Morning Coffee: Life Happens

Dickens“Life happens”, or so they say. It’s true. Sometimes life gets in the way of us doing what we want to do. We want to be writing but we have to go to work, one of the kids is sick, the dog needs to go to the vet, or it snows two feet and after hours of shoveling you can hardly move let alone think. That was no doubt the problem for many writers across the east coast this past week.

In most cases we just have to resign ourselves to the interruption and do what we must knowing there will be time to write later. But, rather than give up entirely, use this time to observe. We are surrounded every day with sights and sounds that could build a life-time of stories. You never know, you might find the answer to your plot problem, or your character question, in an overheard conversation on the bus or at the next table in the café. Don’t let anyone suggest you’re wasting time by reading a book when you could be writing yours. Tell them you’re studying the methods of another writer in order to strengthen your own.

As for that snow storm, that is a blessing in disguise. Yes, if you can’t get to work that means the kids can’t get to school. Bundle up with them and go outside and play! When was the last time you built a snowman, or an igloo? When was the last time you packed a snowball in your hands and surprised someone with a thunk in the back? Be a kid again. Go sledding or ice skating. I bet you’ve forgotten what it’s like to feel that icy wind in your face as you fly down a fresh snow-covered hillside. Later you can go for a walk with your love or your best friend, or even alone. Walking down the street under the muted glow of the street lamps, the whole world silent but for the crunch of your boots as they pack the snow beneath your feet, large fluffy snowflakes falling slowly all around, brings an amazing sense of peace.

And at the end of the day, a bubble bath with a scented candle, quiet music, lights low, and a glass of wine. Congratulate yourself for a day of work well-done…it’s called “research”.

Sledding by Jane Yunker

Boots kick silently through fresh snow,

long tracks in late afternoon shadows.

Alone I stand, white slope,

virgin snow, untouched.

Running belly flop, head down,

wind chapping cheeks, stinging eyes,

heart pounding with the thrill,

gliding to a slow stop.

Boots kick silently back through fresh snow,

humming, smiling, I trek down

streets deserted, lights twinkling,

windows steaming, dinner waiting.

Morning Coffee: Girlfriends/Sisters

“Friends are the family we choose for ourselves.” Edna Buchanan, journalist and author.

VegasAs women we define ourselves by our relationships with others. It’s not only about our external roles…daughter, sister, mother, friend…but how we validate our internal emotions. Only another woman can understand the pain of miscarriage. Only another woman can understand the loss felt when you suddenly go from being the primary caregiver of young children to an empty-nester to having to care for an aging parent, a parent who might not even remember who you are.

A girlfriend will try to catch you when you try on those gorgeous 4-inch heels and then laugh with you when you both end up sprawled on the shoe store floor while everyone else stares as if you’re drunk, or perhaps insane. A girlfriend always has a tissue handy when you’re crying or a bottle of wine chilled and ready when you’re angry after a bad day at the office. It doesn’t matter if your one great love broke your heart, your pet died, or you’re watching that same sad movie for the umpteenth time, your girlfriend always has an understanding ear and a ready shoulder.

There are friendships that inspire us, such as Marilyn Monroe and Ella Fitzgerald. The famous sex symbol so idolized her friend, the Queen of Jazz, that in a time when black musicians couldn’t get hired anywhere but a black nightclub Marilyn promised a white nightclub owner she would sit in the front row every night for a week if he would hire Ella to perform in his club. Then there are the television friendships that spilled into real life. Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance were fast friends both on screen and off. Who doesn’t still laugh out loud when watching the chocolate factory scene? You can’t fake that kind of chemistry,not for all the awards in Hollywood. Although Vivian (“Ethel”) wasn’t on screen for vitameatavegamin you know she had to be standing right behind the camera stifling a laugh as she watched her friend stammer and stumble through that commercial pitch time and time again, each more ridiculous than the last.

Without our girlfriends we feel isolated, alone. Just try telling your husband about your bad day. Instead of listening, nodding, pouring you a glass of wine, he’ll tell you why his day was worse and then proceed to tell you how to “fix” your problem. A girlfriend doesn’t do that. In my novel, “Mary Bishop”, Mary mourns the loss of all the close women in her life: her mother, sisters, friends. Some have died while others disappeared after the Civil War ended. Only another woman who’d lived it could understand what they went through during that divisive and uncertain time; only another woman knew what it was like to have a son or husband, a love or a brother or father, march off one day never to return. Mary’s pain has formed a wall around her heart that she struggles to break through as she looks to form new friendships in a new town where anger and bitterness seem to be the predominant moods.

