Okay, Listen Here

Okay, Listen Here

Friday, October 29, 2010

WHAT ARE YOU READING?

Happy Halloween!

Kathy is reading her Romance Writers of America journal.

Stephanie is reading Cowgirl Bride by Trish Milburn.

Jean is reading Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas.

Cheryl had surgery today. We'd be shocked if she reading anything!

What are you reading? Something spooky?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Eternal Soldiers

As I mentioned yesterday (Wednesday), I am not much for a spooky story. I find that they disturb me. I won't watch scary movies or read scary books so when the gals wanted to gather under the Tulip Tree here for Fright Week, I wasn't sure if I have anything to share. I was fretting about this a bit last week when Jean suggested that I tell about what happened in the backyard to Oldest Friend. Then I thought about another similar story that I had heard from my home town of Tuscumbia and this blog was born.

This story is from the War of Northern Aggression. I grew up near Tuscumbia, Alabama, a town on the Tennessee River. In fact, it is at the one end of the Shoals while Decatur is at the other, with the two connected by a railroad. Just as the plantation owners once used the rails to move cotton and freight around the Shoals, so then the the Armies used the rails to move men. It was down the rails from Decatur that the Confederates moved toward Shiloh. The Battle of Shiloh was one of the bloodiest of the Conflict so I guess it stands to reason that many of the soldiers who marched through Tuscumbia never marched again. This story is told by a local historian in Tuscumbia about the Old Memphis Highway where his house is located. He says that often on foggy nights when you can't see the road from his house, that you can hear men marching. Now this is creepy enough but though you can hear horse bits and canteens jingling, you never hear any voices. It's as if the soldiers are still marching but never get to speak or go home. It just breaks my heart for them!

As was mentioned on Monday, Jean lives in a historic neighborhood. Most of the homes there replace the antebellum ones that burned during the Southern War for Independence. This conflict is the source of the haunt in the backyard story. Many soldiers passed through Decatur. It was a major railroad hub and on the Tennessee River just before the infamous Shoals. There were two Battles of Decatur. One of my own ancestors was captured on December 22 during one of those battles, but I digress.

After spending an evening enjoying the fellowship of friends at Jean's, Oldest Friend headed out to her car in the alley to depart for home. Now Oldest Friend is very much a pragmatic sort of gal. She isn't as high strung as Jean and I are. She is all about "the facts and just the facts." So imagine her surprise when after she gets in the car then glances into the rear view mirror ( not expecting to see anything) only to see a Civil War reenactor sitting in her back seat. Imagine her greater surprise when she realizes, "Hey, I can see through him. Maybe he isn't a reenactor but a ghost!" Oldest Friend hopped out of the car to go back inside but when she got out and looked back, the man was gone. Being her practical self, she got into the car and drove home. She did tell Jean and some other folks about it later. It turns out that the people who live in the house at the end of the alley see the soldier a good bit in their house. The theory is that the soldier lived in that house and is trying to get home but can't. Scary stuff! For a long time I wouldn't park in the alley. I love a man in uniform but not one I can see through.

Do you find hearing about the paranormal fun and exciting or unsettling and disturbing?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dead Husbands Tell No Tales…

The remains of an antebellum home, once the seat of country society, surrounded by flowers, shrubs and cotton fields, and filled with all that money could buy, lie deep in an alcove of trees one mile east of Hazel Green. Elizabeth Evans Dale is no longer the hostess of the home her fifth husband built her. She is no longer the vivacious beauty who longed to be the toast of society. Eerily, to this day, she is remembered as the Black Widow of Hazel Green and the home built to appease her taste for the refined is a charred, haunted reminder of what occurred in the life of a greedy woman between 1812 and 1850.

Routt house was built on an Indian mound where Indians burned ceremonial fires and are reported to be buried. Today, stories circulate among young and old about the auburn-haired beauty who wed again and again, only to bury each husband by lantern light in the dead of night with the help of her frightened slaves.

Elizabeth Dale Evans began her odd journey in Tennessee on a warm day in 1812, the day she was born. Her father, Adam, was an aristocrat with a taste for politics, her grandfather a Revolutionary soldier. With ancestral ties to Lord Baltimore and Cecil Calvert, she was a blue-blooded vixen with unusual beauty, posing a threat to women everywhere when men were scarce and a woman was defined by her husband.





• At 17, she married Samuel Gibbons, a Baptist preacher. That marriage lasted until 1830 when Samuel died of yellow fever, ‘black tongue’, producing swollen, distorted features.

• Her second husband, Mr. Flanagan, (barely anything is known about this man other than the fact he was a wealthy plantation owner), lasted three months before he succumbed to a strange malady.

• In 1835, Elizabeth married Alexander Jeffries, a widower with older children. Alexander was infatuated with his new wife and took her away from Tennessee to his 500 acre plantation in northern Alabama and the four room log cabin he’d built upon an Indian mound. The placement of his cabin provided a panoramic view of the vast landscape he owned. Elizabeth bore him two children, a son and daughter, who died at 7 years old and was buried in a cemetery next to the house. Unfortunately for Alexander, one day his body was found lying in the barnyard after he succumbed to a strange malady that left his body so swollen he was buried the same day, in the same cemetery next to the house.

• Widowed for the third time, Elizabeth, still the vivacious beauty, garnered the attention of dashing widower, Robert A. High, a former member of state legislature, who tried in earnest to hide his balding head. They married in 1839 but spent more time apart as Robert traveled extensively until he died suddenly in 1842.

• On March 16th, 1846, Elizabeth found wedded bliss with Absalom Brown, a New Market merchant. Her fifth husband adored her so much that he built the plantation house that earned her the cruel moniker of the Black Widow of Hazel Green. The house was built on grand scale. Facing east to view the morning sun, it boasted 8 large rooms (4 upstairs and 4 downstairs), 2 stairways and an enormous front door. To stand out from the trees, it was painted white. The L-shaped architecture boasted two broad entrances enhanced by large impressive staircases. It was the most expensive and luxurious home of its time, making Elizabeth the envy of everyone. Sadly, Absalom never enjoyed the home he’d built his wife. He died before the paint dried.

