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  1. Writer Interview: Lorrie Farrelly

    April 8, 2014 by admin

    When Western historical romance writer Lorrie Farrelly joined Women Writing the West, an organization I belong to, I didn’t think twice about reaching out. Lorrie is from Yorba Linda, Calif., a place I know well because my family lived there not long ago. Lorrie and I connected quickly and easily online. I have since come to know her as an excellent communicator, beautiful wordsmith and fun-loving gal with a warm sense of humor. One of the best things about our writer-writer relationship? She is enamored with Wyoming, my home state, in much the same way I am.

    Photo courtesy of Lorrie Farrelly.

    Photo courtesy of Lorrie Farrelly.

    Lorrie is the author of a western historical romance trilogy and has also published contemporary romantic suspense novels and sci fi/paranormal romantic suspense novels.

    TERMS OF SURRENDER, the first novel of her Western historical romance trilogy, begins in 1865 Virginia with the Surrender at Appomattox. Like so many other weary and scarred veterans of The War Between the States, a battle-hardened young man heads west, seeking a fresh start and a renewed purpose to his life. In Wyoming Territory, he finds far more challenge and far more fulfillment than he could ever have imagined.

    TERMS OF ENGAGEMENT continues the story, moving between Colorado and Wyoming. TERMS OF TEMPTATION wraps things up in Wyoming at the turn of the 20th century.

    I am excited to share Lorrie’s beauty and words and work in today’s Writer Interview.

    “Artist / Writer Interviews” spotlight working artists and writers – the spaces in which they work, where they find their inspiration, what makes them unique. I feature one artist or writer each month. If you are a working artist or writer who would like to be considered for this series, or if you want to recommend an artist or writer to interview for this series, please contact me.

    Where (in what state) do you write?

    I live in Southern California, and I’ve lived on the West Coast most of my life. I’ve traveled extensively in the West. I love the western landscape. Its spectacular, unparalleled beauty and forbidding, sometimes terrifying wildness has the power to inspire, humble, awe. Our fascination with the West is as irresistible and complex as the land itself.

    Do you find that place – your geographic surroundings – influences your writing?

    Absolutely! I write about people facing great physical and emotional adversity, but never losing their determination to prevail. Calamity can strike at any moment – not only personal disasters, but widespread ones: fire, blizzards, droughts, earthquakes, even volcanoes. Yet people persevere, rebuild, and move forward, sustained by their dreams and their visions of a better life. To me, that’s the very essence of life in the West.

    Describe your writing space. How did it come into being, and why is it significant?

    I once tried shutting myself up alone in a room to write, and I hated it. Even though writing is a solitary occupation, I found sitting alone was a little too much solitude. So now I write at the kitchen table, surrounded by books, papers, pets and a busy, noisy family. And I love it! I’m a master tuner-outer when I need to be; family members joke they’re going to hang a sign around my neck that says, “Huh? What’d you say?” Of course, there are often interruptions, but interruptions give me a chance to reflect on what I’ve written. It’s certainly one way to achieve balance!

    When do you do your writing?

    Whenever I get the chance! I think I’m most productive in the mornings, when new ideas occur to me, or in the late evening, when those ideas have percolated a while.

    Where do you find inspiration for what you write?

    Often it’s simply something I come upon by chance, such as a newspaper article. A small news item about a couple of compassionate Highway Patrolmen trying to save a pregnant doe struck by a car became DANGEROUS (a contemporary romantic suspense novel), while an article about animals preyed upon by poachers inspired TERMS OF TEMPTATION.

    TERMS OF SURRENDER was an exceptionally emotional journey for me. It came about because I found some old family papers in a dusty cardboard box. Two were documents dated 1865 – a prisoner-of-war parole pass and an oath of allegiance. They’d been signed by my Confederate great-grandfather, William McClain, at the end of the Civil War. By so signing, he swore never again to bear arms against the United States. He also promised to abide by all new laws, including the emancipation of the slaves. If he did so, he would be allowed to go home.

