A little something for that new Kindle in your life…

My newest book is now available – “After the Wink and other stories.” It’s a collection of 38 short stories and essays that I have written over the years. Most of these have been previously published in various magazines or ezines in the US, Europe and Latin America, but now they’re all in one place. Read more about it by clicking on the link marked “About After the Wink”, up above. It is available in paperback or in Kindle format; you can buy the paperback directly from this website and save shipping charges, or you can buy either format through Amazon, by going here. Don’t forget – if you have an I-pad or I-phone, you can download the Kindle app for FREE.

The past year and a half has been very exciting and busy, self-publishing three books. I never expected to go this route, but I have to say it’s been worthwhile. Several book clubs have read my novels and a couple more clubs are reading them in January. The public libraries of Lincoln, Gaston and Catawba counties carry my books, and they can also be ordered from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

I made the decision to self-publish in July of 2010, right after I received an invitation to my 40th high school reunion. I decided – if not now, when? I don’t reach as large an audience as I would if my books were traditionally-published, but the people who’ve read them seem to enjoy them. I hope, if you read my books, that you’ll enjoy them and maybe write a review for Amazon or Goodreads. I can use all the word-of-mouth I can get.

For 2011, I would like to write entries to this blog a little more regularly, and I’ll be writing about the things that inspire me, about my writing life, about being a Baby Boomer and taking the opportunity to DO things that I only dreamed about before. I’m also an active Toastmaster, and will probably write a bit about that. If you don’t know what Toastmasters is, it’s a self-help organization that teaches you to become comfortable with public speaking and leadership. I joined several years ago because I was in a writing class and we were required to do an ‘open-mic’ reading. I wanted to be able to remember how to breathe while doing this, so Toastmasters seemed a good idea. I’ve remained a member because it’s fun and now that I’m needing to learn how to self-promote, it’s helpful.

I’d much rather be writing than self-promoting, so I hope to do a lot more of that in the new year as well. For some time, I’ve been picking away at a story about Camp Meeting, and need to settle down and WRITE it. I’ll keep you posted how it goes.

For now, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I didn’t get my Christmas cards sent out this year – my bad – but I certainly wish everyone the happiest of holidays (and plenty of great reading!).

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Not Done with History Yet

My recent tour of historical homes was very intriguing but I hadn’t expected to be touring another such home anytime soon. However, my husband and I were invited to attend a reception put on by LEDA (Lincoln County Economic Development Association) ‘honoring International Industries operating in Lincoln County’ the other evening, and found out it was to be held in the oldest house in the county.

 

Vesuvius Vineyards is located in a rural section of Lincoln County – so rural, I didn’t even know it was there, although I don’t live far away.  I’d heard of Vesuvius Furnace, an iron foundry that operated from 1790’s until several years after the Civil War. What I didn’t know was that one of the furnace’s founding partners, Joseph Graham, had built a house just down the road from the foundry, and that the house is now restored to former grandeur and serving as a venue for weddings and receptions of all sorts. I had the pleasure of meeting some members of the family who now own the house and got to hear some of its history.

John Lineberger III and Jay Thompson, cousins who are involved in the business and who served as our bartenders that evening.

John Lineberger, one of the owners, and me 

What I find so interesting is how the past and the present are so intermingled. Those historic homes I toured last weekend are still currently occupied by people whose lives might contain many mementoes of the past, and yet they’re still very involved in present-day activities. The Lineberger family that I met at Vesuvius Vineyards have done a beautiful job of restoring a beautiful old house, but they’re deeply involved in providing today’s brides and grooms with a beautiful and spectacular setting for their special event. I’m currently working on my third novel, to be set at Camp Meeting, those evocative summer rituals – part religious revival, part family reunion – at which history is an integral part. (Just visit many of the tents and see the photographs proudly displayed of families gathered on the porch, going back through generations.) We are ourselves, in this time, with cell phones and Twitter and high gas prices and heavy political debates, and we are our ancestors, with Model T’s and no air conditioning and ragtime music and heavy political debates.

 

At any rate, it was a real pleasure to be at an event that combined a lovely setting (the grounds of Vesuvius Vineyards are just as nice as the house), fantastic food (LEDA provided an international cuisine featuring dishes from Austria, Australia, Brazil, Germany, Iceland, Israel, Japan and Singapore, to honor the nationalities now operating businesses in the county), fascinating conversation and what might possibly have been the last of the mild fall weather (I hope not!), with the bonus of inspiration that dovetailed so beautifully with things I’m trying to write. I love serendipity.

