Appalachian Thursday–When there’s a need

lasagna-kidsOur little, mountain church got word not long ago that some missionary friends on the far side of the world need a van. The old one gave up the ghost and transportation is important.

There were probably folks who thought about sending a few dollars, doing what they could. But a van, even used, well that would cost a good bit.

The kids, though, they got serious and began brainstorming ideas to help. They settled on a lasagna supper. They wouldn’t charge, they’d just ask for donations and have a few things to raffle off. They also thought about karaoke, but who does that?

Well, the adults got behind the idea. Donations came in for food and raffle items. Volunteers set to work helping the young’uns get their project off the ground. And one elder of the church mentioned in men’s Bible study that the kids wanted to do karaoke–ain’t that a hoot?

Such a hoot, that the next thing he knew, he’d been challenged to sing for his supper. And a fair amount of cash money was put up to see him do it.

The night of the supper the kids donned their aprons and served plates of pasta, salad, and rolls. The ladies set up a dessert table. That elder stood off to the side, trying to look calm.

mike-singingWhen he got up on the stage, he introduced the band–mandolin, guitar, and bass guitar. “This is how we sang karaoke when I was a kid,” he said. Then he took a deep breath and they were off. “Sing to the living God,” the tune went. The crowd grabbed the beat and kept a steady rhythm. Verses, choruses, instrumentals, steady on through to the end and a round of thunderous applause.

Then an encore of “Rocky Top,” just for fun.

The kids pretty well finished off the dessert table while the donation jars were emptied and counted. And the grand total was . . .

. . . $2,600 that will help buy a van for a missionary family on the far side of the world.

Amen to that.

Appalachian Thursday–Signs of Spring?

GE DIGITAL CAMERAEvery year a few hardy daffodils jump the gun and bloom in February.

Every year we act surprised.

Somehow it seems too soon, but I’ve looked back at notes from five years ago and this is nothing new. Every February the daffodils unfurl seemingly fragile yellow petals. My hostas send tightly furled leaves poking up through the soil and sometimes there’s even a buttercup  or dandelion smiling up at me from the dead lawn. I can’t help but think about how we often have at least one snow in April and I want to warn my flowers to take a steadying breath and wait.

At the same time, I love seeing signs of spring. I love getting hints that soft, warm days are right around the corner. Soon enough, I’ll be getting my daily dose of Vitamin D from the sun again. Of course, there can still be icy, wintry, northern days as well. More than once I’ve seen apple blossom bitten back by a late frost. The old timers look at the daffodils and shake their heads. “We’ll have winter, yet,” they say.

I have a terrible habit of looking for “signs” in every area of my life. All green lights on my way downtown? Good sign. A rainbow as I’m on my way home to the farm? Great sign! Dead bird in the road when I walk Thistle? Bad sign.

The catch is, I spend too much time looking for signs and not nearly enough living in the moment. I’m too busy trying to guess what comes next. Planning and anticipating can be good things, but they can also become debilitating. Spring and the future will both come when they’re ready.

In God’s own, good time.

Appalachian Thursday – Cover Reveal

While my fourth novel–The Sound of Rain–won’t officially release until early November, I can now share the cover with you. And I’m head over heels for it!

The designers said they wanted to do something a little different this time and I offered lots of suggestions and samples of covers I thought conveyed the “feel” of this story . . . which probably didn’t help them at all.

But that’s okay because Bethany House designers are some of the best in the business and they can be trusted! So here it is . . .

THOMAS_SOUNDOFRAIN_FR&SP.indd

Sigh.

I love the antique, nostalgic feel which is my BRAND y’all! And then those raindrops. And the e.e. cummings lack of capital letters in the title. Lovely!

And, as you can see, Larkin is NOT blonde, but has brown to auburn hair. Well of course she does. As soon as I saw the dress, I wrote it into the story (I was working on edits at the time). It makes me happy to “find” the cover when I’m reading, so I assume others like that, too.

Here’s one version of the back cover copy:

Judd Markley is a hard working coal miner who rarely thinks much past tomorrow until he loses his brother—and nearly his own life—in a mine cave-in. Vowing never to enter the darkness of a mine again, he leaves all he knows in West Virginia to escape to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It’s 1954, the seaside community is thriving, and Judd soon hires on with a timber company.

Larkin Heyward’s life in Myrtle Beach is uncomplicated, mostly doing volunteer work and dancing at the Pavilion. But she dreams of one day doing more—maybe moving to the hollers of Kentucky to help the poor children of Appalachia. But she’s never even met someone who’s lived there—until she encounters Judd, the newest employee at her father’s timber company.

Drawn together in the wake of a devastating hurricane, Judd and Larkin each seek answers to what tomorrow will bring. As opposition rises against following their divergent dreams, they realize that it may take a miracle for them to be together.

Burla Fitzgerald Loudin

burlaIf she’d lived longer than the 97 years God gave her, Grandma would have turned 102 this past weekend. That’s how old Aunt Bess was when she passed, so it’s not much of a stretch.

I wear the engagement ring my grandfather gave her on my right ring finger. She had largish hands and when she gave it to me she assumed I’d need to get it sized. It fit perfectly, which I think delighted her as much as giving it to me did.

