Category Archives: Diane’s Life

Five Years of Writing About Polly

Things got a little chilly in here one evening. Blankets were everywhere! Grey wonders why I never leave them alone.

As I wrote the final chapter in Book 20 last night (yeah – I thought I’d just lead with that – voila! I’m right on target), I flashed back to November, 2012. I was eight months from finishing my Master’s Degree and had spent the previous four months trying to figure out what was. I had given myself some runway. The last thing I wanted to do was go to work for someone else, especially after twenty years of owning my own business.

There were options in front of me and I was considering all of them, but self-publishing was quite tantalizing. I read book after book about this wonderful new way to get your stories published without fighting with big publishers and facing rejection letters in the mail on a regular basis. I read and absorbed everything from why I should write and self-publish to the actual nitty gritty processes of doing the work.

That all began for me in June of 2012. While I was in the middle of writing more papers for my coursework than I’d ever written in my life, I hashed out a story line that grew more and more interesting to me.

Polly showed up in a very different story setting than we know now that June. She was twenty-one years old, her last name was Mason and she’d just moved out of her parents home to a new apartment about four hours from them. Her parents were both still alive and four sisters and brothers still lived at home.

On November 2nd, I recognized that time was running out and I had to either start doing something or give up my dream. A friend pressed me to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) which happens during the month of November. I didn’t want to, knowing that so many other things would demand my writing time, but I had to begin somewhere.

I wrote my first chapter that night and Polly came alive for me. On November 28th, I wrote the last chapter of “All Roads Lead Home.” I was exhilarated. For the first time, I’d started and finished something that came from my heart.

Then I wrote the first Christmas short story. This was really happening.

In January of 2013, I hit the button to publish All Roads Lead Home and it was suddenly live on Amazon. I panicked. What had I done? I still can’t believe I took that leap, but thank goodness I did.

During these last five years, I’ve had ups and downs and worried myself sick over every single aspect of the publishing process. I’ve met incredible people and poured more of myself out on paper than i could have ever expected. The only thing I wish I would have done differently was to have started much earlier. I can’t believe the fun I’m having.

~~~

While I was looking back through Evernote (which holds all of my notes, thoughts, stories – everything), I came across these two little bits.

The first I sketched out on November 2, 2012 – just before I wrote Chapter 1:

Now, the mystery is cool stuff. Polly is my main character. She has left New York City to come back to rural life. Everyone thinks she’s nuts, but she’s just done with the craziness. She’s meeting great people and it’s not her fault there’s a damned dead body that washed up on her land from the river. But, it brings a lot of activity and she’s just that snoopy. Since she’s new, no one really knows her, but now when she goes into town, people recognize her and just start talking to her. It’s freaking her out because, living in NYC, she was always keeping to herself, never making eye contact. No one just talked to her. Now, she has to know people and talk to them and answer questions … and crap, the guy who died was a local veterinarian that everyone knew because he was always in their barns and taking care of the animals.

His wife is a terrible bitch. They have three kids and those kids are tied up in knots because the old hag has run them around all their lives. The two oldest boys have long since left home, but the youngest went to college at a local university and has come back to help his dad with the practice. The bitch has decided that she now hates Polly, simply because of the circumstances, so she is making up stories about Polly and spreading rumors.

Polly – cozy mystery

It will be a ‘cozy’ mystery. Polly opened a cute little shop in the small town, selling crafting and knitting materials as well as having a little bookstore / library and a wifi coffeeshop. Kind of a one stop place for the women. She only sells coffee and some baked goods, but it’s enough for people to come in and settle in to unwind. She sells a few books and some supplies every once in a while and she is doing some writing, too.

~~~

The second I wrote on November 3, 2012 – just after finishing Chapter 1. My mind was working through the entire story. You can see some of my original character development. And then? Then they took off and decided to tell the story by themselves. They didn’t need me any longer.

Polly – some thoughts

Quite some time ago, I had an idea about a story set here in Iowa. It was pretty undeveloped, until last night – or maybe Thursday night late when I started thinking about the story again. Yah. Because last night I emailed a little bit of what I had in my head to Rebecca and then it began exploding. I drove past the school house in Luther and realized that would make a great location for the story. I really need to think about the town’s name. I don’t want it to be Stratford, but I want it to be a lot like Stratford. I don’t want it to be Luther, because there really isn’t anything going on there. I do want it to be in this neck of the woods because I want to have access to all of the larger communities … ok, probably some of the smaller communities as well. I know these roads and I know the towns and I know what Iowa people are like. How can I possibly go wrong?