Vesuvius Vineyards has a terrific website with a lot of history on the house and foundry, at http://www.vesuviusvineyards.com and LEDA’s website has an article on the International Appreciation event here.

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This Old House

            This past weekend, my sisters, my niece, and I went on the Fourth Annual Historic Mooresville Tour of Homes. There were eight homes of different periods and types, and it was a real pleasure to tour these homes and see the interior décor and restoration.

            The weather was perfect – sunny and mild – and we were able to do most of the tour in a single walk. I don’t live in Mooresville, I mainly visit the shopping centers and restaurants out near the highway, but I’ve been spending more time in town lately and am just beginning to realize how many attractive vintage neighborhoods are in the area. This past summer, my sister and I visited a number of the antiques shops downtown and after this weekend’s tour, I look forward to coming back to drive around once the houses are decorated for Christmas.

            At any rate, the tour was a lot of fun. In some of the houses, the owner was there to give a history and details about the renovations, the antique furniture, and previous owners. In other cases, a docent from the Mooresville Historic Preservation Commission provided a running commentary.

            Some of the houses are restored almost completely accurately for their period, with some exceptions for kitchens and baths, while others are an eclectic mix of old and modern. We particularly enjoyed the William P. Johnston Home, c. 1925, which is a Mediterranean Revival style with a lovely little courtyard area, and the Gold Medallion Home, almost at the other end of the spectrum, built in 1958, and Mooresville’s first entirely-electric house. The owners have many vintage 1958 touches in the house, while still keeping it modern. We especially liked the kitchen countertops, which were laminated and finished off with chrome molding, just like those old kitchen tables of the 1950’s. The owners, Micah and Elizabeth Scrogginthorpe, also showed off their 1958 camper, an Airstream-type with an aluminum exterior and wood interior, in which they traveled on their honeymoon a few years ago.

Here’s a link to an article in the Lake Norman News section of The Charlotte Observer about the tour and photos of the houses: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2011/10/19/2692189/mooresville-tour-to-show-8-historic.html

            What I really enjoyed on the tour was seeing both the history of the houses and the current owners’ own personal touches. Some displayed a serious interest in cooking, others in art or nature. Unfortunately, while I did bring my camera, I managed to leave the battery behind, charging away, so I don’t have any photos. After we completed the tours, my sisters, niece, and I went out to lunch together and got talking about our own home histories. I can remember well the houses I lived in, growing up, and later when I moved out on my own, and I’m sure each of you can think of many interesting stories to go with the history of each place where you’ve lived. You can learn so much about a person by seeing where they live – their personal photos, the things they value. I don’t have a lot of antiques in my homes – the ones I do have are each personal mementoes, gifts from my family members, belongings that once were owned by my grandparents or parents. When I go to an antiques shop, I find nowadays I’m most drawn to items from my childhood (shocking as it is to realize they’re now considered antiques!). I’m including here a photo of a desk that I was given on my fourteenth birthday. It had belonged to my great-grandmother, then my grandma, and my father refinished it for me. On the shelf above is a photo collage of my mother at three different ages, and on the right is my maternal grandma and grandpa’s wedding photo, c. 1925.

            I’ve always been interested in family history and heritage for our own family. It was fun to get a glimpse of other people’s history (and the history of their houses!) for a change. You can read more about the Mooresville Historic Preservation Commission and see more photos of the homes here: http://www.historicmooresville.org/category/tour-of-homes/

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Focus, Darn it, FOCUS

For the past few weeks, I’ve been telling myself each morning that I need to write a new blog entry, but I haven’t been able to focus on a topic. In fact, I haven’t been able to focus on writing at all.

Why?

Well, let’s see. First, I went to Colorado with my husband for a few days. He goes every year, to ski, but I’ve never been so we decided this would be our first test destination. The test was, can we spend several days together without anyone else’s company? Although we were empty nesters for a short time (and we liked it), we now have our two youngest living home again while finishing college. We’ve also rarely ever vacationed anywhere without either being accompanied by family or having most of the trip taken up with business.

I’m happy to say we survived and enjoyed the trip. Even though I experienced a little altitude sickness. We enjoyed our trip up the Steamboat Springs ski gondola, we enjoyed watching a bike race, we enjoyed visiting Georgetown and the narrow-gauge railway trip. I’m now thinking about what other places we could visit as a true vacation for two.

