Morning Coffee: Traditions

001The holiday season is here! The holidays have arrived along with a long list of traditions followed religiously in every brightly lit home you pass. Some traditions we love, while others we hate but continue despite our feelings because…well…just because.

Traditions are what form our childhood memories. Traditions are what bind us to one another, for good or for bad, and give our celebrations meaning.

There are the dinners, the feasts that would please even the heartiest eater, food that takes days to prepare and only hours to devour. We always know which aunt we can count on to bring the green bean casserole, which cousin brings the same jello salad every year. Remember the lime jello with grated carrots that magically appeared at every holiday table in the ‘70s? There are the pumpkin pies that are eaten down to the very last crumb, and the fruitcakes that get secretly fed in bits and bites to the dog hiding under the table. (Personally, I love my mother’s fruitcake.) One of the best movie dinner scenes is National Lampoon’s Holiday Vacation. Now that’s a family holiday dinner!

Then there’s the alcohol. Whether your preference is wine, beer, or hard liquor, it doesn’t matter. There’s never any lack of liquid courage. The courage to sing when you don’t know the words and are completely tone deaf, the courage to tell someone you love them and don’t know what you would do without them, or, the most dangerous courage of all, the courage to tell someone just what you think of them and their ugly holiday sweater and their disgusting jello salad or fruitcake, and, by the way, you hate their fat little dog, too.

My favorite Thanksgiving tradition growing up was waiting for the town Christmas lights to come on for the first time. We lived on the street parallel to the main highway that passed through town and every year, as soon as we were done with dinner, we would rush to bundle up and run that one block over before dusk and wait for those lights to come on. That was our signal that the Christmas season had officially arrived and Santa’s visit was not far behind. Now town lights go up and are turned on sometime in early November. At least they still wait until after Halloween.

To all my readers: I wish you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving! May you eat too much turkey, drink too much wine, and have too much fun with your friends and family. But, please, drive responsibly so we can all do it again a month from now.

Morning Coffee: Comfort

001We all seek comfort from time to time, and we all look for it in our own way. Some use food favorites from their childhood, such as meatloaf, mac and cheese, or mom’s tuna noodle casserole. Religion can bring comfort to those who are grieving or lonely. Comfort can be found under an afghan, sitting in front of a warm fire with a favorite book and a glass of wine. Some people prefer to be alone, while others seek out friends. In this holiday season, many of us will find comfort in our traditions: the friends and family with whom we surround ourselves, a special meal, or that pie/cookie recipe only grandma seems to get just right.

After the horrific events in Paris last week we all watched the news footage of Parisians gathering at candle lit memorials, laying flowers, singing, and saying prayers for those they…we…lost. Some of them were loved ones of the dead, others complete strangers who felt the loss as if they were dear friends. Some people cried while others got angry and demanded to know what we were going to do to stop the terror. People all over the world cried or prayed or shouted with them.

My heroine, Mary Bishop, keeps a box of cherished mementos under her bed. Things that remind her of all the people she has lost in her life. There’s a swatch of blue cloth from her wedding dress and the little white baptismal gown worn by both her children. There are two packs of letters. One contains the letters her son Ander wrote to her during the war and includes both the note he left her when he ran off with his friend Robert to enlist in the Confederate army and the letter his commanding officer wrote her to tell of her son’s brave death at Gettysburg. The second pack is the letters she wrote to him, claimed by Robert so they could be returned to her. Also in the box are three tarnished cases, each containing a daguerreotype: Mary’s wedding picture with her family all gathered around the happy couple; four-year-old Ander sitting beside his dead baby sister, Lillian, laid out for burial; Ander and Robert in their new Confederate uniforms off to fight what they believed would be a brief and victorious war. All these loved ones are now gone from her life, held close with these few small trinkets she can look at and hold when she needs to feel them with her.

How will you find comfort through the holidays and after in these trying times? Me, I’ll find it in a combination of everything above: favorite foods, good wine, friends, family, and my belief in a loving God. We’ll remember those now gone with stories, both laughter and tears, but we will remember them.

