Category Archives: Writing

Happy Birthday, Jamie!

Jim burying Carol in SandNot too many days ago, I walked down memory lane in a post for National Siblings Day. But now, I have a good reason to tell more stories about my brother. It’s his birthday.

He really didn’t have it easy. He came into a family with two little girls who were actually pretty obedient. From the very beginning, he made sure that Mom and Dad weren’t going to just accept easy as the norm. He was the one who had stitches, who broke his arm, who tried to electrocute himself, who got in trouble with … well, anyone. He had no intention of following in our footsteps.

Jim probably has the highest IQ of the three of us, yet his grades totally stunk, because he simply wasn’t going to play that game. When it came time to go to college, Carol and I stuck close to home and Jim said ‘nope, bye-bye’ and left the state. He flat out ignored expectations and forged ahead on his own. No one was going to limit him except himself and no one was going to tell him what to do.

Jim Carol Kadi Charcoal 1968Mom named both me and Carol with the full intention of no one ever shortening our names. It was a deliberate move. However, once there was a boy in the mix, she wanted to honor family members, so James Arthur was named. However, Mom refused to have a ‘Jimmy’ running around in her life, so she is the one who shortened his name immediately to Jamie. Funny thing … we moved to a new community after his freshman year in high school and his independent streak popped out again. The first Sunday after church, when he introduced himself, out popped “I’m Jim. Jim Greenwood.” All of us looked at him in shock and he gave us an “I dare you to challenge me” look. That was it. He was Jim.

He tested Mom’s patience over and over. When we moved into a new parsonage in Sigourney, she found little piles of ash all over our basement where young firestarter boy fed his need for bad behavior. I remember her being quite grateful that the house was still standing.

This boy (and a buddy) poured laundry soap in our local fountain. When one of my best friends was watching them for a week while the rest of us were on a mission trip, he and this same friend … refilled a 2 liter mountain dew bottle (what else looks like Dew?) and put it back in the refrigerator. Fortunately, I have smart friends.

Jim's Room - W. LibertyHe is five years younger than me, which means that until I was out of college, he was just a pain the neck. His pranks annoyed me and I’m sure I was fairly free with my disdain for him. Fortunately, I had a year at home between college and my first job. That was his senior year in high school and we discovered a friendship that had never existed. I’m thankful for that.

Mom died before Jim had a family. I’m sorry she’s missed that. It would have given her a lot of joy to watch him be a dad … all responsible and stuff. As his kids started making their way through the vagaries of childhood into adulthood, I waited for him to tell some of his crazy stories. I wasn’t going to tattle on him, first. I don’t know how many of his mistakes he’s shared with them, but those are part of what turned him into the good dad that he is.

Jim is the best story teller among us. When he starts telling tales, I excuse myself to go to the bathroom first, because I know that once he gets started, I’m going to be laughing and crying without reservation. He’s the only person who has ever put me … literally … on the floor because I was laughing so hard. I can’t believe I survived that night.

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Pressing ‘publish’ on his first book!

We’re having a lot of fun right now – writing books in tandem. It’s been a great experience to share with him. It is nice having someone you trust to share ideas with, knowing they’ll go nowhere else until it’s time to put them out into the world.

If you haven’t found his books yet, you should check him out. He writes adventure / science fiction and the first book in his fantasy series is awesome. Check out his website, but then … like his Facebook page and tell him Happy Birthday. The first book in his Privateer Tales is “Rookie Privateer” and the first in his Guardians of Gaeland is “Lesser Prince.”

Happy Birthday!

Warm, Fuzzy Feelings

IMG_1578You know that feeling you get when the house is clean, the kids are in bed, your spouse is doing something other than needing you to take care of them, the weather is perfect, bills are paid, you’ve gotten enough sleep …

No? Well, neither do I. But I can imagine it.

Sometimes, though, all of those things don’t need to have happened for me to feel contented and happy. It’s really a matter of focus. I don’t have to focus on all of the things that haven’t been done, I concentrate on great things that happen.

Well, maybe not even great things – just the little things that make me smile.

