Category Archives: Writing

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

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.

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!

Of Coffee and M&Ms … or

The Care and Feeding of Your Favorite Authors

Grey (left) and Earl were so cute looking out the window. Then I leaned back to take a picture. Obviously that meant that I needed them to come my way. Cute little buggers.

A week ago, this post had an entirely different focus. But then, I was coming off a rather intense period of twelve – fourteen hour days and a book release. I might have been more than a little whiny. Better that I just keep those thoughts in my head.

Just after publication, I get a huge influx of communication. Most of it is wonderful, some of it is a little critical, but every once in a while, something really awful shows up in my in-box that just rips me to the core. Not with every book release – and not with this last book release. But it happens.

Growing up in a minister’s household … okay, my father’s household … I learned that keeping people in the community happy was a primary goal. So I do everything I can to keep the largest percentage of the population happy. When I discover that I fail – for even one person – it is hard on my soul.

In the beginning of my writing career, nasty (not just reasonable critiques) words would devastate me for an entire week. I’d come up for air, the words would resonate through my head again, and I wondered why I was even bothering.

People on the outside told me to toughen up, grow thicker skin. Seriously – there is no armor strong enough to hold back some of the barbs and lances that are hurled. I often wondered if that person realized that I was a real-live human being with feelings and a heart.

I’ve gotten much better at managing my way through those. The truth is, I rarely read reviews – whether positive or negative – because they mess so badly with my psyche. Even if I’m there to read a positive review, I can’t stop myself from looking at the negatives. They’re a magnet I can’t resist … and I end up staring at the computer screen with my mouth wide open at how much someone hates what I’ve written. I’m just not that polarizing.

Wow … that was a lot of words pouring out over something that’s actually pretty personal. Sorry about that.

Back to the point.

Last week I went to the post office and lo and behold, there was a wonderful package from a friend filled with various flavors of M&Ms. Yep. Perfect snack for the late night writer. Between those and coffee, I can write for hours!

But what else do authors and other artists you follow on Facebook need to sustain themselves?

A. Well, we need you to *like*, comment, and share posts from our FB page. Every time you like a post – as simple as that – the post is exposed to more people. It also helps Facebook know that you want to be engaged with us and they will deliver more of our posts to you. If you feel like you’ve been missing things – the way to fix it is to re-engage on a regular basis.

B. Sign up for email newsletters and engage with them. Open them, click on the links. If you decide you’re getting too much in your in-box, simply unsubscribe (don’t mark it as spam, that sends us into a tailspin because the provider freaks out that we’re doing something wrong). Authors, artists, musicians – we want to share what we’re doing with you because you’re interested. We spend hours trying to decide what is important to send out, so you can get to know us better and learn what we’re doing.

I send out one email newsletter on the twenty-fifth of every month  to the entire list. The last thing I want to be is intrusive, but I hate for you to miss anything.

Facebook limits how much will be delivered to your feed. Email newsletters show up with detail that you might miss otherwise. For instance, no matter how many times I tell you all that I publish Bellingwood books on March 25, June 25, September 25, and December 25, I get at least one question per day from readers wondering when the next book comes out. It’s not that they aren’t paying attention – they simply aren’t getting that information in front of them. (See what I did there? LOL)

C. Reviews. I despise asking for reviews. It’s enough that you pay to read my stories, I shouldn’t ask you to do anything else. I will never be able to express the depth of my appreciation.

But reviews have become an important part of an artist’s life. Many of us don’t think about writing a positive review, but when we’re upset about a product, we rush to write a one-star review. We want to warn people off a bad product, but don’t think to encourage them to purchase something we love.

Positive reviews are vitally important to us who are artists, authors, musicians … creatives. These increase our visibility and then when people end up on the book page, they encourage those folks to investigate further.  Whether it’s Amazon, Etsy, YouTube or another outlet, being a positive voice in a sea of trolls is important and necessary.

Oh … and unicorns. I like those.

More Business – Character Lists

3277144_origOkay. I’m back. And this time I’m probably going to go a little “Sylvie” on you. You know, the practical, pragmatic, ‘just put it out there and take no prisoners’ Sylvie.