After we got home, we pretty much turned right around again and headed for Michigan, to visit Matt’s mom on her 100th birthday. This little old Italian lady can take a licking and keep on ticking. Last March she broke her hip and, of course, we all thought maybe this would be the end, but no, she looks better now than before her hip broke. We had a great time visiting her and all the relatives, but while we were gone, our son was in a car accident. He’s fine, and nobody else was involved, but his car was totaled and his sister had to stand in for us and deal with everything. He owes her big-time.

 

So we got back, and much of our time was taken up with dealing with that situation, with dealing with the realization that he could have been killed (THAT will disturb your ability to focus on anything else, let me tell you). While we were gone to Michigan, one of my aunts passed away suddenly and I was unable to go to Florida for the funeral. Two of my sisters went, but much of my thoughts have been with that family.

Family relationships continued to dominate our lives following that week. A niece has gone away to college. We miss her. A nephew is ending his marriage and has moved back to North Carolina. We’re glad he’s back but sorry for his pain. An aunt came to visit for a couple of days and we had a good time catching up with her, and now a cousin and her husband have come for a visit, too. It’s been wonderful to see them, and we’ve had a chance to share good and bad news, memories, laughs, and a mean game of Yahtzee. Ultimately, for me, there’s nothing like family. They understand us.

Yesterday, I took part in a Toastmasters competition and won, so I’ll be going on to compete at the next level. Autumn has suddenly come to NC, so I’ve been organizing closets and fall clothes. The new season of TV shows have started. After a couple of months of drought, we’ve suddenly had several days of rain. Eventually, EVENTUALLY, I’ll be able to focus on writing again. In the meanwhile, I’ve had lots of inspiration, and many chances to appreciate once again how much I treasure my extended family.

Wishing all of you a happy and enjoyable Autumn and lots of love.

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The Writer

My husband and I are planning a trip to Colorado. I’ve never been there; he goes every winter to Steamboat Springs for skiing. We are hoping to go in a few weeks and planning to have dinner one night with a group of his friends. ‘We’re so anxious to finally meet Carolyn’, one of them wrote. ‘Your wife, the writer.’

Gulp. 

I am a writer, I really am, but sometimes I feel like a fraud when I’ve not actually WRITTEN for several days. A real writer wouldn’t let real life interfere, would he or she? Mine does, all the time. Interfere, I mean. Real life is like that. 

This past two weeks, I’ve been especially aware of the collisions between my writing life and my real life. Camp Meeting is going on, just down the road. Camp Meeting, that coming-together place of religious faith and family relationships, on which I want to base my next book. I wanted to be able to spend a great deal of time there, this year, to suck up all the inspiration I could, to drink in the sights and sounds. I only half-accomplished that, because of two things. One—real  life, and the real responsibilities that go with it, and Two—the doggone heat. Up to 100 degrees several days in a row and, I’m sorry, I just can’t deal with that. And it’s a wet heat, too. 

I did manage to squeeze in some real writing and some writerly activities that give me a good zap in the arm. I attended the Lake Norman Writers Meet-Up in Mooresville which meets on the first Saturday of each month, and there met Eric Swett, a new member and the author of a novel-in-progress, Alone, which is available to read through his website. Eric is also a blogger with some really good advice about book blogging, so it was great to get to know him and I’m enjoying reading Alone. You can visit his website here: http://ericswett.wordpress.com/

Another writerly thing I managed to do was design a storyboard for my own novel-in-progress, Two Weeks Every Summer, which is the book about Camp Meeting. I plan to have the story cover the exact timeline of the fourteen days of Camp Meeting plus a day before and a day after, so I’ve made a storyboard to help me keep track of what event happens when. I also cleaned my desk, a big feat in itself. Here’s what it (temporarily) looks like. My laptop, on which I write, is on a separate rolling table to the right. The yellow Post-Its have notes about the scheduled events of Camp Meeting, plus notes on the characters activities. I’m only up to Chapter Three, so I expect a lot more notes as I go along. 

My desk and storyboard

My youngest daughter is also a writer, non-fiction, who writes a very successful fashion blog. She has received a lot of attention in that community, from readers, other writers, and various fashion businesses. She is also in a graduate writing program and I get to proofread her papers. She’s been inspiring me a lot. It’s exciting to see her grow as a writer and I’m not a bit jealous of the number of hits her blog gets compared to mine. Seriously, I’m not. Okay, I am. Just a tad. But very proud of her. 

