Friday, April 29, 2011

Yes, I Watched It

Although I didn't get up at 4 a.m. to watch the royal wedding live, I spent plenty of time looking at the pictures and watching the videos of it today.

So sue me.

Some people have claimed that the hype surrounding this marriage has gone over the top. It's been on a 24-hour news cycle since Prince William and Kate Middleton announced their engagement, so I can understand people's reasoning. It has been a bit overkill, especially in light of all the tragedies going on in the world.

But you know what? We need a little happiness in this world, and a royal wedding between two people who obviously love each other is just the ticket.

I fell in love with England many, many years ago. I'm sure it was the result of reading several historical and Regency romances, and that love was only solidified when I visited the country once in May of 1995 and again in October of 2008. Simply put, I adore England and her people. I guess you could call me an Anglophile. If I could, I would live part of the year (the summer months) in England in a small village, maybe next to my friend Diane or maybe even my friend Shirley. I got to meet both when I was there in October, and as they are both writers, it was a wonderful time.

It's a country rich in heritage and tradition, and there's just something to be said for all the pomp and circumstance that a royal wedding brings. I loved the cheering crowds, the people lining the streets, the celebration. What fun.

I'm not going to apologize for watching it. Why should I? Sure, there are more important things going on in the world. I'm well aware of it. Horror and tragedies abound. But there is also a need for us to have hope for our future and hope for new beginnings.

I think Prince William and the new Duchess of Cambridge's marriage does just that. It was a much-needed celebration of a man and a woman in love committing their lives to each other in front of billions (can you imagine?) of people. And it also reaffirms, for me, the importance of marriage, that bond you make with another person to learn and share and grow with each other. The wedding message given to William and Kate on their day was an inspiration to listen to, and it helped me strengthen my own commitment to my husband.

While watching the two exchange their vows, I could see how perfectly matched they were - true equals. The respect and affection and love they have for each other is plainly evident. And I won't apologize for celebrating that, either. After all, love - true love - is one of the most beautiful things in this world. I refuse to bow to cynicism on that one.

So yes. It was more than just "two rich, privileged people" getting married. It was a celebration of hope, a celebration of marriage, and a celebration of life.

Long live true love!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

When It Just Won't Work

Ahhh. There's nothing like the joy of writing a perfect phrase, a meaty metaphor, or a sensational simile.

Heh.

I was able to jump right back into the novel last night and oh boy, did I ever have fun. In the midst of rewriting a particular scene, I came upon one of my favorite paragraphs. I desperately wanted to keep it. I loved how I'd crafted the metaphor, the imagery I used, and how it all fit together so perfectly with my characters' dialogue.

Problem?

It didn't fit with the new scene.

And as I twisted and turned the scene and tried to figure out a way for my rewrite to fit the paragraph instead of the other way around, I realized, with a sinking heart, that I couldn't do it that way. While this particular metaphor beautifully fit the previous scene, it just didn't work with the revised version.

This is what is meant by "kill your darlings." As writers, our "darlings" are our words, and sometimes, no matter how hard it is, they must go in order to benefit the story. It's difficult. Sometimes excruciating. But it must be done.

Of course, I'll keep this juicy metaphor tucked away in a file somewhere, or possibly try to use it later in the story. It's just too good to toss.

Have you ever tried to make a phrase, a paragraph, a snippet of dialogue, or some other element of your story that you love work even when you knew it wouldn't?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Spring, Wherefore Art Thou?

I like rainy, cloudy days. For some reason, they make my creativity go into overdrive, and I have been known to plow through the writing on such days.

But this is getting ridiculous.

It's been spring for, oh, a month now, and in that time, we've had only a handful of nice days. For the past two weeks, it's been rainy and cloudy and cold. I've had to wear my winter coat a few days! That's just not right...

And you would think my writing would have gone into overdrive, but then I had to host Easter at my home and that entailed cleaning, cooking, and more cleaning. So! The writing hasn't been forthcoming in the last few days.

