Blind Turn

“Does one monstrous mistake make you a bad person?” That’s the central question in Cara Achterberg’s latest book, Blind Turn, which published January 7, 2021. It’s a timely theme which, which probes the ideas of responsibility and forgiveness and made me think not just of my own life but also of things happening in wider world. Cara deftly weaves together two points of view to tell an emotionally difficult but hopeful story. It’s the kind of book I love: a gripping story with life-like characters who ponder important questions and teach readers what they learn along the way. It’s more than a good read. It should be essential reading for everyone but especially parents and young people. I highly recommend it!

The narrative starts with a car crash that kills an important man. The teenager responsible for his death, an honor student and track star, was texting and driving. Even though my own children are grown, I found imagining either of them in this same situation, one too horrific to contemplate, all too easy. I think that’s one of the story’s strengths—distracted driving is something most people could identify with. Cara skillfully weaves the events of the book together with the characters feelings and struggles and offers hard-won wisdom at the moments wisdom is needed in the story.

The book opens with Liz Johnson answering a phone call from Jake, her ex-husband, at the retirement home where she works. He explains their daughter Jess was in an accident and is banged up but okay. Then he says she hit someone and that the man she hit is dead. Jess is concussed and doesn’t remember the accident. To make matters worse, the man she killed is the beloved football coach, Jess’s father’s high school football coach, in the small Texas town of Jefferson where Jess and Liz live.

Of course, Jess is in legal jeopardy, but this family doesn’t have money for a hotshot lawyer to defend their daughter from the kind of charges she faces. Consequently, Liz turns to a lawyer who was once interested in her for help. Trouble is he’s not a defense lawyer and has no experience. As Jess recovers, she and Liz face persecution at work, at school and online. Jess’s best friend, who was in the car with Jess at the time of the accident, abandons her and joins in condemning Jess for Coach’s death. Everyone blames Jess, everyone except Coach’s wife.

When Jess first returns to school, she goes to counseling with Ms. Ellen and begins to think of the accident and her role in it. Liz and the lawyer try to find a way to defend Jess since she still doesn’t remember what happened. To prepare for track season and to stay sane, Jess goes for long runs past Coach Mitchell’s house. Eventually, she also stops to see Mrs. Mitchell, Coach’s wife, and begins walking Sherman, her dog. Jess also begins to make different friends at school, but her best friend Sheila ignores her and openly mocks her.

Meanwhile, Liz’s boss pressures to quit her job. When she does, she goes to work for the lawyer. During their research to figure out how to save Jess, they become involved though he is still married to his estranged wife. To escape the pressure of life in Jefferson, Jess moves into her father’s trailer. She becomes involved with a boy named Fish who lives alone in the same trailer park where her father lives. Jess convinces Fish to help her run away from home on his motor scooter.

After the police find the them, Jess returns to her home in Jefferson and goes back to school. All the while Jess’s trial looms closer, and jail time for Jess seems more likely than ever. Each chapter brings Jess and her mom closer to the trial, but what happens at the end is not what I had imagined. No spoiler from me. You’ll want to read this to find out what happens to Jess and Liz.  

If the accident begins the book, the aftermath of the accident defines it.  Blind Turn will make you think about the way we treat people, the way we assess situations and assign blame, especially if we are not directly involved, and the way we can accept what we can’t change. Human beings are fallible and guilty and good and kind, as multi-faceted as kaleidoscopes. Indeed, our perception and understanding changes depending on how we look at a situation, how close we are to it and how directly involved. This was a book about texting and driving and the consequences of that kind of mistake, but it’s also a book about human nature, at its best and at its worst. Thanks for writing a wonderful book, Cara!

Review of Little Pieces of Me by Alison Hammer

Thank you to William Morrow and Net Galley for a digital ARC of this title in exchange for my honest review.
I knew I’d love this story of a surprise uncovered by a DNA test because my husband found a surprise in his family tree, though it wasn’t quite as dramatic as the one Paige Meyer discovers in Little Pieces of Me.