• Life was lonely in the large mansion. Soon Elizabeth married Willis Routt to ease her burdens. But wedded life seemed to constantly elude the dear widow. Willis died shortly after saying ‘I do’.

What does a woman with a mansion do when life has thrown her lemons? She opens her home to boarders and spurns rumors started by a neighboring plantation owner, who decreed that she was a woman ‘around whose marriage couch six grinning skeletons were hung’.

He also complained that her bridal chamber was ‘a charnel house’. Elizabeth filed suit and a large court case inflamed the rumors.

At 60 years old, Elizabeth’s beauty still had not faded. Neither had her desire for another husband, which brought her closer to a local school teacher, D.X. Bingham. Bingham went so far as to spread rumors that her neighbor had murdered two traveling salesmen from Tennessee, to aid her cause. Filing a $500,000 civil suit, her plan to redeem herself backfired. She was accused of killing her husbands and forced to leave town.

Did Elizabeth move to Marshall County, Miss., to live with her son? Locals say she still visits the graves of her husbands, who were buried by lantern light in the middle of the night in unmarked graves among the holly bushes. Many people have seen her auburn-haired wraith gliding in and out of the trees which have long since invaded her distinguished abode after an arsonist burned it to the ground in 1868. All that remains of Routt House is the front staircase and vandalized gravestones, to include the gravestone of Elizabeth’s father, who came to live with her shortly before his sudden demise.

Time has ravaged the once pristine antebellum mansion. Locals believe the area to be haunted. My own son and his friend visited the site one night and came back shaken to the core. When asked what they’d seen, they replied their flashlight revealed glowing eyes 5 ft. off the ground and a dark mass which threatened to approach through the trees if they ventured closer. Imagine a 17 year old literally shaking all over as he told this horrifying tale. Something scared him, there was no mistaking that.

What do you believe? Did, and do, Indian spirits roam the mound Routt House was built upon? Did Elizabeth encounter Indian spirits in her time? Do the spirits of six dead husbands, Elizabeth’s daughter, her father, and countless frightened/abused slaves, inhabit the woods encapsulating the mansion? Would you go see for yourself?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Dark Hand

I was thirty years old and had never owned a house when we moved to Jackson, Mississippi. We were living in a small apartment but we had high hopes of buying a starter home. My husband was doing his residency and I was working in the U.S. Attorney’s office. One of my new friends at my office told me about a house down the street from her that was for sale at a good price. Translation – it was cheap.

I went to look at the house that afternoon. It was a good price and for sale by owner. I asked all the pertinent legal questions and, satisfied, made an offer. The man gladly accepted without any haggling. That should have been my first clue.

We moved in and started fixing everything up, making the place ours. For some reason, I did not like going into the living room. It always seemed like there was someone in there who definitely did not want me there. I shook it off and continued with my renovations. Things began disappearing. First my car keys, then a pair of shoes – small items, nothing big. Then a few days later, they would magically appear on the bar in the kitchen. I would never find them anywhere else. After a few repeats of this I started to question who was taking them. Not my son, he was only two. Not my husband, he was never home. I shrugged it off but it continued.

One day I noticed our cat was sitting in the kitchen staring intently at something by the stove. She would not move and then started hissing, arching her back. Now this cat was normally very shy and never made a sound. For her to act like this upset me. When I walked over to see what she was looking at, I noticed the air was freezing around the stove. That gave me quite a start since the rest of the house was warm. I tried to pick up the cat and she nearly decapitated me. This was not normal but, again, I shrugged it off. New house, nervous cat…

The real shocker came when my two-year kept talking, gibbering actually, in his room. I would go in to see what he was doing and it would seem like he was talking to someone. I’d asked him whom he was talking to and he’d say the lady. Then he’d make a terrible face and tell me he didn’t like the dark man. That scared me. I asked him who the dark man was and he’d shrug. He did say he liked the lady.

I started obsessing about this. Who could this be? A ghost? Two ghosts? I talked to my neighbor across the fence one day and she told me that the previous owner’s wife had died in my son’s bedroom. A kind woman who loved children. Could that be the lady? But who was the dark man?

It all came to a head one night when, thankfully, my husband was home. We were asleep and suddenly my son came screaming out of his bedroom. I don’t think I was awake when my feet hit the floor. I met him in the hallway. He was white and shaking. All he could say was there was a black hand trying to drag him under the bed. Our dog, right behind me, ran into my son’s bedroom and started growling and snapping at the bed. I thought we had an intruder. My husband went in and looked under the bed. Nothing. The dog continued running around in the room, barking. Puzzled, my husband raised the blinds next to my son’s bed to see if the window was unlocked and maybe someone had come in through it. What he saw shook him to the core. A tall, black man stared back at him, grinning, and then instantly disappeared. My husband came striding up the hall, picked up my son and we all went back to my bedroom. He didn’t say anything until the next morning about our “intruder.”

The next few weeks, the house became more active. Pictures would fly off the walls, vases would get broken. My son would not sleep alone and the animals were cowering in my bedroom. I was a walking zombie. No one was getting any sleep. Something had to be done. Now this was prior to all the ghost hunters who are so prevalent today so I had no idea where to turn. There was no Internet to do research. I went to the library. I came up with a Native American ritual – burning sage and asking for the house to be blessed. I felt silly doing it but I did it on my lunch hour when no one was home. Immediately the house felt lighter, more airy. We never had any more incidents.

Recently I was talking to my son, now twenty-three, and he remembers that house and the dark hand. He told me that it was definitely real and he was terrified. My husband, who previously had dismissed ghosts as explainable incidents, is now a believer with me. After that little house in Jackson, no one can convince me differently. My son said he never saw the lady again and, as for the dark man, he never returned.

Have you every lived in a haunted house? Tell us about it. Leave out no details. I do love a ghost story!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Haunted Happenings

Happy Halloween. It's Ghost Week here under the Tulip Tree.

