Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Taking My Characters on Vacation

Regular readers know that, from time to time, I raid my Page-a-Day Happiness Project calendar for post prompts. Today, I've gathered a few of Gretchen's "Questions to Ask Yourself" to use as interview questions for my characters.

On the porch swing today are Marita Mercer, her best friend, Bets, her daughter Charli and Charli's stepmother, Angel (all from Casting the First Stone and Chasing a Second Chance). Joining them is Kelsey Stevens, a professional organizer who's the protagonist in a new novel I'm working on, and her best friend, Roxanne.

I'm going to toss out the questions, and we'll see who chimes in with answers.

What little household task do you postpone most often?

Bets: "Grocery shopping!"
Marita: "True. There is never any food in your house!"
Bets: "But there's always wine!"

Do you like a day with no plans, or one that's jam-packed?

Charli: "Busy! I hate being bored."
Bets: "Me too!"
Marita: "I also hate it when you're bored. Both of you."
Angel: "I like it when a day goes according to plan."
Kelsey: "So do I."

What foods remind you most of your childhood?

Kelsey: "Big breakfasts. French toast, pancakes, homemade waffles."
Roxanne: "I used to love coming to your house before school! I think your mom is part of the reason I make big breakfasts for my kids."
Angel: "For me, it's my grandmother's Christmas cookies."
Charli: "They're the best! Um, sorry, Mom."
Marita: "Nope. I get it. I'm the first one to admit my 'homemade' cookies come from a roll of dough."
Bets: "Hey, at least you make cookies!"
Marita: "And you've delivered many a great pizza!"

What's most satisfying to you: saving time, money or effort?

Kelsey: "Time."
Marita: "Money."
Bets: "Effort."
Angel: "Jim would say money."
Bets: "You got that right."
Charli:"What would you say, Angel?"
Angel: "I'm not sure."

Is your life "on hold" in any aspect? Until you lose weight, get a new house or get a promotion?

Kelsey: "None of those. But, yes."
Angel: "Not exactly."
Bets: "Nope!"
Charli: "Sorta. Mom? Um, Mom?"
Marita (clears throat): "Everything's just peachy."

The third installment of the Angel-Marita-Charli story is in the works, 
along with Kelsey's story, Taming Chaos, in which 
everything is definitely not peachy..

Monday, June 26, 2017

Beach Inspired, Part 1

Photo: Steve Hess
I love the beach, but I'm not a beach person per se.  I burn almost instantaneously (fry is, perhaps, a more accurate verb), so my idea of a day at the beach is a day spent under an umbrella, clad in shorts and a tee shirt, (and a hat, of course), slathered with 50+ sunscreen.

It's all about the ambience. While I prefer the shaded, screened in porch at our rented condo to the sand, I love the sound of the surf and the endless vista of water stretching out to the horizon at the beach. When the breeze is just right, it counterbalances the heat of the sun, convincing me there's no place I'd rather be. From my perch on a beach chair, with my feet in the cool sand, I can lose myself in a novel, jot down any inspirations that arise (yes, I always take a notebook to the beach) and usually craft a blog or two (at least). Writing, relaxation and vacation converge, creating a setting conducive to all the things I love to do, but never seem to get quite enough time for at home.

Although I can't imagine a permanent move to the beach, I dream of owning a condo just like the one where we stay each summer. I could visit every time I need a dose of the place that reframes the challenges of real life. Even in the off-season, I imagine I could get so much creative work done in my home away from home.

Then I wonder if having a place of our own down here would change the experience, injecting a little too much reality into my getaway mentality, tipping the scales out of my favor.

I think that's a risk I'm willing to take.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Friday Feature Draft: Courageous People

I've never thought of myself as particularly courageous. I try to be brave when the situation calls for it, but if you asked for a list of my top ten traits, neither courage nor bravery would be on it.

I've never really considered what creates courage, or what habits courageous people practice. Reading this piece by Peter Economy made me think about courage and fearlessness in a completely different way; I never really thought about open mindedness or perseverance being connected to courage.

Worth a read. You just might discover that (to borrow from A. A. Milne) "You are braver than you believe... [and] stronger than you seem."

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Free Kindle Book!

Need a good beach read? For a limited time, you can get Casting the First Stone free for Kindle!

Click here to go to Amazon.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Child of the Seventies, Meet Millennial Characters

I am a child of the seventies. I came of age when the idea that a woman could be more than a housewife (if she so desired) was beginning to take root, not only in my mind, but also in the mind of the collective culture. 

 I was raised to believe I could do whatever I set my mind to. I listened to Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman" and watched The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the decade of the Equal Rights Amendment and Roe v. Wade. I majored in psychology because I wanted to have a job like Bob Newhart's, running a small group with a bunch of quirky characters, and it never occurred to me that my gender could be a barrier to achieving that goal. 

