Monthly Archives: September 2016

Who Do You Know?

My goodness, but TB is one relaxed kitty.

My goodness, but TB is one relaxed kitty.

One of the things that always seemed to stop me from actually writing stories was the old adage – write what you know.

What I know? Yikes.

And then I wondered about people who wrote science fiction and fantasy. How many friends do you have who are vampires? Yeah. Me too. Same amount. (And if you said more than zero, you should be writing books rather than whatever it is you are doing.)

I was nearly all the way through the first book when I realized how that maxim applied to me. What did I know best? People!

Growing up as a minister’s kid I met the most interesting people.

My parents were pretty great about handling those ‘interesting’ people with us. We were allowed to acknowledge that folks were different. Because avoiding that conversation is ridiculous. But we were never allowed to ridicule or consider ourselves any better than them because of those differences. People … including each of us … were unique and embracing that uniqueness was what made life so much more fun.

It seemed like every church we were at had at least one very eccentric person. Generally there were several, but a few were not only eccentric, but quite outgoing and then … they were thrilled to be introduced to a young pastor’s family. Those who stick in my memory were mostly women … older women. They loved having us kids come visit. We were respectful and often fascinated by the same things they were fascinated with.

In the early sixties, we moved into a little town in southeast Iowa … down near Burlington. That little church was a wonderful home for us. The library became my second home, which was perfect since it was right across the street from the church. I was expected to leave on time so I could walk the two blocks home with Dad after his day was over.

We lived next door to a woman I fell in love with. Gladys was her first name and today I have no memory of her last name. Her home was filled with kitsch and clutter, her kitchen with hundreds of sets of salt and pepper shakers. She’d see me outside, invite me in for a cookie and then sit at the kitchen table with me, telling stories about the salt & pepper shakers or letting me look through her wondrous recipe box. We were so sad when her children came to get her because she could no longer live on her own.

But she didn’t hold a candle to Doc Hensleigh. Now THAT was an interesting woman. In the early sixties, she was over seventy years old and still a practicing chiropractor. You didn’t often find elderly women in that practice … in small-town Iowa. Now Doc’s husband had died before we arrived in town, so she lived alone on a small acreage. And by alone, I mean … with her chickens and dogs and whatever other small animals she took in. She had plenty of money and was extraordinarily generous with people and with the church. Doc had fly-away hair, wore blue jeans and old flannel shirts. She was also a bit of a hoarder. The outside of her home was cluttered with tall grasses, trees and plants that you brushed aside as you walked the narrow path to her front door. The inside of her home was just as cluttered. Always clean, you just had to be careful where you walked. Fascinating!

I could tell more stories, but I’d hit people who are well-known by a lot of my friends and readers. I’m not ready to tell all of those to the world yet.

It’s funny, though. I am beginning to wonder if I might not be one of those interesting people who lives in a cabin in the woods, only coming out to get food, mail and do laundry. People in town don’t know me, who I’ve been or what I do with my days. All they see is a little bit of my life. Maybe I’ll start acting a little more eccentric. Haha. That would be hilarious.

Well, I’ll toss it to you. Do you remember someone like this when you were young? Maybe it was a grandparent or a neighbor. Tell me stories!

Pitter Patter – Memories of my Heart!

0358a1b29d2627a25097c5be9fff7d13Heh. I just watched an episode of Frasier. At the very end of the show, Bobby Sherman (!!!) showed up. He was Roz’s childhood dreamboat. Yeah, even older, that face still made my young heart skip a beat. (My old heart told me that all I really needed was an ice cream sandwich.)

It makes me wonder sometimes these days if I’ve lost touch with the bigger world out there. Are there still a few young heart throbs? It feels like we are overrun with stars and celebrities. I can’t imagine trying to stand out in that crowd.

And maybe it was just as bad when I was young, but I only seem to remember the Monkees, the Beatles, David Cassidy, Bobby Sherman, maybe Rock Hudson (good heavens, that man was gorgeous), Cary Grant, Elvis … though the last three probably were never on the cover of Teen Beat.

My mom never let me waste my money on those teen magazines. Talk about messing with a girl’s social activities. How in the world was I supposed to know what was happening with the world? (haha)

Who were your heart throbs and idols? Did you love the pretty boys or were you more attracted to the bad boys like James Dean?

I feel like I’ve finally hit the bottom of the post-publication slide. It’s probably time. And if I need the weekend, I’ll take it. I’m not sick, just seem to have a hole in the bottom of my give-a-hoot bucket. There isn’t anything left in there.