    I’d never seen papers like those, and I was immediately fascinated. So many questions came to mind. What did he feel at the end of the war? Defeat? Humiliation? Relief? Bitterness? What if he had no home left to go back to? And most of all, what would lead a good man to fight for a new country founded on terrible injustice? Those questions, and more, inspired my curiosity and my imagination. I read a lot, researched, and began to write.

    Why do you write?

    I love reading stories, so if there’s a good one in my head, I want to write it down so I can read it.

    What are you working on right now? How did the project come to you, and why is it important?

    I’m working on a time-travel novel with a western setting. I love the way the new and the old conflict. We all have dreams and fears, we have physical and emotional needs, we either embrace the new or are suspicious of it, and yet with us all, no matter the era, human nature stays remarkably constant. For me, it’s exciting to see familiar things through unfamiliar eyes. That element of wonder and surprise is addictive!

    It’s not my first experience writing a time-travel novel. My novel, TIMELAPSE, is a time-travel/sci fi romantic adventure that takes place in Washington, D.C. I chose D.C. as the setting because my story revolves around an event that changes the course of American history, and the capitol is, after all, the nerve center of our nation.

    What is one of the most important lessons you have learned through the writing process?

    It can be startling to discover some of the things that reside in one’s head. Characters somehow take on a life of their own. What they are determined to do can be confoundingly different from what I want them to do.

    I’ve also learned to be patient – well, more patient, anyway. Sometimes a story goes nowhere. Letting it sit may lead to an idea about how to get back on track. Or it may not. In that case, I have learned it’s best to just move on. There’s always another story waiting.

    How do you balance time to write with other facets of life that demand attention?

    For me, life always comes first. I love to write, but I love my family more.

    Photo courtesy of Lorrie Farrelly.

    Photo courtesy of Lorrie Farrelly.

    Who is your favorite author? Why? How were you first exposed to this writer?

    Wow, that’s like asking me my favorite flavor of ice cream! (The answer is, “Yes!”) However, if someone applied thumbscrews and forced me to choose, it would still be a dead heat among Stephen King, Nora Roberts (including her work as J.D. Robb), Harper Lee, Rod Serling, Elizabeth Lowell and Linda Howard. These are writers who grip me by the imagination and the heart and never let go! Their work may seem straightforward and accessible, but they are, in fact, incredibly gifted artists who use words to create images, ideas, actions and amazingly vivid, full-of-life characters.

    Do you find that seasons inform your work?

    Seasons? I live in Southern California. What are these “seasons” of which you speak? Actually, I struggle with seasons. I realized in an early draft of TERMS OF TEMPTATION that I had a cougar rolling around on a warm, sunny patch of Wyoming high ground – in winter. I had to go back and add snow. Oh, and I did briefly address the issue in DANGEROUS, when a character jokes that California does actually have four seasons: fire, earthquake, drought, and mud.

    Who have been some of your biggest influences?

    As a kid, my favorite TV shows were “Bonanza” and “The Twilight Zone.” “Bonanza” showed the importance of courage, love, integrity and loyalty, but never neglected the excitement and peril of the Old West. “The Twilight Zone,” despite its supernatural and otherworldly settings, simply and brilliantly illuminated what it means to be human. The stories showed us who we are, how we love, what we believe in and what we fear, how we treat each other, what carries us forward and what derails us. “Twilight Zone’s” immensely gifted writers – Rod Serling, Ray Bradbury, Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, Earl Hamner, Jr, etc. – were enormous influences to me. Ever since, everything I write has at least a touch of the paranormal, and sometimes much more than a touch. (My novel, THE GAURDIAN’S ANGEL, is a full-blown paranormal romantic suspense.) In fact, a certain stubborn young man – really no more than a boy – who considers his death on the Antietam battlefield to be little more than an inconvenience, has become one of my most popular characters.

