Monthly Archives: May 2014

A Season of Change

Book 6 Cover test 5I’m excited  to announce that Book 6 in the Bellingwood series – A Season of Change – is finally available for the Kindle! The story is just beginning.

Change is a constant. Seasons change. People change. Life changes.

Polly Giller’s life has been filled with nothing but change since the day she decided to return to Iowa. As winter gives way to spring, it seems that more change is in the wind.

The future opening of Secret Woods Winery brings the return of three young superstars to Bellingwood. They left to make a fortune in the computer gaming world and came home to do something completely different. The winery’s lodge is being built just down the road from Sycamore Inn, an old strip hotel that Polly and her boyfriend, Henry Sturtz, are renovating. There are great changes in store for this little town in the middle of Iowa.

When someone is killed at the winery, the one person who is going to find the body … does. Polly can’t bear the thought of calling the Sheriff to tell him it’s happened again, but there’s nothing else she can do. The mystery of Sycamore House’s vandal deepens and Andrew Donovan introduces Polly to a new best friend. Both of these things threaten to change Polly’s life in extraordinary ways and it is all she can do to hang on for the ride.

Polly’s life is in flux, but her friends stick close. When everything changes, her relationships keep her steady. Now, more than ever, she experiences the truth of that maxim.

Free Book Weekend

All Roads Lead HomeInviting new friends to Bellingwood is as easy as giving away a free book! I’m doing that this weekend.

All Roads Lead Home will be free until midnight, Sunday, May 18. Tell your friends! Click on the book cover or the title in this paragraph to be linked to Amazon for your Free book.

Bellingwood is a cozy little town in the middle of Iowa, far enough from the city that there are no traffic jams, but close enough to be able to have everything available. The people are genuine – with a tendency toward caring and fun.

The best part is that there are already four more complete novels published, as well as a couple of short stories. And … Book 6, A Season of Change will be released by May 31.

I’m often asked if you should read the books in order. The short answer is yes. Much like we all do, the characters grow and change as time passes. New characters and relationships are introduced and developed. This is a continuing story and while you can drop in and fall in love, it is more fun to follow the story from beginning to … now. Each book is numbered and you can find them all on the Books page on this website.

Description of All Roads Lead Home from Amazon:

Polly Giller returned to Iowa from Boston to start a new life, not that her old one was all that bad. With her inheritance, she purchased an old school building in Bellingwood and is in the middle of renovating it when the bones of two bodies are pulled out of a ceiling.

The whole town knows who those bones belong to, but when she also finds crates and crates of items from the sixties through the early nineties in the old root cellar, they wonder if the two things are connected.

A welcoming committee shows up at Polly’s front door and these women soon become her fast friends. Fortunately, the leader of the group is married to the Sheriff and he is there to make sure mysteries are solved and everyone stays safe, but when Polly’s old boyfriend from Boston shows up, that becomes a little more difficult.

The women might be a little older than Polly, but she finds out they might be even more wild than the friends she had when living back east. Lydia Merritt, the Sheriff’s wife, is a woman filled with love and passion. Beryl Watson is an artist and more than a little flamboyant. Andy Saner wants to organize and label the world, but loves with a great big heart and Sylvie Donovan, with her two young sons is trying to make it as a single mother.

The men in Polly’s world are just as interesting. Henry Sturtz is the carpenter and contractor in charge of construction and might have a little crush on his boss, while Doug Randall and Billy Endicott are her Jedi Knights in Shining Armor.

Polly’s immediate family might be gone, but her new family offers a great deal of love, fun and entertainment.

My Mother – The Minister’s Wife

Margie - August 1971 - Bell's Dell

Margie – August 1971 – Bell’s Dell

The one person who impacted me the most in my life died six months before my 28th birthday. She was brilliant, talented, hilarious, normal, mean and rotten, loving, straightforward, practical … Mom was terrific. She met Dad and fell in love with him despite the fact that he was graduating from seminary. She had three children, even though the idea of babies was abhorrent to her. She moved to small-town Iowa with Dad even though all she’d ever known was upscale big city life.

