Do-overs

by Beppie Harrison

Do-overs. What an ambiguous concept.

There are, of course, those things (there’s an ambiguous word!) that can be done over and those that can’t. For example, my sister was married at home. She fancied her procession to the living room would be down the staircase on our father’s arm. This would have worked better had she not missed her step and fallen down the last third. Fortunately she was not damaged, but she and our father had to retire to the dining room for her to get her hysterical laughter under control. By the time they came into the living room everybody else was laughing as well. No do-over possible there.

As it happened, the second the service was over (I think before the groom had a chance to kiss her) she turned to face us all and said, “I’ve never been to a funny wedding before!”

But as any writer knows, given a manuscript lying haplessly before you, that do-overs are not only common but practically inescapable. Sometimes it’s just a sentence or two that needs deleting and replacing with more splendidly crafted words, but all too often there is an entire section that turns out to have deviated from the plot into wild wilderness from which there is no way of returning.

The trouble with writers’ do-overs is that they seem to progress in defined stages. First comes the vague dissatisfaction with the way the prose is coming out. Second, re-reading and the sick realization that this will not do at all. Pause there, quite often, for bleak despair. Conviction that the writer is not a writer at all, but a charlatan who should concentrate on writing letters to Mother, all else beyond observable capacity. After suitable pause, which may last hours or years, it becomes apparent that x number of pages must be destroyed to get back to the point when the story had some life. Which is when the do-over begins. Do-overs commonly begin in hopelessness, but when successful lead to rapidly rising spirits followed by sheets of much more satisfactory manuscript being produced. Often these do-overs lead to successful completion but inevitably in some cases there are do-overs of do-overs.

Do not believe writers who claim this happens to them every single time. Nor should you believe anyone telling you that it never happens.

Do-overs or the possibility of a do-over are a gift of time. Sometimes the gift is a gift of gold, sometimes only marginally better than the first time. But do not dismiss the opportunity without thinking about it. Where would we be had Eve been given a do-over of that fatal bite of the apple?

 

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What Flowers?

by Barbara Bettis

We’ve had some wonderful posts here lately about Spring and the inspirational greening of trees and grass and the burgeoning of beautiful blossoms.

I’ve been inspired.

Yep, I recently purchased an azalea plant, two knockout rose bushes, and assorted other plants to be gently nestled into the earth.

My hope blooms….but my flowers likely won’t. Not if I put them in.

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I don’t know why I do this every year. I have no talent for growing flowers–or even the ability to learn, apparently. All those books and magazines and online articles that tell us, step by step, how to nurture fabulous flowers? I follow those instructions and still…I fail.

A few years ago, when I was strapped for time, my son volunteered to plant my annual sacrifice to Spring. Do you know that everything he planted not only grew, but flourished! In the same place I’d planted and failed, he planted and the flowers thrived.

After that, it became his ‘job’ to put out anything new every spring or fall. And he agreed to take care of the wonderful rose bushes that he’d nourished. (Forgot to tell you, when I cut back the rose bushes that I had planted, they died. He did it, same time of the year, they did wonderfully.)

 

Poor plant-1

So…last night I called my son and asked if he’d set out the new flowers for me. Of course, he said yes. (Don’t sons have to?) Now that I’ve moved into town, I don’t have room for a lot of new ones, but a few of my favorites, here and there, will make me happy.

I’ve finally conceded that there are some things I just can’t do, try as I might. I should have given up on growing green several years ago, when my sons were still in high school. One day, one of them looked at the ivy plant on our coffee table and said, “Mom, have you even considered silk flowers?”

 

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Happy Spring!

 

 

 

 

Re-inventing Myself

by Jenna Jaxon

Ten years ago I was quite content with my life—or so I thought. I was working in a job that I loved, directing shows in a university setting, watching my daughters grow up, minding my own business so to speak. But an extremely stressful production caused me to become gluten-intolerant, quite out of the blue.

Six months later, to my surprise, I had a rush of energy and creativity. It was January of 2009 and I was frantic for a creative outlet. I was in Barnes & Noble and happened to find a discounted copy of Kathleen Woodiwiss’s final romance, Everlasting. I had not read a romance in over twenty years, but I loved her book The Wolf and the Dove, set in the medieval period (my favorite) and so I picked this one up because it was also set during that time. I loved this book as well and read it almost non-stop.