However, Polly started chattering at me again last night. We have a couple of chapters written, but now she’s giving me orders again. That’s the way I like it. Then I don’t have to take responsibility for what I’m writing.

So … tell me about your teen-aged celebrity idols!

Weather Obsession … MUG WINNERS!

indexI’m pretty sure that after age 35 all we do is worry about weather and every little ache and pain that hits. My sister is the hypochondriac of the family, my brother is … well … a boy. And me? That leaves me focused on the weather. Oh yeah … and sleep or the lack thereof. Good heavens. We (I) obsess about the weirdest things. Things I’m sure I never even considered when I was younger.

My mother’s mother – Grammy – was a strange old woman. Really strange. Even back when she was sane. But then, there may have never been a time when she was really sane. Oh, so many stories – where do I start?

Well, the one that applies today is about her calendar. Much like Sheldon on Big Bang Theory, the woman kept a daily record of her bowel movements. How do we know this? We still have those calendars somewhere – and on each day, she marked the simple letters: B.M. Every once in a while there might be a hidden descriptor there, too … just in case something odd had happened.

Carol and I were in high school / college when we discovered this and we laughed and laughed (behind Grammy’s back – didn’t want to offend her). We were so shocked that anyone would expend that much energy on those records. I don’t know enough about her medical history to know whether or not that was a problem for Grammy, but holy cow.

I think I’m glad to obsess over weather and sleep. It feels much more socially acceptable.

Right now? The weather is absolutely glorious. I’m frozen. Oh my goodness, but this is awesome. I hope it lasts forever. Okay, that’s not true. I like my seasons, but I’m so stinking glad to have fall weather, I don’t know what to do with myself.

Yes, I’m sure that in other parts of the country, you are still dealing with awful things. There’s a reason I don’t live in Florida. Y’all don’t seem to understand the concept of no humidity. I’d be grumpy a lot. At least here in Iowa I’m only grumpy some of the time.

