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.

 

 

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!

 

Hooked. . . My Own Lizzie Moment

 

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My Holiday Blouse Purchased with Book Signings In Mind

For those of you who have read my books, The Eyes Have It and The Heart Knows It, then you are familiar with my heroine, Lizzie. Many who know me well say there is a lot of me in Lizzie and I have to admit she and I and kindred spirits in some ways. The biggest way would be when we are trying to be graceful in our movement we don’t always pull it off.

Lizzie is prone to falls and freak accidents with water pipes.  I have walked into a concrete column after a kiss and had a folding chair collapse on me in the middle of a crowd enjoying a band at our local Blessing of the Fleet.

This beautiful blouse led me to my latest moment. Luckily my folly was only witnessed by my very kind neighbor who rescued me.  You may notice that this blouse is full of holes. The crochet effect is part of what makes it stunning. I have to admit for my two book signings Saturday, at my alma mater, College of Charleston Alumni Weekend and at the Charleston Holiday Market up at the convention center, I received lots of compliments. Unfortunately, there is a hidden danger, at least for those of us prone to embarrassing moments.

To compliment my snazzy holiday outfit, I had pulled out my equally eye-catching, red-quilted and black patten leather purse with its gold chain straps.As I was departing to the first of the two signings, I tossed the purse onto my shoulder feeling like a fashion plate. I walked out to the car and went to take the purse off my shoulder to place in the car. To my surprise, the chain on the purse was attached to one of the crochet sections on the arm of the blouse.

Know it is important to know the purse was not only laden with the typical items, but it had my tablet and its charger in it as well as a few extra items I thought I might need at my two events. the weight alone would tear my new blouse easily. So I supported the bag in my hand and much like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, lurched across the street all bent over, praying my neighbor Kate would be home.

Fortunately for me, she was. With amusement on her face, she graciously extricated me and complimented me on my outfit. She spared me laughter, although I suspect she had a good laugh sharing the moment with her husband after I left. This does not bother me at all, I have much experience providing folks with something to laugh about.

So  lesson learned, keep purse away from  the blouse, or use a purse with no chains…Either way, I am proud to have my Lizzie moments. After all, Lizzie finally gave me the courage to become an author.

 

The Beginning of the End

beginning of the end

I’m finishing up the last two chapters of the second book featuring my heroine Lizzie and I find myself a little melancholy. I don’t like saying goodbye to these characters who have been living a rich and active life in my mind for the past several months.

Now there is one more Lizzie book planned. I have imagined a trilogy  through which to share her life, so it really is only goodbye for now. I imagine when I get to the end of the third book I might need some grief counseling.

I have experienced this melancholy before. The last few weeks of high school and college were exciting but also sad. Moving on is necessary for growth yet we grieve for the loss of the way things were. Over time I have come to understand when one chapter closes a new one begins (literary illustration intended). Not so tongue and cheek let me continue with the thought that our life is a blank book and we get to write the pages. Hopefully that means we have volumes of what comes next before our final the end.

In other words and ending is just the beginning of what comes next. I am comforted by the fact I will live with these characters through a third book and I suppose they will live in me forever. This cast of characters are special in the sense they are the first ones I have shared with the rest of the world.

In a few days I will send this off to the editor and in a few months I will share this next part of Lizzie’s story with the world. For now, I will keep Lizzie and her loved ones close to my heart.

 

A Highland Fling

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Clan MacDonald Ranald

 

Cold winter nights are made for binge watching and Netflix provides plenty of options. While my blood runs red, white and blue American, to the point I get teary at patriotic songs, there is something ancient also coursing through my veins and it stirs at the sound of bagpipes.  My heritage has origins in Scotland and the romance of tartan and lochs is hard for this girl to resist.

I have always loved BBC productions from comedy’s like Keeping up Appearances to dramas like Downton Abbey and Foyle’s  War.  So you can understand how I got sucked down the rabbit hole with a series called Monarch of the Glen, with my own clan’s laird and family as the fictional characters.  It has drama as well as comedy and the Scottish lochs and hills are breathtaking.

America is full of folk with something ancient from across the sea beating in their hearts.  After all unless your ancestors were here prior to the European takeover of the sixteenth and seventeenth of the new world, you came from off.  For over two-hundred years my more recent ancestors along with some who arrived after our countries one-hundredth  birthday forged an allegiance to the stars and bars, many generations demonstrating it on the battlefields from the revolution to the Vietnam war. Yet if I go three-hundred years back I find our family firmly entrenched in the British Isles and I like to think I can honor that as well. Although admittedly, my Scottish ancestors were probably enemies of my English ancestors if you read the history or watch Braveheart.

