Brave Writers

I find when I am reading nowadays that I read with the eye of a writer. I look for the hook. I look for the transition sentences and paragraphs. I look to see how the authors move the stories along. I look to see how they end a chapter. I no longer just read. Do you do the same thing?

But…but even so, I still love to read. And, I love to write. I really do. I cannot even imagine not writing. I wake up thinking about my characters. They follow me around all the time, tapping me on the shoulder, throwing ideas into my mind’s eye. And that is okay by me. They keep me company. They are my friends…even the dead ones.

The murder mystery I am working on is coming along nicely. It is on its second edit. Hopefully, it will soon be ready to be sent out into the world. That’s always a scary thought. The sending it out. What if no one likes it? What if it’s just not good enough? What if. Such wasteful words.

Here is the synopsis that I have put together. The elevator pitch. The back cover blurb. Tell me what you think. Would you read it? “There is a dead girl on the quiet, South Carolina Lowcountry island called Fripp Island. A dead girl in a bathing suit, coverup, and one pink flip-flop. The three women who discover her body are going to have the devil’s own time trying to find the killer while staying out of the way of the surly police detective. Although, the good-looking, helpful detective is an entirely different matter. Now, when the dead girl shows up and wants to help them find her killer, things really get out of hand. Throw in a kitten, an ouija board, an out-of-control golf cart, and a hermit, and the girls find themselves careening from one end of the island to the other, trying to outrun a desperate killer intent on keeping his secrets silent…and anyone who gets in his way.”

It’s hard to even put that much out into the world. Those wasteful words bounce around in my head trying to take center stage. The corners of my mind try to catch them, but those words can be so elusive, sometimes just a slight echo, other times a clanging gong. Maybe that’s why Hemingway drank. Not that I am comparing myself to Hemingway. Saints preserve. Never would I do that. The truth is that all writers put themselves out there – on display – naked – for the world to see. Is it craziness to do so? Maybe, but I prefer to think that it is brave.

So, today and every day, I bravely write, sometimes sending those words, those stories, my children, out into the world. Hoping the world will be kind just as I try to be kind when I am reading with that writer’s eye, thinking about all that went into that story…how brave that writer was.

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A Great Writer – New to Me

Oh, my word. I am having the best time reading a new author. She is a wonderfully Southern writer. She writes cozy mysteries. Thankfully, there are ten of them in this series; sadly, I am almost finished with the second one. Which means that there are only eight more to go. She really knows the South Carolina Lowcountry, and Charleston, in particular. She has nailed the people, the sights, the smells, and the eccentricity of the people.

Well, I guess you would like to know who I am talking about, don’t you? Silly, me. Of course, you do. I am talking about Susan M. Boyer. My friend from Greenville, where Mrs. Boyer lives, told me that I just had to read her Liz Talbot series. She was right. I simply adore the series. They are bright, clearly written, fast-paced, hysterical reads. The murders are convoluted enough to keep you guessing but controlled enough that you don’t get bogged down trying to figure things out.

Liz gets in more scrapes than any modern character I can think of…and she does it on a small barrier island just off Charleston. You would think Mrs. Boyer would run out of interesting characters on an island with a contained population, but, no, there is plenty of crazy populating that island. A psychic godmother, a proper southern mother, a good-old-boy-gun-toting father, an overprotective brother, a New-Age cafe owner. Well, the list goes on…and on…and on. 

Did I mention that Liz is a private eye? No? Well, she is. And she is mighty good at it. I love that part the best. She is not local law enforcement, so she can bend the rules on occasion. Okay, she strolls right on past “bending”, but we don’t mind in the least. I love that she enjoys skinny-dipping in the ocean at dawn. You have to like someone who doesn’t take herself so seriously.

The first book is Lowcountry Boil, and the second one is Lowcountry Bombshell. That’s right. Each book has “Lowcountry” in the title. I am really looking forward to Lowcountry Boneyard, the third book. Who knows what mischief Liz will get into next.

If you haven’t read any of her books, yet, now is the time. If you’ve already read all ten of them, hush now, don’t give anything away. 

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An Intentional Traveler

Traveling is like writing. At least, for me it is. I plan out where I am going and how I am getting there, just the same as I write. I am a planner, not a pantser. Writing, like traveling, is a complicated process. I have certainly written more in the past year than I have traveled. That, however, is about to change.

