Passing Perfection

 

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Blossom on my Magnolia tree

There are many examples of beauty and dare I say perfection amidst the natural world. For me, one of the most iconic and elegant is the Magnolia.  I have a long-standing love affair and fascination with this flower. It is iconic to the south I live in, it is both old-fashioned yet strikingly modern in its clean lines. It is remarkable to think about how it has grown, survived and thrived on our planet since the time of the dinosaurs. It has been the subject of artists on canvass and referred to in a variety of literature and films.

I still marvel that my personal tree began life as a stick with two leaves, dug up from a friend’s yard on the Isle of Palms. Now it towers in the back of the yard and it is in its second year of producing the creamy blossoms among the glossy rich green leaves.

Each morning this time of year, I spy new blooms and see the rapid browning of blooms from just a day or two before.  This brief period from bud to decaying petals may produce a fleeting perfection, but oh what a perfection it is!

This got me thinking about perfection. There seems to be a human drive to achieve a perfection or an ideal. While we often fall short of achieving that perfection, we have moments and flickers of perfection that spur us on. People have dreamt of perfection and written about what it should look like since the Renaissance at least and many have written haunting dystopias of what could happen if we abandon our ideals. I think ideals give us the goal to shoot for, but the true growth comes in the striving for that perfection.

In the striving, we have fleeting moments where the perfection is tangible and it spurs us on. Perhaps those moments should be celebrated. Sometimes we focus so much on the goal or the ideal, we miss that the smaller, fleeting moments of perfection.

It’s in those smaller moments, those brief blossoms where the ideal and real life meet. I think my Magnolia tree has reminded me that we need to stop and watch the sunset or sunrise, we need to appreciate the homemade meal put before us, celebrate that moment when a student makes that connection, or the time when the words on the page flow and sing with clarity and inspiration.

Tuning into these moments make our imperfect and messy world a little more Eden-like. The lack of perfection shouldn’t depress us or thwart our efforts to strive towards a better world, a better life, a higher quality relationship. If the world or our relationships were perfect I think we would lack motivation and then creativity and innovation would cease.

Flirting with brief moments of perfection and appreciating them for what they have to offer gives assurance and breeds contentment with all the rest.

 

The Trick of the Title

WP_20160213_002I have a meeting this Monday with my cover designer and I have a vision for the art in my mind. Sounds like it should be an easy meeting, right? If I could say with certainty what the title is going to be. . . I have forty-eight hours to figure it out.

This book is a prequel to the trilogy I completed last year. The story itself came to me with clarity. The title has been somewhat elusive, although, I do have a working list. This novel like all the others so far is set here in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. So much of the evocative landscape plays an inspirational role for my heroine and I want that reflected in the title. However, the Lowcountry and the coast, in general, are so inspirational many of the key words I initially came up with to incorporate were in so many other titles I had to go back to the drawing board.

I came up with one title, I really liked, then my editor pointed out that it implied a tongue and cheek, humorous book. This didn’t mesh with the interior. This is a story of love, loss, redemption, forgiveness and confronting truths. I don’t want a title that might mislead a reader. Although I have tucked that title away for a truly lighthearted story for down the road.

So from a list of about twenty ideas, I have narrowed it down to about eight contenders. At best, I will narrow it down to one by Monday, or at least the top three to share with Chris, the designer, and get his take.

When we name a book, a business or even a child, we have to think about how that book, business or child will be perceived by the world based on that name. Let’s face the facts, even if Trixie (No offense intended to anyone named Trixie) has a degree from M.I.T.,  on introduction we might assume she is a flighty sort. That’s just human nature. A business’s name must convey a sense of what they sell or an aesthetic that will resonate with buyers. A book title should relate to the content and intrigue a reader enough they will read the back cover synopsis.

Perhaps once one becomes a name recognized author to a reader then the title is of less importance. I will read anything by Peter Mayle, regardless of title. But I bet he or his editor work hard to get just the right title, all the same.

Shakespeare has his famous line about what’s in a name, he understood the weight a name can carry, he understood human perception based on a name could have a bearing on reality. He also understood that what really mattered wasn’t the name but the essence of the object or person.  A book’s content is its essence and in theory, should not be judged by its cover. The reality is the cover and the title will be judged, so care should be taken with it.

Wish me well while I wrestle with this decision, hopefully, this spring, when I do a cover reveal, you will smile and say, “Oh, what a great title!”

 

 

In the Stack

 

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My latest book stack. In the foreground are the three I just read, in the background are my anticipated reads.