If you look at the motto inscribed on my pin pictured above you will find the words, “My Hope is Constant with Thee”  and I think I have lived that motto all my life, well before I knew of it or the clan it comes from and I spring from. There is no scientific proof that we carry the legacy of our ancestors or their character traits in our DNA, but when I look at the characteristics of my ancestors known through letters and diary entries as well as the ones I have been blessed to know in person and compare them to mine I have no doubt I have inherited more from them than eye color. Perseverance, optimism and  stubbornness just to name a few.

So I have no guilt over my Netflix binge, just like a good book the BBC delivers characters you can connect with. I have enjoyed my escape to the old country and the theme of honor your heritage and its traditions that runs through each episode. The siren call of the loch has uncovered the tartan that is woven into my soul.

The Southern Woman’s Paradox

Southern Women are Strength and Softeness

Southern Women are Strength and Softness

Women in general and southern women in particular spend their lives juggling many roles, there is a perfume ad from my childhood that illustrates this paradox beautifully. It went something like this “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan and never let you forget you’re a man, cause I’m a woman . . . ” I got the message loud and clear, being a woman means being all things at almost all times.  Quite a tall order.  In iconic movies like Steel Magnolias, the portrayal of women is women of strength and determination, this is not a characterization or a presentation of an ideal, it is truly how most of the southern women I am blessed to know are.

We pride ourselves on our strength, our ability to take what comes our way with grace and finesse.  You do not want to impede a southern girl on a mission, especially if that mission involves protecting one of her loved ones. We are fiercely loyal to those we love.  A southern woman when faced with a problem will come up with a plan A, B and C in a matter of minutes, something will fix this!  We pour out care on others through casseroles, pumpkin bread and small tokens to cheer up those in need. No matter if they are family, friends or just neighbors. There is no task too menial we won’t cheerfully take on if it will lessen the burden of our loved ones.  So now I am guessing you are thinking what is the paradox?

The crown in the picture above should be a clue.  Deep down despite the fact that we are capable, strong women, we long to be truly feminine.  We swoon over monograms.  We love to get dressed up and be taken out on the town.  We long for that officer and a gentleman to sweep us off our feet in a grand romantic gesture. We expect our men to open doors and love to feel taken care of.  While flowers and other romantic gestures are nice, what we really need is to know our man has our back. We want to know he will catch us when we fall, dry our tears and be a shoulder to lean on. To hold our hands on romantic walks, in moments of crisis, at prayer and everything in between. We want him to recognize our strength but also see the vulnerable heart that lies beneath. We want a man to above all protect us, respect us and treasure us.

So while at face value this seems paradoxical with the strong, intelligent modern woman, I would suggest it is like two sides to the same coin or like multi-facets in a fiery diamond. I have spent more of my days presenting myself as the determined woman who can handle anything, but I must admit my vulnerable heart needs to be treasured. That does not make me weak or fickle, it just makes me a complicated southern girl who will give you my all in strength and my all in softness.

It is this that has made me realize my character Addie, the heroine of my trilogy is actually more like me than I thought.  When I first created her, I did not see many traits in common, besides a determined spirit. However Addie like me has spent most of her life focused on the strength, and so many of her loved ones have come to depend on that.  But with circumstances that have forced her to examine her life and reinvent herself, she has come to realize she needs the softness equally as much, yet that has her completely in a tailspin of vulnerability.  Addie will have to take great risk to her heart, but I think she’ll find it worth it, at worst she will grow to trust herself to give her heart to someone. Incidentally this is not something we have in common, I would say when I give my heart it is completely. This of course makes me much more vulnerable than my capable, independent, strong public persona would indicate.  But it also means that if I love you, I love you plain and simple and with all I have.  I don’t just mean romantic love, but all kinds. So what if Addie can learn to do this what could it mean for her and those she loves?   At best Addie will gain people in her life she can give fierce loyalty and who will allow her to indulge in her softer side.  And isn’t that what all of us southern women want?  Strength and softness that is what makes a southern woman a true treasure for anyone who opens up their hearts to her.