Now, today the house is clean and because it was so cool last night, I slept wonderfully. I have two of those things going for me. That’s a great start.

As I was sitting at my desk feeling all warm and fuzzy, I wondered exactly why that might be. The truth is, it is the community that is building up around Bellingwood. What an amazing group of people you are.

When I see negative, snipey, hostile comments floating around, I sneak in and read your positive words. You are encouragers – if you’re doing this for me, I know it’s part of your nature and you’re doing it for others. You support people – your friends – and often people you’ve never met in person.

I love writing, but more than anything, I treasure the fact that I am getting to know so many amazing people because of what I’ve written. I write the characters in Bellingwood because of the great people I’ve known throughout my life. I continue to write these characters because of the great people I’m meeting.

Thank you for being part of this.

Saturday night in Bellingwood

Things are never dull in Bellingwood … and that means there is always something going on up in my mind.

My husband spent the weekend here in Iowa – we hoped to have lots of sunshine so that he could traipse around the neighborhood with his camera. We had a little bit of sunshine and of course, today storm clouds settled in and we’ve seen nothing but grey and rain.

However, Max did some quick cleanup on a couple of shots from yesterday and one or the other will be perfect for Book 10’s cover. Now all I need is a title … oh, and to finish the book. But, all in good time.

As we were driving toward Boone today, I stopped and said, “This is the Bellingwood corner. The town is just over that way about a mile.” He laughed at me. Every time I drive past it, though, that’s what goes through my mind – it’s the Bellingwood corner. In the last month or so, I drove up from Boone and it was getting dark and I could swear I saw enough lights off to the east for it to be a small town. I think the farmer over there is messing with my brain. Or my imagination is a little out of control.

Then Max asked where Polly had gotten run off the road. Well … the first time, it was on this highway, but the second time was over to the west several miles … on a road that I don’t like to drive because it is so twisty and turny and uppy and downy. It scares me enough that I avoid it. I suppose I should have told Polly that before she made the attempt.

We stopped in at the Tunnel Mill canoe access … just to see if there was anything there that would be good for a picture. The light was all wrong, but the pickup truck sitting in the parking area could well have been Henry’s as he and Polly walked with the dogs back in the woods.

The other day I asked on the Facebook Bellingwood page who you’d like to see me write the next vignette about. It started off strongly for Beryl and soon moved to Eliseo … and then to Jeff. The thing is, I need you to know that these vignettes are just a quick glimpse at something they’re doing while I’m in the middle of writing the next book. I don’t get too in-depth because of the huge number of readers that never get to these stories.

I know you’re desperate for more about Jeff, Eliseo, Sal, Sylvie … everyone. The funny thing? Their stories are pretty organic and will happen when they’re ready to tell me what needs to be told. And, when the story is told from Polly’s perspective, that’s the view you get to see. Jeff’s story will come … and then, another story about him will be told in the future. That’s just the way the series is going to go.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the events in my books happen over the course of a year and we glimpse two – three week sections in each book. Since I intend to be writing these for a very long time, each individual’s story might not happen for a while. I’d been intending to write Aaron’s story since Book 1 – and it didn’t show up until Book 9.

The other funny thing is that I never intended for Jeff to be a primary character. He was there as a support system to Polly. When I first got started, Polly, Lydia, Beryl, Andy and then to some extent, Sylvie were who would figure centrally in the storyline. Well, LOOK how that turned out. Talk about having to keep up with the characters! They had their own agendas and it was all I could do to hold on for the ride.

The same thing with Eliseo. He came in so that Polly had some freedom from the nitty gritty daily work in the barn. All of a sudden, he was a major player in the story. Sal was a link to Polly’s life in Boston – and she decided to move to Bellingwood so she could be part of the books. I needed a librarian and Joss & Nate became close friends with Polly & Henry. These people will not leave me alone.

I have more characters who are clamoring to move into Bellingwood. There’s one right now that might show up at the end of Book 10. I’m trying to get him to hold on for Book 11, but he’s getting pretty noisy. He’s going to move into town and stay and he’s already told me what he’ll do once he gets there. He’s going to frustrate some of you (and that makes me giggle in a big way), but he’s a great guy and I can’t wait to introduce him to you.

