Friday, January 27, 2012

Vacations--Financial Fridays

When I was little girl our family would travel. My parents would ride in the cab of the truck and my siblings, our dog and I would ride in the back of the truck. We pulled a camper that smelled of kerosene gas and bacon. After a few windblown hours, we would reach our destination—a lake, typically inhabited by a few deer, rabbits and no one else. I spent the days reading and slapping mosquitoes while my parents fished. At night we would roast fish and then listen to my dad snore.

Did I enjoy these vacations? Not even a little bit. Do I look back on them with fondness? Never.

When I approached marriageable age and dreamed of who I would marry I had two requirements for my future spouse—I had to love him and he couldn’t enjoy hunting or fishing. Period. I had no wiggle room on this last requirement. It wouldn’t have mattered if my Romeo had a thirty million dollar trust fund, looked like Johnny Depp, sang like Sting and wrote poetry like Robert Frost, if he owned a gun and used it on animals I would not have been interested. (Larry is from LA and I’m pretty sure I’ve killed more animals than he ever has—-Hey, I was there and everyone else in my family was killing animals and occasionally I ran out of reading material. Don’t judge me. )

My brother, on the other hand, had a totally different attitude to our family vacations and he grew up to be a very successful fly fishing guide. People travel from all over the world to go on fishing trips with my brother. (Check out his book—love you, Dennis, so proud of you.

Is Dennis right? Am I right? Yes and yes. We just have different definitions of fun. And that’s okay. Vacations are important. It’s important to have time away from our daily work. It’s important to spend time with people we love doing something that we love. And we need to budget so that we can afford vacations. And we need to calendar in our vacations. Someone once told me that memories are made by appointment and I believe it’s true.

The following is an experience I had on vacation almost two years ago. Remember, lasting memories have to be made. Nothing ever just happens.

19 Miles in Southern Argentina
I visited the Glacier National Park in Southern Argentina and hiked 19 miles. I don’t think I intended to hike 19 miles, but summer’s daylight in the southern hemisphere lasts a long time and there wasn't a compelling reason to return to the hotel.

The scenery was mouth dropping gorgeous and the weather perfect. Lakes a surreal blue, a matching sky, big fluffy clouds, a gently breeze, a soft sun, which made the thunder difficult to explain-- until we realized we weren’t hearing thunder, but the splintering and crashing of glaciers.

Whenever I’d start to feel buff and proud of my ability to hike with Larry and Nathan, I’d be passed by some 60ish sisters with serious looking backpacks. Once I was overrun by a herd of tiny Asian women who looked about as strong and substantial as hummingbirds. But, when I came to mile 10 and the sign that read DANGER, STEEP INCLINE NEXT 1.5 MILES, all the middle-aged ladies disappeared.

And after a few yards, I thought I’d disappear, too. A thirty-degree incline up loose shoal. Step one foot up, slide 6 inches down. No trees, bushes or hand holds. Serious arguing ensued and after I used words such as chauvinists, sexists, and death, I convinced Larry and Nathan to leave me behind. They went to find the lake and glacier and I sat down on a rock.

For about 3 minutes.

A teenage hiker passed by and I asked him far to the glacier. 20 minutes, but he assured me it was worth the climb. So, I came up with a plan. I took 60 steps and then picked up a pebble (they were plentiful.) When I had five pebbles (300 steps) I allowed myself to sit down and replaced the pebbles with a rock. When I had two rocks (ten minutes, 600 steps) a pair of hikers passed and I asked them how long to the glacier. 10 minutes, they said. By the time I had another rock (300 steps, 5 more minutes) I crested the hill and could see the lake and glacier below. I could also see Larry and Nathan at the water’s edge. I found a place to sit down to watch them. I didn’t need to join them; I just liked seeing them together.

There’s the old maxim, by the yard it’s hard, but by the inch it’s a cinch. But, it wasn’t a cinch, ever. It was hard. If I hadn’t taken it at my pace and allowed myself to occasionally sit down, I wouldn’t have made it. But, I did make it. One pebble, one rock at a time. Was the view worth the climb? I’ve seen prettier postcards, but watching Larry and Nathan together at the lake’s edge, that was worth seeing.

When Larry and Nathan caught up with me, Nathan said, “I knew you could do it, Mom.” Which was nice to hear, because I didn’t know I could. We were still 9 miles from the trailhead, but it was all downhill from there.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

And How Does That Make You Feel?

I’m sure that everyone has a writing mantra, and this is mine. When I’m writing and I come to a plot point—occasionally I stop and ask myself this question. If my plot twist sits well, I carry on. But sometimes, it just doesn’t “feel” right. I can’t explain it any better than that. There is a literal physical ‘tingling’ when I know the idea is good and conversely there is a physical ‘argh’ when I know something is just ….whatever it is….cliche…predictable…stereotypical…stupid

This is where my critique partners, writing group and beta readers come in. Often, they can diagnose the problem and help me right/write the wrong. But, lots of times I’m on my own. And I always have to rely on how it makes me feel. No one else can do this for me.

There are many names for ‘that feeling’—gut reaction, muse, inner critic, spirit—but whatever name you choose to give to your inner voice, I really believe that its quiet tutoring is the difference between an argh and a tingle. The trick is to recognize, listen and then try to capture it on paper (or computer screen.)

I suppose there are many ways to do this. I once heard of a famous writer’s wife who complained that often it’s hard to tell the difference between plotting and a nap. Stephen King takes long, solitary walks. I had a writing instructor who wrote on note cards, each representing a scene, and taped them all over his office wall. I’ve friends who swear by computer software that helps organize stories. Some writers get together and make a storyboard—plotting for them is a group effort. Frankly, I’ve never done any of these things (except for the long walks.)

