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The Downton Abbey Effect

So what does a writer do when they’re not writing? It has been over a year since I finished my last book, “Organized and Loving It”, which I co-wrote with my alter-ego, SuperOrganized Sal, the Perfectionist Gal.  It was something different for me, indulging the left side of my brain, while still releasing the right side a bit as well. I’ve always loved organizing things. KEEPING them organized, well, that’s more difficult. A co-worker, when he saw the title of the book, asked my husband if I was super-organized. “No,” my husband replied, “but she IS a fiction writer.”

 

Har har har.

 

Since then, I have not done any finished writing. I started another novel, but after publishing four books in 2-1/2 years, I felt a bit burnt out. So what DOES a writer do when they’re not writing? They READ. In the past year, my Kindle has been kept busy. I’ve been reading multiple books by Winston Graham, Jacqueline Winspear, Dodie Smith, DE Stevenson and others. I’ve found myself  much drawn to books of previous times, often by British authors. Is it the Downton Abbey effect? I’ve also watched a lot of Brit TV DVDs, such as Lark Rise to Candleford, Call the Midwife, and Ballykissangel. I just enjoy these stories of a kinder time, when the main characters are not dealing with murders, child molesters, drug dealers, and terrorists. Authors back before the 1970s were able to write stories about families, friends, whimsical neighbors and happier events, such as church lawn parties, the lifestyle of a stage actor, rural postal routes and the entertainment at a local pub, while still involving plenty of drama. And these authors actually got published! Not that I’m bitter…

 

I just enjoy escaping today’s headline horrors with books that are kinder and gentler. I just finished reading a British classic, Down the Garden Path, by Beverley Nichols, which doesn’t even really HAVE a story – it’s actually a gardening book, but written in such a conversational style that you want to rush right out and dig in your back yard. And read more of his books. Again, maybe it’s the Downton Abbey effect – if we must have death and drama, let’s at least wear gorgeous clothes, live in a fabulous house, and get served tea and crumpets while we do it. The newest book downloaded to my Kindle is Wendy Wax’s novel “While We Were Watching Downton Abbey”. I haven’t read it yet, so I can’t give a recommendation, but the title certainly caught my eye. I’ll let you know when I’m done.

 

Meanwhile, a few story ideas have been floating around my mind, or maybe I’ll go back to the unfinished novel. At any rate, hope you’re having a great summer (if you’re not in those unfortunate parts of the country that are either burning up or drowning!), and have lots of great beach reads. I think I’ll go fix myself a cuppa tea and find a biscuit. Maybe a graham cracker will have to do…

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Swimming with the Dog

I go swimming with the dog. I have to. She’s not allowed to go swimming alone. 

Lola is my daughter’s dog. My daughter had begged for years for us to get her a dog and, finally, when she returned from college to move back in with us while studying for her Master’s degree, we gave in. Well, I’m sure you know that Lola has taken over our lives and moved into our hearts. What can I say? We are hopelessly devoted to her. When our daughter finally moves out again, she may have to leave the dog with us. Just sayin’. 

Lola loves to swim. She has learned to recognize my bathing suit, and as soon as she sees me in it, her entire caboose wags ecstatically. She willingly stands still to be dressed up in her fashionable polka-dot swim vest, and trots out to the lake with a big smile on her face. I head out to the lake with a big smile on my face too. Lola and I both have some joint issues, and the water is one place we can enjoy ourselves and forget about them. 

I used to go swimming with my kids. We’d jump in the lake on a hot day, and the kids would all hang off me like remoras hanging off a shark. I could barely move but they loved it. Then they’d put on a show for me, their favorite act being “Walk Off the Pier Like A…”  The idea was to walk off the pier as if you didn’t know you’d come to the end of it, in different characters. And, of course, fall in. Favorite skits included The Old Lady, The Business Man, The Kid on a Bike, and The Three-Legged Dog. As time went by, they developed higher-concept characters. The Fat Old Lady with Droopy Drawers. The Near-Sighted Business Man Running to Catch a Bus. The Wobbly Kid on a Bike Throwing Newspapers to Front Porches, The Three-Legged Dog. (You really can’t improve on a three-legged dog.) 

