Thursday, February 28, 2013

That's Life - Asi Es La Vida

You see this Spanish-style house with the light blue shutters? I used to own it. The house sits between two vineyards in a small French village. It was sold after my divorce when I'd moved back to the US. I loved that house. We have many happy memories of that time in our lives.

There's a house in Puerto Rico with a tiled roof, very similar to this house. My grandparents used to own it. Neither house belong to me or my family any longer. Both houses were sold because life is life and it goes on whether we approve or like it one bit.

My maternal grandparents owned the house in Puerto Rico where I lived when I was a week old. That house was a constant in my life until my mother passed away in 1992 and my grandmother decided it was too much house for her after my grandfather passed away. I think she was running away from memories and the loss of two daughters, as well. I didn't blame her. You can't walk through the house without memories rushing in.

Family Christmas parties and parrandas, summer vacations from May to late August when my mom, sister and I would visit, and the year we lived with my grandparents, waiting for my father to return from Vietnam. The toilet where the iguana came out of and the chaos that ensued, graduation from high school when we lived in Puerto Rico for two years and returning to the island with my daughter when I was pregnant with my son. Another summer when my then-husband, my kids and I vacationed in PR when we lived overseas. So many memories. This house was my home - my refuge, my solace and my love.

So you see, this house isn't just a house to me. It is so much more than that. I'd wanted to buy my grandparent's house. While my then-husband and I considered the purchase, a family member bought it. I was bummed, but very glad that the house where I spent many happy times members would remain in the family. Her in-laws immediately moved in and lived there until she sold the house. I didn't know a thing about the sale until I visited Puerto Rico last December with my friend. I was dumb-struck and heartbroken when I'd found out it had been sold.

I parked the rental car across the street and immediately, I found it hard to speak. The white house was now painted a charcoal gray, not appropriate for a tropical climate. As soon as my friend D and I exited the car, I felt greeted by my departed grandparents, my mother, aunts and uncles and a cousin who died when he was 18. Memories of family photos taken in the front garden when I was little rushed in. I showed D the place where I cut the salamander's tail off to see if the myth was true about the tail remaining 'alive' afterward. The spot along the wrought-iron fence where a boy named Richard said he loved me just before my high school graduation and the enclosed porch, malquesina, where my daughter proudly showed her grandmother and great-grandmother her dancing skills while my son chased lizards in the back patio, under the huge mango tree.

I had tears in my eyes as the new owner's daughter gave me a tour of my grandparent's house. The floor tiles were the same, the remodeled bathroom was still yellow, and the kitchen where my grandmother lovingly prepared food hadn't changed. It will always be my family's house to me. My bedroom was non-recognizable, however. I got ready for my Junior and Senior Proms in that room, I cried there when my boyfriend died in a motorcycle accident, and when the room used to be my grandparent's room. There are stories of me as a toddler, ripping my grandfather's newspaper in shreds before he came home from the bank at noontime and of me as a teenager having a hissy fit that my grandmother was holding me hostage when my parents flew back to the US on business. She had a ring of keys to prove that she was in charge, much like a prison marm :)

I cried for my mother, my grandparents and the past as the tour came to an end. I had mixed emotions, I didn't know what to do with. I wanted to tell the new owner that she shouldn't have bought the house and at the same time, I was thankful that she'd been home and offered us a tour. I felt closer to my mother and my grandparents; there were around me, but I also felt like an interloper. I missed my mother so much at that moment and shook my head to compose myself as we headed to the cemented patio where a lush tropical garden had been.

"The mango tree is gone," I said to the new owner. She looked at me for a moment and said, "I didn't know you ever lived in this house."

Oh yes, I did. And, then some.

Some days, we're more nostalgic than others. Maybe it's all the cold meds I'm taking?

Peace and love,
E


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Going for the Gold or the Blonde

"Now you've gone and done it," said Juliet, my hairdresser with a big grin on her pretty face. She put a hand mirror in my hand so that I could see the back of my hair and I laughed. "Yes, I have, haven't I? Young Juliet, I never do anything half-assed."

I was born blonde and had remained blonde until my mid-40's when I decided that dark hair would be easier to keep up with. It was...until the gray started coming in a couple of years ago and then, the maintenance of covering up the gray was just a pain in the rear. My children have always known me as a blonde. It was time. I was ready for a drastic change and after months of writing, rewriting and editing, I wanted and needed some pampering!

