Thursday, May 31, 2012

Things I Know

Some things I know...

Empty rooms echo. Empty bathrooms echo louder.

Finishing a great book is both satisfying and sad.

An unexpected smile from a stranger can lift your mood for the entire day.

A new stove is a thing of beauty and can even inspire you to cook.

The scent of coffee in the morning is like ambrosia. They should bottle that scent.

There's nothing like falling asleep to the sound and scent of rain.

A sunny morning is a beautiful start to the day.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

By the Map

I've been invaded by maintenance workers, painters, and assorted other workers. Writing under the circumstances is impossible so I settled for map-making so I can update my website.

Some readers don't pay attention to maps when they're reading. Others (the real map people) love having a map to refer to when reading. I belong to that latter category. I collect maps. I have reference books about maps and cartography. I love maps.

Given my love of maps, it's natural for me to draw maps when I'm writing. Even a rough map helps me orient myself and make sure my characters aren't going north when they should be going south. A map also provides a physical documentation for the future if I decide to write more than one story in the same world.

Since I'm a creative type, it's a given that I have to color or paint or otherwise fancy up the maps. Who can resist coloring something when they have a fistful of crayons or markers or colored pencils?

All the new maps are up on the website so check them out by going to the series page or just click on the map!


Monday, May 28, 2012


Monday. Have you ever noticed there's just not a lot to say about Monday? It's the beginning of the week. A lot of people have just spent two days running around like crazy trying to get stuff done and they're tired and then...there's Monday.

In the USA, most of our "holidays" are on Monday by design so we have a three day weekend. I've always wondered why the powers that be picked Monday instead of Friday. Could it be that people are willing to work on Friday because it's payday? Hmmmm.

Today is Memorial Day in the USA so there are a bunch of people barbecuing and traveling home and other really not-fun stuff. For most of the country it's really hot and humid.

For me, this weekend has long been a day of private remembrance. Many, many years ago my mother died in car accident on the 29th of May. Am I still mourning? No. But each year I take a while to remember and appreciate those things she taught me in the few short years we were together. I pick through the memories I have (and every year it seems they are fading more).

Because of my self-imposed agenda for the weekend, I never travel and rarely even get in the car for the entire three days. I don't participate in the barbecuing/swimming/traveling orgy that fills the weekend, though I certainly don't begrudge others who do. It's good to get together with friends and family as often as we can.

Tomorrow for almost all of us, the week will begin. Work, school, and a myriad of other appointments will fill our time. Before we know it Friday will be here and we'll wonder where the time went.

Enjoy this Monday while you can. Once it's's gone.

Stay safe.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Art of Saying Goodbye

A friend and I were discussing the cultural differences from country to country in funeral practices. This weekend my daughter will be attending a funeral for one of her husband's family members. And this brought to mind some of my thoughts regarding funeral customs in America.

The first funeral I ever attended was my mother's funeral when I was ten. Some of those memories are as bright and sharp today as they were fifty-two years ago. She died May 28th in the middle of the night in a car accident in the lonely deserts of New Mexico. On June 1st she was buried in a sunny cemetery outside of Mesa, Arizona after a packed funeral at a Baptist church in Chandler. There were so many people attending that some stood outside for the service.

Much of that day is a blur of impressions. For me, they could have skipped the service, sang a few songs, and moved right to the graveside service. Actually, I'm still wondering after all these years why there's a long service at the church or funeral home prior to the graveside service?

How many ways can you say goodbye?

My favorite family story from a funeral was when my Grandfather Martin died very suddenly from a stroke during surgery. After the church service and graveside service there was a huge family picnic (because we are a numerous family--Grandmother was one of nine and Grandfather was one of thirteen--plus progeny). After the picnic they organized a softball game. AND Grandmother was the umpire. I was very little when he died but I have no trouble envisioning my Grandmother umping this family game after the funeral.

I have no doubt she grieved. None at all. But she had a spine of steel. And her grieving would have been done in private.

I can count on one hand all the funerals I've attended. For most of my married life, I've lived very far from my family--too far to attend most funerals.

I have some questions...

Why do we wait until someone's dead to make them a priority? Why not visit them when they're alive, instead?

Why, why, why is there a big service before going to the graveside? Why not just go there and be done with it?

Why not have a small graveside service for those who live nearby and then a big memorial get-together a few months later where people can relate their favorite memories of their loved one? Maybe even a picnic or barbecue...

How is one more respectful than another?

What do you think? How do you say goodbye to a loved one?


Friday, May 18, 2012

Mismatched Undies

When retirement and physical limitations confine you mostly indoors, things can get...boring. One of the ways I amuse myself is making sure my clothing is coordinated--from the skin out.

Imagine my dismay when faced with the dilemma yesterday--purple shorts and top with no matching undies. What to do? Finally, tickled at my obsession with the matching issues, I settled on lime green underwear.