That will change now that the holiday is behind me (and it was lovely!) and the massive headache I endured yesterday is relatively gone.

Oddly enough, I wish the sun would shine.

I'm just glad the birds in our neighborhood haven't let the lack of sun keep them from singing their sweet songs. It's lovely to go outside and hear them chattering, and I'm betting the moist ground is making it quite easy to dig up worms.

With the exception of Easter Sunday, the sun hasn't shone much lately. In fact, I think this is the wettest spring we've had in quite some time.

Has spring shown up in your neck of the woods?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

No More Waiting

Go ahead. Ask me.

"Have you been writing?"

Here's my answer:

Yes.

I've been writing. Or perhaps more accurately, I've been revising and reworking and reenergizing.

Is reenergizing a word? It is today.

I've been using my new office and loving it, even though I sometimes have to kick my daughter off my laptop. She has caught the writing bug, too, and when I read her stuff, I am amazed. Simply amazed. She had a very hard time learning to read and now, she flies through books and pens incredible prose. I may have to buy her a laptop of her own now...

I've also been trying to keep myself motivated. There are days I fall into a depression because I'm not able to stay home part-time and write (and let's be honest - how many writers actually get to do that, even part-time? If you do, consider yourself very, very blessed!). Instead, I've got the day job to deal with and bills to pay. This is how it is, and fighting it and feeling sorry for myself doesn't get me anywhere. It just sucks the energy and joy right out of me.

Enough, I say! (And so says God, who thumped me over the head with this statement the other night when I was having a pity party).

In that spirit, I made myself a few posters yesterday to help me. Both are World War II posters that I altered slightly to suit my needs. They now hang in a prominent place in my office.


Here's what I'm learning: there's no time like the present to use my writing gift.

That sounds simple, right? Something we all should know?

But how many of us are waiting until the right time to write or paint or compose music? Is there a magical "perfect time" to start doing these things?

No, there's not. And I should know as I have been on the other side.

Once, long ago (around 11 years), when I was pregnant with my daughter and had two young stepsons to take care of, my husband and I decided I should quit my job, stay home with the kids, and await the birth of our child. I was ecstatic. Look at all the time I had to write! Perfect, lovely, long stretches of writing time!

And before you say, "But you had two kids and a baby to take care of!" let me be the first to tell you that the boys were in school full-time and my daughter was the most well-behaved baby ever. I had time. I squandered it.

Do you know, in the almost five years that I stayed home and didn't work full-time, I didn't finish a single novel? (Of course, for the last two years, I was in graduate school, so I'm letting myself off the hook on that point). Caveat: I did get two short stories published, so I wasn't quite the slug I am making myself out to be.

Do you know when I actually finished my first novel? When I got a full-time job.

Funny how life works.

Since I've been working full-time, I've completed three novels.

Lately, I've allowed myself to look over the fence again and see the lovely stretches of green grass, and I'm ignoring the fact that it isn't any greener than the grass I am already on.

I am going to stay on this side of the fence for now because this is where God put me. Who knows what tomorrow or next week or next year holds? Not me. 

There is no perfect time.

Do it. Do what you love now. Squeeze it in where you can. Don't wait for that "magical moment" when conditions will be perfect. They will only be perfect in your daydreams. Reality is not so kind. Trust me.

No more waiting. Do what you love. Now.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Why I'm Glad I'm Not a Duchess

I finally watched the movie, The Duchess starring Keira Knightley last night. Why it took me so long, I'm not sure, especially since I had the great good fortune to visit the Duke of Devonshire's estate, Chatsworth, in Derbyshire, England, in October of 2008.

The Duchess tells the story of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and her tumultuous life. Wed at the age of 17 to the Duke, she was a young bride eager to find happiness in her marriage and sadly, never did. Not only did her best friend, Lady Elizabeth "Bess" Foster become her husband's mistress, but the three of them actually lived in the same house together until Geogiana's death. She looked for her own love and found it with Sir Charles Grey, future prime minister of England. She bore him an illegitimate daughter named Eliza, but sadly, had to give her to Grey's parents to raise since her husband threatened her with never again seeing her own children if she stayed with Grey.


