Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Reward In Print

The first time my words were in print, they were literally in print - handprinted by me at the age of nine (see my blog entry of September 28, 2008 titled First Journey).  I was hooked.  In high school, I saw my name in a byline for the first time in my school paper.  I wanted more.

Whether it has been a press release I wrote for my employer, an article in a trade journal under my name, or a piece in a magazine, seeing my work in print never ceases to be exciting.  I covered this subject in a previous blog as well: August 26, 2010's Validation.

A few days ago, I experienced that excitement in a whole new way.  For the first time, my literary efforts are in published form in a hardbound book.  I've been anticipating the sight of the brown UPS van appearing in front of my house for weeks.  When that happened the other day, I knew that the box the carrier was bringing to my doorstep held the complimentary copies of that anthology from the publisher.

Staring at the cover, then carefully turning to the table of contents and seeing my name next to my story title sent a visible shiver through my body.  And turning to the pages that presented my essay evoked happy tears and a huge grin.  The only downside to the moment was that I was at home alone.  My husband was working, so were my son and daughter-in-law, no neighbors were home, and I knew my best girlfriend was also at work.  I grabbed my cell phone and dialed my daughter's number and was rewarded when she answered and I could share my elation.

It's odd to me how much this has increased my motivation to get my novel completed  - and accepted by a publisher.  I'm continuing in earnest on that path.  Occasionally, I'll glance over at the bright red cover of Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Gift of Christmas and it renews my desire to jump that next hurdle.  I'll let you know when I get there.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Alex's Day

Our grandson Alex's birthday has always had special meaning to me, and yesterday was no exception.  He turned fifteen and, as I do every year on his day, I was reminded of the joy he brought back to our family with his birth.

We had lost my mother just two months before and I was separated by both grief and geography from my daughter as she awaited the arrival of her first child.  As her due date approached, I traveled from Virginia to Florida to stay with my dad and fulfill my daughter's request that I be present when she went into labor.

Alex was in no hurry to come into the world.  I can remember walking the hospital floor with Dawn at 3 a.m., in an attempt to awaken Alex from a nap he decided to take after labor had begun.  It wasn't until the following evening that he finally graced us with his presence.  My tears clouded my first view of him but they were tears of joy: for me, for my daughter and her husband, and for the unexpected lifting of my heart at the sight of this tiny, perfect being.

I've been lucky because, except for the first couple of months of his life, he has spent his years within moments of our house; one year actually in our house.  And, as he's grown into the young man who never ceases to surprise us with his insights and sarcastic wit, I've gained a treasure chest of memories.  He is a survivor, a lover of music and words, and someone who has always reminded me of me because of his quiet manner and introspection.

I don't mean to imply that he's always quiet.  He and his brother, Chris, are endless sources of laughter and physical craziness.  He isn't the perfect child - no child is, but I wouldn't want him any other way.  And Alex's serious side, when he seems to mirror my inner self at that age, touches me and furthers my belief that he is destined to do great things.

So, here's to Alex:  I know we celebrated last weekend with you when you came to visit, and we wished you a great day by phone yesterday, but I wanted to add these thoughts before your birthday fades into memory.  You were the first person to lift me out of the saddest period of my life, and ever since, you've made my life grander with your explorations of the world that you've shared with me.  Your grandfather and I love you and wish for you everything you wish for.  Never stop believing in your dreams because you have the brains, the drive and the personality to make them all realities.  So once again: Happy Birthday, Alex, and many, many, many more!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Getting Away

My husband and I just spent a much-needed getaway weekend to celebrate our anniversary.  We drove about 150 miles from home, through picturesque farming country in rolling hills, and discovered the historic town of Galena, Illinois.  It's a destination we've talked about visiting for several years, and we certainly weren't disappointed.

The town's importance is centered around the fact that Ulysses S. Grant lived there at one time (his house is a museum), and the Main Street reflects the architecture and time of the mid- to late-1800's.  It winds for several blocks and its shops and restaurants and other places of historical interest are plentiful and charming.

A foot bridge away, over the Galena River, we found the bed and breakfast that was to be our overnight rest, and we weren't disappointed there, either.  The hostess was delightful, and very knowledgeable about the history of her home, and other guests became instant friends as we shared stories while seated on the wraparound porch of the 14-room mansion.

A romantic, candlelit dinner at a multi-story Italian restaurant suited us perfectly, and back at the bed and breakfast, we stayed up late chatting with our new friends in the Victorian parlor.  Next morning was the same at a large trestle table in the kitchen while we enjoyed a sumptious meal.  We had lunch in the tavern of the hotel where Grant had his presidential campaign headquarters.  Then, we walked, shopped and explored some more.  By mid-afternoon, we were on our way home, revitalized and full of tales to tell everyone about Galena.

I recount all of this in order to suggest that these flights from our everyday stress and demands are more important than ever in our current society.  Throughout the two days, we were met with constant reminders of gentility, kindness,  and just plain fun -  that we either ignore or find absent in our daily lives.  Just revelling in the beauty and history around us gave us a new outlook for returning to "the norm".

