Monday, September 29, 2008

Memories...

What an awesome family reunion! We had around 65-70 people show up, more than we thought, but we had plenty of food. Oh my, the food! Italian goodness abounded. And because we had so much left over, my family had it for lunch the next day. Suffice to say, I probably gained a few pounds!

The above photo is of my Grandfather's family. My great-grandfather is all the way to the left and my grandfather is third from the left in the back row. And doesn't this picture below of my grandfather remind you of John Wayne?

He loved his horses. In fact, he taught all of them to roll over. And we even have it on tape! My grandmother had a 16 mm camera and she had some of the film transferred to video some years ago. There's no sound, but you really don't need it. We even have some film of my great-grandparents.

And this photo below...wow. I just love it. I think I'm going to get it printed out and then put it in a nice frame. My grandfather was a farmer and you can tell right here how much he loved it.

My grandma is one amazing woman. My dad bought her a scanner for her birthday and she's been scanning all these old photos into the computer. And of course, when I got there Friday night, we spent hours talking. I think it was midnight when we decided we should go to bed, and then we got on another topic and talked for 40 more minutes! I so enjoy visiting with my grandmother - she is one of the smartest, kindest, and most unselfish women I know. I am so fortunate to have her in my life. Isn't this just an adorable picture of her?


The best thing about a family reunion, besides the food, is all the stories. My cousins sat around and told stories until 11:30 that night. And we probably could have stayed longer if we weren't all so tired! I'm trying to remember the best ones and if I write them down, they will stay alive for future generations.

Here's to family!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Amateis Family: 100 Years

One hundred years ago today, my great-grandparents, Pietro and Domenica Amateis, arrived in America from the Piemonte region of Northern Italy. The picture above is of them many, many years later, after they'd had nine children. It is one of the few pictures we have of "Nona" smiling. She had a very hard life here in America, but because of her courage to leave her home in Volpiano, Italy, she gave her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren (and there will be many more!) a better life.
This is my great-grandfather, Pietro, on the far left. Wasn't he a handsome guy?


And here is their name at Ellis Island.


In celebration of our family coming to America, we are having a family reunion this weekend, a time to get together and visit and reminisce. We'll be having some traditional Italian fare, food that has been a part of my memory for as long as I can remember.


There will be homemade raviolis made from our homemade salami. We'll have bagna cauda, literally translated to mean hot bath, which is a hot dip made of garlic, anchovies, olive oil, and butter and then you dip vegetables, meat, bread, or whatever else you'd like. It's a regional speciality from Piemonte.


We'll also have polenta (well, I won't since it's not one of my favorites!) and homemade salami. I still remember when our family would get together and make the salami. It was definitely a family affair since it took a lot of people to put everything together.


Besides our traditional Italian food, we'll also have a lot of conversation! That's one of my family's favorite things to do - get together and talk about the old times. I love listening to stories of my great-grandparents. It will be a bittersweet time for me since I lost my grandfather almost two months ago. But I know he will be with us in spirit.

Here's to my great-grandparents, for braving a new world, for leaving the old and familiar behind, and for embracing America!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Permission Granted: Take the Night Off

My mind has been swimming lately. It's hard for me to go to sleep at night because I've just got too darned much stuff on the brain. Vacation, planning a family reunion, the freelance job, day job, health issues, and last, but not least, the novel.

My poor novel. It has been neglected in favor of other things. There was the heart monitor, and then my dentist appointment the other day (which went very well), and then a bunch of freelance work has made its way into my inbox, and since that pays, it takes precedence over the novel.

So while I've been writing a lot, I haven't been writing on the project dearest to my heart. After my walk last night (and why, oh why, did I experience ten times as many heart flutters when I didn't have the heart monitor on? I barely had any while I wore the dumb thing!), I knew I had plenty of time to get a few pages in.

But after I turned on the laptop and opened my file, I suddenly looked at the words on the screen and had nothing to say. Oh, I wrote a few sentences, but I wasn't in the characters' minds at all. And how can you write when you don't know what they're thinking or feeling?

This has happened before and I attribute it to a few things. One, if my life is beyond busy and going in a bunch of different directions, I have a much harder time slowing my mind down enough so that I can immerse myself in the story. And two, if I've been away from the story for awhile, it takes me a good 30 minutes or so (if I give myself that much time) to dive back into things.

I had that 30 minutes tonight, but I think my mind was rebelling. It didn't want to take the time to refamiliarize myself with my characters, where I was at in this particular scene, and where I was headed next. It just plain didn't care.

