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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!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Audiobook Adventure Part Seven--It's Live!!!

-Now live on Audible!  Now Live Everywhere! 
The big day has finally arrived! Oddly enough, I emailed ACX this morning asking about a release date because the time frame given originally had ended. Then as if by magic, the email announcing the wondrous news appeared in my box! I love results like that, don't you? 
So here is the link to the Audible site. If you're not familiar with Audible, all the information is there on the site for you to check out. I'm assured that in a few more days the audiobook will be available on Amazon and iTunes as well.
My thanks again to Matthew Lloyd Davies for bringing my story to life with such expertise. When you hear his narration, you'll be amazed at the way each character steps off the page into the spotlight. 
More later as this experience moves forward, but I couldn't wait to get the word out to you since you've been following this adventure from the start. 
Happy New Year!! 


Monday, December 22, 2014

Audiobook Adventure Part Six--Holiday Sale!

As I anticipate that message telling me "The audiobook is now available" --on Audible, Amazon and iTunes, to be specific--much as a child anticipates the arrival of St. Nick, I thought it only fitting to offer the ebook at a special price. Grab your copy before the end of the year and see why readers have responded with so much emotion to the love story of Peg Shannon and Kendall Gregg. http://www.amazon.com/Shannons-Daughter-Karen-Welch-ebook/dp/B00H3R7LKU/ref=asap_B007ILHX90?ie=UTF8

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Audiobook Adventure Part Five--That Said. . .

Why does everything seem to come back down to money? Why can't we just ride high on  that euphoric cloud of creative satisfaction and let the sales take care of themselves? Much as we try to stay focused on the joy of creating, the sad truth is we are inevitably distracted by the potential sales of that which we've created.

 With the pending release of Shannon's Daughter on audiobook, I have yet one more reports page to watch anxiously for signs of life. Right now on ACX there is a row of lovely, egg-shaped 0's, just waiting for that first miraculous sale. I'm reminded of my first KDP sales, which were so miraculous they sent me straight back to the keyboard, inspired to write more. With each additional title came an additional line on the report, which each month was filled in with a number, often not a very large number, but nonetheless a number representing readers who purchased a book. A book I wrote. To read. Wow!

That's what it should be about--readers--or I suppose listeners in this case. But with a reports page, it also becomes about numbers and the money those numbers represent. I subscribe to a simple life, that road less traveled, the one where things take a back seat to the joys of life well lived shared with people well loved. But I still have bills to pay, even if they're just for the basics. Frankly, there's never too much money, sometimes there's not quite enough. So yes, the dollars matter too. They help make life a little better. I don't deny that. The line between the joy of creating and the need to sell can get really blurry at times.  

Back in the 1970's, when I started college and knew much more about life than I do now, I was sure I wanted to write. I had the bright-eyed, youthful expectation that if I wrote well enough, often enough, I would someday find someone who would pay me for something I'd written. In the meantime, I took on a husband, children, a home and an increasingly complicated life. In between, I wrote. Nothing particularly worthy, but it was the weaving of characters and plots, the escape of storytelling, which I craved. Making a living at writing was never my ambition, although heaven knows a little extra income would have been welcome many times. Still, all I wanted to do was write. Getting published was a vague possibility. Selling books was a mist-filled dream.

Fast forward forty-odd years, and I'm still writing, but with greater urgency. I'm getting older, time is running out, and writing continues to be the thing I want to do. I'm vaguely aware that the publishing industry is rapidly changing. No longer is it essential to find an agent and a publisher before writer reaches reader. When I learned about the possibilities of self-publishing, that route seemed ideal for someone like me. I'm not out to earn a living, accolades, or even recognition as a professional author. If something I've written is considered worth a reader's time and they gain enjoyment from it, what is there to lose in putting it out there for them to read? 

Sadly, that question leads back to the desire (need) for compensation versus the value of creativity for creativity's sake. I don't presume to speak for anyone but myself. This journey is unique to each individual writer. For me, it's the writing, not the money, the readers, not the sales. Not that I don't welcome that payment, large or small, each month from the sale of my books. But if that payment becomes my sole impetus for writing, I'll count myself a failure at this endeavor. If I lose the thrill of seeing words fill pages, seeing characters come to life and plots unfold, because I'm concerned about how much or how little money I'm earning, then I've lost sight of my purpose. If I lose the sense of wonder each time I hear from a reader, I might as well pack it in. 

That said, with the production and release of Shannon's Daughter, the Audiobook, there's something else to think about, someone else actually. Matthew Lloyd Davies did such a marvelous job of bringing this story to life because he's a talented professional. Thankfully, Amazon paid him something up front through their stipend program but now his further compensation depends on how the audiobook sells--which to a large degree depends on how well I promote it. I owe it to Matt to push this as hard as I can. I owe it to him to find an audience, to rack up those numbers and thereby increase his opportunities. If I anxiously watch my reports pages now, I can imagine what the next few months will be like!

