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Temporary Derailment: A Writer’s Nightmare

16 Feb

All is well now, although I have had to come to grips with a set-back of my own making. Here is an attempt at poetry to explain my absence. No more details needed…

Hard Drive Not Found

Hundreds of children, locked in the grains of a glimmering silver disk.

A plastic prison, inaccessible forever.

I brought them into the world, the scraps, the snippets, the draft chapters.

I toyed with them, entertained them, nurtured them.

Quotes, verses, hints, ideas, set aside to simmer.

Opening lines.

Inspiration.

All gone.

Think, think! I scream. There must be a way!

Capture them! Bring them back!

Character.

Aura.

Anything.

Finding only darkness.

And an awareness—they existed.

I used to ship the wee ones off to the mainland monthly.

I didn’t trust the airways, you see.

But I danced into the holiday season, a neglectful parent.

NaNoWriMo.

NoMo.

My children.

Do they ache for me the way I ache for them?

“I told you so,” said the world.
datanotfound

New Year, New Page, New Start

1 Jan

On this, the seventh day of Christmas, I received a most precious gift, as did you.

I stayed in bed this morning as long as I could, savoring the opening of it the way one unwraps a much-anticipated present—instead of tearing into the wrapping, I glided my metaphorical finger just under point where the paper overlaps and I nudged the tape until it released its hold.

Then I pulled back the wrap and lingered over the newness of it all, inhaling the scent of promise and potential.

It is here.

sunriseThe new year has dawned like a magnificent sunrise over an expansive ocean, with a freshness of clean linen, the newness of a tightly folded flower bud, and the secrecy of a locked treasure chest. I’m giddy over the endless possibilities of what lies ahead.

In my heart, I’m staring in wonder at a book that contains 365 blank pages, and my heart can only smile.

Right now, the pages are unstained, unblemished in any way. I haven’t hurt anyone with my sarcasm all year. I haven’t said any words I cannot take back. I haven’t judged someone for being different. I haven’t broken a promise to a friend, or missed an opportunity to put aside my work to take a long walk with my husband.

At this moment, anything is possible.

In time, the pages will fill, some with heartache, others with joy and victory. I pray for more of the latter but understand it’s not my decision, just as I also know that, when the year ends, page after page will contain absolutely nothing—a chronicle of hours burned up on mindless tasks.

I resolve to turn the pages more purposefully this year. I pray I can record at the end of each day that I smiled more, laughed more, and loved more on that day’s page than on the one before it. I pray this year my focus is not on how I can better myself, but on how I can make life better for others. Forgive those who hurt me, reignite waning friendships, write encouragement for others. What does that mean, exactly? I have no idea, but I’m sure I’ll learn.

This year I will write a book, see more family, and meet new people. It’s going to be a blast.

How about you? What do you hope to put on your blank pages? Imagine the unimaginable with me, would you? Set your sights on the seemingly unattainable and laugh, because you can do it. Believe and make that first mark on the pristine page.

For no yearning is too big, no dream impossible on this, the first day.

—-

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! — 2 Corinthians 5:17

NaNoWriMo a No-Go…for now

17 Nov

I’m calling it A Hope Deferred because failure sounds so permanent.

More than two weeks into National Novel Writing Month have flown by with a whoosh, leaving me staring at my keyboard in puzzlement, wondering . . .

What the heck happened?

Not much, I’ll tell you that. I worked, as is evident by my blurry eyes and the onset of carpal tunnel. However, I worked on projects for others, and not myself. Somehow, the moment I committed my time to novel writing, nearly a year’s worth of “on-hold” commitments jumped out of the woodwork and into my email box. All worthy projects. Fulfilling work. Some even paying jobs. I like paying jobs.

nanomofail

The words are all in my head; I just have to write them down…

But none of which left time for novel writing. I tried, dutifully sitting down every morning and typing until the official start of my work day. I hoped to at least initiate some forward progress so that when the commitments ebbed I could catch up.

