Published in the Rains County Leader on September 1, 2022:
Last week I wrote about the connections I make through my writing – but this week I’m going to share some of my least favorite aspects of being an author. As strange as it may seem, authors tend to be shy and introverted. Who else would spend hours alone, scribbling or typing words that they are afraid no one will read or that someone will read and not like! And we live in fear of several other things as well.
Writer’s block is a dark cloud that hovers in the mind of anyone who ever sits down in front of a blank sheet of paper or a white screen with the intent of filling it with words. At some point we all think something like this. I don’t have any idea what to write! What if my ideas don’t make sense? What if each writer is only allowed a certain number of words in their lifetime, and I’ve already used mine. The thoughts don’t always make sense, but there are plenty of companies and individuals who are willing to offer techniques and cures for fighting or ending these blocks – all for a price, of course. My bouts of writer’s block are usually short-lived, but there are times when my screen is still blank as a deadline looms, and those questions pop into my head.
Once you get past the writer’s block, complete a project, and hit the Send button, you face another dark cloud – REJECTION! Whether you’re submitting a proposal for a doctoral thesis, a short story for inclusion in an anthology, or the manuscript of the great American novel to an agent or a publisher, the process is the same. You beat yourself up because you didn’t edit it one more time – even though you’ve been through it fourteen times already. You check the submission guidelines again to be sure it really said the average response time is six weeks, but you check your inbox every five minutes anyway. After thirty minutes, you sink into a depression, wondering why you ever put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, vowing never to do so again. As the days and weeks drag on, you begin to work on your next project, and you only check your inbox a dozen times a day instead of fifty. When the email finally comes, it says Thank you for your submission, but…, and you add it to your collection, telling yourself you’re one step closer to success.
Published in the Rains County Leader on August 25, 2022:
One of my favorite aspects of being a writer is the connections I make with people through my columns, my blogs, and my books. Many of the connections come electronically through email or social media, and some even come by snail mail. I’ve also met lots of people at book signings, meet-the-author events, and vendor fairs. In May of last year I wrote a column about some of these connections, but I thought I’d share a few more interesting encounters I’ve experienced
In the previous article I shared about the teacher who used my first novel to get two teenaged non-readers interested in the written word. Several years ago another teacher reached out to me, asking if I would answer a list of ten questions her 5th grade class had about being a writer. It’s interesting how, when you help someone, you sometimes end up helping yourself even more. Answering their questions was fun for me, and their questions were so relevant that I often use them as the basis for my presentation when I’m asked to speak about writing.
Some people, however, are more interested in my subjects than the writing itself. In 2017 I received an email from a lady named Becky who was a devoted Kitty fan. She was 80 years old at the time, and her husband was 82. They had recently lost their beloved cat, and reading about Kitty’s antics was a comfort to them. We continued to correspond occasionally for the next eighteen months, but my last email went unanswered. Maybe she lost interest in my columns when Kitty matured and provided less writing material.
Published in the Rains County Leader on February 10, 2022:
The first item I submitted to the Rains County Leader was a letter to the editor called “Your Tax Dollars at Work.” It was an appeal to seniors in the area to check out the meals and activities at the Senior Center which was in danger of shutting down for lack of patronage. I don’t know how much influence that letter had, but it was published in September of 2011, and the Center is still going strong.
The letter had an unintended consequence – the birth of the City Girl column. In the last ten years, I’ve written hundreds of columns and thousands of words. One of the most common questions I’m asked by readers is Where do you get all your ideas? I don’t really have an answer for that except that I see life as a series of stories, and some of them are too good not to share. But there are those times when the stories and the words just won’t come, and this was one of those times. When that happens, I go back into my files in search of a story that’s worth retelling.
Since this column will be published just before that special day when sales of flowers and chocolates soar, I looked for related columns and found one from 2015 about a marriage conference Believers’ Baptist held on Valentine’s weekend that year. Since I had just told a story from that conference to some friends earlier in the day, it seemed like a sign. So here it is – again. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Published in the Rains County Leader on January 27, 2022:
The last two weeks have seemed like a mini shut down, at least in my little corner of the world. The schools shut down two extra days over the Martin Luther King weekend for deep cleaning and because one hundred staff members and teachers were absent. The prayer lists grew longer as one family after another reported cases of COVID/Omicron, Cedar Fever, and other forms of upper respiratory distress, and the lunch crowd at the Senior Center was barely into double digits. The Believers’ Baptist Friday Night Home Group was canceled two weeks in a row, Wednesday morning Bible study was canceled last week, and church attendance on January 16 was about half of normal. Then, just about the time David and I were getting back to the gym after his back issues, we missed two weeks while we experienced alternate bouts of sniffles, congestion, and lots of fatigue that led to many unscheduled naps. Some shelves at Brookshire’s were unusually bare, and there were no harried workers in the aisle restocking them – and I began to have flashbacks to the fall of 2020.