Those who believe in ghosts claim that spirits from the beyond are more likely to join us in the fall because that's when the veil between our world and theirs is thinner. Specters also supposedly get stirred up when there is renovation going on or an adolescent in the house. Of course, those things are enough to make anyone—alive or dead—have a come apart.

My neighborhood was burned to ground during the War or Northern Aggression and resurrected during the Victorian period. My own house was built in 1908 and, as far as I know, no one has ever died in it.

"You've got a ghost," the man said to me. He was turning the ugliest kitchen in America into something rather better and I was flying through on my lunch hour to see how things were progressing.

"I do not have a ghost," I told him. "What I've got are some ugly cabinets. That's what is scaring you; they scare me."

"It's not funny," he said.

"I agree. There's nothing at all amusing about stained plywood."

"If you don't have a ghost, what's all that thumping upstairs?"

"That would be a seventeen pound cat chasing a fifteen pound cat on uncarpeted hardwood floors."

"Oh," he said.

But not all the stories around my neighborhood are so easily debunked.

Bunco Babe, my good friend from around the corner, shares her house with six-year-old blue eyed blond boy. That wouldn't be so unusual, except, from the looks of his nightshirt and the candle he carries, he was probably born not long after the house was built in 1889.

She's used to him. So am I—at least as used to him as I'll ever be. He loves a houseful of women. I think his mother must have had ladies in regularly. One night when Bunco Babe hosted our Bunco group, Ghost Boy was particularly busy. He tromped up and down the stairs all evening, let the cat out of a locked room twice, and turned over a pitcher of margaritas. Finally, one of our party said, "I can't take this another minute," and left. I didn't. I'd gotten pretty cavalier about him—or so I thought.

That all changed when he paid me a visit

Ghost Boy is very attached and protective of Bunco Babe. She had given me a pair of pants that were too short for her and they went missing from my closet. I looked high and low, until I finally decided that I had mistakenly packed them away with last season's clothes.

Then one morning, Bunco Babe called me. "Why did you bring these pants back to me?" she asked. "I found them in a bag, hanging on my door knob." It stood to reason that she thought I had left them. We often leave things for each other employing the bag/doorknob method.

But not this time. I told her I had not returned them. In fact, I had been looking for the pants for a week. The only thing we could figure was that Ghost Boy thought I had cheated Bunco Babe out of her pants and retrieved them for her.

"I'll tell him I gave them too you," she promised. (She often has to scold him.) "And I'll bring them back to you."

I assured her that would not be necessary. In fact, it would not be tolerated. A little spilled drink and stair stomping is one thing. I don't want any pants that have been touched by ghost hands, no matter how cute they are.

Do you believe in ghosts? Have you had an experience?

Tell us about it and remember to check back with us every day this week for more haunted happenings.

Friday, October 22, 2010

WHAT ARE YOU READING?

Kathy is reading Jane and the Damned by Janet Mullany
Jean is reading the new WIP
Cheryl is reading The Rodeo Legend by Rebecca Winters
Stephanie is reading Submission by Cherie Feather

What about you?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Waiting is the Hardest Thing


Waiting is the hardest thing for me to do. I HATE to wait. Waiting is just about the worst thing in the whole world that I have to do.

I clearly remember the first time waiting was truly painful. It was in 3rd grade. I was in love with Jeffery. He looked so yummy in his Cub Scout uniform AND he always let me tell him what to do. We created a social studies fair project and because he let me plan and create it, we won first place! Our romance was clearly going to last forever. Well, until the waiting started…once the project was over Jeffery didn’t call me every afternoon to talk on the phone. It seems that somewhere along the line he got the impression that the only reason you should call someone was if you actually had something to tell her. Can you believe that? So I waited and waited and waited and waited every day for him to call. Didn’t he know my daddy wouldn’t let me call boys? He probably called about every third or fourth day. This was a problem for me and I grew to hate the waiting. Well, I couldn’t hate Jeffery and I couldn’t hate the phone so the waiting was the only thing left to hate on. The romance eventually ended when Jeffery moved away the summer between third and fourth grades but my hatred for waiting remains.

I think that waiting is Un-American. Did the Pilgrims wait at Plymouth Rock for someone to build them houses? No, they did it themselves.

Did Paul Revere wait for someone to call to tell the others that the Redcoats were coming? No, he hopped up on that horse and took off himself. Did the pioneers wait for someone to send them the deed to a new farm in Oregon as a gift? No, they got in a wagon and hit that Oregon Trail and went to create their own homes.

Waiting is truly the worst part of my life as a writer. You know how it is. You create a wonderful, fabulous, fantastic story then you send your precious baby off to the editor or agent who asked to see it. You are soooooooo excited and over the moon with glee that you got a request so you hurry to send it in. Then the waiting starts, and it goes on and on and on and on and on. I can’t stand it!

Jean and I usually try to start our next project pretty quickly after we send submissions in. This at least gives me some distraction from the waiting. I can focus on the new project rather than what might be happening to the old project. I still hate waiting but at least I am not driving the people around me crazy too.

How do you handle waiting?


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I Feel The Need For Speed

Maverick and Goose felt the need for speed in Top Gun. (I’m particularly fond of the opening scene with the battleship’s smoky deck and flurry of jets landing and taking off.) Kenny Loggins’ soundtrack, action/adventure, romance, all make Top Gun a classic. With this in mind, I’ve been wondering lately where my need for speed originates and why I’m impatient these days.

Every day, technology tests our limitations at an alarming rate. Boundaries in society are constantly heightened or lowered paving the way for the future. Gadgets that make life easier preoccupy society more than investing time into achieving ordinary tasks. Cell phones can do just about anything these days. Computers are getting smaller. Information is only a click away. Family, friends and the office are only a text away.

Or so it appears… Everywhere you look, someone somewhere wants an instant fix for their problems. Born into a generation of instant gratification, it seems as if everything about life happens faster these days, for better or worse.

