Vintage Romance-Romantic Suspense-Cozy Mystery

The Word Place Blog
A little about anything for anybody
Posted 3 times weekly




And now for the 

good news...

 So is there any good news in the midst of all this craziness? If a young Anne Frank, in hiding for her very life, could pen the words, “In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart”, can we—in better circumstances—believe otherwise? She goes on to write about her hope for a better, peaceful future. It came too late for her, but it’s not too late for us.

When the power of Rome struck fear into the hearts of millions of conquered people, the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)

I believe, when these two ideas collide—the secular with the scriptural—and good people let fear become a permanent dweller in their souls, they remain in the shadows when they should stand up and speak out. I’ve certainly been guilty of that, but over the years, my resolve has hardened—especially in the last few years. I wish the epiphany had come sooner.

I’m going to believe that I share this planet with more good people than bad. I’m going to rebuke fear when it creeps in and tries to hold me down.

St. Michael the Archangel,

defend us in battle.

Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil.

May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,

and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host

by the power of God,

cast into hell Satan and all the other evil spirits

who prowl about the world

seeking the ruin of souls.


Thanks be to God, it is indeed well with my soul!


~~Posted July 17





I am only one, but...

 The quote “I am only one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something” has been attributed to many different people and phrased in several ways. Whoever said it first and however he said it, the words have never been truer than at this moment in time.

Some people can do nothing alone: witness the violent mobs trying to impose their will—or at least, someone’s will—on this country. There’s nothing new under the sun. It’s happened before, and it will happen again. With social media and the news media spinning things to fit their own agendas, everything that happens just gets “out there” faster and to a broader audience.

I personally feel I’m not the only one who’s getting fed up—who’s had enough—who thinks it’s time to stand up and speak out for decency and civility. Irish statesman Edmund Burke (1729-1797) said it best:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.


If you believe that as I do, it’s time to think about what you as one to be part of the many. I’ve gotten bolder on Facebook. While I still don’t post politically partisan messages—e.g. I don’t mention specific parties or politicians—I cannot remain silent in the face of the bullying and outright aggression becoming more and more prevalent in our society.

What I do may seem small—but remember, I am only one, and I am doing what I can. For example, I love tee shirts with messages. These are hanging in my closet:


Faith Over Fear

Jesus Is My Rock and That’s How I Roll

In the morning when I rise, give me Jesus.

Rooted in Christ.

Grace is sufficient.

Jesus saves. God bless America.

One Nation Under God

I will cling to the old rugged cross...and exchange it someday for a crown.


I just received the shirt with my son’s badge number and the hashtag #policemomlife.


I make sure I’m wearing one of these when I go out in public. So far, I’ve had only positive comments and thumbs up reactions, but I’m prepared for the negative when they come.

What I’m doing may be small, but a deluge of rain begins with a single drop. I’d encourage anyone reading this blog to consider a single action you can take. I believe God is in His heaven and that He will come again to bring justice to the world which has strayed so far from His mercy. In the meantime...


What can YOU do?


Just do something!


~~Posted July 15



Oh, yes indeed!

 We are, as my mother used to say, in a mell of a hess. No, that’s not a typo. That’s what she said, and she was dead on. What in the Sam Hill is going on in this country these days?


Rioting

Looting

Personal violence

Threats

Slander

Demands to end this or that because it’s “racist”

Toppling statues and destroying the history of this country

Vandalizing statues and monuments which are there to honor everyone

A media who ignores the truth if it doesn’t fit their agenda

Calls to defund the police who are what stands between us and a criminal takeover

Calls to kill the police

Hateful rhetoric in the news and all over social media

Demands for boycotts based on political views

Religious persecution of Christians and Jews

Right is wrong and wrong is right

Only certain lives matter—and not really if they’re in the line of fire

The killing of millions of unborn babies for convenience—and profit

Investigations begun with no intention of being fair and impartial

Power-hungry politicians out for what they can get away with

Businesses which cave to political pressure to safeguard their profits

Common decency and civility flown who knows where

Me-me-me and forget you-you-you


No, it’s not the COVID-19 virus that will bring us down. We have crippled this country sooner and more completely than any pandemic. The enemy is indeed at the gate.


But stay tuned...it’s not the end of the story, not by a long shot.

Come back on Wednesday for a shot of truth, which is the only entity that will truly set us free. 


~~Posted July 13


One more short-short journal entry...

 “Why are you always so upbeat? It’s driving me nuts!”

His hands came off the keyboard as his coworker’s voice shot from the cubicle next to his. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know it showed.”

“Of course, it shows! You come in whistling, and I heard you humming sometimes. Never see you without a smile on your face. You’re stuck in this dead-end job like the rest of us, so what do you have to be so happy about?”

“I’ll try to keep the lid on,” he murmured in what he hoped was a neutral voice.

“Just tell me what it’s all about!”

He knew instinctively the man didn’t really want to know, but he’d asked. “This time last year I didn’t have a job. The layoff happened so fast I walked around in a daze for a month. We had to let the house go, sell two cars, and take our kids out of private school. Their college fund fed us and kept the lights on. So I’ve gone from an executive office to a cubicle, and I’m thankful.

“My wife’s been a rock. Found a job clerking at the dry goods store instead of playing bridge at the country club. My son got a paper route. Daughter babysits every weekend. We don’t eat out or think about the next vacation.

“But we have everything we need. Things we didn’t have before. We have each other.”

"That's all? His unseen cubicle neighbor snorted in clear disgust.

He smiled. "That's enough."


~~Posted July 10

Want to finish 

this short-short 

from the writing journal?

 As the thunder died away, she began to count. “One thunder...two thunder...” She reached six before the lightning streaked down. If Granny knew what she was talking about, then the heart of the storm was just over five miles away.

Putting up her purple umbrella, she made a dash for her car of the same color and slid inside. The door lock clicked automatically, assuring her safety. The radio crackled as the car woke and purred. As the host began to describe the classical piece just played, the shrill of a weather alert cut him off. She sat clutching the steering wheel, listening to the warning.

“Severe thunderstorms...heavy rain...decreased visibility...flooding in low-lying areas.” The droned words told her she wouldn’t make it home tonight. Not thirty miles on narrow mountain roads with only low unlighted guardrails.

Smiling, she fished her cell phone from her purse and spoke a name. “Looks like weather has me stuck in town tonight, so...”

She closed her eyes, picturing the promised wine and candlelight.

“Fifteen minutes more or less. I’m just leaving.” Then, checking over her shoulder, she moved unhurriedly away from the curb. 


~~Posted July 9


A short short short 

from the writing journal...

 He listened to the whir of wings as the flock of geese rose from the glassy sunlit lake and flew away in pristine formation. Then he turned at the anticipated sound of footsteps pushing through the knee-high grass.

Two men in full hunting gear, their guns safely open across their elbows, watched the birds for a split second before turning to him. “You deliberately spooked them!” the older man accused.

He smiled. “They’re beautiful, aren’t they?”

“We came out here for nothing! Those birds won’t be back.”

“No, thank God.”

The second hunter advanced on him. “You sorry...”

He stood his ground. “Skeet shooting is a better sport. Takes more skill and doesn’t cost life.” He smiled again as the last of the birds disappeared beyond the lake. Zipping his down jacket against the stirring breeze, he lifted one hand toward the sky. “Godspeed, my friends.”


~~Posted July 7


In 1944, Vera Lynn performed at the 50th anniversary celebration of D-Day (left) and in 1995, she commemorated V-E Day (right)Then she retired from performing. She was never forgotten. 
"There'll be bluebirds over...the White Cliffs of Dover..." was another of Vera Lynn's songs of hope for a country at war. On her 100th birthday, she was honored by the projection of her face over those famous white cliffs and two Spitfires flew in tribute to this gallant lady. 

Dame Vera Lynn

Britain's National Treasure

1917-2020

Dame Vera Lynn, the Forces Sweetheart of Great Britain, has rejoined all the soldiers whose hope she buoyed and her husband of fifty-seven years at the age of one hundred three. Born in 1917 to a plumber and a dressmaker, she began singing at an early age and went on to sing with various bands and appeared in a few films. But it was in the dark days of World War II when she found her true calling of encouragement to a blitzed and beleaguered nation. Someone once said that Great Britain didn’t “beat the Nazis. Vera Lynn sang them to death.” The armed forces voted her their sweetheart, and the name stuck.

She asked to be sent overseas to entertain and wound up in Burma where British forces had been fighting for an interminable time. One of them said to her, “Home doesn’t seem so far away now that you’re here.” She ate and slept without complaint under their circumstances. Later she had a radio show and visited wives and new babies of veterans in hospitals.

Her career flourished in peacetime, too, and she was honored with the Order of the British Empire and later as a DBE, attaching the title “Dame” to her name. She sponsored other worthy causes such as a school for children with cerebral palsy, and whenever her boys gathered to reunite, she was there. Her last public performance was in 1995 outside Buckingham Palace. She lived quietly next door to her only daughter, enjoying her garden and painting. In her neighborhood she was known simply as “Mrs. Lewis”.

But she was never forgotten. In 1992, an album of her songs made it to the number one spot on the British charts, and people came to her home to interview her many times. On the occasion of her hundredth birthday, her face was superimposed on the White Cliffs of Dover, commemorating the song she sang about them during the war.

When I “discovered” her several years ago, it was the honesty in her voice which captivated me. She wasn’t “performing” but rather encouraging and entertaining her listeners. She always expressed her gladness that she could be a part of the war effort in Great Britain but never held herself up as special or important.

Great Britain has indeed lost one of its beloved national treasures.


BBC Obituary (with photographs)


~~Posted June 29


If you're not prepared...

get that way!

 There are downsides to getting older, and if you’re like me, you already know what they are. I don’t need to elaborate on them, and I won’t. But I do want to talk about thinking ahead and being prepared. Here are some of the things I’ve done to “get ready” for either needing help or leaving this life behind for an eternal one.


1. In-Home health insurance

Some years ago, my insurance agent called and asked if I’d be interested in talking to someone

about home health insurance. Since I trusted him, I decided to agree to a visit from another

agent connected with the same company. He didn’t give me a “hard sell” but rather explained

things to me and answered all my questions. I chose a plan in which my policy would be paid

up in ten years, shortly after I retired. I wish I’d known about it earlier, but it’s good to know

the policy, along with some other resources, will let me stay in my own home indefinitely. It

was expensive, but the benefits increase yearly, and my sons will be able to get some cash

back.


2. Inventory and label everything you don’t want to see go into an “estate” sale.

I put stickers with numbers on everything and then prepared a list of the items stating who

they belonged to, where they came from, and who (if anyone) had already asked for them.


3. Consolidate all your business for whoever will have to take care of it later.

I have two identical manila envelopes which I update regularly. They contain information

which will be needed to settle things when I’m not here to take care of them.

  • Account numbers

  • insurance policies

  • bank accounts (these are also pay-on-death accounts which won’t have to go into probate)

  • location of all documents, originals and copies

  • pre-paid funeral arrangements

  • passwords—PLEASE don’t forget to update those!

  • Social media accounts to be closed

  • power of attorney

  • power of attorney for health care (also in my medical records)

  • anything else at all you have—which I may not have—that will need to be settled

  •  It goes without saying that you have a will—don’t you? If not, shame on you!


When both my parents became terminally ill, I was teaching 300 miles away. They had wills, but nothing else had been planned ahead. With some sense of entitlement, they dumped it all in my lap. I handled things with much kindness and help from people who knew what they were doing, but I knew I’d never wish that on my own children. It was a months-long nightmare.

My oldest son doesn’t want to discuss anything with me. He says it’s morbid. He’s wrong. His father died when he was 7 ½ and his brother was barely 3. I was thirty-four, on my own for the first time in my life, and without the option to sit in the corner and suck my thumb.

Someday, I want my sons to be able to say: Mom took care of us, and she took care of business. Then they’ll understand.

~~PostedJune 26





Getting older 

has its benefits...

 Moving on from Monday’s psychological perks of getting old(er), let’s talk about the material ones. Check out the links before for discounts and freebies for senior citizens.


This one will cost you $20 to get started, but it’s worth considering. I’ve signed up to be notified when it’s out and will decide then whether or not to buy it.


This is a comprehensive list of discounts on travel, shopping, and restaurants.


You can search here for specific categories and available locations.


This list is from 2018, but the discounts are probably still in effect.


If you belong to AARP or AMAC (my preference), the membership package includes lists of discounts. In researching lists, I’ve found (and did not include) the discounts which are strictly tied to AARP.

Many stores have “senior days”. In addition, in the recent health crisis, stores have set aside specific hours for seniors to shop in safety—relatively speaking, of course.

Some banks offer free checking accounts including free checks for seniors.

Some universities offer seniors the opportunity to audit a class (no credit) for free.

The bottom line is—if you’re shopping somewhere or eating out, ASK.


~~Posted June 24


Am I getting older...better...wiser...

take your choice...

You’re not getting older...you’re getting better.


I guess that’s debatable, but this week I’m going to blog about the positive points of no longer being young.


You’re only as old as you feel.


True or false? My mother used to say—not as a compliment, you understand, “You’ll never grow up.” My standard reply in what I hope was a neutral voice was, “No, and I’ll never get old either.”

Around the time of my fiftieth birthday, I treated myself to a Mickey Mouse watch. I’d always wanted one, never had one, and nobody else was going to buy it for me. Later, I added to the collection with a Wile E. Coyote/Roadrunner watch. If I could find the Tasmanian Devil, old Taz would join the party.


I’m old. What can I say?


Is there any other better preface for what some people might consider a dumb question asked by a useless old lady?


Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once.

Julius Caesar, Act II, Scene 2


I’d edit old Will S. to read “The young die many times before their deaths; the old never taste of death but once.” It’s true. When you’re young, you don’t want to die, so in many cases you shy away from things that might shorten your life. When you’re old, you accept death is inevitable, so you enjoy life while you have it.

I’m not without a sense of care and caution, but I take off to places where I want to go—on my own—and leave my oldest son shaking his head and lamenting to his wife, “Mom’s getting to be a gadabout.” If something unexpected happens to me while I’m enjoying life, isn’t that better than being found three days “ripe” in my own bed? I think so.


