Month: July 2015

Hop aboard my time machine

As a writer, the minute I start to tell a story, I am transported to a different place in time. Quite often, it’s back to my roots — a small farming community in northeastern Ohio. Maybe it is because I was a child, but life felt so much sweeter and a whole lot simpler then. There was plenty of time to eat strawberries straight from the patch, sip lemonade under the tall oak trees and follow my passions, which always seemed to result in the most amazing adventures.

My hometown had a country market, two churches, a post office, a bar and a feed mill. What more could one ask for? My paper route covered half of the territory. The other half was covered by my older brother, who seemed to know a shortcut to all the hot spots.

The house where I grew up in more modern times. Ivy no longer grows up its sides but there may be a ghost or two hiding in the eves.

The house where I grew up in more modern times. Ivy no longer grows up its sides, but there may be a ghost or two hiding in the eves.

The whole of this scene was dominated by a large red brick Victorian home, sprawled across eight acres that we farmed for a portion of our livelihood. Listed on the national register of historical properties, the monstrous house was flanked by train tracks that ran every hour on the hour. It was a place of magic and mystery, where a bent tree became a racing horse, the bushes sheltered a fairy family and friendly ghosts peeked from the eves and the rambling vines that ran up its sides. Many a happy hour was whiled away concocting mud pies and stirring grass soup in coffee cans, carving bow and arrows out of tree branches, and running wild, across the tracks and into the woods beyond.

Come with me, now, in my time machine…back, back to a place of no concerns or deadlines, where the sweetest pleasure is spending a lazy afternoon in the bright, happy sunshine.

The raft
Whose idea it is, I don’t recall. What inspires us? I can’t remember. Perhaps it is an episode of Huckleberry Finn that has been popular and manages to broadcast on the three stations we get on our old television. In the movie, Tom and Huck sail a raft down a river and have a grand adventure. This sounds like a good idea to my brother and I, so we decide that we will build a raft of our own.

We spend a day or two gathering materials — wooden pallet, inner tube, milk cartons, rope — and then go to work. First, we use the rope to tie the inner tube and milk cartons to the raft. Then we cart it to the only body of water we have in our town — a creek. I don’t remember how we get it to the creek, which was several miles from our home, but we probably did it in stages, maybe over several days, crossing over the railroad tracks and through the woods to reach the water. The creek could become swollen and dangerous at times when rains were heavy, but for now, it is calm and welcoming. We are excited to test our invention.

My brother, being four years older (although not always wiser), decides to be the first passenger. We place the contraption in the water. It stands high above the shoreline at a height that looks promising. He hops aboard, and I watch as he slowly drops beneath the surface. At 14, he is thin and wiry, but all muscle — he is much too heavy for the sinking vessel. He cannot be the captain of our ship. If anyone is going to sail the creek, it will have to be me. I am twenty pounds lighter and the best, and only, candidate available for the job.

Within minutes, he vacates, and I eagerly climb aboard, ready for action. With a quick shove, he casts me off to catch a breeze and some fish with a rod I’ve brought along. Although the water rises swiftly to the top of the raft, it does not spill over. It floats!

My heart pounds with excitement. Happily, I drift with the current, heading into the center of the creek and out to the great beyond. As I am just beginning to pick up steam, I have a sudden, horrifying insight that causes a rush of adrenaline in my system. I cannot swim. I do not have a paddle. The current is flowing swiftly, and I am traveling out to sea with no way to return. What have I been thinking (or rather not thinking)?! I let out a holler. “Wait! How will I get back?”

My brother looks at the water, which is carrying me rapidly away and then at me, and reaches the same conclusion. There is no way back. He can’t swim either, but being a solid big brother and brave, he quickly wades in until the water is up to his chin and pulls me to safety.

We haul ourselves to shore and drag the pallet back home to deposit it on the junk heap we keep for old pieces of wood. Our adventure is at an end. Our raft will make no more voyages.

Heading inside for a plate of mom’s spaghetti and meatballs and warm apple pie, I smile. Tomorrow will bring another adventure. I have just spied three kittens that have been born in the woodpile, and one of them, the gray one with the dark stripes, is sure to be mine.