In my youth, things were simple. The choice was white cotton. For those with money, it was possible to purchase black. I remember an assembly all the girls were required to attend when I was in high school. One of the points the speaker made was never wear black underwear beneath white outer garments. All the girls in the audience were moaning, "Ewwww," when a model came on the stage to demonstrate. I wonder what would happen today?

I would add the caveat to never go commando under white outer garments. I have a vivid memory of a woman caught in a rain storm... but I digress.

When I was a young married woman, beige and pale pink and blue underwear was introduced. Panties with teeny little flowers were also available. Women everywhere thought they were the epitome of sexy because we had colors. Then the name brands added lace. Oh, my.

By the time Victoria's Secret came along, I was too well-endowed to wear their offerings. Fortunately, some of the other top brands were willing to offer a wide variety of underpinnings for the more womanly figure.

Now, comfort is more important to me. I've come full circle--back to the cotton undies. But color is important. No whites for me. Nope, I wear hot pink, turquoise, red, lemon yellow--and yes--lime green. With purple shorts and shirt.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Before Social Media

Back in the dark ages, before the Internet, computers, social media, etc., readers learned about books by word of mouth. For the young whippersnappers out there, word of mouth was when one person finished the book and raved about it to all their friends--via the telephone and face-to-face encounters. Certain authors made out very well on the word of mouth circuit--Danielle Steel, Rosemary Rogers, Kathleen Woodiwiss, and LaVryle Spencer to name just a few.

Bookstores and publishers issued brochures with information about up-coming releases. Readers followed their favorite authors with panting eagerness. And when a new book appeared in the bookstores, it was devoured with glee. It was a happening!

If a reader really loved a certain author's books, they could write a real letter to the author and generally they would receive a real letter in return--often in the author's own handwriting! In my twenties I received letters from several of my favorite authors, letters that individually addressed subjects I mentioned in my letters to them.

While I would be the first to appreciate electronic/digital books (primarily because I can adjust the font so I can actually read them without squinting), I'm not so sure the big social media circus has enhanced the rest of the reading experience.

I rarely receive a personal recommendation for books from another reader. And those I receive are all too often of the I-scratch-your-back, you-scratch-mine variety. Everyone seems to believe if they mention their book on Facebook, Twitter, or some other electronic billboard, that will do it.

With the white noise and tsunami of digital books threatening to engulf the market, I find myself withdrawing to the safety of those authors I'm familiar with and know I'll enjoy. I'm re-reading the books already on my virtual and actual bookshelves. And my dollars are going to replacing those I've read so often they're falling apart.

What would happen if we went back to the old way--passing on our personal recommendations when we finished a book we truly enjoyed? I don't know. But in this case, I really miss the old days...


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Gift Parent

On a clear cool night a little more than fifty years ago, my mother died in a car accident on a lonely two lane road in New Mexico. I was ten years old and I had three younger brothers.

By the time my father remarried about fourteen months later, I was one unhappy little girl. In that period, we had moved from Arizona to Indiana--and then moved again. I was attending my second school in one year. I was mad. I was still grieving. And as often happens in such cases, my brothers and I were suffering from a lack of consistent discipline and attention.

Enter the brave soul who dared to take us on!

A step-parent has a very special role. Often they "step" into a situation fraught with chaos and pain. Initially, they may not possess much power to change those things that need to be changed. And through it all, they have to keep on keeping on. Meals have to be served. Clothing has to be cleaned. And kids have to go to school.

I call step-parents Gift parents. And I have one of my own. This year she celebrated her eight-third birthday. This year she and my dad celebrated fifty years of marriage. She has staying power.

When I brought my own children home from the hospital, she was the one who loved them and served as their Grandma. When they had birthdays, she was the one that sent them a card with a balloon and two pieces of gum inside--no matter where we lived in the country.

Today on Mother's Day, she lives 1800 miles away and I sit at home, unable to offer more than a phone call, a card, a wish that we lived closer. That, too, is part of the mothering deal...letting your children go to make lives sometimes far away. I know. My children are spread out in three different states, none near me.

I've been blessed by the two women who mothered me. They gave me a good start on life. For all they did, for all they hoped or dreamed, I give thanks. Happy Mother's Day to my moms!


Friday, May 11, 2012

Less Than Perfect

Every morning the house hunk makes breakfast. Most mornings it's just fine. Occasionally, the toast is a bit crunchy or the eggs are a tad underdone. Once in a while the bacon is...overdone. But most days, it all comes together. That's life.

Recently read a book by Nora Roberts. The hero was babysitting for the heroine's little boys. Dinner involved a food fight with spaghetti and meatballs. Tears and spaghetti sauce were involved in a big way. I fell in love with the hero when he calmly pointed out that "things happened" on "Man Night" and they would all fix it together.

