That Boy Needs To Build Some Character!

Not so long ago a friend asked how I go about creating characters. Her son is an aspiring writer and she’s noticed he puts a little bit of himself into at least one character in everything he writes. It’s not always a main character, but he’s in there. I told her I do the same thing.

In a sense, my stories are my children and as such, the characters are natural extensions of myself.  Why wouldn’t I put part of who I am into everything? With some characters it’s very obvious. For others, it may not be detectable to anyone but me. There are, of course, the characters that do not resemble me in the slightest but may be based on family and friends or no one at all. None of them are exactly like the real people. A look is borrowed from one, an attitude from another, a fear, a past, or a quirk may come from yet a third.  I don’t go into a book knowing everything there is to know about my characters any more than you would know everything there is to know about someone you meet on the street. Who they are unfolds page by page, moment by moment. But how, exactly, is a character, especially a totally fictional one, created? To be honest, I don’t have a real cut and dry answer for that, but I can give you an idea of the process that I go through.

You’ve Got The Look

First impressions are often based on physical appearance. Even without speaking to a person or knowing anything about them, you can see them. You can see the way they dress and move. There’s always body language to consider. You can hear their voice. You can smell the scents that waft around them, for good or bad. You may, if you get close enough, even be able to taste that individual. It’s no different when creating a fictional character. Sometimes looks mean absolutely nothing holding true that old saying that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but when writing you need to consider how a person comes across in these ways and the impression you want to give to your readers.

What’s Your Story?

Creating characters involves creating stories within your story. For my novel “No Rest For The Wicked”, I use the tagline, “Every ghost has a story. Not all of them want it told.” This may be true for ghosts, but when it comes to creating your characters, you better know their history if you want to give them any depth at all.  Why do they act like they do? Why does he walk with a limp? Why is that fifty-year-old man still afraid of the dark? What happened to this person before you came along to make them say and do the things they are saying and doing now? You can find Character Sheets online to help you sort all this out. These will ask you questions about your character that you may never have considered. I’ve only filled out a few of these that, in the end, I never referred back to once I got into the story. Some people swear by them and their use really can’t hurt. I tend to work a lot more organically.  Don’t think of your characters as just characters. Think of them as people. Listen to them. They’ll tell you everything you need to know… eventually.

Becoming An Environmentalist

The setting of the story plays a huge part in what sorts of people are going to populate your world. And those people will play a role in who your specific characters are.  Past, Present, or Future? Rural or Urban? Poverty, wealth, or somewhere in between? A loving home or one full of violence and pain?  Are they messy or a neat freak? What is your characters relationship to the other members of the family, their neighbors, and where do they fit in to the community as a whole? Are they native to the area or a newcomer? Does your character even like where he or she lives? If not, maybe that’s part of their problem and their motivation. Use those things to find out more and propel your plot forward. I do a fair amount of research on the settings in my books. I want my readers to BE THERE! I want them to see where all this is going on as vividly as I can.

Lastly, Show Don’t Tell

I’m told there are no rules when writing, but I firmly believe that “Show, Don’t Tell” is a rule and it’s something EVERY writer of fiction needs to understand and do. Years ago my daughter had to write something for English class and she came to me for help. Her story started out something like, “Ethan Havoc walked down the road. It was raining. He had headphones on listening to his favorite band. He sang every word of the song out loud not caring who heard him.” This is an example of TELLING the reader what’s happening. It doesn’t show me much. I asked her a few questions about Ethan, his appearance, posture, how he’s walking (body language).  Then I asked about the rain (environment). Is it raining hard or just misting?  Does he have an umbrella? Next, we moved on to what kind of music Ethan is listening to. It could be anything from Anthrax to Beethoven. We can’t tell from what is given and knowing a character’s choice of ‘favorite band’ is going help us understand him better (backstory). After our talk, she came up with this, “Aiden Havoc scuffed his feet as he walked home. Water dripped off the ends of his hair and soaked the back of his hoodie. School had just let out for the day and his headphones blared loud shreds of The Misfits in his ears. He sang every word of the song out loud not caring who heard him or saw him shake his greasy black hair to the music.”  Ah, ha! We know Ethan and his surroundings a WHOLE lot better now, don’t we?