It’s those ah-ha moments that bring me to my computer each morning. I never want to diminish the magic or steal the luster of those occasional really good ideas—the ones that make me tingle.

Monday, January 23, 2012

When the Hero Disappears

Here’s the beginning of the novel I started seven years ago. I really like it. It’s a mystery. It’s not a romance. But here’s the thing—I’m about fifty pages into my revisions and I’m wondering WHERE IS ALEC? I remind myself that this is a mystery. It is not a romance. I don’t care….WHERE IS ALEC? The story is soooo much more interesting when he’s around. He shows up a lot more after page 77, but I’m not sure I want to wait 70 pages for his reentrance. And if I don’t want to then probably my readers won’t want to, either.



Brobdingnagian \brob-ding-NAG-ee-uhn\ , adjective:
Of extraordinary size; gigantic; enormous.

The wind whistled and moaned around the library, tossing branches and bending trees. A near human-like scream tore Claris’ attention away from the open dictionary, but she dismissed the storm’s violence and resumed her work.
She brought her finger down on a random word. Brobdingnagian--she wrote the word and definition on the chalkboard above the circulation desk and came up with her own sample sentence. Drake Isling is a brobdingnagian twit. And because she gave each of her library patrons a chocolate for every sample sentence they gave her, she took one for herself, even though Brobdingnagian was technically tomorrow’s word. Today’s word was tenebrous: dark; gloomy. Tenebrous describes the weather and my mood, she thought and then realized that she deserved another chocolate for her second sample sentence. My thighs will be brobdingnagian if I don’t stop eating these chocolates. Another sentence—another chocolate.
The bell tower on the nearby Lutheran Church tolled five. Finally, she could close the library. Stop eating chocolates, she told herself, drive to Western Washington University and confront Drake in front of the students lingering after his American Lit class. She knew that there would be a handful of coeds hanging around in Westchester Hall waiting to talk to him. She knew that because she used to be one of them.
Well, not anymore. She’d never wait for Drake again. After today, of course.
The lights flickered and Claris considered it a warning. Wind storms wreck havoc on electrical lines and power outages were a common winter occurrence in tiny Rose Arbor. Flickering candle light, a roaring fire and a good book were only enjoyable at home. But, she wasn’t going home. She was going to Bellingham to confront Drake. Gathering up her things, she debated her plan. Confront Drake or wait out the storm in front of a fire with a Mary Stewart novel? Fight sluggish traffic, wind and rain for the hour drive to Bellingham or cuddle under a quilt and read? Undecided, she locked the heavy wooden doors and headed for the light switch.
Knocking. Someone at the door or the wind? Looking over her shoulder she saw the door knob rattle. It took her a moment to unlock the heavy wooden doors. The storm’s cold wet wind flew in the library, and Claris looked in confusion at the pitching trees and driving rain. Gray skies cracked with lightning. She was about to go back inside when she saw a huddled figure at the side of the porch.
Dressed in a ratty brown coat and mud caked jeans, Will Harris crouched in the flower bed, his head bent low to the ground. He appeared to be kneeling in prayer in the storm. Will, a regular attendee at the library’s story hours, lived on a farm just outside of town with his brother and grandmother. Because of his rapt attention to her stories, his quiet lisp, and unkempt hair, Claris both loved and pitied Will. Not even school age, he typically walked to the library for story hour unattended and now here he was alone in the middle of a storm. She knew it was hard to live with an aging parent, and she guessed Will’s older brother was his chief, albeit reluctant care giver.
Claris ran to the edge of the porch and yelled over the storm’s noise to get Will’s attention. Rain pelted his matted hair and rolled down the shoulders of his jacket. He knelt in the dirt between a rhododendron bush and the side of the library, his face inches from the mud, his hand inserted into a drain pipe.
Rain spilled over the side of the library and beat upon Will’s face and mingled with his tears. Claris came around the porch, pulled her sweater tight across her chest, and ignoring the mud and rain she knelt beside Will.
That’s when she heard a tiny, whining meow. A kitten had taken refuge in the storm drain--its cries and claw scratching in the metal pipe barely discernable above the storm’s racket.
Claris lowered her face down toward Will and he looked at her with big brown eyes that welled with tears. “Buggerbrain, Todd’s dog, “killed all of Midge’s kittens but this one here,” Will said between bighting back sobs, “and my grandma won’t let any of the cats in the house.”
Claris frowned at the rusted pipe. It could probably be cut by a sturdy pair of gardening shears, but she guessed that the easiest, quickest form of rescue would be to unclog the drain.
“Could you keep him? I can’t take him home. Buggerbrain will get him, just like he got the rest.” Will’s big eyes pleaded with her. “Can you keep him?”
She didn’t know if she wanted a kitten, but she did know she didn’t want to squat in the rain After giving a Will a quick pat on the shoulder, she went to the office to fetch a plastic shopping bag and umbrella.
Will trailed after her, talking. “Everyone knows how you live alone and have nobody and but your crazy aunt. And now they say she ain’t talking no more, so you’ve got no one to talk to, and of course, there’s only whispering at the library. No real talking going on ‘round here--”
A small community, an insane artist of small renown- of course people talked. They talked about anything and anyone, and Aunt Charlotte was interesting. Parading through town in her nightie, throwing apples at passing cars, spraying painting neighborhood dogs, Charlotte provided entertainment the town couldn’t get on the local cable stations.
“Of course, kittens can’t really talk,” Will said.
“And that’s a good thing,” Claris said, returning to the porch. Quickly, she explained her course of action to Will. She saw him look hesitantly at the roof, the second story window, and the trellis that ran up the wall. The trellis looked capable of supporting the dormant rose vines. She hoped it was capable of supporting her.
After giving Will a brief wet hug of encouragement, she ran up the stairs, threw open a second story window, climbed out onto the window ledge and tentatively stuck a toe of her penny loafers onto the trellis.
Will gazed up at her with wide eyes, and she tried to wave cheerfully at him. Grabbing the trellis with both hands, she gave it a tug to test its strength. A quick look at the ground assured her the fall wouldn’t break anything that wouldn’t heal, she swung out onto the trellis. This is brobdingnagian mistake, she thought, promising herself another chocolate.
Rain beat upon her and trickled down her neck. Her straight skirt hampered her climb, and she pulled it up to increase her range of motion. Dormant rose vines plucked at her stockings, snagged her sweater, and scratched her hands as she scaled the wall. When she reached the roof, she shot a jubilant look at Will. Todd, Will’s brother, had the child by the arm and leered at her.