Are we happier in this techno world? Is the yellow brick road to success more quickly attained? Driving to work, I pass Mavericks and Gooses right and left. Some change lanes repetitively and dangerously, without turn signals. Others pull out in front of you, slowing down the pace and frustrating those who haven’t had their Starbucks fix. Everyone is in a hurry. In order to keep from having an accident, an early morning driver is forced to crank up Kenny Loggins and ignite his/her jet engines to stay with the flow. The unfortunate result: acute deafness and helmet hair. ~sigh~

If speed is the way of life nowadays, steering future generations, why do I feel like I’ve stalled with an empty tank?

Writing is not enhanced by speed. Writing needs a brisk wind to flutter the sails of creativity and a compass pointing to what a writer wants most. Every day, writers strike a pose, putting their butts onto chairs in an ambitious move to complete their mission like jet pilots strapping themselves into cockpits. How the two arrive at their destination may differ, but the key preparation needed to successfully land at ‘The End’ or on an airfield/aircraft carrier is the same. Plotting, planning and research aid a writer as keenly as a computerized jet responds to a pilot’s slightest touch. If only a writer could speed up the process of writing, achieving Mock 1, a straight shot at publication. If only a writer could lock onto edits, destroying bad verbiage, clich├ęs and stifling dialogue with the slightest flick of the wrist.


As I take a look at how far Maverick and Goose had to go to become successful pilots, I think about the training that has led me to this point in my life. As a reader, I’ve taken a lifetime to learn. As a writer, I’ve attended local meetings/pilot briefings. I’ve attended conferences and online courses/various Top Gun schools. I’ve put time into contests/simulators and have put in years of writing to strengthen my voice/air time.

This brings me back to my need for speed. I know there isn’t a fast track to publication but wouldn’t it be nice to channel Maverick, get into Kenny Loggins’ mode and arrive at work or 'The End' of a book without helmet hair? What value is there in following an unreliable compass or is it only unreliable because I've stopped taking the time to think of what I want most?

What about you? Is life moving way too fast? How to you compensate when you feel the need for speed?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Here Comes the Sun...



Every morning I drag myself out of the house around 6:30 and head to the barn to feed the Tennessee Walking horses. Last Wednesday was no different until I unlocked the office door and walked in, not aware of most of my surroundings because I was tired, and ran straight into an enormous yellow butt. Dominoe’s Sundancer!

Sun, as I call him, had evidently made a great escape during the night. He was standing in the office playing with the telephone I guess he was trying to make a call but had forgotten he had to dial the area code first (don’t we all?). I took the phone from his mouth and tried to figure out how to get him to leave the office. He is a big horse, standing at about sixteen and half hands (hands are equal to four inches and are measured at the shoulder of the horse) and weighing in around twelve hundred pounds. The only problem is he doesn’t realize how big he is or that he is even a horse.




I first fell in love with Sun when he was three months old. A friend of mine called and asked if I would be interested in buying a colt she had. I had been looking for a new horse so I said sure. At her farm, I wandered to the barn paddock. There he was – a fuzzy yellow baby standing next to his momma. To get him to come over where I could look at his confirmation, I put some sweet feed in a trough. His momma started walking toward the food but Sun beat her to it. He kicked her to keep her away from the food which he devoured. I liked his attitude. Against everyone’s advice that a palomino Tennessee Walking horse (actually Sun isn’t a palomino – his skin is white so he’s a champagne. True palominos have dark skin under the light hair) is not a good show horse. I had to have him! Memories of Trigger dancing through my head... He came home with me.

Most people wean horses at about six months but my friend wanted this colt (who was already big and aggressive) out of her pasture. So, at three months, he was placed in a stall at my barn alone. I felt sorry for the little guy who stood there crying for his momma. I spent hours standing in the stall with him, crooning the Beatle song “Here Comes the Sun” and scratching his neck. To this day, if that horse hears that song, he rolls his big gray eyes and starts leaning into me for a good scratching (kind of like a big dog). Being the baby on the place, he got a lot of attention, too much attention. If I had a Coke, he had to have a Coke. Do not get around that horse with a red can – he will climb over you to get it. I let him have apples and corn chips – two more things he will kill you to get. He watches me while standing in the cross ties to see if I am going to the refrigerator and if I do, he wants an apple or Coke– NOW.

Trying to give him a normal childhood, I had a special pasture built just for him to frolic in. I could not put him in the pasture with mature horses (geldings, fixed males, are still territorial and would have harmed him with no momma around for defense). He did just fine for a while until he decided to see how high he could jump. One minute I was watching him slyly grazing and the next he had leaped over the fence, headed toward a very busy road. I outran the boys, leaped the same fence and then stood there, wondering what I was going to do. Singing his theme song, I ask him if he wanted an apple. Food? He came waltzing up, nuzzling me for the treat. Needless to say, he was never allowed outside again without a lead rope and a person attached to it.

True to his big size and, to be honest, his gangly back legs, he was not suitable for being a padded horse (the Tennessee Walking horses you are probably familiar with wear huge pads on their front feet to get that signature walk). He is a flat-shod horse who does exactly what the breed was intended for – a rolling even gait across the plantation. Unlike Quarter Horses or Thoroughbreds, the legs of a walking horse move in concert – both left legs go forward while both right legs move back giving the horse a smooth gait (the other horses trot – opposite legs move together – left back with right front- which makes it rough). We had a trail pleasure show horse. Every one thought he was gorgeous, except DQP.

At horse shows, due to some people being so cruel to their horses, the walking horse association has a Designated Qualified Person (DQP) who inspects the horse’s legs to make sure the horse hasn’t been “sored” (soring is where an oil, usually mustard oil, is dripped on the front legs to make the horse sore – in turn the horse will lift it’s leg higher because it hurts). Well, Sun, who has never had a cruel day in his life, walked jauntily up to the DQP tent to be inspected. But…he decided he didn’t like the guy who wanted to look at his feet. Before we knew what had happened, he had the DQP guy down on the ground and was trying to grab the guy’s shirt to shake him. All manner of thoughts went through my head – we’re going to get a ticket for this if the guy survives! Instead, the guy rolled away, got up, out of Sun’s reach, and told us to go back to the trailer. No ticket. Obviously Sun wasn’t sored, he stomped and pranced all the way back to his hay bag on the side of the trailer. At the next show, the DQP guy glanced at Sun’s feet, and waved us through – he wasn’t taking the risk.