    LORRIE FARRELLY is the author of a Western historical romance trilogy, contemporary romantic suspense novels, and sci fi/paranormal romantic suspense novels. A graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Northwestern University, she’s been a Renaissance nominee for Teacher of the Year, a ranch hand at Disneyland’s Circle D Ranch, and a “Jeopardy!” television quiz show champion. Her novels have earned READERS’ FAVORITE 5 STAR AWARDS, and TERMS OF SURRENDER is an ORANGE ROSE AWARD finalist. Lorrie and her family live in Southern California.

    Lorrie’s books are available as ebooks, paperbacks, and audiobooks here.

    Watch a clip for TERMS OF SURRENDER (which features some spectacular Western scenery shots) here.  

    Connect with Lorrie:

    Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/Lorrie-Farrelly/e/B008P3LJ0O

    Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/LorrieFarrellyAuthor

    Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4351229.Lorrie_Farrelly

    Personal website:  https://sites.google.com/site/yourbestreads

    Twitter:  https://twitter.com/@lorriewrites

    Google+:  https://plus.google.com/u/0/+LorrieFarrelly/posts/p/pub

     

     


  2. Can One City be Ideal for a Lifetime?

    March 18, 2014 by admin

    Last December, the “Opinion” section of The New York Times hosted a discussion – “Room for Debate” – called “Life in a Mobile Nation.”

    Six debaters explored this question: “Can one city be “ideal” for a lifetime? Or, if people relocate over and over throughout their lives — either because they can afford to or because they can’t afford not to — how does that change family life, education and community ties?”

    That question hit home, and I started reading like a hungry wolf, gulping in the words as a sort of attempt to better understand this topic that so intrigues me: how place shapes us.

    Copyright www.digitaltopomaps.com

    Copyright www.digitaltopomaps.com

    For the past eight years, my husband and I (and more recently our two young children) have moved to a new place just about every year. We have moved seven times in as many years, and in that amount of time have called four states home. Those states do not count the state where I grew up – Wyoming – nor the state where I attended college – Minnesota.

    “Are you in the military?” we are often asked. “No,” I say, “but we might as well be.”

    I have prayed for a sense of rootedness, for the opportunity to settle and settle good and hard, for the opportunity to, at last, buy our first home. While God has allowed that sense of rootedness to set in for a time (we always sink ourselves into whichever community we find ourselves, as best we can), the door does not seem to be opening for a long-term (dare we say permanent?) stay any time soon.

    The non-adventurous, safe part of me – that girl who spent her entire childhood being raised in one town and one home – wrestles with this daily. How can I bloom where I’m planted, knowing that circumstances will dig me right out of the ground in a matter of months?

    But the adventurous, open-minded side of me – that girl who married a Navy guy who’s proud to say he’s lived in XX number of states and would love to live in X place because he’s never lived there – seeks the unmatched opportunities that this mobile lifestyle affords.

    I realize two things. First, our frequent moving is an opportunity for me and us to rise to a challenge, to be stretched in ways we never thought possible.

    One day, I was unloading dishes from the dishwasher and bemoaning the fact that we can’t just seem to settle down somewhere. I heard these words (I kid you not): “Don’t you think I can have something even better for you than what you think you want?” I responded, for a second ready to stand up to a good argument. “I love our life here. I don’t want a change.” Came the response: “I have something better for you. Better than you can imagine.”

    Image courtesy of www.creativecommons.com

    Image courtesy of www.creativecommons.com

    I had to put my hands on the counter to steady myself. Those words are still sinking in.

    Second, our many moves have exposed us to new friends, solid relationships, and a diversity of lifestyles – opportunities we never would have had we chose to stay in one place. You grow up hearing that warning, “Don’t talk to strangers.” Because dangerous people can lurk everywhere. But there is a flip side: Good people, too, are everywhere. It’s pretty cool that when we sit down to address our Christmas cards each year, our mail will cover at least half of the country.

    Don’t get me wrong. It’s still easy for me to fall into the longing for geographic stability. You miss out on some big things when you hope around the country year-by-year. The chance for your kids to “grow up” with certain friends their age. The chance to know one community inside out because you’ve lived there your whole life. The chance to build up equity in a home.

