My Cheating Heart

 

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View from the Magnolia Cafe and Bakery in Beaufort, SC across to Lady’s Island.

I have made no secret about my love for the South Carolina lowcountry and the Charleston area in particular. I came of age here, I have loved, lost, lived with this place the backdrop. It is permanently etched on my heart, the saltwater, and the pluff mud course through my veins, I think my very soul would shrivel if I had to leave here forever.

But, I have a confession to make. I’ve begun an affair with a little town down the coast. Beaufort is also part of the magical lowcountry. The Port Royal Sound is captivating and the town itself is how our area was long ago, before mass growth.

It’s a walkable town. Residential is close to the commercial areas and the small annex campus of USC. Beaufort is big on charm and the arts. It has an intellectual and literary side that is palpable, and I’m drawn to know more. It is not crowded or pretentious. It is not in a hurry, Beaufort is a comfortable chair on a breezy porch. It is the gardenia in the garden, inviting you to stop and soak it in.

Yes, I have fallen hard. I have fantasies about buying a little cottage where I could live part-time, I don’t think I could bear to leave Charleston altogether. Fortunately for me, part of the book I’m finishing and most of the book next on my writing to-do list take place in that siren on the Port Royal Sound. I plan to make many repeat trips, you know. . . for research.

I hope I won’t make Charleston jealous and I hope she understands. She truly is my first love and will always be. I’ve just discovered this heart is big enough for two.

 

Time To Get Down and Dirty

 

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This is what happens when you go to the garden center on a beautiful spring day.

I went in for a few ivy plants . . . as you can see I came away with much more. That is the risk you take when you visit the garden center on a beautiful spring day. Between the allure of the plants I also had time, it is Spring Break this week and day one was almost perfect.

I say almost because I started the day with a mammogram, but then I treated myself to a latte and then went to get my hair cut. On the way home I decided to pick up the ivy so I could replant the pots by my front door. Once there I had planned out my raised beds and my patio pots. So a car load later I made my way home.

I am on a deadline to finish book three and I diligently sat down and spilled about twelve-hundred words from my soul, before taking a gardening break. After an hour of mowing and playing in the dirt, I returned to write another thousand words before taking a pre-arranged conference call about an upcoming author’s panel I’m participating, in Greenville, South Carolina in May. Then I went back to the chapter and around a thousand words later, I was satisfied with Lizzie’s progress on her journey and I was drained of my creative juices. Another hour and a half in the garden and I feel charged again.

Charged and filthy dirty.  The only thing that could make this day better is if someone of the handsome and kind variety was whipping up dinner in the kitchen.  I love days like these when the ordinary things are enjoyed and savored. This is how I imagine the days will be when I move from teacher and writer to full-time writer.

There is something in the ancient part of my genes that responds to the garden. I don’t think my ancestors were city dwellers. I still yearn to be a genteel gardener whose gloves never get dirt on the inside and manages to still look presentable at the end of a session amongst the flowers. I blame Hollywood for this unattainable ideal. I’m happy to settle for dirt streaked limbs and face with my hair plastered against my head.

Gardening is life affirming. It stimulates the senses and inspires the artist within. I can hardly wait until I get to do it again tomorrow.

 

Lowcountry Magic

 

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Just another stunning lowcountry vista

To say that I have a love affair with the South Carolina lowcountry hardly describes how I feel about this place I call home. I was just working on a chapter in book three of my lowcountry home series and writing a description of this love brought tears to my eyes.

I’m not sure if many people would call this a blessing, but we are under a severe weather threat today and all after-school activities were canceled, including our faculty meeting, which left me free to get home this afternoon. Not wanting to fritter away this rare gift of extra time, I threw a load of laundry in then settled in to write. I have taken a few breaks to vacuum a few rooms, but I am very satisfied with the amount and quality of writing I have wrung from myself.

I wrote a scene with Lizzie walking along the waterfront in Beaufort. She is soaking in the vista and her senses are overcome by the views and the pluff mud at low tide. I could close my eyes and see, smell and hear what makes the lowcountry the lowcountry in my mind and my heart sang with joy.

The lowcountry is a tapestry of colors and textures to please the eye. The aroma of pluff mud is as pleasing to me as fresh baked bread or a magnolia blossom. I would swear the brackish water in this place where the rivers meet the sea courses through my veins along with my blood. I like to think it is the same for my character Lizzie.