I wanted a color that would blend in well with the white and gray hair, so we did the whole shebang. There was no turning back as the bleach highlights did their magic, but I knew true fear when I saw the brassy yellow and orange hues appear in the process of turning white! My hairdresser assuaged my fears, reminding me that we still had toner to put on my stripped hair. I was relieved that I'd taken my high blood pressure medication before I left my house; my heart was pounding.

Change and risk are old friends of mine. I've never been afraid of challenges and taking risks, but what the hell is it about fear in changing our hairstyle and color that causes a woman's heart to skip a beat and I don't mean in a good way! I'd moved across the Atlantic Ocean, moved to a brand new city where I knew no one after my divorce and I was stressing over the change like nobody's business. I wrote an entire book, for goodness sake! I'm tough, I could handle this. Yeah, right. I was a smiling mess in the salon and wore my hood on the walk home :)

I called Juliet the next morning and asked for low lights which are highlights in two shades darker than the bleached color. Juliet had already booked a time for me that day, she knew I was coming back. Such a wise young woman. She'd told me that the process of going dark to light usually takes two to three times to get the right shade of blonde and blonde hair is tricky. Juliet wasn't kidding! It was torture.

I was glad to think about something else instead of stressing the search for an agent for my debut novel. I had a weekend of focusing on myself rather than my novel and my characters. I needed to step away to gain more perspective, a new perspective. In the end, I'm getting used to the drastic change and even opted for a pedicure and manicure the day I was in Juliet's chair. Why not? A little R&R was called for. Spring is right around the corner. Now, I'm off to find Dr. Oz's green juice concoction...bathing season is right around the corner, too :)

Peace and love,
Ellie

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Pruning Your Novel

Have you ever kept your Christmas tree up long after Christmas music is off the airwaves and the wrapping paper is put away? I have. As long as the needles aren't littering my wood floors and the tree is thriving, I find it very difficult to throw away a perfectly good tree. I've had the same feelings about heavy editing, it's tough, but necessary.

Every Christmas I choose a live tree and fresh wreaths and garlands to decorate the exterior and interior of my house. The evergreen smells and the joy that fresh trees and greenery offer me are worth the trouble and money. Once, I kept my tree and decorations up until March because I couldn't bear tossing them into the back of the trash truck. It happened again this year with the garlands of greenery along my front fence and the fresh wreath my friend gave me for Christmas - the one on the antique chair I placed on my front porch. Correction, had. I finally threw the wreath away yesterday. I hated doing that and was hoping to add little Easter eggs to it, but it was too dry and brittle.

I had the same experience with cutting out certain scenes and chapters in my first novel. I had put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into those scenes and chapters. I loved them, but ultimately, I had to face the fact that they did nothing for the novel I was working on. Pruning the novel felt like cutting away pieces of me!  It was hard to do, but I understood why it had to be done. I could use those chapters and scenes in another book.

This coming March, I have to prune the ancient Concord grapevine on my patio that offers me precious shade in spring and summer, not to mention bushels and bushels of wonderful grapes through October. I bought this old house two years ago and couldn't bear the thought of pruning, fearful that I'd kill it in the process of  pruning!

The first summer, I had more grapes than I could eat and last summer, the harvest was great, but not as bountiful as the previous year. I could tell.  My friend insisted that this March was pruning time - a heavy, no holds barred pruning. That terrifies me. What if I kill it? What if the vines never grow back? I know it has to be done, but I'm scared.

It was then that I realized that there would be new growth on that old grapevine and more grapes.  I also realized that there would be another book and another book after that with heavy editing.  The three things I love, Christmas, gardening, and writing would continue and thrive with careful attention, love and pruning.

Pruning is necessary for new growth and a beautiful harvest.

Peace and love,
Ellie


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Your Last Day on the Planet

I took this photograph on a chilly morning in 2009 of the Potomac River at Great Falls on the Virginia side. To get this fantastic shot of the falls, I had to sneak over the fence and stand on a rock. It was worth the risk. The large rock was flat and dry, so I was safe and my girlfriend behind me had a death grip on the belt loops of my jeans!

My friend N kept telling me I was nuts for trying that stunt and after taking a dozen shots, she let go of one belt loop and handed me her camera, saying "Take one for me!" So, I took one for the team :)

If you're looking for majesty and incredible views, visit Great Falls. If you're feeling too big for your britches, the Falls will leave you breathless and amazed. You will feel like a droplet of water, very small compared to the grandeur in front of you. The river and the falls are a treat for the senses, all of them.

