How Carving a Pumpkin Can Change Your Life

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Yes, it’s true.  Carving a pumpkin can truly change your life.  Especially if you’re using a really sharp knife and it slips…

But seriously.  I spent some rather unproductive time last night attempting to create a pumpkin masterpiece.  Now, we ALL know I have no artistic ability whatsoever.  I can draw neither a straight nor curvy line, cannot paint, cannot sculpt, and am not in any other way artsy or craftsy.  I wasn’t only a pariah in gym class… art class was my second least favorite subject.

And yet, as Halloween is my favorite holiday, each year I desire to create that perfect, most sincere Jack-O-Lantern.  In my mind, I am imagining this:

awesome-jack-o-lantern

And each year, I pretty much end up with something like this.

ugly-jack-o-lantern

This year, I finally figured out how it happens.  It’s all about revision.  Yes, there, I said it.  A dirty little writer word.  See, what happens is that I keep feeling unsatisfied, so I keep trimming and deleting and refining and modifying, until… well, it’s like cutting your own bangs, isn’t it?  You want them to be even, but you’re not a professional stylist, so you keep making tiny adjustments when you find they’re not quite right on that one side and then you look in the mirror and you find you’ve got this:

bad-bangs

Yeah.  Stories, bangs, pumpkins, it’s all the same.  And it doesn’t stop there.  For me, anyway, since nothing is ever perfect, and I’m one of those people who need to fix/manage/control my world, I try to tweak everything.  Constantly.  Like, to death.

So I’m trying to teach an old dog a new trick.  Maybe, just maybe, my crappy pumpkin carving, while still probably crappy, is okay.  Maybe the heart and soul that I put into it will trump my relatively paltry skill at carving.  Maybe, by practicing pumpkin carving every day in the weeks running up to Halloween I’ll improve my skill.  Or maybe, just maybe, I need to learn to let what I create be whatever it is and be satisfied with it, knowing that I am my own worst critic and that it probably isn’t anywhere near as bad as I think it is.  (Although in the case of pumpkins, I might have to accept reality… )

I mean, yes, we always want to improve and that’s not a bad thing.  But if we’ve tried our best, constant cutting and trimming and correcting may just end up destroying what we set out to create.  Not just in art, not just in writing, not just in pumpkin carving, but in everything.

So this year, I’m going to go buy another pumpkin.  And I’m going to carve it the best I am currently able.  I’ll even post pictures.  It might not be a masterpiece, but I guarantee it will be sincere enough to make the Great Pumpkin happy.  And for once, this year, I will be too!

Illegitimi non carborundum!

A Pithy Quote for the Day

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I was reading a blog by Maria Popova, who was quoting Ann Patchett from her memoir.  It rang so true for me, as a writer, I had to share it.  You can read the full blog post here: BrainPickings, and I highly recommend reading Ann Patchett’s book (available at Amazon here: This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage).

“For me it’s like this: I make up a novel in my head (there will be more about this later). This is the happiest time in the arc of my writing process. The book is my invisible friend, omnipresent, evolving, thrilling… This book I have not yet written one word of is a thing of indescribable beauty, unpredictable in its patterns, piercing in its color, so wild and loyal in its nature that my love for this book, and my faith in it as I track its lazy flight, is the single perfect joy in my life. It is the greatest novel in the history of literature, and I have thought it up, and all I have to do is put it down on paper and then everyone can see this beauty that I see.

And so I do. When I can’t think of another stall, when putting it off has actually become more painful than doing it, I reach up and pluck the butterfly from the air. I take it from the region of my head and I press it down against my desk, and there, with my own hand, I kill it. It’s not that I want to kill it, but it’s the only way I can get something that is so three-dimensional onto the flat page. Just to make sure the job is done I stick it into place with a pin. Imagine running over a butterfly with an SUV. Everything that was beautiful about this living thing — all the color, the light and movement — is gone. What I’m left with is the dry husk of my friend, the broken body chipped, dismantled, and poorly reassembled. Dead. That’s my book.

