Redesign Time

 

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My new look

All women know there is nothing like a new hair-do or a new outfit to make you feel renewed and spiffy. I discovered today that applies to website design as well. I have spent the last few hours redesigning my page so I can add new content in hopefully a user-friendly way. (Y’all will have to let me know what you think.)

Even with a template to work with, I found it difficult to make decisions. I tried several templates before I played around with this one called ficitve long enough I got the colors and the placement of items the way I had envisioned. Not bad for a self-taught techie.

Experts talk a lot about the importance of branding for authors and I hope this color palette says beach and lowcountry to those who view it. The lowcountry is a setting, but it is also a character in my stories. To me, the palette of the lowcountry is blues, greens, and browns. I hope my books are beach read enjoyable and I am happy to report not only has that been a comment in reviews from readers, it is also a key phrase to find my book on Amazon. Seriously, a friend sent me a screenshot of her beach read search and my first book popped up on the first page.

So I hope you will enjoy my new look as much as I do, I have that swing my hair and look at my reflection in the glass feeling I get after I visit my stylist Mallory at the salon. I may just float out into the kitchen to take on my next task, finding something for supper.

 

 

Office Hours

 

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My work area

One of the advantages of living in the South Carolina lowcountry is the proximity of the beach and each season I seek the sand and surf for different purposes. For example, in the winter I love to walk, think, process, and reflect. In the summer I set up my office hours.

A writer never really takes time off, your brain is always contemplating stories and characters, consiously or subconciously. Teachers on the other hand have what some consider the gift of summer, but what teachers know to be comp time for the many hours we work beyond our contracted hours. As both an educator and a writer, I spend a lot of hours working. That could be teaching, private tutoring or my author life and I enjoy it. Too much down time and I get a little antsy. Too little and I crash and burn and that what has me savoring this summer.

I have learned from past summers, if I schedule too many tutoring students, I don’t feel rested for the next school year. Plus, as my writing career continues to grow it needs more of my work time. I also know my time at the beach is non-negotiable, it is a must.

See beach time is more than relaxing, it is time set aside to read without distraction. If you read anything touting advice for writers, a given on the list is to be an avid reader. I have been a devourer of books before I began school and always have a stack calling my name.

During a typical school year I manage to read a book or two a month but in the summers I can read several books in a week. To keep that pace, my office hours on the sand are a committment to reading. The average person might think I’m loafing, but I can clearly make the case that I’m working dillegently. At least that is my story and I am sticking to it!

So with my toes in the sand, skin buffeted by the breeze and ears filled with the waves lullaby, I can spend several hours soaking up the beach and the literature on my knee. These are office hours I can enthusiastically fill. From one of my favorite Cole Porter songs, “Nice, gig if you can get it.”

 

First Bloom

 

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First ever bloom on Baby Magnolia, discovered June 4th.

 

Back on May 15, 2015, I posted a blog titled, Magnolias, Progress and Patience. It was about how eight years prior a friend had dug up a seedling, basically a stick with two leaves and gave it to me to plant in my backyard. By 2015 it was full of leaves, yet till no blooms and I connected that to the birth of my writing career, progress slow and steady, but not published.

Here we are in 2017 and Baby Magnolia is ten years old and we have our first bloom, I see another one has developed since the weekend and I can’t help but smile. Patience does pay off. Again, I see a correlation with my writing career. I too have first bloom.

Although I have been a closet writer for a good part of my life, I didn’t get serious about it until 2014. Granted I have had a full, passionate and fullfilling career as an educator and I would never trade those years or wish them to finish prematurely, no matter what happens in the writing, teacher will be one of my labels for four to six more years. Of course if you ask me about it when the alarm goes off at five a.m., I will tell you I really look forward to the label retired teacher.

I say I got serious abut writing in 2014 because that is the year I consulted a professional and committed to a blog. It was also the year I wrote my first novel for publishing, I had written a few others, just for fun and not for public consumption. In 2015, like Baby Magnolia I had grown. I had proven myself disiplined enough to publish a weekly blog, but I was unsure of the next steps of getting my book, The Eyes Have It out into the world.