But all I can do is my best. I've learned a good bit about promotion, but I know there's so much more to learn, and then there's no guarantee the word will travel as fast and far as I want it to. But now that I think about it, looking back to where this all began when I put Hearts Unfold out almost three years ago, guarantees aren't what I need. I need a miracle!

And that said, if I've learned anything from this journey it's that miracles do happen. They're called readers, and they happen one by one by one.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

What a Deal!

Final day!

Come to Valley Rise! Discover this "very special love story" at a very special price! 


This is the final day for this sale--a chance to save big off the regular price of $3.50 each.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Audiobook Adventure--Part Four

While ACX does its thing in preparation for the release of Shannon's Daughter, I'm scurrying to come up with ways to get the word out. That's the glory of being an Indy--the never ending challenge of promotion. I don't believe in the adage "if you build it, they will come," but many times I fear that's what I'm doing. I often picture myself standing on a wide open plain shouting at the top of my lungs, with the echo of my words beaming back at me!

I'm happy to say that Shannon's Daughter's wonderful narrator, Matthew Lloyd Davies, seems eager to add his voice to this shouting in the wilderness business. It's his interpretation of my story, after all, that has me so anxious to find its audience. Today he posted a sample on his ACX profile page, so now you can get a tiny taste of what's coming. Go ahead, hop over and listen. I'm not going anywhere.

Scrumptious, right? 

Last night I played around over on Canva.com and put together a piece of promotional eye-candy. I rarely pull out the "bestseller" card, mainly because reaching the top of one Amazon's "Free Bestseller" lists has never felt quite like making a list where actual sales took place. But in the case of Shannon's Daughter, I can honestly call it a bestseller. After each free promo, she hovered on the Women's Historical Fiction list for quite a few days as the result of followup sales. I'm pretty sure that's why Amazon elected to place this book in its stipend program, which made the whole thing possible. I'm also very proud of the reviews this book has received so far. While some have expressed disappointment with the ending--which I fully expected--most have been willing to acknowledge that not every love story has a happy ending, but can still deliver a satisfactory experience for the reader. That readers have been caught up in the emotion of the story and identified closely with the characters is enough for me. 

In a matter of days, Shannon's Daughter--the Audiobook, will hit the market. I hope it will find its audience. I'm going to try my darndest to help it along. If you can help--share or post or just mention it to a friend--I'd be so grateful. Given the beautiful manner in which Matt has given voice to this story, I'd love for it to be heard!

Monday, December 15, 2014

This Just In! The Audiobook Adventure--Part 3

It happened on Friday morning. I had an email from Matt--you remember, Matthew Lloyd Davies,the producer/narrator of Shannon's Daughter-the Audiobook? Anyway, Matt emailed that he would be putting the final polish on the audio files and should be sending them to me early this week. But the very next morning, Friday, there they were! Needless to say, I did little but listen all day Friday and Saturday. It takes a while to listen to over 130,000 words! But it was worth every minute!

When I write, as I'm sure is true for most writers, I hear, see, sometimes smell, and even feel my characters. They are flesh and blood individuals from practically the moment they "walk" onto the page. I often wonder how my image compares to that of the reader's. I hope for close. I hope they can picture the features, the hair and eye color, the timbre of the voice, but I accept that we each perceive differently and as long as the reader enjoys the story these characters tell, I'm cool with that. So when Matt was reading Shannon's Daughter in preparation for the recording, I spent some agonized brain time wondering just what he was seeing as he read, and more importantly, what he was hearing. I know these characters, I gave them life, but now it's Matt's turn. How well will our two creations mesh?

I wasted that brain time. The characters on the recording are in complete accord with those already in my head! If I hadn't already fallen in love with Kendall Gregg when I wrote Shannon's Daughter, listening to him would definitely have done the trick! Matt gives him precisely the right polish without the least hint of "posh-ness." The pitch of his voice and his accent are enough to send shivers down any feminine spine, but there's nothing roguish about him. Kendall comes across--just as I know him to be--as a sensitive, somewhat battered, and basically honest young man with a painful secret. With teenaged Peg, his kindness towards--and kindly amusement at--the often outrageously outspoken young heiress come shining through. By the time Peg has grown to a young woman and she and Kendall meet again, his "heart on his sleeve" admiration of her produces the above- mentioned shivers by the barrel.

Peg, who I "heard" as a cross between Katherine Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy, is precisely that, a bit of Yankee twang overlaid with just the right touch of breathiness. I'm never sure just how much I like Peg Shannon, but I love what Matt did with her character! I feel I know her better now, this woman whose head I could never get into sufficiently to tell the story from her POV.

But it's the secondary characters, even the tiniest bit players, who come to life in this recording and fill the "stage." I laughed out loud at times. Having played my share of walk-on roles, I am delighted that each of these folks is given a distinctive voice worthy of the finest character actor. I love my secondaries. Many of them are based on people I've known and loved. They are often tributes to real "characters" from my personal journey. I'm so grateful to Matt for giving them their proper due.

Shannon's Daughter ends on a low note. I wrote the story, I know how it goes out. Yet when Matt started reading that final chapter, I fell apart. Tears! Real tears. Darn it, that's just plain sad! And pretty powerful when Matt adds his talent to bring the scenes to life.