I would hazard a guess that a regular dose of a marsh view or a walk along our beaches is as effective on blood pressure as any pharmaceutical on the market. Every day on my commute to work I get to see the marsh and the river. In the morning, these vistas fill my heart with joy. In the evening, I find it calms my mind and transitions me out of teacher mode before I get home.

Yes, I love the lowcountry with my heart and soul. The magic of this place has been woven so intricately into the tapestry of my life, it feels as if I would unravel if I tried to remove it. Not that I have any desire to do so. What a muse for a writer. What a place to call home.

 

Endings are the First Step to a Beginning

 

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Sunset over the Charleston Harbor

The one constant in this life is ironically the fact that nothing stays the same. This is sometimes a relief and often disconcerting. My human experience so far has taught me I’m much more comfortable with the status quo and it sometimes takes a major event to nudge me off the cliff of the unknown. As the song goes, “Breaking up is hard to do.”

As I add to my years and I’d like to think my wisdom, I have realized a few things. First, if you approach a change with a little flexibility it makes for an easier transition. Second, if you are willing to take a risk, more often than not the reward will be greater than you could ever imagine. Finally, I have learned that change is going to happen whether you want it or not and if you reflect back it is easy to see how you have always come through the change stronger, wiser or fill in the blank for the attribute that made you better.

I still don’t rush out looking for opportunities to deal with change, but I am much more willing to accept it and even embrace it.  Case in point, I am changing to a new school next year. Not because there is anything wrong with my current school, in fact leaving it is hard on my heart. We are overcrowded and some of us are going to transition to a new building to start a brand new school. I am excited to be part of that and the change is made easier by the fact I am not making this change alone, but with colleagues I have worked with for years. Regardless, I have chosen this change.

Not all changes can be chosen. Some are thrust upon us in cruel and unexpected ways. The death of a loved one, the diagnosis of a disease, the break-up of a relationship, the betrayal of a friend. I have found if I am grounded in faith and thoughtful in my responses to these unwelcome events, I can navigate through them somehow intact.

Yes, change is a constant, but so is the passage of time. The sun will set and then rise again. Each day is an opportunity to live this life better, to embrace the changes and see where they will take us. So yes all things, good and bad and indifferent will come to an end, but these endings are really just the mile marker to the beginning.

 

Big Hair Affair

 

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This is how I roll…

When I was down in Beaufort checking out some scenery for book three of my Lizzie books, my friend and I wandered through some of the shops on Bay Street. After about the sixth shop my friend quietly asked me, “What’s up with all the big hair?” When I gave her a quizzical look, she elaborated, “All the shopkeeper seem to have big hair.” Tongue in cheek, I responded, “It’s back in, the eighties are making their comeback.”

The truth of the matter is at least in the South, I don’t think big hair ever left. I started high school in the eighties and wrapped up my College undergrad years in the spring of 1990, so I think I can speak with some authority about the 1980’s. Hair was big and girls turned to chemicals to make it as big as possible. For those of you too young to remember, getting a perm was a rite of passage and the thing to do. Unfortunately, my hair was and still is so sensitive to chemicals even the rather benign wave left my hair with curls as tight as a poodle. Nowadays that sensitivity is a blessing, as my hair will hold highlights for close to twelve months.

So once I learned perms and waves would never work for me, I became the proud owner of hot rollers. I think I’m on my third set at this point and they are still my go-to tool to get the lift in my hair. That and a fair amount of hairspray. I have to admit I hated hairspray back in the day, but now it seems kinder and gentler.

Big hair has presence.Think about the characters in Steel Magnolias. It is hard to be a wallflower or a mouse when you are sporting big hair. The character Annelle, seemed to transform when she finally got big hair and a little lipstick.

As a vertically challenged person, I like that it adds a little to the height, much more comfortable than wearing high heels. It also makes the face look thinner. It is hard to see a downside to big hair.

Now I don’t hot roll every day, I leave for school before six a.m. most mornings and frankly, I would rather stay in bed an extra fifteen minutes most mornings. However, when I need a little pep in my step, I have a special event, or if I’m just feeling sassy, I spend a part of my morning looking like an extra on a Star Trek set. That moment when you first remove the rollers and the curls are at their absolute biggest always makes me smile.

So if big hair makes a comeback, then I guess I’ll be in the now, for a little while anyway. My affair with big hair began in my teens and I have no intention of it ever ending. Happy hair spraying, y’all!