When it came to female roles, I was always more Rhoda than Mary, though I lacked Rhoda's artistic talents. But it's only as I look back at The Mary Tyler Moore Showthrough a different lens, that I realize how important all of the female characters were when it came to defining the nuances of the female role; together with Mary and Rhoda, outspoken feminist Phyllis, sexually liberated Sue Ann and the seemingly ditsy, but loyal and loving Georgette each presented femininity -- and feminism -- from a different perspective. Together (along with the male characters), they made an ensemble worth watching, but separately, each was a distinct, believable character. 

As authors, we are challenged to do the same thing -- to create a cast of characters that is interesting both as individuals and parts of the whole. Supporters and sparring partners, kindred spirits and diametric opposites, naive and jaded, each plays a role. And, for this child of the seventies, every female character is who she is by choice, not by default. 

Creating characters means creating people who are who they are for a reason. If that reason begins as merely a way of advancing the plot, then, somewhere along the way, the character needs to own that choice. It could be hard fought or a result of upbringing, but, either way, it should drive the character to continue on that path or forge a new one. 

For authors like me who love creating characters, this is part of the fun. What makes each member of the Bible study in Casting the First Stone just a little different from her counterparts? Why do Angel and Marita handle parenthood in different ways? How can motherhood matter just as intensely to each of them despite their obvious differences? 

And therein lies the story. Whether it's written to be watched or to be read, every story is influenced by those who create it and the culture in which it is rooted. 

And sometimes, that influence goes even deeper than we realize, impacting the writer and the reader, inextricably bound by the connection created by a story.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Infinite Possibility

Photo: Rue St.Germain newsstand by Nicki Dugan
via Wikimedia commons
I'm traveling today, so I'm going vintage. The post below first ran on October 19, 2011. In re-reading this today, I can still picture that newsstand on Chapel Avenue in Cherry Hill 
that I used to go to with my dad, making this a good day-after-Father's Day post. 

I love big city train stations--well, at least the few I've been in. They're like miniature cities, with shops, eateries and people coming and going. When we got to Penn Station two weekends ago, I wanted to explore, but my family just wanted to find a taxi.

On Sunday afternoon, though, I got my chance. Having spent a good chunk of change in New York, I didn't wander far, but I couldn't resist the newsstand.

In part, I blame the freelancer in me, always on the lookout for a new market or a fresh read, but the truth is, I've loved bookstores for as long as I can remember. As a teenager, I worked as a page in the children's room of our local library. Then, a year or so later, I got a  job working at a used bookstore a few blocks away. I spent more than four years working in my college bookstore, and even after I had a full-time, grown-up job, I spent a summer working at a local Encore Books.

But newsstands are a different animal. Maybe I'd find them less fascinating if I'd grown up in New York, or another big city where I depended upon them to get my Sunday paper or my TV Guide. But in an age where our magazines come to our doorstep, newsstands are as rare as independent booksellers.

I've never actually bought anything at a newsstand on a city street, but I can't resist the appeal of its train station cousin. Such a variety of reading material on so many subjects, all neatly categorized and collated in top to bottom stacks of glossy, compact volumes that tuck neatly into a purse or briefcase.

When I was growing up, my dad used to stop at a newsstand near us for a Sunday paper from time to time. A cross between its city street and train station counterparts, it was similarly crammed with titles I was too young to appreciate at the time. Still, as I write this, I can picture it--or at  least the way I remember it--in my mind. Thick Sunday editions of newspapers were stacked on the floor, tucked beneath shelves of magazines, neatly categorized by subject matter.

Come to think of it, maybe what intrigues me about both train stations and newsstands is the infinite sense of possibility each possesses. Standing in the middle of either of them leaves me with the sense that I can go anywhere--literally, figuratively or both--and that, although there is so much to explore, it is right there, just beyond my fingertips.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Friday Feature: Hoping Against Hope

Last night, in honor of Father's Day, I went looking for a piece about dads for today's post. Instead, ran across a piece about one young father -- a profile I couldn't put down -- one about the power of grit, persistence, and resilience.

And hope.

I was lucky. I grew up in a two-parent family where the deck wasn't stacked against us. We weren't rich, but we always had what we needed, along with some extras. And love wasn't an extra.

It was a given.

There are so many intangibles that go into a person's success, and many of them start at home. Sure, the means to an end is important, but so are things like learning to persist despite failure, learning the value of hard work and learning to stand on your own two feet.

All of which I learned from my dad.

As I read this piece, I was struck by the persistence of a young man whose father wasn't around to teach him those things. I was also struck, once again, by the power of groups and the power each of us has to make another person feel less alone.

Persistence, optimism and resilience are powerful attributes. For some of us, they arise quite naturally; others find them more of a struggle. Sometimes, meeting just one person who gives you hope is the key.

This weekend, I hope you get to spend time with at least one person who inspires hope in you. Maybe it's your dad or your sister, or your own child. Regardless of the source, when you find that feeling, revel in it. Put it in your pocket and take it home with you.

Then, look for an opportunity to share it, because shared hope multiplies. And, while it doesn't solve everything, it's still a tool worth having, one capable of shining a spark of light into darkness.