I hit the "Approve the Audiobook" button a little while ago. In a week or two, Shannon's Daughter will be available for everyone to enjoy. I'd love for it to do well, more for Matt's sake than mine, really. His work deserves to be appreciated. He's taken a quirky love story and made it something rich and fine, and highly entertaining. I consider this venture one of the most fortunate "breaks" in my writing life. Much like filling that prime role when producing a play--I've had that joy too--with an unexpected walk-in whose audition leaves you breathless, "finding" Matthew Lloyd Davies for Shannon's Daughter has made me truly thankful I stepped out on a limb to ever write this book.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Audiobook Adventure Part 2--Plus Life

It's been an eventful couple of weeks around here. In this little corner of the world, every October, a phenomenon called Neewollah takes place. Without going into detail, our little town swells to several times its normal population, a street carnival takes over downtown and excitement electrifies the typically calm autumn atmosphere. Since I live and work downtown, it's fair to say my life gets caught up in the madness.

But this year, something unexpected and unwelcome came to our house, just as Neewollah was getting started. The love of my life took not one but two tumbles, the second resulting in a dislocated shoulder. Everyone in our age bracket lives in dread of falling, but having taken a few spills myself, I can tell you that seeing my husband on the floor was far more traumatic for me than landing on my own keister. Fortunately, the damage was minimal and he should be good as new before long. But there's no way to minimize the shock of such an event for either of us. This was one of those times when getting older just plain sucks!

So we had revelry all over town, my hotel was filled with celebrants, and I had a patient at home who was doing a truly fine job of being patient despite his discomfort. My nerves were, however, a bit frayed. A getaway to a peaceful mountaintop sounds like something the doctor might order for me at this point. Still, life goes on, and there's an audiobook in the works, remember?

Somewhere in the UK, Matt (that's Matthew Lloyd Davies, my chosen narrator) is reading Shannon's Daughter in preparation for recording the first fifteen minutes for my approval. Funny, but I suspect I was far more stressed about his reading my book than I imagine he was about recording it to my satisfaction. What if he hates the story, or finds the characters impossible to bring to life? What if he's gagging on the dialog or grimacing at the narrative? The stuff nightmares are made of, I can testify!

But it turns out all's well on the audiobook front. I got the fifteen minutes a couple of days ago, along with a message from Matt. What an awesome experience hearing him read my words! We "chatted" back and forth about a couple of minor things. Turns out he does have a few insecurities after all, which was quite endearing. The really amazing thing he shared was that he dreads reading the end of the book, because it made him "very, very sad." Oddly, that makes me very, very happy! That's the point of this writing thing, right? Moving the reader's emotions?

So now he'll be working on the actual recording for the next month and a half or so. The final product is due by December 21. While life goes on here, while I try to get back to writing after the emotional brick wall of that tumble and its aftermath, while the cold weather moves in and we start moving into the holiday season, I'm sure every day I'll wonder what chapter he's recording and how it sounds. Wishing I could be a little mouse in his recording studio is futile. Still, being a mouse/spy on the other side of the pond does sound kind of intriguing. Hmm, that might be a nice story line for a little fantasy romance, not that I'm into shape shifting or time travel, but. . .no, think I'll just try to get back to Walnut Lodge and the work in progress for now!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Shannon's Daughter--the Audiobook! And So It Begins

I want to invite you to join me on a little journey, one I never even dreamed of taking. Over the next two months or so, Shannon's Daughter--a book I never dreamed of writing, come to think of--will be made into an audiobook. This territory is so foreign to me, I can't even speculate on the experience. But I'd love some company, so please join me and we can learn together.

The story began when I decided to post a couple of my titles on Amazon's audio platform, ACX just to see what would happen. To say I was naive--no, make that clueless--would be an understatement. But like all of Amazon's publishing platforms, this one takes you by the hand and gently leads you through the process. I first posted my new release, Katie Lost and Found. The expectation is there are producers (narrators) out there watching as each new title posts and running to their microphones to record an audition the moment they see something interesting. However, nothing happened. I followed ACX's suggestion and reached out to a couple of narrators whose voices I liked. (You can listen all day to sample auditions and bow your head in wonder at the talent out there!) It was at this point that the light of reality began to dawn on my expectations. These very talented people like to be paid for their time and talent, as in paid more than hypothetical shared royalties sometime in the dim future. Since I couldn't offer hundreds of dollars an hour for their work, they weren't going to waste their valuable time auditioning. Fair enough. I understand that not everyone chooses to invest months of hard work on the chance that one day someone will buy the product of their labors. Even I wouldn't mind a bit of cash up front before I write a 130K word novel, but the obsessive need to create always wins that argument, hands down.

The silence did not particularly dampen my interest in this venture, so next, I posted my novella, Christmas at Valley Rise, thinking a short work might be attractive. Surely out there was one talented voice seeking the satisfaction of creating for virtually nothing, in which case we were obviously meant for one another! Once again, nothing.