Max heads back to Omaha tomorrow morning and I’ll be able to write again. I tell you what. Having things go on in my life is directly proportional to my being creative. If stuff is going on, I’m not writing. So, I’m glad that I have a clean place, my laundry is done, the cover for Book 10 is in process and … tomorrow it all stops and I go back to work.

First thing = a short little vignette about Jeff. Because he’s a hoot!

Oh, here’s a little hint (about 20%) of the cover I’ll be using for Book 10.
Book 10 cover hint

Fiction or Real Life?

Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between what is real and fiction in the stories I tell. Now, you hope that if I’m telling a story about my past, it’s real … but who knows, my mind has probably exaggerated some parts of the story for so long, I believe the whole story.

A friend who reads my raw, unedited, messy chapters as I write, asked the other day if a specific incident was real or pure fiction. While it hadn’t happened to me, the story was true – it happened to someone else I know.

Now before you start trying to discern which stories are mine and which are not … just assume they’re all fiction. It’s easier on me. Because if all of these things happened to me or to my friends, we’d be a mess.

For starters, the purple underwear incident on the steps of Sycamore House is pure fiction. And trust me, all of the dead bodies that Polly finds are figments of my imagination (or are they? 🙂 ).

~~~

460582_10150684309358485_1985501787_oI was out and about yesterday, driving into town to take packages of books to the post office and then down to Boone to visit my friend, Susan.

You know that used / new bookstore that Rebecca and Andrew like to visit in the books? It’s a real place and owned by one of my high school friends.

Now I know that we live in a small world and when you all come from the same state, the world gets even smaller, but imagine my surprise several years ago when I discovered one of my close high school friends owned a bookshop not 25 minutes from where I was hanging out.

We’d graduated from high school in Sigourney – down in southeast Iowa. After college, she moved to Louisiana and I ended up in Omaha. We lost touch for years and years. Then … I discovered she had returned to Iowa and ended up in Boone – owning a bookstore for heaven’s sake.

That little piece of reality had to show up in my writing.

When I was in yesterday, I dropped off a few books and as I waited while she worked with a customer, I watched two young kids wandering the store, picking out books to purchase. They each had a handful of cash and were excited as they selected their titles. While they were a sister and brother and a little younger than Andrew and Rebecca, it didn’t take much for me to imagine Polly watching as those two kids made their choices and proudly bought their books.

Susan at “The Book Shoppe” (on Story Street, by the way, in Boone) loves to greet new customers. If you’re ever driving around central Iowa … stop in, say hello, and tell her you know me. Here’s hoping she doesn’t share any embarrassing memories.

You can see her website here and go ahead and ‘like’ her Facebook page. You never know what she has to say.

When fiction meets reality …

Cleaning? Or Writing … Easy Choice.

I should be cleaning today.

No, you don’t need to tell me I deserve a day off, because that’s not really true. I should be cleaning today. It’s one of those things I can find a million excuses to avoid. When I’m finishing a book, I don’t have time to clean. When I’m editing – oh my goodness, who has time to clean? When I’m sewing, oops, I forgot to clean. When I feel old and decrepit, I have no energy to clean.

Consequently … I feel a bit like a nineteen year old stereotypical college boy in his first apartment.

May 1993 Jim Matt Dad Bell's Dell

May 1993. Jim, Matthew, and Dad in the meadow. I have no pictures of Jim in college. LOL. Probably safer that way.

I love telling stories on my brother. Because this is not who he is any longer … so far from it. It’s amazing what a gaining a wife and children will do to a fellow.

He went off to Kansas City to college, absolutely thrilled to be far from home. He finally invited me to come visit him for a weekend. We were going to play some Dungeons and Dragons (we were those heathen minister’s kids), and I would meet his buddies. It was going to be great.

I knew one of his buddies from home. He was there learning to be a mechanic. Jim was in computer science and I have no memory of their third roommate. The weekend went by in a fuzzy flash and maybe someday I’ll tell you about the rest of this story. Because … partying and drunkenness might have been seriously involved. I was old enough to know better, but still easily influenced by my younger brother.

Anyway … back to cleanliness.

