Season of the Optimist

WP_20160313_001It is hard to be pessimistic with the warm sunshine, the clear blue skies with puffy white clouds and mother nature adorning our gardens with flowering trees and daffodils. It is the season with lucky leprechauns and chocolate bunnies. It is the season of rebirth and fresh starts.

I identify with the optimists.  I like the idea that things can always improve. That around the next corner is something better.  That when we falter, we can get back up again. This does not mean I don’t experience real pain and disappointment,  oh I feel all emotions very deeply, it means I try to learn from them and grow. It also means I focus on the silver lining that is always present, even when it requires a deep search to find it.

I have shared before that I made a conscious effort over a year ago to celebrate life and have gratitude for the daily blessings.  Part of this is looking forward and embracing the challenges. It also means trying new things and taking risks, believing that it will all work out.  Isn’t funny that somehow it always does, even if it might not be what you envisioned at the start?

A little over a month from now, a dream I have pursued for the past several years will be realized, my first book will be available for public consumption. (More details coming in blog posts later this month.) I have a broad range of emotions.  I am exhilarated by the prospect of seeing my book with  a real cover and flipping through the pages.  I am scared it won’t be well received, after all a bit of my soul is in every page.  I am elated that I have reached this milestone in my journey. I am nervous I will drop something as I add another ball to juggle in my daily life. But my inner voice keeps telling me with clarity, it will all work out.

So in this season, seemingly designed for the optimist, I find this new step well timed.  I am not seeking fame or fortune, I just want to connect with readers. I want them to relate to my characters, laugh a little, maybe tear up a little and when they close the book, feel like they left behind a friend.  Of course I want them to want to read my next novel, coming out late September-early October.  What author wouldn’t want these things?

Before the end of Spring I should have a good picture of how my first novel was received. I an sure I will learn a few things.  I am sure I will be surprised by a few things.  I am also sure that it will work out just fine.  After all, what else can an optimist expect?

Caught In A Cover-Up

WP_20160213_002Conventional wisdom tells us you can’t judge a book by its cover. In today’s book world the opposite seems true.  After all, go in any book store and you will find many books not on shelves with spines out, but stacked on tables so that the cover is in full view of the browsers.

I’ll admit it, I do initially judge a book by its cover. I will be attracted by the color scheme or the cover art. That in turn will lead me to read the title. If that appeals as well, then I will pick it up and flip it over to read the description on the back.  We are visual creatures and accept or reject something from a glance.  Rightly or wrongly, not passing judgment here, just making an observation.

Of course the initial visual attraction can quickly fizzle if what is inside the cover does not deliver.  I believe we have all had that experience of meeting someone and being attracted by their look or even the fact you share one common interest. Only to be disappointed when you get to know them better and find you have nothing else in common or you can’t relate to their values.  Or bought a product based on appearance only to find it lacked in functionality.  However you took a closer look because of that initial attraction.

So here is the happy dilemma I find myself in.  I am beginning the process of designing book covers for the books I plan to publish this year.  These covers need to attract readers to them. They need to reflect what is between the covers. They also need to speak to who I am as an author and convey a recognizable style that will be tied to me moving forward.  No pressure here! This decision is up there with what to wear to an important interview. Fortunately I will work with a professional who can translate my ideas and help me create a cover design I hope will become my signature style.

When I think about my wardrobe or even my home décor, I would say I have cultivated a style that is easily recognizable by my loved ones.  When we are browsing in a store, they will say things like, “That is so you.”  I want my book covers to do the same thing. I want a reader to glimpse the cover and say I know that author.  So while writing the books might be the blood, sweat and tears of the work, the cover decision might easily be the hardest part of the process. I believe I am up for the challenge.

I can hardly wait, and luckily I won’t have to wait long, to see this first cover and this first book revealed. Stay tuned, end of March or beginning of April if the current timeline holds. Then the cover can start catching some readers!

A cottage For Sale

For Sale

For Sale

Recently my heroine Addie, or more specifically her mother Miss Eleanor has forced me to participate in difficult conversation, so it was a delight when Addie was given the opportunity to do something fun. Now, I should say that I do not try to have first hand experience in all my characters do, things on the shady or less moral side, I let my imagination do the writing. However when I can I try to use as much first hand experience as I can, which has lead me to new experiences,  My characters have taken me out of my comfort zone I have now been to a shooting range and gun class and a Turkey shoot for example.  Sometimes they have me driving around town scoping out locations for scenes or possibly a place of employment.  So I was delighted when Addie was given the opportunity to house hunt and find a charming southern home. Perhaps it will entice her dashing detective Jack to consider setting up house keeping and take on the adventure of matrimony.  This house will definitely be a place of safe haven to the important people in Addie’s life.  So, I am actually looking at homes for sale, (via internet, don’t want to waste a realtor’s time) to find the perfect house for her.  Of course the fictional house will most likely be a combination of what I actually find, and I suspect it will be close to the dream cottage I have in my head with a wide wrap around porch, and wide plank wood floors.  I am gleeful with the thought of moving Addie in and giving her assistance in decorating, although that is one talent she gleaned from her proper southern upbringing (too bad she has not learned to cook . . .yet).

