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Small, Not-so-insignificant Things

November 13, 2021

Sequoia treeWhat is the purpose of the giant sequoia tree? The purpose of the giant sequoia tree is to provide shade for the tiny titmouse.” -Edward Abbey

I agree with Edward Abbey. Sometimes we get so distracted by big things that we forget the importance of small ones. I talk a lot about writing-related things and this quote certainly applies there, but that’s not the only place. It covers a much wider range – in fact, every facet of life.

One small example: My mother loved to cook. She expressed love with food. I remember as a young woman wishing that I could give her a shiny new kitchen, one with all the bells and whistles. Now I wish I’d thought to bring her flowers every now and then. Not huge, expensive arrangements. A handful of freshly picked blooms from a daughter who’s a klutz in the kitchen would probably have meant more to her than a whole array of the shiniest gadgets. There are so many other instances when I could have done some small, thoughtful thing for her – or for other people in my life – or for strangers. Moments I let slip by when I could have taken a couple of minutes to do something seemingly inconsequential – and made someone feel important.

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this. I think we all let small the opportunity slip by because we’re busy dreaming of  the grand gesture.

Writers may be the more guilty than most. We so long for the satisfaction of a completed manuscript that we forget to savor the individual words as they go on the page, the small details that build the story, the description of a place that exists only in our imagination, the little tic of personality that defines a character we’re creating. These are the things that make a story come alive for a reader.  I know the things I remember when I think of my favorite books are not huge, dramatic plot points. A tiny throw-away detail that connects me to a character, a setting, or a situation will stay with me long after I’ve forgotten the plot.

Is there any need to say more about this? I don’t think so. I’ll keep it short in honor of the tiny titmouse.
Titmouse

I hope you’re all enjoying the small delights of these crisp autumn days.

What Gives You Hope?

November 2, 2021

“Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.” H. G. Wells

When I hear the name H. G. Wells, I think of wondrous inventions, intricate machinery, dreamed up by a man so far ahead of his time that noted science fiction author James Gunn referred to him as “the man who invented tomorrow” so this quote made me stop and think – to ask myself: What saves me from despair? What gives me hope?

It’s strange the things that lift our hearts and replace despair with hope. Usually, they appear when we least expect them and come from the smallest, most insignificant, occurrences. For example, this past Sunday, I knew better than to try to watch TV. It being Halloween, I knew the doorbell would interrupt the flow of any story line. Why fight it? Not that I would have it any other way. While I can’t honestly say I look forward to Halloween, once it’s underway, I enjoy the kids and their costumes, so I prepared my goodie basket and, a little before dark, stationed myself in a comfy spot near the front door with my crossword puzzle book and waited for the ritual to begin.

It was the right thing to do – not in the the world-will-be-a better-place-because-of-it sense, but because, even before the bell rang, I heard the kids trooping up the two steps to my porch. I smiled as I listened to their excited giggles and their parents’ lower voices reminding them “don’t forget to say ‘thank you'”. And, for the most part, they didn’t. I don’t remember a single child who didn’t thank me and many added a “Happy Halloween”.

The evening really did give me hope. Despite the despair shown on the nightly news, a lot of things – small but important things – give cause for hope. On this one night, kids get to let their imaginations soar as they dress up and become someone (or something) different for a few hours. The treats, I believe, are secondary, though the kids take the candy part seriously. I get a kick out of watching smiles morph into serious concentration as their small (and even the not-so-small) hands hover over the basket before they make their selection. Sometimes, they look up and ask with their eyes if they may take more. I, of course, push the basket closer and say “yes” with my eyes.

All in all, it was a fun night. Much better than any show I could have watched on TV. Though I write fiction, I acknowledge that real life is better than anything I can invent. Like Wells, creator of wildly imaginative tales, I am moved beyond despair to hope by simple things. He put aside his fascination with time machines and the like to enjoy watching an adult engaged in the simple act of riding a bicycle; I’m inspired by the reminder of how it felt to be filled with childish anticipation and by adults gently guiding their children to gratitude and courtesy.

I believe humankind is going to be alright – not perfect. Far from that. I doubt we’ll ever solve all our problems and we’ll probably continue to create new ones as we try, but I believe we’ll also continue to muddle through.

