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What do you see?

I see a hummingbird

hovering in a beam of sunlight

eternity in a moment.

 

What do you hear?

I hear the singing wind

playing tree and dry grass instruments

same singings my ancestors heard.

 

What do you feel?

I feel the earth and sky

beating heart and whispering spirit

groanings of earth, calls of heaven.

 

What do you know?

I know at life-road’s end

leaving flesh, failures and fruitions

is required and I know that love

is the only luggage the journey allows.

Touched

Copy of Touched Cover FINAL 1-29-13 A YEAR AFTER MY DADDY crossed over to the spirit world I went to visit an old friend of my family, Joyce Reeder. My dad had greatly respected her and always spoke so highly of her. She had been friends with my Granny Turner years before and had been good to my family from as far back as I could remember. So, after she read I Listened, Momma, Joyce and I spoke over the phone and she invited me to her home. I went in the hopes of hearing…you know…STORIES!

And Joyce did not disappoint me. She told me stories about the community in which I lived during my teen years and about a time I couldn’t possibly get from my memory,  the 40s, 50s and 60s. As I drove home I thought about one story in particular of a young man who loved a girl that was killed in a car accident and how he never married after that. I came home, plopped across my bed and closed my eyes, still thinking about the world in which my parents had grown up. I thought about my pastor, Gerald, and the world as it must have been when he was a boy and then, suddenly, an entire story, set in the year 1959-60, flashed before my mind. It was a story that had never been told, the story of a young man with an unprejudiced heart and non-religious spirituality in a community of the self-righteous.

It was Frankie Keilman’s story. I could see Frankie in my mind’s eye. I could hear his voice. I could see Elle McThacker, the Melungeon moonshiner’s daughter that he was forbidden to talk to and her good-looking scoundrel of a womanizing brother, Mickey. I could see her Mexican granny, Flor Pablo, all brown and hunched over, giving out ageless advice to her rambunctious off-springs. I sprang up from that bed with a Jesse Stuart “annointin’ on me,” as the old time tent preachers around here used to say. I immediately went to my computer and wrote. Within a few short weeks the book, which had been written in my mind in a single afternoon, in the space of what was supposed to be a nap, became a printed reality. That’s the only time I ever composed a book like a piece of Mozart music. Here it is, four years since it’s publication, and I’m still in awe of how the book came about.

People often ask me which book is closest to my heart. That’s like asking a parent of more than one child which one she loves the most. They are all close to my heart, because that’s where they all come from. Each time a reader picks up my novel, they take a trip inside my soul and discover an insight or two that I’ve encountered somewhere along my life’s journey. I like fiction because fiction contains more truth that fact sometimes. So, from my heart and mind to yours, I hope you enjoy a story inspired by an afternoon spent with a dear old friend. Thank you, Joyce Reeder, Momma, Daddy, Pastor Gerald, Faye Bault and Brooks Coomer. You all played a role in the thoughts that brought this book into being.

18238644_1313412048743672_7992669858257454389_oI COULD GIVE YOU a long list of my publications and bore you with a recount of my humble, meager awards and accolades, but you can go to my author page on amazon or on any one of the publishing house sites where my books are listed and learn those things. I think I would rather talk to you about the really important things, the things that qualify me to write about the things I write about. I’d rather talk to you about what my parents taught me about living.

I was born in the Appalachian foothills, one among seven children. We were so poor that we had no indoor plumbing, no phone and no central air or heat. I remember when eating wild game was our main source of meat. Then we got a cow, but she ran over a bluff and killed herself. After that, we took to raising hogs and leasing tobacco crops. My daddy also worked at a sawmill where he sawed hickory baseball bats. He did everything he could to feed us and Momma raised a big garden every year. We raised anything that would grow, even our own peanuts. I say we were poor but I never felt poor, not until someone told me that I was poor. I was like Dolly Parton in her song, “Coat of Many Colors’. “I felt rich as I could be.”

There were times when all my family had was each other and somehow, that was always enough. My parents taught us that love is the only thing of true value in this entire world and whatever is not of love, well, it’s not eternal. I have lived my mortal life in the light of immortality. We never believed in final good-byes, only “see you laters.” I recall a memory of one summer night when my parents were lying on a quilt on the hillside behind our house. We had no TV at the time and so we would play outside until dark and sometimes our parents would come outside and watch us from the hillside. This particular night I was talking about all the stuff that some of the kids at school had.

I can still hear my daddy’s voice saying, “If you ain’t got love, you ain’t got nothin’ in this life.”

Then Momma chimed in and said, “Money can buy you a lot of things, but money can’t buy real love. If you have love and family you have everything.”