It wasn’t all bad, though. During our mini-isolation I made some progress on the to-be-read stack of books on my bedside table, and for those of you who are Tatia fans, I added several chapters to the rough draft of the next book in the series. I caught up on the laundry – although I think I’m now behind again – and did a little bit of early spring cleaning. I didn’t have the energy for anything elaborate in the kitchen, but thanks to my Crock Pot and Instant Pot, we had some really good comfort food and some not-so-good-for us snacks. We watched lots of TV – some good movies and some real stinkers – and Kitty enjoyed snuggling with David on the couch on the really cold days.
Sunset Valley Creations is the publisher of Clean Fiction, a quarterly magazine that offers reviews and a to-be-read list of Christian fiction and clean secular fiction. From now through January 31 they are holding a Best Bookstagram Contest. Although Kitty’s Story isn’t fiction, she is so cute they allowed her to submit an entry. Help her out by going to https://www.sunsetvalleycreations.com/vote and voting for entry #6!
Published in the Rains County Leader on January 7, 2022:
On New Year’s Eve, David asked me the big question of the day: Have you made any resolutions this year? I was already prepared with my answer based on a memory that had popped up on Facebook earlier that day.
“No,” I said, quoting the 2013 version of myself, “I think I’ll make plans instead of resolutions. Less pressure!”
As the day went on, I thought about some specific plans for 2022. First on my list is the same on the lists of many others this time of year – I plan to go to the gym on a more regular basis. I will be starting with a large advantage over most of those others, though, because I’ve only been a couch potato for less than a month as opposed to years or forever. Still, I became aware last week of what a difference a few weeks can make in the area of fitness.
David and I joined Anytime Fitness in February of 2020. Since then we have worked out four to five days a week with very few breaks. We have both seen significant changes in our weight and shape, and more importantly, we both felt better. Then in December, he began suffering from sciatic pain, and although he was going to physical therapy, he didn’t feel up to a more serious gym workout. And when he didn’t go, of course, I didn’t go either.
Published in the Rains County Leader on May 25, 2021:
Writing is all about communication – about sharing thoughts and ideas through the written word – and about the connections that are made through that sharing. A writer often doesn’t know when those connections happen, but one of my favorite parts of writing is when a reader reaches out through a review, a comment on a blog or Facebook post, or an email to let me know about a connection.
An early connection happened when I was just beginning to be active on social media. Facebook groups had not yet popped up, at least not in the numbers that exist now, so I contributed occasional articles to several independent websites. One article was about my anger as a caregiver. I admitted lashing out in frustration and anger at my Mom when I first began caring for her only to realize later that my anger, and the underlying fear, were really about the Alzheimer’s that was taking her away from me in a way I could neither understand nor control.
Shortly after the article went live, I received a comment from a young woman whose mother had suffered a fatal heart attack many years before when she was a teenager. The older daughter had driven them all to the hospital, and the teen was confused by her sister’s apparent anger at her mother. After the mother’s death, the sisters were not completely estranged, but they never talked about the situation, and their relationship had not been the same. After reading my article, the younger woman approached her sister, and they talked. After exploring their feelings and reactions on that night that had changed their lives so many years before, healing began and their relationship was restored. Although we exchanged a few more comments, we didn’t strike up a friendship. Still, those written words established a point of connection based our similar experiences.
Published in the Rains County Leader on April 27, 2021:
Several years ago David and I watched a documentary that projected, in the event humans went extinct, how long it would take nature to reclaim the earth. It seemed fanciful to watch computer animations of trees breaking through major highways and vines creeping up and over crumbling infrastructure and collapsed skyscrapers in a century or two. However, after a walk around our property last weekend, it no longer seems so impossible.
When we first saw the 2.3 acre plot that has been our home for the past ten years, the front acre was clear enough that, after the removal of a couple of large trees, we were able to place our mobile home with enough space left over to park several vehicles. The rest of the lot, however, didn’t look as if it had been cleared in recent memory.