Mom wrote this article in 1972 and I remember the glee she had in poking at expectations for minister’s wives. If she could destroy a stereotype, she took the opportunity. Some things have changed since this article – others haven’t. We still need love, forgiveness, and understanding. But, her writing continues to makes me laugh.

As I read the first paragraph, I did discover where I got two of my favorite words. We love to laugh in our family. Snorting and giggling are just two ways to describe it.  Enjoy … and laugh a little. She loved laughing at herself.

My Second Skin
by Margaret Greenwood
Originally published in Arise! Magazine, A Magazine for Christian Laity
March – April 1972

I have just finished reading a 1969 report entitled “An Insight Into the Role of a Minister’s Wife” compiled from 23 questionnaires sent to various ministers’ wives and also to a number of presidents of local Women’s Missionary Societies of the Baptist Church in Southwest Iowa. I cringed, giggled and snorted through most of it, but I realized again the terrible gap between the parsonage family and the church people when one is allowed free expression without fear of identification.

It is quite obvious to me now that no one will ever offer my name for beatification. However, I shall have to live with this disappointment along with many others. The report was not a scientifically prepared job, but if the Methodists have the same viewpoint expressed in the report as the southwest Iowa Baptists, I am in deep trouble! One lady said: “A minister’s wife because of his many callers should keep their home and herself presentable at all times because there is a reflection on the church if she does not.” Now the grammar may not be quite up to snuff, but the thought literally explodes! Right there, I’ve failed! My house almost always looks like a gaggle of geese has been driven through it, followed by my husband, three children, a dog and various numbers of gerbils at various times. I am one of those poor benighted souls who always snatches frantically at a nightgown on the wing chair (the dog is lonely when I am out of the house and always drags filmy stuff downstairs to her favorite chair to lie on), kicks the shoes under the sofa, stuffs socks in my pockets and throws magazines into the closet when the doorbell rings. As soon as my caller leaves, I clean the house in a frenzy of guilt. Before the next person arrives, those crazy geese have gone through again!

Another individual commented in the report, “Be clean. Be neat. Wear make-up in good taste so you’ll look warm and alive and not like something the cat dragged in. A good thing to re-evaluate every now and then is your hair style…This goes for shoe styles.” Well, I am warm; touch me and I’ll giggle. I am alive. See … I’m breathing. However, I seldom wear shoes, a fact which all of my friends have accepted with good grace even though my mother hasn’t. She insisted I soak my feet in Clorox for twenty minutes before I went to the hospital to deliver my first child. By the third baby, I barely had time to even find my shoes! As for hair styles, I can wear it only one way: short and curly! If I let it grow, I look like George Washington without the powder. When I am painting, walls or pictures, or throwing pots on my potter’s wheel or even trying to cope with goose feathers, I look more like the wrath of God than a cat’s plaything.

The questionnaire pointed one thing out to me in particular. The minister’s wife is judged actually on the image one has already formed of a position, not of a person. She should be, but usually is not, the epitome of womanhood, an Eve gone straight! She should also do everything and be everything that the women of the church do not want to do or cannot do. My husband really lucked out! I can’t play the piano and my typing is lousy, so no church organist job or choir directorship for me; I can’t even be an unpaid secretary. I do direct a mean Christmas program, however!

Several weeks ago, I had a very special experience. I was at a friend’s house having coffee when another woman dropped in, a stranger to me. Debbie, my hostess, introduced me:

“Sally, I’d like you to meet Margie Greenwood.”

So what’s special about that? Well, I was practically wriggling with joy! Sally stared at me, perplexed. Then recognition dawned upon her.

“Oh yes, you’re the new minister’s wife.”

I stopped my happy squirming, but for a precious moment I had been an individual in my own right, free of my tight second skin.

