The Girl in the Locket

This is one of my favorite ghosts stories from my book SCARY MONDAYS. With snow and ice falling here in Oklahoma it seemed appropriate.

Cold slithered under the crack between the back door and floor, snaking its way up the stairs. It wiggled like a side-winder across the landing, through the threshold of Grandma’s bedroom door. There it coiled around Emma’s feet, hissing up her calves. Standing at the window, watching the snow blow in a straight line over the orchard in the distance, Emma drew her arms tight to warm herself. She blew warm breath against the glass, and drew a heart on the fogged pane. In the distance, the peach trees, coated with ice, seemed angry at being left out in the winter storm.

With a bored sigh, she turned, crossed the braided rug to Grandma’s bureau. In the mirror, she watched Grandma’s reflection as she rocked and darned socks. Her dresser was scattered with items Emma had come to associate with old women: a silver plated brush and comb, a carved jewelry box, a paper fan with a balsa wood handle that read “McConnell’s Funeral Home, 1930.” Emma closed her eyes, waved the fan, trying to remember how in the summer the air was so thick, so hot people dreamed of a day like today when the snow fell a half a foot deep. Her Momma said people were never satisfied. When it was hot, they wanted cool. When it was cold, they wanted warm.

Emma sat the fan back in its place, picked up a locket. She opened it and studied the miniature portrait inside. She always wondered about the woman in the picture. She had pretty blue eyes, a peaches and cream complexion, lovely dark hair.

“Who’s this?” Emma finally asked. She’d wanted to know for just about forever.

Grandma glanced up. “That’s my oldest sister, Marylou.”

Frowning, Emma studied her grandmother for a moment, tried to imagine her as young as the woman in the locket. “I didn’t know you had an older sister.”

“Oh, yes, child. I was the youngest of six, all boys except me and Marylou. My Momma used to say a girl in front and a girl in back to keep all the boys in line.”

“What happened to her? You never talk about her?”

Putting her sewing aside, Grandma motioned for Emma to sit in her lap. “She died. And we don’t speak of the dead, child.”

“She was very pretty.” Emma said of the girl in the locket. “What happened to her? Please tell me.”

With a long sigh, Grandma patted Emma’s thigh. “Marylou was in love with a young man, Reginald J.T. Waterbottom.”

“That’s a funny name.” Emma giggled and Grandma pressed her lips together trying not to laugh.

“Yes, it is. But he was very handsome. They elected Mr. Lincoln and the Yankees all came down here. Reggie put on a uniform and went off to be a soldier.” Grandma got a funny, faraway look on her face. “He died, of course. We all knew he would. Not because so many of our brave boys died, but because Marylou said he would. She dreamed of his death, night after night. And when Marylou dreamed about something, we all knew it would come true. One time my daddy lost his pocket watch. Don’t know how a man could lose something as large as a biscuit, but he did. Marylou dreamed he’d find in the chicken coop. ‘Course he scoffed at that. But you know what? He found that watch, right where Marylou said it would be, under Miz Clucky, all warm as she’d been waitin’ for it to hatch.”

“Did Marylou find someone else to love?” It suddenly seemed vital to Emma that Marylou found someone to spend her life with.

“No,” Grandma said with another thick sigh. “She went half mad with grief. She wandered around the house and in the orchard holding hands with thin air. She said Reggie had come back to her and that all she had to do was wait and she’d be with him forever.” Grandma huffed. “She made us set a place for him at the dinner table every night.”

“How did she die?” Emma asked softly.

“The flu. Winter of 1876. I remember because that was the year of the Centennial. But if it hadn’t been the flu, it would’ve been something else. Momma and Daddy always said Marylou wasn’t long for this world. Not after she lost Reggie. ‘Course Emma always said she hadn’t lost him. He was right there with her. Girl was daft.”

Grandma shifted, set Emma on her feet, then went back to darning socks. Emma wandered back over to the window, stared out at the orchard. She thought Marylou’s story was terribly romantic and she couldn’t wait to tell her best friend, Jenny.

Between sheets of blowing snow, Emma caught a movement in the orchard. She leaned forward, hands pressed against the glass. There under green-leafed branches dotted with peach blossoms, a handsome young man uniformed in grey and a woman dressed in pale pink, walked arm in arm. Marylou turned toward the window with eyes that danced, and a smile that promised spring.