Paige, a woman in her forties, feels like she doesn’t belong in her family. Her relationship with her mother is prickly, and her father, who loved her unconditionally, has passed away. After Paige receives an email from a DNA testing website that reveals her late father isn’t her DNA father, she is devastated and questions her identity, her relationship with her father, and her mother’s honesty and love. With help from her two best friends, Paige begins the process of discovering who she really is. Eventually she learns the truth about herself, the man who raised her, her mother, and the relationship between her mother and her DNA dad, but it’s a rocky road she travels to understand the meaning of love and forgiveness.

The story is told in dual timelines: the present called “Now” in Paige’s point of view, and “Then,” in 1975 which follows Betsy’s and Andy’s college years and shows us who Paige’s mother and DNA dad were before they conceived Paige. This organizational setup must have been complicated to pull off, but it reveals the motivations and secrets of each character in the story at the exact moment I wanted and needed to know them. Even though the characters of Elizabeth and Betsy were the same person, this before and after timeline revealed the changes wrought by time and circumstance on Paige’s mother, father, and DNA dad. Elizabeth was Betsy before life and circumstances intervened, and Andrew was Andy.

I particularly liked stepping back in time in Betsy’s and Andy’s chapters. I think we sometimes forget our parents are and were as fully human as we are, so it was eye-opening to read those chapters and think of them as the background to Paige’s story and growth as a character and also how much our past influences our present. Their chapters brought back memories of my own college years and the secrets I keep. They also made me think of my parents in a new way. Good books make us think in a new way about ourselves and the world, and this book is one that has resonated with me on many levels.

As I read, these questions kept running through my mind. How well do we truly know our parents? How many people keep secrets this big? At what age do we view ourselves as individuals rather than as our parents’ children, or do we ever do that? I could not put this book down and highly recommend it!

Credit Where Credit’s Due

I recently read an article on the Instagram stories from Wit and Delight that made me think. “It was called “15 Things You Can Do Instead of Comparing Yourself to Others.” I won’t recap all that was in the article, but it’s definitely worth a read, especially if you are a writer or other artist who suffers from Imposter syndrome or doubts your talent or ability even a little bit.

Birches on my walks.

Imposter syndrome is all about comparing yourself to others, and the way I usually deal with it is to unplug from social media. Social media is a soul-sucking activity that leads to comparing myself and my life to the inaccurate idea that everyone else is successful, beautiful, and happy–oh, and by the way, also has a book coming out!

Another way I deal with surround myself with nature by walking or hiking, gardening, or exercising outdoors in all kinds of weather. I also associate with like-minded writers as much as possible so we can share our struggles and our unique perspective on writing and reading. This year, however, covid has made socializing difficult.

Two ideas to stop this kind of harmful comparison appeared in this article, and I believe they will become staples in my way of thinking because they resonated with me and made me think of myself differently and allowed me to think of all I’ve done in a different way. Those ideas? To think of yourself as a child and to reflect on something you did that’s all yours.

When I look back on myself as a child, I remember images and feelings mostly: playing in the creek behind my house, riding my bike with the wind in my face, stepping on sun-softened tar on the road on a hot summer day. But I also remember playing dress-up and Barbie, and spending literally hours drawing. In other words, I had a vivid imagination. I did what was fun or brought me joy and I wasn’t afraid to follow where my imagination led.

I know the little girl I was would look at me now in awe. She would marvel that I spend every morning at my computer writing. She would be amazed that I’ve finished one manuscript and had the courage to re-imagine the story and make it completely new. She’d also be amazed that I’ve had the patience, stamina, and drive to learn everything I can about writing and to practice and apply that knowledge along the way. I think she’d be proud of the writer I’ve become, and I intend to make sure she stays that way.

When I reflect on something I’ve done that’s all mine, I almost don’t know where to start. I’m proud of so many things. The following is just a short list.

