April 21, 2015

Tuesday, April 21st.

This past week has been a busy one. I enjoy teaching the writing class. It’s a small group of fascinating women, each in various stages of writing development. Since I primarily teach fiction writing, those who expect a course in poetry or how to write for magazines will be disappointed.

I have short-term memory problems (is that age or is it just me??), so I wait until the day of the class before preparing the evening’s agenda. Putting things off makes me nervous and uncomfortable. I like to get busy and accomplish what I set out to do. In this instance, though, I believe waiting until the eleventh hour is best for all concerned.

Progress continues on Upside Down and Whopperjawed. If I had nothing else to do and devoted most of my time to this story, I could finish in about six weeks. Maybe less. April Grace Reilly often seems to sit on the corner of my desk, telling me about her day and the crazy people in her life. Recording her tale in her sassy, witty voice ensures that the story basically tells itself.

Not every novel I write is this easy or this much fun. But that’s another topic for another time.

April 11, 2015

Saturday, April 11, 2015

For the last two days, I’ve been working on Upside Down and Whopperjawed, the fifth book in the “Confessions of April Grace” series. Just when I thought I had a cool first chapter, I decided it was too serious and dark for an opening. So I rewrote it. Then I decided that chapter was too dull. So I went back to the first idea and added to it. I like it, but I don’t know …

I’m going through one of those phases we writers often enter. It’s a perilous place to inhabit, and I intend to leave as soon as possible. It’s the land of I-CAN’T-WRITE-WORTH-A-HOOT-SO-MAYBE-I’M-ALL-WASHED-UP.  In other words, self-doubt. I figure this is brought on by a combination of exhaustion, caffeine withdrawal, sugar reduction, and too much to do but not enough time to do it all. This feeling is not unique to writers. I think we humans are prone to it. Often. That said, the best way to exit this country before it becomes the Land of No Return, is to take some time away and re-evaluate priorities. I’ll do that today. Maybe a nap will help.

March 25, 2015

Wednesday, March 25

I woke up at 4am, or shortly thereafter. I might have drifted back to sleep in my warm, comfy bed if I hadn’t had a hair appointment this morning. Now, this might not have been such a big deal, except my last appointment was postponed a week because of bad weather, then I completely forgot and missed the new appointment. I certainly did not want that to happen again today. Yes, I have an alarm clock. Yes, it is undependable. No, I don’t have a smart phone that will wake me up. No, I don’t trust my hubs to wake me. So I got out of bed and drank two cups of coffee before 4:30.

Once the writing machine was warmed up and purring, I went through the final round of edits for April Grace. (They came back from my editor last night.) (Gosh, she’s a whiz.) Then I wrote the dedication page (yay! I love doing that) and the acknowledgments page (always a good idea to let folks know you appreciate them). Everything is now back in the editor’s lap, and soon will be in the publisher’s lap.

Photo shoot for the cover is coming up. I’ve never been present for that, so I’m looking forward to it.

Oh, and I “got my hair did.” Finally.

Ah, the excitement of a writer’s life is almost more than I can bear. (Ahem.)

March 24, 2015

Tuesday, March 24

I opened my email late yesterday afternoon, and there awaited the manuscript of Pink Orchids and Cheeseheads, complete with editorial notes and suggested changes. I glanced through it and you can’t believe the relief I felt when I saw my editor had not changed the voice of April Grace! This character, who is nearly as real to me as my best friend, has a unique way of expressing herself. She makes up words and doesn’t always abide by the rules of grammar. To change that would be to change her, which would tear me up. So, thank you, Jess, for not touching the way this gal expresses herself.

A good friend pointed out yesterday that there are some things missing from my website/blogsite, so as soon as my website/blogsite-fixing person gets back from her trip, we’ll be working on that.

Why don’t I just do that my own personal self? You remember that list from yesterday? That’s why.

Thunder rumbles and dark clouds approach. I don’t mind a good storm, but having the computer plugged in during an electrical storm is asking for trouble. Not sure how long my battery will last, and I have a lot of work to do. So why am I writing in this journal instead of working on that manuscript? Good question.

