Monthly Archives: February 2014

Q & A

Rather than be upset about a review of Book 5 that called into question decisions I make regarding plot lines and characterizations, I’m going to treat this as an opportunity to answer some questions that the reviewer had about my book. And, I’m going to clear up a few things along the way for any of you who were wondering, but were too polite to ask.

One question that arose was about a ‘major’ (honestly, not so major) plotline that wasn’t wrapped up by the end of the book. There was a reason for that. The story around that plotline is only beginning and it might not wrap up for several books. It was a choice, not an oversight. 

There was a concern that enough angst hadn’t been applied to the death of the author character and that the story was all about Polly’s response and life. Well, yes – because my books are written from Polly’s perspective.

In the first  book, I had a friend ask why I hadn’t described the gun the Sheriff carried or the pickup truck that Henry drove … in detail. The short answer is that Polly doesn’t have that information in her head. She doesn’t know a Glock from a Beretta and until the boys schooled her, she didn’t pay enough attention to pickup trucks to know a Ford from a Chevy. Writing from a single perspective isn’t an easy thing to do because you can’t explore what someone else is thinking unless Polly asks. Because she has a million things going on around her all the time, she doesn’t always ask each person what is going on up in their head. For the most part, I leave it to my readers to interpret those things on their own. I sketch the picture and readers fill in color and depth as they understand it. We won’t all see things the same way, but that’s the best part about reading a book, isn’t it?

Another matter that is often raised is that the mysteries aren’t deep enough or that the romance isn’t romantic enough or … (etc., etc.). Again, these are choices I make and at some level, choosing to like those choices or not is up to the reader. We all like to read different types of things and when books don’t necessarily appeal to us, it shouldn’t be a criticism of either the reader or the author, but just a fact of life.

However, I do want to address it.  The mysteries in my books are not necessarily the central arc of the stories. They are there because they happen and what fun is it without something to move you along in the story? But the main point of my stories is about the relationships and interactions of people in a small town when things happen around them. They have fun together, they laugh, they enjoy each other and sometimes they escape reality when they come together.

The romance between Polly and Henry will receive criticism because I have chosen not to portray them sleeping together and being sexually active. I think that bringing two people together to have sex is a lazy way of developing a relationship – honestly … in both a novel and in real life. It establishes the relationship quickly and without watching them grow together first. Why hurry?

I’m saddened that just because they are in their thirties, it is expected that Henry and Polly should be sexually active after having known each other for just over a year. Polly came out of a terrible relationship and Henry is a good guy, She has only begun to understand how much she loves him and is completely unsure as to whether or not she is ready to give up her independence. These are big issues that any young woman should deal with before she jumps into bed with a man, no matter her age. Because once it happens, you can’t go back. I’m certain that some of us wish we’d had the courage to make better choices about this when we were young and it’s okay that Polly is making them. There are many young women who make that same choice every day and I’m proud of them.

There is nothing I love more than to find people connecting with my characters and the community in Bellingwood, but I often feel as if I should set out reminders that it is fiction and stories take their own path, much like real life does. Stories don’t fit everyone’s idea of what life should look like or act like, but these stories fit my idea of what Bellingwood is and what these people do. It is fiction, it is not real. These are stories, not life.

Fiction is defined as: written stories about people and events that are not real : literature that tells stories which are imagined by the writer : something that is not true (from Merriam-Webster). So, if a plot line or a character seems unimaginable to you, that’s perfectly fine with me … because this is fiction. At the core of it all, this is only a story.

TB SleepyThanks for the questions and please feel free to ask them any time. If you pose them to me via email or message on Facebook, I’ll answer them – and if they seem to be things that I think everyone would like to know, I’ll answer them here!

I love my readers … you all are the best ever.

Oh … and because it’s cold and windy and winter, here’s a sleepy kitty cat picture to make everything better.

Bellingwood Book Covers

All Roads Lead Home imageI’m quite fortunate to be married to an excellent photographer. When I wrote my first book, I hadn’t even considered what to do about the cover. Panic consumed me until I spent time searching through Max’s photography site. Surely I would be able to find inspiration there.

And I did. Twenty years of practical graphic design work from owning a quick printing shop and a friend whose artistic talent is extraordinary, gave me the courage to put a few ideas together and then hone those down to the cover for All Roads Lead Home.

My insistence on patterns (I might have one or two OCD tendencies – not enough to worry me, but patterns and I have a close relationship), gave me the foundation for the rest of the Bellingwood series. The beauty of this is that I can use more and more of Max’s glorious photography as I stay within the overall scheme we created for the covers.

I finally asked him to create a gallery on his zenfolio site for the original prints that were used as the basis for the book covers. You will see that in some cases, I found the cover in the midst of a larger image, while other photographs were shot specifically for the size of the cover. Whichever way we found the image, they seem to be perfect.

