Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Buried in the Back Yard II

A few months ago, I wrote a post called Buried in the Back Yard, when I learned that a Confederate soldier and his sons had been buried in the woods behind the house where I lived as a child. My family never knew this until the land was cleared for a housing and shopping development and the graves were discovered.

I now have another wild "buried in the back yard" story. (My family seems to draw these things.) My brother-in-law and his family live in Nashville. The first time we visited them there, Dave's brother picked us up at the airport and started asking what we would like to see while visiting. Dave started rattling off old-time country stars. "Minnie Pearl," Dave would say. "Dead," Paul would answer. This went on for awhile until Dave said, "Johnny Cash," and of course we waited for the usual answer. Instead we heard, "He's buried in our back yard."

We laughed.

A few minutes later, we turned into their driveway. Guess what we discovered? By golly, Johnny Cash is buried in their back yard.

Okay, technically, it's not a part of their yard. But the cemetery is right behind their house. Here's a picture from their patio.

Of course we had to walk over and see for ourselves.

Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash are buried side by side, and several other members of the Carter family are close by, including Mother Maybelle.

I'm not sure which is stranger, having Confederate soldiers or a famous singer buried in your back yard. All I know is, I hope the competition ends here.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Little Encouragement from Deborah Raney

A few days ago, a woman in my online writer's group sparked a lively discussion when she confessed that she felt a bit discouraged because of all the technical details involved in writing. I felt her pain as she said she just wanted to write, and now she was getting bogged down in all the "stuff" she was supposed to learn. I myself frequently complain on this very blog (okay, sometimes I even whine) that I've lost the joy I used to feel in writing because of all the rules I have to follow.

Author Deborah Raney responded with such a brilliant analogy that I asked her if I could reproduce it here, and she graciously agreed. I know it encouraged me, mainly because in Deb's view, the loss of joy is a temporary but necessary step. The passion and the fun will come again! Here's Deb:

I've thought of this analogy so often: when you first discover a piano as a child, you bang on the keys, ruffle the keyboard and make all sorts of cool (and totally un-concertworthy) sounds. Later, you start picking out melodies on the keyboard and maybe even adding a few chords and harmonies. It's a blast and your friends are impressed because you're pretty stinkin' good.

Then your parents decide you're the next Vladimir Horowitz and they sign you up for lessons. Overnight every ounce of joy is sucked right out of playing the piano. Because now you have to learn the NAMES of the notes, and you can only play what's written on the staff. Worse, you can't even play the notes when you choose to play them. Oh, no! You have to count, give every note the correct beat. Even worse you have to PRACTICE! No more playing just for fun, no more playing just to express yourself or show off to your friends, or experiment and see what sounds cool.

But lo and behold, one day, after lots and lots of miserable hours of practice, you actually get a piece right, and it sounds pretty good. You play it at a recital and people clap and ask you to play it again. Cool! So you go home and work a little harder and learn a more difficult piece. Pretty soon you start forgetting about the names of the notes because you know them as instinctively as you know your colors. Before long you can pick up a sheet of music and with a couple of run-throughs, you can play a song that sounds pretty close to the way you heard it on the radio. And all your friends ooh and aah when you play at parties because wow, you're good! And suddenly you don't mind practicing so much because now you know all the names of the notes and you know how to count time, and you know what all those funny symbols on the staff mean--shoot, you know what a staff IS. Practice has become fun, and playing has become an expression of yourself again, and even therapy sometimes.

Then one day, you're playing along, following the notes and the time exactly as written in the music, and almost without thinking you add a trill in this measure and an extra beat in that one...OMG! You're breaking the rules (your music teacher--and your mother--would KILL you) but it actually doesn't sound bad. In fact, by george, it works! You play with those trills and tweak the syncopation and suddenly the song has turned into your own unique, amazing composition, and now YOU get to make (and break) the rules.