Flowers For Isabel

If you know our neighbor Isabel St. James at all, then you realize she’s the most whiny, gripey person in the whole entire world. Honestly, if you gave her 18 dozen red roses growing on stems of pure gold, she’d complain about the thorns made of diamonds. She thinks she’s the Queen of Egypt or something. queen isabel

And speaking of roses, ol’ Isabel decided she wanted a flower garden. You see, she’s from California, and when she lived there she “had fresh flowers galore, absolutely everywhere in my house, darling, not one room without them.”

Here’s the thing. Flowers grow pretty much all year round somewhere in California. At least that’s what I learned when we studied geography. We live in north Arkansas, in the mountains, where flowers grow plenty, but only in certain seasons, and not in the middle of February, which was when Isabel was going on and on and on about how “perfectly dreadful” life could be sometimes. If she wants to know dreadful, she should live where the sun hardly ever shines and ice covers the ground all year round. That would be dreadful. Perfectly.icy image
“I’ll dig you a flower garden, lambkins,” said her husband Ian, who is a transplanted banker and now a goat farmer. (Isabel doesn’t like farming. Or goats. Or even Ian, sometimes. Also, she wants to live in a Big City.)

“Oh, will you, darling?” She gave him this mushy-smoochie look.Not five minutes ago, when he was talking about getting another pair of goats, her eyes got all red and fiery, and I was pretty sure I saw steam oozing out of her earholes.

Now she sighed and looked around at everyone, smiling all over her face. Which is nice, because her face will never win her any awards, believe you me, but when she smiles, it’s like someone turns on a light.

“Sure. You just tell me where you want it, and I’ll fix you up.”

“I have some seasoned barnyard fertilizer that will make those flowers grow like crazy,” my daddy added. We have a dairy farm and always have lots and lots of barnyard fertilizer. barnyard dirt
Well, ol’ Isabel’s eyeballs got bigger than the plates on which we were eating our supper. You see, she’s a Miss Priss. She’s almost as bad as my sister, Myra Sue, who is the Biggest Priss in the known universe.

“I…I…I …” Isabel laid one scrawny hand on her scrawny chest and declared, “I couldn’t possibly … I’ll use Miracle Grow, thank you very much.”

Now a few months ago, when this woman first came into our lives, she wouldn’t have been so polite. You see, she and her mister lost everything they owned out in California and bought this awful little farm just down Rough Creek Road from us. The old house on that place wasn’t fit for anything but spiders and rodents, so my mama, who lives her life the way Jesus said to, invited them right into our home and let them live here for a few months. It was not pleasant, let me tell you, but we all got through it. Somehow Mama’s kindness and gentleness rubbed some of the sharp edges off Isabel, who’d never really known anyone like my mother and father, and by now, she’s softened up considerably. But let me assure you, she’s still a pain.

So good ol’ Ian, who has had a much easier time becoming a country person than his wife, dug her up some flower beds. Grandma and Mama helped her order seeds from Gurney’s big spring catalog.seeds
One Saturday morning in mid-spring, I was in the old rocking chair in the living room reading Where the Sidewalk Ends, and Myra Sue sat on the floor in front of the coffee table painting her fingernails—for the seventeenth time that week. Isabel burst through the front door without knocking, wailing like she’d fallen off the monkey bars at the playground.

Without so much as a howdy-do to Myra or me, she streaked straight into the kitchen, crying out, “Lily! Grace! Look, oh, look at this!”

I dropped my book, Myra Sue dropped her nail polish, and we both dashed into the kitchen.

Isabel stood in the middle of the room, her hands spread out in front of her, as wide as duck feet.

“Look!” she shrieked again.

Mama and Grandma were gazing at those skinny hands. They looked at each other, clearly puzzled.

“What’s wrong, honey?” Grandma said.

Isabel blinked about twenty-five times all in a row.

“Don’t you see?” she gasped.

Myra Sue gawked at Isabel’s hands, then screeched like a pickled owl. “Isabel-dearest! Your nails. Your gorgeous fingernails!” Myra Sue thinks Isabel hung the moon and painted all the stars, that’s how much she admires her.

Then I saw what had set the woman to howling. Her long red fingernails of which she was so proud and so protective were now dirty and chipped and broken, as uneven and snaggly as Billybob Teeth.dirty hand

“Mercy sakes!” Grandma said, reaching into the pocket of her slacks. “Here. I keep these handy all the time, especially when I’m working outside. You never know when you’re gonna need ‘em. Keep these. I have more.”

