10 Reasons I Love Summer

In the summer months I revel in the weather, my writing, and the freedom of not answering to a schedule dictated by bells. I realize as I write this my family down in Georgia is sweltering with the heat index ranging between 105 -110, and I must say I don’t miss that at all. In fact, I complain a lot about Wisconsin winters and springs because–let’s face it–winter lasts too long and we have no spring. Well, sometimes we do, but not this year. We rolled directly from late winter into summer in a matter of about two weeks. But since I’ve moved to Wisconsin, summer has become my favorite season of the year.

Yesterday I was reflecting on what I love about summer, and I had no trouble coming up with a list.

1. Waking to the sound of birds singing rather than an alarm ringing. With a river behind us and a stream running through the backyard, our yard is a haven for birds. And they wake up at about 4:30-5:00 AM to sing their little hearts out. It’s lovely!

2. Falling asleep to the sound of peepers and frogs singing and croaking. That little stream in our backyard empties into a pond where said peepers and frogs like to hang out. They put on a nightly concert just for us. Once, one of the tree frogs got stuck in the window next to my youngest son’s room. He couldn’t figure out where the sound was coming from and struggled to fall asleep each night the singing was so loud!

3. Thunderstorms. Through some trick of nature or topography, my town doesn’t get a lot of severe weather. When we do, the storms are doozies, but usually we just have a gully-washer as my mama use to say.

Delphiniums by my soon-to-be complete vegetable garden.

4. Flowers–everywhere! I don’t know if all southerners are gardeners, but in my family we are or, at least, we profess to be. I love flowers, especially roses. What I’ve learned from gardening in the Midwest, however, is that my gardens don’t tolerate weakness of any kind (I think that may be a metaphor for living in the Midwest.) I don’t grow tea roses which were my daddy’s favorite, specifically Tropicana tea roses, but I do grow Knockout Roses. Ironically, they were developed by the brother of Tom Radler, the wonderful teacher I student taught with years ago.

5. The river and water in general. I grew up on Lake Sinclair in Georgia. We had a lake house (read trailer with an attached screened porch) where we spent nearly every weekend and a lot of weekdays for years. Once we even witnessed a tornado from inside–I know. It’s a miracle I’m still here after surviving a tornado in a trailer! We also spent a lot of time at Jekyll Island on the beach with two other families. Those are great memories, but I’m making new ones on this river behind my house. Once Bruce and I got caught in a thunderstorm while we were floating down the river! Scary but exhilarating!

6. Running and walking with my Stella. During the school year I don’t get nearly enough exercise. I usually put on about ten pounds. All summer I work to take that ten pounds back off! Luckily I enjoy the heat and humidity and also working up a good sweat. As I’ve grown older, it has taken longer to get back into shape, but I keep at it. Not only does Stella like to go with me, but she also gets to swim in the river to cool off. sometimes I wish I could join her!

7. Farmer’s Markets! I will feature my favorite one on my blog soon and show you all the beautiful flowers and vegetables we have available.

My favorite wine and my favorite husband!

8. Relaxing with my hubby on the back porch. We both love to garden, and when we finish, we often relax on the back porch after a dip in the river to cool off. One of my favorite things is spending time with my husband, and summer means I can devote quality time to him without being distracted  by grading papers in the evening.

9. Long days–really long! The sun rises here at about 5:00 and doesn’t set until nearly 10:00 at night. If my Norwegian relatives are reading this, they are probably laughing right now! When we went to Norway last summer, the sun never set because we were above the Arctic Circle. I went outside at our cousins’ house at about 3:00 AM, and it was light out! That was a little weird, but we adjusted. I love how long it stays light in summer here because in winter it’s often dark by four in the afternoon, and I thrive on sunlight.

10. Writing–for as long as I want every day! I saved the best for last. I am so excited about the work I did today. (I love calling writing my work!) On Twitter I found two new agents to query for my completed novel, did research for the one I’m planning at the moment, received a book I had requested for research, wrote one blog post and started another one!

Summer is definitely my favorite season here in the Midwest. I’m free to pursue my passion and enjoy the beauty all around me!

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A Sign of the Times

Yesterday I ran some errands downtown. In Waupaca, a town of just over 5,000 people,  we are very lucky to have a thriving Main Street with almost everything we need offered by local merchants here and in the surrounding area, no Walmart or other large big box retailers to speak of. We even support three bookstores! I know! It’s unheard of! Unfortunately, in another couple of weeks, that number will shrink to two.

Book World in Waupaca

One place I stopped was Book World to buy a copy of a book I’ve been waiting forever for, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon, (yes, hardcover, and I paid full price and am so excited to read it!). I did get a 20% discount, however. When I asked my friend Maria, the manager, about it, she told me they were offering a discount because Book World will be closing several of its stores. Waupaca’s store is one of them.