Life is too strong for you--

It takes life to love life.


These are the last words of Lucinda Matlock’s soliloquy from the grave in the incomparable Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters. She is speaking to the discontented young, calling them “degenerate sons and daughters”. She’s already reviewed the good and bad of her life and says that, at ninety-six, she’s lived enough. The point is, she’s lived.

It took me half a lifetime and more to throw off the shackles. I’ve outlived my promised three score and ten. Driving home from town yesterday, I thought, “I may have five years or ten years or even twenty—but I’m going to make them count.”

And I am.


If you’ve never read Edgar Lee Master’s Spoon River Anthology, get yourself a copy. There are several free options for Kindle, but I purchased a real live page-turning book some years ago.


~~Posted June 22



From the 

writing journal:

Part III--A porch light

 More from my writing journal this week: a three-parter with the theme of outdoor settings. 

Today: A porch light


Her next bewildering moment of cognition both relieved and terrified her. Still clutching the wheel, she felt her eyes drawn unwillingly toward the lantern-style porch light glowing so brightly it almost illuminated the full veranda as far as the swing at the end.

“Are we here?” Her son’s voice came from the back, groggy but oddly hopeful. She reflected he hadn’t even known they were going or that they were on the way.

“Yes.” She didn’t remember actually arriving, yet here they were.

The door flew open, and her parents ran down the flagstone walk. “We were so worried! Where have you been? We expected you so much sooner. Did you have car trouble?” Their words tumbled over each other.

Where have I been? “On the road.”

“It’s been nine hours,” her father said. “The trip only takes four.”

She shook her head.

When the boy was asleep again in her old room, she sat at the kitchen table warming her icy hands around a steaming mug of tea. “It was a spur of the moment decision,” she said finally.

“But definitely time,” her mother replied.

“We thought the detour might have delayed you,” her father said as he refilled his cup. “But it was only twenty miles, so...”

“Detour?”

“Around the bridge.”

Her body went numb. “I didn’t seen any signs for a detour.”

Silence enveloped the room. Finally her mother spoke, “One of the girders gave way. A middle one. The lights have been out for a week. We thought you knew.”

She tried to rise, but her knees buckled.

“Darcy?” She felt herself going airborne for the second time.

As daylight filtered through the guest room blinds, she realized she was in her grandmother’s four poster bed in the guest room, and she still couldn’t remember seeing a sign for a detour around the bridge.


~~Posted June 20


From the writing journal: 

Part II--outdoor settings


More from my writing journal this week: a three-parter with the theme of outdoor settings. 

Today: a suspension bridge

She’d never liked the bridge, but there was no way to avoid it between Porter and her parents’ home in Willow. An old structure, it even had an historical marker on each end, and the county issued periodic updates to assure the public that maintenance had been completed regularly and safety certificates were available for inspection.

Still, she always tensed as she approached it and didn’t relax until several miles down the road on the other side. She glanced in the mirror at the boy asleep in the back, stretched out under a blanket from his bed. She’d had to half-carry him because rousing him from a deep sleep always proved futile. In the garage, she’d stuffed him in the car, purposefully, like so many grocery bags.

Now she had second thoughts as the bridge loomed ahead, darker and more forbidding than she’d ever seen it. Slowing as the steel girders rose in front of her like bare bones in the midnight sky, she felt less sure than she had a few hours earlier.

Rain suddenly spattered the windshield just enough to make her feel for the wiper switch. She heard the boy stirring as the tired hiccuped over the metal road strip which signaled the beginning of the bridge.

Clouds obscured what had been a full moon when she started out. Her fingers tightened on the wheel, and her breathing became labored. Without warning, the car became airborne. What have I done? Dear God, what have I done?

~Posted June 17


From the writing journal: outdoor settings

More from my writing journal this week: a three-parter with the theme of outdoor settings. 


Today: falling leaves swirling in the wind.

In the falling dusk, the dead leaves swirling in the wind had a sound one didn’t pick up on in the light. The child busy playing in the yard took no notice, but his mother did. A sudden nostalgia swept over her—a longing for those days when she, too, was a child at play, and the twilight meant only freedom interrupted with the inevitable call to the house and dinner.

Gliding across the empty room—what they’d once called the family room—she switched on the lamps and drew the curtains across the picture window. Then, hearing the kitchen timer ding, she went to check on the rolls, but they needed a few more minutes.

She returned to the door and called for her seven-year-old. He came with feet kicking the leaves in his path to demonstrate his reluctance. Their dry, chilling sounds mirrored her soul, but she reached out to the boy and smiled.


Tomorrow: a suspension bridge


Posted June 15

The largest folder...

and the most difficult

to discard...



 It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that the thickest folder in the research drawer is labeled World War II. I was born during the war, late 1944, one of the last batch of war babies. As I grew up, the war was still part of our lives. Most children had fathers who went to war—and some of those fathers didn’t come back. Mine was waiting in California to be shipped out to the Pacific when the war ended.

I may hang on to this folder for a while, because I often include something about the era in my short stories and novels, either as background or as a present-day setting. Then I’ll pass it on to my oldest son who is also fascinated with these tragic years.

It’s hard to get rid of newspaper articles and other printed information carefully collected and preserved all these years. You could say it’s almost like cutting off part of oneself. But now there’s the internet, and archival collections are growing everywhere. We can’t let go of our history, good or bad, because it’s the greatest educator of all.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’

(George Santayana-1905).


   We need to pass on our history to our grandchildren, too. I’ll never forget the Veterans Day I picked up my oldest granddaughter after school (4th grade, I think), only to hear that a group of veterans had come to her school for a program—and her teacher had told the class they could attend if they wished but “It’s gonna be boring—I won’t kid you.”

   Suffice it to say, I lost it. By the time we got home, she’d had a history lesson she’ll never forget. And while it might have been satisfying to unload on that teacher, it’s probably better I never had the opportunity. You can enlighten ignorance—but stupid is beyond redemption.

   Meanwhile, I’ll continue to clean out the files, closing my eyes while dropping some into the trash with real regret, and saving others in hopes of seeing them passed on to another generation. 

~~Posted June 11





Just mouldering away...

 So this week, inspired by a successful garage sale held by my daughter-in-law in which I had quite a bit of merchandise, I’m blogging about cleaning out: one single bottom drawer in the file cabinet. But wait—before you fall in the floor laughing—there might be something in it for you! (Disclaimer: That pic is not my nice new file cabinet on rollers...)

Years ago I began cutting articles out of newspapers and magazines and filing them away as story ideas/research—and there they all sit today, neatly foldered but all unused! It’s time to look at other options, one of which is definitely not keeping them!

Many of these articles in the files are the primary sources of which I spoke last week: first person accounts of historical events. Many are written after the fact and thus become secondary sources. Some are travel related. Others I printed off from the internet, sure I would use them sometime...somehow...somewhere.

Here’s a sampling from the folder labeled architecture. You want? Just ask! If it came from the internet, I’ll send you the link. If it’s a newspaper/periodical article, I’ll snail-mail or scan it for email.

  • Civil War Era House Redone (newspaper)

  • features of Federal, Greek Revival styles, explanations of “friezes”, “balustrades”, “dentils”, cornices, Palladian windows (internet)

  • Understanding Old Buildings: The Process of Architectural Investigations (internet)

  • assorted information on various Mississippi antebellum homes

From the “Arkansas Related” folder (all newspaper articles unless otherwise noted)

  • Pickin’ and Ginnin at Louisiana Frogmore Plantation

  • Up in the Sunken Lands

  • Living History (restored house in Little Rock)

  • WW II Reaches Arkansas: Japanese-Americans Relocated at Rohwer

  • Avenging Angel? Girl, 17, Avenges Death of Father

  • WW II Pilot, Architect from Hot Springs

  • Majestic Hotel Burns (lots of history)

  • Arlington Hotel Resort and Spa

  • Remembering Camp Monticello

  • Ft. Smith Honors Bass Reeves

  • Harrison Opens 1912 Time Capsule Filled with Documents

  • West Memphis 3

  • Petit Jean State Park

  • Historical Camden Home Housed Union General

  • Historical Arkansas Bridges

  • Ex-Police Chief Arrived in Hot Springs in Covered Wagon

    Lots of interesting information—and more on the way this week and maybe next! Otherwise—can you say BONFIRE?  

~~Posted June 8



Stop! 

Double-check that fact! 

 We’ve talked about (1) research and (2) sources—credible ones. So today let’s talk about (3) revisiting those sources as the writing progresses. Why? It’s simple. How much can your brain hold, especially about complicated subjects, and also, do you really want to switch back and forth between screens checking yourself as you write? I didn’t think so.

What’s the solution? Either take copious, detailed notes like we did in the olden days or sacrifice the ink to print out pertinent information. I usually grudgingly opt for the latter which then goes into my WIP notebook with other pages like character sketches, timelines, family genealogies, and so on. That way your information is at your fingertips whenever you need it.

For the current WIP (and yes, I know it’s been in progress much longer than it should have been, but things happen), you’ll find notes about cotton harvesting and a friend’s description of an old-fashioned well in the back yard of her grandmother’s vintage home. Why cotton harvesting? The protagonist sees fields of cotton as he drives through the Mississippi countryside in June. Starting in July, the cotton would begin being harvested, so the description would be inaccurate. Just a small detail but important! A southern reader would catch the error in seconds and decide I really didn’t know what I was talking about.

Also, there’s a page titled Research Notes for Possible Use in DS. I culled information from various websites on antebellum homes detailing interesting features and stories swirling around the former residents. Since I based Ainsleigh House on Windsor, now in ruins, I searched for its history and sketches of how it looked based on memories since no photograph of it exists. From my own memory, I collected stories about the old homes I’ve visited, including the cannon ball lodged in the wall of one which wasn’t removed for quite a while! Finally, I printed out more than I wanted to know about the KKK, the White Citizens’ Council, and the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission—all important factors in this interracial romance fast-forwarded from the violent summer of 1964 to the present. I also did a great deal of research on the signs, symptoms, treatment, and sources of arsenic poisoning since that figures into the story, too.

Every detail—accurate and verifiable—is important as I spin this story. I’ll take my literary license (see Monday’s blog) with the ghosts prowling the Springs—who they are and why they’re there.

Will all of the research find its way into The Legacy of Diamond Springs? No, but I’ve learned so much, something I still enjoy despite my school days being many years behind me. The time and effort you put into researching will benefit you in more ways than you know. And, it will allow you to write with accuracy and authority.

So what about revisiting your sources? Check yourself as you go. Hopefully, your information is conveniently at hand in a notebook. Don’t ever think, “Oh, I think that’s right...” I’ve been known to think wrong. Go back and take a second look.

Do your research.

Verify your facts with credible sources.

Make your information readily available and revisit it regularly as your write. 


~~Posted June 5

Consider the source...

really!

 Every person responsible for disseminating information makes sure to use reliable sources and double-check them. Well, maybe not the mainstream media, but I digress. Even if you’re writing fiction, you’re not excused from making sure any setting or background historical information you include is correct. So how do you do this?

The first point is obvious—make sure your sources are credible. Here’s a link to a quick, worthwhile read about a source all of us tend to use: Wikipedia. Because it relies on secondary sources and is subject to public editing, you might want to use it only for “the big picture” and go from there.

And speaking of secondary sources, know the difference between those and primary sources. Again, another link to a quick read—hit that button! Only primary sources are 100% reliable. When I was in grad school, we were assigned a paper using only primary sources—and did we have to scramble! But it was a real adventure, and we were wiser students when we finished.

Because there are so many fake news reports and social media posts, many people turn to Snopes for what they presume/hope to be the real facts. I’ve heard some criticism of this site, but it is still the one I turn to first when I read something and think, “What the heck?” But I also “vet” things with at least one other, preferably two other sources. If two out of three agree, I usually—the key word being usually—decide there’s truth there.

Political sources are not the best; not is any known group with an agenda to push. I don’t lend an ear to the mainstream news media with the exception of one or two guest commenters whose words I’ve found in the past to be neutral and fact-based.

Facts are foremost.

Sources must be unimpeachable.

Research rules!


Friday: Revisiting the source


~~Posted June 3





Why research?

 Why research?


Real writers know the answer to that question. If you’re going to add reality to your fiction (and I hope you are unless it’s a totally fantasized genre), you better know what you’re talking about, because some reader somewhere will know if you don’t.


A story in an historical setting which is full of anachronisms just isn’t going to fly. Neither is dialogue totally out-of-period. Facts may be harder to catch, but trust me, someone will. Some readers/reviewers thrive on calling out an author for faulty information.


In this age of fake news and being able to say anything about anyone (assuming you’re on the right side of those controlling the venue), IMO people just don’t care anymore. Once upon a time, libel and slander were real barriers to writing/saying anything false. But, heck, now it’s just a common everyday occurrence, and there are rarely any consequences. About the worst that happens is a walk-back or a false apology to satisfy the offended party, but that’s it.


This author does her homework. Fortunately, I grew up in a time where students were taught where and how to hunt down facts. We had the fear of God put into us about writing anything without facts to back up what we wrote.


In a nutshell—unless you’re writing total fantasy, research your information before you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Keep a list of the sources you consulted and be able to find them again.


Yes, there’s such a thing as literary/artistic license: a colloquial term, sometimes euphemism, used to denote the distortion of fact, alteration of the conventions of grammar or language, or rewording of pre-existing text made by an artist to improve a piece of art. A good example for me is the most recent Titanic movie. The setting was real, but the characters and most of the events were not. I had a hard time seeing the two protagonists romping around in the bowels of the ship being flooded by icy water, because I felt sure the temperature of the water would’ve affected them much sooner. But then—the movie made a fortune, so who am I to criticize the scene?


Just be careful. Don’t try to be believable and establish credibility and end up with egg on your face!


Tomorrow: Sources for your research


~~Posted June 1







What about 

political correctness?

 So what about political correctness for authors? Did Shakespeare think about it? Jane Austin? The Brontes? And fast forward to Margaret Mitchell when she penned Gone with the Wind. Did she get any push back anywhere?

