2017 Reading Round-Up

RiverWhile I love being a writer, one of the downsides is that it definitely cuts into my reading time. I used to read several books a month, often reading several at once, and now if I finish one or two I feel like I’m doing well.

And then there are contests. If you enter some contests, you’re required to read entries in other categories. Plus, having found contests SO helpful when I was trying to get published, I really want to help judge them.

All of that to say I read fewer books for pleasure than I’d like to.

But, like cutting back on chocolate, it makes the books I DO find time to read all that more wonderful. And here are a few I particularly liked from last year:

  1. River to Redemption by Ann Gabhart – Okay. So sometimes being an author means you get reader perks. This book doesn’t actually release until 2018, but I got to read it as an endorser. Just let me say, you are in for a treat come July!
  2. Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate – I’m not the only one who loved this book about a notorious woman who was essentially stealing and selling children under the guise of running an orphanage. Chilling and redeeming all in one!
  3. Camino Island by John Grisham – This one was such fun! It’s a writer’s book, with a main character suffering writer’s block and lots of literary fun. Not Grisham’s typical fare, but maybe that’s why I liked it so much.
  4. Counted With the Stars by Connilyn Cossette – I don’t read a ton of Biblical fiction, but this story really brought Exodus to life for me. Really well done!
  5. Circling the Sun by Paula McLain – If you liked Out of Africa, read this book. It’s the more or less true story of Beryl Markham who was the third corner of a love triangle with Denys and Karen. And that may be the least remarkable thing about her.
  6. A Dog’s Purpose by Bruce Cameron – I didn’t see the movie, but adored the book. The writing is simple (it’s a dog’s POV after all), but deeply touching. Plus, I’m pretty sure my dog could write a book, so it gives me hope.

How about you? What did you read in 2017 that stirred you?

Appalachian Thursday – Snow Days

creek snowLast Friday’s forecast of 1-3 inches of snow morphed into almost a foot. Suddenly, we had a full-blown snow day on our hands. Schools closed, there was a run on bread and milk, and a few unlucky folks ended up in the ditch.

I went home and took my dog out into the snow!

Because that’s what you do on snow days in the mountains. You bundle up and go out in it.

  • You catch snowflakes on your tongue.
  • You make snow angels (which the dog promptly spoils).
  • You throw snowballs and make snowmen.
  • You come inside with your cheeks rosy and drink hot chocolate.
  • You find dry mittens and go out again.
  • You go sledding!

Thistle and I ventured out into the neighborhood and found two kids doing most of the above. Best of all, they were building a snow ramp for their sleds. My brothers and I did that. If you poured water on it before going in for the evening it would freeze over and go even faster on day two. (Unless your mom found out and sent your dad out to break it up before you could break a leg.)

In my memory, snow days were times when all the regular, day-to-day busy-ness of life slowed and sometimes stopped altogether. It was as if the whole world–my whole world–was muffled in that glorious white mantle of snow.

Last Friday was like that. Sent home from work, no thought of going anywhere, and our sweet little valley utterly transformed by lacey bits of ice. It reminded me of the very best thing to do in the snow . . .

Stop. Tilt your face up to the sky. Listen.

Do you hear that?

It’s the gentle chink, chink, chink of unexpected, undeserved peace washing your overwhelmed spirit clean. Leaving it–if only for a moment–white as . . . snow.

 

Appalachian Thursday – Porch Sitting Weather

Olivia kisses
Porch-sitting at the farm.

While it’s still a little early to proclaim the season changed, we are getting the loveliest taste of fall this week. Which means it’s prime porch sitting time!

The house we live in has the sorriest excuse for a front porch. But it’s still a porch and I’ll take it. Because the need to sit on the front porch is embedded in my genetic material.

Porch sitting is simply a way of life in the mountains. It’s for work, for socializing, for relaxing, and for keeping an eye on the neighborhood (people AND critters). Characters in my novels do all kinds of things on porches–cry over men, talk about weddings, wait for family, digest meals. Porches make an appearance in pretty much all of my stories.

Every dog I’ve ever had loved ducking under the porch. Sometimes wild animals move in under there (we had a skunk for a time). If the porch is high enough, kids will, too. The porch light serves as a beacon of welcome. Once, we slept on the porch.

On these cool, pre-autumn days, my husband and I will take a glass of wine out after dinner to sit on our skinny little excuse for a porch and enjoy some lazy talk. No serious topics, no important decisions, just chat. Because porches bring that out–that desire to idly talk about nothing in particular. At peace and in communion. Waving to the cars going by.

Probably, if we could get the people we don’t see eye-to-eye with to sit with us on a porch with a glass of lemonade (or something stronger), we’d learn that we have a lot more in common than we ever realized.

Just don’t disturb the bird nesting in that hanging basket. The eggs should hatch any day now.

Bees, Rattlesnakes, and Bears – oh my!

rattlesnakeYou know it’s a doozy of a hike when the least scary thing to happen is a bear thundering off through the brambles.

That’s how my hike with Thistle started one evening last week. And we weren’t much alarmed. After all, the bear was leaving. Then Thistle ran on ahead and in short order came streaking back past me.

While hiking with my husband that morning she’d gotten into some yellow jackets (bears crack those nests open like pecans this time of year). I thought, surely that hadn’t happened again. I called her to me and two yellow jackets flew from her fur. Okay, it had. We ran down a side trail where she wallowed in some tight brush, divesting herself of any insects. Which was good since I had that MAJOR allergic reaction 15 years ago. (I’m theoretically cured after 7 years of shots, but who wants to test that?!?)