Now, Lola and I have the lake to ourselves. The kids are all grown up and they have to work all day (nana nana boo-boo). I get up in the morning, check my email, have breakfast, write for a couple of hours, and then go for a swim. AFTER that, I begin my workday. It doesn’t suck to be me, eh? I do exercises under the water, and swim a few laps alongside the pier, while Lola paddles away with an intense look on her face, looking both wise and mystical. Every so often, she’ll circle back to me and I’ll hold her for a moment so she gets a rest. Then she goes exploring along shore, and I float on my back, looking at mountain-high cumulo-nimbus clouds against that blue, blue North Carolina sky. The lake is quiet on these weekday mornings. Few boats go by, and they are far away, emitting a mosquito-like whine as they streak across the lake, sending a few gentle waves my way. The sun warms my face and shoulders, while the rest of me stays cool underwater. I can hear all kinds of birds, and occasionally see a fish jump out of the water. Lola does her rounds, from boat dock to neighbor’s boat dock, roaming back to me for a minute’s rest and to watch a dragonfly hover above the water, and then paddling off again. I listen to the creak of the boat’s tethers, the waves lapping against the pier. I muse upon the morning’s writings and what I’ll cook for dinner. I close my eyes and float. 

So, why am I writing this? I want to remember the good stuff. I want to remember my kids splashing in the lake, I want to think about these good moments that I get to experience several times a week, and I want to impress them into my mind to carry me through the bad days which come along once in a while. We all have to do this. We all have to store up the good, because it’s impossible to get through life without experiencing some bad. Maybe, unfortunately, a lot of bad. This week, there’s been much bad news – on TV, on the Internet, among our friends. A not-very-original truth is that Life turns on a dime, and a good, ordinary day can become something quite different with the ring of a telephone. 

Therefore, today and every day possible, I’m saying Thank You, Whoever, for the sun. I’m saying Thank You for the water. And I’m especially saying Thanks for being able to go swimming with the dog.

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What’s in a Name?

One of the (many) fun activities of being a fiction writer is choosing your characters’ names. I like to select names that are authentic as to time period and background, yet also interesting and evocative. (I try not to stray too far into soap-opera territory. No “Brick”, “Ridge” or “Mallory” for me.) Sometimes my characters’ names are borrowed from real people – relatives, neighbors, celebrities – at other times, I look up lists of popular baby names from the correct period, or even let my fingers do the walking through the phone book for local names. One of my characters in The Pleasure of Your Company was named for my next-door-neighbor, Kat. I just loved that name and it worked so well for the character. I was a little embarrassed though, when she wanted to buy the book and I had to explain what I’d done. Another neighbor, Mary Lou, who had already read my books, said I could use her name whenever I wanted! So I will! 

It’s interesting to note how name popularity changes throughout the decades. I see a distinct difference in the names people chose for their babies before World War II from afterward. It seems to me that before the war, people’s names reflected their ethnic and cultural background a good deal (my mom’s French Canadian ancestors had names like Odile, Cesaire, Marie-Aimee, and Angelique, and my dad’s German ancestors came with names like Olga and Jacob and Rosa). Yet for us Baby-Boomers, after the war, our parents chose All-American names, like Karen and Billy, Susan and Bob. We, in turn, went for something a bit fancier (many of us thinking our own names were too plain-Jane). We named our kids ‘classic’ names like Jennifer and Melissa, Jason and Matthew. Biblical names made a big resurgence – Benjamin, Seth, Hannah and Elizabeth. Then came the many, many Ashleys and Heathers, the jewel-like Tiffanys and Crystals and Ambers, the manly last-name-for-a-first-name Brooks and Tyler and Harrison. Don’t even get me started on the popularity of unusual spellings (Ashleigh? Britnni? Aron? Tzak?) and the completely made-up names – LaToya, Donelia, Kyree, Darvon and Kiara. My head starts spinning. (At one point, I taught a fourth-grade class with three girls named LaKeesha, LaShiqua, and Shaneeka. Sweet girls, but I could never keep their names straight!) 