Suddenly conscience of the skirt bunched around her hips and the red panties she was quite sure that Todd could see, Claris called down to the boys. Todd grinned back.
“Nice seeing you, library lady,” Todd yelled at her, his tongue ring making his words slur. He tugged Will away.
Claris watched the two figures, one dressed completely in black leather, the other splattered in mud, disappear into the woods that edged the grounds of the library. The bag that Will was supposed to use to trap the kitten lay in the mud like a deflated balloon.
Claris stuck her hand into the muck that clogged the drain and threw it at the retreating backs of the boys. It splattered on the ground. The dead leaves, mud and sticks felt slimy and cold, but she hurriedly mucked out the drain while balancing on the trellis. She was rewarded with a whoosh of water. Triumphantly, she looked down to see the kitten washed out into the garden bed. It stood on shaking stick legs--its fur matted to its skin and protruding bones. It stared, frozen in place, as she climbed down the trellis.
The kitten bolted up the stairs of the porch when Claris jumped off the trellis. She landed hard on the grass, her hands breaking her fall. She stood in time to see the kitten tear into the library through the wide open door.
At least it’s a smart cat, Claris thought as she went after it. She tried to brush the dirt and leaves off her skirt, and she slipped off her muddy shoes and soaking sweater and left them on the front porch before entering the library. Standing in the doorway, searching, she called, “Here kitty, kitty.” A tail, gray and rat-like stuck out from under a rack of books. She lunged towards the bookcase, and her stocking feet went out from under her.
Finding herself on the wooden floor, Claris turned to see the kitten watching her with one blue and one brown eye. She placed one hand in front of her for the cat to plainly see, and snaked her other hand behind the creature. The cat tried to dart away, but Claris grabbed it from behind.
Rolling onto her back she held the squirming, skinny kitten in an outstretched hand in the air above her face. She and the small, gray, and rodent like animal considered each other. “I shall call you either Mouchard after Mrs. Frisby’s famous rats, or Rat-fink,” she told the cat. “Depending on which suits you best.”
The cat twisted in her hand and suddenly she felt grateful to the animal for diverting her thoughts away from Drake. She rolled over, clutched the tiny, clawing cat to her chest and went to the basement in search of a box.
Clutching the kitten with one hand, she slipped her silver bookmark into her novel, and gathered her raincoat and umbrella before heading towards the door that led to the basement. She cradled the kitten in her arms and he held onto her sweater with tiny claws.
It had been less than a year since Claris had converted the Greek rival style home that her grandparents had bequeathed to the town into a library. Her grandparents generosity had stopped at the bestowal of the house and property. Money for upkeep or improvements hadn’t been a part of the will, and an outdated monster of a furnace that needed to be adjusted manually heated the house.
Opening the basement a blast of cold air hit Claris. Somewhere an unlatched window thumped. Odd, she thought as she made her way through the dank and dimly lit basement, maneuvering through stacks of books, magazines, and old newspapers. Who would open a window down here?
Damp and moldy, the basement was a breeding ground for mildew and fungus’ that aggravated her allergies. What else might breed in the basement, she didn’t
want to know. Rodents, undoubtedly. She looked at the kitten in her arms that had finally stopped squirming, and now shivered against her chest. “Are you a mouser?” she asked. “Because I believe this basement could be a rodent smorgasbord.”
She’d been avoiding the basement. As a child she had been terrified of the roar of the furnace, and leery of the dark, cobwebbed corners, and as an adult she was overwhelmed by the flotsam of a family that she had never really known. Claris sniffed and then sneezed. Reason told her that the basement needed to be cleaned, but for the moment she was grateful for the clutter because she within moments she found a fishing creel and an old towel. She dropped the towel in the creel and then placed the kitten in the newly created cage and secured the lid with a leather strap. The kitten mewed pitifully at her.
“Sorry, but I can’t have you roaming free on the ride home,” she told it.
Clutching the basket she went to turn down the furnace. The natural gas furnace was almost her height, and many times her width. It coughed and burped as if it suffered from a digestion problem. Claris turned the heat down to 68 degrees, and then glanced around to find the open window. The wind howled, and for a moment the lights flickered. She took a deep breath, and followed the thumping noise. It came from a room behind a heavy wooden door. Someone had locked it. Why? She fumbled for a moment with the outdated latch and then wrenched it. The latch broke in her hand and the door swung open.
In a corner a window beat to its own erratic rhythm. Little more than an air vent, the window was scarcely six inches high and a foot wide. From the outside it sat only inches from the soil and hid behind a lilac bush, but from the inside of the basement it was high above Claris’ head. Standing on tiptoes, she secured the window at the same moment lightning flashed, a roll of thunder shook the house, and the electricity went out.
The meager light from the window filled the basement with a soupy darkness. Claris jumped, and would have laughed at her own skittishness if she hadn’t accidentally dropped everything except for the creel. A spark of frustration matched a flash of lightning and Claris saw her belongings at her feet, the books and raingear--not the keys. Squatting, she patted the dusty, cold cement with one hand. The basement floor sloped toward a center drain. Although she couldn’t imagine the keys rolling, she moved along the floor in that direction.
A crash of thunder, followed by another moment of lightning showed a gleam of something white wedged between stacks of boxes. Feeling along the floor, Claris pushed against the clutter, hoping to find her keys, but instead found a white sock tucked into a familiar pair of ked sneakers, a dark straight pant leg, and a man’s white shirt.
Aunt Charlotte. She lay on her side; her head lolled at an awkward angle. Claris touched her, and then peered into blank eyes. “Charlotte?” Gently, Claris spoke her name, and picked up a limp, cold hand. Claris began to shake. Putting down the creel, she knelt beside her aunt, and tried to lift her into her arms. Wildly, she thought of CPR, but Charlotte remained wilted and unresponsive and Claris knew that she was dead. Claris couldn’t see any blood or signs of violence. Why had Charlotte come to the basement? How? Typically, the manor called when Charlotte managed to escape her room.
A rustling in the bushes outside distracted Claris. A rat? No, a human face with a sharp nose, barely distinguishable through the mud splattered window. Rain slid off a black slicker, and the tears of rain on the window distorted the features.
Claris called to them for help, but the person stood in a swirl of slicker and disappeared.

