Saturday, March 24, 2012


Inspiration can come from anywhere. For me, as I write 'Hattie's Leila', I sow my words with bits and pieces of imagery. I've taken some pictures of my favorite inspirations to share with you. My hope is when you read 'Hattie's Leila' that you will see these people and places in your mind's eye.

Hattie, my Great-Great- Grandmother on her wedding day, 1904.
The little girl walking hand-in-hand is my Great-Grandmother, Leila.
Hattie's husband was in the Fireman's band... he's standing in front of the trombone.
Sometimes, the images are my own memories... those are my favorites. Pictures I've lived and captured in my mind contain not just the scenery, but also the details of smell, touch, taste, and sound. As I've lived my life I have tried to make a point of stopping to smell the flowers, as they say, by plucking moments of my life and putting them in a mental file for a rainy day.

I do not know where this drugstore picture was taken, but I've used it as inspiration for "Marbut's" in Mt. Vernon. During prohibition the drugstore soda fountain served as a "bar-like" place to congregate. I also found it quite amusing to discover alcohol was still available by prescription from a doctor.

One of the roots in my family tree. My Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grandfather.... might even be another 'great'.

Simple pleasures were the best. Big Spring is a popular location for my story. Pictures like these from "Down Turnback Trails" are a constant source of my inspiration.

I have no idea where in the world this is... but in my mind it's in Missouri.

Leila is the Carnation Dairy girl standing 3rd from the left.
The maternal ghosts of my family tree are the skeleton of 'Hattie's Leila'. My Grandmother has been gracious enough to spend hours helping me with my research. She was born in 1928 in Mt. Vernon, Missouri, where my story takes place. If I gain nothing else from my work, the time spent listening to her has been worth everything. 

I also google earth the actual streets in Mt. Vernon. The street view feature has allowed me to take walks along E Kirby Street and the countryside. I've stood outside the house my Great-Grandfather had built. The small bungalow sits on the corner of W. Cherry and Market Streets. I visit there often to imagine Hattie tending to her garden and how her husband, my Great-Grandfather, William Owen, who was Mt. Vernon's Mayor in the mid 1940's, must have walked down the street to the courthouse each day, stopping along the way to bid a friendly 'hello' to his neighbors.

Well, back to writing. Thanks for visiting my blog!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Worst Chistmas Gift Ever

Several years ago, my husband's parents joined my family at my grandmother's house for Thanksgiving dinner. Standing watch on her front steps sits a concrete goose, lovingly dressed up with a cute little hat reflecting the holiday. It stands a little over a foot tall and fits in nicely with her potted plants and whimsical aesthetic. As we arrived, my in-law's commented on the goose and mentioned they liked it.

That was when it started; the moment the wheels started turning, so to speak.

My husband, Mike, starts taking mental notes right around Halloween. If someone on his Christmas list even utters the words "I want..." he will rush out to buy what ever it is, eager to please. Nearly ten years of marriage has taught me to be careful of what I wish for, because if I mention toaster ovens or crockpots that's what I'll get it for Christmas. I'm more of a Coach bag type of girl.

Anyway, a week later we were trying to decide on what to get his parents for Christmas. At the time, they lived in Northern California and we were in Southern California, so we planned to purchase a gift online to be directly shipped to them. We tossed ideas around... I suggested fresh Alaskan salmon, or a  night in a New Mexican B&B, even sweaters, but nothing seemed to ring his bell, until he remembered the goose.

Immediately, I was unsure of his choice. I figured it was far more likely they were just being nice... for example, I like giraffes but it doesn't mean I WANT one.  Not that the goose isn't lovely, it is... it just doesn't fit their contemporary, southwestern style. We went back and forth about it, but eventually I relented. They were, after all, his parents and he obviously knew them better than I did.

We started by googling 'concrete goose' and searching websites. After quite a bit of hunting, we found one in Colorado who not only sold the geese, but little outfits especially designed to fit any personality. We both agreed the little leather biker outfit was perfect for them since riding is one of their favorite things to do. It didn't take me long to get excited right along with my husband, who was on top of the world... in his mind he was envisioning the smiles and joy they would experience as they opened this amazing gift of concrete and leather.  Out came the VISA and within a few minutes and $150 later, it was a done deal. We high fived eachother on a job well done.

