Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Stories At My Door

Last night, two stories appeared at our door. No, the picture above is not the door on my house--just a lovely looking door. The point is that when you open the door, you never know what kind of story might be on the other side.

Our doorbell rang as I was getting ready to fix dinner. Ken answered and a neighbor across the street asked if he could still buy something from our sale. He and his wife had been over the day before and purchased a few things. He'd been thinking about a lightweight vacuum cleaner we had and decided to buy it. Ken invited him in and the two men went out to the garage to get the vacuum. cleaner. When they returned to the kitchen, our neighbor, who is originally from the country of Colombia, stayed and talked. He told us he loved our house and wished his daughter had seen it before she purchased a new home a month earlier. "I could have her across the street if she'd bought this one," he said. Then he chuckled. "Maybe she wouldn't want to live so close to her parents." In his short visit, we learned a lot about his family.

Only ten minutes after our neighbor left, the doorbell rang again. I answered it this time. A man I'd never seen before said, "I just wanted you to know that I'm the one who took the Nordic Track you put out on the curb." "That's fine,"I told him, "it was there with a Free sign on it." He said he'd like to explain. "I work with the Wounded Warriors program and that exercise machine would be a godsend to a young man I'm helping." By this time, Ken came to the door and the two greeted each other like old friends. 

After the man had left, Ken told me he lived down the street and often stopped to talk when Ken was outside doing yard work. "The guy is a retired Army Colonel and he spends a lot of his time working with the Wounded Warrior group." 

In the space of less than half an hour, two stories showed up at our door. I could write full creative nonfiction essays about each visitor if I had the time. The point is that you run head-on into stories every day of the week. Writers bemoan the fact that finding story ideas is so hard. It's not hard at all. You can actually trip over story ideas as you go about your daily tasks, answer a phone call, do your shopping or attend a sporting event. The story ideas are there but it's your job to observe with the eyes of a writer. That's key!

Even fiction writers can use an encounter of some kind in a novel or short story. A character in your story can be based on a real person. They're all around you. Listen with a good ear for conversation that intrigues you. Watch for people who have an unusual appearance or a scintillating smile, maybe even a formidable scowl.

The longer you practice being more observant to your surroundings, the easier it becomes. With me, it's now second nature. If you run into a particularly appealing character, write a few paragraphs about him/her and keep in a file on your computer. When you're working on a new story or novel, you'll have a treasure trove of characters to use. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Musing On Having A Moving Sale

Nobody has a garage sale just days before Thanksgiving, do they? Yes, they do. I know because we did it yesterday. Ken and I are moving to a senior living community ten minutes east of our preent house where he will not have to do yard work or outside maintenance of the house. Many more perks for both of us but our lifestyle will stay the same as it is now. Our new house will have 1600 square feet, which is about the same as we now have on our main floor. Trouble is that we have that same amount on the lower level and it's filled with STUFF! 

The move won't be til mid-January but now seemed the only time we could handle a moving sale. Our new place doesn't have the amount of storage space that we have in our present home. I was all for loading the lot and dumping it in the great big lake outside of town but my practical husband vetoed that idea. Thus, a Moving Sale was born.

We spent days sifting and sorting, pricing, borrowing card tables from friends and arranging the garage to our satisfaction. The ad was in the paper for three days and online. We were ready. We set 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. as our hours. We came home from church, changed clothes and went out to the garage to make last minute adjustments. 10:30 a.m. and our first customer appeared. She was the first of a long line of shoppers. Our concern over doing it on a Sunday were for nothing. (Saturday was a K-State game and no one in our town does anything else on Game Day!) 

I watched an accumulation of our fifty-one years of marriage move out the door and into various cars and trucks of our customers. Many times, I suffered a pang on parting for certain items. I'd made up my mind that sentiment had to go out the window when I selected what to put in the sale. I did fine until the actual moment of money traded for goods occurred. Not on everything, of course. 

As some items were purchased, I thought about the place where I'd bought them. Many were toted home from European trips. Some were gifts given by friends or family. Hard, hard hard to part with many of those gifts. Others were things I'd bought just because I liked them A lot! 

The physical things left but I still have the memories. I can think back to a trip to Germany and the Christmas ornaments I bought there. Sadly, our new home has minimal storage so our pre-lit 7 foot Christmas tree box won't fit anywhere. No tree means get rid of ornaments, too. Sigh! 

I've collected Christmas tins over the years and always had a big display of them in our living room in December. I saved a few but about three-quarters of them ended up in the sale. Again, I remembered where I found each one or who gave it to me. 

I wondered mid-way through if Ken had any pangs watching his 'man stuff' go out the door. He mentioned that a conduit bender had sold for 50 cents. "I've had that since I did the electrical wiring in our basement family room in our first house back in the '60's." He'd kept it all these years, never needed to use it again, but whenever he saw it, I'm sure it reminded him of the big job he'd taken on in that first house. So, we both had some memories dashing and crashing through our minds yesterday. 

Many of those memories will inspire stories I'll write someday. Losing the material things we have is nowhere near the losses we experience with people in our lives. But even then, memories remain and stories about friends and family members who've passed will be written someday. Or have already been written. 