Remora: \ REM-er-uh \ , noun;
An obstacle, hindrance, or obstruction.

She thought the nameless face would come to help, but after a moment of huddling in the dark basement, holding her lifeless aunt, and hearing no one approach, panic set in. With tender awkwardness, Claris returned Charlotte to the floor. She picked up the kitten’s creel before bolting towards the stairs.
Stumbling through the gloom and maze of boxes of debris, Claris tripped once over a viola case and tore another hole in her tights. Righting herself, she plunged through the dark to the top of the stairs and finally reached the phone and caught her breath. She picked up the receiver and knew immediately that it, too, was dead. She scrambled through her purse for her cell phone before remembering there wasn’t cell service at the library. No one could call to tell her Charlotte was missing. She couldn’t call anyone for help. Bolting, she took about three steps into the storm before returning for her shoes. She had left them by the front door.
Inexpensive, dirty, size six shoes that no one would possibly steal. Where were they?
She gazed into the library. Charlotte dead, a face in the window, her shoes missing. Was she alone? Somewhere from inside the library a door slammed. The wind, Claris told herself, but when the kitten began to cry, Claris darted down the library steps.
Staggering more than running in stocking feet and a straight skirt, Claris cast a backward glance at the library high on Olympic hill. Rain pelted against her face and soaked her blouse as she toward Main Street and downtown. A streak of lightning cracked the gray sky; thunder rolled with an intensity that shook the sidewalk. Above her wood cracked as a bough of a pine tree broke in the wind. It tumbled to land in a heap beside her. Fallen twigs and branches scattered on the sidewalk poked her feet and shredded her stockings. Clutching the kitten’s creel, she ran the quarter of a mile to the first house.
Claris paused at the gate of Audrey Mortenson’s home to catch her breath. Audrey’s windows were dark, not surprising given the power outage, but the chimney didn’t curl with smoke and the house wore a vacant, empty look. The gate creaked as Claris pushed through. Bracken and large, green slugs littered the walkway. She pounded up the steps and banged on the door, but her knocking sounded hollow.
The rain trickled inside her shirt, soaked her shoes, and filled her eyes as she turned away continued running and stumbling down Main. She could barely see, but it didn’t really matter. Aside from her brief years in college, she had lived in Rose Arbor since Charlotte’s accident. Claris knew the streets well.
She ran into a large, warm expanse of flannel. For a small moment a rain slicker engulfed her, and then she tangled with an umbrella. In her efforts to extract herself, she slipped on the wet pavement and fell with thud on her rear. The creel landed beside her and the cat cried in protest.
Claris looked up at her impediment and saw a pair of heavy boots, Levi jeans, a flannel shirt and an unbuttoned dark green slicker. Rain and embarrassment washed over her. She pulled the creel onto her lap and checked its strap.
“Are you all right?” A tall man with wavy, honey colored hair gazed down at her. She stared up at him. He looked familiar—and then Claris realized he looked like her! Same coloring, curly hair and green eyes—he could be a sibling or a distant cousin—except that Claris didn’t have any family. Except for Charlotte. He stooped down to take her hand to pull her upright. His large hand swallowed hers. “You’re shaking.”
Stepping out of the umbrella’s protective canopy, the rain beat against her. Large, wet maple leaves cart wheeled by and attached themselves to her legs. Claris shook herself, managed to run a trembling hand through her hair and stammered at the man, “I am so sorry.”
“No, I’m sorry, here, let me help you.” He held the umbrella over her.
“No, thank you,” she murmured, stepping away from him.
“Don’t you have a coat, or anything?” He followed, umbrella aloft.
Claris shook her head as she fought the rain. Wind whipped through her hair, and tugged at her wet blouse.
“Wait!” he called, hurrying beside her. “Would you like a ride?”
“I’m not going far.” She pressed on.
“Let me come with you, share my umbrella,” he said, easily overtaking her and blocking her path. He looked pointedly at her shoeless feet. “Let me help you.” He bowed his umbrella towards her. His eyes traveled over her and she hugged the creel closer to her chest. “Have you been fishing?” he asked.
He pointed the fishing creel.
“Excuse me, please.” She pushed past him, but he easily kept pace and held the umbrella over her head. I don’t have time for this, she thought and the words became her internal mantra.
“Where are your shoes?”
Claris tried to match his face with the one at the window. It could have been him. She pressed into the wind, trying to ignoring the potential murderer holding the umbrella over her head, but when she stubbed her toe on an uneven bit of sidewalk and dropped the creel, he was beside her.
The kitten shot out of the creel. Claris tripped towards the escaping kitten and stubbed another toe on a bump in the sidewalk. “Bugger,” Claris swore and the man laughed.
She looked into his good-natured face, and fought the temptation to smack him. With a throbbing toe, Claris limped after the cat shimming up a trunk of a maple into the maze of branches.
“Kitty, kitty,” Claris called. The cat scampered out of reach.
Rain trickled down Claris’ upturned face, and she tears welled in her eyes.
The tone of the man’s voice softened. “I’ll get her. What’s her name?”
“Mouchard.” Claris sighed. She closed her eyes against the tears and immediately saw Charlotte lying on the floor of the basement. Her knees buckled and she reached out to brace herself against the tree trunk.
An old Ford wagon splattered up the street, and stopped at the curb. “Claris?” Emily rolled down the window.
Claris looked at her old friend. “Can you take me to the police?”
“Get in the car, dear,” Emily said. The wind ruffled Emily’s gray curls and teased her lace collar. “You look a fright.”
Claris glanced at the kitten and then at the man.
“I’ll save the cat,” he said. “You go get the police to find your shoes.”