So, there you have it, my take on character creation. There’s a lot more to it than this, but that’s something that I can’t explain in words without sounding certifiably insane. As the story moves along, the characters reveal more through their thoughts and actions based on whatever it is they are facing in their environment. It’s not always something I consciously decide. It just happens. And that’s when the real magic of writing takes place. I hope this has answered some questions for readers and if you’re a writer, I hope it helps you become a better one!

Write On!

NaNoWriMo – The End

As I mentioned a little bit ago, I’ve had a NaNoWriMo account for three years, but this was the first year I actually used it. Seeing as all the blog rage today seems to be to announce if those participants won or lost the race, I figured I may as well jump in with my two cents worth.

I didn’t make the 50K word count in the allotted time. I didn’t even make 25K, but I don’t consider that a loss. I had started work on “The Witch’s Backbone” last spring (or maybe even before that) and wasn’t making much progress. I had three opening scenes along with a good deal of content, but other writing things (One book talk for a local book club and three signings – plus finishing up writing the first draft and the first round of edits for “Dark Hollow Road”) took priority as well as the whole business of planning a wedding slated to take place at the end of August. I told myself I’d get to TWB after the honeymoon, right after finishing the second round of edits for DHR after letting it sit for a month which is standard procedure for me.

My final 2016 signing was in October and it was then I finally took a breath and started looking at TWB again. Where was I going to go with this thing when I couldn’t even decide on a beginning?! NaNoWriMo to the rescue!

No, I didn’t make the win, but I made progress. I decided my original opening was perfectly fine. I also ended up deleting almost everything I’d written before. Previous characters were either wiped out completely or they had their names and genders changed. The urban legend behind it all solidified. One of the local small town papers provided fodder for weird happenings that I could bend and twist into my own versions of history for my fictional small towns. My mother mentioned a story her mother had told her long ago about a murder that was covered up that I may end up using, too. It all started to gel together and though I didn’t make the 50K mark, I have a destination I’m writing towards and that’s really all I wanted to get out of it.

Beyond the 50K words goal, NaNoWriMo is also meant to get aspiring authors into the habit of writing on a daily basis. In November I realized that I DO write every day or at the very least, I work on something writer-related. I may not be working on a novel, but I find myself working on research notes, blog ideas, or even doing some Beta Reading for someone else. It’s all related. I’ve been trying hard to read and comment on the blogs of other writers more this year, too, giving them encouragement and praise as I can, because that kind of thing is important to me as well. Lack of feedback is killer.

And there you have it, my NaNoWriMo update and with it I managed to write over five-hundred words today.

Write on!

 

A Turtle In A Field Of NaNo Hares

Apparently I created a NaNoWriMo account three years ago. I have no memory of creating it, but when I decided to join this year, I discovered one already existed. For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo = National Novel Writing Month. The premise is that for the month of November you write 1667 words per day to reach a goal of 50,000 by the end of the month. This is supposed to be either a complete novel (I’d call that a novella, but anyway…) or a very good start on a longer work to be completed later.

As I was having such a hard time getting into gear with “The Witch’s Backbone” I decided to give NaNoWriMo a shot. It couldn’t make matters worse and from what I’d read it’s supposed to be all inspirational and you can find writing buddies to motivate you and join all kinds of chat forums to compare notes and talk about your book. So far, I’ve not been overly inspired by any of the automated messages I’ve been sent, I don’t have a single writing buddy, and I figured I had better things to do (um, like actual WRITING) than chit-chatting with others about the books we’re working on.

First off, I don’t have the time to write 1667 words a day. Sorry. I work a full time job and I sit at a computer from 7:30am – 4:00pm. Very often the LAST thing I am interested I doing when I get home at the end of the day is to sit down at my home computer for any reason. I’m tired. My mental focus isn’t always entirely intact. It’s certainly not going to be all that sharp to write anything I’d be proud of and frankly, I’d rather write something half way decent than crap just so I can say I made my daily word count. When it comes to my writing, that’s simply not how I operate. I’m a turtle not a hare. I’ll take my time and do quality over quantity.

That being said, you guessed it, with only ten days left I’ve not even reached 25,000 words towards this alleged ‘win’. I haven’t reached 20,000 either. I’m averaging 878 words per day. I guess that’s something interesting to know.