To Blog or Not to Blog–That Really Isn’t the Question

I’m piggybacking on Susan and Linda’s blogs this week.  I’ve been terrible about blogging on a regular schedule. In part because I’ve been struggling with how to best use my limited writing time. Writers are told we have to self-promote, meaning we have to blog, tweet, Facebook…etc. etc. etc. Naturally the question arises–about what? Writing? That’s interesting to other writers, but fans don’t get that jazzed about blogs that drone on about the  dangers of passive voice or telling vs. showing.  So if not writing, then the weather? Favorite recipes? How I spent my summer vacation? How adorable my grandkids are? (and BTW, mine are the cutest!)

Then I ran across an article on Writer’s Digest. I’ve probably read dozens of similar articles, yet for some reason this time the message finally resonated  The issue isn’t whether or  we what we post, it’s how we use the posts to build an audience for what we write. (Well, duh, Lynn! )Its all about Branding, aka building an Author Platform. According to Chuck Sambuchino, author of Create Your Writer Platform, Author Platform is your individual ability to sell books by way of your visibility as an author. Posting on Facebook or Twitter, or blogging are only some elements of building a successful platform.

The trick is to find what works for you, what reaches your audience. Don’t try to do it all,instead be selective. Be willing to try, fail, try something else until you find your “happy place.”

To learn more check out http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/build-a-platform-start-blogging/building-a-writers-platform or buy the book at http://www.writersdigestshop.com/create-your-writer-platform?lid=wdccar102212V6500-tod

And no, I don’t know Chuck and I have no financial interest in Writer’s Digest :)  But I did find this information helpful. Now will someone please smack me up side the head?

Seriously?

Okay I know I should be serious here. I mean there are so many monumental things to consider right now–fiscal cliffs to teeter, stock prices to weep over and New Year’s Resolutions to stress about.  My number one resolution this year is to find at least one thing a day  that makes me smile or laugh and then share it with others.  So…

True Story: Have you ever gotten the giggles at the most inappropriate time, like at a funeral?  Well, last Sunday in church we sang The First Noel, only in the hymnal it appeared as The First Nowell. Yep, that’s right there was a major typo: NOWELL! Our suppressed laughter shook the entire pew!

Happy New Year  :)

A Little Christmas Carol Trivia

I’m going a different direction with my late blog and sharing a little Christmas carol trivia.

  1. What was the original title of the Little Drummer boy?  The Carol of the Drum
  2. What does the Little Drummer Boy have to do with the Sound of Music? The Sound of Music tells the story of the Trapp Family Singers escape from Austria during WWII. The Carol of the Drum was recorded by the Trapp Family Singers in 1955
  3. What Christmas carol has been recorded by nearly every singer, present and past, in dozens of languages including Gaelic? Silent Night
  4. What Christmas carol did Dr. Sheldon Cooper sing while playing Dungeons and Dragons? Good King Wenceslas
  5. Which popular carol is based on a melody composed by Felix Mendelssohn? Hark, the Herald Angels Sing
  6. Which carol was written during the Puritan era in England to help young English Catholics secretly learn how to practice their faith? Twelve Days of Christmas
  7. And speaking of Twelve Days of Christmas what does two turtle doves refer to? The Old and New Testaments
  8. And four calling birds? The Four Gospels
  9. What popular carol was written in 1857 for a Thanksgiving play? Jingle Bells
  10. What carol recalls the ancient pagan custom of singing door to door to drive away evil spirits? Here We Come A-Wassailing

World View

Over the last few weeks I’ve been reading and watching interviews about other writers on the topic of writing–specifically how their world view influences the content of their novels.  As a writer myself I know my particular world view sometimes slips into my work either in the words I choose, the decisions and actions my characters make, or by the reactions other characters have to those decisions and actions.

Two writers really got my attention, Piers Paul Read, in HELL AND OTHER DESTINATIONS, and Dean Koontz, interviewed on EWTN in October. What I found interesting about these two novelists is how much of their world view they and other writers decide to allow into their books. Some authors nearly club their readers over the head with their world view, while others are more subtle.  In either case, an author’s world view will wind up in their work since we’re human after all and simply cannot divorce our writing self from who we are as a person. And naturally some writers need to include their world view in their novels, especially those writing in Christian and Inspirational genres.

Now when I read novels written by other authors I find I wonder about their world view and look for the clues.

So as a reader how much of the author’s world view is acceptable and what puts you off. And as a writer, how conscious are you of your world view and when it’s creeping into your story?

What Have I Signed Up For?!?!?!

This post will be brief because I have to save all my words for NaNoWriMo. Yep, I did it. I signed up to write a 50,000 word novel is just 30 days. What was I thinking? But here’s the real challenge. I like to go into a novel with at least some idea of who the characters are, the plot, setting–you know important stuff. Yet, I’m starting off today with no plan. For a plotter and edit-as-I-go-along writer like me, this is SCARY!