Morning Coffee: NaNoWriMo

001It’s November and that means NaNoWriMo. For those of you unfamiliar with this annual writing challenge, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. Every November thousands of writers worldwide sign up to see who can write the best 50,000 word novel in 30 days. At the end of the month you download your completed manuscript for judging and the winner is published. Whether you are a plotter or a pantser, it doesn’t matter. One basic rule applies to all. No writing can be done before 12:01am on November 1st, and all writing must cease by 11:59pm on November 30th. You can research, make copious notes, construct elaborate outlines and character sketches, even draw maps of imaginary lands all before the commencement of the competition, but you cannot draft any part of your manuscript proper. The entire contest is run on the honor system.

I’ve been intrigued by the idea of accepting such a challenge, but so far I haven’t had the courage to try. This is partly due to questioning whether or not I’m ready, but also, November just doesn’t strike me as being the best month to hold such a competition. November is the beginning of the holiday season. We’ve just finished with Halloween and are now barreling ever faster toward Thanksgiving and then Christmas/New Years. My house needs to be thoroughly cleaned and meals planned for all the dinner and party guests anticipated. I need to start addressing Christmas cards and purchasing and wrapping gifts, some of which need to be done early enough to be mailed. There are cookies to be baked and tress to be decorated. For many in this area, November is also hunting season. For me, this is not a negative, but could be seen as a positive, since I do not hunt but my husband and most everyone else I know does. This could mean a lot of time alone to write if it wasn’t for the above-mentioned holiday preparations. How about January? No one is partying and our houseguests, like fish, have begun to stink and been thrown out…so to speak. At most, there are decorations to come down, but that can be done in drips and drabs while we ponder our next chapter or plot twist.

Perhaps one day, several years from now when I can retire from my day job (even part time jobs take up time and brain energy) I will plot and plan and then register to give it a try. But may I suggest once more, if you are reading this NaNoWriMo powers-that-be, might we consider January? I can think of no better way to spend those short frigid days of winter than sitting at my computer pretending I’m on a tropical island somewhere drinking an overpriced fruity cocktail with an umbrella in it while the warm azure waves of the Pacific lap at my toes. I might even pretend to take my husband with me, that is, if I believed I could pry him away from the ski slopes.

There’s another question for you. Whoever thought that flying down the side of a mountain on two skinny pieces of wood would be fun? All while trying to avoid trees and other people of questionable judgment and intelligence also riding on two skinny pieces of wood? Ahhhh…but that’s a topic for another blog.

Morning Coffee: Plotter or Pantser?

001That is the question novel writers ask each other. Are you a plotter or a pantser? A plotter is someone who has to outline every detail of their book before they start writing. Then they actually follow that outline to the letter. On the other hand there is the pantser. Pantsters write by the seat-of-their-pants. They just start writing and see where it leads them, worry about the details or questions later. That’s what revisions are for, right?

Me, I fall somewhere in between. I need to know the bare bones of where my story is going or I have trouble finishing it. As for the details of the journey, I discover those on the way. That’s part of the fun. I like to let my characters introduce themselves and lead me as we go along. Sometimes they even argue with me when I try to do otherwise. I use the revision process to then go back and change the details that no longer fit, or add details that I now know are missing. That’s what I’m currently in the process of doing, and some of that will take some advance outlining.

Take for example my current novel, “Mary Bishop”. It’s a romance, but I didn’t know that when I started writing. Mary insisted on dictating that first chapter to me and I went with it. It opens on a cold November day in 1880 with the funeral of her husband Earl who has committed suicide. I didn’t know why Earl committed suicide other than something happened with the townspeople that was the final straw in his spiraling depression. I knew Mary was a fighter and she was going to do something about it, not let them bring her down, too, but I didn’t know what she had in mind. I didn’t know how it was going to end. I don’t think Mary knew how it was going to end.

Then something shocking happened. My characters took over. Mary arrives at the Christmas Eve church service last minute to find the only empty seat is in the front pew. With her head held high she walks past the townspeople, their whispers following her all the way up the aisle. Once seated, the man sitting next to her takes her hand and wishes her a Merry Christmas. She looks up, surprised to see it is a friend, Oliver Polk, and surprised at her own reaction to his touch. It is only a month since her husband’s death and I, too, disapprove of Oliver’s boldness. I try repeatedly to rewrite that part, telling Oliver that such familiarity is inappropriate. He won’t let me delete the touch. I ask him, but what would your wife think of such a thing? He asks me in return, what wife? I reply, the wife sitting right next to you. And he informs me, my wife died five years ago and I have been in love with Mary Bishop for a long time now. I’m stunned! My novel suddenly turned from a dark tale of revenge to a romance about a second chance at love.