In a blatant act of defiance, I decided to post Shannon's Daughter. Now remember--assuming you've followed my blog and know the story of this book--SD is my red-haired stepchild. Although it is inspired by a character from the Miracle at Valley Rise series, it is neither inspirational nor a traditional romance, ie no happily ever after. The reviews have been a bit of all over the place, but primarily positive, which frankly surprised the heck out of me. If there was a book I felt compelled to write despite my own doubt in its success, this is the one. But I love this book for its characters, its settings, and frankly, its quirks. So, all that said, I shook my fist at the creative gods and posted SD to ACX, with absolutely no expectations.

What happened next was downright stunning. It turns out Amazon has this wonderful thing called a stipend program. Through whatever mysterious combination of algorithms and sorcery, they choose certain books and offer narrators a stipend per completed hour to produce them. I'll never know how SD was chosen, but I've got the email saying "Congratulations" to prove it had been. Up went the little green banner on the post, which works like a magnet where auditions are concerned. No sooner had I received that stunning email than the little audio snippets started to appear.

One by one, nine amazing voices reading my words, nine talented individuals of varying ages, from all over the country and even abroad, lined up for my consideration. Heady stuff, that. I had requested a male voice with a British accent initially, but later changed to either gender in the spirit of equality. They were all so impressive. With each one, I felt more and more conflicted. But there was one, and only one, that gave me chills. I even sent him a message to make sure he understood the payment offered, because I was afraid to get attached and find out he wouldn't really work for less than I'm sure he's worth. But no, he assured me he was "more than interested" in recording SD.

Anyway, cut to the finish, today I made the official offer and after a bit of back and forth--which consisted of him patiently leading me through the process, since he's the one with experience--we struck a deal!

Here's the kicker--he's British! I had wanted someone who could give true voice to Kendall Gregg, the English violinist hero of SD, since the story is told from his third-person point of view. All the accents were good, don't get me wrong, but this one best matches the voice I heard while writing SD. As an added bonus, he nailed my Irish-American New York socialite, Peg Shannon, on the first try--emphasis on the New York, not on the Irish!

So, without further ado, I'm proud to announce that Shannon's Daughter the Audiobook will be narrated by the exceptionally talented Matthew Lloyd Davies! http://www.matthewlloyddavies.com/

The process has just begun. Who knows what sort of adventures lie ahead? At the moment, I'm elated, anticipatory, and just a smidge terrified about what's to come. Please stay tuned as the saga of Shannon's Daughter the Audiobook unfolds!

Monday, October 13, 2014

That #%&! To-Do List

There too much to do! There aren't enough hours in the day! I'm so overwhelmed, I don't have the energy to do anything! Sound at all familiar? Or is that just my life?

Case in point--it's been twenty-two days since my last post here. And yet my to-do list says I will write a post at least once every seven days.

Another case in point--Last spring, my son finished all the structural work on our renovated dining room, leaving me "only" the finish work. On my to-do list is prepping, painting, refinishing the dining table, making new cushions for the window seat, finding a set of chairs, new window treatments, a new centerpiece. . and so on. So far I've patched a few plaster cracks, sanded most of one window frame and. . .well, I've walked through the room at least twenty times a day. Does that count for anything?

Starting to see where I'm headed here? The old to-do list is nothing but a list. It doesn't contribute inspiration, motivation, or time. In some instances, it only serves to make us feel inadequate and frustrated.

It's so easy to find reasons, not to mention excuses, for not getting it all done. In my case, there are jobs, the ones that include a paycheck as well as the ones that are rewarded with meals on the table and a semi-clean house. Then there's my family, especially my husband, whom I refuse to completely neglect for the sake of. . .well, anything. Oh, and there's that book I'm working on, the one I hope to get out by Christmas? Don't let me sit down to the computer and open that file. I'll never get anything else done!

In my life, I've been to this place so many times, you'd think I could see it coming and maybe take a different tack? Being overwhelmed by too much to do is nothing new, but I have to ask why I keep letting things pile up. Then again, that's such a dumb question. First of all, I didn't let it happen. I did not intentionally commit to all of this in order to end up feeling overwhelmed. What I did was set out to accomplish a number of  worthy tasks, and forget to give myself permission to take as long as needed to complete them. Everything on my to-do list was put there by me. The deadlines are my own. There are no penalties for delays. Well, other than my own impatience, but there again, I'm the one in control, right?

Emerson said "life is a journey, not a destination." The to-do list will never be completely done. Along the way, other opportunities and responsibilities will jump on board and distract us, or perhaps lead us to something more important at that moment. If we are closed to those distractions, what might we miss out on? Yes, the list is important as a general reminder of things I need to accomplish, but I refuse to let it make me feel guilty or nonproductive. I hereby, once again, give myself permission to enjoy the journey, to explore the sidetracks, and learn from the delays. Maybe I'll even put those things permanently at the top of my new to-do list.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Happy Anniversary to Us!

"This book is dedicated to John, who makes me possible."--from my first novel, Hearts Unfold.