But you never would have gotten to this point if not for those hours of learning the notes and the rhythm, playing them exactly as written. There will always be more difficult sheet music to challenge you, and you will continue to improve the more you play, but you've reached that wonderful place where you know enough that playing the piano has become more fun than you ever thought possible, and the songs you compose are better than you ever dreamed. And you hate to admit it, but your mother and your piano teacher were right, and you'd never be where you are without those stupid piano lessons and those torturous practice sessions.

DEBORAH RANEY is at work on her eighteenth novel. Her books have won the RITA Award, the HOLT Medallion, National Readers' Choice Award and Silver Angel from Excellence in Media. Deborah's first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title. Her newest books are the Clayburn Novels from Howard Books/Simon & Schuster, including Remember to Forget, a 2008 Christy Award finalist. Deb serves on the advisory board of American Christian Fiction Writers. She and her husband, Ken Raney, have four children and enjoy small-town life in Kansas.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Great Kitten Caper

Is this a cutie or what?

She better be. I went through enough to get her yesterday.

Last week, my hairdresser told me that someone had dumped two tiny kittens at her house, and she couldn't keep them because her dog considered them squeaky toys, and her indoor cat would see them as rivals--something he absolutely doesn't tolerate.

My wonderful mother said she would take the two babies, a male and female. Dave and I were camping somewhat near my hairdresser's house. Well, nearer than we usually are, anyway. So I thought this would be an excellent time to pick them up. I plugged her address into my GPS to see if it knew where Traci lived. It swore that it did, and I trusted that confident GPS Lady voice of hers. And away we went.

A few minutes later, GPS Lady directed me to turn onto a dirt road. "Are you sure?" I asked her. She seemed pretty positive, so I turned. I drove down miles of red dirt road, seeing nothing on either side but woods and the occasional abandoned, falling-down house. I had no idea that dirt roads registered with satellites and GPS systems, but apparently they do. My GPS Lady seems to love them. She took me down about four of them to reach Traci's house and the kittens.

Or maybe GPS Lady just hates me. Traci sort of laughed when I told her how I came. It wasn't exactly the normal route. But that wasn't the worst of it. I just happened to see that GPS Lady actually directed me PAST Traci's house number, telling me that the house was another mile down the road. However, I got suspicious when the pavement petered out and a very narrow, muddy road led into the woods. I mean, wide, dirt roads are one thing. I tend to balk at logging trails. I called Traci and sure enough, GPS Lady was lying to me.

Why she wanted to take me into the woods I don't know. I think it was an ambush. Maybe she dislikes cats. Either way, I fetched the kittens back home to my mother, and they're definitely worth it. She was having fun this morning, watching them play.

Interestingly enough, I'm the one who got Traci her tom cat who won't tolerate rivals and started this whole mess. Back when he was younger, he needed a home, too. I guess what goes around comes around.

It's Traci's turn next!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Unless the Lord Writes the Book

Awhile back, I reached the Psalms of David in my Chronological Bible reading and mentioned how much I loved them.

I'm now reading about his son Solomon's life, and the editors inserted a couple of Psalms written by him. Here's the beginning of what I read from Psalm 127 (New Living Translation):

"Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is useless. . .It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones."

What comforting verses, as I struggle to find time to write. As I struggle wondering whether I'm writing the right thing. Whether it will sell. Here's my take on those verses. "Unless the Lord writes the book, the writing is useless."

I don't have to fret. If God is building the house, or writing the book, the labor will get done. And it won't be useless; it will succeed. And I don't even have to work until I drop to prove myself to him. He'll give me rest.

I thought it was a little odd that the next verses abruptly switched to the subject of children. "Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him." (v. 3) Since I wasn't able to have children, verses like this sometimes make me feel bad. But for me, being a writer, my characters feel like my children. Somewhere I once heard them called "children of the mind."

If God will bless them and grow them, that will be a great reward for me!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Writing Smart or Writing False?