Isabel shrank back.You’d think Grandma had just offered her a toad on toast instead of a pair of fingernail clippers.

“Grandma!” Myra Sue hollered. “You cannot use clippers on your nails!”

Isabel moaned, waving her hands back and forth in front of her face like they were windshield wipers.Mama went out to the service porch just off the kitchen and came back with a brand new pair of gardening gloves.

“Here you go, Isabel. They won’t do much to stop your nails from breaking when you’re working in dirt, but they’ll keep your hands clean and maybe you won’t get blisters and callouses.”

“Blisters?” Isabel looked Utterly Horrified. “Callouses?”

I’m only 11 years old, but I have learned a few things in my life. One of which is this: when Isabel St. James gets in a state, you have to take care of her and calm her down because, believe me, if you don’t, she gets worse. And right then, Isabel was fixin’ to get in a state. I gave this whole situation a good think. AG gardening
“Come here,” I said, taking her hand. It was actually shaking. Poor ol’ Isabel. I led her to the kitchen table and pulled out one of the chairs.“Sit down before you fall down,” I said, and she sat.

I poured her a nice tall glass of iced tea. We always keep a small pitcher of unsweetened iced tea available for Isabel because she usually pops in once a day or so. All the rest of us want sweet tea or coffee.
“Here you go, Isabel,” I said, putting the tea on the table in front of her. “This all isn’t as tragic as you might think.”

That woman gave me an odd look then she picked up that glass and guzzled like she thought drinking iced tea was the latest fashion trend and she had to get in on it.

Grandma patted Isabel’s shoulder and sat down nearby. Mama filled her glass, then poured sweet tea for the rest of us. Isabel looked at her hands silently for a long time. We waited, and let me tell you, when you’re waiting for Isabel to react it can be scary because you never know what she’ll do.

“You should know …” she said, finally, “besides ruining my manicure … in that dirt at my house … I actually saw … worms. Wriggly, squirmy, slimy worms!” She raised a wretched gaze and passed it around like she thought we’d all scream in horror or maybe faint dead away.

When we didn’t, she said, “Well? Well?”

“Sounds like you got some good dirt for your flowers then,” Grandma said.

Isabel jerked like she’d been poked with a sharp stick.

“Oh, Grace, how can you say that? Worm-infested dirt?”

Oh brother.

“Isabel, worms are good for the soil,” Mama said. “They keep it from getting hard-packed and unusable.”

“And they keep it fertilized,” Grandma added. Which probably wasn’t the best thing she could have said, knowing Isabel’s view on natural fertilizers.

“Oh my goodness!” she said faintly. “It isn’t enough that I break my nails scratching around like a rodent, but I also had my hands in … in worm fertilizer.” wormsShe rested her forehead against one hand.

“Well, good gravy, Isabel,” I finally hollered. “All winter you’ve said how much you wanted fresh flowers, and now here’s your chance to have ’em. What do you want, clean hands and long fingernails or fresh flowers? You’re gonna have to decide because it’s mighty hard to have both at the same time around here.” flowers for isabel

“April Grace,” Mama said, reprovingly, and I hushed. Mama knows how I just blurt things out sometimes without thinking, but this time it needed to be said. Of course, I could have said it in a softer voice and in a nicer way, and if I’d thought about it, I probably would’ve.

“I think what April Grace meant to say,” Mama said in a soothing tone, “is that—”

Isabel held up one hand. “Don’t scold her, Lily. And I know what she meant to say.” She looked at me, and I saw a soft light in her eyes. She didn’t look quite as upset and wild as she had a little bit ago. In fact, she sat quietly for a long minute or two, and you could see she was thinking.

She gazed down at her snaggle-toothed fingernails and shook her head, wriggling her fingers.

“These nails get in my way so much of the time, and they keep me from doing things I’d like to do,” she murmured. She looked at Grandma and held out her right hand, palm up. “Grace, may I borrow those clippers?”

Myra Sue gasped in pure-dee horror, but Isabel smiled at her. “Don’t worry, Myra-darling. I have what I need at home to smooth out the rough edges.” She gave us all a smile, brightening the room. “Just think how lovely those flowers are going to look in my house this summer!” mason jar flowers
-the end-