Daddy said, “Remember that, Sis.”

My daddy was a storyteller and every night he’d gather us around the old aluminum kitchen table and spin his tales for us. He couldn’t read but he could remember and he had an imagination. He told stories that had been handed down from his grandfather and his childhood and he told stories that he made up. Each night I would be the last kid listening, begging for just one more story. My parents would have to make me go to bed. We had very few books, but we did have stories and then there was Momma’s sacred book, a high school literature book of poems by Edgar Allen Poe and short stories by O’Henry. I read those poems and I knew…knew with everything in me… that I was a poet, too. I started writing poetry on every thing that had a surface to write on, even my grandmother’s giant squash. I checked books out from the school library and read like there was no tomorrow. I fell in love with far away places and adventures. I loved stories written ones, spoken ones, sung ones…I just loved stories.

In the fifth grade the Gideons came to school and passed out little red New Testaments. It was the most special thing to me, my very own book full of stories. And in the back? Blank pages. I was certain that God himself had left those pages blank so that I could add my story to them. I took an ink pen and wrote an imagined story about my Great-great-grandpa crossing the Rio Grande and coming to the U.S. It was, of course, completely fabricated from Daddy’s tales and my imagination, but it didn’t matter. It was MY story. I think I was 9 years old at the time. But with the gift of a New Testament, a writer’s dream was born.

Momma believed in my dream. That Christmas we were so broke that it looked like we would get no presents at all. A charity group came to our house and brought gifts and fruit. I’ll always be grateful for that group, but Momma and Daddy wanted so much to get us something that they went to a loan company and borrowed a little money and that year when my siblings got toys, I got a college dictionary for Christmas. It was the greatest gift anyone has ever given me, because I knew that it had come with sacrifice and with hope. Momma said, “One day you’re going to go to college and make something out of yourself and you’re going to need to know all of these big words. I felt bad not getting you a toy, but I felt like that you would like this better.” I hugged that dictionary and thanked her for it.

A Bible and a dictionary in the same year. My future had been set in motion. Little did I realize that one day I truly would write my story and Daddy’s story and Momma’s story and maybe the story of a million other 9 year-old dreamers.

In the years to follow I held onto the dictionary. I still have it today. The cover wore off and I recovered it in discarded wallpaper. Eventually, even that wore off. If you were to visit my home and see that old book with no cover, you’d think maybe it was a piece of junk but it’s not. It’s a symbol of my mother’s hopes for me.

My mom left this world  at 38, one month before I graduated high school. She never got to see me go to college and use the dictionary that she gave me to help me through my classes. She never got to see me win the Art scholarship that made it possible for me to go, never got to hear me play guitar or got to see her grandchildren. But she did see. She saw it when I was 9 and she used her today to plan for my tomorrow. Thank you, Momma. Your dreams carried me through until I could see my own dreams and your dauntless, unselfish love, made me want to impact the life of everyone I meet.

 

 

 

 

Wings

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If I could give you wings

they’d be dragon wings

strong enough to lift you over

the barbed wires surrounding you

powerful enough to carry

you to a mountain hide-a-way

for a year and a day or more

where you would spin a cocoon

and rest until you emerged

a spirit walker, kissed by light

unscathed by darkness.

If you could give me wings

they’d be fairy wings

full of light and color, magic enough

to whisk me across time and space

where I would find my voice

dancing across pages of forever’s book

touching torches, lighting lives

unbound by sex or vows or man-made things

an ethereal wraith, a lover of love

a blesser of souls, a seer of forever.

broken glassAs I was fixing my breakfast this morning, I placed my hands on the counter only to quickly draw them back as I felt a pinpoint of pain in both palms. I had placed my hands on tiny shards of glass. Yesterday, my kitten, Pancake, knocked a container of coconut oil off the fridge which hit a drinking glass on the counter. Although I thought all the glass had been cleaned up, I was mistaken and now both my palms are reminding me that I am not puncture-proof.

It’s funny how one event can lead to a train of thoughts about other events. As I drove to work I wondered if I had gotten all the glass picked out of my palms which led me to remember an incident that happened long ago, when I was in the first grade. I remember that my foot swelled up due to a piece of embedded glass and I had to miss school while my mother tried to remove the glass from my foot. It was an all day feat. The glass was really in there and she had to “dig” it out with a needle; she did a lot of squeezing, too. I did a lot of flinching and feeling afraid. I guess we were too poor to go to a doctor at that time. She did a good job sterilizing everything and I survived. Albeit, I did limp for a few days afterward. I suppose that in a way I had a bit of an aversion to glass around my feet after that.