A couple of weeks later Mike called me with the news. His parents had received thier custom goose and were anything but pleased. I remember the "What the hell are we supposed to do with this thing?" and sound of my husbands dissapointment as he relayed to me the details of the call.

I felt so bad for him... he actually shed a tear or two. I was angry at my in-law's for their reaction to a gift. To not like a gift is one thing, but to actually get mad about it is, in my opinion, completly rude and inconsiderate. I fought back the "I told you so's..." and lent sympathy to his hurt ego.

A couple of years went by and the goose was all but forgotten. One day we were visiting his grandparents in Hesperia. I was nursing at the time and the baby was hungry, so I went to the family room to sit quietly and feed my son. I sat there looking about the room. We rarely went to that house so I was not overly familiar with it's layout or it's decor, but out of the corner of my eye something caught my attention. I looked over and there it was... the goose standing proudly in the front hall, dressed in all its leather glory... all four feet of it.

It was then I understood why his dad was so upset by the gift. I mean really, who really wants a four foot tall, leather clad, concreate goose greeting their guests? Can we say TACKY? 

I started laughing and called Mike over to where I sat and pointed to the goose. We both laughed about it and made a point of calling his parents on the way home to tell them we finally understood their reaction.

In the end, although the gift was hated by the recipients, it has since provided me with an abundance of laughter. I think we all can relate to getting a gift we less than love, but I can admit I'm guilty of giving one of the worst gifts ever and each year that has gone by, as I order the fresh Alaskan salmon for my in-law's I laugh about it all over again.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Collars and Commas

Thursday is my favorite day of the week. After the kids are tucked in their beds I have the house to myself. It’s Project Runway night and I’m at peace, armed with my computer, a bowl of pita chips and some orange juice on the side. I always tell myself I’m going to write while I watch it, but I never do. I feel guilty only for a moment for wasting such precious minutes, but brushing it off and savoring the time with Tim Gunn and Nina Garcia is part of this weekly ritual.

Well, this season just started and there is one designer in particular who has grabbed my attention. Just by looking at her you can tell she is super creative, but what makes her truly special is she just learned to sew four months ago. Now, let point out, I am self-taught in the art of sewing and I can say from experience, it’s not easy! Heck, I have pillows on my couch right now that are unfinished and bursting at the seams. The amazing thing about this girl is not only are her designs outstanding, but her sewing is impeccable… I think she will be in the top three.

So, you wonder, how does this relate to writing? Well, last week she was stuck in a technical part of her design, attaching a collar. Fortunately for her, one of the other designers who had already finished their garment offered to attach it for her… so kind, right? I thought so, too. Then, one of the not-so-kind designers made a comment about “that being the difference between self-taught and going to design school.”


That’s it! That is the difference between going to design school and being self-taught. He’s absolutely right. He knows how to sew a collar because he had the money to go to school and learn the proper way of doing his craft, but she was not so lucky and I am astounded by her natural talent. I think it would be amazing to see what she could do if she did have the proper technical instruction, which should not be confused with talent. You can have all the education in the world and still not possess an ounce of talent. Case in point, the designer who was eliminated that week was a design school graduate who sadly, possessed little of the gift.  

Isn’t that what writing is all about?  Writing anything, whether it’s a blog post, short story, poem, or novel is, at the very basic level, design.  Some of the most amazing stories have been brought to life by writers without college degrees… Ray Bradbury and Ernest Hemingway are good examples.  Instead of using textiles, writers use words and commas to sew together plots instead of pieces of muslin and silk.

Like this girl, I have no piece of paper in my possession proving my abilities. I believe I am fortunate enough to have claimed a fair bit of wit from my family’s gene pool, but my comma usage would put my high-school English teacher to shame. As time goes by, I hope this will remedy itself and I will someday look back on my early works and laugh at my rudimentary attempts to entertain those who take the valuable time to read my ramblings.

In the meantime, forgive my comma conundrum and laugh with me when I publish my first book.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Love Letters of Inspiration

I've been hard at work on my novel, Hattie's Leila, although summer has gotten the best of me. Keeping three kids entertained is not conducive to sitting at my computer. I've just finished a chapter in which Hattie, one of my main characters, reads an old love letter written by her first love. This letter is just one of many actual letters I came across. This one was written to my Great-Great Grandmother and has been great inspiration to her part of the story. I've only edited it a touch. Also, the writers name was actually William.  I changed his name to Oliver because it seems the women in my family had a 'thing' for men named William.