Among the non-writerly activities going on this week, I’ve attended my oldest daughter’s graduation from an MBA program (go, Jo!), welcomed my son back home for his final semester of college. I have, for the last few days, enjoyed the company of a sister who lives out of state, and spent time with another sister who’s recovering from surgery. I’ve played with the dog and gone out on our boat. So, I can’t complain, not at all. But THIS week, coming up, I sure hope to find time to write, and to be a writer. 

Here’s a couple of photos of Camp Meeting, just to whet your appetite.

A Camp Meeting tent. It's a swinging place.

A row of 'tents'.

Real life has a tendency to clash with our ambitions. What do you do to find ways to follow your passions?
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Twenty Two

This week, the nation was stunned by the verdict in the Casey Anthony trial. The jury decided that while many of them believe she is guilty, there simply wasn’t enough proof. Whether you think this is a success or a failure of our justice system, one thing is sure. People feel strongly about this trial. Many of us were drawn in; first from the headlines, then the nightly recap of the trial events, and finally the summations by the prosecutors and the defense team. I certainly was.

And overall, what I’m left with is a sense of frustration. We’ll never know the whole story, but it’s clear that Casey Anthony threw away her own life, regardless of what she did with her child’s life. Where does she go from here? She was 22 years old when her daughter died, when she made whatever bad decisions she made.

Twenty-Two.

I don’t bring this up to raise sympathy for Casey, but to underscore what other people of that age, or even younger, are doing. Every week, I get inspired by the dancers on So You Think You Can Dance, who range from 18 to about 25. These young people pour their energy, skill, and emotions into perfecting their craft and growing as dancers. On The Glee Project, a group of 18-to-22 year olds strive to improve as singers and actors, to win a spot on the TV show Glee, which has an entire cast of young people. The hard work they go through is obvious, and inspiring. When you look at role models for the young, these are not bad places to look.

I look at my own children and am inspired. They all are working at making a place for themselves in the world, going to school, working at jobs, striving to find purpose that doesn’t include a Hot Body contest, stealing checks, or breaking into sheds and stealing gas cans.

I look at other young people I know – some already raising families of their own, trying to set good examples, denying themselves some of the ‘fun’ things in life in order to provide for their children. I take heart in all those young adults out there in the work world, whether running a cash register, washing cars, mowing lawns, taking my order in a restaurant, selling computers, working in offices and factories, earning their way in the world. Some of them work really long hours, and many combine their work with college classes. They inspire me. (And I was especially cheered and inspired by reading about Madeline Schulman who became the National Champion in Oral Interpretation of Literature at a national competition held in Washington, DC, over Memorial Day weekend. You see, she used a story of mine, After the Wink. Oh BOY, am I cheered and inspired!) http://newton.patch.com/articles/whiz-kid-newton-south-senior-wins-national-speech-and-acting-award

As I go forward with my blog, I want to write  more about inspiration. Some people get it from their Bible. Some from self-help books, some from heroes or heroines. Sometimes we get inspired by nature or art, by something we’ve read or heard. Me, I get inspired by people, by seeing what people can do with their lives, no matter what obstacles might arise. I’m inspired by a sister who went through some really difficult health issues and kept herself upbeat and positive. I’m inspired by my fellow Toastmasters who work on improving their public speaking abilities. I’m inspired by the orange nail polish I’m wearing right now, flashing at me while I type. The color cheers me, and if something small like that can get me working, all the better.

Life can be full of inspiration, if you choose to look at it. With all the attention focused on a sad young lady this week, and the resulting sense of frustration many of us have, I hereby choose to focus on sources of inspiration, big and small. I hope you can do the same.

Question: What kinds of things inspire you? Has anything specific inspired you today and did it compel you to take some kind of action?

 

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Book Talk and Book Signing Tonight

Tonight, June 7, at 7 pm, I will be doing a book talk and book signing for my two novels, Every Little Step She Takes and The Pleasure of Your Company, at the Sherrill’s Ford Library.  Both books are carried in all the branches of the Catawba County library system. This is my first time doing a library presentation, so if you live locally, I hope you’ll come out. There will be cookies!

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Inspiration #2

            Last week, I had the opportunity to tour the US Military Academy at West Point. Pretty impressive – the architecture, the history, the setting, and most of all, the stories of the cadets and the life they lead there. Talk about spit and polish, rules and regulations, to the nth degree. One of the buildings we toured was the mess hall, where cadets are subjected to extremely precise rituals, from how far from the back of the chair that they’re required to sit (3”), the exact wording they have to use to announce the cold beverage of the meal, the order of serving, even the precise chewing and swallowing intervals. An infraction of any of these regulations can be awarded demerits, which they must work off by marching ‘tours’, one hour for each demerit. To say that being a cadet at West Point requires a great deal of self-discipline is an understatement on par with “Houston, we have a problem.”