Twenty-three years ago today I walked down the aisle of a beautiful little chapel to meet the man I'd been waiting my entire circuitous life to marry. I'd never felt so confident, or been filled with such peace, as on that cloudy September morning. At last, I was on the right road with the right person beside me. Finally, I'd found the one person in the world who "got" me.

We weren't young, or naive about marriage. We'd been there, done that, thrown out the t-shirt. But we were filled with hope at the possibilities of this journey we were beginning, no matter its length. He teased me that I'd have to live to be at least 80 in order to get the second half of my life "right." I just wanted the chance to share as much time as possible with him, never taking a single day for granted. I can say today that we still seem to be making a go of this partnership, one loving day at a time.

In the years since that brief ceremony united us as husband and wife, life has been filled with, well, living. We've moved into five different homes, changed jobs numerous times between us, married off a daughter and a grandson in that same church where we were married, welcomed grandchildren and great-grandchildren, bid sad farewells to friends and family. We've traveled together, worked together, and struggled together against most of life's typical challenges. Amazingly, we've had very few arguments and rarely gone to bed unhappy with one another.

I attribute our ongoing success to several things, the foremost being that this is a Christian marriage. By that I mean not only that we've leaned on our faith in the tough times, but we've mindfully incorporated our beliefs into the everyday humdrum of shared living. We respect as well as love each other while acknowledging that we each have strengths and weaknesses, not to mention very different personalities and histories. If marriage is the toughest job anyone can take on, (and it is) it's a lot easier going if both parties bring the same beliefs and values to the workplace each day.

I was right to feel confident that morning twenty-three years ago. What I only suspected at the time was that the gentle, gifted man waiting for me at the altar would not only enrich my life, but allow me to become a far better woman than I'd ever dreamed I could be. He allows me to be me, which can't always be easy. He unfailingly supports my dreams without questioning my sanity. If I need space, he gives it, and if I need a shoulder to cry on, or an ear to rant into, he gives that too.

If today, I've finally realized my dream of being a writer--a writer of books people buy and read and even enjoy--it's in large part thanks to him. Not only does he provide professional support--I was lucky enough to find a man who loves me and has 25 years' experience as a proofreader/editor--but he puts up with the hours I spend away from him, lost in the worlds unfolding on my computer screen. He celebrates every sale and positive review, and shamelessly plugs my books to anyone he meets. Most of all, he makes it possible for me to be me. He accepts me, big hairy warts and all, encourages whatever crazy scheme I'm plotting, and reminds me every day that it's never too late to begin the journey we were destined for, no matter how many misguided detours we may have stumbled over before the moment we found our way.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

In a Perfect World--Rambles on Writing

 We all indulge in fantasies. Some of us occasionally have trouble separating them from reality. Whether they're about money (more, never less) or a bigger, better house (or maybe a smaller, easier-to-keep house) we dream about that greener grass just beyond our reach. For some, fantasies become goals, lead to career choices and even the selection of a life-partner. For some, they lead to disappointment, frustration, and a belief that since our dreams never came true, we got the short end of the stick. In a perfect world, our fantasies would entertain and inspire us, but never stand in the way of realistic contentment.

Or, in a perfect writer's world, they would become stories. Short or long, rhyming or prose, set in the present, past or future, a writer's fantasies spin into characters and settings, mystery and romance, capturing the imagination of perfect strangers through the skillful assembly of word and phrase. Everyone has an imagination, whether writer or reader. When the fantasy of the writer meets that of the reader through the simple, everyday act of opening a book, the magic transcends both.

I was a reader from the time I can remember. Run, Jane, run. See Jane run. I felt the wind in my face and heard the cheers at the finish line. I lived with the Boxcar Children, solved mysteries with my heart racing alongside Nancy Drew, went into mourning with Jo March at the death of her beloved Beth. As an only child, the characters in my books were my closest friends. We spent countless quiet hours curled in a chair or huddled under the covers. Without ever leaving my remote little village, I traveled back and forward in time, met kings and beggars, and learned my way around the capitals of the world as well as other remote villages thousands of miles and centuries away. I learned about romance and sex, food and music, fashion and finance as much from reading as from any class or textbook. I got so involved with whatever I was reading at the moment, I was often only half-aware of what was going on around me.

Then came the time when the words began to leave the page and spin themselves into my own stories. I must have been around ten years old, a year when my real-life world changed radically, when the first of the spiral notebooks started to fill with disjointed bits of writing. It was awful stuff, but it was mine. One clever turn of phrase, one clearly drawn image, and I was thrilled with my accomplishment. No one saw what I was doing. I wasn't bold enough to tell anyone. For several years my stories were just mine, until I discovered that my cousin, a few months younger and the closest thing I have to a sister, was also scribbling in spiral notebooks.