  1. Following my heart in college to become an English major instead of a nurse.
  2. Being certain my “love-at-first-sight” feeling for my husband was absolutely correct–we just celebrated our 33rd anniversary at home with a piece of Godiva chocolate cheesecake. Covid can’t stop us!
  3. Holding down the home-front with a five-month-old baby while my husband was deployed during Desert Shield and Desert storm. My oldest son and I spent ten months being everything to each other.
  4. Leaving my hubby in charge of our two boys and a our dog to travel alone to London to meet my childhood friend for a four day trip. I cried on the plane, but that trip remains one of the most memorable times of my life.
  5. Going back to school when my husband left the military to become a high school English teacher.
  6. Volunteering to write curriculum for and teach a creative writing class the year my principal offered a creative writing class on distance learning. My class had more students who gave me good reviews, so I got to keep the class. It was my favorite thing to teach.
  7. Learning to write a novel. This is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I know people think I should have published by now, and maybe I should have, but I wasn’t happy with my first effort. I’m working to make this first book as good as I can make it.
  8. Raising (read civilizing) two healthy, happy gentlemen. Although I had help with this one from my husband, I’m still prouder of my two sons than I am of anything else in the world. If I never publish a novel, I will have made my mark on this planet with those two fine children who are strong, kind, and open-minded.

Making this list was a great exercise to remind myself of what I’ve done, what I’ve accomplished that is truly mine. I’m not an imposter. When I feel that way, it’s my insecurity talking. From now on, I’ll stop comparing myself to others. I’m going to give myself credit where credit is due. When I put my mind to anything, I can achieve all things. What do you need to give yourself credit for doing and creating? Be proud of who you are and what you’ve accomplished.

Grandpa Ott Morning Glory

You and Me and Us

If you’re missing summer already, as I am, Alison Hammer’s debut women’s fiction book, You and Me and Us, will let you live at the beach for a little while longer. This sweet story of a workaholic mom, a teen with issues, and the man who holds their family together–at least for awhile–will break your heart and put it back together by the end. Have a box of tissues ready!

This story, told with humor and compassion, is about Alexis Gold, a workaholic mom, who puts her business above everything else, including family. For years, she and her teenage daughter CeCe have depended on Tommy, CeCe’s dad and Alexis’s partner, to parent CeCe, which he does well. But he does everything well. Tommy is the rock CeCe and Alexis depend on to interpret their feelings and referee their disputes. He’s the peacemaker who holds their family together. Until his diagnosis with terminal cancer changes everything.

The only thing Tommy asks of Alexis is to spend his last summer in Destin, Florida, where they lived when they were twelve-year-old kids. Despite misgivings about leaving home for Destin, Alexis leaves her business in her partner’s hands and drives Tommy and CeCe to their beach house.

Problems inevitably arise as they wait for Tommy to pass away. Two of them are that Tommy’s ex lives nearby and CeCe doesn’t trust her mom, especially when CeCe falls for a local boy. Alexis and CeCe have to learn to depend less on Tommy and more on each other over the course of this heartbreaking but beautiful summer where love and forgiveness triumph in their lives.

Ultimately this is a love story, a coming of age story and a story of redemption and living life with no regrets. I laughed and cried through it all, especially the ending! If you haven’t read it yet, you should. You can find You and Me and Us here or, better yet, support your local bookseller. By the way, Alison has a new book coming out next year called Little Pieces of Me. Click the title to preorder from Amazon! Can’t wait to read it!!!

Sail On Silver Girl

Dogs have a way of wrapping themselves around our hearts. With their unbridled love for their people and the way they live their lives with boundless joy, they show us how to live. When they leave us, especially sooner than they should, they leave our hearts and our houses emptier than before they entered our lives.

Photo taken by Travis Anderson, @travshootsphotos in the field near our house.

I know this because our sweet Stella crossed the rainbow bridge a month ago. I’ve mourned her passing every day since. I still imagine her everywhere. When I pass her favorite swimming hole on my walks, when I get up in the morning and when I come home. I miss her greeting me as though I’d been gone forever. I miss her hugs, her heavy breathing when she hugged me, like she couldn’t get enough of the scent of her people. I miss her chasing after squirrels and rabbits and deer, except for a buck that wanted to make friends. I miss her beautiful athleticism, her silliness, and her happiness when she knew she’d pleased her family.