Bottom line: everyone should do this - on a regular basis.  I believe we're all too involved in a milieu of distractions (many of which I personally consider unnecessary) that remove us from the beautiful and simple pleasures that still abound in our complex world.  Please: seek one out - and relax!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Unnecessary Pressure

During the summer, I got constant inquiries about when my novel would be finished.  Those close to me knew it was nearing the end of its final revision, so I'm sure they were championing my intent to get the manuscript into the hands of possible agents ASAP.  Others, I'm sure, were just being polite, knowing how long I've been at this project and wondering if it would ever be done.

I had already placed pressure on myself to finish the revision by a certain date.  That would have been a good working plan, had I just been editing what I'd already written.  However!  The last ten chapters of the book are actually being almost totally re-written.  New dialogue, total chapters deleted, a couple of new ones added, characters have been more carefully defined, and a different ending has already formed in my head.  That takes much more time but it is all to the good as I now feel the book works (and I didn't have that belief before).

The result of all this is that I've made the decision to just keep at it, and stay on the path that I know is going to give me the best end result.  I realized that I was succumbing to all this unnecessary pressure that had nothing to do with producing the work I've imagined.  I know I'm nearing the end, and the impulse to hurry and be done is a normal one - but not the best one.

When I'm not at my keyboard pursuing that eventual finish, I'm already forming my next book in my head.  I have a folder for it where I keep filing notes and ideas, and I'm excited to start it.  But, for now, my working time is well spent on this first effort.  I'll be sure and let you know when I've typed The End.

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Most Special Remembrance

I can still hear her voice.  The tone had a richness that is difficult to forget, her words were never rushed, and seldom uncontrolled.  She never gave advice unless it was asked for, but when I did request it, I always grew wiser as a result.

Her laugh is still in my sensory memory too.  She found humor in the antics of her grandchildren, or the family dogs.  She would chuckle reading the words of Erma Bombeck, and delighted in sharing her favorite passages aloud.  A good sitcom on TV, a tasteful joke, even a giggle at her own expense are moments I gratefully recall.

Her talents as a seamstress knew no bounds; from school dresses that were the envy of my friends, to a Snow White costume for Halloween, my first pair of bermuda shorts (every girl had to have a pair!), or a designer-style prom gown with yards and yards of organza accented with handmade silk flowers.  My wardrobe, and later those of our children, contained  examples of her giving expression.

Giving.  It's a word I use frequently when I talk about her.  She was never too tired or too busy to give whatever time was needed for her family, her friends, her church, or her employers.  I still wonder how she managed it all, and, thinking back to my younger years, I feel somewhat guilty about all I asked of her.  When you're a child, though, you always want your mother to be there for you - and mine always was.

Today marks the 92nd year since her birth.  I would give anything if I could celebrate this day with a cake and a special dinner as I used to, and as she always did for all of us.  But I haven't been able to do that for 16 years now.  She left this earth way too soon - all the women in her family live long and active lives (her mother survived her by five years and was almost 100). 

I miss her every day.  I talk to her picture that hangs on my study wall sometimes, when I just need to do that, and, in my mind, I can hear her reply.  I hope that mental voice never fades.  I know, because I believe in such things, that her presence is near.  If only I could have her arms around me once again, though.  That would be the best.

Tonight, I'll share a toast to her memory, recall a favorite moment, and likely shed a tear or two, as I whisper, "Happy Birthday, Mom".  I know she'll hear it - and smile.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


As a writer, I am often asked, "Where do you get your inspiration?"  This always evokes a smile from me because the truthful answer is that I never run out of inspiration; it's everywhere!  And any good writer knows this.

It doesn't just come from interesting people I meet.  It also comes from people I observe (and if you're a good writer, you're constantly watching other people and getting ideas!)  It doesn't just come from places I visit.  It also comes from the million and one discoveries I make when I travel.  And it doesn't just come from the things that surround my life.  It comes from the way my brain processes those things, turning them into unique storytelling props.  My point is that, as a writer, I can never turn off my brain to the possibility of a story about anyone, anywhere, or anything.

In another way, stories I read can inspire me to take it a step further and create something new from what I've learned.  Bookshelves line the walls of our house with books I read over and over.  Not a week goes by that I'm not walking the shelves of the local library in search of a reading adventure. And a bookstore is my favorite place to while away an hour or two.  I read fiction, of course, to keep up with what others in my field are writing.  I read history, sometimes for research, but mostly just to learn.  I love biographies and autobiographies, books about places I've traveled to, or hope to travel to someday, guidebooks on gardening, needlecraft, nature, and cooking.  I never can predict what I'll come home with in my book bag, and I always have a stack of books next to my bed, and another in my study.  It's my belief that you can't be a good writer if you don't read!  And I love doing it.  It was a major part of my life long before it became a necessary part of my professional life.

I keep a notebook in my purse, notepads all over my house, a writing desk at my bedside.  The purpose of all these is not to miss an idea, a story proposal, a quote I might hear, or a quick thought about a story that, if not written down, might be lost forever.  An "Ideas" file next to my keyboard is where I deposit all these notes, and I refer to them weekly.  There's always something there to get my creative juices flowing.