I wanted to share a great blog post by Kaye Dacus that I read a few days ago. Kaye, a romance writer, was frustrated that so many unpublished authors are advised to start with writing romance, because it's supposedly easier to do and easier to get published. I loved Kaye's post because she pointed out that if writers don't believe in what they're writing, it will ring false, no matter how technically correct it is.

I wholeheartedly agree with Kaye, and I found the post even more interesting because I'm one of those unpublished authors whose agent insists that I need to write romance to break into publication.

To be fair, my agent has never suggested that writing romance is easy. She simply feels, based on her experience, that there are more opportunities for new authors to publish in that genre. So I agreed to try it. She is, after all, my agent--and I haven't had any luck breaking that publishing barrier on my own.

But I'm struggling with my attitude as I write. I'll admit that, for a long time, publishing was my number one goal. But that's no longer true. I don't dislike the romance novel I'm writing. It's fun, and I'd probably enjoy picking it up and reading it if I found it on a shelf. But it's not a genre I would have chosen for myself.

I think, as a writer, I'm a little unusual. When I was a little girl, I started developing several different sets of characters--several little worlds. I love those people I created. I never minded writing or rewriting and rewriting again, because I loved visiting their worlds. I always pictured I would mainly write novels about those folks that I've spent most of a lifetime getting to know.

As I try to focus on what will get me published, it's just a job. I don't think about those characters except during the time in front of the computer, when I do my daily word count. Sometimes I wonder, what if I do get published in this genre? Will I get stuck only being able to publish there? Will it just be a chore?

I have a bad feeling--or a good feeling, depending on how you look at it--that I'm not going to have to face that problem. There are so many new writers out there who are passionate about romance writing that--as Kaye pointed out--I can't imagine me actually succeeding in the genre ahead of them.

So why am I trying this at all? Well, God sent me my literary agent. I want to be open to whatever path he leads me down, whether it's my "dream" or not. I realize we sometimes have to be flexible and put aside our own desires. Or at least, he helps us reach them in a way we wouldn't have expected.

Or maybe he's just using this experience--and thoughts from other writers, like Kaye--to show me that publication wasn't really what I desired in the first place. As Kaye said, "When we [write fiction], we’re actually calling upon things that are real and true: feelings, emotions, experiences, thoughts, deeply held beliefs. If we ignore those things to dash off a particular kind of story not because it’s the story of the heart but because it has a better chance of selling, we’re lying to our readers and betraying ourselves as artists (as Madeleine L’Engle calls us)."

Amen, sister!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Back from the Wilds Back Yard

The camping trip didn't happen. Various family issues kept us from making the trip to the beach with the R.V. However, I still took my long weekend and basically camped on our back porch.

My extremely talented husband just added this screened porch to the back of our house. He did the work all by himself. (A relative once asked if I help Dave with all these projects. I said yes--I stay out of his way. That's about all I'm good for in the carpentry area.)

Then, to make up for our canceled trip, he bought me the most comfortable chaise lounge in the world.

I've wanted one of these babies for a long, long time.

I spent a lot of my weekend on that new porch, lounging and reading and watching the hummingbirds fight. (Did you know that hummingbirds fight? I didn't until we got a feeder. I thought they were beautiful, sweet, graceful little creatures. I had no idea how mean and territorial they are to one another.)

All in all, it was a wonderful, restful holiday. It was nice to rediscover the joy of sinking into a good book with no time constraints.

Speaking of my talented husband, I mentioned awhile back that he was taking up the dirty old carpet in our bedrooms and refinishing the hardwood floors that were underneath them. He finished that up a few weeks ago, and they're so gorgeous! Here's a picture of our guest room.

Why folks wanted to hide that gorgeous wood under carpet I'm not sure, but finding that hidden treasure is one of the pleasures of having an older house.
Anyway, I'm back to reality now and will try very hard to think of something profound to say for next time. Oh, the pressure!