Savannah, SIBA and a Southern Girl

 

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The Southeastern Independent Booksellers Association in Savannah, September 2016. Bublish featured my book and I met booksellers by offering them the Southern Living Cheddar-Pecan-Cranberry biscuits out of a sweetgrass basket. Wearing pearls  of course!

I was given a great opportunity this weekend to participate in the SIBA (Southeastern Independent Booksellers Association conference. It was set in Savannah, the sister city of Charleston, an easy two hour and fifteen-minute drive. I have been working with Bublish  as an author to learn about the industry as well as utilize their fantastic tools to build my author platform and share content across social media. Now they are also my distributor. Bublish had a table at the conference and featured multiple authors and titles. With southern booksellers the target audience, it was a natural fit for a southern women’s fiction author to introduce herself.

So I baked the cheddar-pecan-cranberry biscuits I make every year as gifts for loved ones at Christmas. It is a Southern Living recipe and much loved by anyone who has ever eaten any. I found cocktail napkins that coordinated with the colors in my book cover and I packed up my lowcountry sweetgrass basket with a monogrammed linen tea towel. I even polished a silver mint julep cup to place my cards in. I ironed my bright Escapada dress  and set it out with my monogrammed Stella and Dot necklace along with my long strand of pearls. I set the alarm and crawled into bed.

Leaving the neighborhood I felt like I was the only one up and about so early on a Saturday morning. As I made my way south of Charleston, the sky lightened to reveal a swirling misty fog. I had a momentary flight of fancy, imagining I was crossing through a magical rift between the realm of reality into the realm of a fairyland for authors.

It had been several years since I had ventured down Highway 17 south to Savannah and I had forgotten how beautiful the vistas across the ACE Basin were. Driving through Jacksonboro I was sad to see the Old Edisto Motel is still vacant and reminisced  of driving out there during Shad Roe season with my friend Robin to eat the best hush puppies I have ever had. (Seewee Restaurant in Awendaw makes hush puppies that can rival). As I arrived in Savannah, I was once again enamored of this city with its squares and tree-lined streets.  I was nervous but excited to participate in my first trade show as an author.

What a fabulous experience! The biscuits were a hit and gave me a great way to talk a bit about my character Lizzie and her fictional business, The Biscuit Box. I met booksellers from multiple states as well as folks from our own Charleston paper, The Post and Courier and a reporter from Publisher’s Weekly. I also met fellow authors and one who is also a radio host. She offered to do a radio interview with me , so that will be another first I will share with you hopefully soon!

I left with The Eyes Have It having a lot of potential new outlets to reach readers. I also was given many free books from other authors and a slew of contacts. This girl was exhausted and exhilarated. If I was going to give myself a tip, it would be to have someone go with me, mainly to drive home.

The drive home was filled with bright sunshine, electric blue skies, and puffy white clouds. The mystical, mythical world of author meeting booksellers was now part of reality. This southern girl is blessed to see her dreams coming true!

 

Self-Propelled

 

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My new lawn mower

This summer brought the demise of my second lawn mower in eleven years. Before that time I had never mowed a lawn in my life. In my childhood, it was something my daddy did and I thought it was something only boys did. In my early adult life, I lived in apartments and a townhouse. The lawn was someone else’s responsibility. So eleven years ago when I became responsible for a yard I was stunned to learn I actually like mowing the lawn!

Oh but I had no idea it could get even better. My first two mowers were electric cordless and they took a lot of effort on my part to push. They were what most people would call expensive and when they broke that was it. So this summer I decided I would go with a more conventional gas mower. I was advised to get a self-propelled model. Holy smokes! I had no idea how much easier that little feature would make the weekly chore of mowing the lawn. I’m still soaking wet and rosy-cheeked when I’m done, but I  have shaved a good fifteen minutes off my time. In feels like 110-degree weather, that is the difference between finishing tired or with black spots swimming in front of your eyes from heat exhaustion.

This got me thinking about the concept of self-propelled in other areas of life. I don’t know about you, but when I’m enthusiastic and motivated about something, it just comes easier than when I dread or resist. I can’t make every task in life something I love, but I can use my attitude to make even the mundane or disliked tasks go a bit faster. I just have to power through as cheerfully as I can.

Some things in life are hard and they should be. If everything was easy how would we be driven to grow and reach further? I don’t think shortcuts or paths clear of obstacles can teach us like the journeys we have to work for. However, like the self-propelled mower, a self-propelled attitude can make doing the hard work more efficient and help you keep a little reserve in the tank for whatever is coming next. (Trust me, there is always something next!) We each have the power within us when we tap into our inner drive.