I didn’t ask about profits or traffic or the recession or anything like that. I’ve read enough about what is happening in the publishing world and the economy to know how difficult it is to sell books these days, especially with the competition of Amazon and Barnes and Noble to deal with. As a result, small, independent booksellers are a disappearing breed, even small chains like Book World. Although Dragonwings Bookstore is still hanging on ( thank goodness!) as is The Book Cellar, I am saddened to think that a community like Waupaca will have one fewer choice at which to browse the shelves for books and magazines, calendars and bookmarks. We will have to look elsewhere to find the perfect book for a gift or experience the thrill of purchasing the latest book in a series that has taken years to read, as I just did.

If your community still has a book store, I beg you to support your local independent bookseller, even if it costs a few dollars more to buy from them. The experience of browsing the shelves in peace and quiet as you sample the worlds within the newly inked pages, of smelling the perfume of new paper, glue, and ink  which is unique to books, and of looking for a title and finding several you weren’t looking for but which you, ultimately, can’t live without is priceless. I don’t know anyone who would find going to the Amazon warehouse and browsing the shelves  comparable to being greeted by name and having books recommended by a friend.

 

“I have gone to [this bookshop] for years, always finding the one book I wanted – and then three more I hadn’t known I wanted.”
― Mary Ann ShafferThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Pantster or Plotter? Maybe Both

How I feel when inspiration strikes!

I’ve started a new writing project! It has been a long time since I thought I had a viable idea, but now I think I do. At least I hope so. I’ve spent the morning researching my idea and can’t find anything that remotely addresses my topic!

My trouble is that when I get an idea that I really like, I tend to start writing before I really know where I’m going. That isn’t bad in and of itself, but I could save myself a lot of backtracking and changing if I planned just a bit, which is what I am trying to do this time–at least to begin. 🙂

My Plan:

1. Research my topic (which I’ve started already) and the related titles. This is not something I did before I started writing my first book, The Scent of Jessamine. I would have saved myself some time, but I also would have had a better idea who was writing books similar to mine.

2. Do a preliminary Hero’s Journey to flesh out the idea. Christine DeSmet introduced me to Christopher Vogler’s book The Writer’s Journey five years ago. Here’s a link for The Writer’s Journey that gives explanations and examples to follow. I used Vogler’s template for my last book (changed my life!) but not until I had written about 60-70 pages. The previous book contains perhaps 100 words from my original pages, but that may be a stretch.

3. Create a character sketch for each of the characters. This is not something I did when I wrote my first book. Since then I realize how important knowing my characters is, their motivations and quirks, what they think is important. The trouble is that bits and pieces come to me. That’s how my muse works. All I know is the name of my main character so far! I am of two minds on character sketches too. I love the act of discovery, of seeing what my characters will do when they are under pressure, but perhaps that happens anyway?

4. Decide where to set the novel. For this book I’m really not sure. Jessamine was so oriented toward setting that all I had to do was inhabit that place in the book. This time I think the setting will be in the South somewhere, but I think the subject matter may determine setting and character to a certain extent. I have learned a lot about setting and how important it is from workshops I’ve attended such as Weekend with Your Novel and Writer’s Institute, both in Madison Wisconsin. So I know I will spend a lot of time on setting and may have to go there to get a good idea what the place feels like as I did with Jessamine. Field trips are a perk I like!

5. Write when inspiration strikes as I proceed. I still plan to do this. I can’t contain myself when inspiration strikes me. I have to to record that initial “lightning strike before it’s gone. It seldom reappears if I let it slip away.

6. Create an outline of scenes. Doing this will be new for me. My writer friend, Geri Gibbons, put together a beautiful outline of a book she is working on. I remember seeing it at a class I took with her and was impressed with how much detail was depicted. I envied her knowing exactly what she would write about. I’m going to try this (she says doubtfully). I’ll see how far I get. I’m notoriously poor at planning.

7. Put my butt in my chair and write! Treat writing like my job, which it is in the summer and, one day, may be year-round!

When I started The Scent of Jessamine, I had no plan to speak of. I knew where I wanted to end up, but no idea how to get there. However, I don’t want to spend another five years on this book, so I am planning before I write. I will not be a complete pantster this time! When I started Jessamine, I had no idea what I was doing! Although I don’t profess to know what I’m doing now, I do have a better idea now, thanks to the tutelage of Christine DeSmet, Kristin Oakley, Laurie Scheer and many others who’ve taught me so much about writing and the business of writing.

I’m not giving up on The Scent of Jessamine. I still believe in Faith and Josiah and their story. I will still try to find a home for them with an agent and a publisher, but I miss the creative process.

Revising is an entirely different beast from writing; a whole other part of the brain is required, and it doesn’t leave me fulfilled afterwards the way that the act of creating does. I need to connect with my creative side, and I’ve missed that lately. I won’t give up my pantster ways entirely, but plotting will make my life easier so I can spend more time writing and less time revising! Is there anything you think I should add to my list? I’m so excited about this new project!

The Book Blogger Test

A Familiar Books Quotes

I follow a blog by Jodie Llewellyn. She is a wonderful writer and blogger. If you don’t know about her blog, you should check it out. For a post the other day she answered the questions to the book blogger test from a blog she follows called Brin’s Book Blog. She liked the questions, and so do I. Even though I am not nearly an expert on books or blogging about them, I decided to answer the test questions for my post. I love answering those quizzes on Facebook that tell you what song was written just for you or what you’d be in the wild west, so I’m approaching these in much the same way! I’d love to hear your responses to some of these questions, especially books you’d recommend!