Remembering how my mom took that glass out of my foot led to another memory which had nothing to do with glass but everything to do with my parents and the sacrifices they often made for my siblings and me. I wasn’t sick very much as a child but once when I was five years old I woke up with an outrageous fever and severe headache, so severe that I was sick to my stomach from it. My mom couldn’t drive so my dad missed a day of work to take me to a doctor. We sat in that office all morning and they kept calling in other people ahead of us until I puked all over the waiting room. There’s something about a kid puking all over the place that convinces adults they are really sick and I really was. So, I immediately got called in after that. My point is that my dad couldn’t afford to miss a day of work. We barely survived on his check but he did it, believing that somehow the bills would still get paid and there would still be food on our table. My dad only meant to do the right thing that day but he taught me a lesson that I am only just now recognizing. He didn’t do it consciously, of course. But he demonstrated to me that faith works by love. Just having my father beside me made things better. I was still sick but when my dad was with me I was unafraid. I knew everything would be all right. He said it would and his word was good enough for me.

When I was a little girl with glass embedded in my foot I never imagined that one day I’d grow up and willingly walk on shattered glass. My childhood trauma seemed far behind me when propelled by friends who believed in me, people I had grown to love, I pulled off my shoes and walked on a bed of broken glass for the first time. They believed in me so I believed in me. Faith does work by love and love casts out all fear. Where there is love there is faith and where there is faith, fear cannot stay.

I also never imagined that one day I’d be missing work to take my daddy to the doctor and sit with him all day like he did for me. If I could redo just one thing in my life I’d tell my parents how much I appreciate all that they did for me, but there are few redos in this life. There are, however, opportunities to pay it forward, to do some small thing in the life of another. In one of my novels, a character says, “We honor the dead by the way we treat the living.” It’s no accident that the character says that because that is my heart. How do we honor our ancestors? By making the world a better place for our descendants; at least that’s the way I feel about it.

So, now I’m looking at my punctured hands and I feel grateful for the glass that was broken and for the lesson it helped me to remember. Well, okay, I’m also glad that the wounds are tiny and that they will heal quickly. One final note, I do not recommend glass walking as a way to overcome a childhood fear unless you’ve been trained.

Pink was your favorite

Pink hat, pink shoes

Pink balloons.

On soft summer wind

You leave with them

Floating high

Sing, lil Cassie, sing

Fly, Cassie, fly

Always free

We stand

we watch

Five hundred hearts

One for each

Pink Balloon

excerpt from Hodgepodges, Snapshots and What-Nots, Three Kentucky Voices

Crafting a First Draft.

No two people write alike.

For me, it starts with an idea, a flash of inspiration. Then if it “feels” right, I will begin to write. I begin with my main characters and build a skeletal outline.

For example, the novel, Looking for Pork Chop McQuade, is entirely built around the opening sentence. I wrote one line and then I had to backtrack and figure out how the jar of pickles led to a love affair.  I will plan my plot in small steps, but I don’t always stick to an outline, because my books aren’t formula I want each one to be its own “person” so to speak.

So the flash of inspiration comes, I hold onto it, mull over it, and then after a while, a plot begins to unfold in my mind.

An outline for Looking for Chop McQuade looked something like this: Overall gist of the story: A woman’s husband comes up missing. She sets out to find him and falls in love with the sheriff who is helping her hunt. I  see it as important that I am able to sum up what my entire book’s about in one or two sentences. This keeps me focused.

Then I ask myself things pertinent to the story. In this one I asked, “Why does her husband come up missing? How does he come up missing?” Which leads me to think about what kind of person he is; I come to the conclusion that he is a conspiracy theorist and I began to build his character. I interview conspiracy theorists. I research them online. I visit forums and communicate with them, to help me understand their view of the world, then I put a twist on it, because most conspiracy theorists are just people who want to make sense of the world they live in and many of them have valid reasons for feeling the way they do, so I decide to focus on a possible mental disorder and I start researching paranoid delusional and interviewing the wives of such individuals.

So, now I have a background for this man. I research events that might have caused him to be this way. I read about a plane crash in Houstonville, KY, back in the 60s and I think, “How can I connect this event to this character? How does witnessing this event impact his life?”

Next, I focus on his wife. Why does she stay with him? What’s her background? What are her scars? Scars are what make a character fun to read, scars and quirks. I then go through her entire family and discover their scars, their quirks, their views of the world. These characters reveal themselves to me. In developing the sheriff, I went to a sheriff and his wife and interviewed them about their lives.