If writers allow themselves to be governed by what might offend someone—and someone is always bound to be offended by the truth—then this author, at least, couldn’t put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

Several years ago I published what I consider the best thing I’ve ever done. Four Summer Days, based on a combination of oral family history and painstaking research, is set in Arkansas just after the Civil War and long before Civil Rights entered the picture. I had to make a decision about two of the characters—clearly important ones and, in fact, heroes in the story. They are ex-slaves with no formal education but with a keen intelligence and the know-how to get things done right.

So how did I write the dialogue of these two men? Did they speak as they would’ve spoken in 1876, having just emerged from slavery, or did I make their words totally unrealistic for fear of offending some reader? I think you know the choice I made. I knew some readers might not see beyond their own perceived racist, “How dare she?” Others, hopefully, wouldn’t see them as simply characters but as real men of courage and conviction.

Right now I’m plugging away on the new novel—which includes, among other things, an interracial romance and factual history about organizations in Mississippi which tried but failed to stop the flood of long overdue racial justice in the 1960s. In this story, I infer rather than write the racial slurs simply because they’re abhorrent to me. I made that concession for myself, although I realize the actual words would have packed more of a punch. Still, someone is bound to take offense, especially in this climate of growing unrest—fanned not by historical facts but by the spin put on things by those with a political agenda.

I find it difficult to trust an author who goes overboard in any direction for whatever reason—either to be politically correct or to be in your face. Words are all we have with which to communicate. If they aren’t true and clear, we’ve done nothing except mouth them/write them to no end. 

~~Posted May 29





How much is too much?

Disclaimer: Change of topic from what was posted. I feel the need to continue with Monday’s blog theme.


A good start is asking the question, “How much is too much?”


Some things I won’t write. On the other hand, I won’t water down the realities of life and the situations people face on a daily basis. We all know bad things happen. We all know there are people out there who aren’t who we’d want to sit down across the table from. Or ride in the car with. Or even confront in broad daylight with a thousand witnesses. But they exist. They make wonderful fictional villains.

One thing I’ve learned both from reading and writing—if the characters aren’t real, if they don’t respond to their environment and to other people in a believable way—a reader isn’t going to bother with them. That said, how do we portray these less-than-stellar characters in a believable way?

It’s pretty simple. First, how would they speak? What kinds of words pepper their vocabulary? While I won’t use the most common four-letter words, which I’ve decided some authors use to make us think they’re cool or with it, I can’t in good conscience have a rough-tough guy saying oh, phooey. If he “cusses”, so be it. But I’ll omit invoking God in the oath. That’s part of the too much I mentioned.

Writing violence perpetrated against one character by another isn’t a problem either. I might get pretty gory, as a matter of fact, and I check my descriptions to make sure they’re factual. But if I’m writing a love scene, fade to black is the most titillating way to go as far as I’m concerned. I mean, we’ve read it all before, right? Now our imaginations can kick in. That’s not too much.

It’s a fine line sometimes, and sometimes I know what I’ve written is a bit watered down. But that’s just the way it has to be. If a reviewer calls my hand on it, that’s a compliment.

Recently I withdrew a book from a publisher. It was a good story, and it’s been out there a long time without anyone bashing it. But I remember years ago when I was going over the galley proofs, I found my fact heating up as I read a couple of scenes. They were realistic, and they were actually pretty mild, but I thought, “I can’t believe I wrote that.”

So I contacted my editor and said I needed to rewrite that part. She emailed back, “Don’t you dare.” So I didn’t, and it’s bothered me ever since. Finally, I bit the bullet and pulled the book. I can rewrite a similar story in a milder vein. Maybe I will someday. Meanwhile, I sleep better.

Everyone’s too much and/or not enough is different. Yesterday I quoted Alexander Pope, and today it’s Shakespeare. “To thine own self be true...” And that’s what we all have to be.

~~Posted May 27




What old Alex said 

200 years ago

is still true today...

No writing is good that does not

tend to better mankind in some way.

~~Alexander Pope (1688-1744)


Yesterday, inspired by a video, I set up yet another writing planner for more detailed items like a blog schedule, website maintenance, Pinterest upkeep, Nanowrimo planning, book marketing, and short story submissions. Let’s face it—I have enough journals to last me a lifetime, so why not use them up? Also, I like playing with my supply of washi tape and colored pens. But I digress.

Wanting a brilliant quote for the first page of said planner, I turned to the heavy, unwieldy, but extremely useful Random House Webster’s Quotationary and scanned the entries in the writing category. Alexander Pope’s old words ring eternally true.

Maybe that’s why my “platform” (according to the experts, all writers must have one” revolves around Get hooked on a good clean read. Briefly, in my opinion, mankind is not bettered by filth— mild, moderate, or heavy—and I don’t/can’t write it. Oh, it sells—quite well. But it’s not for me.

If one person or one hundred people read my work, I want them to walk away uplifted in some way.

So... the quote provided an introduction to the new planner and makes for a short, quick blog on Monday when I have a long list of things to do.

Tomorrow: The new writing planner aka new toy


~~Posted May 25



From my writing journal:

Theme: Settings

Front Porch

 A breeze rifled the pages of the book in her lap. Her latest, just out three days ago and already garnering rave reviews in major newspapers.

The front porch of her cabin, purchased years ago after the release of her first bestseller, felt somehow alien at this moment. She knew why, of course. A private, almost reclusive person, she’d just exposed herself and her dirty little secrets to the world.

Maybe the characters in her book had different names and details. Maybe the setting was thousands of miles away from where the story actually took place. Maybe no one would figure it out. But she’d know. She’d always known it would stay with her forever. The secret was out, and the raging torrent of anger was receding into a small stream of sad regret.

“Do you really want to do this?” her brother had asked.

“Yes.”

He’s shrugged. “I’m not going to try to change your mind.”

“You can’t.”

Remember the night at the coffee shop after the funeral, she loved him ever more now. No one had ever suspected what went on in the largest, grandest house in Lake Lowrance. Even her brother had been oblivious until she’d told him after she’d moved out and cut all ties.

“I know it was a...dysfunctional...family. I’m sorry I didn’t see. Maybe I didn’t want to.”

“No, you couldn’t have. At least we still have each other.”

Her cell rang. “It’s me.”

“Where are you?”

“Between planes at O’Hare. Conference in Cleveland tomorrow. I sat next to someone with your book.”

“Did you mention you know the author?”

“Thought about it, but no.”

“Probably a good idea.”

“I had the marker set last week. Flat granite slab with just name and dates.”

“There’ll be talk about why no more.”

“I’m sure. Are you all right? I mean, really all right?”

“I think so.”

“We’re boarding. Gotta run.”

“Good luck tomorrow.”

“Thanks.”

She waited for the click. Then she closed the book in her lap and went inside.


Posted May 22




From my writing journal

Theme: Settings

Cemetery

 Of all days for the skies to open, this had to be the worst. Huddled under the umbrella provided by the mortuary, she heard only a drone of meaningless words she only wanted to cease.

Around her, fifty or more people endured the downpour to pay their respects. Only she knew how little respect was owed to the person occupying the polished mahogany casket now poised over the gaping hole under the canopy.

But did she really want them to know? Was the book worth it? She’d thought so once, but now she felt uncertain.

She’d promised herself she wouldn’t come back, yet she had. It wasn’t for the publicly revered figure she hadn’t bothered to look at even in death. Her brother had looked, but she’d been unable to read his thoughts in his tightly-controlled face.

Now he guided her away toward the waiting cars. “What time is your plane?”

“Eleven-fifteen. Last flight.”

“Good. We have some time then.”

“Time for what?”

This time she read the answer in his eyes. Time to talk.


Posted May 20

From my writing journal

Theme: Settings

Airport

 

The mass of people surging through the concourse, even at 8 PM, surprised her. She’d always flown in daylight hours, but this was an emergency.

“You need to come now.” The words she’d dreaded and looked forward to hearing for so long. She couldn’t remember when they hadn’t lurked in the back of her mind. Well, now she’d heard them.

She sat down in one of the few empty seats at her gate. So many people. Where were they going and why?

There were still two hours before boarding. She tried to remember when she’d last eaten. She wasn’t hungry, but at the end of the flight, all she wanted was to pick up her rental and head to the hotel. Maybe she could find something light.

Her cell phone rang. “Where are you?”

“DFW. Still a couple of hours before boarding.”

“How are you?”

“How do you think?”

“It will be all right.”

“I know.”

“Call me when you get in.”

“I will.”

“All right. Take care.”

Half the length of the concourse, between Gates 4 and 30, she found a mostly empty fast-food place which appealed to her. While she waited for her order, she pulled the galley proof of her latest book from her shoulder bag. Now the book seemed an exercise in futility, but she’d banked a hefty advance, and she’d never broken a contract. Digging out a red pen, she began to read.


Wednesday: A Cemetery


Posted May 18





An Unlikely Mascot

 On Monday I wrote about my motto: I will not be beaten.

Today I write about my mascot—if I can figure out what that is! No one is successful all of the time, especially not alone.  To which animal or symbol can I point which is a formidable—and usually unbeatable—foe?

So I dug through the basket of Beanie Babies (which the girls won't let me give away) looking for a suitable animal to photograph and came up with, not a Beanie Baby but Wile E. Coyote, the ancient and beloved stuffed animal from many, many years ago!

I remember how on Saturday mornings I’d find my husband snuggled on the sofa with our two sons watching Wile E. chase the Roadrunner. Once I asked him, “Why do you like watching that so much?”

He replied, “Because someday he’s going to catch that Roadrunner, and I want to be around to see it!”

So perhaps Wile E, after all, is my mascot. He never gave up, just kept on going, thinking of ingenious but faulty ways to stop that pesky bird, and perhaps learning from his mistakes.

And that’s what I’ve done—kept on going.

I could do worse.


~~Posted May 13




Mottos aren't just

 for scouts...

Motto: a concise expression of motivation used by a group or individual


My motto: I will not be beaten.


So the question arises: Beaten at what?


And the answer is: Life


My mother’s general response to me in most circumstances was: You can’t...you don’t know...you don’t understand.

Okay, Mother, what can’t I do? What do I not know or understand?

The message, though never verbalized, was: everything.

So I grow up. I graduate college, acquire my first job, get married, have two children, become a widow at the age of thirty-four. Still I hear Mother’s words ringing in my ears: You can’t...you don’t know...you don’t understand. But this time I have to pull something from deep within that convinces me otherwise, because I have two small lives depending on me for everything.

Somehow I muddled through for those first years. I’m not sure what finally liberated me, but it might have been the Saturday one son had a soccer game, and I found the car in the garage with a flat tire. I called my father to ask him to recommend someone who would come out and fix it. He wasn’t home. Frustrated, I muttered, “Then I’ll have to do it myself.”

Mother’s answer was swift and decisive. “You can’t change that tire.”

And suddenly I thought, “Don’t tell me what I can’t do.” It wasn’t easy, but I got the spare on, delivered said son to his game, took the other tire in for a fix—and life launched anew.

Since then, the words which fill my mind in a tough spot are, I will not be beaten. I can do this. I will figure it out. Asking for help, which is sometimes necessary, is a last resort. Sometimes, like Julie Andrews singing “I have confidence...” in The Sound of Music, I come to a grinding halt and think, “Oh, help!” That’s the exception rather than the rule.

Because, I will not be beaten.

I never figured out Mother’s litany of You can’t...you don’t know...you don’t understand. Maybe she’d heard it, too. Now when I remember the oft-repeated words and the circumstances, I shake my head in wonder and think, I can; if I don’t know I’ll find out; I understand more than you think. It took a while, but I got there, and I wouldn’t go back.


PS The words in the picture above, "We Learn to Do by Doing", were the words that greeted the early students at the College of Industrial Arts - Texas State College for Women - Texas Woman's University where I went to school. They ring true, too!  


Wednesday: My mascot

Can you guess what it might be?


~~Posted May 11



A Life Well Lived

 The magnificent voice of Paul Robeson paralleled his life. Here are a few facts to set the stage:

  • His father was born in slavery, escaped North via the Underground Railroad, acquired a college education and became a minister.

  • Paul attended Rutgers University on a scholarship where he not only lettered 15 times in 4 sports but was named Phi Beta Kappa and graduated at the very top (valedictorian) of his class.

  • He went on to law school at Columbia University but later decided his career lay elsewhere.

  • A world traveler, he mastered many languages and was a prolific speaker.

  • His acting and musical careers were legendary.

  • His politics came under fire during the Cold War, and he lost his passport from 1950-1958.

  • He continued to advocate for justice in all areas of life.

  • His son continued his legacy—certainly a great tribute to any man.

Most in my generation are familiar with the 1953 version of Jerome Kern’s heartrending musical Showboat based on Edna Ferber’s novel. But Paul Robeson’s rendition—knowing his brilliant history—has a deep meaning for me. Here is a man of many gifts and talents who stood for his beliefs no matter how unpopular at the time.


Whether or not I agree or disagree with those views is of no consequence. Respecting the man for his courage is of much greater importance. We have lost civility, decency, tolerance, and respect in our society today. Might I suggest we need more people like Paul Robeson to stand and be counted?


~~Posted May 6




What makes a hero?

 Most of you know I read a lot of biographies and watch tons of documentaries and learn something new in each one. Sometimes I come away with an entirely different perspective on a person or a topic than I’d held before.

The education of a man is never complete until he dies.” Now, if I told you who said this, some of you might stop reading because, though dead for many years, he is now considered “politically incorrect”--or worse. I’ll tell you his name eventually, but it will be in my Friday blog when I talk about “Deleting Our History”.

But I want to start this week with a list of people I most admire and give you a brief reason why. Forget all the rest—no one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes, and everyone would like a do-over in life if possible. That doesn’t keep a person from having attributes which are admirable and valuable.

So, here’s my list:

1. George Washington Carver – born in slavery, tenacious in his goal to acquire an education, and generous in passing on his knowledge without regard to color, a man in tune with creation and its Creator. He has always been a particular hero of mine.

2. Robert E. Lee – a man of his times who recognized the evil of his times, loyal to his family and southern heritage, gave up the opportunity of recognition and advancement to fight for a cause sure to crumble, and a Christian gentleman.