What are your top three book pet hates?

1. I know books about vampires were really popular, but I hate the whole vampire thing. If I never read anything with vampires, it will be too soon.

2. Reading a book that doesn’t live up to its hype. It’s why I haven’t read The Fault in Our Stars, the Harry Potter series, etc. I know I’m missing out, or so many people have told me, but I haven’t been disappointed either! 🙂

3. I hate when my favorite books are turned into movies and the characters look NOTHING like I imagined them, or they add a scene, or totally change the ending. Things like that lead me to wonder if the people who made the movie even read the same book I did. Case in point–has anyone seen The Great Gatsby?

Describe your perfect reading spot.

My perfect reading spot is on my couch in my living room with a cup of Lady Grey or Paris vanilla tea. I snuggle into a beautiful cream colored throw my friend Kay crocheted, and if it is cold here in Wisconsin and the fire is burning brightly, there is nowhere I would rather be! I could stay for hours happily killing time.

Tell us three book confessions.

1. When I was growing up, I didn’t like to read. I know that sounds crazy for an aspiring author and an English teacher, but I would rather have played basketball or have ridden my bike or my unicycle, anything but be cooped up indoors!

2. I have never read Gone With the Wind. I think I just heard a collective gasp from some of my friends down in Georgia. I know! But I just never was all that interested.

3. I have never read anything by Jane Austen. Okay, I just heard it again. This time I think it was from my English teacher colleagues. One day I will try one of her novels, probably the Mr. Darcy one, but there are just so many books to read and so little time!

When was the last time you cried during a book?

I don’t usually cry when I read books. I cry when I see movies, but I think the last time I cried during a book, I cried because I was laughing so hard when I read The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson. I dare you to read that book and not laugh till you cry!

How many books are on your bedside table?

Currently, only one because my husband’s relatives just came for a visit from Norway, and I didn’t want them to see what a book slob I am. Ordinarily I have a whole pile, sometimes an entire basket full! When the hubby is away for business, they even creep over onto the bed with me!

What is your favorite snack to eat while you’re reading?

I don’t like to eat when I read, but I love to have a hot drink, preferably black tea with honey and milk.

Name three books you would recommend to everyone.

Only three? This is the hardest question of the whole list, I think, so I chose the ones I have reread over and over again because of the magic of being transported through time and place.

The Alchemist by Paulo Cuelho

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

 Show us a picture of your favorite bookshelf on your bookcase.

This is my favorite shelf because it is the one with books by southern writers or about the South. I just reorganized my bookshelves!

 Write how much books mean to you in just three words.

Inspiration. Entertainment. Companions.

What is your biggest reading secret?

When I try to read “classics,” most of the time I don’t finish them. I think I feel obligated to at least try to read what others throughout history have found worthwhile, but sometimes the classics are…boring. I know I am setting a bad example for my students; nevertheless, it’s true. Sometimes I  appreciate classic novels; other times I don’t. Usually when I do, I have read something by an author which captured my fancy and then set off to find other books by the same author. That’s what happened when I read Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I fell in love with Thomas Hardy’s writing and have read every novel he ever wrote. Sometimes that happens for me, and I’m so glad when it does.

One Day

Southerners have an identity. They are the land they grew up on. Heat and gnats and flowers and rain live in them. Place defines them. It is as much a part of them as their DNA. They are connected to the land like Scarlet O’Hara was. My own family is the same. We have called the same area of Georgia home since the 1700’s, but we are scattered now. No longer do people remain, as their grandparents did before them, in the places where they are raised, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

When I went home in March, I knew I knew the Sandersville of my memory was different than the Sandersville I would encounter, but what I hadn’t counted on was feeling like the Prodigal son, someone who had squandered the fortune I had inherited, in this case my heritage. I was an outsider after a five year absence. Of course, I’ve been gone longer than that, but for five years I had not been home even for a visit. The recession and unemployment hit my immediate family pretty hard. I wanted to return, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t justify spending the money when I was just homesick.

People from the South are born there, live their lives there, and raise families there. Rarely does anyone decide to move away and make their home elsewhere, but I did. When I went back to my hometown, I knew both people and places had changed. What I hadn’t counted on though was how much I have changed. I’m proud of having left and made something of myself in a place where no one knew me, but I miss my people, my family and relatives and my friends and their families.

Sandersville has changed, but that’s no surprise. What I’m most concerned about is that at some point my “home,” the place where I grew up, the place that molded me into who I am today will no longer be home. What if I stay away so long that my friends don’t recognize me, that I’ll be an outlander, an alien in a familiar place?

I have vowed to return home one day, but one day seems farther away than ever before. One day I will walk again in the footsteps of my ancestors, drink in the soft air of a southern spring, feel the thunder rumble beneath my feet as a summer thunderstorm brings sweet relief from the heat of the day, and feel the mists of winter rise over the hay fields at the end of the day. One day.