We adopted Stella during the Great Recession, a time when so much in our lives was changing–kids going to college, returning home to wait for jobs, and then leaving home for good, job losses and changes, and health challenges. We were lucky to have her during all that upheaval. She kept us grounded and reminded us that everything would be okay if we approached life the way she did. She loved us unconditionally through it all, gave our lives structure and purpose, and drew our focus away from our problems and sorrows.

Stella wearing her towel as a bonnet.

Our days revolved around caring for her: potty time, breakfast, water, potty again, naps, walks, begging, car rides, more naps, potty time, chuck-it sessions, swimming in the river, more naps, potty time, supper, naps, potty time, bedtime. Though she ate the same thing day after day, she loved her food. Greenies were her drug of choice, followed closely by sweet stems of tall grass in summer and deer candy. She loved her family, swimming, lying in the sunshine, sleeping by the fire in winter, running in the snow, going for walks, playing Chuck It, and presents: opening them at Christmas and wrapping them for Christmas!

Travis saying goodbye to Stella the first time he moved away.

As much as she loved some things, however, she hated others: rabbits, chipmunks, coyotes (which she growled at but kept her distance from), rotten things, and dead things. She wouldn’t have dreamed of rolling in disgusting, smelly things. She loved to be clean and sleep in a Tide-washed bed and freshly laundered collar. When I put her fluffy bed in her crate, she often tried to get in with me she was so excited. A more fastidious dog I’ve never met!

Before I found Stella, I was looking for a yellow, male Labrador, but her picture popped up on She was a silver Lab, and her name then was Misty. Ironically, my beloved childhood dog, a miniature schnauzer, was also named Misty, so I took that as a sign that she was meant for us.

Diving for rocks in the river.

Stella was spayed, had learned basic obedience skills, and could ring a bell to go outside. Why in the world would anyone surrender her? In her picture on the website, what tugged at my heart was that she looked scared and disoriented. She was. She didn’t understand why she was in that shelter. When we went to visit her, we found out her previous owners had given her up on her birthday. We took her home that day, before we had a bed, bowl, food, toys or anything else dog related. We stopped at Petco on the way home and bought what we needed.

This is her favorite blanket.

Despite having a nice bed, Stella made it her habit to sit next to me beside the sofa when I was reading or grading papers. Eventually, I put two blankets on the floor for her, each one given to her by her Grandma, Bruce’s mom. Stella’s favorite was a green and gold crocheted blanket. Stella was born here, so I guess deep in her heart she was a Packer fan. Speaking of her grandma, she loved Bruce’s mom Joslyn to death! Joslyn used to come to our house, open the door, and yell, “Hello!” When Stella heard that, she abandoned whatever she was doing and ran to the door to see Grandma!

Erik playing Chuck it, Stella’s favorite game!

When Stella first came to us, we had to break some of her bad habits. She was a jumper, and when people came over, she’d jump in excitement and nip at their faces. She also made herself at home on the furniture; dogs aren’t allowed to do that at our house. Once, shortly after we brought her home, I found her lying between my pillow and Bruce’s on our bed–with her butt on my pillow! She also didn’t walk well on a leash, and when we walked her, she tried to chase cars.

My husband deserves the credit for teaching her to behave in the early days because he spent every day with her while he was laid off and the kids and I were at school. They walked for hours in all sorts of weather. We taught her to chase balls (which wasn’t hard since she was a retriever.) She swam in the river, patrolled the yard, barked for hours at each corner of the yard to claim her territory, and learned that our home was her home and that we were her family.

Silly Stella!

She had so much ENERGY! Once when we let her out to do her business, she saw some deer and chased them all through the woods surrounding our house. We called and called, but she was having too much fun to heed our voices. As she chased them, distant barks reached echoed through the woods. When she tired of the game a couple of hours later, she came home, muddy and exhausted, but happy, her tongue lolling out of her mouth.

She was a beautiful girl.

She loved water, swimming in the river behind our house, and diving for rocks. I don’t know how she managed to hold her breath, but she stayed underwater until she found a rock she wanted to bring us to throw. After working in the yard in summer, my husband and I often took her to the river to swim, while we cooled off in our swimsuits. Our favorite spot has big boulders for us to sit on and that Stella sat on when she was tired.

By the river, her domain.