One of the joys I have writing my characters is living a bit vicariously through them and having them experience events from my own life, disguised with twists of course. I have found even though my characters begin as a figment of my imagination, as they develop, they take on a life of their own and begin to dictate to me how the story must unfold, at least how they are going to react to all that is going on around them.  Addie is not very domestic and imagining her nesting conjures up some opportunities for humor.  I on the other hand once fancied myself as a Martha Stewart, June Cleaver and Jaqueline Kennedy rolled into one, (Or at least I aspired to be that perfect woman)  so house hunting sounds like a delightful way to spend some days and imagine the happy home a house could be transformed into.  It will be interesting to see how Addie handles all the opportunity for domestic bliss that is coming her way, I can say for sure, I will be a bit jealous. Thankfully she will need me to come along and live it with her.

It’s my blogaversary!

red velvet cupcake

red velvet cupcake

Another milestone to mark, or perhaps an excuse to indulge in a red velvet cupcake, one of the few cakes my willpower is powerless against.  Looking back on the last year and my foray into the world of blogging, I think one could argue I offered proof that at times I am certifiable. Certainly a sane person would not have chosen to launch their new blog page the same week they were launching a new school year.  What was I thinking?  It certainly illustrates that if something is important to you, you will find the time regardless of the obstacles.  A year later I have learned a lot about the world of blogging and a lot about myself.  I am still amazed how week after week I find inspiration to create a post.  I am thankful for the kind words of encouragement and appreciation of my two cents that have come from loved ones and strangers alike.  I launched this blog as a means to an end, that is to say I was highly encouraged to do so, to brand myself as an author and begin to connect to readers that hopefully will want to read my novels once I get them to publication. However, I soon found the blog to be an end in itself.  It has at times fed my soul to pour out my thoughts and has helped clarify for me connections to my own characters and my beloved Charleston and South Carolina.  I thank you for reading my ramblings and I promise that if you stick with me over the next year I will try to entertain you, make you think and inspire you to pursue your dreams.  Thanks for cheering me on as I pursue mine.

Incognito

Incognito a practiced art

If this photograph from 1970 is any indication, I started enjoying being incognito at an early age.  Although I suspect going out in  public in that get-up would have attracted more attention than I would have been comfortable with.   I also think it shows I have been comfortable being me from the beginning.   While I am comfortable in my own skin, probably now more than at any other time in life (your forties are so liberating!) I am still uncomfortable in the limelight.  So I find it rather ironic I have chosen two careers that force you to put yourself out there.  My teaching career has me as an educator and entertainer with a class full of children who take in all I say and do.  My writing career requires self-promotion to get published and to develop a following of readers.  If I had my druthers, I  would like to hang in the background, be a home or beach body. I would have folks discover my books by finding them at the library, like I have found so many of my favorite authors.  I do enjoy the love and admiration I get from my students, it is reciprocal, By October of every year my students have become my own children and I dread the beginning of June when I have to let them go (Many stay in my heart forever).  I am comfortable with the kids, it is parent night that gets my palms sweaty and stomach churning.  The world of publishing has changed, a writer no longer can hide behind closed doors. For years I avoided Facebook or any social media.  I would never have considered sharing my thoughts and ideas on a blog, I had only a few trusted friends and family members I let see the inner me.  But last year when I recognized I could no longer avoid the siren call to pursue my writing seriously and in a committed fashion I was blessed to have a friend with experience offer to be my mentor (Kathy I am talking about you!) and she encouraged me to begin to brand and build my platform by blogging and getting on Facebook and Twitter.  I have found Facebook to be a great way to reconnect and keep up with friends and let them in on what I am doing as a writer. I confess although I tweet out my blog link twice a week, I have not fully grasped the concept of twitter and all the hashtags.  The most surprising thing to me is how much I enjoy putting my thoughts out in the world on this blog.  I started out with  a bit of fear I would have nothing to say or would struggle with ideas for posts, that has not been the case.  whether my readers think I have something worthwhile to say, may be another matter.  Sitting at home with my laptop  and publishing a post is a bit like going out in the world  en-scarfed with a pair of dark glasses compared to stepping up to a podium or a video camera. Yet, I still reveal a bit of my soul, connecting myself, my characters, my love of tradition and the South Carolina Lowcountry to the world beyond my door.  I should also say thank you for the positive reception I have received. I find no disguise is needed here, and even outlandish get-ups are accepted as long a what is underneath is genuine  and respectful.