    Like the next person, I fall prey to “the grass is always greener” syndrome. But if I choose to believe that, at least for now, settling down in one spot is not God’s plan for us, I feel those sparks of excitement in wondering, “What’s next?” And the more I think about it, I don’t think there exists an “ideal city,” at least for a lifetime.

    What about you? Do you think one city can be ideal for a lifetime? Where do you fall on the spectrum? Have you lived in one place your whole life? Have you moved frequently? How has your lifestyle contributed to or detracted from your involvement in civic life?


  3. Writer Interview: Alissa Johnson

    March 11, 2014 by admin

    When I met Alissa Johnson, we were young graduate students from the Midwest embarking on a two-year low-residency MFA writing program at Western Connecticut State University. She was from Minnesota. I was from Wyoming, but had recently moved to Kansas City. Our meeting in Connecticut was the beginning of a solid and lasting friendship — not only in the social sense, but also in the supportive sense as we gradually found ourselves trying to “make it” as real honest-to-goodness writers.

    I saw Alissa through a hard and painful divorce, a time during which, as she writes in a brilliant essay, she found herself sharing bunk beds with her own mother. Alissa saw me through not one but two difficult pregnancies. I still have the supportive emails she sent me during those rough times.

    Somewhere in the mix, as we tried to untangle the messiness of life and the relentless need to write (and in the process found it is precisely the messiness of life that turns up the gems about which we write), we became accountability partners. We agreed to hold each other to this hard and demanding task of writing, follow up with each other on our respective writing goals, encourage one another often, and read drafts and offer feedback as needed. In the process, Alissa has not only become one of my best friends; she has also become one of my favorite writers. Her wisdom and insight is contagious. I hope you enjoy her words here.

    1)     Where do you write?

    Honestly? The first draft of any piece that truly matters to me gets written while sitting in bed. I occasionally write from the couch, and some revisions happen at my desk. I also become extremely focused about writing when I travel by airplane—there’s something about being forced to wait at the gate or sit in an airplane seat that drives me to write. But when it comes to my bed, there is no other place where I can write as freely.

    2)    Do you find that place – your geographic surroundings – influence your writing?

    Absolutely, but it’s not by virtue of wanting to be a nature writer or a higher ambition to explore the meaning of landscape. My writing is informed by the way I live and the questions I encounter along the way. I tend to seek wild and remote places, whether that is living in a small mountain town in Colorado or traveling to the desert to climb. I get to know these places through climbing, skiing, running, hiking, camping, canoeing, traveling … things that tend to bring me up against challenge and give me a new perspective. Climbing, for example, gave me instant insight into the role that fear plays in life. I thought I’d worked through fear, and there I was, clinging to a cliff and paralyzed. It floored me, so I wrote about it. As a result, that particular canyon, river and rock all become part of the story.

    Photo courtesy of Alissa Johnson.

    Photo courtesy of Alissa Johnson.

    3)    Describe your writing space. How did it come into being, and why is it significant?

    Are we talking about my bed again? I know this probably refers to my office space, but the reason I write in bed is because that’s where I spent months doing morning pages—three pages of freehand writing prescribed by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way. At the time, I was confronting the vulnerability of writing head-on. I was writing a memoir for my thesis in graduate school, and I kept feeling the pull to write about topics I hadn’t admitted out loud or even to myself. Like the way I felt like I was dying because the life I’d created felt so suffocating. Or the way I was intensely unhappy in my relationship. I did not want to write about them, and yet I couldn’t write about anything else. When I started The Artist’s Way, I did the morning pages as soon as I woke up (well, after I’d gotten my first cup of coffee). I crawled back into bed and wrote freehand and slowly learned to trust my pen. It didn’t listen to the doubts in my mind. It cut through the chatter and went straight to the truth, and when I learned to trust that, my writing grew. So I suppose it’s ingrained in me now to write in the morning and in bed. The lesson here might be to choose your space for morning pages more wisely.

    4)    When do you do your writing?