Sun is not an easy horse. He’s smart and cunning. Like any child, he will test you every day to see if you are going to make him mind. But like any child, he craves attention and love. His momma (me) makes very sure he gets it.

Oh, and I got him out of the office with a feed bucket, singing “Here Comes the Sun…”

Have you ever been around a horse? What kind of experiences do you have? Are you familiar with the Tennessee Walking Horse breed? Sun would like to introduce you to them – he’ll be showing in Priceville on October 30th but without a Halloween costume.

Monday, October 18, 2010

GROWING THE STORY


Stephanie and I are at my very favorite part of our work in progress—the growing part. We know the characters. (At least as much as they have decided to tell us. They will reveal more about themselves in good time.) We've "plotted". Okay, so she has plotted. Whatever. At any rate, we have a road map with key stops and I can fly by the seat of my pants toward those points any way I choose. Often, it seems like there are a hundred possible routes and I play every single one in my head. Sometimes, I choose; sometimes. the characters take over but this is the part where the baby is growing.

Precious Angel was always an affectionate child. As a baby, he would wave his arms and squeal to be picked up. I still remember what it felt like for little toddler arms to wrap around my knees from behind and, later, a face buried in my stomach. Still later, I loved to be able to kiss the top of his head when we hugged. For the longest time our cheeks fit together naturally.

This past Friday night after the football game, he came out of the locker room exuberant over a homecoming win and his own good performance. He is still an affectionate child but enough of the secure man he's going to be that he embraces those he loves in public. Tonight there was no head kissing or cheek pressing. This time, my head landed somewhere under his chin, in the vicinity of a shoulder pad. And I thought, "When did that happen?"

When writing, that's how I always feel somewhere between the black moment and the epilogue. Somewhere along the way the baby grew up, almost, it seems, with no input from me. And I think, "When did that happen?"

That is my second favorite part of the process. There is just something magically fantastic about realizing everything is going as it should, whether it comes in the form of being hit in the face with shoulder pad under a sweaty football jersey, a hero who finally gets it, or a heroine who learns how to forgive.

What's your favorite part of the process?

Friday, October 15, 2010

WHAT ARE YOU READING?

Jean is still reading A Soft Place to Land by Susan Rebbecca White.

Cheryl is reading Boardroom Rivals, Bedroom Fireworks by Kimberly Lang.

Kathy is reading research material.

What are you reading?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Writing with a Partner


Jean and I are often asked about how we work together in our writing partnership. Since people are very curious about writing teams, I thought today that I would blog about how it works for us.


Let me first say that every writing team we have heard about or spoken with, works differently. Each has to find what works for them. The fabulous team of Staci and Sara, who we met at conference this year, go to a coffee shop once a week and swap a laptop back and forth. Other teams take turns writing sections then sending it to each other for revisions or expansions. Jean and I plot together and discuss scenes. Next, Jean takes our discussion and turns our ideas into a great story with fantastic characters. Then I read through the work while Jean re-reads and we get together to talk about the newest pages. This discussion can include talking about word choice, tone, dialogue, or really just anything that we think of. We usually end our "official business" by talking about what will be coming up in the next section of the book, just to make sure we both know what is going to happen next.

On the marketing side of the partnership, I carry a bit more of the load. I subscribe to Publishers' Marketplace, read blogs by agents and editors, and follow Tweets. I do most of the preliminary research on agents and agencies before we submit I also generally do the actual submissions although we decide together who to submit to and Jean composes most of the cover letters. I also normally handle our contest entries. Of course, this isn’t to say that Jean hasn’t ever done any of these things but this is how it usually works for us.

Let me say that in our case we each think the other partner has the worst end of the deal. Anyone who knows me, knows that there is no way that I could sit in front of the computer for hours at a time the way Jean and many of you do. I simply couldn’t do it. By the same token, Jean doesn’t enjoy networking among large crowds of people at conferences and such, while I thrive on it.

What partnerships have you been part of? What has made them successful?



Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Ogre’s Life For Me

There are times I wake up feeling like a pirate (which are more often than not). I envision the wind tussling my hair, smell the pungent tang of salt in the air, tilt my head toward the rising sun and repeat, “Give me that horizon.” On these particular days, it’s as if every step I take leads me across a deck filled with scurrying hands eager for a hard day’s work and my ingenious guidance. Expectancy energizes the air, freedom brightens my eyes, and my mission, should I choose to accept it, to write about pirates, is an adventure fit for me.

I love days like these best. Memorable days, exciting days, these are the scenarios I yearn to repeat when I awake. “Arrrrr!” is my response to hubby when he tells me “good morning.” That produces a smile. And should anyone wonder? I’ve always been attracted to surviving the night to rove the earth another day. But I want to do so by the sweat of my brow, not by the blood of the innocent. Pirate!


Dear ones, I am forced to seque to THOSE days when, from the moment I first wake up, each step is a miraculous feat. Like Frankenstein’s Bride, I achingly move my platformed feet across the floor, moaning in disdain. Mirrors crack in my wake, cats and dogs scurry for their lives and with hands extended, I scream, “Brains! Brains!”



Some days, my friends, it’s the Ogre’s life for me. From the moment I open my eyes, I know full well what the day will bring. Hubby heralds a morning salutation and my response is, “Arrrrrrrrrrr!” (Not to be confused with “Arrrrr!” mind you.)

Of course, no one can anticipate days like these. A mercenary affliction, these mornings strike without warning. I certainly don’t go to sleep thinking, “Gee, I wonder what hubby would think if I woke up in the morning looking and acting like the walking dead.” It might give his heart a jump start to know he’d bedded down with a creature of the night but I’m reasonably sure hubby would rather see a disheveled beauty with a jaunty step and a hearty "Arrrrr!" saunter to his side. Pirate!