3. Eleanor Roosevelt – the “ugly duckling” of her family, painfully shy, betrayed by her husband’s marital infidelity but stayed by him through three plus terms as President, fought for the underdog, died with the admiration of many.

4. Brigadier General James “Jimmy” Stewart – who left behind a successful Hollywood career to fight for this country during World War II (and not from the sidelines but in the cockpit of a B-17 on daylight bombing raids), devoted husband and father, and a lifelong believer.


There are others I admire—both public and private figures, but this makes a good start. They all have certain qualities in common. The world is a better place because they passed through it. Would that could be said of us all.

~~Posted May 4




Free writing from my journal

Theme: The Perfect Place, 

the Perfect Job, 

the Perfect Companion

 

Day #1: Travel to a dream destination

Framed travel posters covered the walls of her small apartment, and brochures—many out of date now—littered the worn furniture and bare floor. But she knew—she just knew—her dream trip was around the corner.

Sunshine, warm sand, exotic flowers or perhaps dim, narrow cobbled streets and quaint buildings with window boxes blooming with color. Or maybe even the hum of city traffic, corner coffee shops, and a third floor walk-up with a Murphy bed and a kitchenette.

Anything would do. Any place but this one. Here she was dying a little every day. There—somewhere—she would be reborn and the slumbering dreams reawakened.

The right place—the right time—it would happen. She knew it would. It had to. Sighing, she took the latest travel folders out of her backpack and laid them on the table.


Day #2: Find a dream job in that destination


If she wanted to eat and sleep somewhere besides under a bridge, she would need a job. Not just any job, of course. Not like the one she had now. Something exciting. With pizzazz. Adventure.

Of course, she’d find it. She was versatile. Competent in more than one area. It wouldn’t take long to be employed again, and her savings would last until then.

The perfect job in the perfect place—a dream come true. And she’d waited so long, her whole life. Time to stop dreaming and take action. Time to live those dreams. And she could, of course, she would.

She reached for the newest travel brochure on Majorca and pulled out her notebook.


Day #3: Find a dream partner in the new location


“Come on in!”

The familiar face which poked its way around the door made her smile. “New travel brochures? Where are you off to today?”

She put up her face for his kiss. “Anywhere you’re going.”

“The builder called. He’s got the patio poured, and he's ready to do the flagstone walk. Want to go put your autograph in the wet cement?”

She dropped the brochure she was holding. “We’d better hurry before it dries!”

He grinned. “I’ll treat you to a burger for supper since it’s Saturday.”

“Done.”

He waited while she locked the apartment door. “You sure about this, honey? With the house, travel’s out for a long time.”

She slipped her hand into his. “I’m going on an adventure. To the perfect place, our home. I’ll have the perfect job looking after you and maybe, someday, our children. And I know I’ve found the perfect companion for the trip.”


~~Posted May 1



Signs of the Times: 

Masks and Other Novelties!

 Seven pages of masks on Amazon! Seven! That didn’t take long, did it? Am I going to order? No. I have a couple of boxes of procedure masks I bought several years ago when I’d had a severe upper respiratory infection which took a long time to get over. It was winter, and for a while, I made grocery runs very early in the morning to a smaller grocery store—not Walmart—and wore a mask for my own protection.

I understand some of our petty bureaucrats drunk with newfound power are threatening fines if people don’t wear some sort of mask. Not that I think it’s a bad idea in some of the harder-hit states and even in my state which has been relatively unscathed. The key word being relatively, you understand.

Some of the church ladies have been making masks to donate various places, and now they’re being offered to the church membership for a donation to one of the community service places we help support. I picked up two yesterday, and I still have plenty of procedure masks also.

However, wearing a mask certainly fogs up my glasses! Most annoying! But for the most part, I’m staying in and/or doing drive-throughs like the farmers market and grocery pickup at Walmart.

I’ve always carried hand sanitizer and used it, for example, after pumping gas and before eating at a restaurant. Everyday common sense things we do for ourselves are good and don’t have to wait for a pandemic. For example, I use a sanitizing wipe on my kitchen cabinets every morning because—and I cringe to admit this—how do I know the Bun hasn’t been up there during the night? (And, yes, it’s the Bun, because she’s the only one big enough to get up there!)

I’ve always wiped down my appliances, especially the refrigerator door handles. Sticky-wicky, ooey-gooey, especially when the Small Person and the Bear Cub are around—and yes, Mimi contributes, too. Since the girls were small, I’ve wiped down door knobs, especially the one on the back door to the garage. (But I am NOT wiping down my groceries or leaving them in the car for three days or any of the other over-the-top “safety measures” someone came up with.)

Basically, I’m not doing anything different. I can put up with a mask if/when I must go out much later down the line—but it’s not going to become permanently attached to my face!

Life will go on—and so will I.


~~Posted April 29




Emergence

 Today I made a Walmart grocery parking lot pick-up and noticed cars in the parking lots of two small churches. One appeared to have had services in the parking lot itself, but the other congregation was obviously inside. I also observed many cars on the roads. It occurs to me that even here in my state, despite minimal restrictions, people are ready to get back to normal.

I’m of two minds about that. First, I’ve never believed that shutting down the economy to the extent that it has been shut down in some places has been totally necessary. From snippets I’ve read, many governors and mayors have become petty political tyrants, and people are rebelling. I could be dead wrong about the necessity for the extensive shut-downs, but people in general have had enough of going without a paycheck and/or seeing their businesses teeter on the brink of collapse.

Second, I agree with keeping large gatherings at bay for a while longer. I miss going to church, but online services provided by our pastor have been a good thing. I can see concerts, theaters, graduations, expositions, and other similar assemblages being the last to open up again.

In other words, getting the economy going again is a priority. Others things are important but not priority.

Church is high on the list of important institutions, but the church isn’t a building. Social gatherings aren’t necessary, and we will all survive. Education grinding to a halt is worrisome. Graduations—or lack of same—are true losses.

The media, of course, isn’t anxious for this crisis to end, because they’ll have to manufacture something else to push. Of course, they will, but the gloom and doom of COVID-19 has been a perfect venue for them.

Others with their own agendas have seized the opportunity to heavy-handedly test the waters of limiting Constitutional freedoms. That hasn’t worked well for them and will, I predict, end up biting them in the hindquarters.

This time next year, “social distancing” and “shelter in place” will be relegated to wherever ridiculous and meaningless catch phrases go when they’re no longer useful. Some people will still be afraid of other people. Others will continue to hoard “just in case” it happens again. Almost everyone will still be struggling in some form to overcome the financial and emotional losses incurred.

I hear some say, “Life will never be the same again,” and I daresay they’re right. Life was never the same after WW II. We lost much of a generation in the skies and on the ground in Europe and the Pacific. But life won’t necessarily be worse in many ways—nor will it be better. Those who survived with a common sense attitude will go on. Whiners will continue to whine and play the blame-game.

Personally, it’s been a time of peace and prayer and a new vision of what the rest of my life is all about. As one grows older, the days slip by more quickly, and each one is precious. I’ve always considered myself a survivor, so one more time I’ll reconnoiter and press on, hopefully with new insights and determination to live every day to the fullest.

But there is a continuing “pandemic” we’re not considering, and it isn’t going to end with a timetable: the hatred, violence, intolerance, and corruption around us will bring this country down more surely than any virus. However, there’s a cure—and it lies within each of us. God grant us the courage, determination, and strength to pull it from the depths of our souls.

~~Posted April 27





A story starter 

from my journal...

accident or murder? 

    Here’s a little offering from the free-writing page of my journal from February 10. I can’t remember the exact prompt—but there is promise for more story if I ever get around to it!


His eyes held a haunted look. “We had it all planned,” he murmured. “But we didn’t count on this.

The police lieutenant touched his arm and nodded at the attendant who slid the gurney out of sight again. “I’m very sorry for your loss. Is there anyone I can call to be with you?”

The man covered his eyes briefly, then dropped his hands. “No. Now, it was just the two of us.”

Guiding him into his office, the other man poured a cup of coffee and pushed it across the desk. “How long had you been together?”

“Three years...three and a half years. She was going to quit work at the end of the summer so we could start a family.” He reached for the coffee with an unsteady hand.

“What did she do?”

“She was a test driver for Ornow’s. Almost ten years.”

“A test driver?”

Their eyes met, but he spoke first. “She was good. Too good for what you said happened." Something flickered in his eyes. "It...it wasn’t an accident!” He leaned forward clutching the edge of the desk. “It wasn’t an accident!”

The officer picked up his phone. “Yeah, given me Perkins in homicide.”


Now, this is “free-writing”, and I edited a few rough spots for clarity as I transcribed it here. But does it have possibilities for a full-blown short story? Maybe. Anyone want to finish it?


~~Posted April 24







And awaaaaaaaaay we go!

Have you ever heard someone say, “I live in my car”? Perish the thought! But I do find my car perfect for out-of-house productivity. To that end, I have created a car office.

So what does a car office look like?

First of all, there’s a compartmentalized organizer hanging on the front seat. And, yes, it is called a car office organizer. I bought mine at Walmart. It holds just about anything you might need:

laptop

pens

notebook

phone

glasses

and any other amenity you might possibly consider necessary.


On the seat is a plastic storage box minus the lid. Into that I put personal necessities:

a box of tissues

hand lotion

hand sanitizer

folded library book bag

magazines (for Happy Hour at Sonic, you know!)

other miscellaneous items taken along on specific trips.


Between the plastic box and the car office organizer, I tuck a laptop desk. Propped against the steering wheel, it’s perfect for making notes or journaling. If I use it for my laptop, I transfer operations to the back seat where there’s more room.

The negative side to this brilliant organization is that it must all be moved if the Small Person or the Bear Cub are riding along. Now that they are old enough to ride in the front seat, one of them will always insist on being there. It’s a status symbol, I guess. The Small Person in particular has become adept at slinging the box in the back seat and whipping the hanging organizer around out of her way. Sigh. I suppose it’s a Mimi’s lot in life.

I love my car office. It’s always ready to go to Sonic or the park or one of the local lakes/beaches. About the only item I need to remember to add is the notebook with information on the project of the moment. Otherwise, I’m good to go.

Grab the purse.

Grab the keys.

Tells kitties goodbye.

Assure them I’ll return.

(Oh, all right, here’s a treat before I go!)

And awaaaaaaaaaaaaay!



~~Posted April 21



The opposite of faith...


The opposite of faith is fear is a line from this morning’s sermon, live-streamed from the church I attend, which focused on the fear prevalent in our society these days. Not that the pandemic isn’t something to fear—but in a healthy way: being particularly careful if one is of a certain age and understanding that guidelines are for everyone—not just those who can’t come up with a good excuse not to follow them.

What has concerned me most is that the people who proclaim to have the most faith have also proclaimed the most fear of this thing. Somehow, the two just don’t mix. I have to admit questioning previous statements of faith in light of current statements of fear!

These are strange times such as we’ve never seen before and will, hopefully, never see again. I am very concerned for those impacted economically: people with children to feed and who can’t go to work and thus aren’t collecting a paycheck. This is the blight which jerks me up by the bootstraps.

I’m retired, and staying home hasn’t been a hassle for me. Thanks to parking lot pick-up for groceries, I’m well-supplied without risking myself or anyone else. Yes, it’s difficult to get a pick-up time, but that’s just a barrier to be worked around. Hoarders have made it a problem to get certain items, but that, too, can be worked around, and it’s being done. Stores are limiting quantities, and less-selfish people are sharing. And some of us are figuring out we don’t really need so much!

When the sun is out and temps are mild—which is happening more these days—I get outside for car picnics and walks in places where I can keep my distance. When it’s gray and gloomy, there’s plenty to do inside. It’s life as usual: cleaning, laundry, taking care of business online, reading, watching the odd Amazon Prime show/movie, and—of course—writing. I’m averaging 1200+ good words every day.

But it occurs to me that if one was a positive person before this happened, one will see the silver lining and emerge even more positive. If one enjoyed whining about the injustices of life, he/she will end this time with more bitterness to add to the book.

Someone said to me once, “It doesn’t take much to make you happy.” And each morning when I tell God thank you for my blessings, I end with being thankful for finding joy in the small things—which are, in truth, the most important. 

We're being told to "shelter in place"--a phrase which makes me cringe in its self-importance. But don't run for the bomb shelter yet. It's a finite feel-better thing. Faith isn't. 


~~Posted April 20




Have laptop...will travel

 Another great blog topic gleaned from long lists is, “How do you work when traveling?”

Fortunately, I don’t have to work, traveling or not. For me, writing is a hobby, although I do exercise some discipline in getting the words down in black and white. Right now, my goal is 500 words/day, and I am averaging twice that many. If writing becomes work for me, I’ll probably quit altogether!

So—how do I stay on target and write when I’m not at home following my usual daily routine?


  1. I know in advance what I want to do/see in the places I visit and don’t try to do/see them all at once. Allotting several days in one spot is much more relaxing.

  2. If I am working on something which I don’t want to shelve for the trip, I set aside some time to write between excursions or in the evenings. The only set-in-stone rule I have for traveling alone is that by dark I’m cozied up in my hotel—I don’t need to be prowling unfamiliar territory alone after nightfall.

  3. The trusty idea notebook always goes along. Every trip produces several ideas for future writing projects.

  4. The invention of the cell phone was geared to writers—instead of just taking “travel/tourism” pictures, I concentrate on grabbing shots of places I want to remember as possible story settings, as well as historical markers with intriguing facts about people. The possibilities are endless, and these snaps go right along with the idea notebook.

  5. Traveling is something I budget for, so I want to plan carefully and not miss anything. But having a familiar routine is a good thing physically and mentally no matter where one is.


Once I traveled while facing a deadlines for edits with a traditional publisher—so those had to be done no matter what. One morning I plopped myself down in a chain bookstore with a coffee bar, ordered a very large hot chocolate, and kept my backside in the chair until I’d completed the remaining edits. It was a long day, but the stimulation of people coming and going and being in a “new” place kept me going. After that, I knew I was free to fritter away my time doing whatever I wanted to do. It was a great trip.

The last trip I took (before we all went into house arrest!) was a mini-writing retreat. I had the points for a hotel in a place where I wanted to revisit a place I intend to write about when I finish the current WIP. I’d taken groceries to tide me over, and there were plenty of restaurants nearby. (I think I only ate out twice!) Also, I only had a couple of places on the “to see” list.