 

Author takes a Field Trip

 

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Historic Cemetery at St. Helena’s in Beaufort South Carolina

Usually, when I take a field trip I am accompanied by twenty plus, rather excited, six-year-olds. This time I had a good friend as a companion to take a day trip to the charming and historic town of Beaufort South Carolina.

For those of you who are Pat Conroy fans, this was his stomping ground and they have opened the Pat Conroy Literary Center in his honor. I enjoyed seeing his writing desk and being able to peer at some of his handwritten work. I’m blown away that he wrote all his novels by hand. The digital age did not turn him into a keyboard writer and as you look at some of the artifacts from his life, maybe we are the richer for it. Modern Day authors may not have as many artifacts to leave behind as legacy. While there, I picked up a list of upcoming classes being offered for writers and I am excited to say I got registered for one that will only have 12 participants. I hope this will be the first of many I will get to participate in.

I took a little bird walk from the purpose of my post to share about the Pat Conroy Literary Center, but I felt compelled to share it and encourage you to visit. The real purpose of the trip was the need to authenticate some scenes for book three, I wrote them from memory, but I had not been to Beaufort in a decade and one thing I don’t like as a reader is when an author messes too much with the reality of a place.

Most people might find it a bit odd that I would want to drive a little over an hour to stand in a cemetery walk along the waterfront and drive past an inn. Luckily my friends accept my eccentric side and one was even willing to go along for the ride. Beaufort is a beautiful southern belle of a town on the Port Royal Sound and celebrated its 300th birthday back in 2011. Its grid plan of streets makes it easy to navigate and we quickly located the church.

Once I stepped through the gate and into the cemetery that surrounds the church, I was relieved to find my memory was accurate and I would not need to re-write that scene. We slowly meandered along the path through the cemetery and around the church. We met the deacon of the church who was welcoming and willing to share information. We were intrigued by the ages and dates on the stones and the various styles and designs of markers. A little further along we met a helpful groundskeeper. He encouraged us to go into the church and see the docent on duty, which we did. The docent gave us a tour and shared historical information about the building and the congregation.

One thing I had been looking for in the graveyard was if any of the stones had the names from my book. If so, I planned to change the names I used in the book out of deference to any descendants. The docent had a directory so very quickly, we were able to verify the surname I was looking for was not on any of the stones. The names in the book could stay intact.

We went on to drive by the inn, walk along the waterfront and meander the shops on Bay Street, before breaking for lunch. Then our last stop before heading home was the Pat Conroy Literary Center. Beaufort is a gem and I regret I have not been there more often. Hopefully, with the classes for writers, it will become a more frequent place for me to hang out.

Now that I am back at home base, I look forward to returning next month and I am inspired to plan some more field trips around our lovely state. Have map, will travel, who knows maybe a place will inspire the writing for a whole new book.

 

 

 

Cover takes Award

 

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A portion of a post I shared on FaceBook

Fortunate is an understatement when I was introduced to Chris Berge of Berge Designs. He is truly a talented designer. He does book covers, Logos and all other kinds of design work for authors and businesses. I am thrilled to share that his design of my first book’s cover won in its category at the Spark Awards 2017.

I am completely biased when I say, I understand why. I think it is eye catching and conveys the book’s relationship with the South Carolina Lowcountry. For a debut novel, it is doing quite well and I totally credit this cover for getting people to read it.

I have said before that it vexes me that as a society we judge a book and just about everything else by its cover, this is one time I am glad for the judging.

Recently I had the pleasure to sit down with Chris over breakfast to begin the process for book three. I enjoy hearing about his family and sharing what’s gone on in my teaching and writing world since we last spoke. Once we are caught up we start talking cover and I so appreciate how it becomes a collaborative process. I share the story, Chris takes notes and asks questions and we bounce around some ideas. I love that he is open to my suggestions and always comes up with a product beyond my expectations.

I also love that he is local. This makes it possible to sit down at a table together. It also means he truly understands what a Lowcountry feel means. He lives it every day.

So I am tooting our horns, I am so pleased for him to get this recognition. I also like that I will garner some exposure from this as well. I am also so glad we will have a long collaboration ahead as I grow my titles. What a great way to wrap up this week!

 

 

Cultural Lessons

 

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Photo my friend Sally sent me from a shop in Hilton Head, SC

I enjoy aspects of many cultures around the world. Some of that comes from growing up in a nomadic military family and some from being an avid reader of novels set all over the world. Both inspired me to be open to visiting those places and adopting from those cultures customs I could enjoy in my own life.