Word count? Again, not much. Let’s just say I stopped counting at 5,000 words.

My consolation: they’re good words, if I do say so myself. They’re only seeds right now, but they might grow to become part of something quite impressive. So far, I’ve crafted an opening scene, set up for twists and turns, established two solid characters and researched until I thought I’d burst from excess knowledge. Go ahead, ask me anything:

Can you unbuckle a seatbelt upside-down with your right hand? No. Can you suffer a concussion in a car accident, even when the air bag inflates? Yes. Does fog occur in Oklahoma? Yes. How many years does it take to become a doctor? 14 on average. How many artillery courses can a Marine go through at Fort Sill? Three. How does all this tie in? That’s for me to plot and you to find out.

If I ever finish writing the book, that is.

I’ve learned a lot though. First, because of all the research, writing fiction is harder than it looks. Many people have told me that, but I didn’t listen. Let’s just say I have a lot of experience filling out “official forms” and so believed writing fiction would come naturally. Anyway, I understand now that readers are willing to suspend belief to journey through the pages with me, but if the road takes them to that place of “not likely,” I’m going to lose them—roadside corn stands in February, hurricanes in Pittsburgh, a balanced budget in California—and they might not return. So, that slows me down a bit.

Second, writing fiction is a lot more fun than I expected. I’m holding a literary Gumby and I have the power to make him stand like a hero or I can split his legs into a heart shape over his head so he falls, quite awkwardly, into his soup. Bwa ha ha ha! It’s a scary responsibility—roller-coaster scary, not Cujo scary. Sometimes, just to mess with my characters, I’ll take one or two of them down a road they’d NEVER travel, just to see how long it takes before they stop, mid-sentence, and look at me with their hands on their hips and that unsportsmanlike “you-give-me-a-pink-holster-and-I’m-out-of-here” look. Geesh. As if I’d leave that in there. So, allowing my ADD side to play around slows me down some as well.

However, the primary tidbit of wisdom I’ve acquired is that I’m not going to make my goal. By the time I finish the side work in front of me, the Christmas season will be in full swing and I won’t be able to focus at all. So, rather than stuffing my work into a pity pantry and stomping off, I’ll just reiterate what I thought from the start: November is a silly month to write a novel. I’m hereby taking my novel-writing plan off the map of standard expectation and announcing that MY NaNoWriMo is January. Bring on the snow, lock me up, and send in a sandwich every few days–I’ll be fine.

To my fellow writers who are sticking it out, my hat is off to you. May your days be filled with inspiration and your fingers fly across the keyboard. Keep writing so I can live vicariously through your success until it’s my turn.

And my turn will come. Of this I’m certain.

——-

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. — Proverbs 16:9

NaNoWriMo: Will Words Escape Me?

1 Nov

“If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been
written yet, then you must write it.” —
Toni Morrison

November is National Novel Writing Month. I have no idea why, just go with me on this. Anyway, this is a writers’ challenge which suggests that if we commit to writing 1,667 words every day (11,660 per week), we’ll have written a 50,000-word novel by the end of the month.

That is not to say it will be a marketable novel, but certainly will form the framework for a novel that might become a decent read after we’ve edited it five or ten times.

Frankly, November is quite possibly the worst month to dedicate to such a writing feat. Aside from Veterans Day weekend, Thanksgiving week and all the prep that entails, and the looming leaf-raking weekend I won’t be able to dodge, I’m editing three projects, I’m on the hook to write two stories (and quite possibly four) this month, and I have family commitments out the wazoo—some of which I’m actually looking forward to.

I mean, why not February? My work load is nearly nil and I stay indoors the entire month of February.

Which is why, every November, when I feel that familiar tug to join the 300,000+ writers out there who are taking the pledge, I take one look at my over-filled plate defer the dream yet again. In some ways, I’m a lot like that young career-minded couple trying to decide when to have that baby…it’s never the perfect time.

Which is why, this year, I say NO!

To the deferment, that is.

I want in.

halloween-candy

The common denominator behind all my fantastic and awful ideas.