The Measure of Time

I am fairly new, not even a year, to the phenomena of Facebook.  I am still exploring its benefits and its detriments.  I love reconnecting with friends from the past who somehow drifted away.  I love seeing photos of kids and events I was missing out on because I was not on Facebook.  One of the things I have observed is it has become a way to measure the passage of time.  People post way back pictures to celebrate or in memoriam.  Milestones are documented: Wow, can that kid really be old enough to get their college acceptance letter? It seems like yesterday they were skipping down the hall at school. There are times I feel time stands still, in Charleston we have many historic landmarks that are preserved with loving care to make it seem as though they were frozen in time. I have found my age stands still for me, somewhere in my early thirties and I have to really think to remember how old I am. Yet in the twenty-nine years I have called this charming coastal community home it has also moved ahead in time with a vibrancy that keeps us in the current century as well.  (Not all growth has been to our benefit, some has changed the feel of our community forever, but that is a subject for another day.) I would like to think my life has progressed with that same vibrancy. My HVAC broke this past week and as I was contemplating whether it would be reparable or need replacing I realized it was approaching it’s tenth birthday.  I have lived in my current house for ten years!  How is that possible?  It seems like yesterday I took the plunge to purchase a single family home complete with yard.  I had never used a lawnmower in my life.  My friend Stacy brought her lawnmower over and gave me a lesson, yes that is me wearing a dress and pearls while having a go at lawn care.  While that seems over the top even for a southern girl, in my defense I vaguely remember I had an event requiring such attire shortly after the lesson.  Behind me you might be able to tell my backyard was completely devoid of plant life, including grass.  Now, ten years later it is a veritable Garden of Eden with magnolia, river birch, eastern redbud, camellias, roses, herbs and so much more. These days I mow in shorts and a t-shirt, I am practical after all.  When I look at that picture I see a year, maybe two gone by, certainly not the decade that has expired.  Those who know me are well aware of my plan to live to be one-hundred, and I guess beyond if my mind is still sharp, one-hundred seems so very far away from my forties.  Yet I am acutely aware that when I get there the lifetime before will seem like mere moments.  So I am going to wear my pearls more often, even for the mundane tasks and try to revel in the present before it’s gone.

First lesson in lawn mowing.

First lesson in lawn mowing.

Forest From the Trees or Trees From the Forest?

I recently spent time in a local park and took in the natural beauty.  A panoramic view of my surroundings was lush and green.  I suspect that most writers are like me, they take in the surface and then move on to look deeper, always looking for the story behind what is seen.  In the case of this coastal forest, as I studied deeper, I noticed the myriad of leaf shapes and shades of green.  The textures of the bark, the draping Spanish moss and the dappling of the sunlight filtering through added layers of interest.  I contemplated:

Palmetto Island County Park

Palmetto Island County Park

was the beauty of the scene based more on the composition of the parts read as a whole (the forest from the trees) or was the beauty derived from the ability of individual trees to stand out amongst the other trees (the trees from the forest)?  I came to the conclusion the beauty was revealed to me from both perspectives and neither view had a strong advantage over the other.  This was a good lesson for my writing.  I focus a lot on my characters (the trees)  I tend to dream them first and then build stories (the forest) around them so I can share them with the world. Fantastic characters are not enough to carry a novel without a strong story and a story with underdeveloped characters falls flat.  Attention must be paid to the development of both.  The story like the forest is the big picture that draws you in and carries you through to the end.  The characters, and with that I would include setting, give the depth and interest that lingers with you after you read the last page in a book.  I am currently working on a trilogy and I envisioned the characters first.  I knew the ending even though I have not officially written yet, I have written the beginning.  Currently I am working on all that needs to come between.  Story has surged to the forefront of my attention.  However I want my characters to grow and change from the beginning to the end, just as we all do on our life journey.  So trees and forest, characters and story, the beauty comes from the strength and contributions of both.