I’ve been in enough little town schools, I think I can pull off the redecorating. And yes, I believe that it will be a school rather than a re-claimed church. I just can’t make that happen in my head.

The school will be far out on the edge of town, almost in the country. Because of this, there will be a lot of land around it. Polly will buy up a bunch of the unusable land. She’s going to put a barn out there and probably have some livestock of some sort. Goats, maybe. A couple of sheep. Maybe not. Maybe horses. Alice can help me with that … and so can other friends that I have.

The first death of the series will actually happen in her unfinished house. I think she’s going to have to get a dog. It will either be a Great Dane or a German Shepherd mix. Maybe a lab / shepherd mix. That would be awesome. The dog will come home with her from the shelter and when they get there, it will be on a Saturday. She’ll walk in and find the body hanging in one of the downstairs rooms. Oh yeah … that’s going to go over really well in the town when she tries to promote it. It will be not only the murder house, but the murder room.

I’m going to have to think about what Polly will do with that room. She’s going to take advantage of it, that’s for sure. I think it might be the little cafe. Yeah. People are going to have to eat there.

Of course, there will be a kitten that shows up. No, I think the dog will bring it home some night in its mouth. Mewling little thing, all in a mess with fleas and stuff. A lot like TB. We’ll slowly but surely build up animals around Polly. She had lots of pets when she was growing up on the farm, but they were always outside pets.

She’s going to need a fence around the property and then a fence for a pasture for her animals. She might have to hire a farmhand type of guy. A young kid – maybe one of the kids of the girls. He’ll do the chores and take care of the outside of her school, mowing and moving the animals between the pastures, etc.

She’ll meet the veterinarian once – when she takes the kitten in to get all of its shots, etc. He’s the one who will be dead in her house.

I’ve barely touched on Sylvie. We’re going to save her story for another book. Her husband just took off one day and left her with two kids. That happened about eight years ago. Her kids are now twelve and fifteen. She’s only forty years old, but the stress makes her look older.

Speaking of … I think that I’m going to make Polly be 31 years old. I’m going to have to think about former boyfriends. Maybe there was an engagement that broke up and that’s why she left Boston. He’s going to probably show up at some point, trying to find her, especially now that she has money. Lydia will absolutely hate him. And, by the way, so will the dogs. He’ll move into her house just as things are getting crazy, telling her how much he loves her and wants her to come back to Boston … toss everything out that is here.

He’s a dentist.

That will be part of the plot, her questioning her decision to be in Iowa. Maybe she made it too quickly and it was a bad decision. She said she had enough money to recover from a mistake and maybe she will be able to find someone to buy the schoolhouse for less than she bought it for and invested in it, so that she can go back to Boston where she belongs.

~~~

Thank you!

You can see how things changed and transformed as the story spun itself out. That is the great joy of being creative for me – allowing what I think should happen to be molded and re-formed into a story that wants to be told.

Thank you for being part of this crazy life I lead. I’m thankful that you have given me so much along the way, making it easy to keep telling my stories.

Five years has passed more quickly than I ever expected and it’s only the beginning. I’m just getting started and so is Polly. Who knows where it’s heading next!

~~~

Publication Dates

Book 20 will publish on Christmas Day, December 25th. The Christmas short story will publish on January 1st, 2018.

Now I just need titles and cover art, but that comes together when I focus.

~~~

Christmas cards

I’m getting artwork together for my Nammynools Christmas card. Bec Schreiber has been at it again – showing off my cats in all their glory. After Thanksgiving, I will ask you to send me your mailing address if you’re interested in receiving one of these. Not yet, but soon! I can’t wait.

~~~

Creativity Friday

This Friday, November 17th is Creativity Friday! Watch for a post on the Facebook Bellingwood page. It will be a fun day of celebrating what we’re grateful for together. We’ll do one more in December

Me Too

Being posted on social media right now

Me too.
.………
If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.

Copy/paste.

I’ve been uncomfortable since I posted “Me Too” on my Facebook page. Really uncomfortable.

There are many reasons for my discomfort.
– This is something I don’t talk about
– This is not how I want to be identified
– I’m not looking for pity
– I don’t want people wondering ‘who’ did ‘what’
– I don’t want any attention for this

It took several days of seeing the “Me Too” Posts before I chose to respond. Then I nearly took it down.

But this is a big deal. If the fact that I need to face my discomfort for a day or two helps expose how immense this problem is, I can do that. Because right now … right this minute … today … tomorrow … there are too many women whose “Me Too” is spoken silently while they live in abuse and pain. There are also too many others who aren’t able to post for reasons too numerous to list.