Because I don’t want to push the dream aside any more. I want to push myself instead. Many other reasons lie behind my decision to take on this challenge, some of which are a tad complicated. For one, there’s a giant bucket of leftover Halloween candy on the kitchen table, and I never make rational decisions when stuffed with chocolate.

For another, I’m yearning to write something of my own. Although I absolutely love ghost writing, and I hope to go back to it at some point, I keep wondering what I could accomplish from scratch if I tried.  I am working on a serious, semi-factual book, but it requires tons of reading and research, and, at some point, interviews with family members. It’s so personal, though, that I consider it actual work, while NaNoWriMo is supposed to be fun.

For another, there are people in my head just begging me to bring them to life. The racket they’re making up there keeps me awake at night. Well, that and the Halloween candy I keep snitching at bedtime. (Yes, I started in as soon as we purchased it—doesn’t everyone?)  For the most part, my head characters are patiently waiting their turn. But not Angus. I’ve had Angus, the truck driver, on hold for nearly a year. He’s up there right now, leaning on his horn, pulling the lollypop from his red-bearded face to howl (accompanyied by his border collie side-kick), “I ain’t gettin’ any younger here, lassie!” You see, Angus REALLY wants to me to help him get to know Katy, a single mom who works the customer service counter at the grocery store, but I keep letting the air out of his tires so he has to stay put. Alas, it’s still not his turn.

Instead, this November, a young Marine sergeant who has been languishing in a corner of my brain nursing a bottle of Coors gets to learn why his grandmother had to die in the tornado. Yes, I think I’d like to let him find out. Primarily because I’d like to know, too.

Finally, I’m making this commitment because the consequences of failure dawned on me the other day: What’s the worst that can happen? I might only finish half a novel by the month’s end? What a travesty that would be! Basically, there’s no way to lose here.

Am I worried? To be honest, I’m terrified. I’ve been talking about writing my own novel for many years. I feel as if this time I have no net beneath me. I cannot blame my success or failure on someone else’s lack of storytelling. It’s all me, baby.

And if I don’t have what it takes?

If my story has no point?

If it’s not entertaining?

If I can’t think of a satisfying ending?

So be it. I have to at least try. I take comfort in young Solomon’s plight after his father, King David, gave him the kingdom and with it, the responsibility to build God’s temple. Considering that this was a temple that even David, a man after God’s own heart, hadn’t been deemed qualified to build, it must have looked like a daunting task to Solomon, and it would be the first task of his new kingship, not something he could work up to. Solomon asked for wisdom and plowed forward. I shall do the same.

I will write you all a weekly update, and I promise to fess up if I miss the mark. Or all the marks. I don’t know whether 11,669 words a week are possible, considering I won’t be writing Tuesdays and Sundays. Now, I’m not a math whiz, but this brings my 1,667 daily goal to, um…divide this, carry that…well, um way more than 1,667 a day, but I’ll try.

Hold me to this, please. If you see me out and about (which you shouldn’t since I’ll be chained here), please ask me how it’s going. If nothing else, my urge to avoid your collective inquiries might keep me in my chair.

Right next to this annoying bowl of Halloween candy… which we will definitely have to refill soon.

_______________

David also said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished. –1 Chron 28:20

 

A Story is Born: From the Remnants Just Released

12 Sep

It’s official!

Today Cathy Schrader and I released “From the Remnants, A Story of Light and Hope.

bookcover

Click on Book Cover to Order! …And thank you. 🙂

It is the true story of Cathy’s journey from heart-shattering brokeness to a place of healing and purpose.

This book is for anyone whose faith in God has been tested by the sudden and unexplainable loss of a loved one. Although we all race through life understanding its inherit brevity, we sometimes take for granted the days we’re given to share with those we love. We choose our paths based on what we expect they hold for us. However, God, in his sovereign mercy, knowing infinitely more about our journey than we do ourselves, sometimes allows devastation in our lives by calling our loved one to Himself sooner than we could have predicted, turning those paths into dead-end roads, and thereby prompting that age-old question:

Why, God?