That was the beginning of the best critique partnership I can imagine. When we were apart, we mailed stories back and forth--"snail mail," envelopes bulging with folded sheets of lined paper. During the times we spent together, often weeks at a time, we sat in the same room, pencils flying, periodically breaking the heavy silence to share something particularly brilliant, and finally handing off our work for the other to read. Our styles and genres (not sure we knew that word at the time) were very distinctive. Our subjects were much the same, girlish interpretations of our budding romantic fantasies, but her plot twists tended to toward the dramatic and sometimes violent, heroes in fist fights, or heroines run down by city buses. Mine, indicative of things to come I suppose, were gentler, more idyllic, a bit sappy some would say. It was heavenly sharing that experience, giggling at two in the morning over an unintentional innuendo, or oohing at a truly fine turn of phrase.

When, forty plus years later, I actually finished my first novel, my cousin agreed to read it. I was scared to death to send the file to her. I knew how brutally honest her critiques could be. Plus, she knows me as well as any other living soul. A few catchy phrases weren't going to convince her I was finally a writer. What she had to say after she read the book I won't share here. It's frankly too precious, a gift I treasure. Let it suffice to say her "getting" my story, the light she shed on my work, opening my eyes to things I didn't realize I'd done, led me to believe in myself enough to publish.

When a reader reveals in a message or a review that they really "got" it, I feel as though I've found that perfect world, that magical place where storyteller and reader live the story together. When I started writing, I promised I'd write the kind of stories I wanted to read. It's close to impossible for a writer to follow the "trends," to intentionally write what sells, and maintain any sort of integrity in their work. For me, as much as I enjoy many of the edgy, contemporary voices at the top of the bestseller lists, I know I don't have that kind of voice. And I don't want to. I've lived with the voice in my head for fifty years, if you count those awful scribblings in the spiral notebooks. I can recognize when a story begins to spin, or when I'm trying too hard to force one to take off. I know the honest from the contrived well enough to walk away from a story that will never feel like mine.

In a perfect world, there's room for every kind of voice, a readership ready to "get" every author. None of us should feel more or less successful as long as we're true to ourselves and our stories. This isn't a competition to see who dies with the most five-star reviews or the most sales. In a perfect world, those who die with the satisfaction of living their dreams win hands down.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Why I Stayed

I'm going to say something right up front. If you had any idea how difficult it is for me to post this entry, you'd tell me not to. You'd tell me you understand that I'd feel safer not speaking out. You'd say let someone else tell their story, someone braver who doesn't prefer feeling invisible, just in case. But something tells me the time is now, so here goes.

I am a survivor of domestic violence. I lived it, denied it, defended it, and eventually I woke up to the reality of it and knew I had to leave it. To this day, I remain cautious, aware that somewhere out there someone I once loved, shared the most intimate aspects of my life with and sincerely tried to understand hates me for leaving. I live with the knowledge that his rage can be triggered by the mention of my name and despite the hundreds of miles that separate me from him, that still frightens me.

Leaving, and staying away, was the hardest thing I've ever done, but I was one of the fortunate ones. I was supported by a tight circle of friends who made it possible for me to stay away, to avoid the all too powerful temptation to go back when faced with the daunting reality of no money, no job and no place to live. That isn't true for a lot of women. Without those friends, who's to say I might not have gone back. Familiar horrors begin to seem bearable when confronted with a faceless unknown. That's what he tells you, when he senses you're thinking of leaving. You won't be able to take care of yourself because he's doing such a good job of taking care of you. You can't make the kind of money, live in the kind of neighborhood, wear the kind of clothes, provide for the kids the way he can. The truth of that is louder than your fear. It drowns out your awareness of the exorbitant price you're already paying for all those things.

Each woman stays for different reasons, but those reasons add up to staying because leaving doesn't seem to be a viable reality. At the heart of staying is the fact that at times, if not at that moment, you love him. What drew you to him is still there in the good times. And there are good times along with the bad ones. I found it difficult to even recall the horrors when things were going well. Maybe I overreacted, maybe I misunderstood, maybe I was in some way to blame. When you love someone, even in the best of relationships, there's a lot of forgiveness involved. If you believe, as I do, in the sanctity of marriage, in keeping your promises, in loving unselfishly, you'll forgive a lot in the name of keeping the peace and sharing those good times. While the reasons for staying differ, I believe every woman will agree that love, as battered and tested as it may become, is at the heart of staying.

Money may seem like a poor reason, but imagine putting your checkbook, your credit cards, the keys to your house on the kitchen table and walking out with what you can carry, with no job, no permanent address and no idea what tomorrow might bring. While some women have the time and foresight to plan, many reach the day of departure with very little to take with them but their lives. That was my case, and in truth I felt safer leaving it all. But I won't say I felt confident of anything. It was one day at a time, one hurdle at a time, one disappointment at a time. Without the help and protection of my little circle, I might have been forced to go back. I know how blessed I was and that many women lack that kind of support.

Fear is the most powerful motivator of all, in both directions. Fearing what he'll do if you try to leave, fearing what he'll do if you stay on. Fearing what he might do to the people you love, your parents, your children, your friends, and fear of what he might do to himself. That fear kept me in place for all of our marriage. I told myself I could handle what he did to me, the verbal abuse, the control, the threats of violence, better than I could seeing anyone else suffer, including him. The consequences of leaving, the destruction of our family, and living with the guilt of wondering if I'd done something differently it might all have been avoided, stopped me in my tracks any time I dared consider taking such a step.