The longer this downsizing goes on, the easier it becomes. Occasional sentimental pangs will still happen but I'm alright with it now. All the things we've used or enjoyed now have new owners. Some of the customers we had were thrilled with what they'd found. And that was a good feeling for me. 

Did we sell everything? Not even close but we did watch an amazing amount of things leave our garage. We've still got almost two months to find homes for what is left. Most will go to charity organizations in our community. It's quite alright as I'll have plenty of memories to take with me.

Friday, November 20, 2015

A Tribute To A Special Writer--Kathe Campbell

Kathe Campbell

My very dear friend, Kathe Campbell, passed away yesterday at the age of 84. We met through our writing many years ago. She wrote warm folksy stories laced with her unique brand of humor. She was feisty, loving, and talented. We cyber-chatted on a daily basis. I'll miss that contact with this woman whom I came to love and admire greatly. 

She lost her right arm many years ago in a horrific accident with one of the beloved show donkeys she and her husband raised on their mountaintop ranch in Montana. When she came home from the hospital, she was depressed, felt like she was useless. Then, her adult son built a computer for her and she started pecking the keyboard with one hand a little at a time. It wasn't long before she began to write stories about her life on the ranch, her family, experiences over the years. She started submitting her stories, classified as creative nonfiction to a website called 2TheHeart. That is where I met her. She has pages of titles she contributed to Our Echo--a website where writers can post their work. Next she submitted to the Chicken Soup books and has stories published in close to 30 books plus a few other anthologies, as well. 

She wrote despite a constant battle with Rheumatoid Arthritis which left her hand and feet crippled. She was not a quitter. She continued living on the ranch and writing after her husband died. With the RA worsening the past year, she had slowed down, had not written much. But she did have one more story in a Chicken Soup book published in 2015. It tickled her just as much as the first one long ago had. She loved God, her family and friends and she loved life. She wrote that final story with a hand so crippled by RA that she had little control over it.

I am a better writer and a better person because of knowing her. I often ran my stories by her to get her thoughts on what might be changed..The story below is one that I wrote and was published in Chicken Soup for the Sister Soul II quite a few years ago. You'll see in the story why I consider her a 'sister.' And why I'll miss her so much. 

Wish Upon A Star
Star light, star bright,
first star I see tonight,
I wish I may,
I wish I might 
have this wish 
I wish tonight
I wish..

I repeated the childhood poem on myriad starlit nights and finished with: "I wish for a baby sister." God would hear I told myself, for wasn't a wish like mine the same as a prayer? Perhaps God heard, but He chose to answer in a slightly different manner. When I neared four, He sent me a baby brother. At age eight, another brother joined our household. Even so, I continued to watch for the first star of the evening and repeated my wish. No baby sister arrived. When I'd nearly given up, my parents informed me there was to be another baby. 

My heart soared with hope. Finally, my baby sister would be a reality. Did it matter that I would be sixteen when she made her appearance? Most assuredly not. All through the months of waiting, I watched for the first evening star and repeated the same words "I wish for a baby sister." She'd make her appearance in May, which pleased me for it was also my birth month. In May trees blossomed and grass showed a new spring green coat, the sun warmed us, and gentle rains urged tulips from their winter's sleep. What more perfect time for my longtime wish to come true?

Dad called from the hospital to tell me that our new brother had arrived. Brother? My heart nearly broke. Three strikes and you're out--baseball or baby sisters; same difference. As disappointed as I'd been, I soon adored my third brother. I accepted the fact that I'd never have a sister. I even stopped repeating my wish whenever I spied the first evening star. 

I loved my three brothers, but something seemed to be missing in my otherwise full life.
Girlfriends held special places in my heart throughout high school, college, and newlywed years. I collected friends wherever we lived. But I still felt incomplete in some way. When I heard other women mention their sisters, a little pang rose within me. It couldn't be called jealousy. No, it was more a pang of envy. I chastised myself for feeling this way when I had a wonderful daughter and, as time went on, three beautiful granddaughters. 

Once my children were independent, I pursued a life-long wish to write. Many of my stories found a home at an inspirational e-zine. Fan mail arrived from readers, and I soon recognized names of others who wrote regularly for the same site. One in particular wrote often to comment on my stories. It was a mutual admiration society as I loved the folksy humor she injected in each of her stories, the way she taught life's lessons with amazing tales, and the manner in which she used words and phrases. Numerous pictures of her appeared in the e-zine, and I admired the sparkle in her eye and the broad smile in each photo. Our e-mails became more frequent. She lived on a mountaintop, raising donkeys and loving her family. I lived in a university town with neighbors nearby and no pets but also loving my family. Kathe often mentioned another writer who was also a marvelous editor. Before long, the three of us were good buddies. 

In time, our three-way friendship grew strong. In an e-mail, Kathe said she had something serious to discuss, something for me to ponder upon. Would I consider being her sister since she'd never had one? I knew this was no joke, and I sat in front of my computer feeling stunned. A lump rose in my throat and tears threatened. Pleasure warmed me from head to toe as my childhood wish was granted in my sixth decade of life. But this would be no baby sister, because Kathe was seven years older than I. After all the years of waiting, I wasn't about to quibble. My fingers flew over the keyboard as I wrote a glowing acceptance of her offer to be my sister. 