When my friend Sally sent me this picture from a shop in nearby Hilton Head, South Carolina, it made me smile. I have a slight addiction to bags anyway (a tale for another time), but the message spoke to my soul. I might add the line, Live American, I absolutely love our country. I also think living American means appreciating the best the world has to offer and melding that into our own culture, we have been doing that for well over two-hundred years. I personally think that is what makes America a vibrant nation.

I might also change a few of the lines, I might Speak Kindness, Eat Italian, Love French and Read British, but one thing I would not change is, Smile Southern. Kindness and hospitality are still a hallmark of southern living. We need to be vigilant to keep that so and I dare say we should work hard to export it to the rest of the country and the world. My inner flower child thinks that what the world needs more than anything these days is love, kindness, empathy and yes lots of smiles.

Here in the south, we have our own way of dressing, cooking, decorating, gardening and storytelling. This lifestyle needs to be celebrated and preserved with care. I get alarmed when yet another charming local business in downtown Charleston is replaced by another national chain business you can find in any city around the country. I’m not opposed to those businesses, but I think they need to be off in a mall somewhere, not on a historic street. I had the same reaction when in London and Paris and saw shops like The GAP on prominent city streets, I wanted uniquely French and uniquely British.

Along that same vein, I think if you want to move here and live here, y’all are welcome as long as you respect and adopt our ways. We don’t cut people off in traffic or exhibit impatience when we need to wait in line. Above all use words of kindness, slow down and take time for conversation and above all smile and return smiles offered.

A smile is a simple thing that doesn’t cost a thing, yet it reaps goodwill and respect. It opens doors and lifts spirits. No matter where you’re from or what language you speak, adopt the practice of a Southern smile and I promise good things will follow.

 

 

Healing Touch

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I am writing this in the middle of the night because I ache too much to sleep, Despite the fact, I took prescription cough syrup that should have made me drowsy. Yes, I’m sick and I do want my mama. Mama’s are good at soothing.

My mama was always good at making me feel better, but she is not the only one in my childhood who had that magic touch. As an army brat, we moved around a lot and it was rare to bond with or even remember a particular doctor, but there is one pediatrician from my childhood that merits hero status.

Her name was Dr. Lotsu. She was tall and thin. Her neck and limbs were elegantly elongated. I remember fancying her as a principal dancer in a ballet company. Her fingers were also long and elegant. Her hands were always cool and dry to the touch and she had the most soothing voice. If she needed to give you a shot or do some sort of procedure that might hurt, you didn’t mind as long as you could listen to her talk. She had the most beautiful dark chocolate skin and such a warm and welcoming disposition, I just wanted to be drawn into her embrace.

Her story fascinated me as well. I don’t remember all the details, I was young then and I am shocked to realize it was about forty years ago. She was born I believe in Ethiopia and at some point in her life had come to the United States, gone to medical school, become an American citizen and served her adopted country proudly as a military doctor at the Great Lakes Naval Station. Yes, we were Army, but at that duty assignment, our medical needs were met by the Navy. I remember thinking how brave she must have been to come all the way from Africa to the United States and how smart she must have been to become a doctor. I was also duly impressed that she was a woman in uniform. It was the seventies and men still dominated the services.

I wish she could know what a positive role model she was for me. I still carry her with me along with a few special teachers as one of the most impactful persons outside of my family.

If I close my eyes I can imagine the cool and gentle touch of her hands on my forehead and on my neck. The memory alone is enough to make me feel some relief. Now, that I have emptied my mind of the need to tell the world about her, maybe I can sleep.

 

Cover Girl

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Covers are to books what clothes are to people. While I loathe to admit this, it seems that it is human nature to make judgments based on visual data. I have certainly read plenty of books with unremarkable covers, but I have discovered books and authors simply because something about the cover caught my eye.

Visual Literacy has quickly become high octane in our on-line multi-media society. (Think Pinterest and Facebook). There is so much out there to distract and demand attention and you have seconds to draw someone browsing to your book. No pressure…

Next week I’m meeting with my very talented cover designer, Chris Berge of Berge designs here in Charleston about the cover for book three in my Lowcountry Home series. I am so blessed to have such a great designer and meeting to discuss ideas has quickly become one of my favorite parts in the publishing process.

We have it fairly easy this time around in the sense the parameters for this cover are set. We know it will be in the same style as the first two. It is the nuances we need to discuss. Plus it’s a great excuse to meet for breakfast. Did I mention I am really looking forward to this?

I am far from ever being a model, but I can say I am a cover girl.