And then he disappears until page 77. Double sigh. I'll have to change this.


Congrats to #27 June! She won the hard copy of my novel Stealing Mercy and the silver key necklace in my birthday blog hop give away. Stay tuned for more free stuff.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Mortgage--Financial Fridays

It was election day, 1994. Larry and I walked home from doing our civic duty, discussing how our lives would change. With one ultrasound we’d learned that we would soon out grow our house, our car and my jeans. We began house hunting almost immediately, but we ended up moving into our new home when our twins were four days old. This wasn’t our plan, but finding and buying a house took longer than we expected and the girls came earlier than we expected. I didn’t love our new home then, and sixteen years later, I don’t love it now. I don't think it's a pretty house.

Samuel Clements, aka Mark Twain loved his home in Hartford, Ct.: It had a heart and a soul and eyes to see with; and approvals and solicitudes and deep sympathies; it was of us and we were in its confidence and lived in its grace and in the peace of its benedictions. We never came home from an absence that its face didn’t light up and speak out in eloquent welcome—and we could not enter it unmoved.

We bought our house because it is big and has a very generous kitchen, but mostly because it backs on to the school, the park and is a hop, skip and jump from the community pool and tennis courts. This house made my life easier when my circumstances were difficult. I loved that I could sit in my bedroom, nurse my girls and watch my children playing at recess on the school playground. I’ve loved having my floors and sofas covered with sleeping bags, pillows and friends. I’ve loved making Thanksgiving dinner for thirty in my kitchen. I love living here, but I still don’t love this house. I love the people who live here and the life we lead, but I could walk away from the house.

I've since decided it’s not the house that's important--it’s the life lived inside its walls and beneath its roof.

I agree with Miss Fanny Price, the heroine of Jane Austin’s Mansfield Park.
Her plants, her books, her writing desk and her works of charity and ingenuity were all within her reach…she could scarcely see an object in the room which had not an interesting remembrance connected with it.

So, when purchasing a house I think it’s important to consider the mortgage, the taxes and insurance, but I think how you live is much more important than where you live. Emily Dickinson wrote, “I live in possibilities.” And fortunately, possibilities aren’t limited to any one address or neighborhood.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Book Cover

I made a cover for my new novel A Ghost of a Second Chance. I’d love to hear your opinions, although I’m not sure they will sway me. I’m in love with my cover, partly because looking at it reminds me of that late afternoon in Laguna. Every time I look at these pictures I’m reminded of the people I love who came with me to this place I love, to take pictures for the story I love and how amazingly wonderful it is that I have so much love in my life

I know that my connections to the story, the time and place, and the people in these photos are unique to me. No one else will be as moved by them. No one else will ever have the same tie because they didn't make the same emotional investment. But yesterday a stranger told me how much she loved my book and that gives me a tiny glimmer that maybe I’ve shared a smidgen of the magic.

And that makes it all worth it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Books About Grown-ups

No worries. The blog hop lives on. Scroll down to the Birthday Blog Hop to find out how you can enter to win more than 200 prizes including my novel, a necklace and oh yeah, a free download of my novel Stealing Mercy.

Now, a word in favor of grownup books.

I live in Rancho Santa Margarita, CA. We moved here when the lake was a hole in the ground, the golf course a splotch of mud and the library was a promise. Coyotes used to roam the streets and for awhile a naked homeless man lived in the canyon. We’ve grown up considerably since those early days before grocery stores and dry cleaners came to settle in the town center. Now, we not only have water in our lake and grass on the golf course, we also have restaurants, movie theaters, and a fine library. Rancho is a lovely place to be, but that doesn’t mean anyone from Mission Viejo shops here. The rumor is that Rancho citizens will shop in Mission Viejo, simply because for years the shopping in Mission Viejo was the closest option, but the favor isn’t returned. Why would the Mission Viejo people ever need to cross the bridge to Rancho? It just isn’t done.
Can the same thing be true for young adult lit? Adults read books about teenagers, but do teenagers read books about the middle-aged? (Probably only if they’ve been given school assignment.) With this knowledge in my pocket, it makes sense to write young adult lit. Except that it seems that everyone has a young adult story to tell…and did you know that the majority of readers are sister baby-boomers? Baby boomers have the most disposable time and income—but are they interested in reading about the middle aged?
The novel I just finished, A Ghost of a Second Chance, is about a woman approaching forty. Forty isn’t old. There’s a joke about a woman going through menopause who is at the doctor’s office and she tells him, but forty is the new thirty and he replies, tell that to your ovaries. So, our ovaries haven’t gotten the message, but has our society? With the rise of magazines such as More and bestsellers such as What Alice Forgot and Chasing Rainbows can we say the tide has turned? Can we start reading about grown-ups?