And that's ok. Sometimes, I've got to give myself permission not to write. I think we all do. Besides, how much fun is it to write if you guilt yourself into it? Ok, ok, sometimes it's necessary to get us out of a particular slump. But I certainly don't advocate it. We writers know how to inflict enough damage on ourselves without too much help from anybody else.

But I may be changing my tune on this particular subject if I find myself a published author one day and I have a deadline to meet. And some might argue that if that is my goal (which it is), that I should condition myself to write every day no matter how I feel. I guess I would counter that with the notion that not all of us write every day, but go in bursts of creativity, and we still manage to meet our deadlines.

So I'm going to leave this open for debate. What say you? Give yourself permission not to write when the juices aren't flowing or keep on pushing through until they do?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Writerly Goodness

Wow. I've read so many great writing blog posts over the last few days that I thought I'd share them with you. They've all given me the motivation to get moving on my own manuscript!

Therese Fowler has just moved to a new house and she talks about reconnecting with her manuscript, plus talks about the intricacies of plot.

Jenna over at Running Down a Dream discusses pacing - and she's spot on in her analysis!

Janna discusses What It Takes to Be a Writer at her blog, Something She Wrote. If you need some motivation, here's the place to get it.

Lisa's post Raw Clay and Alternate Endings at her blog Eudaemonia is excellent as she discusses the important things she's learned in writing her first novel.

And last, but certainly not least, Write To Done has 5 Clever Ways to Keep Your Muse on Speed Dial.




Monday, September 22, 2008

Lions, Tigers, and...Ligers, Oh My!

As many of you know, my daughter is a very big tiger lover. She already wants to save the tigers however she can. This weekend we were fortunate enough to be able to do our part to help tigers who have been rescued from horrible conditions and have gone to live in a wildlife sanctuary in Oklahoma.

The story behind the G.W. Exotic Animal Park is a touching one. After their son was hit and killed by a drunk driver, Francis and Shirley Schreibvogel of Springer, Oklahoma, along with their other son, Joe, vowed that they would dedicate their life to saving the exotic animals that their son had always wanted to see run wild in the jungles of the world. You can read more about their story here.

My daughter and I had to drive more than 80 miles to see their show - and it was worth it!

We actually got to pet two baby tigers! And I'm not talking through a cage, but they were actually sitting in our laps. How much closer can you get? Isn't this little guy adorable? And of course, it was very safe - we had two trainers in the cage with us.It was absolutely amazing to pet these wild creatures and know that we were helping to save them by merely paying for the priviledge to be in the cage with them.


They also had white lion cubs, ligers, and a white tiger, plus older tiger cubs.


We had great fun watching them play in their cages (which were very spacious, yet safe). As you can see, one of their chew toys is a bowling pin!

And just like our cats here at home, these exotic creatures would play for awhile, wrestling on the floor with each other, chasing after their toys, and then they would nap. And they would do so curled up in each other's arms. It was very precious. All of them were very well-cared for, and you could just see how dearly the trainers loved them.

To cap off the day, one of the founders, Joe "Exotic", performed a wonderful FREE magic show for everyone and delivered a message to the kids about taking care of animals, saying no to drugs, and making them aware of the dangers of drinking and driving. It was a bit of a tearjerker to listen to him talk about his brother, but I am in awe that he dedicated his life to saving these animals and educating children.


Needless to say, my daughter wanted to run away and become a tiger trainer herself! She enjoyed every minute of it and now has asked me again how we can help save the tigers. We've got a few ideas up our sleeves!

Friday, September 19, 2008

My New Best Friend

For the last few months, I've experienced some strange heart flutters - almost like butterfly wings beating softly against my chest. Since it seemed to increase whenever I exercised, I figured this was something I shouldn't let go. So off to the doctor I went yesterday.

And now, this is my new best friend for the next 48 hours:


This little gadget records my every heartbeat. Though there are a lot of wires on my chest, it's not uncomfortable. I can deal with it.


The good news is that my doctor doesn't think there is anything seriously wrong. She even told me the name of what she thought is going on - though I can't remember all that medical jargon right now.


I asked Slick if he could help me out on that. But he just looked at me in utter disdain...

Foolish human...

When I asked him to be more helpful, he completely ignored me.
Slick! Now's not the time to take a nap! Your mistress needs you!

Did you say something?


Well anyway, he means well. *grin*

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Scene Book


I'm a sucker for writing books - but now that I've been at this writing gig for awhile (read: since the 6th grade!), I feel like I need to know a bit more beyond the basics. So I often look for writing books that delve deeper into the writing craft.