That first evening, I walked into an apartment where at least two boys (seriously, was there a third roommate here?) who had just left home for the first time resided and were living the life. I got the nickle tour.

A carburetor on the kitchen floor. Well, Aaron was working on a project for school. I could just about accept that, but seriously? The kitchen? They’d washed the dishes and otherwise the kitchen was pretty clean. Then, I went into the bathroom … and died. Neither the toilet nor the shower had seen cleaning solutions since they’d moved in. No matter how much I needed to use that room, I walked back out and asked for 409, Comet … anything.

They had to go to the store (insert gales of laughter here).

I finally scrubbed both to acceptable usefulness and we went on to have a great weekend. My cleaning made the next part of the weekend much easier … just saying.

You know, it just occurred to me those years offered my first editing job for my brother. He didn’t write too many letters – ever, but we exchanged a few missives. I red-penned one of his worst and sent it back to him. I might have killed his desire for writing letter, but at least I didn’t destroy his desire to write.

If you haven’t checked out his science fiction and fantasy novels, there are plenty of good stories there to entertain you while you wait for the next Bellingwood book.

His website is at Fickle Dragon and check out (go ahead, ‘like’ it, because why wouldn’t you?) his Facebook page.

We still play Dungeons and Dragons and he still likes to watch me get drunk. Nothing has changed, except for the fact that he lives in a nicely cleaned home and I don’t have to clean toilets before I use them. I’d like to think that he grew up a lot, but it might have something to do with the fact that he married a woman who insists on a certain level of cleanliness in the bathroom.

Oh, and look at that, I just avoided cleaning … again!

To Infinity … and Beyond?

20150402_133336Okay, maybe not as far as infinity, but at least for the foreseeable future, Bellingwood stories will continue to be told. My story-arc is a lifetime … not an event. Polly started as a 32 year old woman. She’s only begun to live her adult life!

I can’t imagine not writing these books and lately, it’s been all I can do to keep up with what’s going on in my head. Every once in a while I struggle to write, the plot lines escape me and I have to push myself to work through them, but much of the time, it’s as if I’m holding on while the characters tell me what needs to happen.

Many of you have asked when Book 10 will be out. The short answer is … June. While I know that you’d love for me to release a book every week so you never run out of things to read, that makes my head hurt! Haha.

I’ve always known that I was organized and appreciated a good schedule, but as I grow older, I realize that was just the tip of the iceberg. I’m seriously OCD about these things. It might take time for me to put a comfortable schedule into place, but once I’ve worked through it, it’s there to stay. At least until I come up with something better.

So … what that should tell you is that there will be regular releases of books in the Bellingwood series. I’m finally comfortable with the schedule and now that I’ve set it up, I will move heaven and earth to stick with it. You can count on four books a year. Release dates will hit in March, June, September, and December.

Now, the other thing you can probably count on (because I’m organized, OCD, schedule-oriented – whatever) is that I will hit on or close to the twenty-fifth day of those months for an exact release date. Why? Because I’ve already put that day of the month in place for the email newsletter. Since I already have a tool that announces information, why wouldn’t I use it?

As I write, I’m laughing at myself. There are so many other things about what I do with regards to writing that are just OCD enough to be ridiculous. I don’t know that I’m ready to admit to all of them yet, but you know me … they’ll come out in a fit of truth-telling along the way.

Side note: I’m as evil and rotten as I am OCD about schedules. Does the picture at the top bother you because there are only seven of the nine books there and because they’re out of order? Yeah, those things don’t actually bother me, so it’s fun to mess with the rest of you.

All Drained Out

IMG_2546I slept really late this morning, curled up around my cat. The weather cooled down again and I sleep so well when that happens. TB is an odd little wonderful cat. He has different zones for sleeping depending on what time of the night it is. He starts out under the blankets and then wakes up with the dawn (I think it’s ingrained in him, how does he even see that from under there?) After wandering the house and doing everything possible to wake me up, we settle back in for the second half of our night (by the way, you read that right. When I don’t start sleeping until 2:30 – the second half starts about 7:30 am).