Will I do NaNoWriMo again next year? I don’t know. A lot depends on where I am with what is already out there and what stage other projects are at. I’m trying to stay positive, but lately it’s just not been going as well as I’d hoped. Sales are abysmal. What I have sold isn’t bringing in the amount of reviews needed to get anyone’s attention. Queries are answered with silence. Places I’ve been encouraged to submit to aren’t taking submissions. It all has a way of dragging a hopeful author down. All I have are a few little straws to hang onto and my hands are getting tired.

I’ve been told, “You’re doing all the right things.” and “Just keep writing great stories and putting them out there.” Considering the source of that advice and encouragement, that’s nothing to ignore or brush aside, but after so many other dead ends, I still feel very discouraged and lost. I’m doing my best and for the past five years, my best just hasn’t been good enough.

But, I hate to end a post on a negative note so …

On the positive side of this NaNoWriMo business, I have made progress on the novel! There are things I know about what’s going to happen that I never even imagined when all this started, some rather shocking things! Things I really DON’T want to have happen, but know they must to move the plot along in the way it needs to go. When I was reading Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary” a friend of mine who’d read it before would ask me every day, “Did the cat die yet?” The death of the cat in that book is pivotal to the novel. After the cat dies, all hell breaks loose! It’s that sort of little kick in the pants event that I really wasn’t expecting to have to deal with, but boy, will it get the point across! I look forward to it with a strange mixture of dread and delight.

I’d be interested to hear from others who have used NaNoWriMo and what your experiences were with it. Good, Bad, Indifferent?

Upcoming Book Giveaway!

Another book giveaway is about to start.

Last time it was That’s What Shadows Are Made Of. This time around we’ll be giving away three signed copies of No Rest For The Wicked.

Starting on Black Friday (Nov. 25) and running through until Christmas Eve, the fine folks over at Goodreads will be offering up a chance for you to win a copy! Names will be drawn by them! You need to be a member of Goodreads to enter. So if you already are, awesome! All you have to do is log in sometime between Nov. 25-Dec. 24, visit my author page there and click the button to enter. If you’re not a member, SIGN UP soon! It’s super easy and they don’t spam you. Been there a few years myself and have never had a problem with unwanted emails!

Click the pretty blue link below to get yourself started!

NO REST FOR THE WICKED – BOOK GIVEAWAY CONTEST!

 

 

Write What You Love: The Joys of Genre Hopping

Back in November of 2015, I blogged about The Horror of Women . It dealt with the difficulties women have getting published in the Horror Genre. Though I still struggle with the reality of that whole situation, I’d much rather write horror than what I was initially published in, erotica.

For centuries women have been viewed by the publishing world as inferior writers. For that reason they have used more masculine or gender neutral nom-de-plumes . What many people may not know is that some of their favorite female authors have also written in multiple genres.

Judy Bloom, known best for her “Fudge” series took a walk on the trampy side with her novel, “Wifey”. Anne Rice took a side trip from her witches and vampires to explore kink with the “Sleeping Beauty” trilogy.  Joyce Carol Oats wrote gothic horror, murder and crime fiction, romances, historic fiction, fantasy, realism and surrealistic novels. All these woman are successful writers who dared step outside of their comfort zones and explore beyond the old adage of “write what you know”. I’m more inclined to write what I enjoy writing and I’ve had several different loves.

As a young adult I dreamed of writing Children’s fiction and even took college level classes in Children’s Literature and Illustration to pursue that goal. Somewhere along the lines for reasons that are unclear to me, my first novel turned out to be in the Fantasy genre. Beyond what was require of me in high school and the reading of The Hobbit, fantasy’s not my thing. On an awkward dare from a friend, I began writing erotica. I never saw that one coming (pun intended). Five published novels later, I’d had enough.

Having always loved murder-mysteries, horror, and anything to do with the paranormal, that was my next genre pick. This, I feel, is where I truly belong. Witches, ghosts, and bogeymen, oh my! In 2013 I saw my first paranormal murder-mystery published and was on cloud nine until, about six months later, my publisher announced they were going out of business. Now what? I already had another novel done and in the editing process for these people. Heartbroken, but knowing this was where I wanted my writing to go, I carried on and finished the second book and began the whole query, query, query, submit, submit, submit, rejected, rejected, rejected process all over again.