The first day I ventured forth to see what I’d come to see. The next two or three days were rainy and unpleasant, so it wasn’t a difficult decision not to go look for more sights but rather just stay in my comfortable room and write.

But I’m an amateur—so what do I know? It’s all just for fun!


~~Posted April 17



This week 

and next week and the next and the next and the next....

I will not...

The blog idea, “What I won’t do this week (month, year) is appropriate for me to write about, because I have firmly resolved NOT to do something for an indeterminate amount of time. Lent is over. What I gave up for Lent is now reinstated in my life: Amazon Prime. What I’m finding, though, is that I’m not that interested in watching so much—mostly just something to do when I sit down to eat. Unless, of course, I’m hot on the trail of another plot move in the WIP and have a working lunch at the computer.

But what I have given up to the benefit of my mental health, positive outlook, and overall peace of mind is...THE NEWS.

I do check the local news every morning and scan the local online newspaper. And, I found a news outlet—One America News Network—which is pretty much just news, which is what news is supposed to be, isn’t it? I check their headlines but rarely read an entire story unless I feel the need. As far as the other “news” networks, which are no longer news but rather opinion/propaganda, why bother?

Hopefully, fewer and fewer people are going to bother with any of them. It’s too much to hope for, I suppose, that we return to the days of giants like Eric Severeid, Walter Cronkite, Harry Reasoner, Edward R. Murrow, Howard K. Smith, Huntley and Brinkley, and—if we wanted opinion—Paul Harvey. They were all journalists with personal and professional integrity and knew what freedom of the press really meant. These clowns preening themselves on-screen these days don’t have a clue.

I want the good and the bad about everything and everybody—but more importantly, I want the truth, and that only comes out with provable facts. I don’t want to know what you think the facts are; I want to know what you know the facts are because you’ve spent more time researching them than you’ve spent in wardrobe and makeup!

That said, I will NOT be watching the news any time in the foreseeable future. I learned journalism from the very best, and I am quite sure the poor man is turning in his grave to see what his cherished profession has become.

For now, I am still a free person and can choose what goes into my mind and what stays out.






Do recipes have a genre? 

“A recipe in your genre” caught my eye as a blog suggestion. This recipe immediately came to mind since I’m writing a romantic suspense set in modern times but harking back to the antebellum South. The Legacy of Diamond Springs is still a work-in-progress, but I can totally see this being served when the early Ainsleighs inhabited Ainsleigh House.


Bess’ Virginia Spoon Bread


1 qt. buttermilk

1 tsp. soda

3 eggs

¾ pint (that’s 1 ½ C) sifted meal

1 tsp. salt

2 T butter or lard


Add soda to buttermilk. Heat well, but do not boil.

Add eggs, slightly beaten.

Stir meal and salt slowly into milk and egg mixture.

Melt butter and add.

Bake 40 min. in baking dish at 375 degrees.

Serve from the baking dish.


The recipe comes straight from Southern Cooking by Mrs. S.R. Dull. It was my mother-in-law’s cooking Bible, and let me tell you, that woman could cook! She gifted me a copy as a bride, not truly realizing I did not know the first thing about cooking beyond making tuna sandwiches. Truth. My mother didn’t want me bothering her in the kitchen.

My husband and I, being married on the mission field in Congo, didn’t have a honeymoon but instead went straight from the church to the house we were assigned. When he wanted breakfast the next morning, thoughts of annulment flitted through my mind. I’m sure worse tromped through his—like fraud, misrepresentation, etc. But—I learned to cook—somewhat difficult in a place where one couldn’t get necessary food items—and we survived. (Sometimes we could get only 3-4 eggs at a time, and I sure as heck wouldn’t have wasted them in one dish like spoon bread!)

However, I can guarantee you “Bess’ Spoon Bread”--whoever Bess was—is finger-lickin’ good!


~~Posted April 13



Wishing you all 

the joy and hope

 of this blessed 

Easter season!



Dream Job? Or Nightmare?

Often you hear someone say, “I just landed my dream job!” So, what is a “dream job”? I don’t know about anyone else, but mine would be simply to get paid to travel the world and write. Of course, I’d want to stay in five-star hotels and have a chauffeured car at my disposal. And a credit card with no limit. A professional masseuse to attend me in the evenings—traveling first-class is hard work, you know. No schedule—not really. Just get up in the morning, ring for room service, and plan my day while eating breakfast in bed.

Not.

All of the above could get pretty boring pretty quick, don’t you think?

So what would be my dream job if I could just snap my fingers and have it drop into my lap?

Honestly, I don’t know.

I’ve done a lot of things in my life—mainly raising two squirrely boys on my own and teaching school. I spent two years as an “educational consultant” for a software company. It involved many miles, overnights (sometimes up to a week), and meeting new people—some of which I didn’t care if I ever met again and others who were some of the most gracious people I ever ran across. All of that was good for the time it lasted.

Then—then--I retired! Now, I believe, I’ve found my dream job: no schedule except the one I make for myself, no responsibilities, the freedom to come and go as I please and can afford (lagging a bit now with two needy kitties to be provided for in my absence), and the pure joy of researching and writing anytime and anywhere.

What it boils down to is this: your dream job is whatever makes you happy at the time you’re doing it. There were things I didn’t like about teaching—and a lot I didn’t like about being a single parent (not by choice) to those two squirrely boys. But by and large, I survived all of it—got them raised, retired from teaching, and settled into retirement without a backward glance.

When I hear, “Follow your dreams”, I always think to myself, “with caution”. Sometimes those dreams materialize wonderfully. Other times they disappoint. Often, then don’t happen at all.

But St. Paul’s wise words about being “content in whatsoever state” have stayed with me lo these many years. And the years ahead—however many or few—hold promise.


PS  Those two squirrels now think they have to "raise" the old mother duck. Again, NOT.


~~Posted April 8




The best things about writing are...

What I do is write...and the best part of it is...hmmmmm.

Actually, I could do a better blog on the worst parts, which include rewriting, editing, proofing, formatting...but this blog is about the best part, so here goes.

Five reasons I love to write:

  • I get to live in a new world every time I create a story with its unique characters.

  • If it requires research from an historical background, it’s like being a detective (what I always wanted to be).

  • I can “play” with my stories and characters until I get them just right. (My opinion counts!)

  • I can “make a statement” and often do—subtle though it might be (or not) about situations I find annoying or abhorrent. I can turn even a minor character into a first-rate villain, thus saying, “These kinds of people are not nice folks. I said.”

  • I can inject some faith, hope, and charity without “preaching to the choir”. It’s for that very reason I don’t style my writing “Christian literature”.

Of course, there are other reasons I love writing (and one of them is not “keeping busy”). But we live in a finite world. Despite travel, social media, on-site social engagements, and just the everyday routine of keeping on keeping on, our world remains fixed in place most of the time.

Writing takes life to new realms, imaginary though they be.

I like to imagine.


~~Posted April 6


From my 

writing journal...

None of the “free writing” from my journal is a complete story, but who knows what could happen? Here’s one from February 27 and the prompt, “You need to get a job.”


You need to get a job.” She looked up from the stack of bills she was shuffling in a borrow from Peter to pay Paul way.

He didn’t bother to lower the newspaper. “I have a job.”

Not one that pays the bills.”

They’re your bills, not mine. I make sure the mortgage and the utilities are paid, and there are groceries in the house. The rest is up to you.”

I need things.”

You want things.”

Every woman wants things. You want too much.”

I can’t help it if last year’s wardrobe is totally out of style.”

I wear the same suits for years.”

That’s different. You’re a man.”

Be a woman. A sensible one.”

Springing from the chair, she dashed out the door, slamming it behind her. He lowered the newspaper then. “She should’ve stopped to put on last year’s coat. If she gets pneumonia in that snow and ice, it could be expensive.”

The curtain rang down on Act One. He joined her in the wings as the stagehands rushed to change the set. “You were very realistic. You almost had me believing your logic—or lack of same.”

She kissed his cheek. “I personally have all I’ll ever need or want. I have you.”

He pulled her into a quick embrace. “And a chance to shine on the stage of the community theater. Go powder your nose for Act Two.”


Want to finish the story? Be my guest—but be sure to share, and I’ll post it here!

~~Posted April 3




A little organization

 goes a long way...

Pantser or plotter or somewhere in-between?

   I find myself in-between, but there are some stories I need to organize more than others. The one I’m working on now, The Legacy of Diamond Springs has enough characters and enough historical background to require both research, genealogical timelines, and back stories of characters to explain why they are the way they are.

A cheap three-ring binder and a package of dividers suffice to keep things in order for me. This is how it works:

  1. Character sketches

    Under pictures purchased from Fotolia (no longer available) I write what makes the character tick.

  2. Genealogies

    You’ve heard the old saying, “Everybody’s kin to everybody else in the South”, and to some extent that may be true. Keeping the families’ lineage straight and the connections between families is a must. So I write it all out—sometimes using a two-column page to show the parallels.

  3. Who Knows What

    In a mystery, not everyone knows everything, and the protagonist—from whose POV I’m telling the story—has to find out bits and pieces from different people. Notes along this line are not just helpful—they’re a must. You don’t want your character to act on knowledge in Chapter Five that he actually doesn’t find out until Chapter Fifteen!

  4. Villains’ Motivations

    What’s driving the action? Who wants what and why? Make some notes.

  5. Research

    I did a great deal of research on the Civil Rights Era—especially the long hot summer of 1964—and organizations like the White Citizens Council, the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, and, of course, the infamous KKK. I printed out what I thought I’d need to refer back to from time to time and included it under the Research tab. (This is a story set on an antebellum plantation-turned college campus, influenced by a tragic event from the height of the Civil Rights struggle in 1964 which has come back to light forty years later.)


   Every story needs different organization. Decide what yours needs and consider how it will be most useful to you. I taught school for years, so I liken organizing my material to making weekly lesson plans: what I need to teach, the materials I need to use, and how I want to present the information.

   So what story to you want to tell?

   What materials (research, etc.) will help you tell it?

    How are you going to tell the story (characters, action, etc.)?

   If you run a household, consider how you plan your daily tasks. I’ll bet you sketch out a meal plan before you shop so you’ll be sure to have all your ingredients. You probably have certain days for doing other chores like cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming, changing sheets—all of which are flexible depending on other things which come up during the week. Whatever—you handle it.

   It’s the same in getting yourself organized to tell a story. (And, in my opinion, a lot more fun than going to the grocery store!)

   So go for it—make a plan—and get started. Don’t wait until tomorrow.


~~Posted April 1



Weird Writing Opinions That Work for Me, and I'm All That Counts Here!

Always do…

Never do…

No adverbs…

No adjectives…

No dialogue tags except ‘said’…

Show don’t tell!


Not to mention the million and one “How to Write” blogs and articles, some of which are actually excellent—some pretty good—and some not so good.

An idea for blogging about weird writing opinions presented itself the other day, so it came to me, “Here’s my chance!” And here goes…

I read a lot of “how to” books at the point I got serious about trying to get published. Looking back, for the few forgotten ideas jotted down, it was a waste of time.

Weird Writing Opinion #1: Be open to “how-to” but don’t expect to learn “how-to”...which segues into

Weird Writing Opinion #2: You learn to write by writing, and if you can find someone to read what you’ve written and give an honest opinion, you’re that much ahead. Be willing to learn from a reader—don’t take offense...which segues into

Weird Writing Opinion #3: Stop reading about “how to” survive bad reviews. You’re going to get them. Reviews are totally subjective. One person will love your book; another will hate it. Some are more vocal about hating it than others. I re-read one the other day which really made me laugh—and it was unnecessarily ugly—but if the person felt better, then okay. You write—hopefully you get read—you get reviewed—and ho-hum, so what. If you’ve got 10 good reviews to one bad, you’re ahead of the game.

Weird Writing Opinion #4: Writers are regularly cautioned/warned against prologues, epilogues, and back stories. Again—someone’s opinion. If one of the aforementioned fits your story, write it. Many reviews I’ve received say they loved the epilogues and finding out what happened to the characters “after the story”.

Weird Writing Opinion #5: Unless you’re a freelancer depending on your writing to pay the bills, just write because you enjoy it. If you make some money—and I have—good for you. If you don’t—and I’ve been there, too—I enjoyed the writing anyway. There are thousands of writers out there. Some are better than you are; some are not. Please do not put your nose in the air after your first publication and consider yourself important. You’re not. We’re all in this together.

Weird Writing Opinion #6: “Award winning author” can mean anything from a fourth honorable mention to first prize. I’m always skeptical when I read someone who styles himself/herself that way. Think about it before you announce yourself that way.

Weird enough for you? I am a pariah among writers, but that’s okay. I love what I do. And I can look at myself in the mirror when all is said and done.


~~Published March 30



Blogging in Our Time: Reactions to a crisis

 In keeping with the “times”, I chose the theme of reactions to crisis for free writing in my journal this week. There are many, many ways to react, but these three—blame, verbal attacks, physical violence-- jumped out at me. Certainly we’re seeing all of them in our current society.


Today I’ll share what I wrote about verbal attacks here. Keep in mind, it’s not a complete story, just a snippet.


She’d heard it all before: lazy, stupid, trying to sabotage my career, wrong priorities, no fashion sense, but this time, rather than causing her to turn away, she faced him until he ran out of steam. Then she said, “Just let me go.”

His face hardened. “Never!”

~~

When she was sure he was asleep in the guest room—they hadn’t shared a bed in years—she took out the small case of childhood keepsakes she’d protected for years and double-checked the suitcase she’d kept packed for the last six months, and let herself out of the house through the sliding doors opening from her master suite onto a small flagstone terrace.

At the end of the street across the rolling lawn, freedom—love--waited in a mud-spattered pickup. “You’re sure about this, Ginny?”

You’re sure you’ve forgiven me for making the wrong choice fifteen years ago?”

I waited for you, didn’t I?”

He hefted the two cases into the back and opened the passenger door for her.

She didn’t hesitate. “Where are we going?”