In the final analysis, I know that I'll never run out of ideas, just out of time to put them all on paper.  If writing is a passion, as it must be, then that should be the reality of my life.  That's my inspiration.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Although it's nice to have friends and family read what you've written and make acclimations bordering on Pulitzer critiques, a serious writer has to take such loving praise as just that, and look elsewhere for true validation of their work.

Writing groups, like mine which is stellar, can help with that.  They validate my work when it's warranted, but they are also brutally honest when I don't hit the mark, and they provide supportive criticism and suggestions which I find immeasurably helpful.

The most satisfying validation, however, comes in the form of an e-mail or letter from a publisher stating that they are going to publish your work.  I received one of those recently, and it has spurred me to work harder, edit better, and stretch myself creatively.  I'm really happy to announce that a story of mine, Our Spirit of Christmas, will be published in the upcoming Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Gift of Christmas, coming out in October.  It will be my first story in a book, rather than a magazine or regional paper, so this is big for me.  And this is a personal essay about my mother's gift to our family, so it means a great deal to me to have this story read worldwide, in a publication I've admired for years.

My point in this post is not to laud my most recent triumph - although I did want my readers to be aware of it - but to emphasize to those writers struggling with their own personal doubts to keep at it.  Read, take classes, attend seminars, join a writer's group - whatever it takes for you to get motivated.  It's true that the more you know about writing, the less you can tolerate bad writing, whether it's yours or someone else's.  You become more discerning, and, in that way, your writing becomes better.  Once you learn how to embrace that critic inside you as you write, you'll find that utmost validation coming your way more often.

In the last year, I know I have matured as a writer.  This most recent story acceptance does confirm that.  With that in mind, I'm back at my novel.  When I send it to agents, I want the confidence in knowing that it's good enough.  These last 50 pages will make or break the book, and I can't hurry that process.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Still At It!

With my concentration totally focused on finishing my book, I hope I haven't lost all the readers of my blog.  I could understand that happening, when I've only made one entry in nearly two months.  But I'm praying there's still some out there reading this who will empathize with my harried schedule and my unwavering dedication to finishing this book and hang in there with me.

Back in June, I did a post called Back At It.  Well, for you loyal followers, I'm still at it!  Those last 150 pages are now the last 65 pages, and the road is harrowing!  I've done much more re-writing than anticipated.  I'm pleased with those rewrites, but they spark even more rewriting because the final chapters of my book are changing considerably.  Not the basic story, but the characters, the dialogue, the way I let the reader in on the last pieces of the plot puzzle. 

All of this takes time: time to edit the old work, time to re-plot, re-organize and lay out just how each and every detail must fit, make sense, and be intriguing to a reader.  In doing all this, I'm growing as a writer.  I'm getting better at self-editing and, in reading my revised chapters to my writing group, I've gained insight into some important character points that still escaped me and, when corrected, strengthened the work.

So, I'm back on my blog again - seriously.  I think writers might gain some tips on how to revise.  My non-writer readers will know I'm still alive and working.  And I will regain the discipline of getting up several  mornings a week to post here.  I owe that to those who have stuck with me.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Friends And Birthdays

I keep notes on my kitchen calendar, on my study calendar, and in the planner I carry with me - all to remind me about birthdays and other special observances.  It's always been important to me to let a friend or family member be aware, on their particular day, that I am thinking about them and wishing them well.

Today, for example, my best friend is celebrating a birthday.  We live hundreds of miles apart, and, though we talk on the phone and through e-mails constantly, I've made sure to send her a card in the mail, as well as an e-mail message, and I'll call her later when she's home from work.

I know that she knows she is a unique and important person in my life.  With her, I never feel uncomfortable about revealing my innermost thoughts and ideas to her.  And I know she shares the same with me.  But our relationship is also one where we laugh - a lot - about so many of life's peculiarities (many of them in our own family life!)

Life today moves at a pace that overwhelms each and every one of us.  Right now, I'm dealing with that pace on a stress level that leaves me exhausted at times.  BUT!  I hope I never get so involved in the day-to-day distractions that I forget to mark a loved one's special day.  And I'd like to recommend this discipline.  Trust me; it's as rewarding to the giver as it is to the recipient.  And it puts your priorities in perspective - and that's always a good thing for me.

So, Holly, if you read this today, know that you've given me a gift today on your day.  Thanks - and I love you.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Back At It!

There have been some medical issues regarding my husband (all is well; just exams and tests) that have prevented my working much on my novel, but I'm back at it today.

I did do some minor revision work earlier this week, on the two chapters I presented at my writing group on Sunday.  However, we did discuss some additions to those chapters that I will be finishing today.  Both of them are emotion-filled, as well as pivotal to taking the book in a new direction toward its end, so I have to be certain to get it right.

At this point, getting it right is important for every chapter.  I want to complete this revision confident that I can peddle it to agents.  I have 150 pages that fit that mold; now I have to do the rest.

