Goals: When Dreams Meet Reality

Reading glassesLast week I came within two pounds of reaching what I have long thought of as my ideal weight. And I realized something . . .

. . . losing those last two pounds probably isn’t going to make an actual difference in my life. I had this sort of vague idea that once I got to this magic number my body would be different. And it is. Just not in the ways I imagined. I’m still what you might call pear-shaped. I still have that softening flesh on the undersides of my arms. I still don’t want to be seen in a bathing suit–unless it’s one of those Victorian dress things.

Reaching my goal is a good thing–but it hasn’t transformed me into a swimsuit model. MAYBE, my body just isn’t built for modeling swimsuits. Maybe I’m just the same ole ME, only a few pounds lighter.

And isn’t that the way with goals?

All too often, I think once I meet X goal, my life will be different. And by different I mean better. Much, much better. Once I get married. Once I get the perfect job. Once I move into the perfect house. Once I win a writing contest, get an agent, find a publisher, have a book in print, have five books in print, win that award . . . and on and on.

There are two problems with pinning your hopes and dreams on meeting a specific goal. 1) When you meet it, it isn’t quite what you expected. It’s good–but it’s not magic. 2) Turns out there’s another goal just beyond it. It’s good to meet my goal weight, but now I need to work on fitness. It’s good to have multiple books in print, but now I wonder if it’s something I could ever earn a living at.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t have goals. But I am suggesting that goals are simply checkpoints along life’s highway. They aren’t a destination so much as an overlook where you stop, take in the view, and decide where to head off to next.

So how about you? What goal are you currently working toward and what do you think will happen when you get there?

Appalachian Thursday–Going to Ireland

Ireland UMC
Photo from the Irish Spring Festival Facebook page. Click on image to learn more.

When I drive from NC to the farm, I get to pass through Ireland. Of course, like Paris, KY, or Rome, GA, it’s really a sweet little town stateside. Still, I get a kick out of it.

This week they’re holding the Irish Spring Festival, which is always planned around St. Patrick’s Day. There’s lots of green, shamrocks, good food, and road bowling (more about that in a moment).

The event was launched 36 years ago by the Shamrock Community Educational Outreach Services Club. A king and queen are selected and there’s typically a parade populated with pedestrians, farm equipment, animals, and a whole lot of kids. There are probably more people IN the parade than watching it.

The festivities actually kicked off last Sunday with a flag raising, the dedication of a free library, and a Pot ‘O Luck covered dish dinner. The day wrapped up with a Psalms of Ireland hymn sing at the United Methodist Church (see photo above).

And, of course, there’s road bowling. Ireland is famous (well, locally famous!) for being a hub for the sport. Basically, the idea is to roll a heavy, metal ball (it used to be cannon shot) as far as you can along the road without it rolling out of the road. Curvy, mountain roads are, of course, more challenging.

Back in 2012 some road bowlers ended up playing along the rural road where I live. Turned out they were from West Virginia! Click HERE to read more about that.

All in all, the Irish Spring Festival is exactly the sort of thing I miss about my West Virginia home. Local people getting together for some pretty uncomplicated fun and fellowship. If you’re ever in central West Virginia, check ’em out

Lenten Fasting–What to Give Up?

GE DIGITAL CAMERAEach year I look forward to Lent and embarking on some sort of spiritual discipline leading up to Easter. Usually, I have my fast well in mind at least a few weeks before Ash Wednesday (March 1). But this year I’ve been waffling.

I wanted to come up with something meaningful and . . . let’s face it . . . clever. The year I added the fruit of the Spirit to my diet was wonderful and blog followers seemed to appreciate coming along on the journey.

But in 2017 . . . nothing jumped out for me. Until Sunday.

I was speaking at a church about an hour from home and the pastor preached on the 23rd Psalm. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want . . .” The pastor said the word for want was a sort of gut-churning worry. Oh yeah, I know about that.

So there you have it. I’m giving up worry for Lent.

Which is hard. If I were giving up, say, chocolate, I’d know how to do that. Don’t eat chocolate. But how not to worry? I’m not sure, but I plan to give it a shot with Matthew 6:25-34 as my guidebook.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Step 1 – Don’t worry about how to give up worry for Lent.

Embrace the Awkwardness

presentingI participated in the Asheville Christian Writers’ Conference over the weekend. One conferee asked me how to gracefully exit a 15-minute appointment.

If you aren’t familiar here’s how the 15-minute appointment to pitch or share about your writing often goes:

  1. You wait nervously for your appointment time, lurking near the editor, agent, author with whom you plan to meet.
  2. The person with an appointment ahead of you goes over the allotted time and you push closer, trying to make sure the editor, agent, author sees you.
  3. The person ahead of you finally leaves and you swoop into the empty seat ready to pitch your work.
  4. You blurt out something you meant to be coherent and shove a one-sheet, business card, or pages at the person across the table.
  5. You manage to share something about your book, although you’re not sure it makes sense. Hopefully the editor, agent, author says something helpful and/or asks some questions.
  6. You realize your 15 minutes are up, but NOW you remember what you meant to say in the first place.
  7. You try to squeeze it in even as the next appointee lurks behind you.
  8. You finally mumble something you meant to be coherent and walk away.

Here’s the amazing wisdom I offered that conferee–embrace the awkwardness. Nothing about this process feels natural, so don’t worry when–hello–it feels unnatural. It’s okay. Take a breath and know everyone else feels awkward, too. You are NOT alone and agents, editors, authors have seen and heard much worse.

I once spilled a bottle of water on an agent (not my agent) and he still said nice things about my writing and asked for a proposal.

So how do you exit? Say, “Thank you so much,” and then, as you trip over your laptop bag on the way out, give the next person in line an encouraging smile.

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.

Appalachian Thursday–Ollie the Bobcat

bobcatI have an affinity for bobcats which are native to Appalachia. So when a news story ran this week about Ollie, a female bobcat, escaping from the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., I tuned in.

I might have been rooting for the bobcat.

Oh, I know, she’s been in captivity since she was orphaned as a kitten and probably wouldn’t do well on her own.

Still.

At any rate, she’s back at the zoo now. News reports simply said she was “found on zoo property.” Hmmm. I’m betting she was still in the enclosure and just didn’t feel like being seen. Bobcats don’t much care to be seen, which is part of what I like about them. They’re subtle.

Allegedly, my first bobcat encounter was at the French Creek Game Farm. Dad was talking with the wildlife officer in charge and I, just a tyke, toddled off into the garage where there were several abandoned bobcat kittens in a cage. I was playing with them through the bars even though the wildlife guy said he had to feed them with gloves. Allegedly.

Dad always has been a storyteller, but it’s a good story, so I’ll keep it.

I’ve seen several bobcats in the wild over the years and once found one in the road, struck and killed by a car, on my way to work. I stopped and moved her. She was utterly perfect–no wounds that I could see. What struck me most were her paws–delicate with soft, pink pads. I would have expected the pads to be calloused, but they weren’t. I carried her well back into the woods, found a declivity, and covered her with sticks and leaves. I would have dug a grave if I’d had tools to do it.

My last bobcat siting was at least five years ago when one camped out under our bird feeder for a half hour or so. My husband and I just sat and watched, took some pictures (photo above), and marveled.

I’m glad Ollie is safe. I have to think maybe she’d just as soon stay where she is. Otherwise, she would have taken advantage of that hole in the mesh netting around her enclosure to find another–quieter–life.

Maybe she just needed a break from all the hubbub. Like we all do now and again.

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.