Smiling as he slid behind the wheel, he reached for her hand. “Home, my love. We’re going home.”

~~

I’d love to have some reactions here. For example, can you find clues as to why Ginny made the choice between the two men fifteen years ago? What will happen next? Will there be a “happily-ever-after or physical violence?

Email me—judy@judynickles.com and chime in. (No, I’m not collecting email addresses for a newsletter. They annoy me, and I won’t annoy you!)


~~Posted March 27



Exile or Opportunity?

So how is your exile going? Or are you out and about, daring any little pronged virus to come near you?

I decided to err on the side of caution and stay in, but that doesn’t mean I’m climbing the walls. My planner has every hour scheduled—from prayer and devotion time, to walking, writing, chores, and the nightly spa hour! And, I have a list of weekly goals to accomplish.

The particular planner I’m trying out this year has a space labeled “gratitude” under every day. What am I thankful for? I can think of a lot of things not just related to this unfortunate situation. I begin everyday by thanking God for all sorts of things—and then end it by recounting the blessings of the day. Maybe saying thank you for a day of sunshine doesn’t sound like much, but after a winter of more gray, gloomy days with rain, it’s a definite praise the Lord when the sun breaks through!

I have groceries (and toilet paper, but don’t tell anyone about that!), plenty to do in the house, books and periodicals to read, and music to lift my spirits to another plain. I get up on schedule every morning (except for the Saturday sleep-in), dress, fix my hair and my face though there’s no one to see it but me, and I’m ready for the day. So are the kitties who eagerly wait outside the bedroom door for their breakfast. Poor starving babies—you’d think the canned food of which they get a very small portion in the mornings was all they had to eat in a week. Not.

Staying off the news, except for a twice-daily check of One America News and maybe one other network where I get facts rather than opinion, is a big help. Social media and texting is fun, too, but I try not to overdo it.

The situation is serious—no doubt about it. But the sky isn’t falling, and the world isn’t coming to an end. People’s true colors are showing when they hoard and don’t leave enough for others, or when they price gouge (our state’s attorney general is going after that in a big way) privately or under cover of a business. The media has already shown its dark side. They’re having a field day with this, but in the end, they’re the ones who look foolish.

It’s a good time for those of us with some sense to take stock. (Those without any ought to do the same, but they won’t.) Fear will only cripple us.

I heard someone say the other day that the excuse of “I don’t have time” doesn’t hold water now. NOW we have time, so what do we want to do with it?

The weather here on Wednesday is predicted to be in the 70s with sunshine. I’m already planning to pack a picnic lunch and some reading material long overdue to be perused and noted, and head out to one of the nearby lakes. A day soaking up some vitamin D will be a good break in the week. It’s free, it’s safe, and it’s doable.

So how are you managing your new normal? If you’d like to share, email me, and I’ll post your ideas here later this week or next—either credited or anonymously.


~~Posted March 25




Grab that idea before it gets away...

Most interviewers have one standard question in common—and it’s legitimate, because readers often want to know where writers get their ideas for stories: Where do you get your ideas for stories? In my opinion, stories are everywhere. I only wish I had time to write them all! Perhaps something in this list will flip the light switch for you, and you’ll wonder why you never thought of it before! (Don’t forget to share!)

  • Old family stories/poignant trivia of tragedy, dishonor, heroism, lost love, even violence stumbled on through genealogical research—or, even better, found out by accident, especially when you weren’t supposed to know!

  • Causes of death on death certificates which make you stop and think—even wonder

  • Obituaries—survivors or lack of same, former unusual occupations for the time, places of birth, military service, hints of nostalgia about past lives, and a good source for period character names

  • Newspaper articles on startling finds in/history of old buildings, interviews with people who’ve lived history (war veterans, etc.)

  • Travel brochures—chock full of history, ideas for settings

  • Road signs—names of rivers, creeks, bridges, small towns

  • Historical markers—who passed this way before and why?

  • Backs of menus—what did this restaurant/bar really used to be?

  • Song titles/lyrics—conjuring up bygone eras or contemporary life situations

  • Overheard conversations (please, no X-rated!)

  • Calendars—special dates, historic dates, unusual dates

  • Coffee table books—pictures to inspire and make your imagination take flight

  • Inscriptions or notes in old (antique) books or something found tucked between the pages

  • Tours—historic, ghost walks, even home exhibitions

  • Museums—too much to mention! But stop and look, read labels, think about the building itself

  • Antique shops/flea markets—forgotten treasures which mattered once to someone somewhere

  • Observation: people watching at airports, malls, in coffee shops and restaurants, in church

And always, always, ALWAYS carry a notebook in your purse or briefcase! Ideas are fleeting, even brilliant ones, and you don’t want to lose sleep trying to remember what you shouldn’t have forgotten!


Here’s a funny note to end this post: I wrote this so long ago I couldn’t remember if I really wrote it or saved it from somewhere! Apparently I submitted it somewhere on February 16 of who-knows-what-year—or intended to anyway. It wasn’t picked up for publication, because I could’t find it online.


So I resorted to one of the free “plagerism checkers” and got a score of 100% unique. It sounds like me, but I wanted to make sure before I published it here.


~~Posted March 23

Coming Soon: 

Your Own Personal Social Distancer!

Attention!

Soon every citizen will be issued two yardsticks superglued end to end. In case you have forgotten your elementary school math, this equals six feet—the decreed Social Distance to be kept between individuals at all times.

  1. You must have this social distancer with you at all times when you step outside your front or back door. This includes taking out the trash, checking the mail, and letting Rover relieve himself.

  2. You must hold the social distancer at the ready in one hand when you walk down the street, even if there is no one around except Sammie Squirrel or Bambi.

  3. Make sure it is held straight out in front of you as you approach the door of any business which may still be open. If someone is in front of you, do not step forward until his backside has been inside for 30 seconds.

  4. Be sure you can carry any purchases you make with one hand, because the other hand must hold onto the social distancer at all times. This is, of course, assuming there’s anything in the store to purchase.

  5. When checking out, make sure you keep the social distancer moving from front to back lest someone creep up on you from behind or step back on you from the front.

  6. When exiting the store, follow the 30-second-through-the-door rule.

  7. If someone moves past the tip of your social distancer, give only one warning before poking any vulnerable spot. Hard. All laws against assault with a deadly weapon are suspended for the duration of the emergency.

  8. The standard reply for “Ow! You poked me! is always “You poked me first!”

  9. Be sure to carry the social distancer with you to all medical appointments. Let the doctor or the dentist figure out how to examine you at a distance of six feet. They are the professionals. (It is entirely possible they won’t even be able to enter the small examining room, but let that be a lesson to them to demand larger.)

  10. The social distancer is also useful for skewering the stray roll of toilet paper someone missed on the shelf.


Dear Reader, you understand all this was written tongue-in-cheek. At times like this, we have to find humor even in the most insane circumstances.

Stay in if you can—stay warm—stay safe—stay well--and remember:

God’s got this!

(And don’t hold your breath waiting for your social distancer to arrive.)

~~Posted March 20


Everybody loves 

a good ghost story...

 My first introduction to ghosts was Washington Irving's classic The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Who couldn't be sucked into the story of poor Ichabod Crane and his wild ride to nowhere? My next favorite memory is Carolyn Keene's Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase. I could well imagine mysterious doings behind that creaking door! So is it any wonder that I like to inject a ghost into many of my stories.

Even people who don’t believe in ghosts per se (I don’t) can still admit to loving a good ghost story.

Here’s a link to one you shouldn’t miss, complete with pictures, text, and even a video. Someday I’m going to take myself to Monticello AR and visit the Allen House.

Here's their website  in case you want to consider a visit yourself! 

Meanwhile, I may post a ghost story of my own next week!

~~Posted March 18



Our Own Worst Enemies


As a child growing up in the post-war years of the late forties and early fifties, our common “enemy” was the idea that some foreign country (e.g. Russia) was going to drop an atomic bomb on us. To that end—in our naivete—we had regular “air raid drills” in school. At the sound of the alarm, we’d drop to the wooden floor under our desks and cover our heads and necks. Little did we know such caution would do absolutely nothing to protect us from the effects of radiation released by the feared bomb.

A few people even built underground bomb shelters in their back yards. Of course, these came in handy during tornado season, especially after a tornado blew away a good section of town and killed eleven people in 1953. For a few years after that, even if one’s home and family hadn’t been affected by the deadly storm, anxiety flared at the sight of angry clouds on the West Texas horizon.

Then there were the killer polio epidemics of those years before Salk and Sabin came up with their life-saving vaccines. Our fears were manifested in the shutting down of public gathering places like movie theaters and swimming pools. I can’t remember now if Sunday School classes were temporarily dismissed, but I well remember the fear engendered in us by the very word polio.

In addition, our childish vocabularies were introduced to new words like iron lung, braces, crippled...and even a new understanding that death played no favorites. Fear lived among us. We were unashamedly afraid.

And now fast-forward some eighty years. We are afraid again—not of foreign powers, though some are blatantly eager to destroy America—not of disease (recently COVID-19/the corona virus)--not of the certain spring and summer storms—but rather, we now have more reason to be afraid of each other.

Don’t share the same political beliefs? Kill them all!

A Christian? White supremacists! Racists! Any ‘phobia’ you can think of and then some!

A patriot? You can’t love a country like this!


It’s truly anything goes—no holds barred. Say what you will, assault at will, make accusations without concern for truth, blame everyone else for everything, threaten without fear of being held accountable, spew hatred and lies without concern. I could go on and on.

And now we have a new crisis with which to beat each other up—the corona virus is going to get us all! A frenzy of hoarding has broken out—even a black market which smacks of those who got what they wanted during World War II without regard for the needs of others, especially the soldiers fighting on the front.

We are afraid, and we have every reason to be. But not of the corona virus. There are safety precautions to hopefully stop its spread, and the majority of cases aren’t life-threatening. Still we are afraid.

We are afraid of each other because we have become our own worst enemies.  


~~Posted March 16



What's New 

Isn't Always "In"

Occasionally I get sample magazines in the mail and enjoy reading them even though I rarely subscribe. In one of the newest issues to land on my doorstep, someone wrote an illustrated recommendation for updating my dressing table!

For $39 I can have a compartmentalized holder for my makeup brushes. Fifty-four dollars will buy a fancy tissue dispenser. (Heaven forbid we use the cardboard box the tissues come in!) Keeping my everyday jewelry handy on a geometrically-sculptured holder can be done for $25. And finally, a hand mirror in a cheetah pattern will let me be beautiful from all angles at a mere $38.

Please.

I keep my makeup brushes in a nice glass jar which once housed a candle. It cleaned up nicely. (I wash them in a plastic container now emptied of lunch meat.) The jewelry I wear most often is housed in nice compartmentalized plastic boxes from the Dollar Tree. Rings nestle in a heart-shaped glass box, the origins of which have long since been forgotten. That tacky tissue box hides behind a makeup mirror past its prime but still functional. Other oft-worn accessories repose in the ceramic candy box made by my grandmother when she was into that sort of thing. Lighting the entire vanity is a lamp which once brightened her living room, safely rewired by a dear friend who knew how.

And every item is carefully arranged on a dresser scarf hand-embroidered by my grandmother. I must have two or three dozen of them!

Now—I’m not saying these new stylish (funky) vanity must-haves aren’t someone’s cup of tea. They’re just not mine. The total on my handy-dandy Dollar Tree calculator says it would cost me $156 to bring home all of the items described above.

Please.

I’m a make-doer, a use up type, a recycle person. The smug feeling of accomplishment when I discover a new use for something is priceless. The old items with a family history and warm memories can’t be bought and sold for mere money.

The greatest compliment I’ve ever received is from people who visit, look around, and say, “This house is you.” From the shabbiest to the newest, from the plainest and most practical to the occasional impulse buy, my house is my home.

I’m happy here.

~~Posted March 8




So Long Ago and Far Away

About a million letters in the gold Schrafft Chocolates box. That’s what Sandra thought anyway, until she counted them. Only one hundred forty-seven, most of them on thin V-mails. It hurt to think of burning them, but she’d never leave behind words meant only for her. For now, she re-tied them with a frayed pink hair ribbon, the one he said looked like peppermint in her hair, and laid them back in the box.

About a million men. That’s how many they said stormed the beaches at Normandy that day. Pete was just one. He wrote to her later about how the Channel was so rough that the nets they used to climb down into the landing craft were almost parallel with the water. “I thought I wasn’t going to make it into the boat, much less to the beach.”

He’d made it in and even off the beach and onto the road leading inland among the hedgerows. That’s when the real trouble started, he said. He said that’s when he knew he wasn’t going to make it home in one piece, or maybe not at all. “It’s rough, Sandy,” he wrote. “I’m glad you’ll never know just how bad it really is. If I get home, don’t ask me to talk about it, because I won’t.”

Sandra lifted the lid and caressed the letters. It had taken her three days to read them all again, but she wanted him to be fresh in her mind before she made this trip. Had it been so long ago? He was as real to her now as he was the day he squeezed her one last time before making a dash for the train already beginning to move along the platform. As long as she lived, he’d never be older than he was that day—just twenty-two. She was seventeen.

You’re in love with love and a uniform,” her mother said. “You’ll get over him.” Her older sister Yvonne said she’d wasted her life. Did two degrees and thirty years at the local junior college count as a waste? Sandra didn’t think so.

A lot of boys like Pete sat in her classes. She watched them go off to other wars and wondered how many came back, though she never knew. Mostly she tried not to think about it. It was enough to know the lessons of history: Men fought wars. Men died. Nothing changed.

Leaning her head against the crisp white cloth on the headrest of the train seat, she closed her eyes and thought about the first time she ever saw Pete. A lanky cotton-headed boy, his fair skin sunburned from working outdoors, he was living at the CCC camp just outside of town. He winked and called her a cute kid when she sat down beside him at the soda fountain where Yvonne worked.

She could tell he was interested in Yvonne, but it was equally plain Yvonne wasn’t interested in him. She had bigger fish to fry, like Milt, the captain of the high school football team which had just won the state championship. When Yvonne snubbed him, Pete turned his attention to Sandra, but in a brotherly sort of way. She was only twelve then.