We made our way to a stream and gathered our wits. The bees were quite a bit scarier than the bear. Even so, we had hiking to do, so off we went, taking the long way around. As we came back down the mountain on a nice, wide trail, we stumbled across the scariest thing yet.

A rattlesnake.

A yellow phase timber rattlesnake to be specific (I only learned this later). And when I saw it, stretched full length in a sunny spot on the trail, Thistle was standing tail to tail with it. Or tail to rattle. My dog had no CLUE there was a snake in the world.

I convinced her to come to me with some treats and we stood there for a moment, marveling. (I did–Thistle just wondered why she had to wear her leash and might there be more treats?)

Then we went the even longer way around.

One of the themes in my upcoming novel, The Sound of Rain, is how we’re never really safe. No matter how many precautions we may take, bad things will still happen in the most unexpected ways. It’s just how this fallen world works.

My first thought after such an eventful hike was that maybe I should give up hiking until the first good freeze. But honestly, I love walking in the woods. It’s my freest, most creative time. And it’s something my husband, dog, and I love to do together.

So, I’ll keep hiking with the bears, the bees, and the rattlesnakes. Because, as my characters also learn, we may not be safe, but we are secure. Not because of any precautions we’ve taken, but because of who we trust.

“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For thou art with me.”

My Muse at Work

I’m working on a new story idea–which is typically my FAVORITE part of the process. That and finally seeing a cover! Even when I think I know what a story is going to be about, it will often go off on a tangent I didn’t see coming.

Thistle–my muse who lays at my feet while I write–likes to help me run down ideas. This video seems to capture the process. You often have to be incredibly persistent and just throw yourself into the pursuit of an idea with everything you’ve got.

Just be grateful that when you want to dig into something new, you get to use your hands instead of your face.

*Neither chipmunks nor story ideas were harmed in the filming of this video.

 

Appalachian Thursday — Lazy Summer Days

What do you do when you have a whole day before you with pretty much no digital technology to distract you?

Oh wait, I remember! That’s how it was when I was a kid.

Sure there were three or sometimes four channels to watch on TV, but nothing of much interest. And we eventually had an Atari system, but that couldn’t hold a candle to, well, everything else there was to do! And having a five-year-old on hand for a long weekend at the farm in West Virginia helped me remember all the fun we used to have doing things like . . .

Yup, turns out having a whole day with nothing in particular to do is a fantastic thing. When can I sign up for another, please?

Appalachian Thursday – The Dog That Didn’t Make the Book

Tapestry CoverI recently turned in the latest round of edits on my third novel–A Tapestry of Secrets–due out in August 2016. The book has gone through several drafts, one of which included a stray dog. In the end, he didn’t fit the story, so he got cut. But I kind of miss that sweet little dog so I thought I’d give you a peek behind the curtain at a scene that MIGHT have happened to my heroine, Ella Phillips when she was feeling low and trying to sort out her life.

THE STRAY

Ella scuffed her feet through wet leaves. She almost wished for a can to kick. She’d been walking and thinking for nearly an hour and had yet to come to a resolution. She paused to look around. Of course. She’d been walking downhill all this time and now she was going to have a hike to get back home. Tugging the hood of her raincoat forward, she tried to tuck her hair back inside. Wet wisps curled around her temples and stuck to her cheeks. She’d always loved walking in the rain, but she really hadn’t planned to walk this far.

As Ella turned to head back up the hill, the rain picked up. What had been a gentle drizzle, was now steady drumming on her hood. Glancing at the sky, Ella suspected it would rain harder, yet. She walked a little faster. She was grateful she hadn’t crossed over Little Fork. The creek she had often crossed by hopping from rock to rock was running fast and muddy. It had risen high enough to wash down grasses and weeds growing on either side, creating a sort of slurry of rushing water at the bank. She’d always enjoy the soft music of the creek, but now it was approaching a bass roar. Or maybe that was the rain coming down harder.

And then she heard another, higher note over the rain and the water. It sounded like a coyote yip or maybe a child’s cry of frustration. The sound both frightened and drew Ella. She had an almost insurmountable urge to run from the sound, but she also wanted to know what it was. Fearing someone, or something, might be in danger, Ella stayed where she was, straining to see through the rain. She looked upstream and saw . . . something . . . thrash in the water. She took a step back. What if it was a wild animal? It would be horrible not to help it, but probably dangerous to try. She squinted. Yes. An animal. It could be coyote or a raccoon—coons got pretty big. Surely not some sort of cat.

At that moment, the animal turned its head and although it was still a little ways upstream Ella could swear it looked her in the eye. She saw fear and knew she had to try and save it. She gauged how fast the little body was sliding toward her. She took a breath and stepped out in faith.

Ella clutched the shivering body to her and exhaled. Had she been holding her breath all this time? It felt like ages, but had probably been seconds. The dog licked her face and seemed content to stay in her arms where she sat in the mud and muck at the edge of Little Fork. Ella looked at the creek and then at her feet and legs. Had she walked on water to pull this little guy out? Or had she just waded in and out so quickly the creek didn’t have time to hold her?

Shaking almost as much as the dog, Ella tried to remember what had happened. She’d estimated that if she lunged forward she could reach the dog—she was glad that’s what it was—in about two steps and then she planned to just throw herself back toward shore. It had been easier than she expected. She didn’t have any sense that the water had pulled at her, but maybe it had just been a quieter spot. Or maybe . . . The dog licked her chin again and Ella looked down at him.

“Let’s get you home,” she said.

She carried the dog for a while, but he got heavy and she had to put him down. As soon as she did, he took several steps in the direction she’d been heading and looked back at her as if to ask, “Aren’t you coming?” Ella fell into step with the little dog and he stayed with her all the way home.