Lately I’ve been researching names for my oft-mentioned, never-yet-completed book about Camp Meeting. I’m back to work on it again, new ideas in mind, and am determined that THIS will be the summer it gets written. Meanwhile, I’m having fun looking through the two doorstopper-sized volumes of Rock Spring Campground, a history compiled by Terry Brotherton. Rock Spring Campground is just down the road from me and the inspiration for this novel. But I’m LOVING the names mentioned in it – first names like Nolen, Otha, Tyrus, Doyle, Rhyne, Orvie and Eudy for the men, and Vassie, Allene, Arvelle, Hazelean, Leantha, and Lockie for the women (almost all pre-World War II campers).  You can really follow the development of name popularity just in the photos which picture a four-generation family, with grandparents Ruby and S.D., daughter Peggy and her husband David, their children Heather, Ashley, and Jason, and Heather’s twin toddlers, Madison and Bryce. 

I won’t tell you yet what names I’ve selected for my new characters, but maybe in another blog entry, I’ll talk a little about choosing the names used in previous books. By the way, part of my longtime interest in names comes from my father’s family. His parents were big on novelty. Dad’s siblings were named Marvel, Evadena, Teddy Jack, Keith, Olga, Darwin, Courtney, Echo, North, Lorna Lou, Dwight and Conrad. How can you not be interested in names, coming from a line-up like that? Funny thing is, while my siblings and I all admire these names, the owners of the names themselves often changed them to something less original. In my novel, Every Little Step She Takes, two of the characters, a mother and daughter, talk about their names and how they always hated them and wished them different. Our first name is one of the first things we understand as part of our identity. How important it is to carefully select your child’s name, but obviously, we have to choose that name before the child has developed any personality. They’re stuck with our choice.

Well, my fictional characters are gonna be stuck with my choices too. Hey, dem’s de berries. I’m the author.

 

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Baby Boomers Unleashed!!

I’ve written an article for BabyBoomers.com, about why self-publishing is especially appealing to people my age. One of the things I’ve discovered about myself in the past few years is that I’m a bit more fearless when it comes to self-esteem issues and much less patient about following the ‘rules’. I’m almost sixty, folks, and I’ve realized that when it comes to my writing, I’ve very little to lose no matter what I do – SO LONG AS I KEEP WRITING! Self-doubt is the biggest plague for writers. It can absolutely paralyze you. I was told by agents that my writing was good, but my topics (NOT mystery, NOT romance, NOT scifi or paranormal) would be difficult to market. They weren’t wrong. They knew their business. But writing ‘for the market’ has never been my goal. I wanted to write the kinds of stories which I’d want to read, so-called “women’s fiction” in which the main characters are women, but not solving crimes or falling in love. And I’m willing to bet there are a lot of other women out there who like those kinds of stories too.

The point is, at my age, I’ve developed a healthy level of reckless abandon. And that has freed me up to write more, knowing that I can self-publish. If people don’t enjoy my writing, then yes, it won’t sell. But at LEAST IT’S OUT THERE. AT LEAST I’M ENJOYING THE WRITING. The stories have their chance to attract an audience. To me, that’s the most important thing. I’m not stymied by agents’ advice to ‘write a romance’. This may not be the best path for younger writers, but for us Baby Boomers, there’s a great deal of energy behind the knowledge that we’re still in charge on some aspect of our lives. My children are grown and I’m no longer a force to be reckoned with. To quote Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, “I miss the way that I used to call the shots around here.” My body also has become much less under my control (shoulder issues, knee issues). But by golly, when I write (again quoting Brian Wilson), I’m Captain of my Destiny.

Not such a bad place to be.

 

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Just for Fun – a humorous short story

But Who’s Counting? 