Chesapeake, Missouri February 9, 1903
Miss Hattie Kirby, Mount Vernon  

Dear Hattie,
      I think you will pardon me for taking the liberty of writing you. Since I was at Mount Vernon last Saturday, I have been thinking if it wouldn’t be the right thing to do.
I was so disappointed and I cannot tell you why, but I must not prolong this. I had a message for you, however the meeting in the store prevented me from delivering it.
      Will you not think me impolite in asking you to be friends? Yes, friends, that is all.
You seemed to fear me for some cause. While our past life has been painful in many respects, you know me as no other and I would never harm you. In all probability, there have been some very bad things said about me and some are true, but I am willing to do anything to be friends with you.
      If you cannot grant this, please don’t think me rude. Burn this letter, say nothing about it and I will bother you no more. Could we trade pictures, or is that not to your keeping? If this is not satisfactory do not answer. We cannot exchange by mail.
      As Ever,

Thursday, June 30, 2011

WARNING: Pentecostal Revivals Can Be Dangerous -- Just a Taste of Hattie's Leila

Men, women, and children alike, danced wildly around the room in ways you would never see outside the walls of the Mount Vernon Pentecostal Church. Brother Gordon was jumping up and down; next to him was Sister Hoberne, who was rolling on the floor and flopping like a fish out of water, with her undergarments exposed for the for the world to see.

At last, Brother Shaw’s hands found Mrs. Kendall. One of his palms held the back of her head while the other cupped her forehead.

“In the name of Jesus Christ,” Brother Shaw shouted, “you will be made whole again!” At the same time he pushed forward with the hand on Mrs. Kendall’s forehead sending her flying backwards, one fat leg then the other doing their best to keep her on her feet. It was no use, however, for Muriel was on her hands and knees howling to the roof when her mother backed upon her. Mrs. Kendall was going down, but no one around her reacted, for the entire congregation was hypnotized by the energy in the room. Herbert and I put our hands to our ears in anticipation of the impact.

I believe the windows rattled, and the floor dipped in the spot where Mrs. Kendall landed. There was for sure, a crack on the pew where her head hit.

They said she never felt a thing, poor Mrs. Kendall.

I walked with Herbert on the way home from Church that day, still in shock over the events we had witnessed that morning. Our mother’s had gotten far enough ahead and were so bereft with grief over Mrs. Kendall’s unfortunate demise, they never noticed us with our pastries. The normal after service socializing put most people off from the thought of food, but not Herbert and me. We had both managed to grab an apple tart from the basket on our way out the door.

“Poor Mrs. Kendall,” Herbert said, between bites.

“Poor Muriel, she killed her own mother!” I replied,  as I sucked the sweet glaze off each of my fingers.

“I suppose that would be pretty hard to live with. I wonder if she’ll come back, to church, I mean?” Herbert began pondering that very thought when the idea came to me.

“I’m going to do it,” I said, stopping in my tracks.

“Do what, exactly?” Herbert stopped, interest showed in his eyes as his left eyebrow rose in anticipation of my newest brilliant idea.

“I’m going to get healed,” I announced, as if this was some fantastic idea no one had ever thought of.

“What if you end up knocked out dead, just like Mrs. Kendall?” He asked, bringing up a good point. Judging by the outcome of Mrs. Kendall’s experience, healing was more dangerous than I had previously thought.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Litopia and the Value of Critiques

Before I started writing Hattie’s Leila, I never had reason to give the word “critique” much thought; well it has been four months and I have gotten to know the word well. You could say it’s my ‘favorite word’ these days. I sent pieces of my story to a couple of family members, but only heard crickets in response… not very encouraging, but it is what it is, which is a different story altogether. Desperate for help, I thought it might be a good idea to find a writing group, a place to commiserate with other’s who are on the same journey.  After searching online I came across a group called Litopia.