Our favorite things to do was to have breakfast at Great Falls the minute the park opened. We'd pack a breakfast of hot coffee, boiled eggs, cheese and a baguette which we enjoyed sitting on a rock overlooking the Falls. My friend would read the Koran and I'd read pages from my daily devotional. To say that the views and sounds of that spot reach your emotional, mental, spiritual and physical places is pure truth.

A favorite photograph of my friend N is one I took of her in our spot reading the Koran. It's not one I will share with you. The memories and that photograph are precious to me because this friend, my best friend of 37 years, had a major stroke eight months ago. At this time, she doesn't speak nor can she walk. We communicate with our eyes and by touch. I tell her stories and remind her of the many road trips and trips we took together over the years. N doesn't respond or reply, but I know she remembers. Her eyes tell me that she's present and listening.

I visited N in the nursing home during my last visit to Virginia. My heart warms and breaks all over again when I see her. After sharing a beautiful weekend with my children and my friend N's only daughter and two grandchildren who miss her so much, I had ten rejection emails in my In Box from agents I'd queried before I left. "C'est la vie", I said to myself as N came to mind. This morning, I had three more rejections. I shrugged and immediately filed them away in a file I've titled "N".  What can you do? It's all in a writer's day and I accept it.

I'm alive, healthy and happy, thank God and so are my children. I've spent years writing and editing my novel, A Decent Woman and I've already begun writing my second book, Finding Grace. It's all about the writing and the writing life to me. I'll keep querying agents and filing those rejections because this isn't life and death to me. I love writing books and will continue to write and send out queries. I'll see my book published one way or another...for N.

Putting things back into perspective back in West Virginia. This morning I ponder the hundreds of thousands of wonderful books out there that will never be in print. I think of writers who have just given up and I'm not going to be one of them. I tell myself to hang in there and I'm telling you, too. Keep writing as if today were your last day on this planet.

Peace and love,
Ellie


Monday, February 18, 2013

My Mother is a zOmBiE

Good morning!

I'm writing this blog in the sunniest spot of my daughter's kitchen in Northern Virginia and couldn't be happier. The sun's rays are warming my back and my cafe au lait is piping hot . The faint smells of olive oil and garlic from last night's fantastic dinner linger in the air. I'm very happy that my children were available for a visit this past weekend.

What a feast we had last night! My daughter's boyfriend cooked ribs that practically fell of the bones and I'm craving my daughter's caramelized brussels sprouts and fried eggplant slices, delicious! My son ordered gourmet white pizza and four cheese pizza as appetizers, yum! Perfect Sunday! We grazed and relaxed all afternoon. It doesn't get better than that for me. Color me very happy!

This morning we have blue skies in Northern Virginia and although the temps are COLD, my heart is happy. My children and I shared a beautiful weekend with laughter, great food and warm hearts.  We made new memories and as always, there is no place on this planet I'd rather be than with my children.

In addition to sharing great food, laughter and warm hearts, we had zOmBiEs. Apparently for my children and my daughter's boyfriend, no Sunday is complete without The Walking Dead :) I must admit that I love the show, too.  I had watched the first season and last night, I was happy to catch up before episode two of season two began. I hadn't planned on starting yet another season of anything as I can really into it, but I'd watch zombies to be in the same room with my kids.  You bet your life I wouldI

So now I'm hooked yet again (as I was with Lost) and as I did when my kids were young, I got involved in what they like. You want to have a great conversation with a kid or a young adult? Pay attention and genuinely share something they like or are passionate about. Don't fake it, either. Kids can smell disingenuous a mile away.