And wallah! Look what I found. Sandra Scofield's The Scene Book: A Primer for the Fiction Writer. Not only do I love the cover and the size, but it's just loaded with wonderful info on how to write a scene. And since the scene is basically one of the building blocks of fiction, it's imperative to get them right.

I've only
just begun to delve into it, but already I'm seeing a lot of promise to Scofield's ideas. As an example, here are some of the chapters:
*Beats - How a Strong Central Event Can Be Broken Down into Beats
*The Focal Point - A Place Where a Scene Converges and Turns
*Pulse - How the Pulse Carries Action and Emotion

She also has some great wisdom on how to write big scenes (scenes that have a lot of characters), scene openings, and scene activity and character response.
I hope to share more information about it after I have studied it more. Anyone else read this book? If so, what did you think?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hubby's New Toy


For as long as I've known my husband (9+ years now), he has wanted a Harley. Finances being what they've been, he's never had the opportunity to own one. As finances are still not what they should be - we're still trying to get caught up after his whole staph infection incident last year - it was looking like it might be awhile before that dream of owning a Harley became a reality.

Until this weekend.

Now my husband is a vehicle-collector. This fact can be verified simply by looking at our backyard. He's gotten some incredible deals - cars that he's worked on, then turned around and sold to make a profit. Well, he acquired a Dodge truck from a neighbor a few months ago, and last Saturday night, our next-door neighbor asked if hubby would like to trade the Dodge truck for the neighbor's Harley.

You can guess what hubby's decision was.

It's a 1979 Harley Sportster. For hubby, it's a "starter" Harley. He will want to upgrade eventually, but for now, he has his Harley. And I can breathe a sigh of relief. I've been listening to how badly he's wanted one for 9 years! :-)

Looks like I need to buy me some leather pants...ha!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Face of War


"Compassion" by Howard Brodie

A few years ago, I was fortunate to catch a few minutes of the PBS series, They Drew Fire: Combat Artists of World War II. Not only did it showcase some absolutely amazing artists, but it also revealed war in its every facet.

Out of the myriad of paintings and drawings done by these artists, this one by YANK Magazine artist Howard Brodie, above, caught my attention in particular. To say it "caught my attention" doesn't do the feeling justice. Instead, like a branding iron, it seared its message onto - and into - my heart. This is the emotional and psychological impact of war - and often, these wounds take far longer to heal than physical wounds. In fact, sometimes these wounds simply don't heal. World War II veterans, to this day, still experience nightmares and symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And why shouldn't they? Even though it's been more than 60 years, the things they saw and did cannot be forgotten.

Brodie drew this picture after witnessing the following:
I remember the young soldier well, he screamed, he was just out of control, and he screamed, and there was another soldier next to him who consoled him, and embraced him. That was a moving moment for me, to see that compassion in combat. And these are the things a person feels when he's in proximity to death-- his buddy, that next human being, that person in the foxhole is the most important person in your life.

There has been a great deal of study done on the bond of brotherhood that forms between soldiers when they are at war, a bond that many cannot even fully describe. But this drawing says it all - and more. It's a theme I'm exploring in my current novel, one which has caused me to delve into the psyche of a soldier who has experienced combat and the death of fellow comrades.
It's intensely sobering, and I doubt that I will ever be able to fully capture, or understand, such psychological damage. That's why I printed this picture and taped it next to my computer. It's a constant reminder of what our soldiers went through and what they continue to go through. But it's also a reminder of the remarkable compassion and love that human beings can feel toward one another in the midst of horror. And that is definitely worth remembering.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Ahh...Fall and Food!

There's more to love about fall than just the cooler temperatures. It's also the time to start thinking about all the yummy foods associated with autumn!

And one of my absolute favorites is chili and cinnamon rolls.

I think I first tasted this wonderful combination during school lunch. Now, I went to a small school. To give you an idea of just how small, my hometown barely has 1,600 people. And I suppose that could account for just how wonderful our school food was. To this day, I can still remember the dishes our cooks prepared and my mouth waters. Yes, it was that good. One of their specialities was homemade chili and cinnamon rolls. Honest to goodness homemade cinnamon rolls.

Talk about delicious. Those ladies knew how to make cinnamon rolls. Gooey insides with loads of icing and cinnamon...oh man. And then to go along with it, a steaming bowl of chili with lots of saltine crackers stirred in. It was the perfect meal.