I had not bloomed. Then came 2016. I published two books last year and they did better than I had anticipated as an unknown author in a world full of books. I was encouraged. Perhaps when I retire from teaching, a writing career for an encore is a viable option. To keep the metaphor going I would say I finally produced a bud.

Here we are in June of 2017, book three is a short time from launch, books one and two are performing well and I, like Baby magnolia, appear to have a full bloom on the branch. I like to think years from now, both of us will be full of blooms.

Time, patience, persistence and most off all doing the work, those are the key ingredients to grow a career, no matter what field it is in. My wish for my students is that they grow up to live and work with purpose and fullfillment. If we follow our passions and focus on  culitvating a career and a life that contributes to our community and brings  joy to ourselves (Note I said joy and not money), then we ultimately bloom.

So, here we are with the first bloom. It is a reassuring sign to keep the faith and keep going. Plant those seedlings in your life, with a little care and patience you will be rewarded.

The Co-existing of Endings & Beginnings

 

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The Hwy 41 Old and New Bridge

A while ago I posted a picture of the small bridge right before the beginning of construction of the new bridge and wrote a blog about the loss of the charm in the name of progress.

The days of driving across the old bridge and feeling connected to the water are numbered. I am still a little sad about that, but I’m ultimately a practical person, much like my Grandmother Sawyer, I see little point of crying over what is done, if you don’t move along with the times, you get left behind in the dust. I believe getting caught in too much nostalgic thinking leads to early old age. Grandma lived to be 100 and she moved with the times exceptionally well for someone born before World War I.

Last weekend I was lucky enough to have my friends the Martins, invite me out on their boat for a cruise under the bridges, down the Wando and out into the Charleston Harbor and back. I can appreciate how the new bridge means no longer worrying about tide level and if your boat will be able to get under it or not.

This got me thinking about how old or new, things have their positives and their negatives. I also reflected how even as something comes to an end, there is rarely a void, the new, or the beginning overlaps or abuts the end.

I find this very apt in my teaching life, as I along with a chunk of our current staff are leaving our current school home to open a new school built nearby to alleviate overcrowding and serve new neighborhoods. There are positives and negatives, the negatives are primarily people I have to leave behind, fellow staff and families I won’t be able to teach their younger ones. However, some families are moving with me, as they live in the new attendance zone and I am moving with a principal and fellow staff, people I truly respect and love.

I’m still a little surprised to be making this transition. When we opened up Laurel Hill 12 years ago, I had believed that was the school I would retire from. At that time we had split from Pinckney due to overcrowding creating a k-2 school across the parking lot from what became the 3-5 school. It was exciting to migrate with my tribe and establish a new community. I am excited to be part of forming a new school community again.

It’s interesting times to be in the place where one phase is ending and one is beginning. Things are happening simultaneously and I find myself more reflective than usual. My emotions are in full swing and I am mentally and physically exhausted all at the same time. But I know from experience, this transition will bring growth and movement forward. This new school will be the final one in my career, I can say that because the transition from teaching into a full-time writing career is in sight, four to six years to be more exact. It will be three years from now before I will be able to commit to what it will be.

This new school will be the final one in my career, I can say that because the transition from teaching into a full-time writing career is in sight, four to six years to be more exact. It will be three years from now before I will be able to commit to what it will be. That is a transition I look forward to and also feel sad about at the same time, but I will have time to prepare and adjust to the idea.

So as the current endings bridge to the new beginnings, I have to cry a little and smile a lot, Moving forward is the road I must travel. New is not necessarily better, but it is a chance to refresh.

Forward, onward, upward, whichever you choose, I wish you movement in your life.

 

Cut and Polish will lead to Shine

 

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Notes from my editor

In the last year, I have written several posts about my favorite parts of the author life: cover design, meeting readers, and of course writing stories. Today I am working on one of my least favorite parts.