Although Stella loved water, she didn’t care for a bath. Until it was over. She adored her towel, and seeing the towel made her frisky, especially when she was a puppy. Once when I was drying her off, she bit down on one end of the towel, snatched it from my hands, and took off running around the yard. When my husband saw her heading straight for him, he jumped onto a big boulder in our yard. She banked off the rock, and headed straight back toward me at full speed. It was like that scene in Peanuts when Snoopy grabbed Linus’s blanket and charged around with it. My husband and I laughed so hard, we were crying. Stella loved it! She loved when we were happy, and we loved seeing the big smile on her face and her wagging tail.

One of many hugs I’ll miss.

Now that some time has passed my memories of our sweet Stella bring me more comfort than pain. I miss her every day, and occasionally I’m blindsided by grief, but that just proves what a great dog she was. She had a big heart, but even such a strong dog couldn’t kick cancer. As much as we wanted her to be with us forever, we have to learn to live without her. Nothing replaces a dog when it comes time for them to leave. Losing their companionship unconditional love is difficult to bear, and no matter when it happens, it happens far too soon.

Stella adoring Bruce while hiking in the state park.

When we said goodbye to Prairie Dawn, our chocolate Lab, I thought my heart would break in two. I waited three years to find another dog because I thought no dog could possibly be as wonderful as Prairie Dawn had been. I was wrong. When we said goodbye to Stella, she took a good chunk of all our hearts with her. I’m not sure I can have another dog; it’s too hard to say goodbye. Besides, I’m positive no other dog could be as sweet and loving as Stella was.

When we adopted her, we gave her a second chance at being part of a family. She came to us when we needed her, and what she gave us was her great big, energetic heart and all the love and joy and sweetness it held. For ten years, our family was lucky to have her and to learn the lessons in loving that only a dog can teach. Sail on, my silver girl. We love you, forever and ever.

Goodbye, my sweet girl.

Service and Sacrifice

Now and then my husband reflects on the military friends he’s lost. Most of them I knew only from stories he told me of things they did or said. He remembers everything, but what I remember most about his time in the U.S. Marine Corps was his deployment to the Persian Gulf in 1990 and the things that happened during Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

HMM-164 1990-1991, USS Okinawa, My husband in the fourth one back from the first man on the left.

There’s no equivalent to saying goodbye to someone who is leaving for a military deployment. It’s hard to explain what it feels like if you’ve never served or never loved someone who has. On the day Bruce left I felt pride mixed with fear, insecurity, and uncertainty, but mostly love and a fervent hope he’d come home safely.

Bruce and I have talked about his time in the military. He misses it because he had a mission, and it gave his life purpose. He served something greater than himself. His service gave me that also, but these days I don’t miss it, especially at Memorial Day. Because I know I’m one of the lucky ones. My husband came back. What I feel now is gratitude.

Left to right: Bruce, JT, Pinkie, Nozzle and

I still remember holding our baby son in May of 1990 and standing beside the helicopter carrier to say goodbye to Bruce for what we thought would be a routine six month deployment. He left in May and was to be home by Christmas, but he didn’t return for ten long months. His Amphibious Readiness Group (ARG) was the first to go to the Persian Gulf and the last to come home.

Bruce beside a CH-46, somewhere in the Philippines.

Back then we lived in California, far from my family, and I was alone with a five month old baby. That was a time of long-distance phone calls, film cameras, and daily newspapers. CNN was brand new, the first 24 hour news channel. The only source of communication between my husband and me were letters and packages sent across the miles. Sometimes they arrived in order, sometimes not. Sometimes they got dropped in the ocean.

The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Our son, wearing a flight suit made by Gramma Josie, while Dad was deployed.

While Bruce was deployed, I became an active member of the HMM-164 “wives’ club.” We were all lonely, and as usual in times when people are tested by shared uncertainty and fear, we grew close. We protected each other when we could and shared each other’s grief when we couldn’t. We operated a phone tree and distributed whatever news needed to be spread the old fashioned way–by phone. When bad news came, we supported each other.

