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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!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Garden Therapy

I remember my grandmother digging in her garden, turning red in the face and sweating profusely. I couldn't see where all that work changed things very much. The bulbs--iris and daffodils mainly--were beautiful but only bloomed for a short time. The forsythia barely lasted a week or two. The big flowering scrubs, whose names I'm ashamed to say I can't remember, bloomed profusely at various times during the summer. I do remember the fig bush and the succulent sweetness of the fruit eaten straight from the branches. But all that work for what--a few bursts of color each year? And yet it was obvious Nana loved her garden and the work. She said she needed to dig in the dirt now and then, that it helped "keep things in perspective." I guess I understood on some level that in her life, one of hard labor with little financial reward, one where the dinner table was laid with chipped china and homegrown fare, and excitement was rarely a good thing, digging in the dirt might actually provide some kind of comfort.

I was only in my twenties when I came to the realization that in my life, different from hers as it might be, digging in the dirt would be a necessity also. Wherever I've lived, in balcony apartments, homes with lawns large and small, no matter what the climate, I've made sure there was dirt for me to dig in. If not an actual garden, at least some potted plants, a little row of annuals by the door, even a window box. Dirt, best handled with bare hands so it works into the skin and under the fingernails, is my therapy. The results of my labor, green and flowering plants which become my children as I watch them grow through a season or more, reassure me that in a world of constant and often confusing change, some things remain constant. Soil, water, sunshine and seed combine to provide a solace unlike any other.

When we moved to this old house almost fifteen years ago, there was nothing but grass. Not a single sprig that could  be described as landscaping. I started small, claiming ground at one corner of the house where once a wraparound porch had stood. The soil was thick, black and sticky--the material sod houses were built of when this part of the country was settled. As I dug--increasing the size little by little each year--I fought crabgrass and good old-fashioned weeds of every obnoxious variety, working in peat moss and manure until eventually the soil stopped resisting and began to cooperate. Together, that plot of virgin soil and I brought forth an abundance of  color and scent, a place where hummingbirds visited in the spring and the Monarch butterflies tanked up for their flight south late each summer.

I was overly ambitious. Today the garden is almost too much for me to handle alone. I've moved away from annuals to perennials and bulbs, which require far less digging and will in time fill the space with colors and textures without so much help from me. And I've taken on a helper. It turns out my granddaughter likes digging too. It's quite possible that just as I did, she understands on some level that this communion with the soil is more than just dirty, sweaty work, and that the rewards are infinitely more than just a few bright blooms. If I could pass anything along to her, there's nothing I know of that will bring her more pleasure or provide her with a better way to "keep things in perspective."

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

How Not to Write a Love Story

Love stories are sometimes tricky things. Oh, they all have more or less the same elements. Boy meets Girl, Boy falls for Girl, or Girl falls for Boy, or sometimes they do the falling simultaneously. Something--parents, social standing, dark histories, hidden angst, the list is infinite--brings about conflict in the relationship. In the end, Love wins, resulting in the expected Happily Ever After. Or Not. That's where the tricky part comes in.
SHANNON'S DAUGHTER is one of those tricky love stories. You might say it was written in reverse. The ending had already been revealed in another book, so there was no going back. To help the reader understand certain things about the story of Peg Shannon and Kendall Gregg, I wrote a Foreword, hoping to ward off the outrage of those who demand the typical fade-to-black-as-the-string-music-rises ending. Unfortunately, it seems a fair number of readers just click right past the Foreword, thus missing my carefully thought out introduction. 
SHANNON'S DAUGHTER will be FREE for Kindle October 1-5. Please help yourself to a copy, but be sure to read the Foreword! (I've even included it here!)Then you can't say you weren't forewarned that this is not your typical love story, not your typical happy-ever-after ending, and sit back and  enjoy the story of two exceptional people falling in love. 