It's a meal I still love to eat during the fall and winter months. In fact, I can't wait to make me a pot of chili and cook up a batch of cinnamon rolls, then curl under a blanket on the couch with a good book. What could be better?

What are your favorite fall foods?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Storytime

My daughter and I have a ritual every night. We read a bedtime story together. Sometimes, she reads one page, and then I'll read the next. It's amazing to see how far she's come in her reading and I credit her progress to the wonderful Reading Recovery program that she did in first grade.

It's a special time together, one that I cherish, one that I hope will continue to give her a love of books. After all, that's how I became a writer. I loved books. I loved to go to the library and go through the stacks, trying to find just the right one. When I got older, I'd panic if I had only one book in my TBR pile and I'd have to beg my mom to go to the library again so I could stock up.

There's something powerful about books and stories, and there's something even more powerful about writing them. It's not easy. Sometimes it's hard, even painful. But when we as writers can give someone the ability to escape, to understand, to think, to enjoy...that's incredibly humbling.

Our words have the ability to speak to hundreds if not millions of people. Think of how many lives you can touch. Think of how you can enrich someone's life by your story, your article, your memoir, your novel. And then think back to how many books have enriched your own life in some way. My life has been blessed by so many wonderful stories - great novels, touching memoirs, enlightening histories, and the list goes on and on.

It's a great circle, this literary world. We read, we absorb; we write, we give back.

What an awesome responsibility.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Way I Write

Travis had this great meme on his blog and I thought I'd use it for today's post. BTW, if you've never visited Travis's blog, get thee over there. Travis is a fun, witty, and honest guy.

What is your genre(s)?
I write mostly mainstream novels. I've written one Regency historical romance novel, an inspirational novel, and my current WIP is a mainstream. I feel most comfortable writing mainstream.

How many books are you working on now?
Just the one. I've tried working on two at a time, but can't devote the focus to each one that I need to when there's more than one.

Are you a linear or a chunk writer?
Most definitely linear. I can't write scenes out of order. It would throw me completely off balance and destroy my story thread.

What POV are you partial to?
Third person, most definitely. I usually have only two POV's in my novels - but that could most certainly change. I'm not a fan of first-person in the books I read - I'd much rather know the innermost thoughts and feelings of different characters instead of just one.

What tense do you use?
Past. I don't think I've ever used anything else, but that may change.

What theme keeps cropping up in your books?
Forgiveness and acceptance. Forgiving yourself and others and accepting yourself and others.

How many days a week do you write?
Every single one. Whether it's an email or a blog post or a freelance project or my journal or my novel, a day rarely goes by that I don't write.

What time of day do you get your best writing done?
After 7 p.m. if I'm working at the day job. On the weekends, it's usually in the late afternoon. I can't write in the mornings, though I wish I was that type of writer. Honestly, I don't know what I'd do if I got my writing done first thing in the morning. What would I have to look forward to all day? :-)

Who are your mentors?
I had an English teacher in junior high and an English teacher in high school who really believed in me. Since I just contacted both of them a few months ago, I still consider them mentors. I know they still believe in me. I also like to consider all those authors I contacted through the years who responded to me as my mentors, too. They all encouraged me to keep going.

Who are your favorite authors to read?
Gah! Tough one. Rosalind Laker, Patricia Veryan, Jack Higgins, Ken Follett, Judith Pella, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jo Beverly, Dean Koontz, and numerous others.

If you care to play along, let me know so I can be sure to check it out!

Friday, September 05, 2008

"My Kingdom for Perfect Teeth"

Yesterday afternoon I had a dentist appointment. Now, we all know how much I loathe going to the dentist. I'd rather go to the gynecologist. Yes, it's that bad.

But, I really like my dentist. I had to switch dentists this year and my mother recommended this one to me. She did a great job because he's very kind, makes you laugh, and is very laid-back. In fact, his entire office is that way. While I was sitting with my mouth stretched open, the dental assistant and the dentist and I were all laughing. That's a good thing.

And really, the only bad part about the whole ordeal was the numbing process. For some reason, I need more than one shot of novacaine.

The first time the dentist put the drill to my tooth (I was in for a crown prep), I said, "Whoa! Not numb yet!"

He said, "Serious?"

"Oh yes. I'm very serious," I replied.

So he gave me another shot, which didn't hurt because the site was already numb. Then he commenced to drilling and I didn't feel a thing.