I’m always amazed at how the every day in housekeeping, cooking or yard work can teach me a philosophical  life lesson. Now I rank mowing the lawn as my favorite chore. I’m going to put the keyboard down and tackle that basket of unfolded laundry with a song in my heart. Now,  if only the vacuum cleaner could operate itself . . .

 

 

 

A Feast For The Eyes

Feast for the eyesImages are in many ways as impactful as words.  In this age of multi-media and technology constantly at our fingertips, we are bombarded daily with images. Some draw us in. Some tell us  a story, think iconic photos in news stories.  Some manipulate us as consumers.  In the educational world we call these images visual literacy.

One site that has made us visually literate is Pinterest. It gives us a place to seek inspiration and collect images by categories and themes.  Sometimes an image sparks the idea. Other times the idea drives the collection of the images.

That is what happened with five of the boards I have created. I had written my novel, The Eyes Have It and I hope the scenes I described helped readers paint the pictures of my beloved lowcountry in their minds. I wanted to create some boards that showed how I see the lowcountry. How I see the natural beauty as well as the charm of Charleston and the surrounding communities. I also wanted to share the food that is such a part of  lowcountry culture and hospitality.

Madison Avenue has long understood the psychology of images. Now people use them regularly on blog posts, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I am sure that there are many more sites where images are essential, that this still learning the social media world writer is unaware of.

I find image searching a relaxing pastime. It helps me flesh out my ideas. It helps me dream of possibilities. It is a communication tool that has no language barriers, although I am sure there could be some cultural confusions.  Images help us connect with the world. Technology has made our world smaller. It has also given us the tools to make our personal worlds expand exponentially.

A feast for the eyes, a set of images can inspire, teach, and connect you with our world. They can also leave you hungry for some shrimp and grits with a hot buttered biscuit!

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?

I Found Myself In Paris

The Eiffel Tower April 1999 with the count down clock for the new millennium.

The Eiffel Tower April 1999 with the count down clock for the new millennium.

In November of 1998, I turned 30.  The following I wrote in 1999 after my first solo trip. At the time I tucked it away, and having re-read it I can see with some relief, my voice in my writing has stayed consistent and the quality of my writing has improved. I have retyped it here with some minor editing of some glaring (to me) word choices.  I am choosing to share this in light of the terror attacks in Paris. Paris always has been and always will be a city of light for me.  I ran the Paris Marathon  and spent another lovely week there in April of 2004.  The French and the people of the world will rise against the hatred that comes from cowardly terrorists with love and light.  We will stand for Liberté, égalité, fraternité.

Turning thirty was anti-climatic and life altering at the same time. By now I should have expected that, since most things in my life are paradoxical, but that is another story. The night of my thirtieth birthday at a rather late hour, I finally sat down to dinner with my dad. My mom was in the hospital unexpectedly (they were supposed to be in Charleston with me celebrating my milestone) . Instead I had rushed to Virginia. I don’t know why, but for some reason on the rare occasions that dad and I spend time alone he has this need to impart pearls of wisdom. Perhaps since I am still single he feels responsible or maybe because I am an only child he puts his “would-haves” on me. Regardless, as we dug into our Moo Shoo Pork, he focused on how my energies seemed to concentrate on work and not enough on play. “Go somewhere” he urged, telling me about a young guy in his office who had gone to Spain for a long weekend. “Who knows, maybe I’ll go to Paris” I responded rather flippantly.

In the weeks that followed the seeds for that conversation spread like passion flower vine in a lowcountry garden. I dreamed about it awake and asleep. So two months later tickets purchased and plans made, I called my dad to tell him a bout my week long adventure I had planned for the following April. I was somewhat surprised when his response was “You’re going alone?!” In fact that was the typical response I got usually followed by the comment, “How brave of you.” Undaunted I studied guide books, I brushed up on my lapsed French with tapes in the car and subjected my dog to one-sided French conversations.  I watched movies and read books set in Paris.

Finally when the day arrived and I strapped myself into the seat taking me from Charleston to an airport with a plane that would take me across the ocean, a little panic set in.  What was I thinking, could I really spend a week alone in a foreign city?”  On the second plane my fear intensified, I almost got off the plane.  What stopped me was a handsome Frenchman who sat down next to me. Over the course of the flight we had many conversations and when we landed he navigated me quickly through customs and on to the train. When his stop approached I asked him for any last words of wisdom. He laughed and said, “Don’t trust other Frenchmen as you have trusted me.”