I hope all of you enjoyed your Halloween and wish you many blessings to count as we make our ways toward our next holiday.

Small Steps – and Missteps

October 22, 2021

This getting-back-to-writing thing is slow. I knew it would be, but didn’t anticipate how slow. This week I added words my WIP (Jennie Connors #7), but not nearly as many as I had hoped and I did revive this blog. I was a little surprised and hugely gratified by the response. The stats tell me quite a few people read it and some were kind enough to comment either here on on Facebook. Thank you! As a writer, I need all the encouragement I can get. This blog and other social media are an important connection to the writing world. The more I write, the more I understand that writing is a complicated, two-fold process, but it’s one that I love. Most of the time.

The first part is a seemingly lonely one. I say seemingly because I (and I suspect most writers) don’t feel alone when writing. The voices in my head keep me company. I sit down to create a story with the intent of moving the characters around and making the story unfold, thinking I know what each of them has to do or say to make that happen. Sometimes they refuse to comply. They tell me it’s not my story, but theirs. They take charge, grab my hand, and direct me along a different path but, somewhere along that path, they let go of my hand and leave me alone to figure out what’s next. How do I get them out of the mess we’ve invented? Scary as it sounds, I love it when that happens. Traveling the new path is exciting. Being on my own is exciting too, but in a different way. 

The second part would be easy to ignore, but it’s equally necessary. I need human  connection – real connection, not just imagined. I need contact with persons other than myself if I’m going to populate my stories with characters of any depth. Without interaction with people whose life experiences and points of view are different from mine, my characters are nothing more than a mirror image of me. Fortunately, there are other humans around me who provide a never-failing source of inspiration. Thanks to the miracle of technology, the circle widens. Because of social media, I’m able to form virtual connections and exchange ideas with people whose journey is different from my own, sometimes vastly different. I am deeply grateful for all my friendships, both in person and virtual.

As for missteps, they occur every day in one way or another. I wrote in the previous paragraph of the miracle of technology. Sometimes, it’s as frustrating as it is miraculous. I seem to be engaged in a constant battle to keep up. Earlier this week, I had to complete a rather long, detailed form that had been texted to me. None of the information requested was unavailable. The problem was that some of it was stored on my phone and I had no idea how to access it without exiting the text. I’m not sure how many times I had to start over. Information that was not on the phone was scattered all over the house. I could keep the text open, but numerous trips up and down the stairs, plus checking in various drawers, were involved. None of this was particularly arduous, but it was annoying. However, I managed – and rewarded myself with an embarrassingly big dish of ice cream (butter pecan in case anyone cares).

So much for moving forward. It’s a step-by-step process, and that’s okay.

Rebirth of a Novelist

October 14, 2021

I haven’t written anything here for a long time – almost a year. My life has changed completely since last December when I wrote about lights that symbolize the hope we celebrate on our most sacred days.

Not too long after that, Pete and I celebrated our 59th wedding anniversary. We marked the occasion at home due to the Covid virus, which was then ravaging the world. At the time we said, “Next year, when we hit the Big Six O, things will be back to normal and we’ll be able to do it up Big Time.” Even as we said it, I wondered what the status of his health would be in December of 2021. I could see that he was going downhill, but didn’t know (or didn’t acknowledge to myself) that he wouldn’t be with me by then. I didn’t anticipate how changed my life would soon be. I had to say good-bye to Pete on June 12, 2021, not because of Covid, but due to pulmonary fibrosis, with which he had been diagnosed almost five years earlier. Considering the state of the world and the suffering so many endure, I can’t say we were victims of a great tragedy. Our good-bye was part of the natural order of life. I’m sad. I miss him, but I’m grateful for all the years we had – and grateful also that this man who was always busy, always tinkering, fixing something, trying to make things right, didn’t have a long, drawn-out period of suffering. I hope you understand I say that without minimizing how I much miss him. At any rate, I’m a widow now. That seems to me an ugly word. A combination of letters that produces a harsh, dry sound. But my life doesn’t have to be harsh and dry. It will only be that if I let it and I don’t intend to. Again, I say that without minimizing the loss, but honoring the good years, I look for what’s next.