As I said in an earlier post, emotional passages are the hardest to write.  You have to distance yourself from the material to make sure the technical aspects are done correctly, but you also have to immerse yourself in the emotions, then decide how to convey that to the reader without telling them what to feel as they read.

I've actually gone ahead in the book, and worked on some easier chapters; ones that occur after the directional turn in the story - because they were solid writing for the most part and didn't require as much editing.  But today, I'm determined to get these two important chapters completed.  Once I've done that, I think I will move much more quickly. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Knocked Off Track - Temporarily

I'm back at work this morning, but it's so easy to get sidetracked by life's interruptions.  For example, on Sunday, my husband and I both decided we needed our own personal day of rest, so we slept in, ate breakfast in bed while reading the Sunday Tribune, then walked and window-shopped at a nearby outdoor mall, drinking in the cool breezes, the summer blooms and the purchasing public.

Sometimes, these distractions can help your writing.  I'm always looking at strangers as possible characters for my next story.  Same with settings.  Overheard remarks are sometimes written down for future use as well.  But, it's also good just to get away from your latest computer page that is staring back at you.

And then came Monday.  I won't give you the details of what knocked my creative side amok, but suffice it to say, it was unexpected and put a wrench into our already complicated financial life.  In the last two years, we have experienced more than our fair share of problems in that respect; our whole family has.  Due to having creative vocations that are not rewarded during a blinding recession, such as the one we're still recovering from, fianancial stability has become an unknown entity.  In this stage of my life, that can be even more unnerving - as it was yesterday.

My saving grace, however, is that I am married to a man who always sees the rainbow after the rain.  His words of comfort and purpose yesterday were right on the mark, and emphasized why we are such perfect partners.  So, we have regrouped and, with unflappable resolve, we are back at our creative pursuits today. 

I know I wouldn't be so positive today were it not for the most special person in my life who takes on whatever challenge confronts him and seeks a solution.  In the process, he gives me strength and sets me back on a realistic, rather than a doomsday, path.  By day's end, I viewed the pinkish sunset from my study window and took it as an additional sign that we would weather this newest challenge together - we always have.

Friday, June 11, 2010

New Pages

No, I didn't forget that I was supposed to do my blog yesterday, as promised, but I was on some much needed R & R with my family in Wisconsin for the day, so please forgive the delay.

I did get some more new pages written on Tuesday and Wednesday.  I edited the chapters I presented to my writing group on Sunday, and got those ready for an agent's eyes, I think.  Then I moved on to an extremely emotional chapter (can't be more specific because I don't want to give away my story before you get to read it in print).  I'm actually writing an entire new beginning to this chapter to make it stronger, and that takes time when you're dealing with emotional content.

As a writer, you have to view your words from the reader's point of view.  My job is to put them in the character's shoes.  That takes lots of staring at a blank screen while I find the right words inside me that do just that, forcing myself to think about what that character is going through, what the setting is like, etc.  It took me a couple of hours to write a page.  Then, I leave it for awhile, come back and re-read it, analyze, correct grammar, edit, change, etc.  That's why this process takes so long; it's never right the first time - very rarely anyway!

So, I'm still working on that same chapter.  I'm eager to get on to the next section of the book that is already written much as I think it will remain.  But, I know if I don't get the current chapers right, the rest won't matter because no one will continue reading.

I'll be back with the next blog in a day or so.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Novel Progress

The novel has taken over my life!  That statement explains why my house is bordering on a raid by the board of health, my friends have given up my ever being social again, and my husband only recognizes me from the back as I sit at a computer keyboard. 

I'm lucky, though, because my friends and family are incredibly understanding and supportive.  I just hope you followers of my blog feel the same.  I've decided the only way to keep this blog alive is to post at least every other day and let you know what my progress is, what frustrations I'm having; basically the details of just what I'm up to that gives me no time for any other writing.

At present, I've just had an excellent writer's group session on Sunday where I presented two chapters - two leading up to a dramatic moment in the book, and I'm currently editing those chapters based on their critiques.  The best thing about a writer's group, if it's a good one like mine, is that you come away with an honest evaluation, some great insight from creative conversation, and, best of all, a fired-up motivation to get back to your work right away.

So, I'm finishing that, and later today and tomorrow, I will be working on editing an emotional and pivotal chapter that requires lots of quiet hours.  I'll explain more what that means in the next blog, hopefully, in a couple of days.  Thanks for hanging in with me.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Our Evening Walk

Since the onset of Spring, uncooperative weather, health issues and scheduling snafus have prevented R.J. and I from taking a walk in the early evening.  I miss that time each day when we can ignore our responsibilities for awhile, cover an unending list of pleasurable topics, and even get some need exercise  - although that isn't the main reason for the stroll.

It's a habit we began decades ago when we still lived in Florida.  In that tropical atmosphere, we would wait until sundown, and protect ourselves with insect repellent in order to ignore the humidity and the mosquitoes.  The years we spent in a Virginia valley afforded us views of mountain peaks, rippling creek beds and a neighborhood of classic architecture as we meandered the historic streets hand in hand.  And here in our Chicago suburb, we sometimes have to don a jacket, even in the summer, when cool winds come from the North.