Had I messed up? Should I go back into the closet and return to the erotica where I was still seeing decent sales and a monthly royalty deposit in my account? Don’t get me wrong, the erotica was fun to write and I learned a great deal about some aspects of the publishing business, but my heart and writer’s soul wasn’t into it. No. I just couldn’t do it. I’ve never felt so creative and productive and pleased with my writing since making the genre hop. With fans of the first murder-mystery contacting me at least once a month over when I’d have another book out, I realized it was time to change tactics … again. The traditional publishing Gods were not with me. I was letting everyone down. I had to do something drastic and decided to self-publish.

Because of that, I had the pleasure of being invited to five author events in 2016. I’m hoping to do at least that many for 2017. It’s rather difficult to peddle your erotic-wares in public knowing your mother’s pastor is likely to walk by and say hello or you’re going to see old friends and teachers and try to explain how you know about “those sorts of things”.  It’s called research, people. As I’ve said before, I like vampire and murder-mysteries, too, but that doesn’t mean I believe I’m a vampire or that I’m going to go out and murder someone. Sex may sell, but not in a small town family-friendly community center or a privately owned bookstore. It’s a lot easier when it’s a murder-mystery or something about haunted houses or Shadow People or urban legends.

With three paranormal novels now out and another on the way later in 2017, I may not be raking in the dough as much as I one day hope to, but I’m having a lot more fun and I’m getting much needed exposure. I’m mingling, setting up displays, doing book talks and signing and, though I write under my maiden name, I’m not really hiding behind a pen-name anymore. I’m being myself and sharing my love of the macabre.

I’d still love to put out a Children’s book, too. Maybe I will one of these days.

If you’re considering writing something different than what you’d normally do, do it! Don’t limit your imagination to a single genre. You have a slew of successful female (and male) writers who have already dared to be different. Georgette Heyer, who is better known for her romance novels, has also dabbled in detective fiction. Children’s book author Sonya Hartnett wrote a rather sexually graphic novel that created a bit of a stir. You’re in good company no matter where you decide to let your writing take you, just don’t be afraid to explore.

Taking that step could very well lead you exactly where you want to go. Start walking!

Creation In The Midst Of Chaos

Creative writing hasn’t really been in the cards much for the past couple months, what with getting married in 24 days and all! I’ve been jotting down things here and there for other stories as well as doing a final read through of No Rest For The Wicked before it’s ‘off to the printers’ as they say.

Once I’ve recovered from all these wedding and honeymoon shenanigans, I’ve told myself I’m going to work diligently to get the first draft of Dark Hollow Road done. I’ve got two more author events lined up for after our return that will take me into October. That will likely be the end of my 2016 Tioga County Book Tour, all of four events. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s four events more than I’ve ever had before and maybe in 2017 I’ll double that number. I’m new to this and being an introvert doesn’t lend itself well to self-promotion.

Still, I’ve come a long way in the past 41 years since Bill, The Worm Who Ran Away debuted and I realized that being a writer is what I wanted to do. My little girl dreams amounted to nothing more than being a published author. Now that I have that, I need to up the odds and add ‘well-known’ to that dream and yes, dare I say, able to make a real living off it.

As the wedding date draws closer, the concept of how much time we have left becomes more in focus. With it, I am reminded of my own mortality and I can’t help but wonder if it’s too late to truly achieve that author dream. My Spring Chicken days are behind me. I’ve worked on this almost my entire life and yet, here I am 50 years old and I’ve still not made it.

I have to remind myself a lot why I do it. I have to remember that Bram Stoker was 50 when Dracula was published. Little House on the Prairie was not published until Laura Ingalls Wilder was 64 and when Henry Miller’s first novel, Tropic of Cancer was published, he was 44. Alex Haley was also 44 when The Autobiography of Malcolm X came out and he was 55 when Roots was released.

