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.