7:18 am

My 9-year-old and 7-year-old have 6 minutes to catch Bus 236 and ride 4 miles to PS 132. I pack 2 lunches, locate 70 cents for milk money, sign 3 papers and load up their backpacks, which seem to weigh 50 pounds each. My husband downs his second cup of coffee, aims a kiss at me, missing my cheek by 1/4 of an inch, and drives the 8 miles to work in rush hour traffic, which takes half an hour. The four-year-old turns on Channel 12 and Ernie introduces us to the number 5. I bribe my 2-year-old with 6 oyster crackers so that she will sit on the potty and do number two. I am on day 21 of my birth control pills. You know what that means. 

9:27 am

I have to be at the dentist’s by 10:00 so he can x-ray my number 32 molar. It will take 14 minutes, cost me $92 and I’ll have to give the babysitter my last five-dollar bill. There’s construction on Highway 127 and my car has only 1.5 gallons of gas in it. Three Dog Night are on the oldies station, singing “One”. I’m 34 years old and all I have in my purse is $9.98 in cash, 3 sticks of gum, 4 credit cards, 1 pair of toddler training underpants, and no tissues. I graduated from college with a 3.85 GPA. Sometimes I wonder why. 

11:36 am

I take the two youngest and go to K-Mart, which is having a sale. I spend $52.68 on 2 pairs of sneakers, 3 pairs of toddler jeans and a honking big box of disposable diapers. The 4-year-old tries 3 times to fit into the shelf under the shopping cart, the two-year-old manages 5 times to pull stuff off passing displays into the cart, I say “stop it!” approximately 837 times, and waste 17 minutes trying to fit into a pair of size 10 jeans. I have four kids, one husband, two cars, a dog, three parakeets and a 12-year-old house. Who cares about new jeans, anyway? 

2:51 pm

My 41-pound four-year-old falls asleep in the car and has to be carried up 17 steps to her bedroom. My 32-pound two-year-old throws her 12th fit of the day and has to be punished with 5 minutes in the corner. Their naps overlap by exactly 11 minutes. I fold two loads of towels, wash 3 pairs of pantyhose, and do 20 sit-ups. My mother calls and spends 20 minutes telling me about how she won $40 by choosing six numbers in the lottery. I open a 7-Up. 

4:06 pm

My older children are home from school and within 12 seconds, they dump two bookbags, two lunchboxes, 4 shoes, two jackets and about 27 papers in the living room. I count to ten. I listen to first grade reading and help practice fourth grade spelling. My son sings a commercial jingle 17 times and my daughter reveals that she has 3 boyfriends, one of whom she kissed on the elbow. I start fixing supper. Oprah is having a show about strengthening your marriage. I could tell her a thing or two about that. I’ve been married for 12 years. I get one “date night” a month, one video rental a week, and sex every other night. Hey, it’s cheaper than counseling and burns calories, too. My husband gets cable TV and all the action movies he wants. None of them good.

 5:58 pm

We get through dinner with only 2 spills, 3 arguments, and 4 spaghetti stains. Thank goodness for 409. My husband spends 7 minutes watching the sports news on TV, 13 minutes reading the front page of the paper, and one and a half minutes talking to me. Then he clears the table and I forgive him. I load the dishwasher. Three meals a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. I don’t even want to do the math. I make up a grocery list. One loaf bread, a dozen eggs, large size jar of peanut butter, and coffee. Lots of coffee. 

6:42 pm.

“Two, Four, Six, Eight, Who do we appreciate?”  12 cheerleaders, 9 years old, shake their pompoms and practice their cheers for PeeWee Football. My son and 16 other boys, shoulder pads dwarfing their heads, run around the field. Daughter #1 is playing hopscotch in the dirt. Daughter #2 is rolling in the dirt. Daughter #3 is at home with Daddy, pooping in her pants. I’m on Chapter 3 and just reread paragraph 4 for the fifth time. Daughter #2 whines for a Three Musketeers. I give her four Lifesavers.