My first novel has only been read by a handful of people and has never been published. I finished writing my second novel in 2004 and found a publisher in 2006, just a few months shy of my 39th birthday. Granted, it was erotica, but a published novel is a published novel. I wrote several more erotica titles for the same publisher over the next four years before deciding it wasn’t what I loved writing. It didn’t give me the joy I wanted. With Bound To Be Bitten (out of print) in 2010 I tried to bridge the gap between that and what truly called me, writing horror and the paranormal. I was never entirely happy with the work and that’s when I decided to say goodbye to that aspect of my writing career. I have no regrets for having done it and none that I gave it up, either.

I longed to type in the fingerprints of those authors I’d started to admire as a teenager: Stephen King, Shirley Jackson, Agatha Christie, Peter Straub, Bram Stoker, Anne Rice, and Tanith Lee. Paranormal-horror meets Murder-Mystery. Oddly, I found myself a bit lost when it came time to write it, but I knew I had to give it a shot. Secrets of the Scarecrow Moon (originally published as Blood of the Scarecrow) was the result. When the publisher went bankrupt, my book’s sudden death was heart-breaking. At 47 I felt my writing career was back to ground zero. Ten years of serious effort had been reduced to little more than a hill of beans.

At 50, I still get some royalties for the erotica, but the battle to get myself out there as a horror writer rages on. Female horror writers don’t seem to be as popular as male ones. Maybe publishers don’t think we women can come up with the blood, guts, gore, and violence like our male counterparts. It’s easy to convince myself it will never be what that little nine-year-old me dreamed it would be. All too often I feel I have no idea where I’m going or what I’m doing.

Getting nowhere fast with traditional publishers and\or agents, I decided to self-publish for the mere fact I had various people who had read “Scarecrow…” asking me on a weekly basis when the next book was coming out. All I could do was shrug and feel disappointed that I was letting everyone down, including myself. Their words of encouragement have kept me going. With the help of my future husband, That’s What Shadows Are Made Of was our first release in 2015 followed by Secrets of the Scarecrow Moon in early 2016. In just over a month, No Rest For The Wicked, the third of our self-published novels will be coming out.

I’m still trying to finish writing Dark Hollow Road. I’ve promised Hunter Shea I’ll post a review for his newest book The Jersey Devil as soon as I can. I’ve been meaning to get in touch with the editors of Mountain Home Magazine to see about writing for them … but … ack, ack, ack! Maybe after the wedding and honeymoon I’ll be able to focus more on all of this. I’m just too scatter-brained right now. I fought with tulle and my head piece last night. I’m still trying to get my wedding shoes stretched out so I can wear them a few hours during and after the ceremony. I created a pair of ‘I’m sick of wearing these shoes’ back-up sneakers. There’s a DJ station set up in my living room. Trying to figure out how else to decorate the miniature white suitcase that will serve as a guest book and a place for guests to drop off cards is proving harder than I thought. We have a regular guest book, too. There are always dishes and laundry to be done and toilets to clean. Still not 100% sure what’s being used as a cake topper. We want to get our deck built before the snow flies which around here can happen in October! My dress is still in the making. I haven’t properly cleaned the guest room for Jim’s mom yet.

Calgon, take me away!

My Slightly Fictional Childhood

Life certainly throws some strange punches.

For the past thirty years I was fairly sure I’d grown up in the 1970-80s real-life version of Mayberry, USA. It was a quiet, idyllic, free-range childhood. Summers were spent walking the creek beds catching crayfish and stuffing them into a Pringle’s can only to free them further upstream. It was the thrill of swimming in Snapping Turtle Infested waters, camping in backyards, and riding our bikes down the steepest, most twisted road in town. It was racing to the R\R tracks with a shiny penny in hand when we heard that train a’coming, followed by the frantic hunt to find whose got squished the flattest. It was all the town kids gathering together after dark, unsupervised, setting our own rules and boundaries for a game of Hide-n-Seek or *Commander Tag.

I say I was fairly sure I’d grown up like this, but after attending Saturday’s ‘Blueberry & Books Festival’ in my hometown and visiting one of the haunts I frequented back in the day, I’m starting to wonder what was actually real and what is imagined.

The setting for my first murder-mystery, “Secrets of the Scarecrow Moon”, is the fictional version of my hometown, Berkshire, NY. Nell Miller, the town librarian and a main character, lives in a small, two-story apartment  attached to the library. She also runs the town’s history museum that is upstairs from the library. Unlike most kids, I spent a large portion of my Friday nights at the library hanging out with Mrs. Leonard the librarian. I was there a lot! I went up to the museum a fair amount of times, too. The library was a safe haven. Ah, I remember it all so clearly.