Burnt bacon and spaghetti sauce on the floor are normal parts of life. Cars that don't start on the day of the big interview, clothing malfunctions, spiders in the shower, and aching joints in the morning are little bumps in the road. I've had more than a few bumps, detours, potholes and outright plunges down the sides of mountains. How we face such difficulties determines what kind of life we have.

A young woman I know faced many, many terrible problems. She kept on keeping on, but she also spent a lot of time grumbling and moaning "why me?" And then she had a life threatening illness. Suddenly, she discovered life was precious--difficult or not. It's still hard, very, very hard. But she found the alternative was even harder.

I figure all the less than perfect things that come along just make life interesting. Without them, we would never appreciate those days when the sun shines, the flowers bloom and our children tell us they love us. We wouldn't understand the true joy in holding our grandchild the first time or holding hands with the one we love. We wouldn't enjoy a simple rainbow after the storm. And that would be a shame because then life would truly be less than perfect.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Story Food

In the last few weeks I've read about forty books. That's not necessarily unusual for me. I read a lot. The problem is all the cravings I've had from the story food.

Pizza. Hot dogs. Wine. Bagels. Beef ragout. Really. Have you ever noticed people don't eat salad and veggies in stories? They have milkshakes and Coke and beer and doughnuts.

No one says, "Hey, guys! How about we all go out for steamed veggies with fish?" Noooo. They go out for pizza or burgers and beer.

Here's the thing. While I'm reading the story I get the urge for munchies. Potato chips. Candy bars. Chocolate chip cookies. And I don't keep those things in my house.

No soda. No chips. No snacks. Nothing! Somehow cottage cheese and pineapple doesn't satisfy the cravings the same way chips and dips does.

And don't get me started on the Tex-Mex food! Nachos, guacamole, and gooey cheese... Matter of fact, after a while even a soy dog sounds good. And I'm allergic to soy.


Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Process

When I have "down time" I do calligraphy. It occurred to me there are parallels between calligraphy and our writing. Believe it or not, the finished product doesn't magically appear. Just as we spend hours working on our writing, polishing and refining it, the calligrapher also spends hours--much of it in preparation before he or she leaps out with the touch of faith to put pen to paper. As with almost anything we attempt, we start with practice. Repetition and constant practice leads to competency at the very least.
Once we have a minimum competency, we start attempting a complete project. First a word. Then a sentence. Perhaps a paragraph! And finally a short story. It's rough. The characters are off just a little. We need to polish it up a bit.
When we're ready, we start to work on the final layout. How big should our calligraphy piece be? How many words will be right for our story? For both, the answer is the same. Small enough to finish without getting discouraged. Big enough to challenge us.
But what about the window dressing? The border? Or as it's know in writing, what about the world building? Even in a contemporary story set on everyday Main Street, there are details we must decide. What is the season? Which way does the heroine turn when she goes to work? A rough map will help nail down the details just as the rough border does for our calligraphy piece. It does something else. It frames the piece providing a finishing touch. Oh, the piece is complete with just the words. But the border gives it framework and cohesion.
When the writer spends time on the world building for their story, it adds polish and completion to their story. Does it take time? Oh, yes. It certainly takes time. Is it worth it? Take another look at the finished piece at the top. What do you think?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Unexpected Turns

I love it when a story takes an unexpected turn. Oh, not my story. Goodness knows mine plunge over the cliff about ninety percent of the time. And it's anybody's guess where they'll end up. 

But I do love it when some other author pulls off that surprise, when it's a sucker punch I never saw coming. Have you ever read a book or seen a movie that caught you know where you had to go back to look for the clues you missed?

No Way Out was a movie like that. I remember the first time I watched it my jaw just dropped at the end. Then I had to watch it again to see exactly what I missed. It was pretty slick.

I also love a particular one of Linda Howard's books that has the best all-time surprise ending. I smile every time I think about it.

What about you? Do you like really startling surprises and twists in your books? Or would you rather be able to figure out how it's going to end?


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Rest of the Story...

Do you remember the Paul Harvey commentaries? The ones that ended "and that's the rest of the story"? Sometimes when I reach the end of a book, I want to cry out, "But where's the rest of the story?"

Just writing The End at the bottom of the page does not finish the story. As the reader I need satisfaction. And too often when I finish a book, there's more a sense of puzzlement than satisfaction. More and more I turn the page with the old Peggy Lee refrain, "Is that all?"

Yes, yes, I know there are stories that are so good you never want them to end. I love a story that grabs you by the throat and just doesn't let you go. But I'm not talking about those books.

I'm talking about the spate of stories I've read in the last few months that wander about in the barren plot lands before abruptly dropping down a well. And that's the end of the story--which is not the same as the rest of the story.

When I finish a book, even if it doesn't have an epilogue detailing the wedding, two point three children, and a large hairy dog who's chasing the wily cat named Demon, I want to feel the ending. Yes! Yes! Yes! The climax is the point!


Don't forget to join me tonight for my monthly chat at Love Romances Cafe. All the info is in the "chat" box at the upper right of the post!