I don't have to force myself to like zombies, I just do. Well, I wouldn't say that I like zombies, but I just smile when I see one. But if I really saw one, I'd run like hell! Yeah, sometimes seeing a zombie's head exploding like a watermelon against the grate of the car makes me cringe, but I'm rooting for Rick's group to live. Sometimes I look away and I'm always relieved. Yes, Rick is losing his mind. Yes, he is and I think Axel's death last night was a crime. I did not see that shot in the temple coming! I sure wish that he and Carol had gotten together; they looked good together although a trip to the hairdresser might help her a bit. And lastly, I don't think Rick's wife Laurie is alive. I think what he's seeing is a vision, a warning for him to face facts, she's gone. How convenient that the crew found baby formula, huh?! My kids don't know what they're using for diapers. I asked.  Ya gotta love that show :)

My kids are working today and I'll see them after work. As I sit sipping my cafe au lait in a sunny corner of my daughter's cheery kitchen, I wonder. Could I write a zombie novel?  Could I? It makes me laugh because I very well could. The Walking Dead show started out as a comic book. It's a story, so why not? There are group and individual stories, protagonists and antagonists with dozens of zombies walking around. You could write any story and every now and then, have a zombie or ten walk through. Bash in their heads, shoot them in the head and keep going with your story. It could work!  I suppose I could tell any story and throw in zombies and voila!  A best seller?!

Doubtful. But then again, who knows. Never say never :)

Peace and love on this gorgeous Monday in Northern Virginia.

Ellie


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Little Humility Never Hurt Anyone

I took this photograph of my patio last week and after enjoying my windows open yesterday, I'm kinda bummed that we're back to snow today. Sigh. I'm over winter.

This is my favorite hang out spot with friends, wine glass in hand and a table of hors d'oeuvres to share. We enjoy lovely shade in spring and summer when the grape vines are full of leaves and in late summer marked with thousands of Concord grapes hanging in lovely bunches. I eat grapes morning, noon and night in summer and someone needs to convince my Pug Ozzy that grapes are toxic for dogs because he scarfs down the grapes that fall all summer long. I sweep and collect fallen grapes every morning, but he finds them. So far, I've not seen the effects of this grape toxicity in Ozzy - it's a losing battle with him, he's gonna eats grapes.

The honeysuckle on the side fence and the grapes attract lots of bees in late summer, but they don't bother me...much. I'm of the jump up from my chair and run variety when bees come too close. I've never understood how a person could sit still while a bee or wasp buzzes around them! I just can't handle bees, so I run. I was stung twice in my life by a couple of wasps and I don't want a repeat of that experience, thank you very much.


I must admit that my patio looks beautiful in winter, too. I wouldn't have photographed it if I hadn't seen something beautiful in the scene. But now, I'm over it!  I'm over winter. I'm ready for new growth, the variations of green that pop up on my gardening radar and the first plants of spring that show up when I least expect to see them. My elderly neighbor loves Farmer's Almanac and loves to tell me what's coming up with everything and what should already be here, as he says. He'll tell me when the next full moon and lunar eclipses will happen. When planting season comes around, my friend knows which vegetable to plant, when and next to what. My neighbor seems to know the stars and on summer evenings when we're sitting under the grape arbor, he'll say, "Come here, look at that," as he points to the heavens and we stand there, heads back, mouths wide open.  He's a wealth of natural information, I'd think and smile at how lucky I am to have him as a friend and neighbor.

When I met my 75 year old neighbor, I thought how cool it was that he knew all that stuff. I bought a Farmer's Almanac so that I could keep up with him. I remember one day when I surprised him with a nugget of information that I'd gleaned from the Almanac. He smiled at me and was quiet. How odd, I thought. Isn't he happy that now we have more things to talk about? We both love nature, gardening, flower and plants. Isn't he excited to have an eager student?

Then, it hit me and I donated the Farmer's Almanac to the local library. I'd taken away what had given my friend joy - informing me about the natural world he knows. My friend doesn't write, paint or take photographs. He was a much-loved dish washer at the Bob Evans in town before he retired. We'd found common ground in our love of gardening and that was what he wanted to share with me. His garden is beautiful and his knowledge is extensive. My neighbor helped me dig in my hydrangeas, perennials and annuals last spring and he takes great pride in our gardens :)

What a fool I'd been.  A well-meaning, eager student, but also a young fool (young to him) who'd forgotten about the wisdom gleaned through another's experiences in a long life. So, now I keep my mouth shut. I learn by listening and following his lead. I'm not one to steal anyone's thunder and I've always allowed my kids to learn by doing (well, most of the time!) and so, I'm looking forward to spring and digging up the side garden with my neighbor. I'm one lucky lady.

Still living, loving and learning in West Virginia.

Peace and love,
Ellie

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Women's Fiction - Count Me In!