Or not.

When writing “…Scarecrow Moon” I closed my eyes and brought to mind every nook and cranny I could remember of the library. The little apartment that always fascinated me, the front entry,  the small section of Children’s books front and center as you walked in, the larger section to the left where I did all my browsing, and the research area with its wall of card catalog shelving all sprang to life in my mind’s eye.

Apparently, my mind’s eyes need glasses.

One day as I was driving by on my way to my mom and dad’s, I looked fondly towards the library and realized, “Hey, there’s only one level to the little side apartment section.” How, odd. No matter. It’s fiction, but I could have sworn there was an upstairs to that.

BerkshireFreeLibrary

The real life Berkshire Free Library.

Yesterday, after a thirty year absence, I was able to visit the library once again while the crowd was at a lull and one of the library workers offered to sit at my author table to keep an eye on my things. I walked in, the thrill, the nostalgia, the sheer wonder of… where the hell am I? Is this even the same place?  Yes, yes, there’s the familiar front door and the desk it right where Mrs. Leonard always had hers. And over here to the left are the larger stacks. Okay, well, those shelves are metal now instead of the wonderful, dark wood ones I recall, but that’s progress. In front of me is, not the Children’s Book section at all. The Children’s section had been expanded back into another room I never even knew existed. The research area with the big table and card catalogue was now full of more shelves and books and… No, say it ain’t so! The little apartment is gone! GONE! I wandered in slowly, and slightly horrified, at what should have been Nell Miller’s living quarters. It was about a quarter of the size I thought I remembered and so, yeah, where are the stairs that go up to her bedroom and bathroom? That’s right. No upstairs. This is reality. *sigh*

But, the museum, surely, SURELY that’s the same, right? Wrong.

The stairs were in the same spot. That was a good sign. I headed up, smiling, my hope renewed. I swear to God the place has shrunk. What’s up with that phenomenon? They say it’s because you were so much smaller\younger, but I’m the same height I was back then. It’s not like I was five years old the last time I was there. Anyway…

That big room where the Scarecrow stands guard at the top of the stairs in the book? Nope, not there. How about those two big rooms laid out side by side, one at the front and one at the back and all those display cases and the door that connects them on the far end so you can walk through and loop around? Nope, sorry, kids. That ain’t so. Well, damn, my brain has been lying to me. And if it lied to me about this place, what else do I have wrong? What other parts of my Berkshire-berry USA childhood are fictional?

DSCF2858

One of the museum rooms upstairs in the library.

Did we really walk the creek and put crayfish into Pringle’s cans? Did we really swim with Snapping Turtles? Those trips to the pond in the middle of a farmer’s field to go ice-skating, those really happened right? What about the time our toboggan of five went barreling over the cliff and into the freezing water of the creek below? I know thirty town kids plus played Tag and Hide-n-Seek on those long, hot summer nights, but could I produce any witnesses to this? What about the rotten apple fights we had in Slate’s back yard!?

My mind reels. What I thought was reality, maybe wasn’t! If it wasn’t, then where was I and who was I actually with all those times? Aliens? Or maybe, just maybe, it’s all a Barnesville conspiracy. Maybe what I wrote about isn’t fiction at all. Maybe that’s the reality, not this here and now place that’s messing with my old, forgetful brain. Could innocent Mrs. Leonard have put something in my cup of Kool-Aid during Summer Movies in the library basement? I mean, after all, Nell Miller’s grandmother was good friends with the librarian from Nell’s childhood, and Nell’s grandmother was some sort of witch, so it only stands to reason … .

I guess my fiction is a lot more fictional than I thought it was!
Life … strange punches.

*Commander Tag. I probably have the name of this game wrong, too! This was played on the baseball field located in the center of town. The Commander was chosen and would stand on the pitcher’s mound. Everyone else gathered around. He or She would then cover their eyes and count  just as one would do in Hide-N-Seek and also like H-n-S, the rest of us would scatter in all directions. Hiding, however was optional. The Commander was not permitted to step beyond the baselines, instead, the players would slowly start to inch their way in an effort to reach the pitcher’s mound without being tagged. If you did so, you were Free and would head over to the bleachers to wait out the rest of the game. If you were tagged by The Commander, you became one of the Soldiers and you joined his forces to tag other players as they came in. The longer a Player waited to make his move, the harder it was to reach the pitcher’s mound. Good times!