I walked out of the dentist office feeling pretty darn good about myself. I'd survived quite nicely, thank you very much. I could do this again, no problem. (Note to self: wait until novacaine wears off before making such outlandish claims!)

Since I'd taken the afternoon off and had an hour or so before I had to go pick up my daughter from school, I went shopping. I was still numb, so I didn't feel anything. But soon after I picked up my daughter, that's when things started to go downhill.

I tried to drink my beverage and could feel it dribbling down my chin because I couldn't open my mouth wide enough to get my lips over the top of the bottle. Not a good sign. The numbness started to wear off and my cheek, jaw, and yes, tooth, began to ache. Suddenly, all I wanted to do was crawl under a blanket and take a blessed nap. So when I got home, that's exactly what I did.

I slept more than two hours and when I woke up, I was starving. Out came the tomato soup and crackers since anything more solid than that wasn't going to work.

The sad part about this? I have to go back in two weeks and get more work done - specifically, I have to get the new crown put on my tooth. But I also have to get two cavities filled, so more novacaine and more drilling will commence.

I am so not looking forward to this.

I don't remember the dentist affecting me this bad when I was younger. I could go to the dentist and then go back to work no problem. But the last few times I've been in, I just can't handle it. Maybe I'm just getting old. *grin*

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

I Gotta Brag...

I am in complete awe of my daughter's artistic talent. She continues to draw and paint work that amazes me. So indulge me a bit today as I showcase her most recent piece.

She did not trace this - and she's only 8 years old! The characters in this picture are from our DVD case of the Pink Panther cartoon. She simply looked at them and then created her own piece.


God has truly blessed her with talent! I can't wait to see what she comes up with next. :-)

Tuesday, September 02, 2008



Cute cat photos just because they're too cute not to share. Gretchen (left) has her paw on her brother Slick's paw, and I couldn't resist taking a pic. Of course, they were displaying this cuteness on my office chair and I hated to shoo them off, so I think I went elsewhere to work rather than disturb them. You can roll your eyes now. ;-)

Productive day yesterday - kept the house clean. Don't know why I'm obsessed with it now - down to picking up crumbs off my carpet - but when the house is clean, I'm at peace. Guess I want to always feel that peace.

Laundry is almost done and my daughter and my stepson even folded a load each. That helps.

Took a walk with Tiny Bear again, cleaned out all the leftovers in the fridge (can we all say ewwww?), and even watched a bit of Ken Burns's The War on DVD. I'm slowly making my way through the series. I like being able to watch them on my time instead of when the television says it's on. I'm so glad I was able to afford the DVD set.

Had a few more plot points develop that will work nicely with the novel. Always good.

Back to work today...but that's ok. Routine is good. Routine is my friend after the tumultuous summer I had.

Hope to make a trip to the library or bookstore this week and find me a good book. Keep sending me recommendations!

And why is it that several of us are in reading funks? Weird. Let's hope we can help each other out of them!

Monday, September 01, 2008

Labor Day

Here in the U.S., it's Labor Day, otherwise known as the End of Summer. That's fine by me. And I get a day off from work, the kids are off school, and hubby is home. Even better.

I missed the game on Saturday night because I fell asleep. Oh well. We won. Plus it was only available on Pay-Per-View for the low, low price of $30 (gasp!), so I wasn't too torn up about missing it.

Got some writing in on Sunday and will probably continue that today. Also got in a nice brisk walk with Tiny Bear, which I desperately needed as I had a little too much junk food over the past few days. Gah!

And...my house is still clean. Actually, it's even more clean today than it was on Friday! I was quite proud of myself.

In a bit of a reading funk still. I can't get into any of the books I start. I was reading Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer, but it started to get too "literary" for me - lots of examples were from "literary" works and since I mostly write mainstream, popular fiction, it kind of lost its impact. I really enjoyed the first chapter, so maybe I'll skim through other sections and see if I like it more.

I'm also reading (more like continuing to read after a three week hiatus) the memoirs of the pilot of theWW2 B-17 plane, the Memphis Belle. It is absolutely essential reading for my novel and it helps that it's written in a very easy-to-read, personable format.

I also read a few chapters of What Would the Founders Do? Our Questions, Their Answers by Richard Brookhiser. Fascinating look at what the founding fathers would think of contemporary issues we face today.

So. That's the weekend in a nutshell. If you've got any good fiction reads, give 'em to me - but a note of caution. They cannot be sad or depressing. I'm in the mood for something fun, and something positive and upbeat.

New Digs

I've got a new home on the web - stop by if you get a chance! www.melissamarsh.net