He came into town every Saturday afternoon, always alone and with a willing ear to listen to her adolescent problems. He said he had a little sister of his own back home in West Texas. Yvonne tattled on her, and Mamma said it wasn’t a good idea for Sandra to sit in the back booth at Bramble’s Drug Store every Saturday afternoon with an older boy from that place out there, but she did it anyway. When the camp closed, and Pete went home, she felt like she’d lost part of herself.

It was funny how things worked out, running into him again four years later on the same stool at the soda fountain when he came back for basic training at Camp Payne. “You’ve changed,” they both said at the same time and then laughed. He didn’t even ask about Yvonne, who was married to Milt by then and had two kids.

She cajoled Mamma into asking him for Sunday dinner. He even showed up early, went to church with them, helped with the dishes, and then asked her mother if he could take her downtown to the movies. They went to see Holiday Inn with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire and afterwards danced all the way to her front door. Mamma heard them laughing and came out to see what was going on. When they told her, she said they were being silly.

The next time they met at the drug store, he asked about her father. “He left when I was a baby. That’s why Mamma’s the way she is.”

He didn’t say he was sorry, just, “I wondered.” Then he told her about his parents and kid sister and scribbled their names and address on a napkin. “I’d like for you to meet them someday.” She still had the napkin, and eventually she’d met his family, but without him.

The day he took the jewelry box out of his pocket, she knew what was coming. Not a proposal. They’d talked about that and agreed it wasn’t the right time. What he’d bought her at Dorner's was a heart-shaped locket. “It’s real silver, just like my feelings for you are real.” They went to Woolworth and spent a quarter in the little photography booth so she’d have pictures to put inside.

Without opening her eyes, she touched the locket beneath her blouse and smiled. She’d worn it every day for the last forty-five years and left written instructions with the funeral director that nobody should take it off. Yvonne or one of her know-it-all girls would try if someone didn’t watch them.