 

I’d like to thank my book club for bringing diversity into my reading life. It might surprise you to learn that as a writer of southern women’s fiction I am a huge fan of reading mysteries, and I can trace that all the way back to my Nancy Drew days. Right now my favorite stories on the telly as they would say in my favorite genre are British mystery series like Father Brown, Miss Fisher, and Midsomer Murders.

While I have also read a ton of women’s fiction over the years, the book club I’m in has brought before my eyes, dystopias, biographies, dark fiction, historical fiction and the list goes on. I am richer for it, not just as a writer but as a human. After all one of the great joys of books is exploring new worlds, ideas, and possibilities we would never encounter in our everyday lives.

Books or at least pamphlets, inspired schisms in the church, revolutions in countries and other world-changing events. I’m not saying anything that earth shattering is in my current stack, but from every book I read, fiction or non-fiction I gain a different perspective on humanity and expand my own empathy towards others and ideas on living.

No matter high-tech this world becomes or how pervasive social media becomes, books will have an enduring place. Social Media has the power to spread messages, true or false in lightning time, but the messages are just the headlines, not the in-depth examination of the human condition or revolutionary ideas. Books are where we can explore and understand. A book must hold up to much more scrutiny as to the validation of its facts and examination of its ideas.

We, humans, have a primal need to express our thoughts and communicate our ideas and we use a wide variety of art and media to do so. To me, books are the most important form we have. The one invention of the printing press centuries ago has allowed words and ideas to be shared through time and we have not stopped sharing words around the world since.

No matter if your stack sits on a bedside table as mine, or in a queue on a digital device, keep stacking and keep reading, you will be richer for it.

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.

 

 

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.

 

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!

 

 

Time for a Quickie? Here is a Reveal

 

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Cover for book two!

Just a quick post to share the excitement of book cover number two! In a few weeks, the second book in my lowcountry home series will launch and I find I am just as giddy as I was about the first book.

Once again, Chris Berge of Berge Designs has translated my vision, better than the sum of its parts. He is truly talented and I am one lucky author to get to work with him. I also love that he is local here in Charleston. He truly understands the beauty and magic of this place we are blessed to call home.

I hope y’all like it as much as I do!

 

Original Art Speaks to Heart and Soul

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A recent acquisition

 

I enjoy all kinds of art, even though I admit I don’t understand all of it. I love vintage posters. I am a fan of black and white photography. I love cyanotypes and paintings. I am by no means an art expert or an art snob, but I do have strong opinions on what I like. However, even with works that don’t appeal to me, I appreciate that a fellow human being put their time, passion and effort into creating.

I grew up in a military family and subsequently my childhood home was full of art on the wall and objects that reflected the many places we lived. I am still enamored of a marble goldfish from Italy and a wood carving of an owl from Germany. I think if I made the hypothetical list of what beyond people and pets I would rescue from my parents house in a disaster, those would be top of the list.

Like most people, my home is heavy on framed prints, but over the years I have acquired a few original paintings and have treasured everyone. Back when I was in college I babysat for a wonderful family whose home was full of some fantastic original artwork, including an enormous piece I fell in love with. It was enormous. It hung on the wall, but it had three dimensional colorful fish and seaweed. This piece was actually used to produce the posters and t-shirts for the Charleston Spoletto Festival. Not sure if it was late 1980’s or early 1990’s, but that piece spoke me. It evoked happy thoughts and awe. It inspired me to make acquiring art a worthy goal.

While I was in graduate school I taught at a local pre-school and one of my parents was an artist with her first art show, in downtown Charleston.  I went. It was my first real art show and I left with a watercolor of morning glories that still hangs in my guest room.

Fast forward to my buying my first house (I did own a townhome previous). My realtor and friend was also a talented artist. In her real estate office she had a small painting of poppies on a field of red. I remarked on how much I liked it and she painted me a large version for over my fireplace, and over ten years later it is still hanging there. I smile and think of her daily.

I found a great oil painting of cows a few years back that spoke to me of my parents and myself. That has found a home in my kitchen.

This spring break, while staycationing, okay . . . while I was taking a much deserved lunch break between appointments, house, yard, and writing tasks, I wandered into one of my favorite galleries in Mount Pleasant. Once again a piece of art called my name, and the lovely oyster in the reclaimed wood frame has found a home between my living room and kitchen.

I enjoy my prints, but there is something deeper in an original work. It has soul. It stirs me in a way no print has ever accomplished. Whether it is a painting or sculpture, an original work has the sense of being wrought with human hands and heart. I still marvel that I don’t have to be Miss Moneybags to afford it. So if I had to make my rescue list for my own home you can easily guess what pieces would be on my list.