      When I first met Peg Shannon, in the early pages of Hearts Unfold, I had no idea she would become more than a reference to the older woman in Stani Moss’s romantic past.  It’s fair to say she insinuated herself into the plot, becoming a central secondary character who just would not go away.  I thought briefly about turning her into a source of conflict, but that didn’t seem to fit.  Peg, despite her questionable history with Stani, was not a “bad” woman.  Her heart was invariably in the right place, although her methods were often unorthodox.  To put it simply, Peg intrigued me from the beginning and I was curious as to what she might do next.
By the end of the fourth book in what became the Miracle at Valley Rise series, my curiosity demanded answers.  I knew I wanted to explore Peg’s history, her back story.  I wanted to discover who and what had influenced her.  I knew there had to be more to Peg than met the eye, more than a wealthy, independent woman who played life by her own rules. 
I had some boundaries, facts already established, and a timeline to follow.  I couldn’t rewrite Peg’s past.  It had to mesh with what we already knew from the series.  Challenged by this and the fact that Peg’s story would not fit into the same inspirational genre as the Miracle at Valley Rise books, I had my work cut out for me. 
My saving grace was a name, Kendall Gregg.  All we knew about Kendall was that he was a man in Peg’s past, a love affair.  Their relationship had ended before she met Stani, but they had remained friends.  Not much to go on.  That is, until I “met” Kendall.  As is true with many of my characters, Kendall walked into the room, introduced himself and led me on a merry and at times breathless chase.  He turned out to be the source for everything I wanted to know about Peg, so I let him tell the story from his perspective.  The result is Shannon's Daughter, a traditionally romantic tale with a nontraditional but ultimately happy ending.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Power of One

One on one. There's no denying the special connection that results when two individuals meet face to face. As a private person and introvert by nature, I tend to prefer one on one--be it lunch with a friend, shopping trips, or just hanging out--to group outings. I feel the same when it comes to sales of my books.
Oh, don't get me wrong, I love lots of sales, which translates to lots of readers. Those months when the numbers on my Kindle Direct sales report page just keep jumping upward are exciting, no doubt about it. But there's real satisfaction in the slow months, too. Each time a book sells, I envision a reader--most likely a woman past the first bloom of youth in a well-loved home with pictures of kids and maybe grandkids on the walls--opening her Kindle and settling back with a cup of something warm and comforting to read. Now that's what I call exciting!
One on one, we share the story I had the audacity to write and she had the curiosity to download. She meets my characters, who have become my family and friends through the course of telling their stories. She sees the farmhouse and the little mountain town through Emily's eyes, the Manhattan apartment and the concert halls through Stani's, just as I did. Together, we learn back-stories and witness struggles, fall in love and overcome doubts, laugh and cry and dance, right along with them.
Some readers tell me they appreciate the musical element in these books, some say they can "see" the scenes depicted. One reader told me she'd love to sit down in the farmhouse kitchen with Emily and share a ham sandwich. Another told me about her excitement at walking into a concert hall and discovering a poster of a violinist who "was" Stani Moss. Knowing that these characters and their stories are as real to the reader as they are to me is incomparably rewarding. Money can't buy that kind of connection.
In the beginning, I set out simply to write the kind of book I wanted to read, just for myself. I had no expectation of being published. I had no grand scheme to sell thousands of books. In fact, I had no desire for anyone else to read what I was writing. I wrote because the story was there--had been there for forty years in some form or other--and I wanted to see what it might become. Writing had been on my to-do list all my life, and time was running out. That my books have now gone to live in thousands of Kindles, that several hundred readers have let me know they've been read and enjoyed, is so far from my original mission it continually boggles my mind.
But when all is said and done, it's the vision of one reader and one book that means the most to me. I've often said I'd love to follow each book home and spend a minute or two getting to know the reader. I get excited over each new review, every Facebook message and comment. An email from a reader gives me chills. I've even made "reader friends" in places I'll probably never get to see, including New Zealand.
One by one, the story of Emily and Stani and the Miracle of Valley Rise has been passed from me to you. That in itself feels like a miracle to me!