Comments I’ve seen on other posts break my heart. “Mine wasn’t that big of a deal, I don’t want to draw attention to something that isn’t as bad as what others have dealt with.” Oh yes it was. If you still remember it, it’s a big deal to you. No one should ever take advantage of you.

There is so much more I could … maybe should … say about harassment and assault, but for now, this is enough.

~~~

Last night Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, posted this and it’s the right thing. (Jenny writes hilariously funny and deeply honest books as well as a hilariously funny and deeply honest blog. She’s got more courage than I can even describe. Follow her Facebook page or her blog site.)

My timeline is full of men and women proclaiming “me too” regarding being the target of sexual harassment and assault.

If you are one of those and are speaking out I am proud of you.

If you are one of those but don’t want to share your story publicly I am proud of you for setting boundaries that are safe for you.

If you are surprised by how widespread it all is and take this opportunity to examine how you can help I am proud of you.

If you are having hard talks with your children about this to ensure they are less likely to become victims or victimizers I am proud of you.

If all of this is too much and you decide to leave social media until it’s a safer place for you I am proud of you for taking care of yourself.

No matter your story, and no matter how or whether you share it, you are far from alone.

~~~

You are not alone. I am not alone. We are all in this together, no matter our stories.

Thank You

TB is posing for me. This picture was taken two years ago – just before the kittens came into our lives. He had no idea what was about to happen to him. (Neither did I.)

This has been a terrific week.

Now, to be honest, most weeks are pretty awesome, but the week after I publish a new book is filled with generous words from you and it fills my heart.

One difficult thing for me, though, is responding in kind to your outpouring of love. ‘Thank you’ never seems to be enough when you tell me how my books have affected you in such personal ways. And yet … those are the times when you bring this mouthy girl to silence. I absorb it all and find that all I have are those two imperfectly perfect words – thank you.

I was very young when my mother spoke with me about this type of experience. As the daughter of a United Methodist minister who also played the piano and sang, I spent a lot of time performing in front of people. My sister and I sang together from an early age. People always stopped us to tell us how wonderful we sounded. As little girls, learning how to take compliments gracefully and gratefully was something that needed to be learned. It wasn’t innate. One Sunday, after I’d evidently not been gracious enough, Mom sat with me and discussed the relationship that was built between a performer and her audience. For those few minutes, that person connected with me. If they wanted to acknowledge how it made them feel, I needed to put myself in their place and ask what my expectation might be. I needed to change my perspective. The performance wasn’t about me – it was about them.

That discussion changed everything for me.

Writing and publishing these books is my job. This life is my passion and I am privileged in ways I can not describe that I can do this. I work hard and live through frustrations, fear, rejection … oh, and fear. LOL. The thing is – the end result isn’t about the published books. It’s about you. For the first time in my life, I’ve been able to be creative and establish relationships that last longer than the creative moment.

The snippets of life you share with me along the way are treasures that I hold close. I will often screw up and forget that you’ve already told me something or that your name is Donna, not Marie, or that you’ve given me your address three times already. Trust me, as soon as it happens, I feel horrible. I’m so danged human – it frustrates me more than you know. A little bit of superhero stuff would be helpful some days. But you mean the world to me.

So as I continue to do my job and you continue to respond, hopefully we will all recognize what an amazing relationship is being built here.

Sometimes all I can say is ‘thank you.’ My heart is so filled with wonder at your generosity it overwhelms my mind and I have no other words.

Thank you.

Birthdays and Trivia and a Release Date, Oh My!

Here we are … two and a half weeks out from the release of Book 19 – Boundless Dreams. Sometimes It seems like that date is far, far away, and yet, it also feels like time is rushing forward so fast I can hardly catch my breath.

A few things will happen between now and September 25th and I don’t want you to miss out.

1. September 8th (Friday) is my birthday. Whee! Nope … not telling you how old I am. My life is filled with too much fun for me to concentrate on a number. Besides, most of the time, I’d probably be mistaken. I can never remember.

To celebrate my birthday, I think I want to give away a couple of mugs. To enter this giveaway, all you have to do is post a comment on Facebook (under this post) or here on the website as a response to this post. Tell me one place (one place only) on this earth that you dream of visiting. Just one place. Your biggest and wildest dream vacation place.

You have until Sunday evening (September 10) to respond. I’ll choose winners and reply to your comment as well as post names on the Facebook Bellingwood page.