The best thing about the evening walk is the opportunity to focus on what's all around us: trees that shade us and lean across the streets, gardens of flowers and shrubs that lend color to a background of green, bunnies hopping across the warm grass, birds flitting from tree to tree, and the activities and sounds of kids playing in their yards.  In the busyness of daytime, all this ordinary splendor is often unseen as I rush past in the car on the way to work or shopping or errands.  Taking it all in, and enjoying it with my best friend in life, forces me to pause and appreciate a simple joy.

Sometimes our dogs, Molly and Shayla, join us, straining at their leads at first until they realize that the purpose of this outing is a relaxing one.  Then, we have to pause numerous times as they investigate a patch of grass or a tree trunk that attracts their noses.  Those walks take longer, but we don't mind.

From my study window, I watch people passing during the day.  There are groups of children, loaded down with backpacks on their way to school, commuters hurrying to catch their train to the City, and others taking their dogs for their daily exercise.  It makes me sad to see most of them with cell phones in hand or headsets in their ears.  They can't seem to divorce themselves from technology and take in what's around them.

It's even more important to do that these days.  We all need moments of quiet contemplation, to just relax without any intrusion by all the devices that seek to demand our attention.  I wish I could urge everyone to schedule time for an evening walk.  I know my husband and I can't wait to get back at it.  Trust me, it redirects your priorities - for the better, I think.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Theatre Shadows

Recently, my writing group was critiquing a scene in a chapter of my novel involving my main character's preparation to take the stage in a play.  Two members of our group are actors, but the other three have no experience in the backstage world, so the questions and suggestions were varied, but all of them agreed that I needed to give the reader more.

I worked on the paragraphs for an entire afternoon and, thinking I'd done what they'd suggested, I asked one member - a fellow actor - to read the altered scene.  He said he thought I could still do more.  As I sat staring at the computer screen that presented the words I needed to make better, it suddenly hit me:  what I have taken for granted most of my life is alien to many people - the shadows of the theatre and what they mean to an actor.

Since I was first on the boards at the age of seven, and have hardly known a year of my life that hasn't involved acting, dancing, directing, managing or producing, everything about the world of theatre is as second nature to me as breathing.  That's what made writing the scene so hard - I needed to stand back from it and view it through a reader's eyes; a reader who understood nothing about the situation.  I had to not only give them a visualization of the scene, but put them in the character's head so they could relate to her actions.

Standing on a silent stage, in the shadow of a set, anticipating the moment when audience and actor connect is unique and difficult to express.  I was surprised by how those paragraphs slowed me down.  It was so obvious to me that I made the biggest mistake a writer can - telling, not showing - and losing my audience.

A writer has an obligation, if they want their work to engage the reader, to keep revising until they get it right.  So I kept at it and, just like those theatre shadows that can reward an actor for all their preparation, I'm now satisfied that my words have finally woven into the right pattern that will put the reader where I want them; feeling what my character feels in that theatre.

Monday, May 17, 2010

My Dad

As a boy, he didn't go to church.  I'm not sure when he began to attend services, but I'm sure my mother had something to do with it.  He always said he didn't have a life until she was in it.  I remember attending church with my parents as I was growing up, but it wasn't an every Sunday kind of thing.  It wasn't until I had a family of my own that my parents became regular church goers.  That's what sparked my memory yesterday as I sat in church, listening to the choir and recalling the many Sundays in his later life that my dad's voice was lifted in their church choir.

He was very proud of his service to the church, and of my mother being elected an elder there.  He never missed a Sunday to don his robe and sing.  After my mother died, he continued that habit and, at his funeral service, I was touched that the choir he had been a part of for many years sang a tribute to him.

What made me think of this yesterday was because it was the anniversary of his death.  Twelve years he's been gone from this earth.  I look at the photo of my mother and father every day, and still miss them both with an aching that can only be understood by those who have experienced the loss of a beloved parent.  I miss his laugh, his arms around me in a bear hug, and his words of fatherly wisdom.  He was a difficult man to live with; quick-tempered and stubborn, but I never doubted that he loved me - he showed me how in a myriad of ways that still bring tears to my eyes.

As I offered up a prayer in church yesterday, I thanked God for giving my dad the gift of song.  It was such a special part of his life, and I still imagine him singing up above.  That's an image that serves his legacy well. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Eye On The Prize

The title of this post might seem cliche but it fits me today because I've given myself a lecture on doing just that:  keeping my eye on the prize. 

It's so easy in this day of technological distractions to find myself filling days with tasks that do not lend themselves to my main creative focus.  I'm as guilty as the next person of checking my e-mail more often than necessary, logging on to Facebook with no particular objective or spending an hour playing online games.

I can also prioritize chores that do not really need my immediate attention.  The laundry, the errands, the house cleaning, the bills and office organization; all these keep me from my writing goals - goals I do want to reach.