    Ideally in the morning before I’ve started to think too much, but when life gets busy, I write any time I can fit it in.

    5)    Where do you find inspiration for what you write?

    Life. Generally speaking, it’s the things that don’t make sense to me that turn into stories and essays. Writing becomes a way of finding insight or perspective.

    6)    Why do you write?

    When I don’t, life feels very empty. Like something major is missing.

    7)    What are you working on right now? How did the project come to you, and why is it important?

    I’m working on a novel that I can’t explain in a sentence or two (yet). It was inspired by the de-listing of the wolf from the Endangered Species List in Minnesota and the subsequent implementation of a hunt. The human relationship to wolves has always fascinated me, but I felt a strong emotional reaction to the news and began writing what I thought would be an essay. Instead, I discovered a new character—a 12-year-old girl whose grandfather was involved in the movement to keep protecting the wolf and died on the eve of its delisting. She takes on his passion as her own. The story evolves from there, as her narrative weaves in and out of the narrative of her grandfather’s longtime friend, who supports the hunt. This is my first foray into fiction, and I have to say, I love it.

    8)   What is one of the most important lessons you have learned through the writing process?

    At some point, writers are faced with a choice: write the story they thought they sat down to write, or write the story that arises. Often (if not always) the story that arises involves some kind of vulnerability. Revealing of personal details. Exploring unpopular opinions. It involves exposure of some kind, even in fiction. If you can overcome that vulnerability, you will uncover and write stories that resonate with readers on a much deeper level.

    Photo courtesy of Alissa Johnson.

    Photo courtesy of Alissa Johnson.

    9)    How do you balance time to write with other facets of life that demand attention?

    I don’t. Writing ebbs and flows, and I often squeeze it in around everything else. This is true even when I am primarily writing for a living (that, too, ebbs and flows) because the stories I’m most passionate about are never assignments. I’ve learned that if I carve out even an hour and a half to work on my novel, that is victory. It’s not a failure because I couldn’t (or didn’t) devote eight hours to it. I just try to show up at the page as often as I can, and if I have a phase where I don’t, I try not to feel guilty about it. Guilt doesn’t solve anything.

    10) Who is your favorite author? Why? How were you first exposed to this writer?

    Oh, dear. I don’t think I can pick just one. But I did learn a tremendous amount from reading Alice Munro. I complained to a professor in graduate school because all the really good books we’d read had been written by men. I wanted to know, where were all the women? He sent me a copy of Alice Munro’s The Progress of Love. I can’t remember the name of the short story I read, but it took my breath away. I saw for the first time that the way a writer selects detail and constructs a scene has the potential to convey deep and lasting emotion without ever using words like sad, happy, upset, or cheerful.

    11) Do you find that seasons inform your work?

    Seasons inform me, so I suppose they inform my work. More importantly, I find that my work has seasons. It ebbs and flows with my interests and my moods, and all the details of my life. It’s always changing, and yet it’s cyclical at the same time because no matter how far I stray I always find my way back.

    12) Who have been some of your biggest influences?

    My advisors during graduate school were instrumental in helping me find my way as a writer: Mark Sundeen, who most recently wrote The Man Who Quit Money  (and likes to take credit for getting me to move from Minnesota to Colorado) and Dan Pope, author of In  the Cherry Tree.  They read and responded to my work when I was exploring some of my most personal writing, and they always read it respectfully and supportively.

    In life, I’ll say my parents, which I wouldn’t have always said. They introduced me to wilderness, taking me canoeing and camping from the age of two. They also told me stories of all the adventures they’d taken so that when I headed west by myself, at an age when most people start families, they cheered for me the whole way. Lastly, Peter Carey (my partner in crime) has introduced me to all things Colorado. He exposed me to downhill skiing and climbing. He patiently showed me the ropes while I worked through my fear and discovered a reserve of courage I never knew I had.