Take a look at the Bellingwood Covers gallery and then take some time to look through the rest of his photography. He finds beauty in the most interesting things and is able to capture it and then render it for others to enjoy.

Random post from a wired girl

It’s either too much excitement today or too much caffeine or not enough sleep or too many decisions to be made or someone spiked my M&Ms, but holy smokes I’m wired. This has been a day and I feel an urgent need to share it with you. Why? Because … oh heck, I have no idea, but here it is.

I woke up this morning about 6:30 and saw that there was snow pouring out of the sky and my Jeep was really covered. What in the world? This was NOT in the forecast. Max was supposed to drive up this afternoon and … NO!!!  So, I called him and told him that we might need to re-think this trip. I love Iowa, but county and gravel roads just after a snowstorm can be a little iffy. He was disappointed, but we knew we’d revisit it throughout the day.

My neighbor came over about 10:30 to plow my lane and the sun was shining. After he left, I packed the rest of the books that needed to be mailed into the Jeep and started for Stratford. I hadn’t gone 1/2 mile when the Jeep died. It started again, then died. I managed to get into his (my neighbor’s) driveway and off the road and when the car finally warmed up, I went on in to town (stupid Jeep).

When I got to the Post Office, I arrived 7 minutes before she re-opened after her lunch break. Nan (the post-mistress) is wonderful. I love her. While I was waiting, the FedEx driver who’d managed to get her van stuck at my place yesterday, walked in with a bag of packages. Nan opened the window right on time and I asked what the driver’s name was … Tina. Then I mentioned that Tina had gotten stuck at my place and of course, Nan already knew all about it. They’d talked. I told Nan that FedEx could drop packages for me at the post office and she assured me that she would tell Tina. Have I mentioned that I love small-town America?

I went to the grocery store to buy food for the weekend, just in case Max was able to come. Then I called him and said, “Yes, this should work.” We were back on.

The gravel road leading to my cabin is wonderfully maintained, but the driver hadn’t gotten to it yet this morning – which meant I was worried about Max’s little car coming in. My Jeep is fine – it negotiates excess snow with no problem. I knew, though, that Max could park in Stratford and I could go get him.

Driving back to the cabin, I watched my coolant temperature gauge creep up. What? I got back to the cabin and it was burying itself in the red. Holy growl. I panicked. After I settled down, I called the garage in Webster City. The last time they did work for me was in June 2012. He remembered me. Have I mentioned that I love small town America?

But now I was worried about being able to get Max in here, so I called him again and cancelled the weekend. It wasn’t worth worrying about him ending up in a ditch and me being stranded here with no vehicle.

Chris, from the garage was sure it was my water pump. I shouldn’t drive it in. I called AAA, but was still worried about the fact that the maintainer hadn’t been through yet. They should call me before they left.

Voila! The grader went past my lane just before the tow driver called me. I began explaining where I lived, that I had a narrow lane, and he laughed. He had been here last fall pulling out my air conditioner maintenance guy who had managed to pick up some (not one, some) nails in his tires). He knew where I lived and he knew my lane. It was no problem. Have I mentioned that I love small town America?

The next time I looked up, I saw them walking around my Jeep. I went outside and they’d backed down that lane. This wasn’t his first rodeo, he told me. A couple of good ole boys who knew their way around. I felt really well taken care of. They hauled my Jeep out and took it into town for me, but not before chatting with me about how beautiful it is out here and how wonderful it is to see deer all year long and how they had taken snowmobile trips from Webster City to Lehigh on the frozen river bed. Have I mentioned that I love small town America?

I called Max back and told him that I knew I was giving him whiplash, but the grader had been through, sun was probably melting the rest of the snow on the highways and maybe we could do this after all. But, what if he showed up tomorrow during the light of day with warmer temperatures instead of late tonight.

That’s where we’re at now.

In the middle of all of this, TB decided that he desperately needed my attention and to let me know that, he was going to run back and forth across my desk and my keyboard, knocking things over, playing with the pencil in my hand, generally being a pest. In between one of the calls, he was driving me batty and I yelled “NO!” at him while he was sitting on the floor beside me. Rather than run away, which he used to do when I yelled, he promptly dropped on his back on the floor and gave me his cute face look.

He knows my bark is worse than my bite and I will never hurt him. I can’t believe he is no longer intimidated by my yelling. Darn it! What am I going to do now?  All I could do at that point was giggle at him and tell him that I loved him. This cat is so stinkin’ smart, now he’s even figured this out! I’m going to have nothing left.

Shelf of BooksBetween the stress and excitement of the morning and a whole lot of caffeine, I am wired beyond belief. But I said something today to the tow truck drivers that I’ve never said before. When I was explaining why I was here and why I loved it so much, I told them that I was an author. I’ve never said that out loud to a stranger. It felt weird. It felt good, but it felt weird. I don’t know that I really believe it, but yesterday when I was cleaning and reorganizing, I made this shelf happen and it hit me that those were MY books. I’m going to have to accept it someday, aren’t I!