The Eyes Have It

Yes Eyes are the window to the soul, but a photo of just eyes seemed creepy

Yes eyes are the window to the soul, but a photo of  eyes by themselves seemed creepy. Plus who hasn’t been grateful to hide their feelings behind a pair of sunglasses?

The Eyes Have It is the title of my first novel, and yes it is still under review at the publishers (sigh…I suppose that is better than rejected). It is a play on the phrase “the ayes have it,” but it also is a reference to the idea that the eyes are the windows of the soul.  Eye contact is one of the best ways to connect with someone and get a “read” on their state if mind. When someone is genuinely happy their smile goes beyond the upturned corners of their mouth and reaches right up to their eyes.  Love, compassion, and concern are genuinely communicated through the eyes. Eye contact avoidance can also speak volumes, but I caution that sometimes someone avoids direct eye contact because they are shy or intimidated, not because they are avoiding or hiding.

It can be quite frightening to look in someone’s eyes and realize that despite the gorgeous blue color, it is an icy hard and closed soul looking back at you. A decade ago that was my clue that a love entanglement I was in was not the kind of loving, compassionate, faith based relationship I was seeking, and without that person making radical changes would never be.  I was still heartbroken, but after time I realized it was not the loss of that person, it was that I had allowed myself to be swept off my feet and fell for some smooth lines instead of first looking for the more important indicators that would have told me about the character of the man. I am a bit embarrassed to admit I fell for some lines, but in my defense I was at a vulnerable place in life, I felt like I was trying to meet a timetable for life and had not yet come into the self-confidence, self-acceptance and self-assurance that comes from life experience and putting trust in the divine higher power that truly makes all things possible. If I had taken the time to really examine his eyes, I would have realized his soul was closed to the spiritual connection I craved. That connection I realized would be a requirement to build a true and meaningful life together.  Lesson learned the hard way!

My heroine in The Eyes Have It, Lizzie, also has to learn this lesson the hard way, in this respect we are kindred spirits we also both love to cook and love the Lowcountry life in South Carolina but that is where the similarities end.  Lizzie has come to a place where she does not trust her own gut, she is disconnected from her spirit and has to work at grounding herself again, reevaluate what is truly important in life and learn how to recognize a good man when he is looking right at her.  I think I am much better at that, thanks to my experiences from a decade ago, so I can’t say I regret that chapter in my life completely, I learned an important lesson. I learned what is most important to look for in the eyes of others. Kindness, warmth and compassion that shines from the eyes are so much more important than smooth lines. I also learned God’s timeline is not necessarily the same as ours, but that is a whole other blog.

Love the man whose laughter and smiles connect from his mouth to his eyes.  If you want to know how someone is feeling about you look into the windows to their soul, no matter what they say, the truth will be there. Yes, I learned all that from one bad relationship choice. I now make the conscious choice to look into the eyes of people I meet and the students I teach to show them compassion and kindness, and more importantly to the people who have come to be a piece of my heart, when they look into my eyes I want them to see the love I feel for them shining out from my soul to theirs. If you need to know the essence of someone, If you need to find out how they really feel, take a good look, into those, piercing blue, vibrant green, chocolate pools or kaleidoscope hazel windows. After all, the eyes have it.

The Character of A Man

My Boston Red Sox's Cap

My Boston Red Sox’s Cap

With the exception of my lawn mower and my power tools, the most masculine item in my house would by my Boston Red Sox’s cap.  Not that my house is exceptionally frilly, I tend to gravitate towards classically tailored things like checks and toile, but I digress, my purpose in writing this post is not decorating, but rather to introduce you to the rationale behind my male characters.  I have been thinking about my male characters lately and how I develop them and I find that at least the men who play against my leading ladies have some characteristics in common.  Now I think of myself as a southern women’s fiction writer and I definitely delight in developing my female characters.  However the men are just as important and I would argue my heroines could not achieve their greatness without the steady support of their men.  After all how do you think Scarlett would have turned out had she not had Ashley and Rhett pushing her to become a better woman? I would like to say upfront my novels are not and I hope will never be, sickly sweet or steamy romances, that is just not my style of writing and my mother does read my work. But I appreciate what a certain level of romance can bring to a story and I wish for my heroines and frankly all women to have a good man in their life.  As I examine my leading men, Lizzie’s Bennett in “The Eyes Have it” and Addie’s Jack in “Pearls of Wisdom, I find both are men of integrity, kindness and infinite patience as they deal with all the baggage and scrapes both Lizzie and Addie find themselves in.  While each book has other minor male characters with varying degrees of virtue, my leading ladies have the support and love of men who live their integrity by their actions and have a sense of humor to boot.  My leading ladies on the other hand are flawed and must grow through the story to come into their own.  Those good men, Bennett and Jack seem to be just what my girls need to reach their potential. So while I celebrate the southern woman and all her grit and grace, I also want to celebrate the men who love and support them. Even this strong, independent and yes, flawed southern girl recognizes that a man of good character can make all the difference.