She felt the train stop and opened her eyes to green French countryside. A feeling of having come home to this far-away place stirred inside her. The porter, who’d been surprised at her fluent French, helped her with her luggage. He even carried her bags to the car waiting to take her to the inn the travel agency assured her was within walking distance of what she wanted to see.

~~~~~

It was good to sleep in a bed again after a succession of planes and trains. After a substantial breakfast which included plenty of strong coffee, she changed into her walking shoes and picked up the all-weather coat the travel agent told her she would need, even in June.

About a million graves, she thought as she paused to take in the white crosses and Stars of David spilling across the lush emerald grass. Well, maybe not a million, but too many. One too many for sure. From her purse she extracted a slip of paper with the exact location of the one she’d come to see.

All the graves faced west, toward the United States. It was as close to home as these soldiers would ever come. If they were to be reunited with their loved ones, it would have to be here, and here she was. Not to say goodbye. Not to find closure which seemed to be the buzz word today. None of that. She was here to keep a promise to herself.

By the time she stood beside the grave marker, she could feel the strain of the long walk. Supporting herself on the top of the cross, she lowered her trembling body to the damp grass and glanced around to see if she was alone. “Well, Pete, I came. I always said I would.”

With the tip of one finger, she traced the letters of his name. “I’ve had a good life. I hope you know that. We’d have had a good life together, too, but it just didn’t happen that way. We talked about that, how things might not work out, but it’s still all right.”

Sandra shifted her cramped legs into a more comfortable position. “I’ve always felt you were a presence in my life. Yvonne says I’ve lived with a ghost, but you’ve always been real to me.” Pressing her thin, almost-transparent fingers against the carving, she thought she felt his arms around her again.

I’m not staying for the anniversary ceremonies next week. I wouldn’t want to get all weepy over the music and the speeches. Besides, that’s not why I came.”

She looked around. A million men. A million unfinished lives. A million shattered dreams. She put her lips against the cold stone. “Years ago I cried a million tears, Pete. I’ve told you a million times how much I love you.”

It was harder getting up than getting down. Her breath grew ragged with the effort, and she had to wait before she could speak again. “And I lived a million days just for this one more with you.”



So Long Ago and Far Away” received an Honorable Mention in The Writer’s Journal (no longer in publication) for a story beginning with the words “about a million…”







Silent Sentinels of the Past

Another one of my favorite historical places (or what’s left of it!) is the site of the Windsor Ruins in Mississippi between Vicksburg and Natchez. You’ll find a bit more of its history here.

The day I was traveling that direction with the intention of stopping, the road was closed—go figure! I pulled off to turn around and ran into two men in a pickup who said they’d just been there and that I could access it by a back road. Tempting but common sense kicked in! So I just turned around and continued on my way south via the Natchez Trace.

I did stop at a visitor information center where the young lady gave me a ton of information and told me that, sadly, it was more or less roped off due to people chipping away pieces of the remaining columns or some such nonsense. Sad.

The existing floor plan was drawn from memory, and as I understand it, there are no photographs of it as it once stood in all its glory. However, I’m using it as the (fictionalized) setting of the new novel, The Legacy of Diamond Springs.

Check my Pinterest board for more photographs of the ruins and the old family cemetery. Rel


Related Articles about Windsor

Gone Forever

     Old houses have always held a special fascination for me. I think that interest even predated reading Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase. (Of course, all old houses had hidden staircases and more!)

   Beautiful 19th and early 20th century homes once graced my hometown, but most are gone now. They fell victim to a new generation of outsiders who built banks and parking lots, intending to turn a sleepy old country cow town into a big city. Well, it’s a big city now—and I want to cry every time I go back. It’s ugly and dirty. Businesses come and go, and the windows of empty buildings stare like empty sockets in a skull. Few people remember the quiet tree-lined streets and stately homes of the town’s early pioneer founders, the hometown businesses where one was not just a customer but rather an honored guest, and the slow, easy pace of the downtown sidewalks and streets.

   All of that is gone now forever.

   It hurts to grieve for the place which shaped me, so, I drown my sorrows in the sad history of the antebellum South and rejoice in the remnants which have been carefully restored and preserved.

   One such magnificent structure no longer exists, but if it did...the stories the walls could tell! Belle Grove Plantation in Iberville Parish LA, completed in 1857, died a slow death. Then, arsonists finished her off, and unlike the Phoenix, she could not rise from the ashes.

   You can revisit her in this poignant video, Death of a Queen, and in the shorter clips here. Then browse my Pinterest Board (88 pins) for more.


RIP, Beautiful Lady.

Belle Grove Plantation

1857-1952


~~Posted February 24





Branding Time 


Authors are advised—no, they’re commanded to brand themselves. A brand basically being something that tells potential readers who we are and what we write. Okay, I understand that. My FB Author Page is a brand of sorts. I write vintage romance, romantic suspense, and cozy mysteries. So far so good. But I’m more than that, so what?


The above graphic tells more about me than words, maybe more than you want to know, but it’s who I am.


A blogger once suggested sitting down and making a list to come up with an idea for a brand. It’s not a bad idea, but I didn’t need to remind myself that I am


  1. A Christian blessed by her womanhood

  2. A mother and grandmother

  3. Fascinated with who did what and when and where and why—not to mention how

  4. Love of history, especially the WW II and Great Depression eras

  5. A person who wants to close a book feeling good—not like she needs to go take a hot shower and scrub herself clean


   So there you have it.


   I don’t style myself a writer of “Christian” books, although there’s nothing in the world wrong with those. I grew up on Grace Livingston Hill. But life isn’t always happily-ever-after, and heroes and heroines aren’t necessarily squeaky clean with polished halos.


Everybody knows life is tough. Everybody knows life takes dark turns occasionally. Everybody wants to believe those dark turns can lead to a field of light. That’s what I write: real people in real life situations making real decisions (sometimes the wrong ones), and determined to do more than just survive.


I’m not preaching to the choir. Rather, I hope people who’d reject a “Christian romance” would pick up my book and find some Christian values and inspiration to which they can aspire. I’ve met plenty of “Christians” who cause me to raise a doubtful eyebrow—not about what they want to be but how they are.


Perhaps my bottom line is this: Despite my bumbling and fumbling, I managed to raise two sons on my own after their father died. Now I have grandchildren. Never in a million years do I ever want one of them someday to pick up something I’ve written—gasp—and say, “Oh, Mimi!” No amount of sales is worth that.


"If anyone causes one of these little ones--those who believe in me--to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Matthew 18:6 (NIV)


~~Posted February 22




Wake-up Call!


Mystery author Heather Weidner is an author/blogger to whom I often link on my own author page because she always has something valuable to share. I recently linked to a blog from October 2019 titled “10 Things About the Writing Life”. Number six in her list resonated with me and inspired this blog.

She says, rightly so, that writing is a business and should be treated as such, and that writers should act professional. I couldn’t agree more! But here is where I fall short.

Shortly after retirement, when I decided to see if I could write anything worth publishing, I spend a great deal of time learning about various facets of the writing “career”. I was fortunate to have The Wild Rose Press pick up my first book, its sequel, and later three more. (My WIP is headed there for consideration as soon as it’s finished.) I also learned about self-publishing and did some of that, too, with varying degrees of success. (The Penelope Pembroke Cozy Mystery Series brought in a nice piece of change!)

I did my homework on marketing, too, but that onerous chore eventually drifted to the sidelines as I wrote more and more for pleasure rather than publication. Of course, that was a mistake, and the royalty reports for tax season confronted me with my sloth.

Hours spent on a detailed marketing plan (which needs to be revised) have flown. Small sums of money on paid marketing didn’t really seem worth the expense. I exited several social media venues because they simply took up too much time. I found writing groups to be forums for personal promotion and ego-polishing. At author promotion events, I couldn’t be bothered to sit behind my carefully-arranged table because I’d rather be up and around meeting other people.

In short, “I’d rather be writing” became my mantra—and the second verse was, “I’d rather be writing when I want to”. Writing is something I do because I love it. If readers love it, great. If they don’t, no problem for me.

After four books with the same editor at The Wild Rose Press, we developed a nice relationship. When I emailed her to say I was working on another book and considering submitting it to TWRP, she replied with anticipation and attached something new with their submissions process: the necessity of also submitting a marketing information sheet. This form is absolutely necessary if a manuscript is accepted “before a contract can be discussed”.

Do I agree with the strategy? Absolutely. I’ve been part of TWRP for a long time and watched it grow from a fledgling group into a solid publisher which makes good business decisions and treats its authors with courtesy and respect.

  But now the ball comes to rest in my court. What am I willing to do to promote this new book should they accept it for publication?

  I’m thinking about that.

  The marketing plan I toiled over and then put on the shelf rebukes me each time my eyes fall on the nice leatherette notebook in which it reposes.

  I need an attitude adjustment if my little tales are going to see the world beyond “My Documents” folder on the computer.

  But first I have to bring Diamond Springs to a satisfactory close. Before I can do that, I have to kill off at least one more character and expose all the dirty secrets which have festered for two hundred years.

  Now, that’s fun!

  ~~Posted February 20





Procrastination Starts with P

And that rhymes with T

And that stands for Trouble!


I get up every morning with the firm intention to edge my current novel toward the finish line. Firm intentions do not translate to real action. The little voice in the back of my head keeps whispering to me.

There’s laundry in the hamper.

You’re a day late blogging.

Those bills you pay online need to be scheduled.

Your email boxes need clearing out.

Go load up the recycling and take it.

Don’t forget to mail that package.

Check the pantry to see what you need at the grocery store while you’re out.

You said you were going to order_________.

You have to call _______ about ________.


This morning I resolve not to listen to that annoying little voice. Everything can wait. The novel’s waited long enough.

The computer boots up slowly. I ignore the icons for Facebook, Gmail, and Yahoo mail, and go directly to My Documents. And there it is, waiting patiently for me: the WIP, last saved ten days ago. Surely it hasn’t been that long—has it?

My characters are ignoring me. What’s good for the goose, I hear them say. And I reply, Please, I’ll do better. Really, I will. I know the action has stagnated. Oh, all right, it’s come to a complete stop, but I can get it going again. I can.

I’ve killed off two people. Is it time for a third, or shall I wait a while? What new clue needs to be dropped in this chapter? Wait—I need to re-read my notes and see who knows what to this point.

And while I’m at it, that one character—the older brother, a real heel underneath his fine clothes and fancy framed law school diploma—isn’t really behaving true to form. He’s ranting, and he’s too cool for that. His threats need to be more subtle. That means rewriting a whole scene, at least two pages worth of dialogue. Drat.

Maybe a cold Coke will help. I get my caffeine from a bottle, not a cup. As soon as I open the refrigerator, I’m reminded that I need to purge the freezer side. But it can wait. I’ll just peek in and see what’s there…

No! Do. Not. Open. The. Freezer.

I scurry back to my desk and the waiting computer with the open document. Where was I? Oh, right, I have to rewrite that scene with the evil older brother who doesn’t rant but rather threatens subtly. Would he really commit his niece to a mental hospital? Could he? He’s a lawyer, and he has the ear of some judges and other influential figures. Maybe. But there’s her father to contend with. She’s the apple of his eye, and…

I’ll get back to Mr. Evil Attorney Brother. This last scene is pretty good. Someone just dropped some enticing information, even if it was mostly in the form of veiled hints. Maybe this is the point where the ghost-hunting professor should show up again. I’ve got that scene written in another draft. All I need to do is copy, paste, and tweak it a bit.

While I search the other draft document, I remember the shelves in the back of the car which need to be put together. Need to do that while it’s still cool. I can write when it’s hot this afternoon and…no, this is Wednesday, and I play cards at the church and then go to exercise group. Better keep writing this morning.

How did I write so much when I was still working full time? Now that I’m retired, it’s like wading in molasses in January to fill up a page. Was I more motivated? Did I manage my time more efficiently? I was younger, that’s for sure, but you won’t catch me using age as an excuse for this foot-dragging!

Anyway, I better get the shelves out of the car. I’ll leave the document open and get back to it…ten minutes max…


~~Posted February 18







Polished White Mansions 

of Stone..

     People often ask where the ideas for my stories come from. I can give them a list:

  • old family stories

  • genealogical research

  • newspaper/magazine articles

  • travel experiences

  • random photographs

  • overheard snippets of conversation

  • old death certificates available on Ancestry.com

  • song titles/lyrics

  • memories

  • documentaries

  • cemeteries

     So which one is the best? The last—cemeteries--hands down.


     One of my grandfather’s favorite songs was “When You and I Were Young, Maggie” in which an old man has wandered out into the country—perhaps to a cemetery—to remember Maggie. In the last verse of the song he speaks to her of how


the young and the gay and the best…

in polished white mansions of stone…

have each found a place of rest…


     Wander among these polished white mansions and think of them as dwelling places, because no one is ever gone until they’re forgotten. Consider if the information is skillfully carved or crudely scratched. Was the person poor (field stone), comfortable (marker), or wealthy/prominent (monument)? Were their lives tragically short, average, or very long? Are the markers among others with similar names or alone? Do you see fresh flowers, faded flowers, long-dead flowers, or nothing at all?

     Is only the basic information there, or is there an epitaph—beloved wife, our baby, gone too soon, together forever, never forgotten--the list goes on and on. Is there a symbol—professional (medical/dental) or organizational (Masonic, Woodmen of the World)? Is the marker a standard veteran’s marker—and does the grave hold both the veteran and his wife (always check the back for an additional name). What can you tell about the person’s religious beliefs—Christian cross, Star of David, or something else?

     Think about the history of the area or town. Are those who settled this particular place interred here? Does the cemetery itself have an historical marker designating it as significant? Is it a church cemetery? A family cemetery?

     Wander into the area for those souls whose families couldn’t afford either a plot or a marker—often referred to as Potter’s Field, county burials, or paupers’ graves. Listen to the cries of these barren plots! Touch the simple carving designating “Unknown” and listen more closely.

     The souls here live on in their polished white mansions of stone—or in unmarked spaces—but they are silenced. It’s up to the writer to speak for them and to tell their stories.

     Weave the stories as fiction or nonfiction, and in the latter pay scrupulous attention to details in the facts you research. You can take some literary license in the former, but do it with dignity.

     I’ve always loved the old western epitaph:


Be careful, friend, as you pass by--

As you are now, so once was I.

As I am now, so you will be,

Therefore prepare to follow me.


     Tell their stories the way you’d want yours told some day hence.


     Their stories need to be told.


Posted February 17






Time to Write

     Time to Write?

     That could mean, “It’s time to write.”

     OR, it could mean, “I don’t have time to write!”

     Lately, in my case, it means the latter! By the time I get everything taken care of, it’s after eight PM., and my brain is too fuzzy to concentrate on the intricate details of the suspense tale I’m trying to weave.

     So where does my time go?

     It’s not that I don’t get anything done—I generally check off most of what I haw scheduled for the day. It’s just that, for some reason, other things get prioritized over writing. Real life over fiction.

     It’s been a couple of years since I started trying to put together The Legacy of Diamond Springs. The general idea hasn’t changed, and I did my research into the time period—the Civil Rights unrest in the early to mid-60s—which influences the story in the present-day setting. Characters have evolved. Critical events and relationships have been honed to reflect realism. I finally have the “tone” for the story.

     And now what happens? After all that, interruptions in my day are whittling away at the time I want to be writing!

     While I was writing this blog (which is at least a day late!), the phone rang. The company with whom I have my annual termite control contract is running ahead and wanted to schedule my yearly inspection—not technically due until March 19—this week. Um, no—next week, please. I’m looking at two days, Thursday and Friday, when I do not have to do anything extra except write, and I’m holding that time sacred.

     Sometimes I think back to when I was teaching and how much writing I actually accomplished in the evenings and on weekends. How did that happen? Why isn’t it happening now?

     I’m not a joiner. I don’t play golf or cards (regularly) or volunteer (shame on me). I am decidedly anti-social (relatively speaking,, you understand). So where does my writing time go?

     Could it be I’m just not as motivated as I was before coming published? Maybe so. I attained my goal—my name on the cover of a book and then more books. So is it now that I’ve accomplished what I set out to do, I’m no longer on a mission? Possibly.

     Or maybe it’s just that, as the years pile up, I’d rather live life at a slower pace and enjoy each day without anything hanging over my head—including writing. That comes closest to the explanation.

     BUT—I have set myself a goal of 1500-2000 words per day, which I usually don’t make. The word count tool shows an average of around 1100+ when my eyelids begin to droop. I don’t argue with myself about shutting down for the evening.

     That said, the WIP (work in progress) will see the light of day.

     I just can’t tell you when.

  Posted February 13





Another snippet from my writing journal...

     Today I’m sharing another snippet from my journal, the “free writing” for January 29. I took “an empty 

classroom” from the settings list in Master Lists for Writers.

 

     She emptied the final drawer, tossing the items onto the pile of jumbled contents already in the last cardboard 

box she’d brought from the grocery store. As she closed and taped the lid, it came to her she’d probably never

open the empty the box. Someone might do it someday, but it wouldn’t be her.

     In the hall, workmen moving desks and bookcases shouted at each other to move this way or that, to be careful,to    

watch out. She shook her head. What did it matter if a door or a wall were gouged or the wood floor scraped? In

two weeks the old building was scheduled for demolition anyway. 

 

     The silence of the empty classroom settled on her shoulders like a weight. How many generations of sixth-graders 

had sat in those desks—stared out those tall windows—warmed their chapped hands on the clanking metal

radiators?

 

     Now the last eager feet had exited for the last time, and it was her turn to go. A school board member half her age 

had said it plainly, “Out with the old, in with the new.”

 

     I participate in StoryADay challenges in May and September, and now the administrator of the site, Julia Duffy, has 

posted a three-day challenge with the theme Aspects of Enduring Love. We are asked to write three linked 

mini-stories to illustrate moments of intimacy, passion, and commitment. Sounds fun.


     After I get in my 1500 words for the day on the WIP (Legacy of Diamond Springs) I may tackle it!


~~Posted on February 8




I will find out...
and that's a promise!

I’ve been keeping my newest research project under wraps for a while. “Walking John”, a poor old man who lived in caves around my home town, was finally discovered drowned in July 1937. I stumbled on his death certificate by accident, and the hunt was on. So far I’ve discovered:

  1. Where he’s buried (and not in Potter’s Field!)

  2. His burial records

  3. Tons of info on the minister who officiated

  4. Pretty much what didn’t jive with his story

  5. The absence of police records

  6. The truth of where he said he came from—and did

  7. The absence of any record of him at the University of Texas in its early days

  8. Tons of nice people who have gone out of their way to answer my questions

  9. That not everyone is interested and/or helpful

  10. A growing determination to find out THE TRUTH about poor old Walking John

After deciding to forego the trip to my hometown in February—June or September are better times for me—I also decided I could spend some of the trip money on some paid research. So, I contacted the local historical society, and this morning opened an email to find someone had taken the bait! Not only that, but she’d located a second newspaper article which backed up the fact he said he’d come from another county bordering mine!

So—the hunt is on again, and I’ve got a few things I’m considering doing by mail and email and social media.

I am like a bulldog with a bone.

I want to know.

And I’ve been to the cemetery and told him I’d. find. out.


~~Posted February 6




Letter to 
my (much) younger self


Dear Judy,

There are a few things you really need to know. I mean, really need to know. Not about the birds and the bees. You got Facts of Life 101 at the appropriate time. The problem is, nobody gave you the facts of living.

So here we go. Pay attention. Take some notes if you need to. Take in the information by osmosis if that’s the only way you can do it. But do it!

1. You are a person, separate from your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Respect the first four on the list and blow off the last if they try to steamroll you because they’re older. Just because they’re older, they have no right to use or abuse you in any way.

2. There are other things you owe the older members of your family besides respect. I know you’ll take care of your parents’ needs when the time comes. You were taught to do the right thing. But your turf is your turf. If you can’t even get your car in your own garage because various people are using it for cheap storage, there’s a problem.

3. Your dreams and ambitions are also worthy of respect. Being laughed at and put down is not cool, and you don’t have to allow it.

4. You know you aren’t going to go out and do anything against the law, but that doesn’t mean you can’t break a few rules once in a while. It’s good for the soul. It makes you human. Frankly, it makes you a nicer person all around.

5. There is nothing wrong with you because you are an only child. You will find, as you go through life, that quite often only children are far more giving because they were never made to do it. They did it because they wanted to. Stop hanging your head because of your birth circumstances.

6. No matter what anyone tells you—and I mean anyone—God is a real part of your life seven days a week, not just within the church walls on Sunday. Don’t let anyone tell you, “Oh, it’s okay to believe all that, and you should, but in the real world it’s up to you.” It’s not.

7. Stop letting people tell you, “You can’t.” You can. And if you make a few mistakes, that’s what it is: a mistake, not a mortal sin. Learn from them and move on.

8. Widen your horizons. Life isn’t lived inside textbooks, and good grades don’t make you smart. Common sense weighs in here. Get a grip.

9. Just because you were parented in a certain way doesn’t mean you have to parent your children the same if it doesn’t seem the right thing.

10. Pull up your big girl panties and live your own life—which doesn’t mean trying to please everyone and feeling guilty when you don’t.


Oh, if only someone had backed me into a corner and read me this list many, many, many years ago!


~~Posted February 3





Only Make-believe

As adolescents, we liked the fun songs, but we liked romance, too. Oh, did we like it! Who can forget the incomparable Johnny Mathis and “Chances Are” and “The Twelfth of Never”? He was a star athlete and planned to become an English teacher—but we’re all glad his “velvet voice” (so named by critics) brought him into our homes and hearts.

Elvis Presley implored us to “Love Me Tender”, and Dion and the Belmonts lamented what it was like to be “A Teenager in Love”. Frank Sinatra was still around (I was never a fan) and assured us, “Love Is Here to Stay”.

We dated, we danced, we dreamed to music. But what did we know, at that age, about love? Not much.

Chances are (excuse me, Mr. Mathis) when we listen to those same songs half a century or more later, we just wish we’d known then what we know now. Or maybe not.

Dried corsages pinned to my bulletin board eventually found their way to the trash. Later, I was heartbroken to be told my beautiful formals had rotted away in my grandmother’s basement. Ticket stubs, spirit ribbons, printed programs, snapshots all went the way of the world—here today and gone tomorrow.

Only the memories remain, and those are tempered with the wisdom of years.

Conway Twitty warned us, “It’s Only Make Believe”. But it was fun while it lasted.

~~Posted February 2


Bring back 
the good times!


In 1958, Sheb Wooley came out with “Purple People Eater”--which caught the imagination of the younger generation and set them singing. Foolish though they were, the lyrics set to a catchy tune became enormously popular.

I still like it. In fact, I looked it up on YouTube when the Small Person was less than a year old, and she would sit in my lap at the computer and bounce to the music. (She also liked Alvin and Chipmunks’ rendition of “Witch Doctor”.)

It was one of those escapist songs. It transported listeners into a a make-believe world where there was nothing to be afraid of except a “one-eyed, one-horned flying purple people eater”, and we all knew he/she/it was harmless. Even as young teens, we still remembered how to play, and this song gave us a good excuse to regress a few years.

I suppose it’s the same with those “other-world” novels which find their niche with a large readership these days. And the Good Lord knows we need to get away from all the hatred and violence being perpetrated in our country these days.

Advertisements tout “get-aways”--cruises, secluded cabins, resorts, five-star restaurants, bus tours—and extol their soothing qualities. We won’t fast-forward ahead to when the credit card bill comes. That’s like shutting off the music.

“Purple People Eater” reminds me of a kinder, gentler time when I didn’t have to be suspicious of any and everything I heard on television and radio. Of course, it was “fake”. We all knew that. We loved it for its total false premise which didn’t hurt us or anyone else.

The one-horned, one-eyed guy or gal promised not to eat us—the witch doctor promised a never-fail love potion—and we bought it hook, line, and sinker because it was—fun. I, for one, vote to bring back the good times.

~~Posted January 30




Memories Are Made of This...
and This...
and This...

Sometime back I found a great post at Writers Write about using song titles as writing prompts. I printed out the article, but alas—most of the songs aren’t from “back when”--and those are the ones I identify. Still, for you younger pups out there, follow the link for some great suggestions.

Meanwhile, I did an internet search for top songs of the 1950s and came up with this list. So, for the next couple of weeks, I’m going to use song titles as inspiration for my blogs. (BTW, song lyrics—not titles—are copyrighted unless in the public domain.

Growing up with music—my parents had a Magnavox radio-record player in a blonde cabinet—I soon collected my own records to add to their thirties and forties tunes. (I think I loved theirs best and still have many of those records wrapped in paper and stored.) The 78 rpm records came first, and they broke easily. Next came 45s when I reached junior high, and then the long-playing 33 1/3 rpms.

Sitting around that wonderful box, we listened to Eddy Arnold, Guy Lombardo, and many others. Daddy was always singing—not that he knew all the words! My earliest memories are of being put into his “little red jeep” and riding around singing, “Tiddldy winky, winky, Tiddldy-de winky woo, I love you...” and “You get a cane, and I’ll get a pole, honey...” (The trip to the crawdad hole was a musical adventure!)

When television came along, Eddy and Guy came with it as well as Sing Along with Mitch and endless musical variety shows. It wasn’t Christmas until Bing Crosby had crooned “White Christmas”.

Big screen musicals were all the thing in the fifties. I was a devoted Ethel Merman fan (Ethel who? you ask) and aspired to be the next big booming Broadway success. My one claim to fame was “Who Put the Overalls in Mistress Murphy’s Chowder?” performed at a junior high choir program.

Singing, dancing, fabulous costumes, sets which almost reached out and pulled you into the screen...all the while serenading you with songs which you’d remember always...those were the days!

I preferred Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald over Elvis, but of course, I never admitted it. We ate lunch at a little hamburger place across from the junior high to the blare of a jukebox and danced to those same songs on weekends. The small bedside radio gifted me by my grandparents had once been tuned on Saturday mornings to “Big Jon and Sparkie”, but now it played the top hits (softly) as I did my homework.

If you’re a fan of the older television series “Happy Days”, you’re reading every word with complete understanding. If not—my condolences. For those were happy days when we had music in our souls, and the threat of nuclear war and other pending disasters of the day could be temporarily dispelled in song. 

~~Posted January 28

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