2. September 15th (Friday) is our last Wine & Trivia Night of the year. I won’t host one prior to the December 25th release because the holiday season is so overwhelming. More information will come next week, but join us on the Facebook Bellingwood page between six o’clock and eleven o’clock central time for a lot of fun, trivia questions about Bellingwood and prizes!

3. September 18th – 20th. The Bellingwood Boxed Set: Books 1-3 will be FREE on Amazon. More notification will come regarding that, but if you have friends or family who should be part of this community, let them know!

4. September 20th (Wednesday). Keep an eye out on the Facebook Bellingwood page that day because it is Polly Giller’s birthday! I will post a fun question for you to respond to and then choose winners who will receive an eBook copy of Book 19 – Boundless Dreams.

5. September 25th (Monday) is release day! Make sure you’ve signed up for the email newsletter (you can do so here). At six o’clock in the morning, the newsletter will land in the email boxes of all the good little girls and boys (seriously, Diane – you should have saved that for the Christmas release).

I can hardly wait for you to get to this next chapter in Polly’s life. Things never slow down for that poor girl, but she loves her life and wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Book 20 is already in process, so my next target is December 25th. Hopefully there will be one more surprise between now and then. (The teasing will never end.)

Thank you all for being part of this wonderful community!

Editing, Cats, and Some Eclipse Pics

I’m in the middle of the first week of re-writes, proofreading, editing, etc. This is great fun for me. As much as I love writing, I love going through the book over and over – hashing out problems I created for myself, remembering things I wrote two months ago and being thrilled that I actually maintained continuity for most of them. As odd as it sounds, I do love the editing process. I have learned so much in the last five years and five years from now, I’ll have learned that much more. The English language might feel frustrating at times, but it is absolutely glorious.

This morning (hah – morning for me starts at 12:05 pm) it was time to print out the manuscript. Doing so requires a great deal of preparation. Why? Because … cats.

Every flat surface needs to be clear around the printer because my three cats will come flying in from all over the house. They are also skittish and freaked out. I don’t dare touch them during this process because they jump. TB’s first inclination is to bite me. If I go near him at all (to take papers out of the hopper, anything), I move slowly and talk quietly.

He hates watching the paper go into the printer – or loves it – or something. He will only bat at the paper a couple of times. He’s jammed the thing up with his antics before and I’m not a fan. Earl tries to crawl into the paper feed area – there just has to be something in there he can play with. Grey finally got bored with the whole about halfway through.

The next bit of excitement comes when I pull out the red pen to actually begin editing during this phase. The cats like to play with that thing that skitters across my pages as I work. No matter what pen or pencil, Earl believes its only purpose is for his entertainment and will sit beside me and attempt to chew on the end. It makes writing quite interesting.

But I adore them and will put up with most anything.

~~~

This week I am also focused on the title, cover and a vignette. These and other fun things are coming out in Friday’s newsletter! Make sure you’ve signed up HERE to receive it!

The newsletters arrive in your email inboxes on the 25th of every month. The September newsletter will announce the publication of Book 19! We’re getting close.

~~~

Max was in western Nebraska this weekend in anticipation of the Eclipse. He captured some beautiful photos. I have two to show you right now. He got home late last night and only had time to process these. More will be coming and I’ll let you know that they’re up.

The first is that beautiful diamond ring image. Isn’t it incredible that something like this is predictable? We know what to look for and the sun / moon always come through for us.

The second is just gorgeous! What wild excitement I feel when I see these images!

Lost Kindle Content? Not Really …

A large percentage of you (us … whoever) own Kindles of one sort or another. Over the years, I’ve helped readers with some technical issues as they’ve come up, and it hit me today that you might not be making use of the powerful database that is your personal Kindle library.

Every Kindle book you’ve ever purchased from Amazon is yours forever and resides in the cloud on the Amazon servers. Even if you can’t find the content on the Kindle you hold in your hand, you still have access to it – you just have to find it and download it again.

If you’ve been on the fence about upgrading your device and choose not to because you think you’ll lose everything – have no fear. Amazon has your back.

A couple of months ago, my Kindle was inundated with books that I was no longer interested in reading. Buried deep in the bowels of my Kindle list, behind all of those duds, were books that I had completely forgotten I owned. I wiped my Kindle clean – erased everything from it and started out just like it was a brand-spanking new device. Ahhh … perfection.

How did I get to the books I wanted to read? There are several different ways … read on, MacDuff.