 8:45 pm

Three sweet-smelling, freshly bathed daughters; one surly, funky-smelling son with 7 math problems to go. My husband falls asleep on the couch 8.5 minutes after I get home. I picture to myself one large baseball bat.  Then I switch the TV from Channel 9 (football) to Channel 18 (Jerry Springer) and turn the sound WAY UP. I sing two lullabies, read 3 stories, find the baby’s blankie and take her on one last trip to the potty. I tell the 9-year-old four jokes and let him borrow my walkman so he can listen to 30-year-old comedy routines by the Smothers Brothers in bed. Get 4 hugs and 4 damp, noisy kisses. I give one long, satisfied sigh. 

9:37 pm

I pour myself 6 ounces of wine, $6.98 a bottle. I pick up two sweaters, 3 socks, 4 naked Barbie dolls, 5 pennies, and 6 crayons. My husband comes out of his stupor and rubs my back. We have 8 hours and 23 minutes before it all starts over again. I kiss him twice. We check the TV Guide. Oh, good. “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”.

 

 

 

 

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Turning to the Dark Side

I don’t write poetry. I’m not a poet, never have been, don’t even usually read the stuff. However, a few years ago, when asked to do a freewrite on Leap Year, to my great surprise, a poem came out. I don’t claim that it’s good – but it is about Leap Year, so here ya go…

 

Leap Year

 If I had an extra day

I could catch up on the ironing

I could clean my linen closet and get the ragged

Towels to the bottom of the pile

Where they belong

 

 

With an extra day, I could

Work in the yard, I could

Weed and plant instead of looking

Out the window and always thinking

“I ought….”

 

 

If I had an extra day

It wouldn’t be a Monday

Because Mondays are self-righteous and cold

And it wouldn’t be a Friday

Because Fridays are lazy and ne’er-do-well

 

 

I think it would have to be mid-week,

This extra day, and in the autumn

When the air is fresh and the sky

Becomes a Spanish tile of blue and white

Suspended overhead.

 

 

I’d rise early, this day not to waste.

My coffee would be freshly ground and

I’d drink it outdoors, listen to the breeze

And share my muffin with a robin

Or a wren.

 

 

On my extra day, I’d drive by the steam plant,

Whose triple towers send billowing clouds

I wouldn’t have to crane my neck and keep

One eye on traffic. I’d just park my car

And watch them rise.

 

On this special day, I’d visit my parents

And take flowers to their graves. I’d sit

On the cemetery bench and talk with my brother

And I’d remember how they lived

And not how they died

 

On this extra day, this bonus, this lagniappe,

I’d tell my loved ones how rich they make me feel

How, surrounded by them, I am rich enough,

Wealthy enough, to not really need

This extra day.

 

Some people like to use the extra day in Leap Year to actually take a flying leap – to try something new, to leap forward in a project, to spread their wings a little. What will you do this Leap Year day?

 

 

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Thirty-Seven Years later….

Last night, my husband and I went out to dinner. We do this a lot, often in the company of various family members, but last night we went, just the two of us, to celebrate our wedding anniversary. We’ve been married 37 years, or over 1/3 of a century. Yikes! It’s quite a record, and when you consider we also dated for over 4 years before we wed, that means we’ve been together over 41 years. 

We met at Oakland Community College, in Farmington, Michigan, in 1970. Eight months after we married, my family relocated to North Carolina and took along the family business, Steele Rubber Products, manufacturing rubber parts for antique and collector cars. Matt and I stayed behind, but soon I was so homesick, that Matt approached my father about working for him and we moved to North Carolina in October of 1975.

 

I’ve never regretted it. North Carolina is a beautiful state with wonderful weather (most of the time!), and easy access from our home to both the mountains and the coast. However, it WAS a huge jolt to move from suburbia to an area that was much more rural. A major culture clash, and epitomized as much as anything else by the choice of restaurants in the area. Matt and I had been living in Oak Park, Michigan, after we married; a place where all kinds of ethnic restaurants were within five minutes of us. When we moved to Denver, North Carolina, there were only three restaurants in town – a fairly nice steak place and two diners serving typical southern food – grits, chicken-fried steaks, country biscuits, po-boys, and burgers ‘all the way’, which meant including cole slaw on the burger. We liked the country food, and loved the sweet ice tea, but we missed the choices we had up North. The first time we went for pizza after moving down south, we ordered a sausage and pepperoni pizza. It was covered with extremely salty pork sausage, instead of the semi-sweet Italian sausage we were used to; we each took one bite and then swallowed our beers in one gulp and got out of there! 