The journey from the head to hand is perilous and lined with bodies. It is the road on which nearly everyone who wants to write — and many of the people who do write — get lost… Only a few of us are going to be willing to break our own hearts by trading in the living beauty of imagination for the stark disappointment of words.”  Ann Patchett, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage

Illegitimi non carborundum!

New Cover!!

Book 1 in the Ellie Gooden series has a new cover!  It’s not up yet on Amazon, but I wanted to give readers a sneak peak!  The cover was done by a wonderful artist named Raven Blackburn.  I cannot thank her enough for bringing my characters and my series to life!  Check it out!  And stay tuned.  Book 2 in the series will be out by July!  If you think Ellie was in trouble in the first book, wait till you read Book 2!

Illegitimi non carborundum!

Nan

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Q & A with Nan Sampson

 

Fellow writer and voracious reader Cloe Marrie from Cloe Marrie’s Reads interviewed me the other day.  It was a ton of fun!  Thanks, Cloe!

 

For the record, please state your name. Nan Sampson   Do you do book tours? Not yet.  I’ve done some fun FB promotions, and will be scheduling my first in-person book signing this…

Source: Q & A with Nan Sampson

Brain to Books Cyber Convention Author Interview – Nan Sampson

Fun little interview I did during the recent Brain to Books CyberCon.  Forgive the corny jokes and puns – or feel free to enjoy them!  I know I did!  And be sure to check out Rebekah’s blog.  It’s a hoot!

 

Car here. This is a series of interviews I’m doing for my author, Rebekah Webb, for the participants of the 2016 Brain to Books Cyber Convention. ( Since I only interview inanimate objects, I…

Source: Brain to Books Cyber Convention Author Interview – Nan Sampson

A Character Interview with Ellie Gooden – the Protagonist in the Ellie Gooden Mysteries

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Some fun for you all today!  I present to you an interactive character interview with my heroine from the Ellie Gooden mysteries, conducted by amazing author and interviewer extraordinaire, Kelly Blanchard.  If you like what you see here, make sure you check out her website, Meeting With The Muse  where you can find both Author Interviews and Character Interviews in this unique and entertaining interactive style.  Shameless plug:  an interview with moi is there, along with an interview with one of my favorite villains too!

Now, without further ado, I give you Ellie Gooden.  This conversation actually takes place right smack dab in the middle of Office Heretics, the NEW Ellie Gooden mystery, coming to bookshelves everywhere in April!

Ellie paced behind the counter of her coffee shop, brimming with frustration. She didn’t understand why the Author wanted her to speak with this “interviewer”, especially when it meant calling her back to Horizon while she was in the middle of dealing with Lacey’s death in Chicago. Maybe the Author thought it would get her some free publicity for her shop, but even though Ellie knew that was a good thing, she didn’t like people asking her questions. Invariably the topic of her parents’ unsolved murders came up, no matter how off-topic she declared the subject to be. And those were questions she just wouldn’t answer.

She could tell her anxiety was ratcheting up when she found herself polishing the stainless steel espresso machine for the fourth time. Everything in the shop gleamed – Marg hadn’t started baking for the day, so even the kitchen was spic and span. Ellie couldn’t – nor wouldn’t – hide a smile of pride as she looked around her at the place she had created. The Sacred Caff was more than she had ever hoped it would be. And now, after almost a year after opening her doors, she was finally in the black too.

The red and black lacquered ice cream tables, with matching wrought iron chairs, the tessellated tile floor, and of course the various black and white cow=themed knick-knacks gave the place warmth and charm. Her eyes flicked up to the kitschy cow-shaped clock over the swinging doors to the kitchen. Five minutes to go until this woman the Author had mentioned would be coming by. What did she want? Why was it so important to speak to her? And just how uncomfortable would she make Ellie feel?

She blew out a breath as she waited. She hated waiting.

Kelly stepped through the front door of the coffee shop and looked around, taking in her surroundings. She noted the woman behind the counter and nodded to her as she continued to glimpse around while approaching the counter. Finally, Kelly came to the counter and smiled at Ellie. “Hi, I’m Kelly Blanchard–here to interview Ellie Gooden. Is that you?”