At this point, TB doesn’t want to go under all of the blankets. If I lift them for him (which he requires, by the way) he’ll wait … and wait and wait and wait. No, what he wants is to be just under the top comforter. A blanket and the sheet is between he and me. But truthfully, I’m fine with that – his little paws and claws aren’t stretching out on my poor legs, startling me awake.

There is something about him curled up behind my legs or in the crook of my tummy, depending on which side I’m on. His purring, his heat, the weight of his little body – all combine to send me into the deepest sleep ever. And out I go.

This morning I was drained, though and did not want to get up at all. It wasn’t that I’d done anything terribly difficult or laborious the last couple of days. While the actual publishing of a book is a chore, it’s not that big of a deal. But the emotions that surround putting it out there for the world to have are really something else. It isn’t about excitement or congratulations or any of that, it’s just … emotional.

I planned better this time around than I have for any of my other book releases. I chose to sew and spend the day chatting with readers. It was a great day, but even so, I was exhausted when I finally went to bed … and if I didn’t know myself better, I would have thought I was crazy to be so tired, but even at the age of 50 *cough*, I’m still learning how I respond to different things.

The afternoon is getting so much better. My brain is turning back on. I’m mid-way through Chapter 14 of Book 10 (well past 50%) and already starting to think about a couple of characters and activities for Book 11. Polly’s stories are always messing around in my mind, no matter what else is going on.

GiraffeSpeaking of sewing … I made a giraffe yesterday. I love him. Some changes I’ll make the next time around, but this was fun. Other than quilting – what are some of your favorite crafty things to make when you’re at your sewing machine! I need ideas! Send me pins on Pinterest or comment with your favorite sewing websites. I’m dying for fun, new ideas to occupy my fingers while my brain is working out a plot line.

I’m totally looking for a great stuffed doll and I want a cool dog that is not a dachshund (have one of those). I have yarn to make a doll’s hair … so, something that is simple and like dolls that were made nearly a century ago. I don’t have all of my skills back yet, but practice makes perfect, right! Whee!

Pages of the Past – Book 9

Book 9 100 dpiIt’s finally here! Took me long enough, right? What a fun ride this is that I’m on. Click on the book cover to order your Kindle copy.

In Pages of the Past, we spend more time with Aaron and Lydia Merritt, two of my favorite people. Since I introduced the characters … long, long ago, I’ve been wanting to uncover how they met and where Aaron came from. We already know that Lydia grew up in Bellingwood.

One theme I will probably never get enough of is that we can always do something to help one other person. We don’t have to do everything, but we can do something. The impact we can have on a person’s life with just a small gesture or something we might consider inconsequential is often huge for them. Jeff and Henry tease Polly about trying to rescue the world, but she does it one person at a time – mostly by paying attention and offering what she has. These are things I learned growing up with my parents. It didn’t take much – sometimes only a meal – but the impact on another’s life was a big deal.

If you received the email newsletter, you got the fourth and final vignette for Book 9. I put my head on the pillow for a nap last night and all of a sudden, I realized which set of characters wanted to tell a story. I wrote it and laughed all the way through. There is just something about siblings, isn’t there? You love ’em and hate ’em all at the same time – when you’re a kid.

However, I will apologize for the spelling error. If you didn’t catch it, good for you – you just enjoyed the story. If it bugged you and you couldn’t enjoy yourself, I’m so sorry. There’s nothing worse. I love language, words and grammar. I spend enormous amounts of time reading, studying and learning about those things. And … I screw up.

This is why I will never promote myself as a grammar / spelling Nazi. I’m too prone to make my own mistakes and the last thing I want to do is set myself up as better than someone else. I have a lifetime of learning behind me. The lesson? As soon as I get arrogant, I fall flat on my face. Every single time. If that’s not a lesson you’ve ever had to learn – I’m happy for you. But humility is a close companion of mine. If I don’t live that way, humility seeks me out.

