plug them in. When I very politely told him I had done exactly what the instructions said and the router would not work, he suggested with some insistence that I should "stay calm and be optimistic." At that point he made me very nervous by wanting my phone number to call me back. In one minute he promised. I gave him the number and hung up, sure that would be the last I ever heard of Bhuzti. But he surprised me by called right back in that minute with of course, the instruction to "stay calm and be optimistic." 

By the time I unplugged and plugged in again and set and reset (after a frantic search for a paper clip that he said we'd need when a pen point would have worked just as well) and chasing all around the computer to this screen and that screen turning this and that off and on more than once, the router was still not working and I think Mr. Bhuzti was beginning to need to follow his own advice about being optimistic. 

To make a long story short - oh, sorry, I guess it's too late for that. Anyway, after another round of ons and offs, our optimism was rewarded and the router finally was working. I felt like reaching through the phone line all the way to India to give Bhuzti a hug - calmly of course. We'd succeeded. My sister could surf to her heart's content without being wired to her modem. But success was shortlived. When I saw her the next day, the router was no longer connecting to the internet. She didn't want me to come and use up her phone minutes talking to Bhuzti  or whichever lucky tech guy we got next. Instead she packed the thing up and took it back to the store. Calmly, but without any optimism at all. I'm sure it was the computer's fault.

To err is human - and to blame it on a computer is even more so. ~Robert Orben

Still, Bhuzti's advice wasn't so bad. Stay calm and be optimistic. I think that will be my by-words this year. With Mom. With my work in progress. With my computer. 

How about you? Do you dread having to call the tech guys? Or how about the phone company? With them you have to choose this option or that option and the last time I tried to connect with them, one of the options just cut me off completely and I had to start over. I think they hope you'll get so discouraged you'll give up. But they don't know I've gotten Bhuzti's words to live by now. Stay calm and be optimistic!!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A One Time Blue Event

I believe God created sports for a good reason. It's recreation. It's something that we enjoy. It teaches us a lot as well... I believe God is a sports fan. ~Luke Scott

I don't know about that, but I do know I'm a sports fan. Mostly I'm one of those armchair fans who watch from home with with my eyes riveted on the TV screen. Oh, I talk to the players, encourage them to steal the ball, make a shot. Sometimes I yell at them to rebound. Not that they can hear me from my spot on my living room couch. But I have to cheer them on, admire a great pass, and get excited about a fast break dunk. 

A rabid sports fan is one that boos a TV set. ~Jimmy Cannon

Okay, I might even boo sometimes. Never at the players on my team, but sometimes at those referees who obviously can't see!! LOL. 

We are inclined if we watch a football game or a baseball game, we have taken part in it. ~John F. Kennedy

It can be hard work being a fan who really gets involved in whether his or her team is playing well. Some of you out there probably think it's crazy to be a sports nut. Some of you are probably a sports nut over your favorite team the way I am over Kentucky basketball. 

It may be that all games are silly. But then, so are humans. ~Robert Lynd

Silly or not, I've been following Kentucky basketball since I was a young girl. I listened to every game on the radio even though my parents never bothered to listen. But there I was with my ear pressed up against the radio listening to Caywood Ledford call the UK basketball games. 

I've been to a few games over the years, but it had been a long time since I'd sat in Rupp Arena to cheer on the team. Then our son and daughter-in-law gave us tickets and so we climbed way up to Row Z in the upper arena and took in the ballgame last night. Actually, even though we were up high in what some call the nose-bleed seats, it was easy to see the action on the court and it was great fun to yell and have twenty thousand other nuts yelling with me. And we did, indeed, boo the referees. Roundly!! But we also cheered on our young team. We groaned when they missed a shot. We yelled defense when the players were working hard to get their first lead. We stomped and clapped and yelled with the feeling that we mattered to the outcome on the court. And it was fun. 