Ellie put on her best corporate smile and stretched out a hand. “Hi yes, I’m Ellie. So nice to meet you.” She gestured at the menu board behind her. “May I get you something? Coffee? Tea? We’ve got some amazing Cranberry maple orange scones leftover from yesterday.”

“Do you have hot chocolate by any chance? And thank you for meeting me. I love this place. Very lovely.” Kelly glanced around once more before setting her gaze on Ellie again, smiling. “What made you come here and open this shop?”

“One hot chocolate coming up. It’s made with fresh milk from our very own organic dairy. You should take a tour up there while you’re in town.” Ellie busied herself getting the milk chocolate ready, then returned with one of her signature cow-shaped mugs. “As for here…” she smiled. “I got sick and tired of the corporate rat race. I used to be in marketing, in Chicago. I looked at a lot of places but Horizon has a certain charm. The people are great, the scenery is beautiful, and I’ve always liked the idea of running something. Calling something my own. Being able to call the shots, and do something that makes people happy too.” She frowned briefly. Why had she said all that? She hadn’t meant to. No one had ever called Ellie a chatter box and here she was babbling away. She shook her head, smiled another corporate smile at the woman again.

Kelly accepted the hot chocolate with a thanks and listened as Ellie spoke. “Well, I like it. It suits you, and I’m sure things are quiet here in Horizon.” Then Kelly paused, pondering her next question before speaking again, “You said you came from Chicago, marketing. Were you born and raised in Chicago? And did you go into marketing because that was your dream, or because you were just good at it?”

Ellie leaned against the counter. “I’m from the Chicago area. I was born and raised in a small suburb northwest of the city called Crystal Lake. I’m sure you wouldn’t have heard of it. A nice place to grow up. My dad was a college professor – economics, and my mom did… well, all kinds of stuff. Real estate, managed the offices of a friend who was a doctor… she liked to change things up, I guess.” She wiped at a spot on the counter. “As for marketing – I don’t really know. I guess because I was good at it. I knew I needed to earn a living and after college, I was having trouble finding a job and a friend of mine got me a position at a marketing firm in the city. Things just kind of rolled on from there.” She looked out the front window, at the sparse foot traffic. It was too cold for tourists today. “I guess it was just easier to stay than to try to leave.”

“What would you have done if you left?” Kelly wrapped her hands around the warm mug and sipped on her drink.

“Well my degree was in art history.” She gave a chuckle. “Yeah, I know, whatever possessed me, right?” Clasping her hands together, she studied her nails. “I thought about applying at the Art Institute a couple of times, but early on I just didn’t have the confidence. I just didn’t believe I could beat out other candidates. No one who knows me know believes how insecure I was then – I’ve grown a lot and being in marketing helped me do that. It might have been nice to have a job where all I had to do was immerse myself in a bunch of old paintings.” She inhaled, gave a little shrug. “But that was a million years ago. I’m really happy now, with this. My dad would be…” Her voice caught and she swallowed quickly, cleared her throat. “Can I get you a refill?”

“Oh, I’m good, thank you.” Kelly shook her head, but she had caught what Ellie almost said and decided to press it a bit. “Was your dad an artist or marketer as well?”

Ellie glanced up sharply. “My dad? No. He taught economics at the local college. Almost every dinner included some discussion about so-and-so’s new theory of the free market or the rise of Chinese capitalism or what the Fed was doing wrong. Most of it went over my head. If he had an artistic bone in his body, I never saw it.” She stopped abruptly. She hadn’t meant to sound critical. She’d loved her father dearly. “Not that he was a bore. He was a great guy. Just not an artist.”

Right. Kelly had forgotten what Ellie said earlier about her father working with economics. However, Kelly also saw how defensive Ellie got when speaking about her dad, and she assumed it was because of what happened to her parents. Kelly wasn’t ready to bring that up yet. “Then I assume you weren’t close to your father. What about your mother?”