Distractions can extend to the media as well.  Too much attention paid to the the latest political wrangling, the natural and human disasters that we face, or the dire economic chaos in our world can leave me beaten down and depressed.  Expending too much thought on those issues can lead to a negative outlook on everything, including my ability to succeed.

It takes a special kind of stamina to maintain a positive outlook, a proper focus and a schedule that results in results.  That's why the periodic self-lectures on positivity, focus and scheduling for results.  It helps me to have others - my family and my writing group are the main motivators - to push me onward in my creative quest.  But, most of all it's just me.

June 1 is looming.  It's my deadline to begin sending out agent queries on my novel.  To do that, the novel has to be complete to my satisfaction.  And I still have quite a bit of revision before that is accomplished, so there's never been a better time for one of my personal push lectures.  It renews my happy outlook on what can be - and that no one can make my dreams realities except me.  I love Laurence Olivier's outlook on it all.  He said, "I take a simple view of life: keep your eyes open and get on with it."  You see? - "eye on the prize" - it works.

Friday, April 30, 2010

It's Christopher's Day

As I walked out of the hospital, chirping birds heralded the morning and a sky of pink blanketed the crest of the mountains, yet the moon and stars were still visible.  My watch read 5:45 a.m. and less than an hour earlier, I had witnessed a new life enter the world.

That was thirteen years ago.  His name is Christopher Alan and today he marks his official entrance into the teenage years. He is our daughter's second son, and our middle grandson.  He has requested my special chocolate pie for his celebration, which has been postponed until Sunday because his family just got moved in to their new house in Wisconsin yesterday.   

It's easy to describe him as joyous.  Chris is always the first with a joke, or a pun, or a sarcastic retort, and he is never at a loss for words.  When not actually speaking, he uses my magnetic poety, on my fridge, to leave inventive sayings that only he understands.  He continually amuses himself by reminding me that he is now taller than I am, he is beginning to shave, and he loves to wear t-shirts with comical sayings such as "I tried to be good, but I got bored."

Funny thing, though - he is good. Maybe that's why the shirt is funny to me.  And he and his brother, Alex, bring fun and light and endless memories into our home.  And even though I applaud their move to a new and better future 90 minutes away, I will miss them spending every weekend with us.  They share their lives and young wisdom, and enrich us in so many ways.

That perfect Virginia dawn seems so long ago.  I know I've been lucky to be a continual part of Chris' life until now.  And I'm certain that he will share his future with us, and that prospect pleases me.  

So, here's my "Happy Birthday, Chris" moment for all the world to see:
Christopher, you never fail to make my day happier, to teach me something, or to strengthen my belief that you have much to give to the world when you grow up.  Never doubt your dreams - you will make them realities.  I'm sure of it.  Grandfather and I love you - and we'll be there Sunday with your birthday pie!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Month Flew By

It's been a month, I realize, as I stare at the date of my last post: how can that be?  Thinking back over the last four weeks - and being honest with myself - I know exactly how that can be.  Too many other responsibilities have gotten in the way of my commitment to this blog.  Let me explain.

There were writing deadlines.  First, I'm committed to having my book complete and being submitted to agents by June 1st.  That takes a lot of schedule wrangling and uses a lot of creative juices.  Second, I became intrigued with a writing contest and just submitted an entry I hope is a winner.   I should also mention that, even though it isn't a "deadline", for the past thirty-plus years I've tried to write daily in a personal journal - and that's been difficult to keep up with this past 30 days.

My mind was focused on personal issues.  Our daughter has been searching for a new home in a neighboring state, finally found what appears to be a perfect choice, and she and her family will be moving the first of May.  We support her reasons for this move, but it means major change: we've always been minutes apart physically, and working out home schooling details and other weekly family get togethers have occupied me.  Added to those concerns, the constant changing schedule of child care for our youngest grandson has meant juggling my time to write and, sometimes, sacrificing it.

We joyously escaped our routine.  My husband and I traveled to Louisville, and, for the better part of five days, we relaxed, shared, laughed, ate and drank with my best girlfriend and her family.  We hadn't been away from home in nearly a year and it was time more than well spent.  It is an Easter I'll never forget, and the memories stored in my brain will yield some further blogs, I have no doubt.

Most importantly, I've focused on my husband.  He has had some health problems that required numerous testing and I've gladly relinquished writing time to be there for him.  After hours of lost sleep, worry, consultation with doctors and time sitting nervously in hospital waiting rooms, I can report that the most serious of possibilities have been ruled out, and, last night he gave me the best news ever - he feels he's turned the corner and his strength has returned.  I've said lots of prayers during this time and, last night I said one of thanks.  Knowing that the most special person in my life is back in the game with me is definitely a reason for grateful words.

This morning I awoke to a blue, cloudless sky and the Spring rainbow of tulips just outside my front window.  Taking in the visual promises of new and positive signs of rebirth, I felt ready to make a new commitment to this avenue of words.  You'll be hearing from me more regularly now, I just know it.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Thoughts About Today

I awoke on this first day of Spring to tiny snowflakes falling, powdering the young blades of green grass, and the tulip buds that broke ground earlier this week.  First day of Spring?  Well, it is Chicago after all.

