Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Rose Arbor Rose Harbor Connection

I've ignored my blog because I’ve been writing my hinny off. Don’t know what a hinny is? According to Wikipedia:
The word hinny is a term of endearment used in North East England (home to my ancestors) equivalent to honey. A hinny is also domestic equine hybrid that is the offspring of a male horse and a female donkey (called a jenny). Kind of makes you rethink the name Jennifer.

Here’s why I’ve been writing my hinny off. (This is a long, rather unbelievable story, so you might want to stop reading or go and get something to drink before I start.) More than a year ago I finished writing a young adult novel that I really loved. I had every intention of making it into a trilogy. I loved my idea, loved the concept, but the problem was every time I sat down to write the second book I lost my enthusiasm. I didn’t want to write young adult fiction. Don’t get me wrong, I love teenagers. I have lived in what I call a house of hormones for more than fifteen years, meaning that I’ve parented teenagers for more than fifteen years.

And what have I learned?
I’m not hip.

I don’t want to be hip and I don’t want to try and be hip. Oh sure, I sometimes wear my daughter’s clothes, but that’s strictly a vanity thing, or a laundry thing. So, I was in a quandary. Since this was before I had decided to self publish, I thought I had to brand myself as genre specific author and I knew I didn’t want to write Romance, Mystery, Fantasy, Young Adult or Literary. What to do? I knew I wanted to write and that’s about all I knew. So I did what all Mormons have been taught to do.

I went to the temple fasting while there I got the distinct impression I needed to write like Debbie Macomber. A very clear answer to my prayer, but I wasn’t very happy.

I’ve heard Debbie Macomber speak twice. She’s an amazing, inspiring speaker, but I hadn’t read one of her bazillion books since high school. Debbie was one of the Harlequin authors that my mother read. Before my mother’s death she kept a large box of romance novels beside her bed and she didn’t know it, but I read all the books in that box, including Debbie Macomber’s. I hadn’t picked up a Debbie Macomber novel in years, but on my way home from the temple I stopped by Walmart and picked up two of her books. After reading them I decided that maybe God really had heard and answered my prayer.

So, like Debbie Macomber’s Blossom Street or Cedar Cover series, I created a small Pacific Northwestern  series that I patterned after my own home town of Arlington, Washington. I named my series and the town Rose Arbor. Although my contemporary character Bette in STEALING MERCY (published July 2011) lived in Rose Arbor, my first official Rose Arbor book is A GHOST OF A SECOND CHANCE because the bulk of STEALING MERCY (published March 2012) takes place in 1889 Seattle, about 30 years before the town of Rose Arbor, AKA Arlington, was established. While I was drafting A GHOST OF A SECOND CHANCE I was simultaneously rewriting a novel I began in 2004, THE RHYME’S LIBRARY, my soon to be second Rose Arbor book. I threw in some of my Rose Arbor characters and life was good. I began drafting my third Rose Arbor novel LOSING PENNY shortly after I published A GHOST OF A SECOND CHANCE and I loved it because I got to reform bad boyfriend Drake. And since THE RHYME’S LIBRARY has a sequel I had started and never finished, I have five finished or nearly finished Rose Arbor books.

And writing-wise, everything was beyond peachy until I read the Debbie Macomber newsletter announcing her new Rose Harbor series. Her first Rose Harbor book will be available mid August. The difference in our series titles is one letter. Literally shaking, I called my husband with the devastating news.

Well, it’s not like her stories take place in a small Washington town, he said.
Oh, but they do. They do, I told him.

The thought of rewriting and making new covers for my books overwhelms me so I’m not going to do it. I can’t. If I wasn’t so far along in my series I would have, but now my simple goal is to have three Rose Arbor books published before Debbie Macomber has even published one.

Today I sent THE RHYME’S LIBRARY to the editor. Soon I hope to have LOSING PENNY ready for beta readers. Which means that very soon I can stop writing  and start sitting on my hinny.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


I just typed the final sentence of Losing Penny. I love this story.

My novel The Rhyme’s Library is in the sweaty hands of my beta readers. I love them for reading this book. It has a date with the editor next week. I don’t love this story. It began in 2004 when my babies started kindergarten—the year I put aside all excuses and devoted myself to daily writing. Today is the last day of my babies’ junior year of high school. Yeah, it’s been that long. And that’s okay.