“My mom?” In her mind’s eye, she could see her mother’s smile, the way her whole face lit up and the corners of her eyes crinkled. “Mom was a force of nature. If you wanted something done, something organized, mom was the person you got on board. She would have made Alexander the Great look like a slacker. But she wasn’t overbearing or bossy. Just knew how to motivate folks towards a cause.” Ellie chuckled. “Even cleaning a messy room.” She looked down at her short nails. She’d finally stopped biting them, after almost a year and a half. Now, answering these questions, the urge to start chewing at a rough edge was almost overwhelming. Instead, she picked up her cleaning cloth and brushed at the counter. “So would you like a tour of the shop?”

“Sure thing.” Kelly nodded, stepping away from the counter. “So what happened to your parents? You speak of them in past tense.”

Ellie guided Kelly behind the counter and into the kitchen. “This is where the real magic happens. I have a woman, Marg, who does our baking. She is a genius with dough, despite being the messiest cook I’ve ever seen.” She leaned back against one of the spotless counters. “But she can also clean like the devil when the day is done, to keep the health inspectors happy. I’ll pack you up a selection of treats before you leave, so you can sample the wares. They’re definitely worth a mention in your write-up.”

She glanced at the woman, who was watching her intently. Ellie knew, with that sixth sense, that she was waiting for an answer to her question. “My parents are dead. An… accident.” There. Please, let it end there.

Kelly stopped and stared at Ellie. “You hesitated. It wasn’t an accident, was it? Were you there?” She asked softly because she could sense Ellie’s guard being very tense.

Ellie took a ragged breath. Why? Why did this woman have to dig? Why was this always what people wanted to know about? People were such ghouls. “No, it wasn’t an accident. They were killed by an intruder. No, I wasn’t there, but I was the one who found them, afterwards.” if it wasn’t for the Author, Ellie would have ended the interview there and escorted the woman to the door. But she knew she had no choice. The Author had said to answer all questions put to her.

“I’m sorry to bring up such painful memories.” At least Ellie had acknowledged what had happened, so Kelly decided to change the subject a bit. “What’s your favorite memory of your dad?”

Ellie relaxed a little. She didn’t like to talk about herself, but at least this was something happy. “I think that would have to be the time he and I went backpacking through the Smokies. Mom didn’t want to go – she liked her nature all neat and confined to garden beds. It was the summer of my sophomore year of high school and dad was itching to show me part of what he called his stomping grounds – the backwoods where he’d spent most of his childhood summers. We had the most amazing week together.” She smiled. “Amazingly dirty, smelly and sweaty. But amazing nonetheless. Hiking during the day where we saw all kinds of wildlife and then sitting around the campfire at night, watching the stars. And he told me so much about his growing up, things he’d never shared before.” Tears sprang to her eyes and she hurriedly wiped them away. She didn’t cry anymore. And especially not in front of strangers.

Kelly smiled softly at the memory and looked back down at the mug in her hand as Ellie wiped away her tears. Glancing back up, Kelly then asked, “And what’s your favorite memory of your mother?”

“Mom? Gosh… I don’t know. I guess if I had to choose, I think it would be the Christmas me and Dad got her the army of garden gnomes for her garden. I think I was 13 or so. Dad woke me up at four in the morning and we hauled 15 garden gnomes, all different, out of where he’d hidden them in the shed.  We tramped through a foot of snow in the back yard and positioned them all around her garden beds. In the dark! When we led her out later that morning to show her, it was like the sun had come out from behind the clouds. She was so happy. She grinned for days. She even named them all – and whenever I’d help her weed, she’d make me talk to them and address them by name when I had to pick them up to dig out something underneath them.” She laughed. “It was ridiculous. But that was mom.”

“That’s pretty awesome, and I’m sorry for your loss. Nothing can replace your parents.” Kelly began meandering around the shop now, looking at different things as she considered her next question. It might be hard for Ellie to talk about, but Kelly needed to ask, so she looked up at Ellie. “I hear you also lost your friend Lacey recently–killed, and you’re trying to figure out who killed her.” Kelly set the mug on the counter and turned to face Ellie once more. “How is that coming along?”