I remember clearly finishing it at my desk at school, standing up to put it with my things to take home, and thinking, “I could write something like that.” I sat down, pulled my keyboard to me and started writing the book that would become my first novel, Time Enough to Love. That was January. I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. I wrote during rehearsals. I wrote at night when I got home. I got up early and wrote in the morning. Chapter after chapter.

Then, on July 28th, 2009 I wrote The End on my magnum opus, all 187,000 words of it. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing as I wrote. I just wrote. And it was god-awful writing, but I didn’t know that at the time, so I kept on writing. I started another novel, and then another set of characters started yelling at me to write their story, so I did, finishing that one in only two months. I sent that one out to agents and got a total of 47 rejections over the course of two years as I revised and revised and revised it, until it was finally accepted by a small publisher, Lyrical Press.

And by the time that happened, though I don’t think I realized it at the time, I’d begun to think of myself as an author rather than a theatre director. Theatre was and is still important to me, however, I have reinvented myself until now I think of myself as an author with a day job, rather than a college professor who writes. I’m about to flip the two jobs—a complete do-over—and become a full time author in about a year. Re-inventing yourself can sound like a scary proposition, but I say go with it—you never know where you may end up!

I Begin to Write

By Jenna Jaxon

 

Although I have been a reader since before the first grade, my passion in life has always been writing. Well, writing and theatre, which I actually managed to combine at an early age. When I was in the third grade, I wrote a story based on my life with cats called Miss Priss Finds a Kitten. It was all of 6 pages long (including crayon illustrations) and written in an early version of my cursive handwriting. It wasn’t for an assignment in class, I just wanted to write. And my teacher, Mrs. Sheffield, was amazed at my accomplishment.

I look back on it now and wonder why there was such a fuss over this tale, but apparently it was a big deal in the school. I remember going down the hall to the first grade classes and reading the story to them, a feat because I hated talking in front of people. But it was apparently a success because I went back to my class and promptly put the story into play form, including making puppets of the main characters.

When my teacher discovered this, she again allowed me and a couple of my friends, to take the cardboard puppet theatre and puppets down to the first grade class again to put on the show, which was a great hit as I remember.

My passion continued into fourth grade, where I recall I relished an historical assignment. Mrs. Harris put a picture of what I remember was a pioneer settlement on the board and asked us to write a story about what was happening in the picture. I wrote and wrote and wrote, probably for the rest of the day.

But my crowning glory was in my eighth grade English class. The class was given a one-page writing prompt about a brother and sister who invent a time machine and are whisked away to… and you had to take it from there.

I went nuts. Most people wrote just on the paper, front and maybe the back. Mine ended up being about ten pages long, handwritten on narrow ruled paper. The brother and sister go back in time to the Civil War era and end up stealing some plans to help the South, but end up coming back to the present before they can do anything that will change history. I put in historical facts, clothing descriptions, setting descriptions, the works. And I was over the moon when the teacher handed the assignment back to me with a 100 on it. (I now get a kick thinking my first full length work was a time travel story!)

As you can see, I have always enjoyed writing, although it took me a long time to realize it was something I could do as a career. From the very humble beginnings of Miss Priss Finds A Kitten to my current WIP What a Widow Wants, it’s been a fantastic journey that I feel has only just begun.

New Beginnings Times Two

by Barbara Bettis

This month, the term ‘new beginnings’ is pretty accurate for me. And I’m feeling a bit ambivalent about it.

As the new year dawned, I sold my house. That means I downsized from a three-bedroom, walk-out basement home in the country to a two-bedroom patio home in our small city.

 

moving van cartoon

I enjoy where I now live. It’s in a quiet residential area and best of all, it’s close to everything. No more driving eight to twelve miles one way to the nearest shopping areas; no more dodging deer who loved to play “who can wait longest to leap in front of Barb’s car;” no more holding my breath as I navigated the icy, snowy hills and curves enroute home in the winter.

But it also means no sitting on my porch to gaze at the expansive night sky, no waking to a handful of wild turkeys playing follow the leader several feet from my bedroom window, or coming home after dark to surprise even more deer dining on fallen apples under one of my three apple trees.

Still, I’m glad I made the decision.

When I moved, however, selecting what I would take with me and what I wouldn’t was a challenge. Most of the extra furniture and household items went to children and grandchildren and much went to donations. Sounds reasonable and for those of you who have moved, it probably sounds familiar.

Unfortunately, the habit of those things remain. I’ve settled into the new place, but I find myself reaching for something I used to have, only to stop and think, “Wait. I got rid of that.”