Of course, there is a search function on the Kindle – just be sure you are searching the cloud – not your local device (unless you know for certain the book is already downloaded). Using that, you can download a book / any book you’ve ever purchased. You won’t be charged for it again.

Or … you can do the work from your computer. I grabbed a couple of screenshots along the way.

And no, you can’t go to the book page on Amazon and download from there – silly of them, I know.

1. You must go to your Account page and then find “My Content and Devices.”

Here is where you will find every electronic device attached to your Amazon account.

But more importantly for this situation, you will also find all of the content you’ve purchased (even if it was free).

 

2. Here’s what that page will look like when you arrive (only with your content – not mine):

Do a quick search (over there on the right side of the page) for the book you want to send to your Kindle again. The book will present itself to you (how cool is this?)

Then, click on those three little dots (ellipsis) beside your book.

3. A popup – much like this one will happen, giving you many options.

If you want to deliver it to your Kindle or any of the other devices on your account, you can do it right there.

Et voila – finis!

~~~

A couple of notes about books delivered to your Kindle.

  1. If you delete a book and re-download it, I’m almost positive that if the author has sent up freshly edited content, you will receive the newest edition. I haven’t verified it, but seriously, why would Amazon maintain multiple edited copies of a book?
  2. In the past, many of you have informed me that there is something dreadfully wrong with the book on your Kindle – missing pages, chapters half gone, etc., etc. No, that’s not actually something that I did – the file was corrupted somewhere between your Kindle and Amazon. Simply delete the file from your Kindle and re-download it. All will be well.

~~~

And now … back to Book 19. Many, many words to write before I sleep.

Late Night Crazy Brain

It’s that time again.

I’m two weeks out from the next newsletter. When that hit me today, I’m pretty sure all of the air inside me left in one fell swoop. Whoosh.

Over these next two weeks, I will finish Book 19 and get through the first round of re-writes and edits. I will come up with a cover and a title and write at least one vignette. I will do my best to stay connected online. (There will be much fun in the newsletter, make sure you’ve signed up! Click here to get ‘er done – then come back and finish reading.)

I will also snuggle three cats as much as possible and try to sleep whenever they allow. They’re not terribly agreeable with my morning sleep time. No, it’s not because they want food or water or clean litter. I make sure to have that all in place before I drop into bed at whatever weird hour I finally land there. No … it’s attention they want.

TB is a brat. There are two things that he knows drive me crazy when I’m attempting sleep – scratching on the window beside me and meowing at me. I can’t sleep through those noises and he knows it. The horrible, rotten cat that I adore will sit on the ledge of the cat tree, scratch at the window and meow, then stop and look at me to see if I’m paying attention. If I don’t respond appropriately, he does it again. And then again. And then again. Until I’m about to crawl out of my skin.

You see, I try to avoid responding to it because the last thing I want is for him to believe that his bad behavior will get the response he’s looking for, but good heavens, I can’t help myself. I just want to sleep. He also picks at Earl, knowing that will elicit a reaction.

Then, both Earl and Grey, knowing that I’m fully awake, land on top of me looking for attention and affection.

I know, I know … it’s a terrible life, but guys, I need sleep! Yep … I’m a whiner. My creativity is gone when I’m exhausted. Fortunately, a nap always helps. Even if it’s a twenty minute chair nap with a cat on the desk in front of me and my face buried in their haunches. At least they’re good for that. (I do adore my kitties – don’t believe my sarcastic comments for a minute.)

So what I need from y’all are kitty and puppy pictures, Star Wars memes, funny stories, heartwarming tales and reminders that there is a real world beyond my imagination. I’d ask you to send M&Ms, but I’m afraid you would and I’m just kidding. (No I’m not / yes I am / no I’m not / of course I am). Okay, I have the M&Ms covered. It’s okay. Well, they’re not M&Ms, but close enough. Are you confused yet? Maybe coffee instead (good heavens, will the crazy Diane shut up so we can finish this post? You have plenty of coffee in the house).

There, I dealt with the crazy person who lives up there in my brain. Do you realize that sometimes she talks to me in a weird French accent? It’s like Pepe le Pew has taken over my internal dialogue (not a monologue, there are too many words for that). It’s really kind of strange. And then there are the times when instead, it’s a cowboy drawl. Not just Texas or North Carolina or even Oklahoma. Really bad – movie-bad – cowboy drawl. It’s been known to show up as a Scottish accent, or even Cockney. Which is ridiculous because I can’t mimic an accent out loud to save my life. I’m awful at that.