A shock ran through her, almost like a physical blow. How had she.. and then she remembered. The Author. She clenched her jaw, as she thought about the cops. “It’s… it’s a mess. The cops, in typical cop fashion, are convinced it was nothing more than a mugging. They’re useless. They were useless when my parents were killed and they’re useless now, no matter what Charlie thinks. They won’t even consider another solution – and clearly it was no random mugging.” She glanced up at the woman, daring her to contradict her. “Lacey told me someone was trying to kill her. She knew.”

As if on cue, she felt the air grow chill around her, as though Lacey’s spirit intruded onto the physical plane. The angry, biting force of the woman’s personality swirled around Ellie, goading her on. Ellie pulled her energy in around herself and pushed Lacey back. Not now, she thought at the ghost.

“I know it sounds like an episode of Murder She Wrote, but Lacey asked me for help, and the cops won’t do anything, so it’s up to me to figure it out.”

“So what have you learned? I’m with you. If Lacey knew someone was trying to kill her and then she shows up dead…I don’t get what it looks like, it’s likely a murder with someone covering their tracks. So…what do you have?” Kelly lifted her brows as she turned completely to face Ellie and watch her.

“Other than one very pissed off Lacey? Not much. Kate and I talked to her co-workers. I guess it wasn’t surprising that folks didn’t like Lacey much. She was ambitious, manipulative, and not above stepping on others to get what she wanted, like that promotion she just earned. But none of that seems like something someone would kill over. Still, I won’t give up. I’m going to keep digging. I need to search her condo – maybe there’s something there.” She sighed. “Something has to turn up.”

“It takes a lot to want to kill someone–more than simple dislike of someone. There has to be motive. The same thing with your parents’ murder. Personally, I can’t help but wonder if there’s some kind of connection there, but…that’s just me being a Muse.” Kelly shrugged “Now, you mentioned Charlie. Is he helping you with this case?”

Ellie rolled her eyes. “Charlie. Gods above. Yes, he’s helping. He actually got us a copy of the coroner’’s report, which I know was breaking a few rules. We’d never have gotten it otherwise and I’m very grateful…” She trailed off. Indebted more like and she so didn’t want to be indebted to Charlie McCallum.

“But there’s something more there….between you and Charlie.” A small smile wiggled across Kelly’s face. At the look Ellie gave her, Kelly laughed, and then she shrugged. “You ask so…loathsome of him, but usually that just means the reverse is true.” Kelly sat at a table and set her chin in her palm as she looked up at Ellie and smiled. “So tell me about Charlie. What’s he like?”

“He’s infuriating, that’s what he’s like. He’s a know-it-all, and smug about it. Plus… plus he’s just so… bouncy. The eternal optimist. It grates on the nerves, that perpetual Peter Pan grin. Everyone thinks he’s cute, like a little puppy dog. They’d pat him on the head and scratch behind his ears if they could. He never plays by the rules, he can’t hold down a job, he mooches off Kate without a second thought. Like, right now, he got evicted from his apartment because he couldn’t pay the rent, so he’s living in Kate’s basement. Rent free!” She gritted her teeth. “I never thought I’d agree with Kate’s husband, Dan, about anything, but when Dan says his little brother needs to grow up, he’s right!”

“Oh, he sounds like a typical guy, but due to his ‘never plays by the rules’ attitude, I think he’s just the guy you need working with you because, as you said, he already got you a report you wouldn’t have otherwise,” Kelly pointed out then folded her arms on the table and drummed her fingers. “Okay, so you grew up with Lacey and Kate, right? And Kate’s Charlie’s sister, so you’ve known Charlie for a long time too. Why is Charlie helping you with this though?” She furrowed her brows. “Out of everyone, why do you allow him to help you?”

She opened her mouth to speak, then closed it. Why, indeed? “I guess the truth is, because I need him. Because he believes that Lacey’s death was a deliberate murder. And because…” She looked behind her aggravation, behind the way he made her want to choke him. “Oh fine. He’s got my back. He has this way of worming his way into things. He saved my life last spring so I guess, despite the fact that he drives me crazy, I trust him. I can’t say that about too many people.”