It took a long time for our area to draw in any restaurants. Strict blue laws meant liquor-by-the-drink could not be sold anywhere, and even beer and wine were limited to certain venues. As a result, few of the nicer restaurants were interested in locating here. That’s all changed now. In the 1980’s, as the racing car industry settled in nearby Mooresville, a new prosperity fell on the former textiles-manufacturing town, attracting new businesses, new residents, and new liquor-by-the-drink laws. It’s not that Matt and I are so boozy – honest! – but obviously, a restaurant that can serve drinks makes more money. 

So last night, it was with great pleasure that we enjoyed dinner at a really fine restaurant in Mooresville, the Epic Chophouse. It’s only been open about a year or so, located in a historic storefront on Main Street. Matt and I hadn’t been there before, but our darling younger children, Rebecca and Danny, gave us a gift certificate, so we checked it out. The food and service were fantastic. I won’t write a review here (although I will elsewhere), but what it mainly made us think was how much things have changed since we moved south. A sleepy little rural area has come to life, thanks largely to the racing industry, and now we have the advantages of modern development in terms of stores, restaurants, medical facilities and more, all within reach – where before, we had to drive for up to an hour for these items. Matt and I have changed so little (haha) in 37 years – but the area in which we live has changed a lot – and for the better. 

It’s just nice to think about and remember, once in a while.

What changes do you notice about where you live?

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An Appreciation for Passion

I love the Internet. I love being able to do research and find odd bits of facts without ever having to leave the house. (Not that leaving the house is unpleasant – in fact, I’m sure that by this time next week, I’ll be wild to leave the house – I’m just saying it’s awfully convenient not to HAVE to leave the house.)

I recently read Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger, who is also the author of The Time Traveler’s Wife. I really love both books and became fascinated by the setting of Her Fearful Symmetry, which is Highgate Cemetery, just outside of London. Google allowed me to find this article about the author and her experiences at Highgate, where she eventually became so well-informed about the cemetery’s history and eminent residents, that she became a part-time tour guide.

Think about it. She’s a woman from Chicago, who started out as a graphic artist (more on that later) and wrote illustrated stories until she wrote a story too complicated to illustrate so she turned it into a novel, then wrote another novel set in a cemetery, a particularly gothic and atmospheric cemetery, traveled to London to do research at the cemetery and began hanging out there, becoming an expert and giving tours. Don’t you just love it? I do. I love thinking about her getting so hooked and passionate that she just couldn’t stay away. Research is one of my favorite parts of writing, having the mandate, you might say, to absolutely spend time going down the rabbit’s hole in studying something, to the point where you might just be a little nuts about it. Niffenegger has simply been able to carry it a little further than most.

When I was researching the life of a ballerina, in order to write Every Little Step She Takes, I spent hours watching Swan Lake over and over, watching other video’s about dancers’ lives, and reading about technique, practice routines and dance moves.  I wallowed in ballet, which I suppose is an oxymoron, but as I have never been a dancer, it was the closest I could come. At any rate, my point is I love it when someone is completely passionate about their work.

Ms. Niffenegger, as I mentioned, began as a graphic artist, and some of her work is on display at her website. I found out she has also written a couple of graphic novels, one of which, The Night Bookmobile, was published as a serial in The Guardian. You can read the whole thing here. It’s an intriguing story and the artwork is fascinating. If you’re a book nut, you’ll really want to check it out. The link leads you to the final pages of the book; you have to go to the oldest entry to get to the beginning and work backward. It’s worthwhile.

Question: Are you passionate about your work? Is there something that quite transports you with delight? What is it?

