Marriage and Monograms



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



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!


The Upside of Halloween



Me circa 1975, Hawaii

I make no secret that Halloween is my least favorite holiday. I am willing  to admit I’m a scaredy cat. Even as an adult, after I watched the movie Sixth Sense, I had to sleep with a nightlight for a week. As a child, the candy was not enough of a draw for me to forget my fear. Candy I can take or leave, now if they had been giving our ice cream or cheese and crackers, I might have been more motivated. What I did love was the excitement of pretending to be someone or something else for a few hours.

Even today, I enjoy getting invited to a costume party. There is an interesting psychology involved to the selection of costume. I prefer the creative homemade costume to store bought, I love how ingenious some people can be.

Back in 1975, the Little House on the Prarie was popular on TV, but more than that, I had read most of the series at that point. My favorite was, Little House in the Big  Woods and I even wore this get-up to school. I became Mary Ingalls, I always thought she was the better-behaved one. When you are a kid you have the freedom to play dress-up every day. I loved putting on my mother’s old dresses and heels. I loved pretending to be part of the books I read.

Book characters are a great source for costume ideas. Halloween gives us the chance to become those characters for a little while, even as adults. I still don’t think I would choose anything scary but I would love to host a literary costume party, though some of my friends might think that was a bit nerdy. Today I might be a professor from Harry Potter, or Stephanie Plum, even Lula, from Janet Evanovich’s hilarious series. Miss Marple might be fun. I could go on and on.

So while I still don’t care for the trick or treating and the frightful things, I can appreciate that Halloween gives us permission to be someone else for a few hours and no one raises an eyebrow.


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.


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.

Opening Doors

The door to possibilites

The door to possibilites

Recently through conversation someone forced me to open a door in my heart I was not prepared to open let alone acknowledge. But after a few days of the door being ajar I am beginning to be more comfortable with it. Truth be told, I knew the door existed, I think I was willfully trying to ignore it. Isn’t it funny how despite our best efforts to the contrary we are led to where we need to be?  The unknown can be really scary and the hardest part is daring to look and opening yourself up to possibilities. But isn’t that one of the greatest gifts of this life?  We are not meant to be stagnant, we are meant to grow and if you don’t examine what is behind the door you are missing the gifts on the other side.  Now I do think opening the door and walking across the threshold are two entirely different things, walking in is another scary thing, but I do believe ultimately worth the risk when the time is right.  It is okay to just leave the door ajar and get comfortable with what is on the other side, you really only lose out when you don’t allow the door to open in the first place. If the door exists then that is a divine invitation for one to examine it. This has been an aha moment for me and has me contemplating the human heart and mind. I think I have come to the conclusion that the heart is much wiser than the head, the head can fill you with doubts and judgments, leading to all kinds of second guessing and angst. Your heart on the other hand is where love and faith live and where you find your true self. As a writer I find these are the thoughts that help me really develop my characters.  I want them to come to life on the page, to be real enough a reader feels connected to them, those are the kinds of characters I love to read.  The beauty of creating these characters is I can have them open and walk through all kinds of doors and see where the other side takes them. So I encourage you to open the doors along your path and peer in, perhaps you will find the greatest gift waiting for you on the other side.

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.

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.