Writers Weed and Words Have Weight

Spring brings Mother Nature’s spectacular show following the drab of winter and here in my humble garden in Charleston it also brings a bumper crop of weeds.  Today is an idyllic day: sunshine, light breeze, low humidity and I am home.  It is Spring Break here in the lowcountry and as always it arrived just in the nick of time.  This morning I walked the yard to contemplate all the tasks that needed to be done and determined the front bed seen by neighbors warranted the priority spot.  The phlox is blooming along with the lavender.  The roses are budding, the lantana is sending up leaves along with the salvia and the hydrangea.  The daffodils are fading into the background as the next act prepares to shine.  Among them all are the weeds, if not dealt with they will at worst take over and at best detract from the beauty of the plants they lurk about.  As I stared down at my starting point my mind drew a connection to writing.  Although I would like to think everything I pour out onto a page is brilliant and essential to what I am writing, I have to admit it is rare when I go back and re-read that I don’t have to make significant changes.  There are often typos to fix, things to delete or add, weeds among the words. I also realize I could use a professional editor to check punctuation and other grammatical issues, some of the rules have changed since I was trained. I vow to never publish a novel without professional editing.  When we take the time to edit the true beauty and weight of our words comes to the forefront.  Just like the before and after pictures I have posted here.  The weeding gives clarity for enhanced enjoyment by the viewer in the garden and the reader on the page.  On a rare occasion I have written a piece that requires little adjustment, three times come to mind, all three involved pieces I wrote to honor loved ones who passed.  One was a poem I wrote about my grandfather, I called Papa while I was a senior in high school,  It scored an A+, a rarity from my English teacher and my mother framed it.  The other two were words I spoke at funerals to honor the two women that inspired them.  In all three cases I felt a divine hand composing, I was just the vessel to get them onto the page.  If only I had such help when I am working on my novels! So while weeding my garden or my words may not be at the top of the list for how to spend my time, the effort is repaid tenfold when the flowers and the words demonstrate their full potential.  Happy weeding!

Weeds detract

Weeds detract

A little care can make all the difference

A little care can make all the difference

Out of the tree of life . . .

Whenever I glance out my back windows into my garden this time of year my eye goes straight to this eastern redbud in all its spring glory.  Through my mind will float the lyrics from a classic Frank Sinatra song, “Out of the tree of life I just picked me a plum . . .”  Spring and Sinatra make me happy in general, but I find this year they are in contradiction to what is happening around me.  You see one of my dear friends has passed away after a very long but courageous battle with cancer.  She has left behind an adoring husband and two fantastic kids, the youngest only just turned seven.  Shouldn’t the tree be bare and the cold wind blow in a mournful cry?  How can the world look so fresh and green with such sadness?  Then I really thought about my friend and what a kind, loving person she was.  Her grace, faith and dignity carried her through her cancer.  She was a model southern girl, tied to tradition, effortless style and impeccable manners.  She was always smiling and had a wonderful sense of humor.  She was a loving wife, mother, sister, and friend.  Someday I will write a character in her name and in her honor, once I can create a character worthy of her memory.  I know she would tell me to look at that tree and sing that song. She would tell me to celebrate life.  Death like winter is a part of the cycle of life and spring reminds us with faith we have life beyond our time on this revolving planet around the sun.  I am grateful she is free of pain and I am blessed for having known her. We have no idea if our life on this earth will be short or long, regardless we should live each day with passion and purpose. Like the tree in my garden, bloom and take your moments in the sun. Like my friend, live each day with grace.

Tree of Life (eastern redbud in my garden)

Tree of Life (eastern redbud in my garden)

Update and a Reblog of Places of the Heart

Well I went into my virus a bit on the optimistic side.  turns out it was flu and bronchitis, so no leisurely reading in bed or writing, I was lucky to stay awake and follow a thirty minute show on television.  I have one more day of meds that keep me a bit fuzzy so writing a new entry seems daunting.  I am serious about my commitment to this blog and building my writing career so I am going to attempt a re-blog of an entry I made back towards the beginning of this journey, knowing it has not received much traffic, so to many it may seem new and fresh.  I hope you enjoy reading about this place where I live, this place I love, this place that is definitely a muse for my writing :

I am the first to admit I have an irrational love for the Low Country of South Carolina.  When I travel away I miss the smell of the pluff mud.  My heart skips a beat when I see the waving grasses of the marsh or drive through a tunnel of live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss.  As a child of an army officer I lived in many fabulous places including Europe and Hawaii, but no place has captured my heart or become essential for my soul’s happiness like the Charleston area.  I think that is why I view the Low Country more as a character than a setting when I write.  C. Hope Clark, the author of  several mysteries, the latest, Murder On Edisto, recently published a blog on The Seekers ( you can find it at seekerville.blogspot.com)  in which she talks about how the setting not only defines the place, but it also defines her character’s journey.  Her love for Edisto in our shared home state sweeps you up and makes you want to be part of it.   It got me thinking of other books where the setting drew me in equal to the connections I felt with the characters.  I went back to childhood and thought about The Secret Garden. The garden , grew (pun recognized) just as the characters did.  I thought about Nancy Drew and though I loved her little town of Riverside, what a thrill when she and her pals went off to places like New Orleans, the place became a character as Nancy, George and Bess interacted with the local culture.  Sometimes I read a book set in a place I have never been and the writer makes that place come so alive, I move that place to the top of my travel list.  When a writer is passionate about the place they set their tale, they elevate that place, it breathes life in the story, interacts with the characters and touches the heart. I hope as I write my tales set in the place I love, my readers will come to love the place I call my heart and my home.

Dock through the trees