When I first signed up, I immediately recognized its value. Members are comprised of new writers like me, seasoned authors, agents, and editors from all over the world. The advice and support I have found there has been inspiring as well as informative. Membership is graded, so when you first register you have access to a few of the message boards, but after a while you can request full membership status and submit a chapter to the all-powerful beings in charge. They will read it and either accept you as a Full Member or throw the pages back at you, telling you to try again.  The prize at the end of that tunnel, other than the warm fuzzy feeling of acceptance, is the chance to put your writing out there for critiques. Not everyone gets that warm fuzzy acceptance, some try several times before they succeed, and some never make it.

Well, I am proud to say I made it on my first try! I was taken aback by how emotional I felt the moment I read the email telling me I’d made the cut.  I cried and then walked around the house aimlessly for a day or two, with my head in the clouds. I suppose just the validation I felt knowing someone out there saw something in my writing made me feel the way I did, because truthfully, putting your work out there leaves you feeling vulnerable and at risk for rejection. For a writer, knowing someone is actually reading what you write is very important. There is nothing quite as depressing as when you send it to someone who never gives you even an indication they’ve looked at it, especially when they asked to see it in the first place... again, different story. Well. after the happy dust settled, I wasted no time submitting my first chapter—my hearts soul – for critique.  What I received both inspired and taught me.  I was lucky, for the reviews were positive. They liked my ‘voice’ and the story was good, however, the critiques also brought to light areas where perhaps I was leading the reader off in directions I hadn’t intended and places where backstory could be replaced with dialog; let’s not forget misplaced commas, those nasty little things I hate so much…  The result so far has been a completely different beginning to my story with fuller chapters and more dialog, as well as deeper character development. Oh, and don’t forget better comma placement—those damn commas!

Writing a book is a challenge to say the least, my characters are real in my head, they sometimes ramble, they sometimes do crazy and unexpected things leading my story on different roads than first imagined. Oh and timelines—do not get me started on timelines!  In the end, with my friends at Litopia, I know this story I am weaving will turn out better because of them; I am grateful every day to have such a talented group of comrades to walk with me on this journey.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Lessons Between the Covers

I’ve been challenged to write about a book that has changed the way I look at something. Ironically, the hardest part of this challenge, at least for me, was choosing the book. How do you name only one book that changes you? Some books have taught me lessons in life; some have walked, hand in hand along with me, as I’ve learned my own lessons. There is a book of poetry, which without, I do not believe I would be writing today. There is also a book about God, which gave me peace in my heart, and showed me it’s OK to say, “I’m just not sure…”

There are classics, which gave me a deeper appreciation for writing. There are books of historical fiction, which have taught me something fascinating and at the same time, entertained me to tears.

For this challenge, I’ve chosen Margaret Mitchell’s, Gone with the Wind.

I was given the book by my mother, when I was around twelve or thirteen. I had already seen the movie, so I was familiar with the story. There was no doubt I would enjoy it. There was only one problem with the book, as far as my twelve year old self was concerned… It was too big!  I was judging the book by its cover, afraid to start it, because I was foolishly afraid it would never end.

The book sat on my shelf for at least three years. I looked at it now and then, turning its heavy hard cover around, flipping through pages.  Only to set it back on the shelf, until the next time it caught my attention. Finally, on one of those exploratory ‘flip-throughs’, I found the courage to actually start reading it. I struggled with the first sixty or so pages. I found them lacking in interest, leaving me bored and wondering if it would ever get better, an opinion which I still stand by today.

Page by page, I continued to read it, and before I knew it I’d fallen so in love with the story and the people Mitchell created, I could not put it down. By the time I had finished it, I was sad to say goodbye to Scarlett O’Hara, for the movie did not do her justice.

Never again would I judge a book by its length.

This is a lesson I’m teaching my oldest son, who at the tender age of eight, still sees reading as a chore. I see him when he picks a book, the way he holds it and judges it. Sometimes, I will suggest an old favorite, I think he might enjoy….

Does it have pictures?” He asks?

The words will paint the pictures for you.” I tell him.

How many pages does it have? He flips through it with apprehension.

Does it matter, if it’s a good story?” I reply.

Right now, on his shelf in his room, is his version of Gone with the Wind. It’s titled Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. It was mine, I gave it to him last year. I’ve caught him turning it over, feeling its weight, and flipping through its pages. He knows it’s a good story; he’s seen the film, but like his mother, he’s judging the book by its cover. Eventually, he’ll find himself willing to give it a try. He may put it down, but I have no doubt one day he’ll finish it.