So yeah … that’s my weird obsession. Do you have one you’re willing to admit out loud? And seriously, if you record weird bodily functions, I don’t think you should be willing to admit those out loud. Just saying.

~~~

bellingwood-mugsTHANK YOU for being part of Bellingwood. More than 560 people ‘liked’ the post to win a mug. With awesome numbers like that, I have to give away five mugs instead of only three.

Here are the names of the winners:
Jan Marsh Mathis
Cheryl Medley
Sheila Kovar Kotouc
Fran Powell
Janice Jordan

If you’ve won a mug, you get to choose which of the three you’d like: Sycamore House, Sweet Beans, or Secret Woods Winery.

Please send me a message with your shipping address so I can get these right out to you. They’ll come from CafePress and that means they take a day or so to print and get shipped. But they’ll be on their way!

If you’re interested in purchasing a mug (or other Sycamore House swag) for yourself or a friend, you can find it all in the Sycamore House store on CafePress.

Rambling … Oh Look, a Point!

Earl

Earl

Well, I hate to say it, but there is absolutely nothing going on up there in my mind.

That’s not true. There is a lot going on up there, but none of it is interesting enough or sane enough to come together in cohesive sentences that should be put out there in the world. I’ve never written stream of consciousness stuff and I don’t think now is a good time to begin.

Maybe I’m still riding the high of getting a book published, maybe I’m being rebellious. I do that, you know. I rebel against myself and my schedules. Seriously? What kind of a nut does that! Hahaha. (Apparently this kind of nut.)

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TB

I’ve set a monster writing schedule in front of myself for the next three months. If it all pans out, you guys will be very happy. However, if someone (your beloved author) doesn’t get her head up and out of the sand, none of it will happen.

In all truth, much of it has to do with the contentedness of cool days, cooler evenings, blankets (oh good heavens, I love blankets) and warm kitties. I’ve pulled out the snuggly blankies for their little perches around me and they are sacked out. I added more blankets to the bed and oddly enough, it’s changed where they sleep. It isn’t just about them being able to snuggle up close to each other again (as opposed to sprawling out trying to stay cool), but they landed in different places on the bed. Oh well … (yep, that’s as stream of consciousness as you’re gonna get).

Four years ago, I was looking out at the last months of my Master’s Degree and beginning to wonder what I wanted to do with myself when I grew up. There were possibilities ahead, but I didn’t have a good grasp of things. Earlier that summer, I wondered about finally building a writing career. I knew that if I was going to do something, I had one year to make it a reality. Otherwise, I was going to have to get a real job in the real world and that was the last thing I wanted.

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Grey

You know … I’d spend twenty-plus years as a business owner, then a few years working as the Communications Director in a church. That job was great, but I discovered that working for someone else was not my best thing. I’m a little opinionated and don’t have a lot of fears about speaking out when I believe my opinions should be heard. (For those of you that know me well – stop laughing. Right now). I couldn’t imagine taking another job where I’d have to bow down in obedience (apparently, I have a bad attitude about being an employee – ya think?).

My friend, Rebecca, had gone through Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) the year before, challenged me to do it with her and all I could think was, why not? If this was what I wanted to do with my life, I needed to get started.

I sat down at the computer one night and pulled from some ideas that I’d sketched out about a girl named Polly Mason, who found a body on a riverbank at the end of the property she owned. She’d left NYC to return to a rural life. The guy who died was a local veterinarian, but his wife was a shrew (okay, my notes said bitch). That Polly was going to open a little shop … selling crafts and books, coffee and baked goods.

The rambling notes from my first brain-storming session (with myself) are there in Evernote now. I took off from the Polly Mason story and came up with Lydia and Sylvie. Obiwan was there. Hah. The first body was going to be hanging in one of the downstairs rooms. And the kittens were going to come home in Obiwan’s mouth some night, all messy and terrified. The vet was still going to be the one who was killed … luckily Mark Ogden lived through that iteration.

It’s strange to look back four years and see how Bellingwood has grown from those initial thoughts. Once I started writing, there was no stopping. Hah. And y’all would never let me stop now, right? I’m glad of that. There is so much joy in what I do. Much of it is because I’m finally myself, but an awful lot of it is because, like Polly, I meet extraordinary people along the way.

Thanks for that.

Just Do It.

Too cute for words.

Too cute for words.

Last week, Carol and I were chatting and since I had just handed off a bunch of finished items (sewn things), she was telling me what a great seamstress I was (we all need sisters, right?). It was a really nice thing to say to me, but I thought about it a long time. Because I’m not. I’m good. Only because I sew a lot. But there are so many things I don’t even attempt. They scare me. One of these days, Fran, I promise. I will put a zipper in something and get over this. I did it when I was younger, I can do it now. I just have to actually …

And that’s it … Do It.

People tell me what a great author I am. No. I’m good – I won’t take anything away from myself – I have a healthy dose of self-confidence. But I have so far to go. I’m learning all the time and I get better with every book. But I’m nowhere near what I want to be.

However, that’s not the point of this. The difference between me and anyone else – whether it’s writing or sewing, playing the piano well, singing, the list goes on and on is not that I’m so much better than you (or anyone), it’s that I’m doing it. I start … and I finish. Every time.

I make horrible mistakes – toss those out and start again, but I still finish it.

I’m not alone in this process … y’all do it every single day with the things you do well. You start and you finish. That’s what sets us apart from others. You may never be a great seamstress, but you have a glorious garden. You may never be an amazing photographer, but you teach kids all day long, even when you want to boot their butts to the principal’s office. Those things that you choose to be great at are the things that you start … and that you commit to doing … even when it’s not a lot of fun … especially when it’s hard work.

If you want to be thought of as great at anything, it isn’t about perfection or being the best; most of the time it’s about starting it and finishing it. Even those who are at the top of their fields got there because they started … and finished. Over and over again. You don’t win a weight-lifting competition by picking weights up one day, then set them down and never return. You go and go and go until you can finish a competition – whether you win or lose.

My father refused to let us quit … nearly anything. If we started it, we finished it. We stuck with things at least long enough to be absolutely sure that we were miserable. Carol played basketball in junior high. She hated it. But she stuck with it the entire season. There was no quitting. Even though I took piano lessons (for EVER), she and Jamie didn’t like it all that much. They were allowed to quit … AFTER they became competent at it. That foundation stuck with them for a lifetime. They didn’t quit after the first year. Not even the second or third. Dad often said that he was not raising quitters.

Now, to be honest, there are things that I quietly try. No one else knows that I’ve tried them if I decide it is the worst idea ever. You should try anything.

But if you want to be great at something, you not only have to try it, you have to do it. Start to finish and all of the hard work in the middle.

And yes … Yoda’s words. Do. Or do not. There is no try. Here them, you shall!

~~~

On another note – thank you all for the great words you’ve said about the latest book. When I hit the *publish* button, I go through about twenty-four hours of “Will they hate it? I know everyone loved the last book, will they like this one too? What have I done? Why am I still writing? Who am I kidding?”

Yeah … okay, it’s not even twenty-four hours because some of you read so fast, you start chattering at me before I even crawl out of bed the next morning.