Heaven knows he isn't going to warmly welcome the zombie creaking across the floor.

Have you ever had writing days like this? Some days rock, some sink to the bottom of Davy Jones’ locker with an orca-sized kerplunk. Immersed in my writing, I often get an euphoric feeling of empowering genius. I can even hear Commander Norrington's exalultation. “Do you suppose she does this on purpose or is she really that good?”

Other times, a deep-throated “Arrrrrrrrr!” and a stiff-armed reach for the computer monitor are my greatest impulse. Those particular days have me screaming for, “Brains! Brains!”

In a day and time when zombies reign supreme in literature, I ask you, do bad writing days find you running through the mall screaming for creative brains? How do you balance your moods and creativity on days like this, and find the balance that calms the savage beastie?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Only the Lonely...

Writing, by its very nature, is a lonely business. We withdraw into ourselves to create worlds and people that only we see and hear. I have noticed how I have become more isolated since I began writing. I resent people bothering me during my writing time (and I know you do too). Unless your head is on fire, please don’t interrupt me in the morning. I sometimes get so engrossed in spinning a story that I forget to eat or even get up from the computer. In order to maintain my sanity, I have recently begun to make a conscious effort to turn off the computer and go in search of people. I force myself go out and engage with live humans, even if a few of them irritate me. At least once a week I go to a restaurant where the locals gather to talk and, yes, gossip (great fodder for romance – small towns have a lot of drama). It’s fun and I get to see actual people, not just the ones in my head. You cannot write in a vacuum.

The other day, while looking through the mail, I stumbled across an article in the Nov/Dec AARP Magazine (no snide comments about age please). It was entitled “All the Lonely People” by Brad Edmondson. While reading this I realized that, as a people, Americans are becoming more lonely. According to a survey, loneliness has increased from twenty percent in 2001 to thirty-five percent in 2010. The danger of chronic loneliness (defined as “an ever-present, self-perpetuating condition that pushes people away from the relationships that sustain us and make us happy”) is not only mental but physical as well. A recognized expert stated that mounting evidence shows that loneliness is connected with increases in the chance of diabetes and sleep disorders. Research also shows a link to greater risks of high blood pressure, higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, higher levels of weakened immune systems and higher levels of Alzheimer’s disease. Whew, scary.

The article went on to say that people shouldn’t substitute electronics – such as e-mails, texting, Twitter or Facebook – for face-to-face contact. Lonely people admit they are less connected now that they keep contact over the Internet. The article stated that people who volunteer or join social groups are less lonely.

Now, all this said or rather quoted, I want to point out the dangers we face as writers in isolating ourselves. Yes, it is important to take time to write. But equally important is the need to get out and associate with actual people, no matter how obnoxious. I am guilty of texting to avoid a long, drawn-out conversation because it is easier. I bridle at people who consume my time talking endlessly about their problems. I know these people need to talk and confide in me about their lives, however, I can’t do this all day. So what is the solution? How do I keep in contact with humans and still write?

My husband, God bless him, came up with an obvious solution – set a time to write and don’t answer the phone or the persistent knocking on the door (I have boys who knock on the door like Sheldon from Big Bang Theory), don’t check e-mails and DON”T leave the house. I have heard other writers say they do this and ignore everyone. Yet, being raised Southern I always worry that by ignoring the phone or the door that I am being impolite. I have to get over my manners and disregard others for a set period of time or I will not write three words. My hero, Stephen King, has said that he writes in the morning until he achieves a certain word count then he leaves the writing and goes out into the world. To stave off loneliness, we must do this – socialize.

Now I hear you: “I work. I have kids and a husband. I have little time to write so exactly when would I have time to socialize?” That’s a good question for which I do not have an answer (it’s always nice to be helpful). The real answer depends upon you. My suggestion is to consciously carve out one day or evening a week for yourself. Find a friend or better yet get a group of friends and just hang-out (remember high school?). I will say that you need to avoid the emotional vampires (I heard this term lately and I like it because it fits) who only want to drag you down with all their problems and who never listen to yours. The idea here is to interact and not become a sounding board for others. AND avoid those convenient little electronic devices as a means to contact people (I leave mine in the car). We need to take the time to be with real people and to be real people.

A balance of work and play is necessary. Don’t isolate yourself! Families and husbands/significant others are important but so are you. Give yourself some time to socialize with others outside your family. You’ll find you’ll be more energized and ready to write.

How do you feel? Are you lonely? What do you do to avoid isolation? How do you balance your life between work and play?

Monday, October 11, 2010

How Do You Visualize?

Within sight of my desk, I have two bulletin boards covered in maps, charts, name lists, time lines, and—most important—pictures of our characters. I was once told the walls around my writing space look like a teenager's room. And the boards are a mess, with stuff tacked willy-nilly in layers three and four deep. I never take anything down. I just cover it up with new pictures. This is pretty weird behavior for someone who has her spices in alphabetical order and her jewelry organized by color and season.

I like a visual. Though she doesn't need it herself, Stephanie understands this. She has drawn maps of towns, house plans, and ships. I need those things for logistics. (How far is it from the heroine's candy shop to the courthouse? Is it feasible for her to walk? Is her best friend's interior design business on the way?)

Stephanie can't help me with the character pictures. It has to be right for me. It would be easier if I could flip through a magazine with no preconceived idea of the character's physical attributes until I find something that pleases me, but that's not how it works. I always know what he looks like. Which may lead you to ask, "Then why do you need a picture?"—which leads me to answer, "I don't know but I do." And I have to wait for it to come to me; waiting is hard.

I am very excited because Nathan (the hero of our new WIP) arrived in the mail on Thursday, right on a Bath and Body works advertisement. The picture isn't perfect, but it's darn close. Twilight Woods for Him Nathan has blue eyes and my Nathan is brown eyed. Twilight Woods for Him Nathan has contrived five o'clock shadow and if my Nathan has five o'clock shadow, it's because it's five o'clock and he hasn't been able to get home to shave yet.