If you signed up for the email newsletter and haven’t received it, let me know and I’ll send you a direct link. If you haven’t signed up and would like the latest issue (which gives you links to all of the vignettes), let me know that too and I’ll hook you up.

Be sure to join us on the Facebook Bellingwood page (click HERE). There are contests and conversations, fun and laughter. I love sharing the journey of writing and publishing these stories with you.

One More Day

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It’s lonely and needs my attention.

Today … I’m finishing formatting, making last minute changes (because I forgot something in the acknowledgments), building the email newsletter, entertaining the cat (every day … every day), looking for my mind.

Tomorrow … Day off. I will clean up my computer’s desktop – whoa, lots of things build up on there while I’m working on a project. I’m going to watch all of the television shows that have built up over the last couple of weeks, go to the grocery store and post office, sleep late (oh, I do that already), entertain the cat (I’m telling you – he’s relentless) and SEW!

Picture (2)

Who buys 5 pounds of this stuff? Me. Sigh.

I have a pile of material and patterns – and oh, dear heavens, but I bought a five pound bag of recycled fiberfill. Do you know how big a five pound bag of fiberfill is? I didn’t … until it showed up at my door. That is a LOAD of stuffed animals that need to be created.

The funny thing about me looking for a day off … I’ll still be writing. I find that the nights I don’t spend writing aren’t quite as much fun. My brother and I were talking today about how many stories we want to tell and how limited we are by our linear brains and the fact that we only have two hands to type with. With that hanging over me, I have to write.

So … tonight I have plenty of work to complete before release day tomorrow. I can’t wait for you all to get the book in your hands. I love these characters so much and it thrills me that you enjoy hanging out with them.

The cat is sleeping again – it won’t last long, but it does give me a few minutes of breathing space, which I will use to do something productive.

Book 9 – Final Stretch

Book 9 pictureI woke up this … umm … morning (we’ll just call it that, it was a late night of writing – I mean four o’clock in the morning late. Those are my best nights) and realized how close I am to publishing Pages of the Past!

This last week I have been through the manuscript nine times … some quite quickly, some in other crazy ways and one major edit. I printed it out last night after finishing an edit and decided to take the night off. Well … from editing.

The stuffed heart happened. Monsieur Maurice Le Grenouille (that’s French for frog) occurred earlier this week in a moment of insanity. And yes, they’re only in the picture to frustrate you!

Today I read through the book in an entirely different format, knowing that it will be quite different from screen to paper. I take every opportunity to catch as many errors, changes, oddities, etc., as possible, knowing, of course, that something will be missed.

While I’m reading today, my house is going to smell amazing. This last week has been crazy busy and once I start in on a task, it’s hard for me to come up for air. I managed to get to the grocery store on Tuesday. They had a corned beef. My favorite thing, but this little store only carries them once a year. I bought cabbage, carrots and potatoes and since I am alone, didn’t worry about maybe being a day late for the celebration.

Well, it’s now Saturday and all of the vegetables are cut up and in the pot on top of the beef – it’s simmering away. Maybe I should be wearing green – but I’m not Irish, I just love the dish. The best thing is that I won’t have to think about cooking for several days again. Maybe a loaf of homemade bread for sandwiches – that sounds good.

Making a commitment to write one thousand words a day has been an extraordinary thing for me. Even when I’m too tired to think, I know that I can write at least that much. The best thing is that I rarely write that little. Once I get started, it’s difficult to stop … hence, the four o’clock bed times. I am flying through Book 10.

One thing I’ve been doing throughout the month of March is letting my mind wander and explore new thoughts and ideas for stories. Oh my goodness, I’ve had the best time with this. There are so many things I want to write, but this week all I can think about is finishing the book so I can get it out to you.

The first people who will know about the release are those who receive the email newsletter (sent out on the 25th of each month), so make sure you’ve signed up for it. I’ll announce it on Facebook and Twitter later on during the day.

Off I go with a red pen in hand. It’s going to be a fabulous weekend.