Early in September, I wrote a post about why you can’t find detailed character lists and that wasn’t enough. I’ve had some straightforward questions and some sideways comments about this and I recognize them all. And it’s okay. Don’t apologize or feel bad. You get to ask questions of me. That’s the kind of relationship we have. I’m not mad or upset. Just going to do a little cleanup here.

Like I said before – I get it. Don’t think that I don’t. But for every helpful reason you give me to fix this, what you don’t see are the myriad reasons behind the decisions I make. I’m a smart woman and have been around the sun way too many times. I don’t make decisions lightly – especially about something I am so wholly invested in. I spend a lot of time in thought and contemplation about danged near everything that I do and I make decisions based on what works for thousands of readers, even if it frustrates a dozen or so people.

The thing is – I’m also wholly invested in y’all. You are the reason I write and you are the reason that I am still working to discover a clean solution so that you can get your hands on all of the information you want – whenever you want it.

I understand that re-reading the entire series for a little information about a character is impractical for most people. That’s not a good option. It never was, though some of you enjoy doing that just for the sake of the stories.

Because there are so many reasons, I won’t go into them all. I actually shouldn’t have to. After 15 books and nearly 4 years building this community, I hope that you trust me to do whatever I can to do right by you.

Now, don’t you dare try to build me up in comments by slamming those who are asking for this or offering unhelpful/helpful advice. Stop it. That’s not being a good Bellingwood-ian. We’re a community. I got this.

For those of you who run into trouble remembering a name, or how a character entered the series, I can’t stress enough … ask questions. That whole community thing? You all love talking about these people. It’s the most wonderful thing in the world. The comments from yesterday’s post on the person you’d like to have coffee with are amazing. You really get these people.

So ask us. Or ask me. I guarantee you that I will answer your question faster than you could probably look it up anyway. Send me a message or an email and I will tell you what I can.

Okay … caveat. I’m not awake in the morning. My general hours of business are from about 10:30 am – 2:30/3:30 am. But the FB page is always on and someone is always hanging about.

For those of you who know your characters really well – pay attention to posts on the page that might be asking for a name or a connection or a relationship. Just answer the question for me and all will be awesome.

Be gracious, be kind, be loving, be grateful, be Bellingwood for each other. Because when you are that to each other, you are that to me. There’s nothing more amazing.

And oh by the way, I’m getting closer to a good idea on this list thing. That whole patience thing? It stinks … but it’s a virtue!

I love you guys.

Save

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Bellingwood is You … And Your Favorite Character

Book 1-3 Box Set a 100 dpiThe last couple of days have been spent with copies of my paperbacks for Book 15. This process of signing, creating labels, invoices, packaging, etc., gets a little intense for a few days. I’m not out of it yet. Tomorrow will bring another trip to town with tote bags filled with boxes and packages. My poor postal clerk just gives me that ‘I know it’s my job’ smile when I walk in.

You might be surprised to discover I whine a lot through this process … mostly to the cats. Books are heavy, Books in boxes are heavy and bulky. I have enough arthritis that a day of signing and writing and packaging makes my knuckles hurt.

But the funny thing is, I should never whine. I love my job. Every single part of it. And one of the best parts of packing paperbacks is thinking about each name on the list in front of me as I get things ready to go out.

One of the greatest things about Bellingwood is you. There are some of you who are very active on the Bellingwood page and you have no idea how much I grin when I see your name pop up in my notifications. Whether you leave a comment or simply click the like button, I see you. Now, when we’re in the middle of a big giveaway, I don’t see everyone’s name … that’s a lot of comments and likes. But for the most part, I see you and it makes me smile.

As you get more and more active, I get to know you a little better and it’s fun discovering who you are and what you like. You are all quite unique in how you view the characters in Bellingwood. The things that are important in the series vary from person to person. That’s something that makes this so much fun to write.

So I have a question for you today … which Bellingwood character would you like to have coffee with at Sweet Beans? Don’t pick Polly – she’s not an option. Someone else.

I’m watching. It’ll be fun to see how you respond to this.

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.