You will never find a hero of ours who is not clean shaven. She likes them dark and I like them blond; she likes a short hair cut and I like for him to have enough locks to toss. But Stephanie and I agree wholeheartedly on the facial hair thing.

Incidentally, our Nathan would never use Twilight Woods for Him. In fact, he's not going to the mall. He's more likely to buy Suave at the convenience store or use what some woman left in his shower.

Do you need a visual? Are there any physical attributes that we will never see in your characters?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Great Reading

Happy Friday, Everyone!

Jean usually does the Friday blog but she is still having intermittent internet woes so I am going to report on what we are reading today.

In no certain order, except that which I received the information:

Jean is reading A Soft Place to Land by Susan Rebeca White

Katherine is reading Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas.
(Ohhh, I love that book!)

Cheryl is reading
"Mother's Day" by Tara Taylor Quinn

and I am reading Mustang Man by Louis L'Amour
(Never fear, there is romance in it. Where ever there is a Sackett then romance is sure to follow)

We would love to hear what you are reading this week.

Stephanie





Thursday, October 7, 2010

Falling for Fall


Today on the way home from work I noticed how beautiful the dappled light was as it fell on the trees and houses on my street. The leaves are beginning to turn, and the air this week has been crisp and clear. Fall is definitely in the air!

There are signs of fall all around from the football jerseys the boys wear every Friday to the sounds of the marching band practicing down the street as I come home many afternoons.

I love Fall. It is by far my favorite time of year. I love the way the air smells different and feels lighter. Its not so heavy and muggy like summer air. I adore getting out my fall clothes and shoes so that it's like having a whole new wardrobe.

Of course, no conversation about fall in Alabama would be complete without talking about football. I love the excitement of football Fridays at school when all the kids are wearing their jerseys and talking smack about what they are going to do in this week’s game. “Gonna get me 10 sacks!!” “I’m gonna score 3 touchdowns!” These are just two sentences that I heard last Friday. And let’s not forget South Eastern Conference football Saturdays. (Roll Tide Roll!!) It is difficult to plan anything other than football on Saturdays around here because everything has to be planned around when certain games are being played. That’s just how it is. I will never forget hearing about the bride who wanted to plan a wedding on the third Saturday in October. When her groom quit laughing, he pointed out to her that was the weekend of the Alabama/Tennessee game and that unless she wanted to get married at the football game, most of their friends and family wouldn’t be able to attend the wedding. She decided that another weekend might be a better choice.

I have great memories of my childhood and the fun things my family did in the Fall. My daddy took us to football games with his guy friends and their kids. Daddy also took us trick or treating every year with my uncle and cousins. It was great fun for us because our daddies were waaaaaaay more lenient about the rules like not running in the dark and not running in the streets than our moms were. Daddies are often cool that way. We had fall festivals and hayrides. It just always seemed like fall was the coolest part of the year. Now that I am an adult it still seems that way to me.

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Fall is clearly my favorite season.

What is your favorite season and why?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Lost in Hotlanta



Last Thursday I left the small hamlet of Arab, Alabama, on my way to the bright lights and big city of Atlanta. Or as we Southerners call it “Hotlanta.” I was attending the Moonlight and Magnolias Conference and wanted to be there early to meet with an editor. So, I packed my SUV with suitcases filled with more clothes than I would wear in three days and headed out.

I know nothing about Atlanta except that the traffic is atrocious and there are lots and lots of roads. I printed out a map from Mapquest that supposedly led me directly to the conference hotel. Yeah, right. It had subtle turns and directions which, when I didn’t understand what a subtle right ramp was (subtle my rear end – it was a fork in the road and not a ramp until you got on it and started going down which you couldn’t see was a ramp unless you were in a helicopter), I ended up right in the middle of where I was not supposed to be. Ok, I wasn’t lost yet. I tried to turn around near the Carter Center. Bad move. It’s a lot of one-way streets that ended up putting me out near a street I recognized from my map – Ponce de Leon. But I needed West Ponce de Leon. Surely, I thought, if I kept traveling it would turn into the “West” part. Nope, it didn’t. I again missed the subtle right which would have taken me to downtown Decatur where the conference was. Instead, I started going toward Stone Mountain. As an aside, I always wanted to see the base relief of Lee and Davis on the side of the mountain – just not that day! I was running out of time – I had an hour before I had to meet with the editor and I was hopelessly lost!

My next brilliant move was turning into one of the fancy subdivisions so that I could get my bearings. Neighborhood watch was in effect. In Georgia, Alabama plates are always suspect. Half the neighborhood came out on their porches to stare meanly at me but no one approached my car. I tried waving and smiling but they didn’t move. I didn’t think I should leave the safety of my car because I didn’t know if they had guard dogs. So, I figured I’d better get out of there before they set their servants on me. Yeah, it was one of those neighborhoods. And, it had a lot of one-way streets. I just got loster and loster (is Loster a word? Probably not but it’s how I felt). I drove on, searching for a convenience store – any place where I could pull in. You know, that subdivision didn’t have any. I wondered as I drove where these people bought gas and Snickers.


I finally found Ponce de Leon and struck out again. This time I chose a less affluent neighborhood to stop in. I called my husband and in a tearful voice told him I was lost. Did I get any sympathy? Nooo. He asked me what he could do about it when he was in Huntsville, in an operating room, and not in Atlanta. Remind me to make sure he gets lost the next time I am supposed to be navigating and he’s driving. Another aside – he can’t find his way out of a paper bag…I digress. By this time, I had been lost for an hour. I had plenty of gas but my nerves were gone. I sat there in that little neighborhood and gave myself a firm talking to. “You are an adult, with a college degree and a doctorate degree. Are you going to let this defeat you?” I wavered for a moment, considering an affirmative answer to that, then my stubborn Scot-Irish roots kicked in. I was going to make my meeting and I was not going in there looking like a raccoon (mascara) from crying. I told myself to pony-up and figure this out.