My thoughts today aren't really on the weather, though.  I've just completed the final revision on my father-in-law's eulogy.  My husband read the first draft and cried, so I guess I hit the right mark for it.  I hope Dad likes it.

This is our day to celebrate his life with our family and a few friends.  Dad's almost 90 years on this earth deserve such a celebration.  The words of my tribute today speak to that.  But this will be a hard day, too - a day to formally say goodbye.  This simple ceremony won't close the door to our emotions, though. 

We are all still coming to terms with our loss and it's hardest for R.J.  So, today we will find strength as a family, find strength in our faith, and strength from the comfort and condolence of friends.  But, having been through this parental loss myself, I do know what R.J. is feeling and I only hope my strength can continue to speak to his grief; a grief that lessens but never ends.

So, time to get ready to go to church.  I'm looking forward to letting Dad know how very much he meant to us all.  And, for those friends not here with us today, I know from all your kind words that you are here in spirit and that is treasured more than you know.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Writing A Eulogy

A memorial service is being held on Saturday for my father-in-law, who passed away a few weeks ago.  My husband has asked me to write a eulogy for him.  I wrote one for my mother, another for my dad when they left this earth.  Those were easier because I had shared my entire life with them as their only child.  Writing this one is proving harder, not because I don't have as much material, but because I have too much.

We have had condolence notes from friends who remember him fondly and share their memories, my husband has spoken to his father's sisters who shed their light on his life, our own family circle has contributed a lot of material as well, the lady in his life has touched us with her stories, and my husband can't stop telling me about all his father did to enrich his life.

My difficult task, then, is choosing what to include and what to edit.  All of it deserves to be said but that is impossible in the limited time I have to deliver this message.  So, it isn't the actual words to paper that are hard; it's which words.  I don't want to offend anyone by omitting a fond remembrance, and it is important to me that those attending the service know the full measure of his impact on this earth.

On Saturday afternoon, I will read this eulogy (at my husband's request again because he doesn't feel emotionally able to deliver it himself just now) and I hope that what I read will do justice to a man that I loved dearly and who loved me in return, for which I was blessed.  And now I must get back to the composition of it, and pray that I do him proud.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I'm Still Here

To those who regularly come back to this site, I must apologize - again - for my lapse in regular posts.  So much has been going on in my personal life, and my writing time (never as many hours as I'd like) has been completely devoted to finishing my novel.  In fact, I'll be going to that work as soon as I've published this post.

I just wanted my readers to know that I've "had a talk with myself" - a habit developed early as an only child and honed for many years to an artistry - about the need for carving out some time each week to put in print something from the myriad of thoughts that continually ramble through my brain.  I have a legal pad sheet on which I jot down ideas for this weblog, and I'm confident I'll never run out of them.  Time is my enemy, not lack of ideas.

So, I thank you for not giving up on me yet, and I assure you I haven't given up on me either.  I would say I long for more order in my life, but that would be a lie.  I love the crazy, undisciplined days I live and the family and friends I share them with.  But it does create guilt in my mind, at times, for what isn't accomplished.  Thus, the reason for this entry.  Don't give up on me; I'm still a work in progress.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Toast To The Stars

My husband grabbed his half-filled wine glass from the kitchen counter and headed outside. When I asked where he was going, he answered, "To give a toast to the stars." That morning, we had received the awful news that his beloved father had died, so I knew exactly what he meant. He came in several minutes later, with tears streaking his face.

It's never easy to lose someone you love, but when it's a parent, it's an unbeliveable sorrow. I experienced it in 1995, when my mother died, and again in 1998 with the death of my father. And, even now, I daily mourn their passing.

As a partner, you want to "make it better". In the past couple of days, I have embraced my husband, held his hand in church when I saw the sorrow in his eyes, wiped his tears, and talked with him. But I know that this is a sadness that will linger, getting easier to bear with time, but always there.

I thank God for loving family and friends who have sent touching messages and called to commiserate and to share memories. And there were many great stories to tell. He was the type of man who touched everyone's heart and left his imprint.

My father-in-law wasn't extraordinary by some standards. He was just a caring, hardworking, middle class male who worked hard to see that his family had the necessities of life. He liked to laugh, play the organ, fly model airplanes, read to his grandchildren, and help his three children with anything they asked of him.

In the last years of his life, he was a widower who found a special lady named Louise. The two of them danced every morning for exercise, spent social time with friends and planned for their future. Sadly, they only had two years to experience life together. It should have been more, for he declared he had never been happier.

Our daughter says it's hard for her to fathom that her parents are now the "heads of the family". That sounds odd to us, too. You just never imagine a world without your parents there for guidance and support - no matter how old you are or how old they get.