Nevertheless, I’m going for it because I want to show myself that I can sit down and just puke out a story, turn off my internal editor, and…just write!

So wish me luck and if you dare, sign up and take the journey with me.

SHE DON’T NEED NO STINKIN’ RULES

As writers, we’re told there are certain rules we have to follow: don’t use passive voice, show don’t tell, make your characters likeable, don’t overwhelm your readers with large numbers of secondary characters, don’t use flashbacks…

Marilyn Pappano says there are no rules.  However, if you’re going to break the rules, do it well. I recently I started reading books (six so far) by an author who breaks all the rules. And it clearly works for her since she’s a multi-published author who was first published in the early 1980s.

She uses passive voice. She often tells instead of showing.  She uses flashbacks. Actually, I think she’s the Queen of Flashbacks. She may have invented them. Her books are full of secondary characters, sometimes as many as eight to ten.

What makes her novels pop are her intriguing plots and her incredibly human, unlikeable, but real characters.  Each book has a mystery in the past (an unsolved murder or an unexplained disappearance) that seems unrelated to the events taking place in the present. Oh, but they are inextricably linked, and it’s the twists and turns that are both plausible and believable that leave me thinking, Wow! I didn’t see that coming. That’s part of what keeps me turning the page.

Oddly, her characters are not likeable—at least not in the beginning. Ah, but talk about character arc! Her guys and gals go through some amazing growth.  In one book, the hero is still reeling from the sudden death of his first love.  She committed suicide after he ended their relationship. He broke it off with her because he discovered they were brother and sister. I know ick, right? Except, neither of them knew they were siblings. (Different mothers who didn’t know each other. Same jerk sperm donor man slut). So the hero falls for another woman…a nun. (don’t worry all they do is kiss). In the end, she remains in her convent and he decides to seek some counseling for why he always falls for the women he can’t have. Remember romance doesn’t have to have a HEA, just a satisfactory ending. And while here on this blog it might now sound that wonderful or romantic, this author is masterful at moving this poor guy through his character arc in such a way that as a reader, I was pulling for him, and in the end, I understood him, and liked him.

All in all, I think that is why I’ve enjoyed her books so much. It’s like being the fly on the wall in some psychologist’s office. These folks are ordinary humans, with extra-ordinary flaws, searching for meaning in their lives…and someone to love.  By breaking the rules, this author shows there’s a HEA out there for everyone if they just keep looking.

The Perks of Writing

There are a few perks that go along with being a writer. For one, the  research is fun–at least I think so. Research helps a writer make a story come alive by adding in details that give the author credibility. Getting the details wrong can destroy it. There is a phenomenon called the Willing Suspension of Disbelief. When a reader sits down to read a piece of fiction, they know it is just that, fiction. They know the action and events are not actually taking place at that exact moment. They know the characters are not real. But the reader unconsciously and willingly suspends their disbelief in order to be lured into the book. Getting the details right can either pull the reader in or yank them out.

I learned this lesson when I was in high school taking a creative writing class. Our final for the class was to write a short story about an episode we had never experienced. Then we had to have someone read the story that had experienced a similar event. Our final grade would be based on how well the reader thought we had captured that moment.

At the time, I lived in St. Louis. I worshiped the St. Louis Baseball Cardinals. For most teenage girls, their heartthrobs are movie stars, TV personalities, or rock stars. Mine were baseball players. I faithfully watched the games or listened to them on the radio. The coaches at my high school often would ask me trivia questions about the Cardinals knowing that I was a walking encyclopedia of player stats and bios. I even lettered in high school baseball as the team’s statistician.

So I wrote a short story about being a Cardinals rookie at his first big league at bat. I researched extensively, read everything I could get my hands on – newspaper interviews with coaches and players, biographies of ballplayers, and magazine articles. (This was before the Internet.) I even interviewed my Driver’s Ed teacher, who had once played catcher for the Cincinnati Reds. I could’ve stopped there, but I also wrote the Cardinals and asked if one their players would read my short story to critique it.

Not a single solitary person at my high school or in my family believed I’d get that interview. So they were shocked when the Cardinals’ front office called the school to confirm the assignment then granted me the interview. The Cardinals arranged for me to meet not one, but two players. The first was nearing retirement and already a legend, the great Lou Brock. The other was a rookie, Keith Hernandez. Keith would later be traded to the New York Mets and win multiple Gold Gloves as their first baseman. The only part of the story Keith dinged me on, was that I let the rookie in my short story hit a home run during his first major league at bat. Nevertheless, I got an A- on the story.

Yeah, research is fun and in-person interviews are one of the perks of being a writer!