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If Not Now, When?

If Not Now, When?

            This is the question I asked myself last year, when I first considered self-publishing my novel, Every Little Step She Takes. I was about to attend my 40th high school reunion and I had to ask myself, had I achieved everything I’d dreamed about doing? Oh yes. And more. But while I’d had many of my short stories published, I still hadn’t been able to break down the walls of traditional publishing. Hadn’t even made a dent in them. (“Not for us, sorry.” “We like your characters, but the story doesn’t fit our guidelines.” “Have you tried writing a romance?”)

            Eighteen months later, I can’t complain. I now have two novels and one short story collection available in paperback or on Kindle, they’re selling well and building steam. Several book clubs have read my first novel, Every Little Step She Takes, and some of them have returned to read my second novel, “The Pleasure of Your Company.” Sales are building, and obviously, a lot of people received Kindles for Christmas – I can tell by the spike in sales on the 25th and after.

            So, what’s next? I’m working on my next novel, tentatively titled “Two Weeks Every Summer”, about a family at Camp Meeting, that Southern small-town religious revival/family reunion that provides a great, unique setting as well as a built-in situation ripe for comedy and drama. More on that as it goes.

            And hopefully, more blogging as 2012 unwinds. To get things started, I want to tell you about a great new book I got for Christmas. It’s titled “The Pocket Muse; Ideas and Inspirations for Writing” and it’s by Monica Wood, and therein lies a tale.

            Several years ago, I had gotten active in writing reviews on Amazon.com. Just for fun, in my free time. I was contacted by a writer named Monica Wood, asking if I would review her new novel, “My Only Story”. I was very flattered to be asked and immediately read the book, enjoyed it tremendously, and wrote the review. (It’s still on Amazon’s webpage for the book, although you’ll have to scroll down a way, I wrote it in 2000.) Then, a few weeks ago, I happened to read an article in Oprah magazine, titled “What Betty Knows”. The article was about a woman’s view of her mentally-handicapped sister (“Betty”) and how their relationship is shaped by their abilities and inabilities to enter each other’s world. I loved the article. Having my own sister with special needs, I am fascinated by how other families deal with these things. I even wrote about my special sister in “Another Weekend with Susie”, one of the stories in my short story collection, “After the Wink and other stories”.  Then I saw the author’s name – Monica Wood. The same Monica Wood? Yes, indeed.

            I went to her website, http://monicawood.com, and saw the titles to the other books she’s written since “My Only Story”. And was fascinated, once again, to see that she had written three books about writing, as well as three more novels. I immediately put her books on my Christmas wish list, and received The Pocket Muse from my son on Christmas morning. I opened the book and started leafing through it, and what jumped out at me? She starts her book by asking the reader, What are you waiting for? If not now, when?

            I love serendipity. I love the lucky coming together of chances. So, to me, this was serendipitous – that a book on inspiration would start where I started eighteen months ago, by asking myself to take a chance, to take a leap of faith. To recognize that I’m not getting any younger or any more beautiful, but maybe I can still become more creative, more able to express myself, more fearless about trying new things.

By the way – about “The Pocket Muse” – if you’re a writer, you’ll want to see this book. It’s full of photos, tips, and suggestions for free-writes to get you going. Example of a writing prompt: Fill in the blank. “Seven days ago ______________, and now nobody will talk to me.” Example of a writing tip: “Once a week, skip to the next part of whatever you’re working on, no matter how stuck you feel.” Example of some inspiration: “Writer’s Block? If you have a dog or cat, brush him. Take a lot of time. Relax. Compose your thoughts. Don’t panic. If you don’t have a pet, find a kid and braid her hair.” I’m loving this.

            So here’s my New Year resolution – to write more. Every day. Early in the morning, late in the evening, and to live to my utmost in between. I turn 60 this year, which is kinda scary and kinda empowering. Why hold back? Why not take the chance to create the kind of writerly life I crave, filled to the brim with inspiration from other writers and readers and fascinating characters. Seriously. If not now, when?

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