"I hope I don't end up as a professional blogger," I said to my friend, a fellow writer and published author, in a telephone conversation during a recent winter storm watch. My friend assured me that I wouldn't end up blogging at 90. She told me to remain patient, encouraged me to keep writing and querying agents. I promised that I would do all that and before we hung up, we wished each other well on our writing careers.

Actually, I wouldn't mind blogging well past my 90's. I love writing and telling stories. I hope I do just that as it might mean that my brain cells are still active and fruitful! I just pray that I'm not a 90 year old woman blogging about dating. Lord help me. But then again, that might be kinda cool! In my mind's eye, I see my daughter smiling at my future blogs and novels about dating in the retirement home, secretly hoping her young children don't read them and my son is rolling his eyes, thinking, "There she goes sharing again."

Note to Self: Give the kids my blogging password so that they can monitor my blogs in my golden years and beyond.

"Live long enough to be a burden to your children." I don't know who said that, but it always cracks me up. I plan on writing until I'm no longer able to type and that's why I'm saving my old cassette recorder and still buy packs of cassettes. My children won't be able to keep me quiet and I don't plan on going quietly into that good night! I don't know who said that either, but I feel I should know that...

Anyway, I've read that fiction protagonists and antagonists share many of the ideals, dreams and personality traits of the writer as well as the negative parts of their heroines and heroes. We write the story, so that has to be true. My novel has two protagonists, two women. My main character never marries and has no living children. The other woman marries and has three children. These two women really are one woman - me and they also share bits and pieces of women I've known and stories women have told me which to me means that our characters represent all women. I could take that further. I have male characters in my novel, as well. Those characters are composites of men I've known with positive and negative characteristics. So, my story becomes a story of people, but I've chosen no male points of view (POV) for my debut novel-length manuscript.

Why? I didn't start out writing my novel with that in mind. No men. Nope, I had individual chapters written from the POV of my three male characters. The comment I received from my editor and two friends who read the manuscript was the same - the story is stronger without male POV. I had to agree. I removed one such chapter and rewrote others. It was the right thing to do for this story.

I believe my characters, Ana and Serafina, chose me to tell their stories. I chose these characters to tell my story. We've all danced, cried, and dreamed with our girlfriends and my story is no different. It's about the life-long friendship of two strong women and the challenges women faced (individually and collectively) living in the male-driven society of Puerto Rico in the 1900's.

Women's fiction. Count me in.

Peace and love,
Ellie
























Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Research and the Writing

In my high school years, I received three medals which I was quite proud of - a First Place medal for English (writing), another First Place for Ancient History and the other medal was an Honorable Mention for chemistry which I swear must have been a mistake. That medal surely was meant for someone else. I just don't know how that one  happened, but I still have those medals in a box somewhere.

They were badges of honor for a kid who was enthusiastic about learning, but also had her head in the clouds and her nose in a book (not textbooks). One of my teachers wrote this in one of my high school yearbooks, "Eleanor has the attention span of a butterfly on a flower, but she can tell you all about that flower and its relationship with the butterfly."  He had me pegged at sixteen.

As many first-time novelists might admit and I will, I wrote my novel, A Decent Woman, without a plan. Sure, I had an outline and knew who my main characters were, but when I began to tell the story, I just wrote. I allowed my characters to tell their stories without a story board nor a stack of how-to writing books because I didn't know those books existed. I was in awe of writers and never thought that they didn't know what they were doing at one time nor that they'd been beginners like me. I thought they were born for greatness and were doing what came naturally. God had blessed them, I didn't question a thing.

Naively and naturally, I gravitated toward writing and doing research as questions and the need arose in my story. That seemed to work for me. I'd decided that I would write a chapter or two and then, do the necessary research to flesh out the scene, the descriptions and the characters. Naturally, writing a novel about life in Puerto Rico in the 1900's meant I had lots of questions and blanks to fill, mixed in with my grandmother's stories of how she cooked, cleaned and washed clothes when she was young with the limited resources available to her.

My then-husband, kids and I lived in Belgium when I began my historical novel, A Decent Woman and our library was small. I'd browse the titles and nothing jumped out at me. Honestly? I don't think I even knew what I was looking for, so the Internet became my research tool. Hurricanes - off to the Internet! I learned all I needed to know about the hurricanes, tropical storms and tropical depressions that passed near the island  and the direct hits to the island in the early 1900's. I learned about tropical waves that begin off the coast of Africa and the conditions for the perfect storm. I could easily spend hours doing research on the Web and I did. Soon however, I realized that I needed to keep writing and just research on a need-to-know basis. I had to remain focused and not be that butterfly on the flower! That worked very well for me, so I kept writing.