I hope so. I really want to catch that wave. But, tell me what do you think? Is the world ready, willing and eager for books about grown-ups or is the fascination with youth too strong to overcome?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Birthday Blog Hop

(Grendal, who is usually my model, is clearly upset she wasn't chosen to wear the necklace)

Welcome to my birthday blog hop! Today I’m celebrating two very important events—my birthday and the finis of my novel Ghost of a Second Chance. To commemorate these milestones I’m offering a coupon for a free download of my novel Stealing Mercy for everyone who:
follows my blog
leaves a comment
and likes my novel on Amazon.
(Yes, I was born on Friday the 13th—you’re not really surprised, are you?)
These three steps also qualify you to win a signed hard copy of Stealing Mercy and a key necklace like the one on the book cover.
Thank you so much for visiting my blog. I hope you enjoy your free download from smashwords! Did you follow, comment and like? If so, here’s your coupon code HH82R. I hope you win my prizes! I hope you visit all my friends and win their prizes, too!

Transportation Terrors- Financial Fridays (on Thursday)

Trains and plane and boats and buses characteristically
Evoke a common attitude of blue,
Unless you have a ticket and suitcase and a passport
And the cargo they are carrying is you.

Manhattan Transfer—A Foreign Affair

Sadly, transportation, or lack thereof, can cause all sorts of frustrations and expense. Here are just a few of our adventures with cars.

When our oldest son, Adam, was a baby we drove a Datsun Kingcab truck. We loved the truck because in those early years we moved a lot and all of our possessions fit in the back of the truck. We bolted Adam’s car seat to the floor and strapped him in. We were good to go. Until we had Bethany.

With Bethany’s birth we decided we needed a bigger car, but living under the belief that we couldn’t, shouldn’t go in debt, we bought a used sedan. Which was great, until we moved from California to Connecticut.

In Connecticut, we only needed one car because Larry rode the train. Unfortunately, we didn’t have even one car. When the sedan rolled off the moving van, it refused to shift out of first gear. I discovered this on Adam’s first day of kindergarten when we were trying not to be late and the sedan could not be coaxed to go more than seven miles an hour.

We desperately needed a car, so in typical Tate fashion, we rented a car and went on a car safari. After the hunt, we finally settled upon a used Grand Am sedan that had previously been a rental car. Three times we tried to buy that car. The first time the salesman couldn’t complete the sale because the owner of the dealership was out sick. Because Larry was working a new job, we had to buy the car on a Saturday—his only day off. So, we waited another week and then made the second attempt. Sadly, we lost the keys to our rental car and spent that entire Saturday searching for the lost keys. We found them that night under the covers of Bethany’s bed. Another week passes with the rental car. And on that Saturday—the dealership was closed. We don’t know why. We could see our chosen Grand Am in the lot, but we couldn’t buy it. Another week passes and the car situation is desperate enough that Larry decides to take a day off work. We rethink the Grand Am, buy newspapers, look at car ads and decided to test drive a brand new minivan. Considerably more expensive than the Grand Am, it sat seven and we were a family of four. We didn’t need the van, but we could afford it, we wanted it and we bought it with cash.

Two days later Larry was asked to be the scout master for the boy scouts. Thirteen thirteen year old boys—we needed a bigger car. That van was the first to serve in a long line of years of devoted to church youth groups.

Skip ahead about fifteen years to when I wrote the following letter.

We recently experienced a death in our family. Our ten year old, fifteen passenger Ford van died. Lately, nearly everyone I meet has asked of its health, so I thought it worth mentioning. It enjoyed a long, joyful life of service, but it huffed its last puff of smoke in Vegas. (Turns out it’s true that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.) It died carrying a troop of 16 and 17 year old boys and their gear on their way to hike the Narrows in Zion’s National Park. I can’t think of a more appropriate end.

The night we bought the van Bethany, who now has a husband, baby and college degree, Nathan, currently serving a mission in Argentina, and Jared, 17 years old and taller than his dad, enjoyed a rousing game of hide and go seek inside the van. Very few vehicles could offer has many hiding spots. The van served in many other important capacities. It carried girls in formals and boys in tuxes to many proms. It drove numerous carpools. It hosted sleep overs, pulled boats and trailers. Filled to the rafters, it made trips to the dump. It even served as a ladder to and from my son’s bedroom window. (And you thought we didn’t know.) It was always easy to spot in a crowded parking lot and it had an enormous horn. Other cars always gave us a wide berth.

Some of my favorite van stories include the day I was at lunch with a group of friends and I got a call from Nathan claiming that the van was missing. A friend, over hearing my conversation, exclaimed, “No one would steal it!” Even though it was legally parked, it had been towed because “the neighbors claimed it blocked their vision.” Another time when we were idling at the curb and had just picked up my daughter’s new boyfriend and future husband from the airport a strange man with a suitcase climbed in, sat down and gave us all a funny look when we burst out laughing. He had mistaken us for a hotel shuttle. Once when we were caravanning to a mountain cabin, friends who were supposed to be following us, trailed after the wrong van. After much honking and light flashing, they pulled along beside a van they thought to be ours and found KinderCare written in large block letters on the side.

The van’s passing marks, for us, an end of an era. With three of our children grown, another with college applications in his hand and one foot out the door, and two teenage girls who will soon find other rides with drivers more hip than their parents, Larry and I rattled like two forgotten peas in a giant tin can. Our children have grown and our car has died.

We’re going to buy a convertible. (Or, if work doesn’t pick up, a basket for my bike.)

Skip ahead about three years to not a letter, but a blog post.

Nancy Drives the Carpool
Paulie Marshall wrote: “Sometimes a person has to go back, really back – to have a sense of understanding of all that’s gone to make them – before they can go forward.”