My stay in Paris was truly magical. April in Paris is so much more than a cliché. The cherry blossoms drifted down around Notre Dame like snowflakes. The tulips in the gardens were like brilliant jewels in green velvet boxes. The architecture and the shop windows were greater than expectation, to take it all in was sensory overload. My hotel was on the left bank and my window looked right out onto the Seine with a view of the Louvre on the other side. I walked everywhere, not wanting to miss a single lamppost or side street window box. My observation skills were in fine tune and I kept my journal on me at all times so I could pause and write my impressions in the moment.

The museums were spectacular, I highly recommend the intermusee pass which lets you in all the major museums and monuments without having to wait in line. At the Musee de Orsay I was able to get in an hour before the general public, I had the top floor virtually to myself. I spent a day and a half in the Louvre, taking in vast treasures, more impressive than the oversold Mona Lisa and Winged Victory. I climbed to the top of the Arch de Triomphe, cruised the Seine, listened to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in Saint Chapelle and enjoyed jazz at a swank left bank club. I enjoyed conversations with strangers and the food from the street to fine establishments was superb. Paris exceeded my expectations and gave me a gift, the gift of growth.

When it came time to leave, I reluctantly boarded the plane, a week was simply not enough. On return to my life in Charleston, I realized the trip had been more than a vacation, it was a life-altering event.  I reconnected to myself, to my confident and independent self. I could travel alone and savor the experience. I awakened the spirit of adventure and creativity that I had some how lost in my twenties while trying to become who I thought I was supposed to be.  I had found myself in Paris and I can hardly wait to plan my next trip!

Re-typing this makes me so want to plan a trip somewhere! I was blessed to spend time in Paris again as well as Dublin and London since that trip and I have a bucket list of trips at the ready.  One of the benefits of travel is your mind and heart open to the world. As a child we lived in Europe for a few years and I was traipsed through many countries, but that first adult trip, my solo trip to Paris will live in my heart, VIVE LA FRANCE!

Kicking Into High Gear

The outward sign of my internal awakening

The outward sign of my internal awakening

I have been in the midst of a transformation of sorts.  For friends who have known me a long time, they will recognize it as my once a decade tendency to shake things up.  I did it in my 20’s and my 30’s so it should not come as a surprise it is happening again in my 40’s.  The catalyst this time, too many deaths in a short period of time.  It made me stop and think about what I have done with my life so far, but more importantly what I want to do with my life going forward.  After all I can’t change what has past, but the future is full of possibility. I have often said I plan to live to be 100, I recently changed that to 108, I have decided I want to see America’s 300th birthday, after all I remember the 200th, the summer before my 8th birthday.

So what do I want the next 61 years to look like?  I am not completely sure, but I do know I want to fill each day with people who matter not things.  I want to travel again, I used to do a lot more of it.  I want to spend more time doing social things with fun and interesting people and treasure the tried and true friends of which I am blessed to have many. I want to be a light in the world,  give more than I take, to see the best in others and celebrate the blessings that are in the everyday. I want to forgive and be forgiven, I want to meet all challenges with love, compassion and can-do spirit. The really beautiful thing about transforming this time Is being over forty which brings with it the advantage of being comfortable in my own skin.  I have re-lit my inner light, I don’t think it really went out, it was just down to a flicker because I did not tend it.  Lately it seems it has gone from a lone candle to a roaring bonfire.

The outward signs are new clothes, refreshed make-up and the joy I am told I emanate on a daily basis, despite anything negative that swirls around, professional or personal. Even my boss has complimented me on my attitude. My new red boots are a symbol of the inner confidence and positive attitude I feel. How I came to get them is a bit of serendipity.  I came upon them quite by chance, fell immediately in love and then it got even better, a sale and an extra discount just available that day! I swear I could hear Darius Rucker singing in my head. If ever a girl was meant to have a pair of boots . . . pure serendipity.

I am still grounded by my values and my faith, I would even say my faith has given me the freedom to transform to be more and the assurance the path to do so will be travelled with me by my better angels.  The future holds great things, hopefully a writing career to transition into as my teaching years eventually draw to a close (sometime in the next decade). But more than a career path or the gains the future holds, I want to make sure I don’t lose what this moment in time has given.  I do not want to slip back into complacency by going through the motions or settling for less than what is possible.  Each day is a gift whether I have a few more or thousands more to live.  I want to put on my red boots, walk with some sass in my step and kick myself forward.  So grateful for this wondrous life and the opportunity I have each day to live it fully with love.