By the end of the day on the 25th – each time – I’m completely drained.

This last week has been chaotic and crazy and awesome. It feels like the party started the day of the Wine & Trivia night and hasn’t ended until … about now. There are so many little things that need to be handled during that period – from final edits and formatting, to mailing prizes and making sure everyone has what they need. This week will be quiet (er) as I wait for the paperbacks to arrive. Then I dig into a few days of insanity while I sign books, pack them up and haul box after box into town to be mailed.

At some point, I’ll need to clean the house again. The cats are back to acting like they live in a frat house and race through the place not caring what they knock over or pull down. Must be the change in weather. Happy, happy cats.

Anyway … thank you, thank you! And if you haven’t seen it yet, head over to the Bellingwood Facebook page to enter to win a Sycamore House mug. We hit 3000 likes on the page and it seems we still have plenty to celebrate!

Save

Save

Book 15 – Capture the Moments

capture-the-moments-100-dpi-2Have you finished the book yet? Seriously … I’ve already received messages from some of you that have. You are crazy people! And I love you.

The email newsletter went out at six o’clock this morning. If you haven’t found it, check your spam folder and if you’re using Gmail, check a strange little folder they call *promotions*. Things show up in there unexpectedly.

Capture the Moments is available on Amazon NOW! If you click on the book cover or on this LINK, it will get you there.

Book Description:

Bellingwood’s Sesquicentennial celebration is nearly here and the entire town scrambles in preparation. The Bell House’s yard looks fabulous, but that’s the only part of the place that is ready for guests. While Hayden and Heath tear into the walls of the inside of the house, a thief breaks in to rip out old copper pipe. The Chief of Police, Ken Wallers, is certain it is an old nemesis of Polly’s.

It was less than three months ago when Polly, Kayla, and Rebecca found the young man’s body in the Elevator’s parking lot east of Boone. Sheriff Merritt wasn’t alone in hoping that series of deaths was over. Polly finds the next body in an truly unexpected place and discovers that the sheriff’s department suppressed important evidence that connects these murders directly to her.

Life never slows down in Bellingwood. Sal and Mark Ogden’s lives changed over the summer, Stephanie loves her new office and title, and Jason Donovan enjoys the freedom that a driver’s license brings. But the best changes always happen around new people. Family members show up in Eliseo’s life, and Henry’s friend, Roy Dunston from Chicago, brings his charges to town. These characters add so much to the lives they touch, whether they stay for good or for just a short time.

Welcome back to Bellingwood.

So close … and yet so far

clock-06-00_33234_lgWe’re nearly there. Just thirteen hours until the newsletter hits your email inboxes. I will post the link here (and on Facebook) later in the morning … you know, after I finally pull myself out of bed.

My only concern right now is the immense line of thunderstorms that is headed my way. When I see those, I know there is every probability that I will lose power. No power = no internet. No internet = no book upload. Do I have you worried?

I’m evil. I’ll make sure that things are ready to post long before the weather attacks me. The most wonderful thing about this weather attack is that it will bring my long-awaited fall weather. Tomorrow might actually be cold!

Okay – back to work with me.

Busy, Busy, Busy!

capture-the-moments-100-dpi-2Book 15 is nearly here! Have you signed up for the newsletter? If so, you’ll get the link in there around 6 am Sunday morning. I’ll wake myself up later in the morning and post the link here on the blog and on the FB Bellingwood page. Whee!

Oh, I’m liking this book. (Good thing, eh?)

The final edit arrived in my inbox this morning and it was awesome. I have to tell you – my editors / beta readers are pretty amazing people. Each one sees something different and makes these books better before you see them.

I was desperately out of clean clothes , so I packed things up and dashed out to deal with it this afternoon. Nothing more fun than sitting in a laundromat, right? Okay, there are always interesting people, but not when your mind is harassing you about all that needs to happen before midnight Saturday night.

So, ummm, yeah … took my little moleskin notebook in with me and wrote the vignette. I was proud of me.

Now it is time to format the book for paperback first … and then for Kindle. Why that way? Well, are you sure you want to know? Alright. You asked for it.

When you format for paperback, you need to be wary of widows and orphans. Pretty biblical, yes?

No.

A reader’s eyes do not like a widow (single line at the bottom of a page), but even less, does the reader like an orphan (just a couple of words at the top of a page). So … I go through the book page by page and restructure things to eliminate as much of that as possible. The other thing that is generally considered unacceptable is leaving only a few lines at the end of a chapter.