I’d like to point out that we bought our fifteen passenger van because Alex, husband to Nancy and the most geared headed person we know, recommended the Ford 150 vans. When we were younger and had flocks of children, Nancy drove a 150 and I drove a 350 extended van. And it was great. There were many times when I had my six children, Nancy and her five children and a couple of dogs in the van. We were always noisy, but generally happy.

Nancy’s kids are now all adults and she drives a Mercedes convertible which comfortably seats Nancy and her dog, Sandy. Last week I asked Nancy if she could drive my carpool. Since she works at the school where my girls attend and I knew that her family has a collection of cars in a variety of sizes, didn’t think this would be a problem.

On the given day, Nancy forgot to trade cars with her daughter and she found herself in front of the school folding four teenagers into a car built for two. Taylor sat in front. Natalie, Miranda and Alex squished into the back, sitting, pretty much on top of each other. No one cried and no one died, although I’m sure there was a lot of bouncing and groaning as they rolled over speed bumps.

There’s a lot of life lessons to be learned from this experience.

Even though after one look at Taylor Nancy knew her car was inadequate for the job, she still showed up and did the best she could with humor and grace.

Just like the ducking that occurred when Nancy and crew passed a police car so they wouldn't be cited for clearly breaking the seatbelt law, sometimes you have to keep your head low and try to accomplish what needs to get done without drawing unnecessary attention.

As we get older and pass from one stage of life to the next, it’s easy to forget lessons already learned. As a mom of teenagers and young adults, I sometimes forget about bottles, pacifiers, and the need for large vans.

On the days when my semi-grown children are challenging, I’ll feel nostalgic for the days when they brought me flowers and drew me pictures. They were sweet and my memories of their childhoods are tender, but I also have to remember the tantrums, spilt milk and the carpet that often smelled of vomit and urine.

And then be grateful for the convertibles of this stage of life.

So, what does this collection of stories have to do with saving money on transportation? My point is this—buy the car you need, not necessarily the car you want (honestly, who wants to drive a silver fifteen passenger Ford Econoline? And believe me, I’m not suggesting that everyone goes and buys one—that would be silly and bad for the environment.) Look at what you can afford, what purpose needs to be filled and make your purchase carefully and maybe even prayerfully. And when the time comes and should you lose the rental car keys, think again because maybe your needs are more than you had ever imagined.

Exercise: When buying a car, always check the newspaper ads. Often there are cars advertised “only five at this price”—we always buy one of those five cars. They are the loss liters used to draw in potential buyers. Of course, the dealership hopes that once you are on the lot you’ll be charmed and wooed by the fancier bells and whistles on the sleeker models. But, with the newspaper ad in your hand and a checkbook in your pocket, he has no choice but to sell you the car he advertised. Especially if you’re paying cash.

I know this is contradictory to the standard advice to always buy used. But we tried used and found that cars are a lot like puppies. If you buy one carefully and take very good care of it, it will be a very nice animal for a very long time. Misused cars, misused dogs—well you’re never quite sure what problems you’re inheriting.

So, we buy new but we buy cheap. Often the new cars we buy are less than the listed Kelly Blue Book price—which is particularly helpful when the car is totaled by teenage drivers. This has happened to us twice (which could be a topic for another blog post) and both times our insurance paid us more for the destroyed car than we had paid for the car brand new.

If you love cars—ignore this post. Buy the car of your dreams, if you can afford it. But, if you just need a car that can carry you from place to place without headaches and hiccoughs, buy new, buy cheap and hold your breath when your teenager gets behind the wheel.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

CROSSED and Tortured Teens

A friend gave me Ally Condie’s Crossed to read. After forty pages I put it down and I’m going to try and understand why, not for Mrs. Condie’s benefit—I don’t worry about her, I think she’s a brilliant writer and my little humph I think not will not hurt her career in the slightest—but for my own writer-self. Why do readers put down a book mid-way? Why do viewers abandon a TV show they once loved? I’m sure there’s a zillion answers to these questions, but I’m going to focus on my personal reasons for putting aside Crossed.

I really enjoyed Condie’s MATCHED, but my daughter did not. The prose is lovely, I said. The whole thing is cliché, Natalie responded. And when I thought about it, Natalie was right. One girl, two boys, one approved, one forbidden, the girl loves them both.

I hate love triangles. I know they work for Stephanies Meyer and Plum, but having lived with teenagers for the last fifteen years and having been one once myself, I also know that when the typical teenie is gaga for a boy she doesn’t look right or left. She’s listening for HIS footsteps. She’s waiting for HIS call. Just the scent of HIM puts a spin in her tail. Everybody else is about as important as gum stuck on the bottom of her shoe. Just ask her long suffering and often neglected best friend. (Come on, we all know this! Why do we let young adult authors convince us it can possibly be otherwise?)

And then there’s the evolved society that in its righteous desire to create a utopia went power hungry south. I loved the Hunger Games. I read it in one sitting--didn't eat, sleep and tried not to pee--and when I was done I had to change my shirt because that book made me sweat. And Catching Fire, when I came to the end, made me swear. I barely endured Mockingjay and loved nothing but about the last two pages. I don’t think I’ll ever read another dystopian novel.

And that’s not Mrs. Condie’s fault, because, as I said, I think her prose is lovely, but I just don’t want to read about tortured teenagers. Teenagers torture themselves enough already in real life—I don’t want to read about it for fun. Because for me…it’s just not fun.