How ironic, of course, that Georgiana had raised her husband's illegitimate daughter as her own from almost the moment they were married, yet her husband couldn't do the same.

She was a fashion icon, a social celebrity, and revered for her beauty and wit, yet hid a dark secret of alcohol and drug abuse. She died at the young age of 48. Before her death, she gave her blessing to Lady Foster and her husband that they might marry. Of course, they did.

The male-dominated society of 18th century England crushed Georgiana. Forced to give up love, her best friend, her daughter, and some might argue even her dignity (can you imagine living in the same house as your husband and his mistress for all to see?) she was caught in a world that showed no mercy for a woman. A woman had her place, and though not all marriages were as dismal as Georgiana's, she was not alone in her yearning to be more than a mere means to an end - i.e., the mother of the future heir to her husband's title. 

I wept for Georgiana when she was forced to give up her daughter, wept for her when her husband so cruelly abused her, wept for her when she had to choose between her children and her love for Sir Charles Grey. And really, did she have a choice? As a mother who adored and deeply loved her children, she knew she could never abandon them. Not even for love.
Costumes worn by Keira Knightley in the movie, The Duchess
In the western world, we have come a long way from the world of Georgiana, and I thank God for it. Yet I believe if it hadn't been for the courage and spunk of these women, we might not be in the place of liberation and freedom we are today. Women were instrumental in the eighteenth-century revolutions of America and France, and I wonder if Georgiana wasn't silently rooting for those countries even as they spelled doom for England.

The entryway at Chatsworth

Today, Chatsworth is a lovely, sprawling estate full of lush trees and rolling hills. The current Duke and Duchess of Devonshire live there and have opened their home to the public. Back in October of 2008, I walked through those hallowed halls, saw the portrais of Georgiana and her husband, marveled at the brilliance of how they lived.



In a way, the opulence of their lifestyle covered the ugliness underneath. No matter how I loved looking at the splendor of their past lives, I can't help but think how much better my life is in my humble Cape Cod home on this side of the Atlantic.


Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire

 But in memory of Georgiana and the life she lived, I have a portrait of her in my living room. It's my reminder to be thankful for my independence as a woman and for the richness of my own life - my husband, my daughter, my family - and the love I have for them and they have for me. It's something that should never be taken for granted.







Thursday, April 14, 2011

Free Is Good (Especially When It Comes to Writing!)

The Nebraska Book Festival is coming up in May. Thanks to the miracle of Facebook, I saw they were offering free writing workshops and of course, I had to check it out.

I'm happy to say I'm enrolled in Nebraska author Timothy Schaffer's writing workshop called "Geographies of Fiction." Here's a short bio and intro:

"Timothy Schaffert is a fourth-generation Nebraskan whose central Nebraska farm has been in his family for seventy years. Three of his four novels have been set in that landscape, and a sense of place, and of the relationships that inform rural communities, have been integral to the development of his fiction. In this fiction-writing workshop, Timothy will offer writing exercises and lead a discussion on how writers use place to portray character, to further the plot, and enhance story and theme."

This is just about as perfect as it gets for me since I have recently realized I am big on "place" in my fiction and in my life. I'm quite excited about it.

Best of all? It's free.

I'm also considering signing up for a weekend workshop at the Nebraska Summer Writers Conference in June. Timothy Schaffer is also the director of this conference, and there are lots of great workshops available that week. I probably can only afford one workshop over the weekend, but hey, since my birthday is in June, this should be the perfect birthday present to myself.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

You Can't Go Home Again - Or Can You?

This weekend was wonderful. I got to spend a lot of time with my family and since they are one of the most important things in my life, it was a true blessing. I wouldn't be where I am today, or the person I am today, without them. They've stuck by me even when they didn't understand or agree with my choices, and I will forever love them for it.