Into every artist’s life, a little rain must fall

Sometimes, the more I search for writing inspiration, the more difficult it is to find. Having just returned from a week in a lovely Victorian cottage on the shores of Lake Erie, I would expect to be recharged and re-energized with lots of great ideas floating around my mind. Instead, I struggle to put thoughts to keyboard. I have written two full blog posts, fully intending to share them, but neither one, although interesting, seem to have a clear purpose.

Our lovely Victorian cottage for the week at Lakeside Chautauqua.

Our lovely Victorian cottage for the week at Lakeside Chautauqua.

My vacation was sort of like that, too. It rained off and on most of the time. Just when I began to relax and enjoy the day, storm clouds moved in, and I was running for cover. I ran my normal two miles or so twice during the week, and during one of these outings, a black bird attacked me in the park, its claws digging into my scalp as it “defended” its young in a nearby nest. Our grandmother, who has joined us on this trip every year for the past 20 seasons, is sick and in a rehabilitation center. Despite the large number of people surrounding me (my children, husband and extended family) and the happy setting, I had that feeling that sometimes overtakes me in the midst of a party — I should be enjoying myself, but I’m just not feeling it.

I know, I know — chill and have a drink, right?
I would have, too. But the resort where we stay, Lakeside Chautauqua, is a family friendly place and a “dry” community.

My normal outlet for the blues is to read a good book. But since I have been writing, reading is no longer an escape route. I couldn’t help but critique the writer’s style instead of enjoying the story. Or maybe, I just didn’t have the right book.

I did have one bright spot — I met a soon to be self-published author, who was teaching a class at the art center. Although I didn’t take her course, we did have a nice chat about writing and the difficulties of social media. We agreed to like one another’s Facebook page — check out her Facebook page.

If you have read some of my previous posts, then you’ll know that I often get inspiration from my dreams and use these to fuel the stories I write. The dream I had during this week was so clear and disturbing that I am not sure it will ever end up in a story. I am still puzzling over it, but perhaps you dream aficionados out there can shed some light.

I gave up my child
I delivered a baby and gave it up for adoption. When I remembered that I had the baby, I felt terribly guilty and couldn’t understand why I would have agreed to give it up. I told my husband that we needed to see if we could get the child back from its adoptive parents. He didn’t seem to be as impassioned as I, but agreed to let me have my way.

I first talked to a nurse in the hospital who told me that she had seen many cases like this before, and I should be able to get the baby back. The nurse was right. The baby, a little girl, was brought back to me, swaddled in a blanket and delivered by my brother, who handed her over somewhat cavalierly and told me her name was Caroline — my mother’s name, my daughter’s middle name, and my little niece’s name. I told myself that I would have to change the baby’s name since it was already in use in our family. I picked the infant up and tried to nurse her, but it was difficult, since she had been bottle-fed the week we were away and didn’t know how to nurse. She was just beginning to get the hang of it when I awoke.

This dream disturbed me, evoking that sense of responsibility I have as a mother to my children and leaving me with a sense of guilt that I would abandon my child.

So dream experts, what is my self-conscious trying to tell me? I asked my husband what he thought it means, but he just said, “It means you were sleeping.”

Funny guy.

Does God hear the prayers of writers?

imageI think so.

I’m not one of those people who like to run. But I do it. Twice a week, as long as it’s above 50 degrees, my iPhone and I are jogging around my neighborhood. I find that listening to a podcast or a little music helps to make the time pass more quickly.

During one of my recent jaunts, it started to rain a light mist (something it has been doing a lot these days in Cleveland), which made my run a bit harder. I was especially annoyed when the podcast stopped working. I called on Siri to play some music instead, but she claimed that she couldn’t get a signal. Over and over I tried to get something to play on my phone but without success. Eventually, I did something I haven’t done in a while. I called out to the Lord.

Now I know what you’re thinking.
There are many more important situations going on in the world than my desire for some music during my run, right? I thought about that, too. But you have to understand that it has been a while since I have felt the Lord in my life. My days are so hectic trying to maintain a somewhat stressful day job, launch a career as a romance writer, and take care of my husband and three kids, that I barely have time to say a brief prayer before I fall asleep at night. It has been a leap of faith to build a website and share my life in blog posts. There is so much noise in this world. Do I have anything of importance to say that can reach beyond it? Is anyone listening? Does anyone really care?