Questions about indigenous plants and flowers, burial practices in the early 1900s, slavery in Puerto Rico, and the lives of women on the island came flooding in at times. More research to be done!

As my story progressed, I added new characters that came with their own baggage, complications and goals that at times, didn't mesh with my heroine's goals, dreams and ideas. I learned to let go and let my characters loose just to see what would happen. The things my characters got into or were involved in boggled the mind, but I kept writing. I'd often say that my characters were whispering in my ear and looking over my shoulders at every turn. In those early days, I wasn't worried about finding an agent, I didn't worry about what other writers were writing and I certainly didn't worry about selling books. I had a story to tell and I figured that if I loved my story this much, certainly others would find it interesting. No one had read my novel-length manuscript yet. I kept it to myself.

While writing, I'd listen to CDs of period Puerto Rican music, to tangos my grandmother loved, I devoured archives of old photographs taken on the island for details on period dress, architecture and no detail, no matter how minute, escaped me. I interviewed older family members and friends born in Puerto Rico back in the day and asked them question after question. I even sent questionnaires to every Puerto Rican woman I knew about daily life and growing up on the island. Not only was I doing research for my book, I was also learning more about the place of my birth and that of my grandmother and mother. Writing this book has been a wonderful experience for me. The process has been healing, illuminating and yes, revealing.

I brought out my novel several times during the next five years while I got divorced, went back to school and worked long hours. The timing was right to keep the manuscript out in 2011. Timing is everything in life. I then began to read books on writing, plotting, character development, dialogue, story boards, advice, tips and writing the breakout novel. I was ready for those books and didn't mind going back with edits and rewrites. I found a great editor and with her fantastic ideas, suggestions and questions, I continued to edit and rewrite passages, scenes and chapters.

I still edit my novel (when do you know you're done?) with Puerto Rican music playing softly in the background and am surrounded by family photos, many of my grandmother and my mother, taken on the island and in the US. All their beautiful smiling faces encourage me, nod in agreement, laugh with me, and give me that look that says to me, "Keep going, you're getting closer."

Peace and love,

Ellie

P.S. I took the above photo on my most recent visit to Puerto Rico last December in beautiful Rincon.






Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Blogging and Business Blogging

My 25 year old son told me that I should keep my personal and writing lives separate with a personal Facebook page and writer's page.  My friends recommends that I create a website for myself before my book is even published.  A good friend and fellow blogger says she loves my blogs and how I tie in my life with writing novels.  A very good and wise friend told me that I should blog, Facebook, Tweet, review books, join writer's blog groups, read writing blogs of published authors and try to squeeze in time to write.  Wow and she's probably right.

All I wanted to do was write. I wrote a book and have a large folder full of poetry, and I've blogged nearly every single day since 2007 with a couple of breaks for holidays and travel.  Blogging comes easily to me. They are my Morning Pages. Those of you who know Julia Cameron's seminal book, The Artist's Way, will know what I'm talking about.  Three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing, written long hand, mind you.  I started doing my Morning Pages around the year 2000 and never stopped. I have a two stacks of bound journals (with no lines) as tall as me - five foot nothing - as proof.

All that life and living in those pages, wow. PLENTY of writing material in there, let me tell you! Of course, to the untrained eye of a complete stranger, many of those journal entries might be enough to put me away   for my own good and the good of the community. I've journaled on trains, tour buses, in Venetian hotels, in the Alps after a ski accident, at night while walking El Camino with my kids, and just before and certainly after my divorce.  Yes, all that life is chronicled in my journals.

So, blogging came naturally. When I started on Thoughts.com in 2007, I immediately found a home and a niche - newly single, divorced woman in her 50's enters the dating world. I didn't look for that niche, that's exactly what I was doing and women found it interesting and hilarious.  I have to admit that dating has been pretty damn funny. That book will be easy to write because it's all true. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction in my world! My dating niche blog was a piece of cake for me, I was merely journaling.

Anyway, my new blog was meant to be serious.  I decided I would take my son's advice and start a blog, a serious writerly blog about writing and the writing life. Now, writing is serious and I take it very serious, believe me. I work my tush off, clocking in most mornings at 9 and signing off at 9 pm some nights. I've worked hard on my novel and I'm proud of it. But, this blog?  It just won't stay serious.  I can't help it, ridiculous and strange stuff happens to me and around me, just begging to be written about.