Soon, my husband and I will finally be traveling again. We are just so thrilled to be able to go places once more, but we have decided to be more intentional in our travels. We have decided that the journey must be just as important as the destination. To that end, we have decided to fly to Chicago and then take the train to San Francisco to see our daughter. 

I have traveled by train on the East Coast a number of times, but I have never traveled west by train. I think it will be exhilarating…or terrifying…to travel over the Rocky Mountains by train; to travel through long tunnels that split mountains in half. I am looking forward to seeing so much of our great country through the train windows; well, perhaps not when in a tunnel.

I love traveling by train in Europe, and have done so for years and years, but, somehow, when traveling in the United States, we almost always fly. It is quick,  sort of, but not very fun anymore. It does take off on time, sometimes. It is very impersonal, though there is often someone to talk to. Well, at least there used to be…now everyone is too afraid to talk to anyone else, even masked.

The truth is, there are other ways to get to one’s destination without flying. So, we are going to try some of those other ways. Trains, boats, ships, cars, trollies, and trams are all on our list for the next year or two. We want to enjoy the travel, savor the time. We do not want to rush from one place to the other; we want to see everything.

Maybe, we want to see everything because we have seen nothing for more than a year. That is true. But…but, maybe, we have realized that we must treasure the opportunity to see between the departure and the arrival. To be intentional. To be an intentional traveler…just as I am an intentional writer.

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Finding Words in the Garden of Life

I write all the time, every day, even at night. I love words and how they flow across the page. I love to write for children, for tweens, for adults. My world is filled with words. A few years ago my beloved mother-in-law was diagnosed with dementia. It is a terrible disease. I watched it rob her of her present and then her past. I watched it rob her of her happiness, her contentment. But, it also robbed her of her words, and, to me, that was the saddest part of all. To not be able to call up the words to describe something, to tell a story, to simply ask for something. I cannot imagine not having words…but I know the pain of a loved one not having those words. The pain of their life slipping away into forever, where there are no words.

So, this year as I planted my flower gardens, I decided to be intentional about my gardens, about my plantings. I planted a gnome garden to remember my children’s childhoods. I planted an herb garden to remember my grandmother and her wonderful gardens and her kitchen that smelled so delicious as she cooked the fruits of those gardens.

Then, I did something special. I planted a memory garden to remember my mother-in-law. I planted Zinnias in the back to represent her at her best – tall, straight, bright. Zinnia’s symbolize important friends/people who are absent. Next, I planted Mardi Gras Coreopsis to represent her happy nature. Coreopsis’ symbolize a cheerful nature. Then, I planted French Double Dwarf Marigolds to represent her ancestry and her love for her husband and son, and later her love for her two granddaughters. Marigolds symbolize joy and optimism, but they also symbolize mourning. She always remembered family who had gone before her. Finally, in the front, I planted alyssum. Those delicate flowers always remind me of her English porcelain skin and white-blond hair. They remind me of her. They represent all that was good in her. Alyssum symbolizes beauty and serenity.

As I walk the pea-stone walkways in my garden, I am reminded of words. The old Royal typewriter sitting on the table in the conservatory. The little garden signs with cheerful sayings. The garden flags with silly sayings. (Come wine awhile) I walk past my mother-in-law’s memory garden and words spring unbidden to my mind. Descriptions of her, the stories she told, the stories I told. Words follow me on the faint breeze, across the marsh, through the tinkle of the fountains as I wander the garden.

Words make up such a massive part of a writer’s life. We spend so much time writing them on plain white paper, the backs of envelopes, recording them in little notebooks. But we don’t have to just write them down, capture them from the ether. We can find words everywhere in life, especially if we take time to smell the flowers.

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Looking for Kindness in Books

I have been reading a lot of books over the past year; after all, there hasn’t been a whole lot going on, so reading was an easy escape. One thing I have noticed is the number of recently published books that have difficult endings. Sad endings. Tragic endings. Rip-your-heart-out endings. It is exhausting reading those books.

What happened to happily-ever-after books, uplifting books, gentle books. Why does every newly published book have to be gut-wrenching? Is that what publishers think we want? Is that a reflection of society? Do people really enjoy those books? Is that all there is?

I just finished a book for my book club in which the protagonist died at the end of the book. Talk about a let-down. We suffered through the entire book, suffering with her through everything she went through…only to have her die at the end. She had no happy ending. She didn’t get the bad guy. She didn’t walk into the future with her head held high. She just died…and left her two young children orphaned. Really? Really?