Covid is no longer ravaging the world but, despite the vaccine, it hasn’t gone away. Things are better now, but not back to what we used to think of as normal. The virus has made the world a different place. Unsafe. Maybe it always has been and I was just too naive to see it. Enough of that.

I don’t want to focus on the sadness around us. My intent is to re-enter the world of writing, to be born again as a novelist, a storyteller. Birth of a Novel was begun by five women who met during a writing class which evolved into a critique group. Eventually, through our shared stories, we became friends. We’ve since gone separate ways, but the bonds created remain intact. I’m confident we’ll always wish the best for one another.

The first post on Birth of a Novel was “On Hope”. How appropriate. Isn’t hope at the heart of all stories, even the sad ones? Stories, at least the best ones, help us see beyond sadness. They ease our journey through life. Sounds heavy, doesn’t it? I don’t mean for it to be. In reviving Birth of a Novel, I hope (there’s that word again) to share thoughts about the mostly ordinary experiences that make up my life. That may seem quite a departure from the original theme of five women birthing five separate novels. I don’t think it is. Examining and interpreting experience are the beginning of any story, the DNA of a novel.

Let There Be Light

December 15, 2020

BIRTH OF A NOVEL

Chinese Candle in a temple

This time of year, though the hours of daylight are so few, the world seems filled with extra light. The shops are full of decorations in every shape, color, and configuration imaginable and most of the decorations feature light in some form – and it’s not just the shops. I’m doing my bit with candles in my windows. My neighbor’s window is graced with a menorah–more candles. 

The candles displayed by my neighbor and me are just two examples of the traditions honored at this time of  year as many of us prepare for the celebration of a special day – Christmas–or Hanukkah–or–Kwanzaa–or–Ramadan–or some holiday unknown to me, but precious to someone.  Mid-winter is a time of holidays, each with a distinct set of customs and a unique manner of observance. Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa are celebrated with special meals and the giving of gifts…

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WE ARE BUT WARRIORS – A Review

December 9, 2020

I’ve been focusing on my own books lately, namely the Jennie Connors mysteries. Enough of that (for a while at least). Time to move on to some other books I’ve enjoyed and think you might also.

Estranged twins, Jake and Zack Lowe have to put aside past differences to prevent an assassination that could plunge the mid-east and, indeed, the whole world into greater chaos, more violence. WE ARE BUT WARRIORS is intense, fast-paced, and full of surprises, elements that a reader expects of any good thriller. What sets it a notch above most is the skill with which Ms. Iyer paints her characters without slowing down the action. In addition to the American brothers, there are two strong, capable women – one a Jew, and one an Arab. Both are honorable and committed to finding a solution to the violence that plagues their common homeland. Like the brothers, they are fully human, complex, and multi-layered, so that by the story’s end, we have come to care about them beyond the success of their mission. Having said that, I will add that the plot itself is not a simple good-versus-evil proposition. It looks below the surface tension, acknowledges the duality of the decades-old conflict, and while it offers no easy answer to the problem, it does suggest that there is hope.


The story is well-served by the writing style, which flows smoothly, makes for easy reading, and never gets in the way of the story. Highly recommended.

If you’d like to know more about Polly Iyer and her books, here’s a link to her website:

LOVE ME DEADLY

October 31, 2020

Ta da! Here it is … Jennie Connors Mystery #6. 

What it’s about?

Jennie, Nate, and the Tea Ladies are on their way to a rehearsal for a benefit to help send a special needs group to Disney World? What could go wrong with such a worthy endeavor? If you’ve read any of the other Jennie Connors mysteries, you know anything can happen with this crew.  Read on.

 

The LOVE ME TENDER benefit turns deadly when the star Elvis Tribute Artist is murdered a week before the event. Plenty of people would like to see Adam Clayborn dead, but Jennie Connors is the one found kneeling by the body with blood on her hands.

Jennie would never sabotage the effort to send a special needs group to Disney World. Who would? And Why?

The victim’s ex-wife thinks he was about to ruin their son’s life. His sister and nephew are too distraught (conveniently so?) to talk to the police. The event manager denies any knowledge of the benefit’s finances and his fiancée makes the dubious claim that she didn’t even know the victim. When Jennie’s old friend, Nate, doesn’t show up, he becomes a prime suspect. She believes he’s innocent (at least of murder) but worries about the secret she knows he’s hiding.