Shame plays a part too, the shame of admitting that you lived with someone who treated you that way, the shame of being the one to break the wall of silence and tell the world your life wasn't what you'd worked so hard to make it appear. The shame of taking back all those lies you told about how wonderful he was and how happy you were, the lies you convinced even yourself were true. I'm a good actress and I write fiction. I did an exceptional job of creating the illusion of happy home, loving husband, treasured wife. And then in one day, I had to tear down the illusion and admit the truth to a lot of people who couldn't believe it and others who never did.

What I accepted in the moment I knew I would leave was that it couldn't matter, not the love, the security, the fear or the shame, as much as regaining my life. I had surrendered everything to someone who would never be satisfied with what I had to give. I had trusted someone who time and again broke faith. I had taken the blame for pushing him to his limits when in fact there was no rhyme or reason to his limits, they were merely unpredictable whims. Staying no longer made sense. Staying could serve no purpose other than to further surrender, live without trust, and accept the blame for my own destruction.

Arriving at that moment required me to drop the veil of denial, look hard at the sad truth and let go of all hope for a miraculous change. I remember thinking how ironic it was that I had watched all those discussions of domestic violence on Oprah, I had been the girl who said if a guy ever hit me, I'd be out of there. I had deluded myself into believing we were different because I was looking at the reality of domestic abuse from inside, where the discussion translated into the language of our shared history.

I said before that leaving was the hardest thing I've ever done. Sometimes I'm still amazed that I did it. Each step away was a conscious choice, taken with the awareness that I was becoming a different woman, one who faced a new reality with eyes wide open, who could never look back without regret or forward without remembering. After over twenty years, my heart still races when the topic is discussed and all the memories, the worst and the best, cross my mind in an emotional kaleidoscope.

Currently, the discussion has much to do with a culture that exempts certain men from responsibility. But from where I live now, on the other side of leaving, every man is exempt until proven otherwise, and then our culture as a whole continues to find fault with the woman for having stayed. Without living in her body, we can't know why she stayed or how she perceived her unique situation. Without her background, personality and thought process, we can't know what it felt like when he yelled, or threatened, or hit. None of us, no matter our own experience with domestic violence or lack thereof, can judge her choices.

What we can do is everything in our power to raise awareness, to promote a rational, constructive discussion, to equip our sons and daughters with the necessary tools to build a society where domestic violence is taboo. We can reserve our unsolicited advice and offer unconditional support. Blame, no matter where directed, is unproductive. "Should have" and "why" are a waste of breath. Change is the only viable solution. It will not happen over night, or even in a generation. But it can happen. Don't let the conversation die until the next high-profile case hits the headlines. Look around you. Find a place to add your voice. Open your minds and give of your time. Every woman out there now, living on the inside of domestic abuse, needs you to become part of the change.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Free Getaway-Kindle Style

Katie Lost and Found
My new release is FREE for Kindle September 1-5! Please help yourself to a getaway to Walnut Lodge. Meet owner Tess Weldon and the wonderful group of friends who staff this historic bed and breakfast in Middle of Nowhere, Kansas. Trust me, there's a lot more than history happening there.  

 Peter Kosten is starting over. Leaving behind a successful career and a failed marriage, his vision for the future is colored by disappointment. During his time at Walnut Lodge, he hopes to reinvent himself, to recover the ideals and dreams he shared with the one real love of his life, the girl who vanished without a trace sixteen years earlier.
Walnut Lodge is Tess Weldon’s life. The grand old house is her business, her home and her safe haven, its staff her friends and family. Her secrets are safe within its walls. Guided by the vision she shared with her late husband, her future finally seems secure, until her past checks in to the Lodge.
Fate may have brought Peter and Tess full circle, but lost love found doesn’t necessarily lead to a second chance.  

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Lost in the Plains: Me and Teddy Roosevelt--We Go Way Back

Lost in the Plains: Me and Teddy Roosevelt--We Go Way Back: It's fair to say that in my family, we keep things. Not because they are of particular value. Not always because they have signif...

Me and Teddy Roosevelt--We Go Way Back

It's fair to say that in my family, we keep things. Not because they are of particular value. Not always because they have significant sentimental connections. Things of interest are kept because. . .well, they are interesting. It seems the right thing to do, keeping anything unusual, anything with an amusing story attached, or anything we aren't absolutely sure might not someday turn out to have real monetary value. Antiques Roadshow is loaded with folks like us, who keep things because.

That's how I became involved withTeddy Roosevelt. He's been around as long as I can remember. Legend has it he came to reside with my parents when I was still a baby. As closely as my mother could recall, he was discovered while clearing out the basement of a building chosen to house the vocational school where my father would be teaching. Someone in charge permitted my father to take him, hinting that someday this slightly damaged bronze casting of horse and rider might be worth a lot of money. My father, always in need of a lot more money than he had, brought it home, added a false mustache to compensate for the horse's missing tail, and for most of my childhood, Theodore Roosevelt served as an interesting doorstop in our living room. It's always been obvious that Teddy was intended for better things. While not an original bronze casting, this replica must at some point in time have held a more exalted position. But no one uncovered his origins, no one knew exactly where he resided before he came to us, and frankly, in the grand scheme of our lives, he wasn't a priority. He was just there, to earn the occasional comment from a visitor, and to be dusted.