If the picture didn’t clue you in, it’s editing. I am not opposed to a professional correcting, cutting, adding. I am fairly global in my approach to writing, I am all about the story, I admit (and I’m sure to disappoint the grammarians out there) I have a hard time focusing in on the details such as when I should use an em-dash. I am grateful there are people who not only focus on such things, but they have a passion for it. The only time an edit upset me was when the editor didn’t recognize a certain character did not use contractions when they spoke. The character was an older southern woman whose diction was drawn out, naturally she wouldn’t say wouldn’t, she would say would not.

No, I hate editing, because it is so tedious. I also find with all the lines and color changes in an edit it is difficult to see the story and how those changes might impact it. However, I understand that all that cut and polish is what makes my story truly shine.

Of course, it has not escaped me that I’m blogging about editing rather than jumping into the task of reviewing the edit. I am well aware of my own avoidance tactics. I love when I get to pages with very little red or blue notations. As much as I say I don’t care about the grammar details, I give myself an “atta girl” when I come across those pages. I was not an English major in college, although I had an excellent senior high school English Teacher, Mrs. Dever and my freshman English professors in college were impressed with the skills she sent me with.

I want my work to be quality, I am humble enough to recognize it will always take the help of others to bring it to that level. Again I see how an author does not stand on their own, it is the quiet support team behind the scenes that elevates the work.

So, I can’t shirk my task any longer. I hope I will not be cross-eyed by the time I’m done. I know my brain will be wrung out. I also know the clarity and luster of The Soul Believes It will make the effort worthwhile.

 

Introducing The Soul Believes It

 

The Soul Knows It Cover for Bookmark

Chris Berge of Berge Designs does it again! The cover art for book three captures the soul of this book.

Book Three now has a cover and once again I’m in awe of my cover designer Chris Berge. In The Soul Believes It, Lizzie discovers a letter and a family secret, that challenge her beliefs about family and where she comes from. This cover captures the essence of that.

The lowcountry is blessed to have live oaks, dripping with silvery, lacy Spanish moss. When I think soul, this tree comes to mind. If you are ever in the area, a visit to the Angel Oak tree on John’s Island (On the way to Kiawah and Seabrook), will prove it.

These trees are the east coast’s version of the Redwood forest out west. Live oaks are iconic on the campus of my alma mater, College of Charleston. Last year when one fell, alumni along with Charleston residents grieved. I was thrilled to read that much of the wood was salvaged so it could be transformed into items for sale. The proceeds going to the college’s scholarship fund. I have to think Shel Silverstein would appreciate this giving tree.

These trees bear witness here in the lowcountry. They give us shade against the brutal summer sun. The sight of the moss fluttering in the sea breeze, whispers, “You are home.” They’re solid, long-lived. They will be here long after we are gone.

Just like these poetic trees, our souls bear witness to our lives and stand solid if we only anchor ourselves to them in times of turmoil. Our souls can be shattered to their core and our beliefs can be challenged and possibly changed, but at the core, our souls are the essence of who we are and that gives us what we need to believe.

I hope you will enjou reading the third installment in the lowcountry home series. The book will be out in June. For now, let the cover intrigue you and inspire you to do some soul searching of your own.

 

 

Picture Perfect Panel

 

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Myself with fellow women’s fiction authors, Christine Nolfi and Pamela Poole at Fiction Addiction in Greenville, South Carolina.

May 12th was the day I consider to be the first anniversary of my first book as published. May 13th, I added another first to my list in this author journey. I was part of a panel of women’s fiction panel at a wonderful bookstore, Fiction Addiction in Greenville, South Carolina.

I have done book signings and book clubs, but this was the first opportunity I had to collaborate on an event with fellow authors. writing is a solitary pursuit and while I am very comfortable with that, it was refreshing to spend time with others who are traveling a similar path.

I particularly enjoyed the car ride up and back with my mentor and publisher and fellow author Christine Nolfi. Christine is well ahead of me on this path and she was kind enough to share her wealth of experience with me and encouraging words for my journey.