Bellingwood Vignette – Book 11, #03

Home Is Where the Heart Is

20150413_170210“Get off, you furry beast,” Beryl grumped. She lifted Miss Kitty from her stomach and put her down on the bed beside the pillow. “What time is it anyway?”

The cat made one more attempt to crawl back into the spot she’d claimed, but Beryl turned on her side to see the clock.

“Six o’clock? Why are you doing this to me? Don’t you know I need my beauty sleep?”

“Meoawrowrow,” came the reply as Miss Kitty pushed her nose into the crook of Beryl’s arm.

“Not funny. Go back to sleep.” Beryl wrapped her arm around the cat and tucked her in, close to her stomach, knowing full well that wouldn’t solve the problem. All she wanted was a few more minutes and maybe she could drift far enough away so the cat’s antics wouldn’t bother her.

“Meowrowrow,” the cat said again, pushing herself away with all her strength. She slithered out from under Beryl’s arms, climbed up onto the woman’s hips and meowed as loudly as she could.

Beryl harrumphed and swung her legs over to the edge of the bed so she could sit up. Miss Kitty followed, staying close to Beryl’s body.

“What in the world?” Beryl muttered. She finally got up and followed the cat to the kitchen. Miss Kitty jumped up on the counter where her food dish sat and looked at Beryl expectantly.

“You have plenty of food in there. You’ve only eaten a little bit,” Beryl complained. She looked down at the nearly empty water dish on the floor.

“You could have just told me,” Beryl said. “If you’d said something last night, we wouldn’t be having this problem right now.” She rinsed it out, refilled it and put it back down. “Is that enough?”

Miss Kitty padded her way over to Beryl and rubbed her face on Beryl’s arm.

“I”m not too happy with you right now. It’s been a long week and now you want attention?”

Beryl had just returned from a week on the east coast. She’d met with several gallery owners and her agent had set up two meetings with large corporate clients. There was some big money available if she wanted to do the work. And she would. She’d learned long ago that staying busy meant keeping the fear-of-going-broke monkey off her back.

Miss Kitty jumped to the floor, wove her way in and out of Beryl’s legs and then walked to the water bowl, sniffed it and hunched down in front of it, waiting for something to happen.

“You’re a strange cat. It’s fresh water. I promise.” Beryl sat down at her table, glancing toward the kitchen door. She wondered if she’d be able to go back to sleep now.

Her agent wouldn’t quit trying to get her to move out east. How long had they been working together? Twenty years now? And he refused to believe that she was happier in Iowa than she could ever be anywhere else. But one week in that chaos reminded her why she loved Bellingwood. There had been meetings and lunches and parties and breakfasts all day long, every day. He assured her that if she lived in the area, those would be spread out to be more manageable, but she knew better. One lunch would lead to another and she’d never have time to actually work.

The parties were the worst. That scene was not a place Beryl was comfortable in. She couldn’t bear the fake kiss-kiss greetings or the blatant self-promotion people did at any cost. In all her years of being part of that crowd, she’d made very few real friends.

She chuckled to herself. She didn’t have many real friends here in Iowa either, she supposed. But it was certainly easier to get a handle on people’s intentions and agendas.

Miss Kitty had quietly been lapping at the water in her bowl and jumped up on Beryl’s lap, nudging her hand. Beryl stroked the cat’s head, down her back, and up the tail. She took a deep breath as her hand rubbed the soft coat over and over. “It’s why I come back here,” Beryl said quietly. “I can be as crazy and wacky as I want and nobody tries to one-up me. They just let me be who I am. No pretense, no fake lovey stuff, just real. I’ll never leave Iowa.”

Before the cat got too comfortable on her lap, Beryl stood up and carried Miss Kitty out of the kitchen, flipping the light back off. Sunlight was coming through the windows, but there were no plans for today, so it wouldn’t matter how late she slept.

Lydia had learned not to call Beryl too early in the morning unless she wanted to get an earful. There were plenty of times the woman didn’t care. Beryl had learned that if Lydia needed her, she needed to wake up and get on board. Now that Andy was happily married, she didn’t call quite as often. Beryl grimaced. It really wasn’t about being married. Andy was busier now than she’d been when she was raising kids and teaching. Between working at the library, maintaining the odd little pop culture museum at Sycamore House, her grandchildren, and responding when Lydia needed something, Andy was always going.