Wish I was a better photographer!
Fast forward several decades. When I was packing up my mother's home in Virginia, preparing to move her into a senior apartment out here in Kansas where so many of those "kept" things couldn't be kept any longer, I discovered time had not treated Teddy kindly. Not only was his horse tailless, but Teddy himself had lost a foot, boot and all. I carefully packed up the remains and brought him to Kansas, because. . .well, Teddy was still interesting and something of a mystery, one I wanted to clear up if possible. I felt I owed it to Teddy, not to mention my parents, to finally uncover whatever history and value this thing might have. Surely with the wealth of information at my fingertips via the internet, I could dig up something. My mother still held out hope that Teddy represented that ship she'd been waiting for all those years. It would be wonderful to find out this thing we'd lugged around for decades was really a treasure, but it would also be nice to put the pipedream to rest.

Well, I pretty much failed at learning anything beyond the name of the artist who created our Teddy. Turns out all along, if anyone had looked closely enough, the signature was right there next to that poor lion. "Bofill" led me to Antoine Bofill, Spanish sculptor, 1875-1921, who apparently worked mostly in Paris around the turn of the 20th century. There are a few photos of his other works, mostly small bronzes, but nothing, absolutely nothing to tie him to the 26th President of the United States.
I did find a very skilled restorer to put Teddy and his horse to rights. The cost of the restoration probably far exceeds the market value of the piece, but it was well worth it to me to toss out that old mustache and proudly display Teddy on the mantel instead of hiding him behind a door.

I have pieced together a vague provenance for Teddy. Turns out that building where he came to my father's attention was once part of the Richmond public library system. Given the condition when found, Teddy was probably stuck in the basement after some unfortunate incident broke the tail off his horse. Since this is likely one of many such replicas of the original, it makes sense that someone deemed this representation of our 26th President suitable d├ęcor for a public library. In a time when big game hunting and a dead lion would not have offended anyone's sensibilities, the 26th President astride his horse astride his most recent kill would have been deemed a classical pose. I can imagine some wealthy donor of the day purchasing Teddy for the new branch of the library, where he would have held a place of honor--Teddy, not the donor. After a series of future presidents came and went, Teddy was probably delegated to a less prestigious spot where some clumsy person caused the aforementioned unfortunate incident. A tailless horse would no doubt have offended the sensibilities of any number of animal lovers, and thus Teddy was sent to ignominious exile in the basement, to be discovered by my father and rescued.

I do wish I could learn more about our Teddy. Where is the original, for starters? Why was he cast in bronze by a Spanish sculptor in Paris? Why that pose? What was the name of the horse? If anyone out there has any clues, please let me know. Meanwhile, President Theodore Roosevelt, known to me as Teddy from the time I could talk, resides on the mantel in our humble library here in Kansas. I'm really a little proud of myself for having saved him. He remains one of the "kept" things I treasure, not only for his "interesting" qualities, but because I feel he and I have shared a long and arduous journey. He's been with me all my life and when we part, I hope those who come after me will find him interesting enough to keep around.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Hearts Unfold--Begin at the Beginning

 This weekend, Hearts Unfold, the first installment in the Miracle at Valley Rise series, is free for Kindle. I invite you to help yourself to a copy and discover the love story readers are calling "heartwarming," "inspiring" and "impossible to put down."

Nineteen-year-old Emily Haynes had lost almost everything she loved.  Relying on what seems to be guidance from her invalid father, she returns to her past in hopes of finding some sign toward the future.  What begins as a joyous homecoming quickly turns into a nightmare when a badly injured stranger stumbles on the scene, his brief presence threatening to alter everything she believes about herself and the plan for her life.  A less determined girl might have been shaken by such an experience, but not Emily.  She is certain she’s made the right choice, so certain that in the following three years, she almost convinces herself.
Super-star violinist Stani Moss appeared to have everything, fame, fortune and a career guaranteed to bring more of the same, until one hasty decision placed it all in jeopardy.  Terrified and confused, he struggles not only to recover his former skill, but to find answers to the questions which haunt him.  Throughout his slow journey back, one image lingers in his buried memories of that fateful night—the vision of a girl he’s never met.  The journey will eventually lead him to Emily, and beyond that day, everything about his life will be transformed.
Set in the years around 1970, Hearts Unfold begins the saga of two people whose paths should never have crossed, who defy the odds to create a life they can share.  The first of four volumes in the Miracle at Valley Rise Series, this novel could stand alone as a triumphant tale of romance, but there’s much more to the story, as Emily and Stani reveal their pasts and strive to bridge the distance between their worlds.  Follow their progress, be entertained by their adventures, and perhaps be inspired by their unwavering belief in the transforming power of love.