And … there you have the insanity that happens to me when my really awesome nap ended at 8:45 pm and I’ve written four thousand words and my brain is still wired.

Tomorrow morning is going to be here soon and three cats will vie for my attention. The funny thing is – when I finally crawl out of bed, they’re satisfied and go off to hide for their own naps. It’s just not fair.

Okay, I have to give you a link to a hilarious video on 9 Weird Habits of Writers. I won’t put it on my Facebook page because she’s pretty raucous and there’s some blue language, but this is nearly spot on. I sent it to my sister last week and she laughed and laughed. Just about the time I thought I was unique, this video explains my life exactly (well, except for the taking my laptop with me everywhere – I don’t do that). But be forewarned – if you are offended by this young woman’s language – I warned you. From here on out, it’s your responsibility. (Link HERE – and it’s about an 8 minute video.)

Good night!

A Teacher and Her Kids – Thank Yous from the heart

Seriously – May this card be with you? These kids are awesome!

My sister, Carol, teaches fifth grade. Her kids are never easy – a mix of cultures, education levels, a range of disabilities and behavioral issues, few parents are involved – education these days is a mess. We hear it all the time, but I don’t know that any of us can fully understand what we ask teachers to do if we aren’t in the classroom. And the thing of it is? Few of us have the courage to walk into a classroom and offer to help.

I’m so proud of Carol and the huge amount of herself she pours into those kids. They struggle, she encourages. They fight her off, she keeps loving them. They pout, sulk, scream, rant, rave – she stays steadfast. They steal from her and lie to her and Carol returns every day to remind them that they get to choose between living a life of integrity and one of shame.

The kids know that when she sits them down for another “Ms. Greenwood lecture,” that she is teaching them how to live in the big world out there. They might moan and groan, but even when she isn’t teaching them ‘reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic,’ they’re receiving important lessons from her.

I can’t be in the classroom with her, but I get to be the ‘fun’ part of her kids’ year. I sew up little pouches at the beginning of the year, then Carol and I fill them with pencils and things that the kids can use and have fun with. For Pi Day (March 14), I delivered a case of moon pies to Carol. On Star Wars Day (May 4 – May the 4th be with you), I delivered Star Wars bookmarks. If something special comes to the school that requires funds for the kids to purchase something, Carol and I make those funds available.

This year, we read about a kindness board that used post-it notes. I sent a huge stack of colorful post-its. The kids write kind things on those notes and hang them on the board. They get to see kindness every day.

One thing Carol does on a regular basis is ask her kids to write thank you cards. See … bigger learning than just the basics.

She handed a stack of them to me yesterday. I can tell that she talks about me in the classroom. They know I’m an author. They know I love cats and Star Wars. Those awesome kids integrated what they knew of me and what Carol reminded them I’d given to the classroom over the year into each note.

Yeah. I cried.

Now, while you all are going to try to tell me how great it is that I do this for her classroom, that’s not the point of this story.

You all know teachers. Don’t ask them what they need help with. Nobody ever responds to that.

Offer to do the crazy things – like moon pies and bookmarks, opening day gifts to help the kids get started with a bang. Buy a package of fun-colored paper for the teacher to use. Heck, buy the teacher a gross of pencils and an electric pencil sharpener. Give the teacher an Amazon gift card to buy extra supplies for kids who don’t have everything they need. Sew, knit or crochet gift bags or silly stuffed animals. Buy supplies for a creative bulletin board. There are so many things you can do.

But I promise that though teachers desperately need so much help and so many things, they’ve learned to do a great job with those kids – without those things. You have to find creative ways to offer to help them.

I need to get sewing on this year’s first-day bags. These little thank you notes spur me into wanting to do more and more for Carol’s classroom. As long as she is teaching, I get to be part of these kids’ life and I love it.

Support your teacher friends. If you don’t have a close friend who teaches, make one. Be creative. They need you. Kids need you. We’re all in this together.

Mid-Month Catch-Up

Where in the world is Polly?

In the June newsletter, I announced a contest – Where in the World is Polly? I’m not ready for you to do anything yet, but you should be taking pictures this month of a Bellingwood cover in the world.

Pull a cover up on your e-reader or use a paperback. It can be any of the Bellingwood books. Hold it up at the beach or a concert, your back yard, a garden, in your favorite chair, from a mountain top, at a restaurant, with your best buddies. All I want is to see Bellingwood in your world.

Be sure it’s the COVER of a Bellingwood book, not content or text.

Hold on to that picture, because in the July newsletter, I will set everything in motion for the contest.