“Okay, so…do you ever suspect though there’s a tie-in with your parents unsolved murder and now Lacey’s murder?” Kelly glanced up at Ellie. “I mean, most people may experience the violent death of a loved one at least *only* once–ever! But with you, it’s two separate occasions but three people. Have you ever thought about that?”

Ellie frowned, then shook her head. “As much as I hate to admit it, I think the cops were right about my folks. There were at least assailants, possibly three. The cops think they were drug addicts, looking for money. They may even have been acquainted with my dad from the college. They cleaned out everything of value in the house after… after they killed my parents. And the…the way the killed them. Only someone strung out on drugs could have done what they did. No normal person could have…” She shook her head again, wishing the image of her parent’s bodies could be erased from her mind. “Death just seems to follow me around. You might have read about it already, but last spring, just before the grand opening of the shop, I discovered the former owner of the building dead in my kitchen.” She shivered. “He’d been murdered too.” She looked up at Kelly. “Maybe I AM Jessica Fletcher! Horizon’s very own harbinger of murder!” She gave a nervous laugh.

“Have you ever looked into your own contacts and people you’ve worked with or anything? Because, I mean all of this could be totally random, and Death could just follow you as you say, or maybe someone’s targeting you…to hurt you or to scare you.” Kelly shrugged. She was certain she was way off base with this one, but if it had been her, she’d do that research just to be safe. “As for Lacey’s murder, do you have any suspects or anything to work with?”

Why hadn’t she thought of that? “I guess maybe I’ve been trying so hard not to think about what happened with my folks that that never occurred to me. Maybe that’s something Charlie could help with.” She shrugged. Defintely something to think about – especially once the thing with Lacey was put to bed. “As for Lacey, I’m not sure. I keep getting a feeling about her boss. But other than that, I really don’t know. He just gave her a big promotion – why would he want to kill her? There’s a big piece missing,, I just need to keep digging until I find it. I’m hoping searching Lacey’s condo will give me some answers. She took all the time to call me, to tell me someone was targeting her. Maybe she left me some other clues. A nice big letter laying out everything in detail would be nice.” She looked atKelly and grinned. “But something tells me it won’t be that easy. Lacey had a bit of a paranoid streak. And she liked to play games.”

“I can see this being another game…even if she didn’t invent her own murder. Whoever killed her may not even be aware it’s all part of a game. She’s still playing, and the good news is she thinks you can win.” Kelly smiled at Ellie. “If she didn’t think that, she wouldn’t have called you mentioning the threat to her life. If I were you, I’d dig more into your past with her, and yes, dig into her work, people there, and everything. If she liked to play games, she likely played the wrong person once, and you need to figure out who that is.” Then Kelly glanced at the clock on the wall and sighed as she rose to her feet. “It’s about time for me to leave though, but thanks for taking the time to chat with me. Remember though, with Lacey, I bet it’s someone who also plays games and didn’t like being played by Lacey. And I hope you the best in regards to solving it.”

Ellie stood. “Um.. thanks. That’s good advice. But here, before you go, let me get you some treats for the road.” This was certainly the strangest interview she’d ever been part of, she thought, as she packaged up some scones and other pastries into a box. Handing the goodies to Kelly, she met the woman’s eyes. “I guessing this interview won’t be appearing in any newspapers, will it?”

“No, it won’t.” Kelly shook her head. “I’m not *that* kind of interview, so everything you said to me will remain between us. Don’t worry. But hey, I’m more than willing to promote your shop and send people your way. It’s quite a lovely place!” Kelly grinned. “And thanks for the treats. You have a good day, Ellie. And don’t give Charlie too difficult of a time.” With a wink, Kelly left the shop.

Hope you enjoyed that!  Character Interviews with Kelly are wicked fun!  And be sure to check out Restless Natives – An Ellie Gooden Mystery on Amazon.  Plus… coming soon (end of May) will be Book 2 in the series, the book who’s events are described in this interview!  Be on the look out for Office Heretics soon!  Thanks!