Can Jennie sort it out and make sure the police get the right killer before the killer gets to her?

Here’s a link to the ebook:  https://amzn.to/3kKVxzj 

Print book will follow soon. I’ll let you know.

LETHAL JOURNAL

October 22, 2020

LETHAL JOURNAL is the fifth Jennie Connors mystery, the first where I had to step out on my own and learn the ropes of indie publishing. Not too long after BY WHOSE HAND was published, Avalon Books sold to Amazon and, after exploring several other options, I realized it was time for me to learn the ropes of this brave new aspect of the publishing world. It was new territory for me, but fortunately I had the support of the other Avalon authors. Over the years, we Avaloners had become much more than writers who happened to be published by the same house. We were friends and cheerleaders for each other’s work. A lot of emails flew back and forth, but, together, we forged ahead and learned together. It was quite a journey, but I am so glad I took it.

So, what about the book? Read on …

Jennie has been promoted out of the job she loves. But there’s one thing she wants to do before she moves into her new position: Jake Appleton, known throughout Riverview Manor as Sour Appleton, needs to be integrated into the retirement community’s social life. It won’t be easy.
 

Jake spends his days alone, staring out the window and mumbling that the world is full of crooks. Has he witnessed wrongdoing in the construction project going on outside his window? Or is he looking back over his own life. Jake’s not telling. He shares his thoughts only in his journal.

 
Jennie doesn’t give up – and, finally, one morning Jake surprises her. He taps the journal, says “it’s all in here” and agrees to talk to her later that afternoon.

But someone else gets there first. Jennie finds Jake with a bullet in his head. The journal is gone – and Jennie is determined to find it and solve the puzzle of a lonely old man and restore peace of mind to the residents she loves. If you’ve read any of the other Jennie Connors books, you won’t be surprised to learn that the residents insist on becoming involved.

http://amzn.to/1j7cXnW

Note: A new Jennie Connors mystery (#6) is coming soon. Can’t wait to share that news with you.

 

BY WHOSE HAND

October 13, 2020

I’ve had so much fun writing the Jennie Connors mysteries. I’ve come to think of Jennie and the crew at Riverview Manor, not as characters, but as friends, real friends, people I could sit down with and pour my heart out to over a cup of tea. As for Jennie, she’s the sister I never had. She’s much braver than I ever was, someone I look up to while recognizing her shortcomings. Yes, she has her shortcomings, but she never gives up. She believes in a world where justice prevails and does her best to make it happen.

Here’s a bit about BY WHOSE HAND, the fourth Jennie Connors book:

Have you ever wished someone would hand you the key to the bank? Be careful what you wish for.

When Preston Barrons hands Jennie Connors the key to Barrons Bank and Trust Company and asks her to pay a 2 a.m. visit, her instinct screams “give them back?” But how can she, when her paycheck depends on finding out who made an unauthorized transfer? Money from a recent fundraiser has ended up in the account Webster Barrons and the family is hoping Jennie can clear their son’s name.

Instead of answers, Jennie stumbles over the body of Preston’s right-hand man. She goes looking for the security guard, but he finds her first and assumes she’s trying to sneak out. It seems the only way to extricate herself from bank politics is to find the killer.

 

Here’s a link: http://amzn.to/q4F71G

CONSIDER THE LILLY

September 25, 2020

CONSIDER THE LILLY is the book that introduced the Tea Ladies, six elderly women made up of more spice than sugar. I’d like to say I created this intrepid group, but actually they created themselves. They stood beside me as I wrote, telling me what they would or would not do. 

So … what’s the story?

Jennie Connor’s friend, Lilly, is in big trouble. Two patrons are poisoned while dining at her restaurant. The police are busy with crowd control and don’t notice a shadowy figure climb down the arbor and slip away. Jennie watches and wonders if Lilly’s daughter, Jasmine, is up to her usual teenage mischief. Or is it something more sinister?

While the press focuses on one of the victims, Phillip Jeffries, a junior high principal who’s made a lot of enemies during his career, Jennie learns that the other victim, teacher Leonard Atkinson, has his own dirty little secret.

I hope someone has half as much fun reading CONSIDER THE LILLY as I had writing it. 

Here’s a link – http://amzn.to/phrUoW