I thought it was one of the worst books I have ever read, and it is on the New York Times best seller list. We were evenly divided in my book club as to whether or not people enjoyed the book. One participant asked, “where is her happy ending?” It appears that the author thought the protagonist didn’t need a happy ending – and that we, the readers, didn’t either.

What does that say about authors, publishers, and our society. Are we really so jaded that we don’t need happy endings, or at the very least, satisfying endings. I love it when the good guy wins and the bad guy gets it in the end. Maybe that is my issue…that I want a satisfying ending. Maybe that was just the way I was raised, after all Lassie and Timmy saved the day every week. And so did the rifleman. And Charlie’s angels. And Rockford. And Agatha Christie. And Dell Shannon. And David Baldacci. And Janet Evanovich.

Maybe, I want what no longer is. Maybe, life is not fair, or just, or kind. But when I read a book, I don’t want reality. I want a great story that catches me up with it and takes me to a whole new place. A place of goodness and mercy. A place where right trumps might. A place where I can let my guard down and just enjoy. Maybe, I just need to look harder for such books. Do you know of any? If so, please share. Let’s all look for kinder, gentler books with great stories. Maybe we can change the world…one book at a time.

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Traveling When I Can Where I Can

Travel is still up in the air for most of us. I have two trips to France planned for the later part of the year…hopefully, those will happen. I have a trip planned soon for St. Thomas (US Virgin Islands), but that one is looking “iffy”. Two trips have already been canceled for this year so far and moved to next year…they should be fine. It should be fine to travel by then. Right?

So, in the meantime, I am traveling short distances for short amounts of time. Like this week. This week, I am at Edisto Beach, South Carolina, a short drive from home. I am with my college girlfriends and we are all celebrating our “Big Birthday Year” together…at the beach…with lots of cake…and bellinis…and masks. The good times are rolling!

Travel is supposed to be fun and rewarding. Both are true about this trip, but it has a deeper meaning, too. We have lost members of our class. We have learned to treasure our differences and enjoy our time together. Life is short…and at our ages, it is getting shorter.

So spending time together, without the headache of air travel, with the beach as our background, is a win-win for all of us. We have a house on the front beach – a bit of an expense, but well worth it. The sound of the surf lulls us to sleep at night and wakes us twinned with the bright sun in the morning. We step off the porch and into the sand, walking the beach just after sun-up. The light breeze chills us until the sun’s rays strengthen and warm us. We speak softly enjoying the early morning quiet. Soon enough everyone will be awake and talking…and talking…and talking. 

What fun it is to reminisce about our college years at our small South Carolina Presbyterian college, Erskine College. There were great days, good days, bad days, and truly horrible days mixed together in those four years. They helped shape and define us. We were all touched by those years. We are better people because we shared that innocent time together. Now, we share our “golden years” together. Remembering, talking, laughing, and even crying. Life can be hard, unfair, disappointing. But, it can be happy, fun, and peaceful. There is a balance.

Travel is a part of that life, a part of that balance. We are together, traveling from our individual worlds to our shared world. And, in life, being together is one of the most important gifts we can give ourselves and each other. So, my friends, go…travel…whenever you can…wherever you can.

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Who Can Write What?

I am concerned. Actually, I am more than just concerned, I am really worried. I have just discovered that editors and agents will not consider a manuscript with a person of color as the main character(s) unless a person of color writes the book. That applies to fiction and non-fiction. I understand that we desperately need more people of color as authors, but how many books about truly important people of color will not get written now because the people who are intrigued enough to write about them are not necessarily people of color?

I was a reading specialist and spent twelve years in a high poverty, high minority school. We were 92 – 100 percent poverty and 96 – 98 percent African-American. Those children desperately needed to learn about the truly incredible people of color who have done so much throughout history.

I taught my students about Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, George Washington Carver, Ernest Just, and, of course, Martin Luther King, Jr. I taught them about the great women of color who changed our world for the better. Women like Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Maya Angelou, and Madam C. J. Walker. I offered them the opportunity to see how people of color have influenced history, changed history, made history.

Some of the books I used were written by people of color, but many were not. Did it make those books less important? Less factual? Did the people contained in those books count for less, because their place in history was being shared by a person not of color?