“Old ladies, huh,” Beryl said, sitting down on her bed. She lay back and let Miss Kitty get comfortable on her stomach. “This is the best time of our lives.”

The cat purred loudly as Beryl pulled the sheet over the top of both of them.

“Gonna be okay under there?” Beryl asked. Miss Kitty wasn’t much for being under the covers during the summer time, but they’d missed each other this last week.

This really was the best time of her life. She lived where she wanted to live, had great friends who understood when she needed to hide out and work, but jumped right in when she was free to spend time with them. And that little Rebecca was such a joy. Beryl had never taken a student as young as her, but the child was a sponge. Maybe they really would go to Paris and Venice, to Rome and Cairo together someday. Rebecca continued to talk about it and one day showed up with a travel book for Europe. Beryl would love to travel with someone who saw the world with such joy.

Beryl smiled as she thought about the book she’d brought back. Rebecca would love looking at it. They didn’t have much street art in Bellingwood and graffiti was only seen on the trains flying through Boone. They’d been talking about graffiti and murals that Rebecca had seen on television. Anything to keep that little mind’s creativity at its peak.

The cat moved off Beryl’s stomach and curled up beside her head.

“Okay,” Beryl said. “We’re going to sleep now. Lydia called last night and there was an accident on the highway in front of Polly’s house. You know what that means, don’t you?”

Miss Kitty purred and pulled her paw over her face.

“That’s right,” Beryl said. “It means we’re in for a wild couple of weeks. I can hardly wait. How about you?”

End of the Month Randomness

Way back at the beginning of 2015 (oh, so long ago), I decided that this year instead of New Year’s resolutions, I would build a set of monthly challenges for myself that would stretch my creativity and my tenacity, in some cases.

I challenged myself during the month of April to write a blog post every day and by golly, here it is, April 30 and I’ve met the challenge. Now, I didn’t challenge myself to be intellectual or witty every day … thank heavens. But I wrote.

What do I think about this?

Oh, I’m SO taking tomorrow off and maybe even Saturday (from writing blog posts, not my regular writing). Some wrote years ago that creative (fiction) writing and blog writing are two different animals and it is not easy to try to do both. I will admit to struggling more this month with writing Book 10 than I did during the month of March.

Tomorrow I start a new challenge. I really wish I were more of an artist. My mother was amazing and it annoys the heck out of me that I never managed to be better at this. So, during the month of May, my challenge is to sketch or draw, doodle, color … do something visually artistic. Maybe I’ll scan some of them and you’ll see what I’ve done, but more than likely, I’ll leave them tucked away for myself.

Today has been buggy … annoyingly buggy. The dead fly count is growing rapidly around me. And this morning, a loud buzzing sound in the front window had TB’s attention. I was getting ready to head out to do some errands and when I realized a yellow jacket had managed to get inside (oh, I’m glad I didn’t know this last night, I would never have slept!), I knew I had to deal with it before leaving or I’d worry about TB the entire time I was gone. His demise was achieved with many layers of paper towels between he and me and a quick flush.  As much as I love this place, I’m not what you call a real outdoorsy kind of a girl.

The Bellingwood boxed set is still free – through midnight tonight (April 30). There’s nothing more I love than giving away these books so that people can find their way to Bellingwood. I love that community and those characters so much. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m in this to make a living … but now that I’ve started writing these stories, there’s no way I can stop.

BridgeSpring in Iowa has been absolutely glorious this year. While I was out today, farmers were in the fields and a dust cloud was rising across the countryside. Grass is growing and dandelions are popping up everywhere. Love ’em or hate ’em, they’re such a pretty sign of spring. The trees aren’t fully leafed out, but once they are, I’ll lose sight of the bridge. Since I was a child, that bridge signified our arrival at the happiest place on earth (seriously … no, not Disney). Even today, I drive slowly across the bridge, look down the river and then turn my eyes home. I love this bridge.