Every time I have done an event I realize that interacting with readers is one of my favorite things in an author’s life. I am sometimes surprised by that because before I got serious about my writing life I fantasized that I could hide out in a cabin by the sea and just send my books out into the world without me. I get a little nervous before an event but after, I am exhilarated and energized. I think I may be an extroverted introvert.

I love that all of us on the panel had a Charleston connection, two of us live here, one was born here and would love to live here again. I was also fascinated by how different each of our writing processes were. We had great questions from the host and the audience. The flow was natural and we shared laughter and a love of storytelling. Like our stories in women’s fiction, we embodied what makes the tribe of women strong. Women supporting women makes for a better journey for all.

Appropriate to ponder on this Mother’s Day. Enjoy the day y’all! Celebrate the women in your life, not just your mother. Most women, regardless of whether they have given birth nurture and uplift others, that I believe is the silent oath we take to be part of this tribe of women. I find southern women in particular, view this as a mandate and execute it with finesse, elevating it to an art.

Woman alone is strong and capable, women together are a force beyond reckoning. I love my fellow man, but I am thankful every day to be a woman.

 

 

 

Southern Girl Rule #2: Ladies have lovely lips.

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My growing collection of Lipsense products

Rule two has two parts. part one, what goes on your lips and part two, what crosses your lips.

Part one I’ll admit has always been a hard one for me, that is until my co-worker Amber introduced to me to a lip product I can’t destroy in minutes. I had a love-hate relationship with lipstick. I loved the colors and how polished wearing lipstick made me feel, but I hated how it ended up on my teeth, my glass etc. and was basically off my lips within twenty minutes of me applying it.

This lip product stays put all day and never leaves marks on anything, so I can kiss and not tell. I have become a major fan. Southern women know it’s important to leave the house put together even for a short run to the market. Lipstick can give the illusion of put together without having to do up your whole face. So part one of rule two I can follow with fidelity.

While lipstick is fun and girly it is not the important part of rule two. My friend Rachael who taught kindergarten and now pre-school has a saying that I have adopted and use with my students on a regular basis. “If it isn’t lovely, it doesn’t leave your lips.”

If only the world, particularly the political world would follow this simple rule, perhaps respect would grow and things might actually get accomplished. I am not advocating for women to be meek and un-opinionated, rather that we speak our thoughts with kindness and respect.

The most beautiful lips in the world will become the ugliest, if the words that cross them are cruel. With careful thought we can express strongly opinions, disagreements etc. in a way that doesn’t disparage the person we are conversing with. Empathy and compassion should be the screen through which our words are filtered.

So put on that Goddess, or Aussie Rose with a layer of Bombshell and gloss, just make sure your words are just as lovely.

Marriage and Monograms

 

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Monogram displayed at my friend, Vicki’s wedding.

In The Soul Believes It, the third book in my lowcountry home series, I had the joyful task of planning a wedding for one of my characters. The book will be out this Summer and I hope you enjoy wedding storyline as much as I enjoyed writing it. Fortunately, I have been a guest at several beautiful weddings in the past few months and one of them was at Alhambra Hall, the setting for my fictional reception.

The picture above was from that wedding. I loved how they placed the new monogram for the bride and groom as a couple on the mantle. I was even inspired to have my character’s new last name, to begin with, an M. I love how M’s scroll and I liked the idea that my character’s maiden last name was W, so it was a flip, a visual representation of what women do when they take their husband’s name.

Now don’t get the wrong idea, I’m a traditionalist. I’m not fond of the hyphenated name or the wife keeping her maiden name, especially if children follow, it just gets confusing to me. I’m also of the school of thought that to each his, or in this case her own, I have no problem with other women choosing any option.

I used to wish I could marry someone with a last name that began with G, simply because I liked the idea my initials could be JAG, perfect reason to get the car, right?

When I monogram things with just one letter, I waffle between J, because that is forever, or A because that is for family. It is one of the only times I’m jealous of men, they never have to change their initials, their identity is set at birth.

On the bright side, new brides can embrace a new monogram. There is silver, glassware, towels, purses, linens, sandals, you name it, it probably can be monogrammed. What a delightful way to embrace your new identity.

 

 

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.