This book responds with the age-old answer:

We don’t know.

Because we’re not God.

However, sometimes, if we press forward through the anger and pain, and we resolve to retain our faith despite the apparent senselessness of it all, we can catch a glimpse of the larger picture—an aerial view, so to speak—of our lives and purpose through His eyes.

This vision may not, and probably won’t heal the scars of our suffering, but it’s not supposed to. Those scars brought us to the place we are, to a place of awareness that we are not the author of our own destiny, but that we can walk with the One who is. And when we walk with Him, we can know we’re on the course he intended for us to travel. Only then can we truly receive the joy and peace He has placed along the way.

I invite you to walk briefly along Cathy’s path, and to discover as she did, that God’s ways are not our ways, but when we trust him, they tend to be just a tad better…

Blessings and Happy Reading!

———————————————————-

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or imagine, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:19-21

Teachers: Perpetual Sowers of an Unseen Harvest

6 Sep

Every September I get this colossal sense of wonder and gratitude regarding the men and women to whom we’ve entrusted the minds and dreams of our children. Where would we be without these wonderful people who can explain concepts to our children that, let’s face it, we don’t understand ourselves? Some of the concepts that elude me include the binary code, why Pluto isn’t a planet, and, if atoms are made up of 99.9% empty space, how can we touch things? And the greatest mystery of all: math.

Teachers Rock.

Have you stopped to think about this lately? They have the power to inspire, crush, see, ignore, challenge, nurture, and motivate our children, and they are the ones who actually teach our children what they need to know to make it to the next milestone and beyond. That’s a power we shouldn’t take lightly, but pray about and praise when we find the ones with that extra something. I’m excited to think that someone my son has just met may be the person he looks back on with gratitude, the one who first recognized his gift and planted those first seeds of encouragement that turned into a career.

Yes, that teacher will always be special, the way I still remember Mr. DeRobbio handing my essay back to me in the 9th grade and saying, “You might want to consider becoming a writer.” But he alone didn’t bring me to this place. It took years of passionate, patient, sorely overworked and underpaid teachers, each adding seeds of wisdom and encouragement to the pot to make a whole me. And behind the scenes were hundreds of administrators and support staff collecting data, answering phones, shelving books, fixing lunches, and mopping floors to ensure we had a healthy, safe, and nourishing environment for learning. (I’m married to a man we all call The Lunchroom Lady, so he gets props too!)

Consider the blog page you’re reading right now. The very fact that I can string 900 words together for you to and you can actually read a 900-word blog (I know, I know, you just look at the pictures, but you could if you wanted to) says we had some pretty good teachers. Mr. DeRobbio not only encouraged even my weirdest writing in high school (I’ve read some recently and wondered what he could possibly have been thinking), but he also introduced me to that beautiful creature: the short story, and he led me to write for the school paper. The rest is history.

But it doesn’t stop there. I’m able to set the words on the page thanks to ten months in Mrs. Mahoney’s Typing 101 class, where we sat in rows before our enormous gray Smith-Corona Super Sterlings chanting “A S D F Semi L K J!” (Sure, kids today can two-thumb the Gettysburg Address in the time it took me to slide the carriage return, but at least I know what the MR key does. . . did. . . whatever.)

And speaking of the Gettysburg Address, I wouldn’t have been able to slide that snarkism in there were it not for Mr. Delgado, my history teacher (whose funky wrap-around comb-over and snow-drift dandruff shoulders are hauntingly unforgettable). Mr. D managed to make the American Revolution and Civil War come alive for me, and give me an appreciation for back story, and his sense of humor taught me that writing needn’t be boring.