One very small section of the West Point mess hall.

            Would I want to go to West Point? No. Do I admire that level of commitment (upon graduation, the cadets face a mandatory five years in the military)? Yes. We met some of the cadets, and they were an impressive group. I’m in awe of anyone who has that sense of devotion and drive, especially considering that in my own life, I tend to lurch from indecision to indecision.

            While we were at West Point, we stayed at the Thayer Hotel, which offers idyllic views of the Hudson River, a completely different type of inspiration. Looking out over the water, you can’t help but admire the beauty and ponder on the timelessness of the scenery. The hotel has been around since 1926, the Hudson River, oh, about fifteen thousand years, according to geologists. It’s seen a lot of history, and just keeps flowing, and tends to make you realize your puny problems are fleeting in the larger sense of time.

View of the Hudson River from the Thayer Hotel grounds.

            Yet, they can seem big enough in the sense of your time, your time on earth and how much you have left, how much time you have in which to achieve your dreams. In the past year, I’ve seen too many friends and family members deal with problems, particularly health problems, that threaten their ability to do what they want in the time they have. Often these problems have come out of the blue, and control over their own lives was whisked away. I guess I’ve reached the point of realizing I’d better seize the day and not waste time while I’ve got it. I’ve achieved some mighty goals this year, in seeing my two novels published, but there’s so much more I want to do. I’m just beginning to promote the books, after having been laid up myself this winter, and I want time to write the next book that’s already living in my head. Time gets harder and harder to find. So the inspiration I’m leaning on this week is the sense of passion and drive and single-mindedness that is demonstrated by those West Point cadets, set against the beauty and timelessness and natural flow of the Hudson River. Somewhere there’s a lesson for me about following my passion while still recognizing the inevitability of life’s tricks and turns.

            Is this all getting a little deep? Maybe. It’s 1:46 am, I can’t sleep, and life does seem to loom large at this hour. I wonder, how does one achieve the balance between responsibilities and passions? What inspires YOU, and how do you bring commitment to those things that matter most? (Is that question too deep for a blog response?) Or at least, how do you feel about the way you use your time?

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Catching Up

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, for sure. My second novel, The Pleasure of Your Company, is now available on Kindle and in paperback. For more info, click here, and to read an excerpt, click here.

The Pleasure of Your Company

In addition to the excitement of a new book, my husband and I went to Myrtle Beach where we spent time on the beach, visited Brookgreen Gardens, and had some frozen concoctions. I’m including a few photos.

My destination, last chair on the right.

Live oak, dripping with spanish moss

I’m also including photos that couldn’t be inserted into the Easter post. The Peep-o-rama is by my daughter, Katie, and we all contributed to the demented-looking eggs.

Nicest Peeps bedroom ever.

I think some of these eggs look a tad 'cracked'.

And finally, in recognition of Mother’s Day coming up, a photo of my mom and me. My mother, Evelyn Steele, passed away in 2004, but I still miss her daily.

Isn't my mom gorgeous? And I'm quite dashing too.

If you’ve read any of my stories, you know I’m fascinated by family relationships. My very earliest memory of my mom is her walking down the hall carrying a laundry basket. She seemed very tall! She looked at me and said, “Today you’re exactly two and a half.” I looked way up at her and said, “So?”  Now, is this a true memory or not? I have no idea, but I’m the only one who tells this story, so I think it is. What about you? What’s the first memory you have of your mother?

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Easter

My family celebrated Easter on the Saturday before, this year. Our daughter Katie, and her husband Brandon, invited us all over to their house and they must have scattered about a thousand plastic Easter eggs in their yard, even though we have only one young child in the family. We were ALL picking up eggs (some of them contained chocolate candies which were melting in the sun!).

After the meal, we made dioramas – or peep-boxes – with, er, Peeps. Here’s a display of our efforts:

The Peeps in Space diorama is by my youngest daughter, Becky.

Trojan Horse, with peeps inside and Helen of Troy in the tower, by m son Dan.
Naturally, I did Snape’s Potions classroom, with Harry Potter, Hermione, and Ron, and sleeping Wizards’s portraits
The Pocahontas Peep was done by my sister Jacki. “Just Around the Riverbend…”

 

                       We had another diorama and some decorated eggs but the pictures are overloading this post, so I’ll add them next time. Enjoy!

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