In early October, bad news did come. I don’t remember what time I received the call, but I remember the words. “There’s been a mishap. Two helicopters are missing. They can’t find the crews.” I remember how I felt. Stunned there had been a crash, then grateful because I knew my husband was safe, then guilty and heartbroken because someone I knew had lost a loved one. They would receive a visit.

This is what happened. “At approximately 0415 on 8 October 1990, two UH-1N helicopters from HMM-164 launched from the USS Okinawa for an “at sea NVG [Night Vision Goggle] training operation” off the coast of Oman [North Arabian Sea].  At approximately 0513 the two helicopters disappeared from radar and failed to respond to radio calls.  Observers on the flight deck saw a ball of fire dropping into the sea.  Search efforts recovered very little wreckage and no sign of aircrew.  All were declared missing at sea.  The eight men aboard were considered the first casualties of Operation Desert Shield.
The eight aircrew were:
Capt W. Cronin
Capt G. Dillon
Capt K. Dolvin
Capt W. Hurley
Sgt K Keller
Sgt J Kilkus
Cpl T Romei
L/Cpl T. Adams”

I didn’t know until later that Captain William Hurley slept in the rack above my husband’s on the ship, that they knew each other, joked with each other, laughed together, shared pork rinds and packages from home. He was from the Chicago area like my husband, and according to a Chicago Tribune article, his sister said that he admired the marriage his parents had and that he “hoped one day he could be to someone what they`d been to each other all these years.”

Captain William Hurley, USMC

While the men were still deployed, a memorial was held on base for the families of these men. I’ve never attended anything that so affected me before or since.

I’ve been forever grateful for my husband’s survival all these years. Before we married, my pastor counseled me that my husband was the kind of man who, if he wasn’t flying helicopters for a living, would be racing cars or riding motorcycles or pursuing some other dangerous occupation. In fact, 10 of the 52 pilots in his squadron have since died from plane crashes, only two of them civilian crashes.

People who join the military are the best kind of people–they are heroes who run toward trouble to keep the rest of us safe. They didn’t want to die. But they also knew every single day that dying was a possibility.

Welcome home parade in Orange County

We remember our fallen heroes on Memorial Day, but my husband thinks often of those men, especially Bill, his roommate on the ship. Rarely does he say anything. That’s not his way. But occasionally he’ll remember something about his days aboard the Okinawa, and he’ll share snippets with me. I know he thinks of them and others who’ve passed away and left their families behind. We who benefit from the courage of the fallen owe it to them to honor their memories and to protect the liberties they died to protect.

Inspired by History

To research the setting for my historical novel, my husband and I took a long weekend trip to Charleston, South Carolina several years ago. Since I’m from the South, I was anticipating uncomfortably hot, humid weather and lots of snakes as we traipsed around historic plantations in July, but amazingly, we arrived during a spell of comfortable temperatures and low humidity. I took it as a sign that my research would go well.

Fleet Landing, Charleston

While in Charleston, we enjoyed drinks at Fleet Landing, a place my husband still waxes poetic about when I mention the place, and had lunch on the patio at 82 Queen. Sometimes I still dream of the she crab soup I ate there. I do miss the seafood down south!

Camellia japonica “Reine des Fleurs”

We also visited the spectacular Middleton Place. The original main house and the north flanker were burned by Union troops in 1865, but the gardens are magnificent! In 1786, the French botanist and explorer, André Michaux gave the Middletons a house gift of camellias, the first to be grown in an American garden. One of the cultivars he gave them, Camellia japonica “Reine des Fleurs” is pictured above. In my book, there is also a camellia garden.

Drayton Hall the way it looked in 1869

The place where my imagination took flight and the experience of walking the land and entering the house made a lasting impression on me, however, was Drayton Hall, once a plantation on the Ashley River but which is now owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It was built during colonial times on the Ashley River and has stood through the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. In fact, it was the only plantation house on the Ashley River not destroyed by Union troops. It has even survived hurricanes and earthquakes. Yes, Charleston has earthquakes.