My brothers, my Dad, and my Grandmother, 2009


I had a semi-meltdown when I got back home on Sunday night. Why? Because I live five and a half hours away from my family and I miss them. We're a close-knit family and not being able to see them for months on end is hard. Of course, they visit me when they can, but it's not as often as we would like. I'm blessed to have my little brother living in the same town as me, but my parents, my grandmother, my brother and sister-in-law, plus my niece and nephew, and numerous cousins, all live on the western end of the state.

My Dad and my nephew
Sometimes I think I should move back home. But then I realize that I absolutely love living where I do. Place is a big factor for me. I need to be happy where I live - in my home, in my neighborhood, and in my community. And I am very happy with all three of those at this point in my life.

My Mom and My Daughter
If I moved back home, I wouldn't have that, and I especially wouldn't have the opportunities that I do here. This end of the state is economically richer and, dare I say it, the mentality is much more positive. I'm not quite sure why that is - maybe it's because the land and the weather is harder to deal with in Western Nebraska. Farmers must irrigate, and drought and hail storms that wipe out entire fields of crops are not uncommon. It may have made the people tougher, but I think it's also contributed to some negativity. This is a broad assumption and certainly not everyone is this way, but I can always feel the subtle shift in the air when I come home.

But even so, if I moved back home, I would have my family.

It's a conundrum, for sure, and the situation would be a whole lot easier to bear if I could just have a private plane take me home whenever I wanted. Of course, the drive really isn't that bad. But when you work full-time and have limited vacation time, weekends are about all you can manage, and they are incredibly long weekends when you consider you're on the road for 12 hours total.

Still. When I have weekends like I did this past time, I tend to look at my hometown with rose-colored glasses. Since my brothers organized a school alumni basketball tournament, a lot of people were in town. We went out on Saturday night and I had a blast catching up with people and seeing where everyone had taken their lives since they graduated high school.

It made me incredibly sentimental, and I suddenly longed to be a part of this town again. But to live amongst people you've known your entire life can be a two-edged sword. There's an element of comfort, but I've come to discover that a lot of the relationships shaped in high school tend to be the same today. There are those you still get along with, and those you don't.

On the long drive home (when you have plenty of time to think), I was feeling rather nostalgic and, a bit depressed at leaving. But then I discovered that I'd idealized this weekend. Simply put, the events of this weekend are rather rare. My small town is normally very quiet, subdued, and, well, a small town with all its small town elements - especially the one where everyone knows everyone else's business! I love visiting, but I just couldn't live there again.

At this point in my life, this is how it is. My family is there, and I am here. Thank goodness for e-mail, Facebook, and phones so we can keep in touch. Thank goodness for special events, holidays, and impromptu trips that get us together. I am fortunate - I could live clear across the country from them and only see them once a year. So I'm going to count my blessings.

Do you live in or near your hometown, or has destiny taken you miles and miles away?

Friday, April 08, 2011

Road Trip!

Sometimes, you just gotta get away.

After the crazy, hectic, and altogether busy month I had preparing to move, actually moving, and then settling in to the new house, I'm plain exhausted.

So what's the best thing to do?

Get out of town for awhile.


My two brothers and I.
My brother and I are headed home to see the family and enjoy an alumni basketball tournament. I won't be playing, but my two brothers will, and I'm sure I'll see lots of former classmates there, as well. Should be a good time.

My plan for the five and a half hour drive there? Work on my novel. I need to really iron out a few issues and this is the perfect time to do it.

What are your weekend plans?

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Living the Thoughtful Life

Last night, after hubby, my daughter, and I finished putting fresh mulch on our flower beds, we decided to take a well-deserved break and sit in our backyard to enjoy nature. It was a gorgeous evening with mild temperatures, a cool breeze, and blue skies. I watched a cardinal frolic in the tree branches, saw a black-capped chickadee check out the birdhouse we recently hung (he must be house-hunting!), and listened to the different sounds of nature.

It was glorious.