This second skin, like any girdle which is too small for its wearer, constricts only a part of one. The rest bulges out uncontrollably. So, too, with ministers’ wives. Resentments, hostility, and anger spill over despite our determination to shove it back under the unforgiving garment. Have you ever seen a woman suffer when her girdle hurts? The metaphor is most appropriate!

The first half of the survey was devoted to ministers’ wives’ reactions, their joys and their frustrations. The Baptist girls sound remarkably like the Methodists with whom I have talked. In fact, they sound quite human. Most of them felt their greatest joy was in being a wife to their husband, and in this I heartily concur! Few of them had any desire to be “Mrs. Minister,” although this slipped through with a couple of them. I’ll never forget a Christmas card my husband and I received addressed to “Rev. Frank and Mrs. Pastor Greenwood.” The greatest frustration of these gals was almost unanimous; it was the inability to make close friends within their congregations and to be held at a distance by them. What a congregation as a whole expects of its minister’s wife is unbelievable! When they suddenly discover that her feet are clay (even when washed), occasionally they’ll smack her right in the solar plexus. This is why we have so many gasping ministers’ wives.

I discovered this fact early in my married life. There was a small group of self-appointed watchdogs in our first church who checked on me twice a week. They didn’t even bother to knock on the door. After a year’s residence, I installed locks. You should have seen me once when I was trying to iron my dress in the kitchen and I caught sight of one of the ladies as she stepped onto the front porch. I dropped to my hands and knees and crawled to the front door. I held it tightly against her as she tried to push it open, but my twenty years of strength more than matched her seventy odd years of determination. Knowing she would also try the back door, I snaked along the walls, still on my hands and knees, and held that door against her, too. My husband arrived a few minutes later and found me lying on the linoleum floor of the kitchen too weak with laughter to get up! Ah, the dignity of such encounters with the good ladies of the parish.

This kind of problem gave me food for thought, so I devised my own system to beat it. I hid. I hid behind my Eastern debutante background, my education, anything that would suffice. I hid behind my wonderful sister-in-law who lived nearby. Without her, I never would have survived. She took most of my problems, many of which I created myself, onto her own back. There was a period of three months when all three churches on the circuit owed us my husband’s salary, $995. I finally went home to visit my parents and took the baby with me. My husband ate one good meal a day at his sister’s house. When the churches finally paid up, I could return. However, one cannot hide forever. So, in our next church, I tried a different attack. I was so busy with three children, one of whom was always sick, that I don’t think anyone even realized my husband was married. In our third parish I resolved, since I had been seen on moving day, that I would try to be myself, and it worked to my great surprise! In all the responses in the aforementioned questionnaire, only one dear soul, bless her forever, suggested that the greatest asset of a minister’s wife’s personality is “being herself.” I’ll say one thing for this approach; it’s a whole lot easier on a person even if it is sometimes embarrassing.

In one small town where we lived, the church had built us a beautiful new parsonage. I loved it and everyone in town was proud of it. One day, true to the directions in the minister’s wife handbook, which I was rereading for the twentieth time, I decided to bake bread for someone who was sick. I also decided to plant petunias around the foundation of the house. I left our baby inside asleep in her crib, feeling guilty because maybe the house would blow up or catch on fire or some other such dire calamity would happen, but I traipsed outside with my trowel and flowers anyway. Some time later I decided I’d better check on her. I opened the kitchen door and nearly fainted. The house was full of smoke! I grabbed the baby, took my older daughter by the hand and ran to my husband’s study in the church shouting, “The house is on fire! The house is on fire!” (One has to shout at him, he only responds to frightening sounds!) He told me to call the fire department and he raced over to the house. A word of explanation is appropriate here. In small Iowa towns, the fire department is a voluntary deal. Any man who is in town responds to the fire whistle and usually everyone else does, too. this was no exception, and besides, the parsonage was the newest house in town. Those men went through the house with a fine-toothed comb. Finally, one gentleman lifted the lid on a pot on the stove and discovered the charred, burned potatoes for my bread! A friendly woman comforted me with the words: “Don’t feel badly, Margie. Now we know you’re human.”