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Reviews.

Oh, how I hate asking you to write reviews for me, but they help so much, both in increasing the rank so others are made aware of Bellingwood and when I attempt to do advertising outside of Amazon. Everybody wants to know how many reviews you have.

Anyway, I need you and I’m not very good at asking for help. You don’t have to write a lot of words, but you certainly can.

If you’ve written a review that you want me to see, please copy it and post it as a reply or send it directly to me in an email. I’m very careful of reading reviews on Amazon because the bad ones literally spiral me down into a blithering puddle and I spend the next two days questioning why I even bother to write. Now I get myself out of that faster than when I first started writing, but it is still painful to read such terrible things about my heart’s passion. No matter how I try to avoid reading the bad reviews (because I know they’re not good for me), it’s like watching a train wreck – I can’t look away.

I appreciate you so much and that you take the time to read my books and hang out with me, means the world!

Here’s the link to Book 18 – Just Around the Bend. If you’ve read the Prequel, I’m desperate for reviews on that as well, so click on this link to write a quick one.

Thank you!

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Newsletter and Facebook

If you haven’t signed up for the newsletter, you want to do that today. I’ve got a LIST of things to tell you in the next one. Click here to stay in touch with what’s going on.

Newsletters go out once a month on the twenty-fifth. Every quarter, I announce the new book, but there is so much more – contests, a fifteen-hundred-word vignette, cover reveals, more short story announcements (oh, I have a new one coming in July – you’re gonna love it), and other fun things.

If you haven’t joined the Facebook Bellingwood page, you should. It truly is becoming a bit of Bellingwood online. Wonderful people from all over the world hang out and it is so much fun watching you all start to interact with each other. You’re amazing! If I have fewer words than a blog post – that’s where I put them. I also have a terrible tendency to tease the story while I’m writing the next book.

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Earl adores TB, who barely tolerates all of the attention Earl wants to shower him with. So when I see TB allowing Earl to rest his big ole head on the belly, I smile.

Finally …

Book 19 is being written. My crazy brain is telling me about stories that aren’t even supposed to be in this book, too! I’m building up a list of characters who are planning to show up in Bellingwood in the next few books. Do you have any idea how worn out my brain is from pushing them back until it’s the right time? Imagine having all of these people talking to you whenever you slow down enough to listen.

By the way, if you DO have that many people talking to you, you might want to consider writing stories. Evidently, there are characters desperate to have their tales told to the world and you’re the only person who can do it. No … I’m not kidding.

That’s enough for today. I love you all and am so grateful for you being part of what I’m doing here.

Which One Are You?

Mom, won’t you PLEASE pay attention to me?

I regularly get questions about which of the characters has my personality or characteristics. It finally hit me that I gave each of the five women who comprise my main characters – Polly, Lydia, Beryl, Andy, and Sylvie something of myself. Now while I’ve given them each little pieces of me, they’ve filled out their own personalities. I think these women are familiar because they are so like all of us. You aren’t just a bunch of Lydias or Beryls, but you all recognize something of yourselves in each of them.

Sylvie got some of my fears and regrets – as well as the tenacity to push through them. The other night I was binge-watching NCIS and Ducky said “If you are in hell, keep going.” That made so much sense to me. We all do that. It’s why we’re still here, though I can’t describe much of my life as hell.

But Sylvie represents the part of me that was certain I had my life-plan in place at the age of twenty-one. I had a degree in music education and intended to teach or move right on to get my Master’s degree in Christian Education and Music. I’d spend my life working on staff in churches. Sylvie had a life-plan. She was going to be a nurse. Children and an abusive husband changed her plan.

I didn’t have those, but life changed my plan and I spent the next twenty years running a quick printing shop. Like Sylvie, it was surprising when things changed and I realized that something better was in front of me. I’d spent fifty years volunteering and working in churches – in multitudes of positions both musical and non-musical – too numerous to list here. Things change. Sylvie changed and moved forward. So did I. That’s where the two of our personalities converge.

Andy Saner-Specek. Andy is the part of me that is the introvert (it grows greater as I age, that’s for sure). She is content to be in supportive roles. She is highly organized and makes sure that the people around her are safe and have tools they need in order to live out their dreams. She has plenty to say, but doesn’t need to speak up all the time. Sometimes it’s awesome to just sit back and enjoy the chaos around you.