A million and one things have happened since I began The Rhyme’s Library. My children grew up, most of them have graduated from high school, two have college degrees and one has a doctorate. Two missionaries. One death. Two weddings. Two grandbabies. Scholarships. Trophies. A job change.

I took too many writing classes and workshops to count. I won awards in writing competitions and I was invited to a writing workshop in New York. I joined an amazing writing group and I found two extraordinarily talented critique partners.

And the story went through changes, too. When I started the book, I wanted to be Elizabeth George, and my style reflected her dark writing. Its title changed from A Basement in Harmony, to A Library in Rhyme, to The Rhyme’s Library. Blair, my main character, used to be Claris. The town of Rose Arbor, used to be Harmony and then Rhyme. I worked on The Library for three years and then put it in a drawer for five years. The one thing that didn’t change much at all was Drake—Blair’s bad boyfriend.

I’m not sure what made me resurrect Drake and make him the hero of Losing Penny—my eighth completed novel that I wrote in five months. (I’m getting faster! Although, I don’t think I’ll ever be very fast.) I guess I fell in love with Drake and couldn’t leave him so wretched and pathetic as he was in the ending of The Rhyme’s Library. He’s definitely a flawed hero, while Penny is practically perfect. And Richard? He has to die. So sad.

I hope to have both The Rhyme's Library and Losing Penny published this summer and I’ve told myself that I won’t start another book until September. I’m devoting July to editing and marketing. Yawn. And August will be busy and full of family and vacations. So I absolutely can’t start on Rose’s story until school starts again—my babies’ senior year of high school—even though Richard’s death is worrying me…Maybe I’m more Elizabeth George than I thought. (I wish.)

Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

From Arlington, AKA Rose Arbor

When I began The Rhyme's Library, this was the house in my head. It's the old Ellis's house on Becky Avenue, just down the street from my dad's house. Lindie and Suzie Ellis, twins, were often my babysitters. I find it a little coincidental that Lindie died of an aggressive form of Alzheimer at age 57 and my character Charlotte also suffered from a mental illness.

Here's a picture from downtown Arlington, the town I've fictionalized for my Rose Arbor series. This is the clock in Legion Park, just beyond it is the gazebo where Laine and Bette sit eating apple fritters in A GHOST OF A SECOND CHANCE. Sadly, one of my favorite Arlingont shops has disappeared--the bakery.
I also liked this house on Macloud Street. I like the weird shadow in the window. Of the  house pictures--which do you think would make the best cover for THE RHYME'S LIBRARY? (It's a mystery.)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Love After Death

My parents bought their home on East Fifth Street in Arlington before I joined their family. It’s the only family home, other than the one I created with my husband, I’ve ever known. I lived there for eighteen years—until I went away to college. My dad still lives there. More than twenty years ago my husband and I moved to Rancho, so even though I have lived in Rancho longer than I lived in Arlington, almost all of my nightly dreams take place in at my dad’s house.

Two weeks ago my son, Nathan—the whiz kid who helped me create Eclectic Books—married Shirley Tyler in Logan, Utah. My healthy and robust ninety-one year old dad and my memory impaired stepmother drove from Arlington, Washington to Salt Lake City to attend the wedding. 882 miles—1164 miles round trip. My dad has been in and out of the hospital ever since.

The sad, but undeniable truth is my dad, while mentally healthy, can no longer physically take care of my memory impaired stepmother. She’s a pistol and a handful for even a healthy person. You can get mad at her, scold her and five minutes later she’s forgotten the incident. She doesn’t have the sense of a puppy.

I promised heaven and told my husband that IF my income (selling books) exceeds his and IF my dad is still alive next year after my girls graduate from high school (because even though I love my dad, I’d never steal my girl’s senior year of high school, not to mention that between the two combined families my parents have eleven children who can care for them—it’s not just me, thank heavens) that we will move to Washington. We can rent out our house in Rancho, buy a tiny house on a lake in Washington, fix it up and I can write books and make dinner for my parents every night. My husband laughed (he has a very nice income) and I’m sure heaven did to. But the thought has been lodged in my head for my head for the last few days.