Praise Publicly; Criticize Privately.

I’ve been quiet on here for the last few weeks. Finishing a book and getting it out there is more than a little overwhelming. That was the first week. The next week, I re-edited Book 3 in preparation for a large promotion. Then, this last week I have dealt with one of the worst results of a large promotion and exposing lots of people to my books … nasty reviews. The first two weeks wiped me out physically and mentally, this last week wiped me out emotionally.

Now, before you react and feel sorry for me, think I’m a ninny because I pay attention to the haters, or call me thin-skinned because I can’t take criticism, I need you to understand that none of those things are the real point of what I’m about to say.

I was raised to be an over-achiever. My parents always told me how proud they were when I did something well, and rather than belittling me when I made a mistake or failed; they encouraged me to never quit. My life hasn’t been filled with wild successes. I have failed and made terrible mistakes. I don’t always win. I have pretty thick skin for constructive criticism – otherwise how would I have ever gotten this far and I know when people are reacting to the things I do because of their own insecurities.

However, it still hurts. Anyone who is creative soon discovers that putting their soul on the line when they are expressing themselves, no matter the medium, is a risky thing to do. People … humanity … we’re broken … and it is often difficult to accept that risk in someone else because we are so unwilling to take it ourselves.

As I’ve spent time thinking about all of this, two things came to mind that I needed to understand for myself. These came from conversations I had with friends who had to listen to me completely fall apart yesterday.

First. The reason that I fall apart and hide inside myself when I am criticized unfairly (I’m not talking about constructive criticism, I’m talking about nasty, irrelevant and unnecessary criticism), even if I know that it is a bullying tactic written by someone who doesn’t have a lot of joy in their life; is because it feeds into a tiny part of me that I bury very deeply. Deep down inside there is that little bit of me that believes them and now that someone has said them out loud, they must be true. See, some of those reviews, in essence, tell me that I shouldn’t be writing anything and putting it out there for the public to read. My books are crap and no one else should take the time to download them, much less read them. These are the same playground bullying tactics that tell a little girl she is ugly or a little boy that he is a weakling and they shouldn’t even bother to exist. Because of the anonymity these bullies are afforded, they get away with digging into a person’s deepest fears and making them bigger than they really are.

Second, bullying happens in secret. As soon as I told a few close friends what was affecting me, they jumped right in to remind me of the truth. I thought it was necessary for me to be quiet about how this hurt me, because the more I talked about it, the weaker I looked for letting it get to me and besides, who wants to listen to me whine. I was never brought up to be a whiner.

Hey … when I’m sane, I know  this stuff isn’t about me. I know  these people are bullies and I shouldn’t let them get to me. I know there are a lot of people who love what I write. I try not to be affected by the things that are said about my writing, to let it roll off my back. I’ve been told that if I put myself out there, I should expect this stuff and I’d better be tough enough to take it. I know that people like this are also writing terrible reviews of classic literature (imagine that!). I know all of this, so I also know that no one wants to hear how it tears me up and that makes me keep my mouth shut about it.

But when I said something out loud, all of a sudden it made the hateful comments seem less potent. Part of it was my friend’s responses, but most of it was the fact that I put those horrible things out there and I didn’t die. I took away their power by exposing them for what they were.

That was a huge learning moment for me. It made it easier for me to come back to sanity and return to the realization that these words don’t have the power to actually affect my life. They shouldn’t even get a day’s worth of tears out of me, but I’m human and when I get hurt badly enough, I fall apart.

I know that the people who will read this are not the same people who post those things. I’m preaching to the proverbial choir … and that’s too bad, because we have got to stop tearing people down in order to build ourselves up. We have to. There is so much beauty in the world and it is muddied and destroyed by negative words and behaviors.

Now … the proper response here is not to feel sorry for me or take pity on me. I’ve gotten past it and after spending this last year reading a whole lot of bad things that people feel it necessary to post about me and my writing, I’ve gotten better at dealing with 98% of those reviews. I’ll also learn to deal with the rest of them.

The proper response is to do your best to overcome the natural tendencies we have to be negative. The proper response is to encourage others … lots of others. When you see someone doing something great, tell them. Not me. You are already telling me. But tell lots of people. When you appreciate a waitress or a checkout clerk, say something! Tell people how great they are.

Praise Publicly Criticize PrivatelyAnd, one last mantra I’d like to put out there for you. My sister, who is a fifth grade teacher, is trying to train her students to do this. Remember these words and practice them often. Put them on your refrigerator, post them on your Facebook wall. Tweet them, remind everyone over and over again.

Praise publicly, Criticize privately.

Do the world a favor. Flood it with grace.