Author Meet & Greet Tomorrow!

I will be lurking in the lower level of the Berkshire Community Hall with copies of “Secrets Of The Scarecrow Moon” and “That’s What Shadows Are Made Of” along with other local authors sharing their books. Stop in and say hi, get a book you already own signed, buy a book, visit the library and museum that inspired the fictional versions in the books! Eat Blueberries!

Main events held at the Berkshire NY Community Hall, Fire Station & Library.(Corner of Rt. 38 & Jewett hill Rd.) 9am-4pm FOOD! Blueberry Pancakes 7-10am at the Berkshire Fire Hall. Berry Cake Sales, Chicken BBQ, Burgers & more! Bake-Off Competition. ENTERTAINMENT! Live Music ALL Day (including: Sister Moon, Valley Harmony w/ Tina Salasny, Ain’t Misbehavin’, and Steve Holcomb Band), raffles, local authors meet & greet, Miss Blueberry visit, Art Show, Vendors, classic car show, Berkshire History Musuem tours, antique appraisals with Bob Connelly, and activities for the kids!

 

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Ah, that first English assignment when returning to school after the summer off. How I always looked forward to that moment. Yes, I was a strange child, but I think that was established some time ago and I have since grown up to be a bit left-of-center adult. Now that school is out for the kiddies, my mind drifts back to those care-free days and those two months of pretty much doing as I pleased. Oh, to be that kid again.

When I realized that the “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” writing assignment was pretty much an annual event for English teachers, I began to consider what odd thing I could do to make my assignment stand out from the rest of the Muggle Crowd. (Of course, we didn’t have Muggles back then as these were the pre-Harry Potter days, but you get the idea.) God forbid I should do something entirely normal. I can’t remember all of those summers, but there is one that sticks out in my mind the most. I spent at least three weeks of one particular summer vacation in the nearby cemetery. Well, not full time there, but during the days. I probably would have spent the nights, but I’m sure my parents (as well as the authorities) would have frowned on such a thing.

I’ve never had a fear of cemeteries like so many people do. No idea why. They just aren’t in the least bit scary to me day or night. I’ve always enjoyed wandering among headstones taking pictures and enjoying the peace and restful quiet they offer. On this particular summer, however, I was on a mission.

At least three days a week for nearly a month, I’d load up my Army green backpack with lunch, my little transistor radio, lined paper, graph paper, a supply of pencils and a sharpener, a pen, and my camera in the morning. I’d toss it over my back and hop onto my bike for the mile and a half ride to Berkshire Evergreen Cemetery. Once there, I’d set to work.

I worked my way north to south, west to east, getting deeper and deeper into the cemetery. One by one my graph paper filled with tiny black squares, each marked with its own unique number. Each one set in a sub-divided section of the grounds created by the various roadways throughout. On my lined paper I started with Section 1. Grave #1. And wrote down everything on the headstone associated with that space. My goal was to document and map every headstone in the place. That, to me, was summertime fun!

I couldn’t have been happier or prouder of my time spent there. This was a huge undertaking even for an adult and here I was probably about 12-13 years old doing it all on my own for the mere amusement of the thing. I did eventually complete the project and boy did I have something unusual to write about come September and the inevitable English essay.

Unfortunately, this tale does not have the ending I wish it did. For years I kept that project alive. I’d add black squares and information as new graves were created. But… now, almost forty years later, I have NO idea whatsoever what happened to the folder I had it all in. That really could have been a useful tool for future genealogists! I can’t imagine throwing it out. I can’t imagine either of my parents throwing it out had they come across it over the years. I mean, sheesh, my dad once presented me with a small composition notebook he’d found from my elementary school days full of little stories I’d written as writing assignments!

The years have gone by and I no longer have to write “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” essays for English class, but I kind of wish I did. Vacations don’t last for two months anymore and they usually don’t take place in the summer. I’m old and try to escape the New York winters for a couple weeks now.

