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I'm most recently a writer.  In the six plus decades of my life, I've been a wife, mother, grandmother, Jill of all trades though mistress of but a few, and most of the time pretty content with my lot.  As a much younger person, I believed I was called to write, but life and living distracted me for most of those decades.  An unwilling transplant from the South,  twenty years ago I unintentionally landed in the geographical center of the US.  Writing came about in part due to the unwillingness, I expect.  When caring for family, gardening, and renovating a century-old house failed to provide sufficient creative outlets, I turned to the one thing I always intended to do.  Eight titles later, I'm grateful I found myself while Lost in the Plains!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Second Class Characters?

There are a lot of things I could write about in this post.  I've been on a roller coaster ride of giddy pleasure since the free promotion of Hearts Unfold last week.  Not only did I give away thousands of books, (yes, I said thousands!), but the sales since of the entire series have been truly stunning!  I've also heard from readers who read the entire four books in just a few days, which truly blows my mind.  If I'd known this little story would give anyone that much enjoyment, I might have tried to write it years ago.

Then there's the bathroom reno, still in the final stages, the torrential rains that hit SE Kansas in the past few days, the fact that my son is moving back East next month, and my struggle to find time to work on Shannon's Daughter.  But tonight, I think I'll write about something completely different--secondary characters.

I hear so often from readers how real the characters in my stories seem to them.  Not just the principals, but the secondary, or as I prefer to think of them, the supporting characters.  I'll tell you a secret, when I first started writing Hearts Unfold, I really imagined most of the scenes as starring just the hero and the heroine, meeting in an isolated place and sharing a lot of very private time together.  It didn't take long for me to see the flaw in that plan.  No one lives life alone.  Not really.  Emily Haynes might be an orphan, but there had to be people she'd known in her childhood, friends and neighbors--the characters who populated her little world.  And a famous young artist like Stani Moss would be closely surround by a select group of handlers, even though he lacked a real family--characters who kept him moving at the hectic pace his career demanded.  Slowly at first, but then more and more, I could visualize these characters. and they fascinated me with their unique qualities and distinct voices, just as much as Emily and Stani had.

Some of these folks bear a strong resemblance to characters in my own life.  Jack Deem, Emily's devoted godfather, is a melding of all the quietly strong, always-on-hand-with-a-smile-and-a-wise-word sort of men I was blessed to have in my fatherless childhood.  John Kimble is cut from much the same cloth, although John has a darker side to him, a drive born of his own tragedy which makes him the perfect companion for Stani.  Mike McConnell, the returning Vietnam vet, is representative of several friends who struggled on their return from war, and he is also my tribute to the one very special boy who did not return.  Mike gets to live the life of service my friend would have, had he been given the opportunity.  Angela and Lil Salvatore are the kind of bright, bold women I've been privileged to call my friends through the years, women I seem to have been drawn to as a foil to my own more retiring nature.  Many of the characters in Emily's home town are the people we've all known at one time or another, the salt-of-the-earth types who hold every community together from generation to generation. 

Others in my cast of characters are born purely from my imagination.  Milo and Jana Scheider and Peg Shannon in particular, were people I had to get to know as the story progressed.  They revealed themselves slowly, and just when I thought they would fade to the background, they stepped forward to offer something important again.  The cast in the London townhouse, Mrs. Winslow and George Bertram, just walked onto the stage and did their thing with little if any help from me.  I loved writing them!  They always made me smile, no matter what they were up to. 

It's been fun to see characters who at first were nothing more than a name, featured in just a scene or two, reappear and become central to the story.  I had no idea when I wrote about a stranger's baby delivered in the back seat of a police car on Christmas Eve, that Ruthie and Bobby Dixon and their family would become so important later on.  And when Emily reminisced about a mule from her childhood early in the story, little did I suspect he would become a hero one stormy summer night.

There are no small parts, the saying goes, only small actors.  The same is true for characters.  Each must be a distinct personality, with a past, a present and a future all their own, whether we see it on the page or not.  In my mind, I have a clear picture of how they look and sound, where they came from and where they're going, so that in the moment they appear in the story, it makes sense to me that they are there.  I think I could write a book about many of them, after all the details I've imagined just to prepare them for their, in some cases, brief roles.  In fact I am writing a book about one of them now!  Peg Shannon started out in a supporting role, but I can assure you, today she is the star of her own book.  But that's another story, right?

So now tell me, do you have a favorite supporting character from Valley Rise?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Outhouse Reno--The Two-Year Quick Fix

Let me start by reminding you that my house is an antique.  Almost 125 years old, with years of neglect and abuse between the builder and me, it is never going to be a fine showplace because it wasn't built to be one in the first place.  The best I can tell from my archeological probing, this house was meant to be a comfortable--by 1889 standards anyway--family home.  Further investigation reveals that during WWII it was turned into a duplex, one up, one down, most likely in a great hurry using cheap labor, or maybe the only labor available, and even cheaper materials--think recycling gone horribly wrong.  The two bathrooms were no more than a pair of outhouses stacked against one corner of the house, and when we moved in, I knew at some point they would require the most attention--translate dollars-- of any rooms in the house, and that's saying a lot, believe me!

We started upstairs, and thankfully my son moved in about the time I realized this was way more than one little woman should take on.  It was bad, nothing level, weird--as in possessed--plumbing and wiring and the worst layout ever devised.  It took the better part of a year, but when finished, we had a nice, solid, efficient bathroom we could take pride in.
Two years ago, while John and I were on vacation, my son was given the assignment of gutting the second bathroom, the one downstairs, the one I thought would require little more than a simple reno. Just pull down the plaster, hang drywall, replace the fixtures, tile and paint, right?  Then came the call, right after we'd taken a glorious ride on the Ducks in Chattanooga.  "Uh, Mom, there's a problem with the bathroom."

I hate it when he says that.  That innocent word "problem" usually means money and time I didn't want to spend.  My stomach twists and my pulse races, but I always answer with something calm like "Oh, really?"

"Yeah.  When I pulled down the plaster, you can see daylight through the walls."
Okay, this is not so bad. It happens in old houses, little crevices that can be easily caulked.  I ask him to send me a picture.  At most, I say reassuringly, we can just replace a little siding, right?  The pictures say not so.  Basically, the exterior wall of the bathroom looks like a louvered door.  No wonder that bathroom was so drafty! Long story short, we ended up blowing out the entire exterior, replacing floor, studs, window, the works.  To make things more interesting, the floor had three levels, between which the plumbing was sandwiched.  Nothing of the old could be salvaged, which in case you've never done any reno, plays havoc with your budget.  Havoc as in at least triples it, if not worse.

Two years later, we're almost done, which is a good thing, because my son is moving back east next month.  After all the wonderful things he's done to my house, it's back to just me again.  At least now I have a lovely new bathtub to soak away the aches and pains.
Not finished, but getting close!!  There will be a Vanity Reveal in the next week or so (I hope!)
 This room is so tiny the best view is from the hallway!  That tile knee-wall in the foreground--a major design challenge--looks really professional in person, like we knew what we were doing!
 Tin-look ceiling tiles and crown molding--pint-sized elegance! And wait 'til you see the vanity!
 I love the tile work, and other than choosing the tile, I had absolutely nothing to do with it!  Kudos to the son for such a beautiful job!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Save the Date!

Beginning Sunday July 14 for just three days, begin at the beginning with a FREE copy of Hearts Unfold !!

"A very special love story. . ."

And just for fun . .

Christmas at Valley Rise is FREE, too!