Going to a Kentucky basketball game is an event for many fans. Tickets are not easy to come by in the lower arena. This game before the students start back to school is when many "regular" fans, who rarely get to see a game in person, have more chance at getting a ticket. It was easy to see that attending the game was an event for many people because of how everybody had their phones out taking pictures like they were at a tourist attraction. And I guess that's where we were. A sports attraction. So we took a "selfie" too. If I look like I'm having more fun than my husband, that's because I am!!

How about you? Are you a big sports fan? And what team gets your blood pumping?

While looking for quotes for this post, I came across this one. What do you think? A lot of truth here, isn't there?

Andre Dawson has a bruised knee and is listed as day-to-day. Aren't we all? ~Vince Scully

Sunday, January 5, 2014

A New Chapter in Life

No one finishes this race, but everyone gets to pass a baton, and a good hand off means that you will not slow anyone down during the hand off, especially any one of the billions who will live after you. Everyone today is an accumulation of the 106 billion batons that have been passed forward for thousands of years. So make your baton count. 

Passing the Baton

Today, my husband, who has been singing with the Patriot Quartet since 1997 sang his last concert with them as their first  and only bass. It was a sad day for me because I hated for him to quit the group. I think they have always had a great sound. (You can check out their music at the Patriot Quartet's website or see some short video clips of their concert today on my Facebook page.) But Darrell felt strongly that the Lord was leading him to step aside and pass the bass singing baton on to a younger man who has a great voice and will be a fine addition to the Patriot Quartet. They will continue their ministry and Darrell will step into new ways to minister, still singing, but no longer with the Patriots. And so the year begins a new chapter for him as he moves forward. 

Singing Families

When a singing group has been together as long as the Patriots, the members and their families become something like extended families. That has been especially true with this group since for several year we traveled to concerts in a big old bus that gave us hours and hours to share stories and songs. In fact, it's partly because of that big old bus and all the rides on it that I wrote Angels at the Crossroads. That book, the only nonfiction book I've written, is the life testimony story of the first tenor in the group after Darrell began singing bass with them. 

Angels at the Crossroads - Jerry's Story

Jerry Shepherd has an amazing testimony. As a young man
he become involved in drugs and alcohol and eventually, at age nineteen, was sentenced to prison for murder. While he thought his life was over, the Lord wasn't through with Jerry. He gave him a second chance by putting people in his pathways to help him start making right choices and following the right roads. Jerry couldn't change what he'd done, but he could accept the Lord's forgiveness and try to live for Him going forward. Jerry always wanted to write his story and so when we were thrown together on the bus and I had recently had my first inspirational novel published, it seemed to be meant for me to write his story. I wasn't sure I could since I'd never written anything except fiction, but the words flowed so easily that it had to be the Lord helping me write Jerry's story. The book didn't find a traditional publisher, but it is available on Amazon and other internet sites. Here's a bit of a review just posted yesterday on Amazon. "Hope, forgiveness, and God's love is what helps us all through difficult times just as Jerry finds out. If you face a crossroads in your life, Shepherd's inspirational journey may help lead you down a new pathway to a life filled with compassion and love."

Jerry is now pastoring a church and doing solo appearances to share his story in song and words, but he will always be part of our singing family just as the members we said goodbye to today will be. Batons are passed and new chapters of life are begun. But that doesn't mean we forget the good times we've shared. Sometimes it's good to look back through some of those old chapters of our lives.

Authors - the Old and the Young 

One of those life chapters I've shared with all of you here on One Writer's Journal is that of my great-niece, Kaelyn, who was diagnosed with leukemia when she was five years old. The church where the Patriots sang today is pastored by Kaelyn's father, our nephew-in-law. After three long years of treatments, Kaelyn was released by St. Jude. She has to go back periodically to be sure all is still well, but she now has hair. She doesn't have to wear a mask when she comes to church the way she did the last time the Patriots sang at her church. She can go to public school without the fear that every cold germ will land her in the hospital with little way to fight off infection. On that hard journey of chemo treatments, she never let go of the Lord's hand. She is a special child with a big heart and a sweet spirit. I know many of you prayed for her and rejoiced when I posted about her "no more chemo" party last year. (Here's the link to that post if you missed it last year.) Anyway, I thought you might like to see her picture with her great smile and nice long hair. She told me today she'd just written a book with ten whole chapters for her little brother. He loves Ninjas, so she came up with that type characters and made it funny. Here's a photo of the new author with the old author. 