TB has been exhausting himself every day now that the weather has gotten so beautiful. He goes outside as soon as possible and then about an hour and a half later, he’ll show up and collapse in front of me. I have more energy than ever before … just because I’m not trying to use it all up in my attempt to stay warm. I’m still not outdoorsy … might as well give up trying.

Happy end of April! Tomorrow is a new day!

The Wild Boar Story

IMG_0126One summer, many years ago, we nearly gave away this wonderful place that is my home in the middle of nowhere. After years of growing up here, enjoying vacations and long weekends, learning to swim in the river, building a cabin and spending hours and hours playing in the hillside, Mom was ready to sell and move on.

Why?

Here’s the story …

Dad and Jamie came up for a quick couple of days one summer to mow and clean up the meadow so the place wouldn’t be so out of control for an upcoming two week vacation. Back in those days there were no cell phones and Dad refused to have any type of communication device here at the cabin. When he was here, he was unavailable. Neighbors up the way agreed to take emergency calls for us, but otherwise, he was incommunicado.

This meant that we didn’t hear anything from them until they returned. They had left after youth group on Sunday evening and returned late Tuesday evening.

Two things occurred that Tuesday evening that set Mom on edge. Dad brought in freshly dressed meat and the front of our van had been badly dented. She was pretty upset about the whole thing. She’d worked herself into a frenzy until Dad finally told her what had happened.

He and Jim had stopped at the top of the lane to open the gate so they could drive in. It was late evening when they got here, darkness had set in, but when in the light from the van’s headlights they saw two gleaming, red eyes. Dad heard snorting and and pawing in the dirt. Neither he nor Jim wanted to accost whatever beast was in front of them, but they knew they had to deal with it.

He drove forward and realized that it was a wild boar and it was not going to give way.

Now, Dad didn’t give Mom too many details about the occurrence. They’d gotten home late and he had an early morning prayer breakfast at church. He insisted that she let him go to bed. They’d talk about it the next day.

He went to bed. My brother went to bed. We all went to bed.

Mom sort of went to bed. All night long, she worried about a herd of wild boar living in the woods of the hillside behind us. If she’d been on edge the night before, by morning, she was in a frenzy. As soon as Jamie came down for breakfast, she began questioning him.

Now … Jamie was ready to tell Mom the entire story and he did. He told her how an angry and terrifying boar had pawed the ground in front of them, daring them to charge forward with the van. Dad thought that if he did so, he’d scare the boar enough so that it would run up into the hills and they could get all the way in to the cabin. But it didn’t happen that way. Dad drove forward and the boar held its ground. Finally, Dad and Jim decided that the only thing they could do was to ram it – head on.

It took several tries, but they finally killed the boar, dressed it, and brought the meat home.

Jamie left breakfast to do whatever it was he was doing that day and by the time Dad got home for lunch, Mom was done. She fluctuated between anger and fear. Fear that for the last sixteen / seventeen years, our family had been in danger. Anger that my Dad would put Jamie in harm’s way. As soon as Dad sat down at the kitchen table, Mom demanded that he find a buyer and sell this place. We weren’t going to have anything to do with land that was home to a herd of wild boar.

Dad was flummoxed. What in the world was she talking about? He finally uncovered the story that my brother had spun off of the initial joke from the night before. Jamie had not woke up that morning intending to extend the story, but as any good story teller is wont to do, the moment he saw a sucker, he dropped the hook, set it and pulled her in. Then he walked away, not knowing that her reaction was going to be quite so severe.

It took Dad a while to convince Mom that there were no wild boars in the state of Iowa, much less hiding in the hillside behind the cabin. They had actually hit a deer on the way in, made sure it was dead and then dressed it while they were here. There had been no confrontation on the lane, no one was in any danger.

My brother is still an amazing story teller (he writes books too – check him out at fickledragon.com) and since Mom is no longer around for him to entertain with his stories, he is safe knowing that I will still buy nearly everything he tells me and I will always be entertained by the stories he spins.

However, if you ever hear about wild boar in central Iowa, don’t believe a word of it.