Until the 1970s Drayton Hall was owned by the Drayton family, the same people who built the plantation and lived and worked at Drayton Hall, but another family, the Bowens, lived and worked there even longer than the Draytons. Their history parallels that of the Draytons. They came to the U.S. from Barbados and lived and worked at Drayton Hall. Mr. Richmond Bowen was the last of them. He worked as the gatekeeper and unofficial historian. Through his legacy, the work of enslaved people and their sacrifices were recognized in the African American cemetery and history at Drayton Hall.

The beautiful Drayton Hall

Drayton Hall so captured my imagination that I decided to loosely base the location in my novel on it. I use elements from other places and earlier times, including putting a spring house and chapel on the grounds, similar to the one at Middleton Place. In short, I weave history into my story and blur the lines of what’s real and imagined as many writers do.

Middleton Place spring house( below) and chapel (above)

Despite River Oaks being inspired by Drayton Hall, the events in my book are products of my imagination. They are rooted in history and inspired by the research I’ve done on phosphate mining on the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, the grounds of Drayton Hall and Middleton Place, and Charleston during Reconstruction. I also fudge the years things happen to suit my story.

Phosphate mining at Drayton Hall

I often feel overwhelmed when I think of trying to capture the essence of this area, the time, and the people who might have lived and loved there, but when I do, I remember why history, especially Southern history, fascinates me.

People like the Draytons and the Bowens have weathered wars, poverty, hunger, disease, and other tragedies, but somehow have survived to remain rooted in the South for over two hundred years. Why is that? Why not move on to better places? That is what I contemplate as I write this book. Why does this place, any place, mean so much?

Southerners are the only people who’ve lost a war on American soil, and Southerners, black and white, had to rebuild their lives and reconcile their losses. I’m awed at their survival and determination to make a life when their way of life was gone. I think more than anything, that is what drives the story I’m writing. I hope my book will in a small way do their struggle justice.


I’m near the end of my manuscript…again. Several years ago, I completed the original manuscript, work-shopped it at a conference, revised it with two other writers, and started the query process to find an agent. So this is the second time I’ve approached THE END, and I can’t tell you how ready I am to finish this book and send it out into the world for the second time.

The idea for this book, which I call FAITH CAN MOVE MOUNTAINS, came to me years ago during a class I took called How to Teach Creative Writing. That was back when I was taking classes to renew my teaching license. Each of us each took turns coming up with lessons for the class. When it was my friend Elizabeth’s turn to teach , she handed us cards from the 1970s board game Masterpiece.

The card she handed me, Paris Street, Rainy Day by the French Impressionist, Gustave Caillebotte, sparked my original idea, but since then, the story has evolved–as stories do–so that almost nothing remains of that original idea. When I queried agents, I had requests for partials and a few requests for full manuscripts, but no one fell in love with my book the way I’d hoped. Before I sent the full manuscript to an agent I thought would be a perfect fit for FAITH, I sent it to an editor for a critique.

To make a long, painful story short, the editor absolutely hated my story and advised me to completely rewrite it and change everything. Devastated, I put the book away for about a year. When I could look at her critique without feeling hopeless and angry, I examined her advice and found nuggets I could use. I’ve spent the last year or so re-imagining plot, character, and point of view. Now, FAITH is almost ready to go out into the world with a more thoughtful and well-organized plot, deeper characterization, and dual points of view.

After attending a webinar with Abigail Perry through Women’s Fiction Writers Association I’ve been studying the Story Grid universe as a tool for revision and scene analysis. Once I understand Value shift so I can complete the Story Grid foolscap for my manuscript, I’ll have a blue print to stick to as I write the 15,000 more words until THE END. I’m almost there. Stay tuned…

Down a Delicious Writing Research Rabbit Hole

A couple of days ago, I was working on my book, which is historical women’s fiction set in 1868 Charleston, South Carolina. It’s a tough era to write about because not much detail about the way people lived during that time is readily available. To find what I’m looking for, I’ve discovered I have to go at it obliquely because so much of what I find out is buried in within other history.

That’s what happened when I was looking for a map of Charleston in 1868. What I ran across was this map of White Point Gardens in 1874. My two characters were strolling along the flagstones of the Battery, a seaside promenade, and I wondered what they would see where the Ashley and Cooper Rivers meet. So I started searching and found something I hadn’t known about. At the time I’m writing about, there was a two-story bath house connected to the peninsula via a footbridge. How cool is that!