Illegitimi noncarborundum!

All Who Miss Their Turn Are Not Lost

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Fog

I had a very strange experience this morning.  I was driving to work in the fog, down a road lined with corn fields, and suddenly nothing looked familiar.  I couldn’t see any identifying landmarks and even though I have driven down this road hundreds, if not thousands, of times, I had no idea where I was.  I wasn’t even sure if I had inadvertently somehow made a wrong turn somewhere without realizing it.  It was, for that split second, very frightening.

Of course, moments later, I saw the dim outline of the big barn that marked Galligan Road, where I turn.  A sense of relief flooded through me.  All returned to normal.

But that moment of doubt, that sudden panic, got me thinking.

When we have those moments in life, what keeps us going?  Some would answer faith, some would say it is their certainty that they are on the right path.  There really is no right answer – just whatever it is that keeps you moving forward.  For me, what it amounts to is Hope.  Yes, with a capital letter.

When I am lost, turned around, flailing, it is the Hope that I will once again find my way, get back on track, solve the problem, that keeps me from throwing up my hands and sitting down in the dirt to cry.  Okay, I still cry, I just don’t give up.  For me, with Hope comes Possibility.  It is possible, I say, that my turn is right up ahead, somewhere in the fog, even though I can’t see it.  It is also possible that maybe that isn’t my usual turn, but will get me where I need to go.  In fact, it’s possible that although it isn’t my usual turn, and might not get me where I originally set out to go, I might actually end up someplace even better!  Without Hope, I would never see the possibilities.  I would drive on, hell-bent for leather in a panic, laser-beam focused on locating the route I see in my memory but now unrecognizable in the fog, effectively blind to that little side road to Shangri-la hidden in the fog.

So yes.  Hope.  Possibilities.  These are my life preservers.

I fill my writing with Hope.  I like happy endings.  There may be disappointment, devastation, grief, sorrow, pain, challenges and villains, but in the end, there must be a sense of peace.  A kernel of goodness.  The Hope that no matter what, Love, with a capital L, not just the romantic kind, remains.

My nickname at work is Pollyanna.

Pollyanna

Any of you remember that film?  The Disney one with Hayley Mills?  The nickname is often not meant as a compliment, implying that I’m somehow impossibly naive or unrealistic, but I choose to take it as one.  I am not always cheerful – that would just get annoying – but I am curiously optimistic about life, the future, our species, the planet.  I apparently have an overabundance of Hope.  So on this chilly, foggy, gloomy day, I offer you some of that Hope.  Take it and suck all the possibilities out of it.  If you hope that this afternoon the sun will come out, there is always the possibility that it will.  Maybe here, but maybe not here.  Maybe someplace else, someplace you could travel to.  Maybe the sun isn’t the one in the sky but the one in your heart.  The one that can ALWAYS shine brightly.

Oh dear.  That makes me think of that song from Annie.  You know the one I mean and you surely don’t want me to start singing, so I’ll just leave you to your day with the following words:

The sun will come out tomorrow  I mean:

Illegitimi noncarborundum!

Who Loves Ya, Baby!

Kojaktelly

Family.

What a touchstone word.  A word loaded with history and baggage, fraught with an ocean of emotion.  On this sunny first day of spring, I’m plunged into the whirlpool of that ocean, tossed back and forth like a paper boat.

Let me rewind the tape for you a bit, so you understand the context of my current sea-change.

Yesterday I had the honor and misfortune of attending a Celebration of Life for a very dear friend’s father.  He passed suddenly and left behind a stunned family and crowd of friends.  As they gathered for not a memorial, but a true celebration, I was first, honored to be invited to take part, and second, amazed and thrilled to see the enormous turnout.

I didn’t know Tom well.  I had only met him on a handful of occasions, but his presence was large – a smiling man with an open heart and a perpetual twinkle in his eye.  I wish I had been given the opportunity to know him better, especially after hearing all the loving and oftentimes humorous stories shared by his friends and family at the Celebration.  He lived life well, loved well, and was loved well in return.