That isn’t to say that I still don’t enjoy spending some of my summer days wandering through nearby cemeteries taking pictures and enjoying the peace and quiet that being surrounded by the dead brings me. Old habits die hard and I’d rather this one not pass away until I do.

So.. what are your plans for summer vacation?

Featured Image: Berkshire Evergreen Cemetery, Berkshire, NY. Courtesy of the author.

Stepping Stones Across Hell’s Half Acre

It has only taken ten years since the release of my first published novel, but I finally reached a milestone I’ve been dreaming of for much longer than that decade. Last night I had my first book signing event! I got to talk about my progress as a writer, my novels, my inspirations for those novels, and answer questions from the audience. I got free food and even sold 80% of the books I took with me! All while feeling old and youthful at the same time.

As this was a private, local event, the gathering was only around 30 attendees, but among them were several folks from my much younger days! A former grade school teacher, a woman who remembered me from when I was in Headstart, the parents of two girls I went to high school with, and a former baby sitter. Even if they didn’t know me, a lot of them knew my parents! Ah, the world of being ‘a local girl’ as I was called. Yes, to these folks, this 50-year-old was just a girl. They were a fun bunch of ladies and gentlemen and I enjoyed hanging out with them for a few hours talking about books in general. Funny how I work in a large university library and almost never talk to any of my co-workers about what we’re reading. Maybe it just feels too work-related and who wants to talk about work-work? Blech! Not me! Unless it’s away from the office and really has nothing whatsoever to do with my job or most of the people that job pertains to. It’s weird.

I even managed to get a laugh out of them with my opening and the story about how I first realized maybe I wasn’t like the other in Mrs. Dodd’s 3rd grade class. It was in that moment that something deep inside me clicked and my writing dream was born.

So, really, last night was something like 40 years in the making and wishing and dreaming. These things take time and I’ll admit I’ve not always been very patient about it getting here. The writing gig has given me more lows than highs, but the highs are what keeps me going. This may seem like small potatoes to those who are further along in their journey than I am, and I know I’d be jumping the gun if I believed for a moment I’d made the big time with this single and simple event, but it’s one step closer.

A week or so again I posted a Facebook status of “Remind me again why I am doing all this.”  It becomes so frustrating and disappointing at times. You want something so badly and it’s so important to you and you pour so much of yourself into it that when things don’t happen how you hoped and dreamed or as fast as you want, you feel like a complete failure and like giving it all up. You question what’s the point in even trying. Why even bother? No one cares. No one appreciates. No one understands any of this, let alone you, and it seems it’s all for nothing.

Then, something like last night happens. I am forced to remember that day in 3rd grade and a little girl who was terrified she’d done her weekend homework assignment wrong. I am forced to look back at where I was ten years ago in this process. I have to remember how devastated I was when the publisher of my first murder-mystery went out of business and how utterly defeated I felt. All that work … and I’m sent back to Step One again.

But, once I really looked and understood, I knew I wasn’t at Step One at all. My path had merely been diverted by a very annoying and slippery rock that sent me on my ass into the icy cold stream. It took me two years to regroup and in those two years I focused on other projects. I built my resume one little article and a second murder-mystery at a time. I looked back and saw my stepping stones zig-zagging all over Hell’s half acre, but I’d traversed them. I may have slipped, stumbled, crumbled, cried, and cursed, but I mostly FOUGHT my way across those damned stones. I was not about to give up now. I’m too stubborn for that and seeing all the progress I’d made helped, too.

I’ve got at least two more events planned for this year and now that I have the first one under my belt, I’m looking forward to the others even more. Baby steps. This process is not going to happen overnight. The trick is not to let the down times and the imagined failures drag me into the muck of my own raging self-doubts. I will continue to fight for this dream because I don’t know any other way. It’s too much of who I am. I am blessed by being surrounded by those who believe in me when all I really want to do is chuck it all into a bonfire. Words of encouragement are not just words, they are vital to the process that keeps me going when I feel like I just don’t want to anymore.

All that from a simple two-hour event held in the middle of nowhere. Thank you all for your continued support, your kind words, and the opportunity to share and entertain you with my dream. You are each a hand held up out of that crazy stream of life that helps guide me from one stepping stone to the next and I am truly grateful beyond all measure.