Not long after, she wrote to ask what I'd think about asking that sweet Maria to be our younger sister. And so it came to be that we three are sisters of the heart. Kathe is the eldest, I am the middle sister, and Maria is our baby sister. Is it only coincidence that she is the same age as my youngest brother? The messages fly between us. We edit one another's stories before they are sent to an editor. We rejoice when they sell, and we commiserate when they don't. We bare our souls to one another. 

This past summer I had the great good fortune to finally meet my older sister in the flesh, since my husband and I would be traveling through her state. I hesitated to suggest a visit, since Kathe had lost her husband only weeks earlier. She immediately told us to come. The long hug we gave one another sealed our sisterly bond forever. We talked nonstop for two days-the way sisters do. Late on the second afternoon, a phone call from our baby sister, Maria, brought more laughs and chatter between the three of us. How wonderful if Maria might have joined us on top of Kathe's mountain. 

One day perhaps we three sisters of the heart will find ourselves together in a place where we can give hugs whenever we like. Meanwhile, the messages fly through cyberspace. Each one is filled with the love only a sister can pass along to another sister. Now, when I see the first evening star, I repeat the little poem to myself and just smile. My sisters were worth the wait.

Wish Upon A Star      Wish Upon A Star     Click on the image to close this window

Thursday, November 19, 2015

An Exercise To Get You Ready For Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is only a week away. As a writing exercise today, let's use picture prompts of Thanksgiving foods and a table decoration. For each of the pictures below, write a descriptive paragraph, or even a poem. Use as many sensory details as you can.

Practicing descriptive writing helps us to think visually automatically when we write. The more we practice, the easier it becomes. Have fun with this one! These pictures have already made me hungry for our traditional dinner next week!

The Centerpiece

The main course--turkey

Sweet Potato Casserole

Mashed potatoes

The pumpkin pie

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Weathering Through Good Times and Bad As A Writer

I found this poster on a friend's facebook page this morning. It seemed like good advice for anyone. For writers, it should have significant meaning. 

When you decided you wanted to write, nobody ever told you it would be easy. They didn't tell you to quit your day job and devote your time and effort to writing pieces that are hard to sell. Neither did anyone let you know that, when you have a writing success, the joy is boundless. Nobody told you any of these things.

You had to learn on your own as you plodded your way along your writing path. Some days plod is exactly what you did. Those were the days that the story plot got all mixed-up or your secondary character suddenly took over the story. Or you read your work over and over and still felt like it was a bunch of hogwash.

Other times, you skipped merrily along your writing path. Those were the days when you received good news from an editor or your first book arrived on your doorstep. You skipped along when fan letters arrived or when you spoke publicly about your writing and your audience gave you their full attention. 

There are the ups and downs in all phases of our lives. That is not going to change, nor will it be any different in your writing life. I never known a writer who can claim that his/her writing life flowed like a river right over the rocks and debris it encountered. Nope. You will have the ups and downs whether you are a hobbyist writer or a professional who has numerous books published. 

The point here is that all the good and the bad experiences serve to help us learn and become a stronger person--a stronger writer. It's especially true with the difficult times, the hardest writing projects or the wrangling with a difficult editor. The learning process here can be difficult but maybe that only makes the lesson learned a better one and makes us a stronger person.

We'd all love it if the good times outweighed the bad. Some years that may happen while on others, it seems the bad is far heavier. In the long run, it probably averages out, even if it doesn't feel that way.

Be like Snoopy and Charlie Brown--weather the storms with a smile and benefit from the strength you'll gain along the way. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Take A Day Off With A Good Book

It rained during the night with thunder and lightning disturbing the sleep of many. This morning, the rain gauge was filled to the 2 1/2 inch mark. Now, it is gloomy and damp outside. Lights are needed in the house. It seems like the perfect day to curl up with a book.

But wait! I have a lengthy mental list of what I need to do today. What will happen if I take the day off and savor the pages of the book I've only just begun to read last week?

Two things will occur. First, the To-Do List is still going to be there tomorrow. Second, I'm going to thoroughly enjoy my day of reading.

Is that going to actually happen? I'm afraid not because there are some important items on that To-Do List. A few cannot be pushed off til tomorrow or next week. But I am going to take an hour or two and read. And why?

Because it's good for my mental and emotional health. It's also one of my greatest pleasures in life and I firmly believe we need to nourish those pleasures now and then.

Why do we want to spend a day with a book? Reading a good book is entertainment. It's an escape from everyday cares and woes. It's helpful to those of us who write to read as many books as we can to learn from other writers. It's a way to gain information. It's fun.

So, if you take a day off to read a book, don't feel guilty. It's a choice you make and it's perfectly alright to push a few other things off til tomorrow. Use Scarlett O'Hara's famous phrase "I'll think about that tomorrow." Most of the time, it will work.

If today is a good day for you to read a book, do it with sheer joy!