I’m one of the lucky ones. My best friend is my sister. We just returned from six days in Las Vegas. It’s an annual trip we both look forward to. There was a lot of laughter and a little gossiping. We talked about our children, our jobs, school (she recently went back for her degree). We drank, we gambled, and, yes, we tried on shoes. Let’s just say she rocks those 4-inch heels. Me, not so much. I’m more likely to be the one on the shoe store floor.

Tell me about your best girlfriend or sister.

Morning Coffee: Curiosity

winterCuriosity might kill the cat, but it feeds the writer. What was it like to be a woman on the prairie, trapped and alone in her cabin during a howling week-long blizzard, not knowing if her husband is riding it out in town or trapped somewhere between there and home? What was it like to have to marry a man twice your age, someone you barely knew, a widower with a half dozen children from his first wife, because your father arranged it? What was it like to have to leave behind all your friends and family, the only way of life you’ve ever known, because your husband wants to go west and start over? What was it like to be a woman during a time when women had little say in such decisions?

The answers to some questions can prove to be too frightening. What will happen if I fill this blank paper with words and send it to a publisher? Maybe they’ll love it and print it and the whole world will come to idolize me. Maybe I’ll just make a complete fool of myself.

Other questions, like the ones above that fill my head, are a tantalizing invitation to visit a long ago time and place and the people who lived there. They’re a chance to open doors to entire worlds other than my own.

fawn 2014I took this picture of a fawn cautiously checking out the fenced-in portion of our yard a couple years ago. We normally close that gate (to keep the deer out) but my husband had accidently left it open and this little one was drawn to the unknown so enticingly beckoning from the other side. She stood at the open gate and stretched her neck to look inside but she would not step past the threshold. Mom stayed a little ways back, closer to the trees, keeping an eye on her young one but not too terribly concerned. “What’s in there?” the fawn wondered. “I want to know but I’m afraid it could be dangerous so I won’t go in. I’ll just stand here and look.” Then she saw me standing just inside the sunroom with my camera. I froze. She froze. Then she turned and ran, mom close behind.

Do you turn and run when faced with the unknown? Or do you jump in with both feet?

Morning Coffee: Inspiration

ChristmasWriters are readers. Voracious readers! I’ve loved books as long as I can remember, couldn’t wait to learn how to read them on my own. Right now I have more books than I could probably finish reading before I die, but I continue to buy more. They’re just so tempting! Those beautiful covers, blurbs that promise romance, adventure, suspense, horror…doesn’t matter to me. I often read more than one book at a time. I’ll usually have at least one nonfiction book going, one fiction, one collection of short fiction (not to mention all the dog-eared magazines). Which one I pick up at any given time depends on my mood and just how caught up I am in the story.

Right now I’m part way through nonfiction “The Collected Letters of Willa Cather” and “Little Demon In The City of Light: A True Story of Murder in Belle Epoque Paris” by Steven Levingston; collections of short fiction “A Basket Brigade Christmas” and “The 12 Brides of Christmas Collection”; and fiction “Eureka Valley: Grandfathers’ Grandfathers” by Lisa Doerr and “The Calling” by Beth M. James.

Every book I read is an inspiration to me. It might be how the author handles point of view (particularly multiple points of view) or tense. It might be a turn of phrase describing something as everyday as washing your hair. (Beth James has a particularly sensual hair washing scene in “The Calling”.) I find it interesting how another author chooses a title, or a character’s name. I love when a particularly well-written story takes me to another place so completely I forget where I am, get lost in the passage of time, and I study how he/she did that with such apparent ease. (The really good stuff always seems easy and never is.)

Like my novel “Mary Bishop”, “The Calling” is told through parallel timelines. Mine are between pre-war Virginia and 1881 Wisconsin. “The Calling” is between present day Chicago and a fantasy world. Jessie is seriously injured saving children from a burning house. While in a coma she finds herself in a fantasy world where she is taken into the protective care of a handsome warrior after he finds her injured and unconscious with no memory of her other life. When she wakes from her coma she’s convinced this parallel world is real and pines for her warrior love, while her fiancé, Walt, tries to convince her it was all a dream. Which was it? Reality or a dream? I don’t know yet. I’m only half way through. But you can bet I will be finishing the book to find out. I wish I didn’t have to get up each morning and go to my day job. I could get through all these books much quicker.

Are you a writer? What books do you find inspirational?