I always include my novel-length manuscript in my blogs and I write about the challenges, difficulties, hopes and dreams I have for my novel. I've written about my characters and how they came to be. I've recommended books on writing that I've loved and still go back to time and again. I'm learning to review books, I still feel dumb tweeting and boy, do I have a hard time tooting my own horn. I'm learning though.

Yes, I've written an historical novel that also fits women's fiction and multi-cultural genres, but there are also moments of laughter, joking and comraderie between my heroines. I wrote that novel with years and years of research, interviews and reading and I've always had a funny bone.  So, it was impossible for me to weave a story without a little humor because that's how I've lived my life. Humor has helped me lift myself up when I didn't think I could go one more step or do one more thing. Humor allows me to put things into perspective and I can laugh at myself in the process. I chide myself with "Stop being such a drama queen" when I realize that I'm so blessed to do what I love and am passionate about - writing.

You won't find any whining here, but you may find that mixed with the writing 'stuff', there'll be moments and mornings when my toilet won't flush (even though all the parts are working and in place) because that's life.
But, I won't write about my book, maintaining my ol' house, my dating life (or lack of) or the weather when I'm reviewing other author's books.  The next step in my evolution.  My review blogs, interviews with authors, and Q & A blogs will be all about the authors. I have to push the envelope now because the blogging I used to do doesn't seem to resemble the writing blogs that I've read every day for an hour every morning since I started this blog. Some are humorous and informative and those I put a star next to. Others are strictly business and very helpful, and most are pure business - the business of selling books. Sigh. As if writing a book wasn't hard enough, I now must learn the business of publishing and selling books. Sheesh.

That was a whine...well, I'm almost finished reading the first book I'd love to review - The Paris Wife: A Novel by Paula McIain. Through this author's eyes, I've enjoyed the sights and sounds of one of my top five favorite cities in the world - Paris.

Peace and love,
Ellie









Monday, February 4, 2013

To Peace, Love, Writing and Flushing Toilets

This morning, I watched two Youtube videos - How To Correctly Use a Plunger and How to Unclog Your Toilet.  Yes, the life of a full time writer is glamorous and awesome! I could lie and tell you that I wore pearls and heels to unclog that pesky toilet because it was that easy, but I didn't and it wasn't.  I wore polka-dot sweat pants, my son's wrestling T-shirt from Brussels, socks and determination. The guys on the two videos wore socks and no shoes, so maybe that was the key. I was determined to fix that toilet. How hard could it be?

Two years ago, I decided to write full time and I knew it would be a challenge, but I was up for it. I was tired of the DC area traffic, the ridiculously high rent I was paying, and working for peanuts as a Spanish language Family Support Worker with 25 beautiful family clients to care for. What we pay people in the Social Services fields is a CRIME, but that's another blog. The files we kept on the first born children of immigrants of many countries were hard enough to keep updated and accurate, but I also had to make home visits once a week which meant I was always in some type of traffic. My stress levels were through the roof most days. I was pretty unhappy. I knew I would miss my clients and their beautiful children who I loved, but I also knew that I was too old to run around and the stress of maintaining 25 to 27 files was making me crazy and grouchy. I moved.

My move to Wild and Wonderful West Virginia proved to be a wild and wonderful choice. I was firm in my decision to move and wasn't swayed by family and friends who thought I'd gone off the deep end.  I don't regret my decision one bit and now, I write and read every day and paint when the spirit moves me. I've grown in West Virginia and I've gotten tougher. I continue to learn to navigate life as a single woman, a first-time, single-income home owner and boy, do I learn lots about home repairs as I go along.

As for my only toilet, it still ain't working.  I reattached the chain to the doohicky and watched the water go down as I lifted the chain. Nothing.  The bulb thingie that floats in the tank is doing what it's supposed to do and the rubber hoozit that lifts up to empty the water is doing its job and then, closes. Around and around we go and all that's happening is that the toilet paper is shredded and my kitten Pierre is getting a real kick out of watching the whirlpool in the strange white throne.