I went to the store yesterday and stopped and chatted with my neighbor, Jenny, and thought—if I went to the store in Arlington, Jenny won’t be there. Last night we went to dinner at a new waffle place in town and I saw my writing partner, Melanie, the Taylor family and Beth and Dave Green. At the temple I spoke with the Lisa, Andre, Kelly, Bobby, Brandon, Linda, Mike, Lynette, Diane and Ed. We met friends at the restaurant that night. This morning on Facebook I saw I had a message from Rancho’s mayor—I wonder if I even know the mayor of Arlington. Probably not.

Today I’m flying to Washington. To a place I’ve always considered home. And I realize I’m lucky I have two homes to love. And I still have my parents. I am lucky in love. And if I can sell enough books to make a move to Arlington financially feasible—well, that won’t be luck. That will be heaven laughing at me.

In my book A Ghost of a Second Chance, Laine Colllins, recently separated from her husband, is confronted by her grandmother’s ghost, Madeleine, who has come to escort Laine’s recently deceased grandfather, Sid, to his next life. The problem? The body lying in Sid’s casket is not Sid and Madeleine needs Laine’s help to find him. As Laine and Madeleine search churches and mortuaries for the missing Sid, Laine is forced to face the question—can love live even after it has died? (Right now I'm participating in a Booklover's Buffet where all the books, including A Ghost of a Second Chance, are only .99 cents

Thirty-five years ago I lost my mother. I worry that I’m about to lose my father. But just like Arlington has changed from the tiny, sleepy dairy farming community with a population of 5,000 to a bedroom community of Seattle and Rancho—good heavens, when we moved to Rancho we had coyotes roaming the streets and the lake and library where figments of our imaginations. People and places change—but love stays. Even after death. Henry Van Dyke said it best.

“I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white
sails to the morning breeze and starts
for the blue ocean.

She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until at length
she hangs like a speck of white cloud
just where the sea and sky come
to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says;
"There, she is gone!"

"Gone where?"
Gone from my sight. That is all.
She is just as large in mast and hull
and spar as she was when she left my side
and she is just as able to bear her
load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her.

And just at the moment when someone
at my side says, "There, she is gone!"
There are other eyes watching her coming,
and other voices ready to take up the glad
"Here she comes!"
And that is dying.

And just like today I’ll get on a plane and my family won’t see me for awhile, someday I’ll close my eyes forever and my family won’t see me for awhile. But that doesn’t mean I’ll love them any less. It just means they won’t see me, the me that makes my body me—because they could preserve my body—shudder—but my body is not me, for a short (compared to eternity) time.

This is what I believe about love and death. What do you believe?

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Flow versus the Trance

When I was a teenager, my friend Desiree would come to pick me up for school each morning, bringing a collection of stuff (books, jacket, lunch sack). Unfortunately, Desiree’s arrival coincided with my stepmother’s chores. Des would leave her things on the kitchen table, join me in my room and when we were perfectly primped and ready to go—Des’ books would be gone.
Me—Marie, have you seen Des’s books.
This happened repeatedly, until one day—we laid a trap and spied. Yep, Marie moved the things—but she didn’t remember moving them.

Have you ever noticed that you can drive to work on autopilot—your hands moving the steering wheel, your foot pumping the gas or pressing the brake—while your mind is completely engaged elsewhere? A mental conversation, a daydream, a story to tell—all more interesting than the drive you make hundreds of times a year. I do this nearly every day when I run. My body is moving, but not nearly as fast as my mind.

This trance-like state isn’t to be confused with what is called The Flow. The Flow happens when an athlete is completely absorbed in his game,  a musician is “rocking out” or an actor has become his character.

Sometimes, when I’m lucky, I’m in The Flow with my writing. There have been times when I’ve stumbled away from the computer after a long writing session, only to find that the temperature in my room has risen to a hundred and ten degrees and I didn’t even notice. But just because I’m thinking about my book and not about the road doesn’t mean I get to run red lights. 

Once while writing at the Mission Viejo library, I turned off my laptop, stood up, only to suddenly realize that a person on the other side of the glass partition, not more than eight feet away, must have had some sort of collapse. Paramedics, a gurney, and a crowd of about forty people filled the tiny room. When I left the library, I passed an ambulance pulled up to the curb, lights flashing. I don’t know how I missed all of this, but I’ve since taken it as a life lesson. I never want to be so caught up in my own private world that I can’t recognize and help someone in need.