Characters on the Branches of the Family Tree

Three of my more colorful relatives

Three of my more colorful relatives

One thing I have learned about my mother’s side of the family is that there is a character on just about every branch of the family tree.  It is not unusual for family members to ham it up with silly hats, glasses or props. Once a birthday party was held on a beach with a coffin with a live, but playing dead relative in it. The picture above is my mother her Aunt and her mother, caught in an impromptu moment of silliness during a visit.  I actually keep this photo on my desk at school to remind me not to take things too seriously. This summer while visiting my parents I helped my mother clean out a room that had become the dumping ground for everything from seasonal décor and memorabilia to craft supplies and unhung art work.  We corralled the memorabilia together to be sorted and organized at a later time, but while sifting through we enjoyed looking over some genealogy and family tree data that had been passed on to us.  I knew my mother’s family had been around at the time of the American revolution, but I was surprised to learn we arrived on the scene in the 1630’s through the Massachusetts Bay colony. I found some family members had been Quakers and a few had the moniker Hateevil to bear through life, really? What about a good old testament name instead.  I had one relative that was documented to have served seven years during revolutionary war and another who only served twenty-one days, however he did help turn away the British from the harbor in Machias, Maine.  Then there was the fellow who fell ill at the age of eighty-nine and everyone was convinced he was dying.  He declared he could not die until he could go to visit his family members to say good bye. True to his word, shortly after his ninetieth birthday he had recovered enough that he climbed on his horse and rode hundreds of miles to say good bye to family, then on returning home, climbed back into bed and died.  I see my determination and will power are traits passed down in my genetic material. Not just on my mother’s side, on my father’s side there is an ancestor who served in the revolutionary war and was wounded, then discharged from his regiment, but instead of going home he just found a new regiment to serve in.  Maybe some of these ancestors will become characters in a book, although I had not considered historic fiction as a genre, The tidbits about the personalities and escapades of various ancestors make the idea appealing. It is fascinating to make connections with your ancestors, to learn about how they lived and what you have in common with them.  I am proud to have my leaf on the same tree as the zany, colorful and determined people that came before me. I hope you might be inspired to dig into the characters in your family. Now I must set aside my writing, don my tiara and get back to the housework.

On The Dirty Side

My Legs after a stint in the garden

My Legs after a stint in the garden

I have waxed poetic about my garden in previous posts, making it sound much more enchanting than it probably is.  Our southern climate makes gardening a year-round activity.  when I bought my house and my yard was a blank slate I spent hours pouring over gardening books and drawing out ideas attempting to design a garden to rival the gardens featured on the pages of Southern Living.  I imagined wearing simple sundresses, a floppy straw hat and gloves as I would putter around the yard, with just slight perspiration and a flush to my cheek.  The epitome of a graceful southern lady in her charming garden. Well, the reality is far from the fantasy.  I do love working in the yard, it is much more satisfying than housework. However, I don’t perspire, I sweat, what seems like buckets, and it stings as it runs into my eyes.  I have learned to wear old paint and dirt stained clothes, as the picture above attests I get coated with dirt from head to toe. My flush is more like beet red as I overheat in the ninety degree weather.  About the only part of my gardening fantasy that meets the reality is a floppy straw hat I wear and the gloves that keep some of the dirt out of my fingernails. As I think about it, my dirty gardening is a great metaphor for life.  Life is not clean and neat and everything in it’s place (Can I use this as an excuse to avoid housework?) it is unpredictable, messy and hard work, but isn’t that what makes it interesting?  My character Addie, the heroine of my trilogy is about to become a first time home owner and I plan to have her dabble in gardening, I am pretty sure she will be a gardener like me. I have visions of some comedic scenes for Addie involving nature, tools and soil. I hope Addie will learn to love it as much as I do. After all, gardening and life are little more fun on the dirty side.