Here’s what I miss about her:

  • Playing ring around the rosey in the side yard where the sweet william bloomed.
  • Games of button, button, who’s got the button, hide and seek, crazy eights and old maid.
  • Cutting roses, flags (irises), mountain laurel and peonies from the front yard.
  • Making popcorn and grilled cheese sandwiches in the same skillet on a gas stove.
  • The tick, tick, tick of the gas stove lighting and then the sulphur smell of matches.
  • Dirty socks from running around shoeless in a house with a coal-burning stove.
  • A TV tray at the front door with Halloween candy laid out, waiting for trick-or-treaters.

And Sunday dinners (usually ham, don’t forget the bread) and playing in the creek and “bless your heart” when I was sad and a jewelry box that unfurled when you lifted the lid and head scarves and white sweaters with shiny buttons . . .

But most of all, I miss, “I love you a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck,” followed by the most wonderful, I-love-you-forever Grandma hugs.

And even though she’s gone, I know she does love me forever. And I love her, too. A bushel and a peck that run clear to heaven and back again.

Miss you Grandma.

I’m a cheater

Family photo
Me with two of my best sources for research.

I write historical fiction . . . but I cheat.

I only just realized this as my third novel was about to release last year. I’ve long struggled with genre and fitting what I write into a specific slot. Maybe it’s historical. Maybe it’s romance. Maybe it’s historical romance. OR it just MIGHT be women’s fiction.

Regardless of my dithering, my books are often characterized as historical fiction. Which is fine with me. But then I realized something . . . I don’t work nearly as hard as most other authors of historical fiction do.

I really enjoy the genre and often read it. Right now I’m listening to Newton & Polly by Jody Hedlund. It’s about John Newton–the author of Amazing Grace. The descriptions of clothing, social customs, and John’s time as a sailor are vivid. It all feels very real to me—I know Jody did her research.

Which brings me to cheating. I research very little. Oh, I look up timelines and newspaper headlines for context, but I’m not exactly immersing myself in 18th century England. I don’t have to research conditions aboard ship or the danger of opposing the slave trade. I don’t have to wonder about clothing and bathroom issues. And if I read someone’s diary, it’s just because I want to.

All I’ve really needed to do thus far in my writing journey is listen and ask questions.

The furthest back my novels have gone is 1948. My father was born in 1941 and he remembers a good bit. As did my grandmother who shared many a story before she passed.

It’s as though I’ve been researching my books all my life. In West Virginia, one of our primary forms of entertainment is sitting around telling stories. This drives my husband nuts. He’ll look at me as Dad launches into the story about a dog named Sloomer and mouth, “We’ve heard this one.”

Yes, we have. And hearing it again will only drive it a bit deeper into my psyche—will only make it that much more real when I translate it for my readers.

The upshot is, if you’re a writer, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Digging deep into research—becoming an expert on a specific time period—is wonderful. I have deep respect for writers who spend at least as much time researching as they do writing.

But when I took a notion to write historical fiction, all I had to do was dredge up the stories I heard at my father’s knee. All I have to do is close my eyes and think back to those stories I heard sitting on the porch of an evening.

Common advice is to write what you know. I say, write what you wish you knew.

Appalachian Thursday–A Looooong, Hiiiigh Bridge

I just got back from a visit home to West Virginia. Every time I go, there’s a moment when I realize I’ll have to drive (or persuade my husband to drive) over the New River Gorge Bridge. I don’t typically have bridge issues. Normally, I just cross them and keep going.

But the Gorge.

Phew.

It all started a few years ago, on a lovely summer afternoon, when I stopped at the visitor’s center to stretch my legs and get the history of the place.

This was a mistake . While it was helpful in terms of learning more about the state that I love, the trip down the 278 steps to the viewing platform was regrettable. Not only could I look UP (way, way up) at the world’s second longest single span expansion bridge, I could also look DOWN into the gorge.

Way, way down. And I could see just how dramatic the distance is between the river and that steel and concrete span. Not to mention how preposterous it is that the thing stays in the air. I mean, it’s HUGE. And there’s nothing under it but air.

Did I mention I have an issue with heights?

Just so you know, it takes two verses of Amazing Grace to get across (over half a mile). And even while singing really, really loud, my brain can still picture all that empty space beneath my tires. Oy. My tummy still hurts. But I did it. Because it’s between my two favorite places in the world and it’s always worth 20 seconds of agony.

Here are a few other things you might find interesting about the New River Gorge Bridge:

  • The bridge is open to pedestrians one day a year on Bridge Day in October (which means one side is open and there’s two-way traffic on the other–I’m SO not driving across that day).
  • On Bridge Day people rapel from the bridge and base jump. They sign up way in advance and vie for the chance to do this. Seriously.
  • The bridge is 3,030 feet long, 876 feet high, 70 feet wide, and weighs 88 million pounds. Did you get that last one? Held up by a single arch.
  • The Washington Monument would fit under the bridge with 325 feet to spare.
  • Throughout the year there are Bridge Walk tours offered. Guides lead guests on a stroll of the full length of the catwalk under the bridge. People pay to do this.
  • When the bridge was opened in 1977 it cut the trip across the gorge from 45 minutes to 25 seconds. Somehow it seems to take longer . . .

If you want to learn more about Bridge Day or the bridge itself, click here. I recommend a visit. Just watch your phobias.

Appalachian Thursday – 2016

I’m not a fan of looking at the turning of the calendar as any kind of clean slate. I figure most every day is the perfect time to begin doing whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing. But in the spirit of the New Year, I took a moment to look back over 2016 in Appalachia. Whether at the house in North Carolina or the Farm in West Virginia, I don’t like to stray too far from my mountains. And flipping through a year’s worth of images reminds me why.