Beryl Watson. I think all of us would like to think we are Beryl. She’s wacky and wildly creative. On the outside, it looks as if she doesn’t care what others think of her. Beryl is a side of me people will rarely see. If I could have gotten away with wearing the wild clothing she wears, I would have, but it was never appropriate for the jobs I held or the life I lived. I tend to be outspoken at times, but usually get myself in trouble, so I’m more circumspect. But trust me, those words are in my head and it’s all I can do to keep them quiet. The thing with Beryl is that she cares very much what people think of her, so she is quite calculating in how she presents herself to the world. If they’re going to talk about her, she’s going to be in charge of what they say. She’ll own it – before anyone gets a chance to comment. Those who have rejected Beryl in the past hurt her badly and she will never let that happen again if she can help it.

I’m that person. I’m hyper-aware of people’s responses to me and to others. Sometimes I read more into a response than is actually there, but if there is going to be any discussion about me, I want to be the one who has created the conversation.

Lydia Merritt. The part of Lydia that I gave her is her awareness of others. I’m not as hospitable as Lydia is, nor will I drop in on people to take care of them, but I do my best to pay attention to those I encounter – whether online or in person. If there’s a need I can meet without them asking for help, I will do everything I can. Lydia makes me want to be better at that behavior. There are so many other aspects of Lydia that I wish I could apply to myself. Her unfettered generosity is something that I love about her and will always strive to emulate. Oh … and she drives my Jeep.

Polly Giller. I’ve written before that in many ways, Polly is representative of my mother. The one aspect of myself I gave to Polly is her tenacity and willingness to do whatever it takes to get things done. This was a value instilled into us by Dad from a very early age. No matter what, tasks will be completed. If you start something, you stick to it until you are finished. You don’t quit. When you’re ready to be done with something, you make a plan to walk away from it … you don’t just drop out.

Now the things that drive you crazy about Polly are also from my personality. When she whines because it gets to be too much or she gets too nosy or she wants to tell people what to do – well, that’s me. You’ll often notice that she deals with a lot of these things in her head. It’s better that way and while she might seem annoying, it’s her way (my way) of working out the nastiness inside before letting it loose on the world. Who cares if she’s whiny inside her head? She has to work through it.

Also, the story she told about not wearing underwear to school one day in Kindergarten was mine. I was that rebellious little girl who thought she knew better than Mom. I got two blocks from home and ran back crying because I realized how wrong it was. There are a lot of Polly’s embarrassing stories that come from my background.

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Before I close, I need to tell you what happened to me today. I just love people.

I had errands to run and figured I’d head for Ames to do a couple of them and maybe pick something fun up for lunch. Living in the country doesn’t offer many opportunities for fast-food. My Jeep has been absolutely filthy and I hadn’t had time to wash it yet, so I ran through a car wash in Boone and headed east to Ames.

When I brought my car up to speed, it started to shake. Damn it. I pulled up the tire pressure numbers and they were just fine, so I didn’t have a flat. I tried to talk myself into believing that the roads were just that bad. But when I crossed the bridge and took the entrance ramp onto Highway-30, I knew it was me, so I pulled over and called my garage. I love these guys. I trust them completely.

His first thought was that maybe with the heat, one of the tires had a bubble or maybe a belt on the tire had slipped. I was now about 40 miles from the garage in Webster City (Gerber Auto, if you want to know) and I asked if he thought I could make it. Sure, he said, just don’t go very fast. I also knew that if I didn’t make it, they’d come get me. Like I said, I love these guys.

I made it there with no problem. When I got to the counter, Josh smiled at me and told me they’d take care of me – not to worry. Then … the owner came out and took my keys. He wanted to drive it to see what the problem was. For some crazy reason, I told them that I’d just come out of a car wash before it started. The next question was – you drive a lot on gravel, don’t you? Of course I do.

The owner took the car out, then brought it back and drove into a bay. They knocked out about two pounds of mud that had gotten caught up in behind brake calipers. He drove it again and returned to tell me it was driving smooooooth now. When I tried to pay, Josh glared at me and said, “You’re welcome.”

Of course! Thank you!

I went back out to my Jeep, drove away and just wept. THIS is Iowa-nice. For a girl who knows nothing about cars, I am grateful for a garage who treats me with respect and the guys who take every opportunity to teach me something new so I don’t have to rely on them. I know how to wash the undercarriage of my Jeep now. But they also told me it would happen again and they’d take care of me the next time.

If you ever wonder why I write stories of good people in Bellingwood, it’s because they are so real in the every day parts of my life.

And … I stopped at Dairy Queen for a pork tenderloin. Oh yeah – that’s another thing Polly got from me.