And that’s why I put down Allie Condie’s Crossed.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Taxes and Other Legalities--Financial Fridays

Marta and I used to run with our dogs in the canyon. We knew it was a violation of the city’s ordinance, but we did it anyway. We had our reasons.
1. We ran early, often before dawn. If you combined the weight of our three dogs—we had about 300 pounds of fur, muscles and teeth. I’m not exaggerating, my beagle was extremely overweight and one of Marta’s dogs weighed 140 pounds…and she had two. We felt safer with our dogs.
2. Running on the canyon’s dirt path is much better for our joints and innards than running on concrete or cement.
3. We liked running in the canyon.
4. No dogs in the canyon is a very silly ordinance.
We were caught and received fines of $360. Marta paid her fine. I took mine to court.
After listening to complainants whining over their fines for offenses much more grievous than mine, the judge looked at me and said, “It says here that you were walking your dog.”
I launched into my reasons of why I thought it was a ridiculous, not to mention sexist, ordinance and was promptly rewarded with a lecture on how to rally my neighbors and fight an unjust law, a lowering of the fine from $360 to $100 and a drop of the criminal charges.
Years later, Marta divorced and consequently returned to the work force. Our morning runs (now on the concrete sidewalks) ended. Marta called me one day, furious. She had applied for her dream job and had considered her new position a done deal until they sadly told her that they couldn’t hire her because she had a criminal record! (All for walking her dog in the canyon.)
Theresa, a financial analyst, enjoyed a generous salary and regular lunches at a fast food place near her work. One afternoon after ordering her typical meal at her favorite lunch spot, she found that she didn’t have the cash on hand to pay for her lunch. The owner said, “That’s okay, you come here all the time. Just pay me next time.” So, Theresa never went back. She got a free lunch! If she went back, she’d have to pay, so she never did. But, what did she lose? Her ability to look that owner in the eye and all her future lunches at her favorite place.
Clair and Eric hired a young woman to stay with their seven children for a week while they went on a trip to Hawaii. They agreed to pay her, but never established a price. At the end of the week they gave the young woman a muumuu and a box of macadamia nuts. What had their vacation child care cost them? Not much, unless you consider their reputation and the goodwill of the young woman (who never spoke to them again, but spoke about them behind their back plenty.)
Everything has a cost, although not all expenses can be measure by dollars and pennies. A lost friendship. A smeared good name. Freedom from unpaid debts. A sense of integrity. Carefully consider all costs--fiduciary, social and emotional.
So, whether you’re parking illegally, walking your dog, or cheating on your taxes, my advice is DO NOT DO IT. Be honest. Always. Period. Say what you’ll do and then do what you’ve said you would. Make and keep promises. And contracts. And friends.

Exercise 4
Look around your home and heart—is there something there that belongs to someone else? Return it. Replace it. Make amends. Say you’re sorry and let it go. No matter how much money you have, you can’t afford to hold onto anything that doesn’t belong to you.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Cover Critiques Wanted

A few exciting things are happening.

1. I’m crossing the final humphda of my current work in progress. The story that felt as solid as Jello has finally melded into something I love. It goes to an editor in ten days—just enough time for some spit and polish.

2. I got a photo shop program for Christmas and I’m excited to learn how to design my own book covers. This means two things—next month I’ll be publishing not only my new novel A GHOST OF A SECOND CHANCE, but also my short story MAGIC BENEATH THE HUCKLEBERRIES.

3. Next week I’m a part of a massive blog hop and I’m planning on slashing the price of the e-book edition of STEALING MERCY (for a limited time.)

So, here’s my question. Can you tell my novel STEALING MERCY is a romantic suspense from its cover? I love the cover. I loved creating it, BUT would it sell better if it’s cover screamed this is a romaction that will keep you awake at night? Should I redesign the cover before the price slash? (Get a gander of my book on the sidebar.)

Opinions welcome. Thank you.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Letter I Should Have Written

Every Sunday I write a letter to my son, a missionary in Taiwan. This past Sunday, being New Year’s Day, I wrote the letter same as always. I mentioned Nathan’s creation of his music video to the Veggie-Tale’s Cheeseburger Song (which is hysterically funny) but then I yammered on about a disappointing real estate deal which I followed up with a long and boring paragraph on marketing my novel.

That same day, my sister-in-law sent out an e-mail describing all the fun and happy ways their family had celebrated the holidays. Here’s the painful thing—our family had also done more than our fair share of celebrating. We went to the beach, built a bonfire, and roasted hotdogs and marshmallows while the sun set. We sent our children on an elaborate scavenger hunt where they had to sing to strangers, recite the Gettysburg Address and build boats and set them sailing in Rancho’s lake. We played games until our minds turned to mush. We threw firecrackers and lit sparklers. Made and ate sushi. Toasted each other with sparkling cider. Walked every morning in the canyon—a parade of Tate’s--dog, babies, teenagers and grownups. I should have written to Jared about all these things, but I didn’t. Because at the moment when I sat down to write—they weren’t on my mind.

What was I thinking about? The real estate transaction turned sour. The fact that a friend from my writer’s group has sold tens of thousands of her self-published novels in the last seven months compared to my hundreds. Here’s a couple of excerpts from my letter:
About the condo: We’re feeling a little like nothing ever happens despite our best efforts—which might be for the best in the long run, but it’s certainly boring.

About my book: I’m learning marketing and strategy and it’s all very fun if not very profitable…but maybe that’s not the point. If it was, I’m sure I’d be very frustrated with that look at all I do, look at all my effort, and very little happens in return feeling.

Discouragement seeps through my letter and it’s so ridiculous because those disappointments are so heavily outweighed by all the love and laughter of our holiday.Reading Rebecca’s letter reminded me that by not writing down, by not remembering the wonderful things that happen—it’s like they never did. The beach at sunset, the games and laughter, the sparklers in the night sky—those are the realities to be remembered.

Real estate investments, books sales—those are nothing but a numbers game dependent on good fortune and chance and I’d have to have a mind of mush to consider them more important than marshmallows, sparklers and the beach at sunset.