View of the bath house before it was destroyed by a hurricane in 1874. Picture from the Preservation Society of Charleston

The public bathhouse had two floors, the first was the bath house, and on the upper floor was a cake and ice cream shop! Interesting for sure, but that information only made me curious to know what sort of cakes that shop might have served–just in case my characters decided to have dessert there.

I found some interesting cakes, one of which I plan to make. It’s called demon cake, a dense cake made with molasses, ginger, apples, brandy, and lots of spices. It’s just the sort of thing I love in fall. Here’s a picture of it from Food 52, one of my favorite cooking blogs. If you click the link, you’ll go to the recipe.

Demon Cake from Food 52

I also found out that Linzer torte is said to be the oldest cake in the world and is named after the city of Linz in Austria. Although the cake shop might have served Linzer torte, I believe it would have served more Southern fare, like pound cake and something called muster cake, which is now known by its more modern name of Election Cake and has the distinction of being the first American food associated with politics. Don’t know if that’s good or bad! You can read the fascinating history of that cake in the link above.

Election Cake (muster cake) photo from Food 52 and taken by James Ransom

The day I did this research I had a hard time not dropping everything to make one of thee cakes. I love baking. It has always been a huge stress reliever for me, and right now with covid19 still such a disruption, I really had to exercise self-control and keep my butt in the chair to make my writing goal for the day.

I wish I could say I do all my research BEFORE I start writing, but something always crops up that I need to know. I could put in a marker as some people recommend and do the research after I’ve written the scene, but that’s not how I roll. My curiosity gets the better of me and the details can sometimes change how the scene I’m writing unfolds, so I often research as I write. When I find out fascinating information like the above, I struggle to go back to my book!

Pirates Attack!

Today on a Facebook writing group I participate in, the moderator asked us to share some fun or funny lines from our WIPs. My books is rather serious, but there are some fun passages. The lines I chose today are part of a scene that includes two little boys playing pirate with Josiah Hamilton, the love interest of my main character. These little boys, Hank and Lawson, remind me of my own boys when they were little.

In the scene, Josiah Hamilton, the love interest of my heroine, goes to his best friend Henry’s house to ask Henry’s wife Charlotte a favor. Before Josiah even makes it to the piazza, the boys ambush him. What follows is from page 191 of my unpublished historical women’s fiction, Faith Can Move Mountains. Enjoy!

“Josiah was deep in thought before he reached the piazza of Henry and Charlotte’s house. As he set foot on the step, Hank and Lawson launched themselves at him and wrapped themselves around each of Josiah’s legs.

“Aargh, me hearty!” said Hank in a gravelly voice. “You be my prisoner now!” Hank wore a big smile framed on either side by deep dimples. His stick straight dark hair reached nearly to his dark brown eyes, one of which was covered by a blue serge eye patch.

“Suwender or we make you walk the Pwank!” Lawson’s face framed by ruddy curls was flushed and dewed with sweat. At three years old, he was fierce in his role as first mate to his brother, the captain of their pirate ship.

Josiah assumed his customary role as a privateer. “Unhand me, you brigands!” he bellowed. Then he began to walk up the stairs to the piazza with the boys attached to his legs as he climbed the stairs. They squealed and giggled as he stepped.

Henry stepped out onto the piazza. “Captain Hank, we’ve discussed this. You may not waylay visitors to my ship unless I give you permission.”

“But, Papa, he hathn’t paid the toll yet,” whined Lawson.

Josiah slapped his forehead. “I forgot the toll, but maybe I have something.”

Hank and Lawson let go of Josiah’s legs and stood looking up at him. “What did you bring?” Hank asked. He removed his eye patch to see better while Lawson pushed his hair out of his eyes.

“Let me see.” Josiah frowned and made a show of checking his pants and waistcoat pockets. “Ah! Now I remember where I put them.” He reached into his inside coat pocket and pulled out two, small, paper-wrapped packages. “Will these do?”

The boys each took one, but Hank was the first to get his open. “Gum drops!”