We rented the house twice over the next couple of years, but neither tenant stayed long or did much in the way of outdoor maintenance. By the time we became permanent residents of Rains County, the wilderness had advanced significantly, and we knew we had a lot of work ahead of us. We were not yet entrenched in the community life of our new home, so we spent a lot of time working outdoors. Within a few months, David had burned up his city push mower and had invested in a riding mower, a chain saw, a machete, and various other trimming tools. After several close encounters with poison ivy and sunburn, we also learned to wear hats, gloves and long sleeves regardless of the temperature.
Published in the Community Chronicle December 15, 2019:
Asking a child what he wants to be when he grows up can be very entertaining. I’m sure my son Christian went through the typical hero-worship phase, but the first career ambition I remember was when he began kindergarten. We lived within walking distance of the school, and I was a stay-at-home mom, so we got in some exercise as well as some together time when the weather permitted. We had to cross one major street, and Christian immediately fell in love with the kind man with the bright orange vest and bright red sign who greeted him every day and escorted him safely across the street. Forget the fireman, policeman, and even Spider Man – he wanted to be a crossing guard.
Christian showed great ambition through the years. He wrote his first story as soon as he could hold a pencil, and he created his first book out of samples our paper-salesman neighbor gave him. In the summer he carried lemonade around in his wagon, visiting the neighbors who were working in their yards instead of waiting for them to come to him, and in December he knocked on doors, offering bundles of mistletoe tied with red yarn for 50 cents each. (more…)
Published in the Rains County Leader on September 10, 2019:
Knowing a writer can be dangerous. You never know when you’ll see yourself in print. I learned that when my son Christian wrote his first novel at 16 years old. I recognized myself in the over-protective mother who woke her son each morning with a cheerful Good morning, sunshine. Over the years I’ve seen my politics and religion displayed to the world. I’ve cringed as my failed marriage was discussed, and I’ve cried when he thanked me in one of his first published books for showing him what it means to be a person of faith. There’s always payback though. He showed up a lot in my memoir and even more often in my blog. Maybe that’s why I started to write. As the saying goes, don’t get mad, get even.
When I began to write my first book, I worried about what people would think if I wrote about them. That’s part of being a co-dependent, always wanting everybody to be happy. My memoirs aren’t of the Mommy, Dearest type, but the people in my life aren’t perfect. When writing about real people, I never write in anger, and I write gently but truthfully, following the Apostle Paul’s admonition to speak the truth in love.
That kind of writing can be difficult when the subject is caregiving. Dad would have been mortified to know that I wrote about his hygiene issues, and Mom would have been embarrassed for people to know that she sometimes put four socks on one foot and two on the other. But that was part of the truth about caregiving, and I told my stories in hopes that other caregivers would be encouraged to know they’re not alone, inspired to continue living in spite of hardships, and maybe even be amused by some of the ridiculous situations that dementia causes. Based on the responses I’ve received, those hopes have been realized.
So far I’ve not had any complaints from people who have become part of any of my books. Hopefully, that means I haven’t offended anyone and not that they are quietly plotting revenge. As I’ve expanded my writing platform to include frequent blogs and a weekly newspaper column, I’ve received much more feedback from people who recognize themselves in print. Responses range from an excited I made the paper to an increased discretion in my presence. One particularly long conversation at the Senior Center about what kind of screws one of the guys was going to purchase at Hooten’s after lunch ended up as a City Girl column. For a while after that, any time someone started to say something interesting, the speaker would look at me with caution and say, “Don’t write about this.” One of the most direct confrontations I’ve had, though, came one evening several years ago.
“It’s for you,” David said as he held his cell phone out to me.
I knew who it had to be. It was our RV friend who always calls just as we’re sitting down to dinner. But why did he want to talk to me instead of to David?
“Hi,” I said. “What up?”
“Shame on you for quoting me in your blog,” he said.
“But I didn’t use your name,” I said.
“Right, but I know what I said.”
I heard a smile in his voice and laughed with him.
“I was just reading your blog and had to call you. Go enjoy your dinner, and I’ll talk to you later.”
I’ve continued to write about what I know and who I know. And to my dear RV friend, here you are once again – and no, I’m not ashamed. I’ll make you a promise. If you decide to become a writer, feel free to write about me as long as you speak the truth in love. I promise not to get mad – but I might get even. And one more word of warning – since I’ve expanded my repertoire to include fiction, I have other weapons in my arsenal. If you make me mad, I’ll write you into one of my books as the main villain, and I’ll kill you off!
The story of a lonely, innocent girl who gets tangled up in the sex trafficking trade in a small Texas town. It’s about her relationship with Eric, a slick suburban pimp; Jesse, a Christian tattoo artist and motorcycle rider; and Mrs. G, a compassionate but tough attorney and foster parent.