I do that work first, because it often requires editing. Then I move the manuscript to Kindle so that they are identical. With the Kindle, page length doesn’t matter because you all use different fonts and font-sizes when you read. I can’t control what you do with those things, so I don’t even try. (Duh)

There are a lot of little processes involved in taking my story from manuscript to book. I have a checklist that I’ve created over the years to ensure that all of the parts and pieces happen. It’s so much fun, but it does take time. I’ll be up late tonight and work all day tomorrow and late into the evening tomorrow night, but I promise you’ll have a book on your Kindle on Sunday.

Back I go … love you all!

Gotta Be a Little Crazy. Right?

14202643_1464202516930004_842748465730727518_nOh good heavens! My sister just posted something on my wall and I howled with laughter. I’d totally forgotten about this.

So, what’s a girl to do when she has a youth group filled with ornery brats and she’s all by herself? Nothing is ever normal with Diane. We’ll start with that. I’ll get back to this story in a minute.

I was pretty young when I started teaching my first Sunday School class. They needed someone for sixth grade and who better to steal out of the best, most fun class (my mother’s)? Her daughter. I was really worried about it, though. How would I keep order with those horrible rug rats? Mom’s advice to me was that every time things started getting out of control, I was to stop and ask them to pray with me. Well, duh. That first Sunday we prayed a lot. But I got through it and gained some confidence.

That approach didn’t work forever. I always figured out which boys were the orneriest first and went after their hearts. Those boys were who I needed on my side right away because they could disrupt things in a heartbeat. Snotty little girls? I just told ’em to shut up. I’d been down that path and knew exactly what they were up to.

Then came the night that I had scores of kids in one room while their parents were all off having fun at some church event. I hadn’t had time to get these kids on my side and not only were they completely wired, but they ranged in age from first to sixth grade. Whoa.

It only took a heartbeat and one horrible little brat and I knew exactly what to do. The kid was the son of one of my friends, so I knew I was safe. I threatened (knowing that you never threaten a kid without being prepared to follow through) to lick his face if he did it one more time. He did it … and so did I. The rest of the room was so flabbergasted by what I had done, that they dropped right into line and we had a wonderful time.

Fast forward to the next church I attended. More kids. More trouble. It had worked so well the first time, I began threatening to lick faces if they got out of line. Everyone thought it was a riot and the threat actually worked. Nobody knew whether or not I’d actually do it. But then things went far enough that I knew I was up against the wall. I identified one of the boys as my target. His mother was again a friend of mine and I was certain that he showered regularly. Before he knew what had happened, I licked his face. The group was stunned into silence. Once every four years or so, I had to prove myself and soon enough, my reputation had been built. It was awesome.

Moral of the story? Sometimes you just gotta be a little crazy. Oh, maybe not. It’s a fun live I’ve led so far!

And truthfully, I got the whole thing from my Dad. You NEVER put your hand over his mouth without being prepared to have it licked.

And, just so you don’t forget, Book 15 – Capture the Moments – comes out on Sunday, the 25th! I’m ready to have this in your hands. Book 16 is already working its way out.

The Countdown! (And Winners)

TB sticks pretty close - just to keep me company. Love this gorgeous boy.

TB sticks pretty close – just to keep me company. Love this gorgeous boy.

Just four more sleeps!

I’m in a bit of a holding pattern right now. I have one more person running through the book to make sure that all of my editing and thrashing about didn’t create more problems. You’d think that I would relax, but these are the moments when I madly try to get my life back together after going head down for a couple of weeks.

This is still my favorite life ever, but wow, do I let my world fly out of control.

The thing is? Other than living in Bellingwood during those days, I’m really boring. Polly leads a much more interesting life than I do. I’m excited by a trip to town for mail and groceries! But that only means that I expend time and energy on the stories and that’s what counts, right?

We have five winners of ebooks. Y’all were all over the place with which chapter the first dead body of the book shows up in. I haven’t counted tonight, but last night (which is 98% of the tally), it was:

Chapter 1: 34
Chapter 2: 50
Chapter 3: 40
Chapter 4: 26
Chapter 5: 16
Chapter 6: 8
Chapter 7: 3
Chapter 13: 1
Chapter 15: 1

Now you just have to wait to read the book to see if you were right or not. I’ll never tell! The latest I think I ever waited was Chapter 11. I don’t remember which book that was, but I do remember people being surprised. Okay, I was surprised!

Anyway, congratulations to:

Tanya Rumpel
Diane Sumner
Teri McMillan Key
Peg Adams
Mary Wire Passage

Send me a message with your email address and as soon as I have a link, I will email a copy of the book to you!