That’s normal, I imagine. But what has surprised me is I still worry about the house. Just last week I was concerned the new owners wouldn’t know what to do in sub-zero weather to safeguard the basement pipes. Or that they hadn’t set up their propane delivery quickly enough to ensure enough heat. Or…

Friends say the house worries will go away eventually, and slowly I’ll replace all the items I thought I could live without, but can’t.

And finally I’ll get back to a writing schedule that, sad to say, has been seriously affected.

Ironically, when I left, Roark, the hero of my WIP, he faced ‘new beginnings,’ also. Here’s a secret: He’s going to love his even more than I do mine!

 

 

 

 

Another Birthday, New Traditions

by Ruth Hartman

 

This month, I’ll turn fifty-five. That’s right – double nickels! It feels weird to say that, because I’m not that old in my head. I still have the same offbeat thoughts I had when I was a kid. When I look in the mirror though…

Anyway, this birthday will be the first one without my mother-in-law, Barbara. She passed away last summer after a painful illness that lasted for the final six months of her eighty-eight years.

When I met my husband, I was eighteen years old. From the start, his mom treated me like a second daughter. Special family meals, Christmas gifts, birthday cards. In fact, my husband’s sister and I share the same birthday. Poor girl, I always felt bad that she ended up sharing her birthday with me, but she never once complained, instead, included me in a joint celebration. That’s my husband’s whole family. Sweet, kind and thoughtful.

Barbara read all of my books. Was always interested in what I was writing and how things were going. Would tell me what characters were her favorites and how much she disliked the villains. I gave her a copy of every new release, even letting her borrow our kindle (she’d never used one before) because she wanted to read one of my historical romances that wasn’t in print. If she knew I had a new book out and she hadn’t received a copy yet to read, I heard about it. 😊 I know without a doubt that my husband and I both got lucky in the in-law department.

Every year on or near my birthday, Barbara would fix me a chocolate cake – my favorite. She always waved away my thanks, saying it was nothing, but it meant a lot to me. It was a wonderful tradition that I always looked forward to. Not only the cake, which was wonderful, but the fact that my husband’s mother was caring enough to make me feel like her own daughter, year after year.

So, this year will be different. Barbara’s absence will be felt. She won’t be at her house waiting for us, cake on the kitchen counter, a smile and birthday greeting when I walk in. But there are so many fond memories, over thirty-six years’ worth, I think those will overshadow the sadness. Time for new memories, new beginnings. Maybe for my birthday, my husband and I can learn to scuba dive, or mountain climb.

Probably not, but I have a feeling he’ll make sure there’s chocolate cake.

 

The Heart of Winter

by Màiri Norris

 

As a writer of historical romance, large portions of my heart, mind and soul linger in the past, subject – as many are – to that foolish notion of the “romance of the past” [oh, wasn’t it romantic back then?]

 

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For most of us today winter is, at worst, an inconvenience rather than a dark, seemingly endless struggle for survival. I suspect if I actually traveled into the past, I would quickly discover the good old days were not so “good” as nostalgia paints, especially in the heart of winter, and come home as quickly as possible!

To be fair, those who lived in earlier times had no notion of how much easier life would be for their many times removed descendents.

I’ve often tried to imagine what it would be like to have to slog outside in deep snow to get water from a stream or a well (if I was fortunate enough to have access to a well), or need to break ice to retrieve the water and then have to heat it over a fire to melt and warm it. What would it be like to depend on a smoky wood, coal or peat fire, one that I had to build myself, to keep warm or to cook food? I already know how hard it is to accomplish any kind of work with nothing but candlelight or firelight to see by – not fun.

Travel in winter was even worse. Most folks didn’t, even those who possessed a means of transportation and halfway decent roads. Or imagine standing watch on a stockade wall. Brrrrr…. flirtation with frostbite.

 

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Still, I like to imagine our ancestors, when the quest for survival gave them a few moments pause, appreciated the same beauties in winter that I see: the reflection of the sun on untrammeled snow, the deep, wondrous quiet, the purity of the air, the natural “sculptures” created by snow and ice. It is this allure of the season I seek to bring into my stories.

In olden days, as in ours, they had much to appreciate about the heart of winter, including time to evaluate the past and consider the future. It is a time of anticipation for the beginning of the new year and what we might achieve if fate and fortune allows.

As this new year begins, I offer the hope that at least some of the dreams we’ve each looked for and worked toward in 2017 will come true in 2018.

 

Happy New Year!