I do try not to take myself too seriously, and I am trying to be myself. I even allow my parents to be themselves although that was not always the case. A year after we were married, my mother visited us. She had snatched a quick cigarette while I stood sentinel at the window. I saw one of my dear watchdogs coming up the walk and I yelled at Mother to run upstairs and take her ashtray with her. Thus, when I opened the door I stood innocently alone, wreathed in a thick gray cloud of cigarette smoke!

It’s difficult to find the Holy Spirit in such an atmosphere, but after nine years of searching, I finally found him. I had seldom attended church before my marriage, and had no background on which to build. I only saw the marvelous faith of my husband and that of several of the fine people in our various churches. I wanted this assurance, but I didn’t know how to go about finding it. I had been thrust into a wildly different life, from the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Boston to an Iowa town of 250 people which looked like a set for a bad John Wayne western. A “modern” house back East was one with unusual architectural characteristics. In rural southwest Iowa thirteen years ago, it was one with an indoor toilet! It was indeed a radically different way of life. I didn’t understand the people and many of them never did figure me out. It was when I finally made the decision to be the human being that God had created originally, not a paper doll image raggedly drawn by a mythological congregation, that I really learned to love. When one’s eyes are always checking on one’s image, one can’t see past one’s nose.

I had to make some spiritual giant steps, after hundreds of baby steps and innumerable “go back three paces” even to come within sight of my goal. An understanding, forgiving and patient husband and a loving group of friends in our church (I refuse to call them our “congregation.” They are my friends and it is our church.) have supported and helped me tremendously in my spiritual growth. I had a dramatic encounter with God during an early morning prayer vigil which cemented my relationship with him. I don’t have any astounding answers to life’s problems, but together as loving children of God, we all can struggle, supported and helped by each other. It’s a lot easier to climb a barbed wire fence with someone to hold the wires for you.

The role of the “Minister’s Wife” exists in capital letters. I can’t deny it and it would be foolish to try to do so. However, I can re-define it in human terms. For me it is the role of a searching woman attempting to discover joy of her own humanity and the love of God and trying to relate this love to her very existence. This makes me no better or worse than any of my friends. If my house is messy and my feet bare, I shall hope that my callers will be more interested in our relationship as children of God than they will be in that last goose disappearing around the corner. We haven’t time to play around with non-essentials when there is such a desperate need for love, forgiveness and understanding in the Christian community and the world.

Please examine your image of your minister’s wife. Let her be human and love her despite it. It’s quite possible that as a child of God, she is having just as hard a struggle trying to love your human failings, too. God loves you, and I love you, too.

Book 6 Has a Name!

Book 6 Cover test 5Books and movies always seem to get working titles and then when it is time to go public, those titles are tossed aside for something that will appeal to a live audience.

I’m a bit more lame – my working titles are simply the book number. Nothing more exciting than that. And when I finally have to anchor a title and cover, I spend hours thinking through the plot, looking at images ,and praying for something creative to leap into my head.

The next step is combining the two that I’ve found … the title and the image. At that point, I rely on one of my creative geniuses to coach me through the process. If Rebecca (check out her Imaginary World for kids page) weren’t around to encourage me, the final piece you see would be about half as wonderful.

I can do the mechanical work. Photoshop and I have been pretty good friends for at least twenty-five years. I also have a nice little template built for the framework of the Bellingwood covers. I was ready to go.

The first attempt was emailed to Rebecca on Tuesday evening. I’d had Max re-work the image for me, adding color, cropping it. I was pleased with the photograph. The title … not so much, but I jammed it all together and sent it off. I woke up Tuesday morning, hadn’t heard anything, but had spent the previous twelve hours re-working the title. It was much better.