On to the Next Chapter

Chapters of life start fresh all the time. May your next chapter be a good one. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

And the Winners Are...

Christmas Contest Giveaway

My Christmas contest has been great fun as all my giveaways because of all the reading friends who send me hellos and stories. For this contest, you shared your best and/or worst gifts, both the ones you gave and the ones you received. Some of the gifts really stunk, but some were so loving that reading them touched my heart. Maybe I'll get inspiration for a new Christmas novella someday from all your stories. 

Who Never Wins?

And of course it's always great fun to pick winners. I just wish I could send you all a prize, but I do hope you had fun with the contest whether you won or not. In Eleanor's e-mail she said, "I never win and that's no story!" But now the story has a different ending, and she can't say that any longer. She won the snowman pin and her choice of one of my books. A lot of you said you never win and maybe next time it will be you celebrating your first win.  

First Prize Winner

Cathy G is my first place winner. She gets the pretty pillow and her choice of one of my books. Cathy had a most unusual Christmas gift story as she shares how she has managed to find homes for over 300 rabbits in the last fifteen years and saved them from being euthanized at shelters. She says,"I think my best gift is the gift of life!

Second Prize Winner

Cynthia from Maine is the second prize winner. She wins the Christmas novellas. She sent a gift story with her entry and tells how she tries to help out her daughter and son-in-law because they gave her the best gifts ever, her three grandchildren, "two precious girls adopted from China and one biological grandson who looked so much like my husband when he was a baby." 

Here's her best gift given story. "I think that the most sentimental and nostalgic gifts I gave was when we had two of my husband’s grandparents old stuffed chairs stripped and redone (the wood) and then brand new upholstering done to make them clean and fresh for our daughter and her husband’s house. It took months for the woodworker to get the wood cleaned and back to the beautiful mahogany and walnut that they were and then from his shop we took them to the upholstery man and chose fabric to match their home and then he finished them off with a little pillow for each chair inscribed to them from us. What a time we had getting them transported over 50 miles to my nephew’s house (where we did Christmas that year) and hidden until gift time. But the surprise was worth all the time it took and the effort of hauling them here and there. To this day, they love their chairs.

Just Because Winner

I like picking a winner just because and this time I picked Barbara G who is recuperating from some surgery. Don't know yet which book she'll pick, but hope it will make her feel better.

One Last Christmas Gift Story

Virginia shared a story with me just this week that I simply have to share with you. Virginia comes from one of those complicated family backgrounds that children are sometimes thrust into. Because of that she didn't get to know her brother until they were both adults. But once she met him, she knew exactly how to make those family ties strong. Here's her story. "The best gift I ever gave...was to my birth brother. I had missed growing up with him I went to Cracker Barrel where they sell the old time toys and bought him several and wrapped them individually. One was for when he was 5, then 6...until he ran out of was an old time top, etc. He cried. In his 50s then, but he cried.   He is the greatest brother..."

Giveaway Blessing and Thanks

Thank you all so much for blessing me with your stories. I've tried to share forward some of them in the last month, so if you haven't read them, I think you will be blessed too if you scroll through the December posts and read the stories shared with me. Some might make you smile. Some might make you tear up. Some will show the true spirit of Christmas giving. 

A New Contest in March
I'll be having a new contest in March to celebrate the re-issue of Summer of Joy. So stay tuned and watch for that.

May you all have a blessed and very happy 2014.