It was time to employ the plunger. I'd purchased two types of plungers when I bought this old house - the old fashioned kind and a new fangled model with a round thingamajig that comes out of the original doohicky. As I watched the video again (because the first time I used the old version of the plunger, nothing happened) I realized that it's all in the wrist.  Ah hah! I have to hold it just so and push down repeatedly on the wooden handle, splashing water onto my socks until...it flushes!

Now, I do wish I could sit down to write this whole afternoon and not unclog a toilet, but some things just can't wait and others must wait. I need this toilet to work. It's my only toilet and I don't want to pay a plumber for something I can maybe do myself. So, here we are. I love my writing life.  It's far from perfect and not as idyllic as some of my friends think it is, but I will admit it's pretty damn good most days, though...especially when my toilet works :)

It's all about perspective, I suppose. Do I sometimes wish I had a handy man around or a landlord I could call, you bet I do! But, I wouldn't trade my life and writing full time for nothing. Off I go, plunger in hand.  Wish me luck!

To peace, love and flushing toilets!

Ellie




Sunday, February 3, 2013

What Flooding Has To Do With Writing

This morning, I discovered this photo taken in March of last year of the Potomac River in West Virginia.  That year, the river crested at 27 feet and the owners of riverfront lots on lower ground woke up to this sight. Yes, that's a child's swing set in the upper right hand corner of the photograph. Our lot levels out at 30 feet, so we were close, but safe...that time.

We riverfront lot owners know that flooding is something we have to deal with and we accepted that fact when we bought. There have been times when we've chosen to ride out the weather and watch the rising river, praying that it will crest way below what's been predicted. There was the time when my friend Gwen and I decided that it was time to call in the big guns - the tow truck company that would haul the camper to higher ground which is a difficult, tedious and costly decision. It turned out that we'd predicted wrong. The river didn't reach our patio, but many lot owners experienced flooded campers and lots. I saw refrigerators and coolers float by. It's a gamble living on the river. I was okay with the decision that was ultimately mine and I learned to be more patient and watchful for signs that maybe we would be okay staying put.

I have to be alert to NOAA's predictions and then, gamble. To move or not to move to higher ground, that's the question and floods can happen any time of year. In recent years, melting snow in the mountains have caused the MD and WV creeks and rivers to flood and surge toward the Potomac River in the spring. Last April, my friend Kristine and I watched the waters of the Potomac River reach the fifth step of the stairs that lead to the river as we sat around a bonfire at 3 am, wondering if we could chance falling asleep. What an adventure Kris and I had that night! Our adrenaline was pumping and we made the right choice not to panic early and call the tow truck company. We'd gambled and survived and we were very proud of ourselves! My co-owner Dana and I are two of four women who own riverfront lots. Men watch us to see how we'll react, we know that. And, we've learned well and we've survived two seasons now. This spring will be our third - we're here to stay :)

Our friends who own lots on higher ground say they couldn't stand the stress and the uncertainty of living on the river. I shrug and say that the pleasures and beauty of waking up to a view of the Potomac River while I sip my coffee are worth the risk. When I see geese glide over the river, an eagle soar overhead or watch a new family of ducks swim by and listen to the fishermen's conversations from boats I can't see through the early morning fog, I'm at peace. "Just not worth it", our neighbors have said to us and we smile because when the weather is dry and hot, these same neighbors will be calling us to see about bringing their kids over to swim and fish off our floating dock.

Writing a novel is like that.  It's a risk, a gamble that we as writers sign up for every time we start a new book. Writing isn't for everyone. The risks that our story might not be picked up by a big name agent or a big publishing house are there, ever present, but we persevere. Friends and family secretly believe that we should get a day job. But, we know that the pleasure is in the writing, it's a passion that has put its hooks into us and we can't deny it.

Yes, there have been times when I've thought about throwing in the towel and calling it a day at the river and with my first novel-length manuscript, A Decent Woman. I've experienced and dare I say, have been plagued by night time thoughts that we'll lose the camper to flooding and that I won't see my book in print. But then, I think about spring and summer mornings to come when I'll sit and write at our farm table on the patio that faces the river and it all goes away. My two loves will come together again. I'll be reminded of how blessed I am to write and will continue to put myself out there with my novel. I visualize my book in print.

Writing is worth the long hours, isolation and uncertainty that come with it and the longer hours and uncertainty when we're ready for an agent and a publisher. I'm a storyteller and I love the river, what can ya do? How else am I going to get my 55 year old blood pumping?

Peace and love,
Ellie