Even my math and science teachers contributed. (Strange, but I cannot remember the names of any of my math or science teachers. Is that a writer’s subliminal rebellion?) These people whose ways are alien to me taught other people enough about math and coding to hold this webpage together without duct tape, and enough about circuits, components, electricity, batteries, and that mysterious binary code to make computers, thereby eliminating the need for an MR key. They inspired the kinds of imaginations that made search engines work so you can find me, and some mystical network of tubing under the oceans that keeps the lines of communication humming, and don’t even get me started on touch-screen technology, because I’m already way over my head here. All of this so I can entertain you for ten minutes once a week and hopefully inspire you to read my books.

Seagul in the mist

They teach us to fly, but know not where we land…

Fascinating, don’t you think? But I’d like you to consider something else all those wonderful people have in common: Most teachers share your hopes and dreams for your children, yet never find out whether those dreams were realized. They’ve sown thousands of seeds over the years, and they may have set hundreds of young men and women on right paths, but how many of their former students ever report back?

I contacted Mr. DeRobbio back in 1993 when the Marine Corps named me Print Journalist of the Year, and I thanked him for making it possible. He was thrilled to learn that I not only wrote for a living but had achieved a measure of success, and he struck up a regular correspondence, even coming to Virginia to visit me once. When he passed away a few years ago, I could grieve without regretting that he never knew what his passion had produced in at least one of his students.

Is there a teacher in your past who deserves a thank-you note? I challenge you to get in touch if you still can, and congratulate that person on a job well done, because you turned out GREAT!

Even if it’s a math teacher.

————-

Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants. –Deuteronomy 32:2

New England in 15 Days: A Dish Best Served Warm

26 Aug
bridge

Beautiful Newport — Is that redundant?

I’m walking mournfully from room to room, sighing heavily because the trip I’ve been waiting for and planning for nearly three years is now but a memory, and I long to go back. I yearn to feel that cool ocean breeze blowing into my bedroom window and to fall asleep listening to the waves crash rhythmically along the New England shores.

I unwrap the tourist magnets and find homes for them on the already over-full refrigerator: Prospect Harbor, Maine; Stowe, Vermont; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Plymouth, Massachusetts; Hartford, Connecticut; Newport, RI.

It was a whirlwind tour, designed to show my friend Michele as much of my beloved New England as possible in only 15 days. When she first told me she’d never been there, my mind nearly exploded with compassion and amazement. That meant she’d never stood on Concord’s North Bridge, where our nation was born. She’d never driven over Rhode Island’s Newport bridge into Jamestown and looked in wonder at the single house on the rock. She’d never stood in the center of Bristol Commons while the noon church bells chimed. Why, the poor thing had never tasted Maine lobster straight off the pier! Well, that certainly explains the thumbs up I’ve seen her bestow on our northern Virginia area “seafood” establishments.

It took some doing, but we finally set off on a 2,878-mile journey that zipped up the Massachusetts coast to Gouldsboro, Maine in time for the Winter Harbor lobster festival, then snaked back and forth through New England, ending in Hartford, Connecticut.

We saw all the touristy places, of course. The tip of Cape Cod, Plymouth Rock, Salem (big disappointment), the Gloucester seaport, Strawberry Banke, Acadia National Park, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream graveyard, the Vermont Country Store, the Newport mansions, and Mark Twain’s home. And although we did stop to see Lenny, a real chocolate moose, our memories of this trip are made of sweeter stuff than highway attractions

What made this a true adventure was the people we met along the way.

Jim Owens

Jim Owens: Mill Keeper

We found 88-year-old Jim Owens in Eastman, Cape Cod, sitting in a windmill, apparently waiting for us to happen along. He spoke briefly about the windmill and its history, but then went into storyteller mode—obviously his preferred canvass. He shared his story of being left at a Newport orphanage at age 7 after his mother died. His father, in this age where dads didn’t raise children, wanted him to finish out his school year at the orphanage before going to live with relatives in Middletown, RI. He told us about his uncle, who served as a Marine in WWI, and his own military service and ensuing travels, which only served to deepen his love for New England. Today Jim is a renowned historian throughout Cape Cod and Rhode Island.

His joy for life is so contagious I could have sat at his side for hours.