I don’t have the answers. I don’t profess to be the expert. What I do know is that I want peoples of color’s stories to be shouted from the roof-top, from the mountain-top, so everyone will know them, their stories, and their places in history. Isn’t that the most important thing?

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We Learn From Reading, Don’t We?

When we read, we learn things. At least, that is what I always told my daughters when they were growing up. The truth is that we can read many different things and still learn very little. After watching the crazy-show of the last election, one thing I learned was that one can read anything – and everything – slanted to fit one’s perspective. By reading only left or right leaning articles, one can actually learn very little of value.

I know that sounds jaded, or defeatist, or maybe just sad, but the truth isn’t always out there – or, at least, not easily found. Sometimes, it takes work to read between the lines, to find a buried article, to locate the truth. It is important, though, that we continue to read until we find those nuggets of truth…no matter how difficult it might be.

Far too many people read only Facebook memes, slanted to confirm a thought or slanted to force an emotion. They spend their entire lives screaming about how unfair life is, how the “other side” is out to get them, to get someone. Yet, they never go looking for primary sources, the real facts.

I had a graduate professor once tell me (in an educational statistics class) that one can skew any data to follow the path one wants. She was correct, of course. We really can skew the data to say what we want. But…But, should we? Doesn’t everyone have a responsibility to share data clearly, cleanly, without bias? Or is bias so ingrained, so prevalent, that there is no way to be truly unbiased?

I guess the only way to answer that is to take the time to read things in total, from the original source. To check out “facts”, and then double-check them. I believe we have a responsibility to do exactly that. Although, sometimes, I think I am tilting at windmills; hopeful in a hopeless world. I am always looking for people who think as I do, who want to know “just the facts, ma’am” (like on Dragnet). Am I all alone out there? How about you? Do you read for the unvarnished facts or for the slanted facts?

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Traveling Close to Home

We had some friends come visit last week from California so we took them all over Charleston. They had never been in the South, South Carolina, or Charleston. We had a wonderful time being tourists in our own town. We went to Middleton Plantation, the Tea Farm, Angel Oak, Deep Water Winery. We spent the day downtown Charleston and went on a carriage ride, took the boat to Fort Sumter, had supper at Tommy Condon’s while listening to Carroll Brown sing wonderful Irish pub songs. We wandered all over Mt. Pleasant and Sullivan’s Island, including Ft. Moultrie. We ate at Poe’s Tavern on Sullivan’s Island and Henry’s downtown.

It was so much fun to be able to go out and see things. To enjoy the great out-of-doors. To spend time with dear friends. To just be. This past year has been hard on everyone, not visiting, not traveling, not doing. Zoom calls and Duo happy hours are great in a vacuum but never really take the place of togetherness. Don’t you agree?

As more and more people become vaccinated and feel comfortable going out and being around people, we will see more and more people out and about, traveling, going here and there once again. I can’t wait. I love traveling, going almost anywhere. We have trips planned for later in the summer and into the fall, but for now…for today, it is wonderful just traveling close to home.

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Writing Through the Confusion

I have obviously lost my mind. Hmmm, last week I wrote about Lost Charleston and this week I have decided that I have lost my mind. I believe a theme might be arising…maybe…or maybe I am just nuts. There is every possibility.

At any rate, I write sweet romances and cozy mysteries. I write true-life stories for Chicken Soup for the Soul. I do not write non-fiction biographies. Ever. Never ever. And yet. And yet. And yet, I have started a biography about a free black man who was born free in Charleston, SC before the American Civil War. He led a fascinating life. His descendants have lived fascinating lives. I am not ready to share his name…you will have to wait for that.

Even though I am thrilled to be writing it, I am finding it difficult going. Do I write a dry biography? Or a creative non-fiction biography? Or a narrative non-fiction biography? Do you see my dilemma? What do I do? Who knew there were so many ways to write a biography.

Of course, I am good at writing fiction. Maybe, I should write a historical fiction…a fictional character thrown into his life. That actual would be the easiest of the bunch. But. But, I never go the easy route. Do you?

Can you imagine being a little black boy in a city filled with black enslaved people? Can you imagine his mother, a freed black woman, and her fear for her children? How about a free black child’s education. So many interesting ways to write this. So many angles. So much material.

However, the clock ticks its relentless journey through the day. So I must get to my writing…as soon as I decide how I am going to write this book.

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