My car has GPS built into it. I just never took the time to learn how to work the dad-blasted thing. Sitting in a neighborhood somewhere in Decatur Georgia looked like the time I was going to learn. I started messing with the thing, getting it wrong a few times but eventually the lady’s voice came on and we started our trip. Seems I wasn’t that far from downtown Decatur so I listened intently to her directions (based upon the hotel’s address) and began to get a little of my confidence back. Until…she said “Trip Ended” and I was sitting at the Dekalb County Courthouse. She had told me to turn left and I did which put me in a little half-circle drive where all the buses came through I assume to pick up alleged defendants (my luck would be that one wanted my car). That was it! I was finished. I slammed the car into park and rolled down my window to ask anyone who passed by where the $#^&* hotel was. A very nice young man laughed and said “Lady, it’s the next street over. Just keep turning right at the intersections.” I could have jumped out of the car and kissed him but I didn’t want to get arrested.

I made my way to the hotel with a few minutes to spare. I met with the editor who noticed I was still shaking. I started to tell her I had some disease like the DTs, anything except that I had been lost for the last hour and a half because I stupidly trusted a map (making her question my intelligence). I didn’t come up with some exotic disease – I admitted to being shaken up from being lost. She felt sorry for me. Whew!

The one thing I can say about the experience is that I will not trust any Internet map with directions again. Nor will I trust the GPS – stupid talking woman in there, all arrogant and superior. Nor will I call my husband for help again (he did call me back and asked what he could do to help at about the time I pulled into the hotel parking lot). I didn’t stay at that hotel but rather in one downtown by the Fox Theatre. I parked my car at my hotel and took cabs to the conference. I was not venturing out on Ponce de Leon again (and I wasn’t wandering till I found the Fountain of Youth ending up like poor ol’ de Leon). I am still having nightmares about neighborhoods with no convenience stores…

Have you ever been lost? Or Loster? How did you finally become Found? And, as for Mapquest, Google or any of the other direction-giving (is that a word?) websites, have they ever given you bad directions? AND, does anyone else share the urge to smash that GPS thing and drag that woman out of it? Stupid superior-talking…

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

It's All in the Details...


We are pleased, proud and bustin' at the seams with delight over having one of our favorite authors, Linda Winstead Jones, blogging with us today! Linda is an acclaimed USA Today bestelling author of more than sixty novels, including Untouchable, 22 Nights and Bride by Command. She lives near our magnolia tree in Huntsville, Alabama. Please join us in welcoming her:


It's all in the Details...

You can give a hundred writers the same plot, give them a general description of the characters and then let them run with it, and you’ll end up with a hundred different stories. Every writer brings something of themselves to their writing, something that makes it uniquely theirs. Tone, setting, dialogue, atmosphere . . . detail.

Detail is important. Every detail. The little things make a story unique, they make the characters and the setting come alive. In the end, it’s all about voice.

This past weekend I was at an Auburn football game. In the state of Alabama, “Who are you for?” is an important question. Auburn? Alabama? Those are the usual answers, though the occasional Tennessee or Georgia fan makes their loyalties known. But that’s beside the point for this discussion, which isn’t really about football at all. For this discussion, it’s only important that I was at the game. While I was there I was flooded with memories. You see, I attended school in Auburn. Not after high school, like most alumni, but before grade school.

When I was four and five years old, my dad was a student at Auburn. I attended kindergarten there. More importantly, my first clear memories are of living in Auburn. Some are not all that pleasant -- like the time I chopped off my lovely long ponytail with a pair of scissors, or threw a new pair of shoes into a bramble-filled ravine. (Obviously they were unsuitable, in some way.) The first nightmare I can recall took place in student housing, and was Sleeping Beauty’s Wicked Witch related. I can still see the Wicked Witch standing on the landing of the apartments across the way from our own. But these things aside, most of my memories from those years are good ones.

I collected arrows from the woods behind the archery range. In hindsight maybe that wasn’t such a great idea, but at the time it was loads of fun. I can still remember the sight of a bonfire and a giant paper (yes, flammable) Georgia Bulldog. My dad was in a fraternity, and my little brother and I were the only fraternity kids. I still vaguely remember a couple of the guys, and Miss Olive, the house mother. She gave us candy, so what’s not to remember? I also had my first crush at that time, on the man who delivered the evening news. I didn’t miss the news, not even when I was five. According to my mother I used to go up to adults to talk about “that bad man Castro.”

We sat on a blanket on a hill and watched movies outdoors, and there was a skunk who liked to visit our student housing. The first song I learned all the words to was the Auburn fight song. War Eagle. (A song about love and marriage and another about an itsy bitsy teeny weenie yellow polka dot bikini were close behind.) My dad painted the walls of my room bubblegum pink and I told him it was “awful pretty.” He asked me which it was. Awful or pretty?

One thing I don’t remember, but was reminded of a few years ago thanks to a friend of my parents, is that I used to write my own newspapers and go door to door selling them for a penny. I was a writer, even then. Shoot, I even got paid.

So what does this have to do with voice? What could all those early memories from such a long time ago have to do with writing? Easy. Those years, those memories, are a part of who I am. They are an important ingredient in the soup that provides all the important details that make their way into my books. That soup made up of memories, as well as genetics and other things I can’t even begin to understand, forms whatever it is within me that makes it possible for me to create a story that’s uniquely mine. It’s a simple truth that we are who we are, that we’re shaped from our first breath to be one of a kind.

I think if you look too hard for voice and style, if you try to create a voice instead of going with the flow and embracing who you are, you’re headed for trouble. It’s easy to look at another writer’s work and say, “I want to write like her.” But you can’t write like her. And on the flip side, she can’t write like you.

Do I purposely call upon a combination of skunks, arrows, Castro and Wicked Witches when I’m plotting a story? No. Are they there, somewhere, along with other important and unimportant moments in my life subconsciously contributing to every word I write? Absolutely.

I am who I am. War Eagle.

Linda Winstead Jones


Please visit Linda at www.lindawinsteadjones.com/ to find out more about her fabulous books!