Although I believe in God and have a strong faith in him, I sometimes doubt his presence in my life. And there seem to be more people surrounding me that don’t have any belief in God that it wears on me. So it was in that frame of mind that I called out to him.

“Lord,” I prayed. “I know you have many more important prayers to answer. There are people sick and dying who are desperate for you. But I also know that you have it in your power to send me a song if you want to. My faith is strong enough that I’m certain you can do it. It’s also been a long time since you have answered any of my prayers directly. And I would really like to hear from you. So Lord, if it’s your will, please send me a song.”

And maybe I was just being fanciful, but I swear I felt him smile.

Still, my iPhone was silent.
So I sighed and put my finger out to press the button for Siri. But I never quite made it. Just before my fingered touched the button, a song began to play on my phone. The words startled me.

“And when you feel the rain, call his name. He’ll find you in a hurricane.”

Now the big man and I know each other well. He came to my rescue some years ago and has been my best friend ever since. I shouldn’t ever doubt his love for me. But I often do.

This little song reminded me that he is with me every step of the day. He hears me when I call, and he answers prayers. He keeps me sheltered within his arms during the worst storms, even a little Cleveland rain. He created the world. If he’s on my side, nothing is impossible.

“There’s a place, there’s a place you can run when you fall, and it’s all come undone, you’ll be safe in the raging storm, so just let go, ’cause you are held in his arms. Step out on the edge don’t be afraid of it. And when you feel the rain, call his name, he’ll find you in a hurricane.”

And with God’s perfect grace, the last words of the lyrics faded away the moment I reached my garage doors.

“And when you feel the rain, call his name. He’ll find you in a hurricane.”

P.S. I looked up the lyrics to this song when I got home — “Hurricane” by Natalie Grant.

Why the best ideas are the ones we share

imageIt always begins the same way…a blank page, a blinking cursor and my fingers hovering over a gray keyboard. Since I began this journey to be a published author (was it only a little more than three months ago?), I try to write something every day. Some days its nothing more than a Facebook post, but that counts, right? At least, on those dry days I tell myself it does.

As I have mentioned in previous entries, writing is work and a labor of love. It’s a continual process of self-expression and self-improvement with the elusive goal of perfectionism. Will I ever be fully satisfied with the final, written product? It’s uncertain.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the many questions I’m asked when I say I’ve written a yet unpublished book. Some have easy answers:

When did you find the time? Late at night, when everyone is sleeping and on the weekends at my kid’s swim meets.
What kind of book is it? A paranormal romance.
There is such a thing as paranormal romance? Yes, there is. It’s quite a popular genre. The Twilight series is a famous example.

Others are not so easy. Their answers surprised me and may surprise you, too. Take this one:

You have the first couple of chapters of your books published on your website — what if someone steals your ideas? Well, I have been told by many in the publishing industry that the moment you put pen to paper, you are protected under United States copyright laws. This means there is no need to worry about copyrighting a book before it has been published. In fact, I was specifically warned NOT to query agents with this question, as it will only reveal my inexperience and lack of professionalism.

But aren’t you worried about someone taking your idea and publishing their own book? Nah..not really. I mean I’m no copyright attorney. But we are in the age of information and social media. Everywhere you look there are good ideas for the taking. The trick of the artist is to select an idea and make it uniquely their own. This is a skill and talent that no one else can copy.

Writers routinely draw from the world around them — nature, art, music, the news media — and then put their own spin on an idea to say something new. The saying, “It’s all been done before,” is true. It has all been done before. Every new idea has its basis in the past. But there is always room for the writer to build off a previous idea and place it in a new light. My own work is inspired by other authors I have read and enjoyed.

No, I do not live in fear of someone stealing my ideas. Rather, I welcome it. It may seem contrary, but sharing my ideas with the world has stimulated my creativity. Reader comments have provided me with valuable insights that I have used to improve my manuscripts. When I give my ideas away, I am forced to dig deeper and peer a little harder at my own writing. It’s how I make my work better.

So bring on those blank pages and blinking cursors! My fingers are hovering, itching to capture the next great idea, and send it out to the digital world, hoping it comes back around with a little more shape, a bit more polish and a whole lot of sparkle.

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