Breakfast soup

Breakfast soup on hand-made plates with Dolly’s edible garnish

We met Dolly at breakfast in the Acadia Oceanside Meadows Inn on Prospect Harbor. She served us breakfast each morning, delightfully naming for us each sprig and flower on our beautifully prepared plates. “All edible, and I picked them myself this morning!”

I could probably write an entire story about Dolly, but I’d have to first pin her down long enough to learn it. She flitted from table to table like a hummingbird, truly enjoying each guest, a perfect emissary for Maine hospitality.

corea

Corea Harbor

Maine also introduced us to Joe at the Warf Gallery & Grill in Corea, where we had the best lobster rolls I’ve ever tasted. Near the end of our visit, though, we learned that the Warf is actually famous for its crab. Upon hearing that a customer had driven miles for his crab, which had just run out, Joe removed his shucking apron, jumped into a small dingy and sped out to a trap on the water to bring in some more.

Maine is also a place to find beautiful, hand-made artwork. I learned why from Cindy Fisher, at the U.S. Bells shop we ducked into to avoid a brief summer storm. The gorgeous bronze bells sold there are hand-cast by her husband Richard in the Forge nearby. Expecting to find only bells in the shop, we were surprised and delighted to see walls lined with lovely pottery, quilts, jewelry, and other artwork. “It’s what we do in the winter,” she explained. “The snow kinda’ forces you to stay put.” She happily talked about each of the artists whose work was displayed there, making me wish I could meet them all.

bench

For Annette: Can you miss a woman you’ve never met?

In Stowe, Vermont, we spent an evening watching the Olympics with the bed & breakfast owner Randy and his giant Bernese, Mickey. Randy and his wife Annette purchased the inn with dreams of forever in their hearts, but the world had different plans. Near the inn, a lone bench under a currant tree waits for Annette, the garden behind it clearly untouched in the year or so since her passing. Randy, wearing a sad-sweet smile, continues pushing forward with Mickey, his new greeter and partner. The inn was homey and welcoming, and Randy must be a classically trained chef, because the food that he sent to our table made me want to stay on another week.

Although we found breathtaking scenery at every turn, Rhode Island’s shoreline offered the best, in my humble, Rhode Island-native opinion. I sat on a breakwater on Little Compton’s Sakonnet Point for perhaps 30 minutes, listening to the waves lap the rocks and just wishing I could stay forever. We travelled nearly every inch of shoreline from Tiverton to Charleston, stopping at each breathtaking vista to photograph lighthouses and meet the locals.

quahogs

Quahogs–they make great chowda!

In Galilee, we stopped at George’s Restaurant for one last taste of fresh lobster, and there met Julia, a delightful waitress who was eager for us to enjoy what the local seaport had to offer. When I explained that Michele still hadn’t seen a real quahog shell, she went back to the kitchen and found us two shiny, purple-streaked beauties that I’m sure Michele will treasure more than any store-bought souvenir.

towers

Before…

In Narragansett, where I just HAD to show Michele the famous stone towers, we met Christina in the Chamber of Commerce office at the towers’ base. Her enthusiastic love for Narragansett nearly had me searching for realtors on the spot, as did the familiar ocean view. I honestly reached the point where I thought I’d do anything to be able to stay in New England. Then I spotted a picture that stopped my longing immediately. Regrettably, it wasn’t for sale, but Christina sent me to Sharon Mazze, a delightful shop owner who might know where I could obtain one. After a brief chat (where I learned she knows Jim the Miller), she sent me down the pier to John McNamara, the photographer.

I bought the picture as soon as I saw it. John’s image not only reminds me of all I love about New England, it also reminds me why I live in Virginia. I will hang it over my desk to help me recall what was quite possibly my best summer vacation ever, but also to help me keep my perspective. I should have realized when Cindy explained the origins of Maine’s lovely artwork:

Winter.

It comes every year.

blizzardI’ll be back, New England, many times, I hope. And I will always love you…

From afar.

————-

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. — 1 Corinthians 10:13