Right before bedtime, I snuggled into my reading chair in my office and wrote in my journal. This office is actually a dream come true for me. I've always wanted a space to call my own for writing, and with the exception of a few months before my daughter was born when I had a small room (before it was turned into the baby's room), I haven't had a room of my own. As I scribbled away in my journal, a deep sense of satisfaction filled me. This room was mine, decorated just like I wanted, a haven for my creativity and my soul.

These two events - soaking up nature and soaking up the ambience of my new office - made me realize that I strive to live a thoughtful life. What do I mean by that? Perhaps it can be described as choosing to enjoy and embrace the simple pleasures of life.

Too often, we become wrapped up in our world's culture that demands we continually strive to have more - whether it be more stuff, more money, or more success. We want perfection in our body, our spirits, our careers, our kids, our spouses, our houses, and on and on.

We need to stop thinking this way.

My office isn't perfect. My house isn't perfect. My backyard isn't perfect. I don't have the latest styles, the brand new car, or the high-paying job. And even though my bank account wishes it had a little more in it, I am incredibly thankful for everything that I have.

I don't have "perfect" in the conventional meaning of the word. Instead, I have my own version of perfect. My hubby fits me perfectly. He understands me like no one else can. My daughter is a richly creative, talented, beautiful little girl and she is perfect in my eyes. My house may be older with cracks and chips and dents, but it is perfect for my family and I.

This version of perfect - your own version - comes from changing your thinking.

Living a thoughtful life means you think about the simple things and how they enrich your life. It means you sit outside on a balmy spring evening and listen to the birds, talk with your family, and soak up God's beautiful creation. It means you stop wanting for more and start being thankful for what you have. It means you believe you are already a success no matter if you don't have your perfect job or your perfect house. It means if you have children, they are perfect just the way they are even if they draw on the walls or leave their socks on the floor or have to be reminded to brush their teeth every night.

Living a thoughtful life means you are blessed and you know it.

It's not easy to change our way of thinking, especially in a culture such as ours, but it's possible. How? By looking at things differently, by seeing them in a new light, and by embracing the blessings we have and forgetting about the things we don't have.

We have a choice. We can be miserable in how we live because we don't live in a new house or have the latest plasma screen TV or haven't taken a vacation to Europe yet, OR, we can embrace what we have - and celebrate it.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Done (For the Most Part!)

I spent all weekend hanging pictures, cleaning, doing laundry, putting things away, and even took some time off to go antique shopping. As of last night, the house is pretty much done. I still need to mop the kitchen floor (because what is the point of doing it when we're carrying things through the kitchen all the live long day?), though to tell you the truth, I'm pretty sick of cleaning. I had to clean the apartment on Friday night (what a fun Friday night activity!) and that cured me of ever wanting to become a professional maid. I tip my hat to those folks. They are hard workers.

I love our house. It's so cute and cozy. All the hard work has definitely paid off! The last two mornings, I ate breakfast sitting at the kitchen table and watching the birds and squirrels play in the backyard through the kitchen window. Heavenly.

My daughter has decorated her room just how she wanted it and she couldn't be happier. We bought her a tiger mural for her wall, put up a shelf so she could display her Webkinz, and she has tacked up a ton of her drawings on just about every available inch of wall space.

Hubby has created his domain in the garage and downstairs - which is fine with me. He has his Oakland Raiders stuff, a nice, big sofa left to us by the previous renters, his DVD collection, and a huge t.v. He's set.

My office is wonderful. I have a few pics of it below. I've added some vintage touches - a vintage fan, 1940s curtains, 1940s magazines, and a few other items. And with the office being all finished, now it's time to get back to the writing.

I can't wait.

Here are a few pics to tide you over until I take more with my actual camera - these are just from my phone.

My vintage kitchen! 1950s curtains, 1950s tablecloth, vintage kitchen utensils and salt and pepper shakers; clock is from Target. :-)


My cozy reading nook in my office.
Oh look! Someone has taken residence in my reading spot!

One Day at a Time

I've always tried to live with this mentality: One day at a time. Unfortunately, when I implement it, I fail spectacularly. But for this...