Last night, as our children and grandchildren gathered for a family wake, we reminisced about our favorite times with Dad and Grandpa. And, with laughter and tears, we raised our glasses and toasted to the stars. As I looked up, I'm sure I saw him smiling down at us - and that helped. Thanks, Dad.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Three Men I Admire - Who Inspire

Reading the title of this blog, I hope you don't think I have only three men in my life who inspire me; there are many, both part of my daily life as well as those I respect because of their work or good deeds. But, today, I'm speaking about the three who make up the male side of my writing group.

All three write with distinctively different voices, and I find all of their work well written and interesting to read. One has recently become a published author, and we cheer his success. When I'd entered this group, I was concerned that my style of writing wouldn't be accepted or critiqued honestly, but I have come to admire these three men because of their serious attention to my efforts. Let me explain.

As a general rule, men do not read character-driven women's fiction. My book develops from the reader's caring about what happens to the characters; in other words, the characters drive the story. That is different from the way plot-driven novels, such as those the men write, are constructed. To be honest, during some of our sessions, I have had to defend my writing because of this difference. But, even when they didn't exactly follow my writing path, they gave their honest attention to what I presented.

During our most recent session last week, however, I felt a break-through. We were critiquing a pivotal chapter in my novel, one I was nervous about. It was essential that the reader believe my characters because what happens influences major moments in the chapters to come. I'd worked on these pages extensively, but still needed a critical sounding board to know if I'd "nailed it".

The break-through from the men came when they each expressed emotions about the characters and their actions. For the first time, I felt they were really into where this novel is going, and were enjoying it. Such comments as, "I hope she breaks up with this guy" and "there's something about him - I'm not sure what - but I think she's smart enough to catch on to him soon" made me know I had hit a nerve. For men who don't read these kinds of books, they were hooked! And that meant, if I had captured their interest - and they were being led exactly where I wanted them to go in the reading - I had succeeded in more ways than one. It was the fuel I needed to keep going.

As I've explained in a previous post, this novel is being revised from one I've worked on for years. I believe in this book, but I always felt it needed more. I've been happy with how this latest revision work is proceeding, but to hear those enthusiastic words, from guys I respect - well - I couldn't be more inspired! So, now, back to work.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Another Year To Celebrate - And Remember

In the months leading up to my ninth birthday, I relished every shopping trip to the downtown Sears store in Miami because that was where I could stand in the bicycle department and covet the most beautiful bike I'd ever seen. It was a top of the line J.C. Higgins; blue and white, with red detailing. I knew my parents weren't able to afford it for me, but I could still imagine myself riding it in my dreams. I never shared this dream with them - or so I thought.

On my big day, my mother and dad explained that we had to go to Sears to get some tools my dad needed for his job. Once there, however, they walked me straight to the bike area where my secret desire on wheels stood. A salesperson approached us and, in shock - but grinning the entire time - I realized my parents were buying the bike for my birthday present! The only time I spoke was when my dad asked, "the man says they can deliver it tomorrow; is that okay with you?" I grabbed the handlebars and shyly asked, "Can't we take it home now?" I still hear my parents' laughter and my dad's words, "Well, sir, I guess we're taking it now!" Even more vivid in my brain is the image of me, walking my impossible dream come true across busy Biscayne Boulevard; my mom on one side, my dad on the other, traversing the crosswalk at a traffic light. In that moment, I was certain everyone viewing us thought I was the luckiest girl in the world! When I was older, my mother explained that my father had taken on extra jobs to get the money for that gift. It is a joyous birthday memory that needs no further explanation.

My twenty-first birthday holds an indelible memory, too, but one that was bittersweet. I was a newlywed of less than four months and had just spent Christmas in San Diego with my groom, who was stationed there with the Navy, soon to deploy for the second time to Vietnam. Only a few days before my birthday, we shared a tearful goodbye, him begging me to stay for my birthday and me, explaining that my parents had special plans for my twenty-first celebration and I couldn't let them down. I still remember looking out the plane window before the stairs were pulled away (this was before the days of enclosed loading ramps), seeing my husband's sad face as he waved to me, and feeling a strong desire to bolt down those steps and risk incurring my parent's disappointment. But the dutiful daughter in me prevailed and I felt the tears roll down my face as the plane taxied away from the terminal.

The welcome home, the gifts, the luxurious dinner at a skytop restaurant and all the happy tidings from family and friends were appreciated, but my longing to be back with my husband cast a cloud over it all. I was never able to hide my true feelings from my mother for long and she confronted me before bedtime. I surprised myself with my candor, having struggled for two days to keep my emotions inside. After she left me and I lay in bed crying, I could hear my dad from their bedroom, loudly asking, "Why didn't she stay there then? Why did she think she had to come home?" His tone was one of confusion, not condemnation. It was then that I realized I had mistakenly been thinking as a daughter first when I should have been thinking as a wife first and foremost. Within the week, my parents had given me the best birthday gift of all; a ticket back to California. Their understanding and forgiveness remain so strong for me. Decades later, I still recall their final hugs, smiles and words of support before I boarded that plane.

Today, I mark a milestone birthday and I feel extremely lucky to be celebrating with my family. Although my parents are no longer here to share with me, I know they are here in spirit. I still feel their love, laughter and good wishes because of the memories they created for me so long ago.