After the Celebration, I was honored again to be invited back to a private gathering for family.

Honored.  The word doesn’t even begin to describe my emotions.  This family, Sue, her mother and father, her husband and his father and sister – all of these people, over the course of the last few years, have invited me into their clan, made me feel welcome, made me feel part of their loving community.  I treasure that.  I cherish it.

All this makes me consider the notion of family.  You see, I am adopted, and despite the best intentions of my loving adoptive parents, I have always felt a certain distance from my adoptive relations. A certain sense of otherness – knowing in my heart that I was not really part of them.  For years – decades – this sense of otherness fostered a gnawing loneliness, a desperate sense of isolation.  I longed for ‘my people’, but had no way of finding them.  For a time I thought that perhaps by finding my birth family, I could fill that void, but my birth records are sealed in the intractable state of Texas, so after years of beating my head against that brick wall, I gave up.

I had DNA testing done, trying to at least get a sense of where ‘my people’ came from.  Apparently, somewhere in the dim past, my genetic ancestors were in Ireland.  Somehow, that didn’t answer the need either. I mean, we’re talking thousands of years, not two generations back.

Over the last ten years, as the majority of my adoptive family has passed on, including my parents, the sense of being adrift grew acute, like an infected tooth.  I grew obsessed with the sense of not belonging.  And then, as things do, the pain eventually faded to a dull ache, as the ‘root’ of the bad tooth died.  I shoveled as much stuff as I could over the dim throb of ‘otherness’ and thought I had buried it deep enough that perhaps it would never rear its ugly head again.

Until yesterday.  Until I sat there, surrounded by people remembering the life of a man I knew really only by reputation and through stories told.

Yet, as I sat there, for once, I didn’t feel like an outsider.  I felt part of that collective of friends and family, despite the brevity of my acquaintance.   In those moments, and as I made the long drive back to Chicago, the idea crystallized in me that family can be more than one thing.  More than the people who supplied your DNA.  More than the wonderful adoptive parents who gave their love to you.  More than the generations that came before and that will come after.  Family can be the amazing people who you collect and surround yourself with – the people who open their hearts to you and invite you into their lives.  It can be the people who see you through those dark nights of the soul – even when you’ve never even met them face to face.

My Family

Today, my heart is full.  Now that I have truly redefined my foolishly limited definition of that emotionally charged word, I realize I have so many wonderful family members now.  People who I am proud to call relatives, dear sweet friends I meet regularly for coffee, colleagues I have worked with who remain my steadfast friends, despite changes in jobs and life events, people I went to school with and with whom I’ve shared the majority of my years, people I’ve met online, people with whom I share my spirituality, fellow writers and people who, like my dear friends Sue and Art, have made me part of their family.  Oh, and let me not forget the wonderful man I married and my beautiful, awe-inspiring daughter.

On this first, sunny day of spring, I am profoundly grateful to ALL my family.  You all know who you are.  Here’s hoping the future allows me to increase my family a hundredfold.  Thank you for holding me in your hearts the way I hold you in mine.

Illegitimi noncarborundum!

Author Interview: Raven Blackburn

Fabulous character interview with author and artist Raven Blackburn! Interview by thw amazing Kelly Blanchard.

Meeting With The Muse

(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard. Raven was written by Raven Blackburn.)

Night had fallen fast in these woods, but Kelly had come prepared—with flashlights and extra batteries, but she didn’t have her flashlight on at this moment as she stood near a tree at the edge of the woods. The bright full moon lit the night, and Kelly enjoyed the peace it brought. Knowing who she would be meeting here, she wouldn’t be surprised if any vampires lurked, and she vaguely wondered if solar-powered flashlights would kill a vampire because—well, sunlight. Probably not, but still—that would be an interesting addition for a story.

The sound of leaves crunching underfoot caught her attention, and Kelly snapped her gaze up to see her visitor approaching. She flipped on the flashlight but shone it near her visitor’s feet to light the path. At last they were in hearing range, and Kelly voiced…

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