However, Rebecca told me that the image I’d chosen really didn’t fit the story line. She was right. She’s always right. The good news is that Max had produced five or six wonderful images for me to choose from and all I had to do was go back through them and we found a perfect shot.

A few tweaks for the color at the bottom of the cover and voila … Book 6 went from being a number in a list to “A Season of Change.” You’ll see why when you read the book!

Thanks for joining me on the journey – I appreciate you all!

When the Writing is Finished

I just finished writing Book 6 in the Bellingwood series and after the first round of edits, it is off to my Beta readers for a couple of weeks. They’ll tear it apart, help me put it back together again and then it will be that much closer to publication.

Not Helpful

Helpful cat making sure I can’t work.

When I announced that the writing was finished, several friends asked about the rush I felt and it struck me that my feelings might be a little odd. A few moments ago, I realized that my feelings were really strange. Tears filled my eyes and I couldn’t identify their origin. The only thing that’s different right now is that my book is no longer in my hands. It’s gone.

I’ve watched many a friend let her child go to their first overnight sleepover or away to camp or to spend a week with grandparents for the first time. When they are out the door, my friends experience a moment of loss. Up until that point they were the only one (yes, the spouse is part of this) in charge of that child’s welfare. All of a sudden, the thing they treasure most is in the hands of someone else and several things have happened. First, they’ve had to build up a level of trust that everything will be okay and second, they are left wondering what they are to do with those hours that were generally spent interacting with and caring for that child. This sensation doesn’t go away, it’s just filled in with other experiences. Parents also face it when kids leave home for college, to be married or to live on their own for the first time.

Of course it’s the right thing to do, but there’s an empty place that’s exposed for just a moment.

Now … while sending my book off to Beta readers is nothing as extreme as sending a child off to their first overnight, I do feel a sense of trepidation and loss when I let it go. I’ve had to build up a level of trust that my readers will treat it (and me) with respect, even while ripping it to shreds to make a better story. That’s not easy and honestly, I have a lot of problems with that trust. But, they are wonderful people. They are respectful and yet also critical so as to ensure I find success.

The second part is where I land when people ask about the rush I must feel as I finish a book. I don’t actually have empty hours in my life once the written part of the story is complete. There is plenty to do while I wait for the book to come back into my hands. But it’s different and that transition requires that I expend emotional energy.

I will build the cover and write descriptions for Amazon. It occurred to me that I don’t have business cards designed, so I will work on those (20+ years of owning a printshop still pays off) and design bookmarks as well. There are websites that need to be updated with information about Book 6 (goodNESS I need to finish this cover), and I need to continue to get better at social network marketing. At some point, I also have to clean this place up after letting it go while I typed and typed.

I will put together marketing to bring in new readers, so the new book gets a good chance to see daylight. As part of that marketing, I go back through the book I am giving away to do a fresh edit, ensuring that all I’ve learned in the last months regarding writing and editing is translated into making the best book possible.

Because I insist on learning all the time, I read handbooks on editing and style manuals. I research ways to tell stories and discover methods of writing that I didn’t employ the first time out. Because the digital platform is fluid, it allows me to continually make my books better. The story never changes, but the way it is told becomes more even. I’d like to think that I knew it all when I began, but that is just arrogant stupidity. This last year has been a huge learning experience for me and I am a better writer today than I was when I wrote my first book.

When I finally publish this next book and people have it in their hands, I won’t feel a rush then either. Even though it is finally out there for the world, I’m not finished with it. My ‘job’ isn’t done. I celebrate the achievement, but I don’t have time to stop working. I have started plans for short stories. I am in the middle of writing three other books and I am outlining Book 7 and exploring possible plot lines for Book 8.

For tonight, the most pressing assignment is the title and book cover, so I’ve opened Photoshop and it’s time to get back to work. This is the best job ever.