B.Y.O.G and B.Y.O.H, Are you all in?

My B.Y.O.G. Shirt

My B.Y.O.G. Shirt

The Clemson Tiger head coach is an awesome coach, not because he is in the middle of a winning season, but because he gets what it takes to be all in.  Recently he was reported to have told his players, that even though he could teach them the finer points to the game of football and design plays and hold the players accountable for practice, what he could not do for them was the very thing the players would need to win each game.  The players themselves had to bring their own guts and heart onto the field with them, they had to be all in. While this was a great inspiration for the sports field I heard it as an even better inspiration for life. I believe this is an essential truth  The opportunities we are given via education, the experiences we gain in working a career path, The complicated dance of give and take, ups and downs we have in the many kinds of relationships we have with other human beings are not enough if we don’t bring the guts and the heart to our lives and how we live them.  To be fully engaged and reap the biggest blessings we have to be all in.  That means doing the hard work with passion and purpose.  It means caring for and loving others even when they can’t give you the same level in return at this moment.  It means having patience with a child even when they are being difficult.  It means going the extra mile for a client, or student or co-worker.  All in is putting your best out there with perseverance, determination, and love.  You have to be brave, take risks and make sacrifices.  But isn’t it all worth it?  If you are all in, you will get the max out of this beautiful life you have been given.  The romans were on to something with their motto, Carpe Diem! Seize the day, and do it with all that you have, with all of your guts and most importantly all of your heart. I vow to live this life B.Y.O.G. and B.Y.O.H., I am all in.

Roll With The Tide

The waves on Isle of Palms, South Carolina

The waves on Isle of Palms, South Carolina

This past Saturday I went out to the beach for a walk.  I often do this but I particularly enjoy this time of year, when the temperature is moderate and the bulk of the tourists are gone.  I love to walk and reflect sometimes alone, sometimes with a friend and even though a walk on the beach can’t solve the world’s problems or mine for that matter, I always leave the beach happier than when I arrived. This Saturday I had many things on my mind, from my fellow South Carolinian’s  who have suffered in the floods, specific friends who have shared their burdens with me and the night before I learned my mother’s best friend’s son had passed away after a battle with cancer. I did not know him well, both he and his brother were quite a bit older than me, but I have fond memories of when he was in chef school bringing over his professional knife set to teach my mama and I about them.  I also have memories of our two families getting together over the years for various holidays and meals.  I ache for his mama, she has been his primary care giver these last months and a few years ago she lost her husband to cancer as well. I prayed for her as I walked along.

When I look out at the ocean I am always struck by its vastness and in correlation my smallness in world. Yet I find the ocean as a strong connecting force between me and this creation we live in.  The water in the ocean is soothing and calming to the soul, in such contrast with the record-breaking rain and flood waters that have turned so many lives in my beloved state upside down.  Yet despite that upheaval I keep hearing story after story of hope, faith and goodwill much like after the church shooting this summer and my heart fills. South Carolinian’s rise to the occasion and set the loving example at every challenge.  As I thought about all these things I realized I had reached Breech Inlet (For non-locals, that is the water that separates the barrier islands of Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s) and I had started at the pier, the only way back was the way I had come.

So I turned around and focused my thoughts on prayers for those unknown to me but suffering in this world and to those known to me and who I love.  I was passing by a trio of children playing with an object in a newly forming tidal pool, the current was swirling and two of the children were frustrated that they could not get the object to go where they wanted it to go. The third child said, “Hey, guys it is going to go where the current wants it to go.”  That innocent comment was an “Aha” moment in my thoughts.

If like me you believe we have a divinely directed life path, then you understand that despite detours we might take, or road blocks we encounter we end up where we are meant to in the end.  That path is directed by an unseen current, a tide if you will.  We get in trouble when we try to fight that tide with our fears, doubts or when we listen to naysayers instead of listening to our hearts (That is where I believe the divine speaks to us). Doesn’t it make much more sense to feel out the divine current that is guiding and us and float with it?  As I reached the pier again and made my exit from the beach, I felt renewed and calm. I took one last look over the water and some sunlight danced and dazzled over the waves, what a gift to live by the ocean!  I plan to just roll with the tide, I have faith it will take me where I am meant to be.

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.