So, I work on plot development and character development at the same time. Other writers may do it differently, but for me, it goes hand-in-hand. The plot is moved by the character’s developing and the character’s development is influenced by the events in the plot.

So, here’s what a typical worksheet for my story might look like:

Characters:

Cupcake—thin & dark-haired, determined, yet vulnerable and too trusting of her husband. She has been married since she was a teenager and has been straddled with duties to others her whole life. Duties to whom?

To her father: who suffered from a bad heart,

Her mother: five hundred pound woman who died when she was hit by a snack cake truck.

Her sister: Already 400 lbs and climbing, suffers from bouts of depression.

To Uncle Faucet: 94 years old and suffering from Alzheimer’s.

How does she make a living? I worked at a marina before. I remember it well. It makes a great “unexpected” occupation for my heroine. She’s a dock hand and she cleans houseboats.

Then I continue developing all of my leading characters as they come into the story. I build backgrounds for each of them, backgrounds that may or may not make their way into the story, but I know they’re there and because I know where my characters really are coming from, I can write them so real that they will seem like somebody you know in real life. I try to make them complex. Of course, there are the flat ones, but they are merely props to move the story along.

So, once I have a pretty good idea of who my characters are, I lay down a rough plot line.

For example I will divide the story into segments:

Part I: Before Pork Chop, Bob, disappears.

Introduces characters, leads up to Bob’s disappearance.

  1. Establish that Bob and Cupcake don’t live like normal people.
  2. Put foreshadowing into place as to the fact that Bob’s going to “disappear”
  3. Put foreshadowing & symbolism into place for things that will happen in the later chapters. Place small things in the story that will later be significant, like a ring in a box by the bed that he hasn’t worn since the day she gave it to him. The ring is symbolic of the way he sees her.
  4. Lead up to the part where Bob is missing.

Part II: The search for Bob.—during this section I really focus on the sheriff, Daniel, as he helps Cupcake.

  1. The search for Bob by locals.
  2. Search is called off.
  3. Sheriff [Daniel] gives up vacation time to help her find Bob.
  4. False leads, close calls. I weave mystery in as I go. I allow a lot of leave way for ideas to pop in my head here. There is no telling what’s going to happen to them on their journey. At this point, I haven’t decided if they are going to end up together at the end of not. I contemplate two versions and mull over alternate endings.

Part III: the climax—do they find Bob?

  1. How do they get to where they’re going?
  2. What actions do they take once they discover Bob’s true whereabouts, if they discover them?

Part IV: the aftermath, the wind-down, conclusion, finale.

Here I decide how I want to end the story. How much closure do I need in order to like this story?

Now, as I’m writing, I may have new character revelations that I have to go back and tweak. I may have new plot ideas that I have to go back and insert and when I do, I have to be sure and make it consistent throughout the story.

BETA READERS:

 My “beta readers” get to see the manuscript. I have a small circle of people that I trust to read my work. Only one of these people is an actual writer. The rest are readers. I am writing for readers. I want to know what readers think. I choose readers with various personalities, because I want people with many different perspectives looking at the story. I value their opinions. I listen to their advice and if more than one of them tell me the same thing needs to be fixed, then I’ll fix it. For example, in Touched, two of my readers, who hadn’t talked to each other, called me and told me that they felt the opening scene, needed less detail and more action in order to lure people straight into the story. I followed their advice and was pleased with the result. Even I liked it better.

EDIT:

I edit myself. I have my sister edit. I hire a good editor.

I do edits, edits, edits, edits, edits, times infinity and revisions galore. I keep tweaking and perfecting. I may revise a book three, four, five, six times or more, until I’m satisfied that it is as best as I can make it.

 Finding a Publisher.

I either publish it myself or I send out query letters to various publishers.

Market:

I swallow my pride, eat my ego and shamelessly engage in self-promotion. People think that only the proud and arrogant and super confident are capable of this. Let me tell you, it’s humbling for a reserved person to have to plaster themselves all over the internet and get up in front of crowds and say, “My book is great. Buy it.” But I do it anyway. I dance. I sing. I play guitar. I tell jokes…I do most anything that will put me in front of an audience where I can talk about my books, not because I love to be the center of attention. No! I do not! It kills my pride to have everybody looking at me, but I learned a long time ago that pride is our number one enemy if we ever want to succeed at anything in life. So I suck up my ego, humble myself and walk out on center stage and do whatever must be done to get my work noticed.

Well, my fellow writers, I hope that some of my little tips will be of use to you. I wish you all the best in your writing endeavors and if you don’t mind, leave a comment and let me know about your writing!