    Alissa Johnson writes from 9,000 feet above elevation in the Colorado Mountains. The outdoors play a big role in her life there, and as a result, in her writing, too. As a writing coach, she helps writers overcome what she calls the Writer’s Paradox: readers crave authentic stories, but writers resist the vulnerability. She helps them uncover the brilliance and meaning in their own experiences so they can write evocative and compelling stories.

  4. Message in a Bottle – a Valentine’s Teaser

    February 14, 2014 by admin

    Concert band practice at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, ended as usual on Friday evening at 5:30. It was November 11, 2005, two days before my 22nd birthday. I walked across campus thinking about dinner in the college cafeteria. Friday night meant cream cheese crab rangoons. I was starving. I would meet my roommate in our dorm room, and together we would trek up the hill to the college cafeteria for dinner like we had done every other Friday for the past four years.

    I walked into the room, dropped my flute on the grungy yellow couch. She was sitting at her desk. She was very still. Her expression – was she hiding something?

    Then I noticed a small bottle on my desk, capped with a cork. Inside it, a note.

    What??IMG_2930

    I remembered the conversation well – how, months ago, on a spring afternoon with my boyfriend in Indiana, I had told him how I had always dreamed of receiving a message in a bottle. Yes, I was one of those girls. I was a sap.

    Now, here it was. A message in a bottle. For me.

    I think I uttered a few incomprehensible syllables. I don’t remember. But I do remember my roommate’s stone face, the words she said while trying so hard not to crack a smile: “You need to change, for dinner. And you are not eating dinner with me tonight.”

    A million questions, then. Where was he? How did he get here? He went to school at Purdue in Northern Indiana, 500 miles away. Change clothes? What in the world would I wear?

    The questions came out in shrieks, a stuttering of repeated sentences.

    She remained a rock. First, you get out of your jeans. Then, we look in your closet …

    I think she got me dressed. I think she chose some jewelry for me, and I think she uncorked the bottle and took out the note, reminding me I had to read it before I saw him.

    So begins my essay, “Message in a Bottle,” published in the new Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game. It is a love story, yes. But I also hope it is more than that. Chicken Soup the Dating Game

    I hope this essay somehow adequately communicates the power of love, and the power of believing in someone you love. I knew before the day of my proposal that Bryan believed in me. But seeing the words he hand-wrote on thick cardstock, seeing him kneel beneath the glow of the chapel lights and the cross that stretched toward heaven, reinforced that belief. And not once since that day I said “yes” have I ever questioned his commitment, nor his love for or his faith in me.

    Today is Valentine’s Day. Yes, it is sappy and it is commercial, and for some it can be downright painful. But remember this: Love begins with you. You are the only person you can control, and a life full of love is a heck of a lot better than a life without it.

    I don’t know whose quote this is, but it is my daily motto: “You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.”

    Who is on your heart today? If anything was possible, what message would you send?

    PS – To read my interview with The Louisburg Herald (my community newspaper) about my publishing in Chicken Soup for the Soul books, click here.


  5. Writer Interview: Elizabeth Westmark

    February 11, 2014 by admin

    Elizabeth is one of those “true fans” and “true friends” I met online via the magic of WordPress. Her writing – her beauty of language and the lens through which she sees and appreciates the world – warmed me instantly, like a cup of sweet hot tea. I am delighted to share Beth’s gems of wisdom and words for this month’s Artist and Writer Interview series.

    “Artist and Writer Interviews” spotlights working artists and writers – the spaces in which they work, where they find their inspiration, what makes them unique. I feature one artist or writer each month. If you are a working artist or writer who would like to be considered for this series, or if you want to recommend an artist or writer to interview for this series, please contact me.

    Now, I turn the words over to Beth. May you be warmed, as I am, through her.

    Where do you write?

    I live in the middle of Escambia County, Florida, just outside of the city limits of Pensacola in an unincorporated area called Cantonment. My husband bought 92 acres of land there, a place he called “the deer woods,” way back in the 1970’s, before we met. It has become surrounded by about-to-be-developed land, grocery stores, a Starbucks, urgent care center, Chinese take-out, UPS store, churches, and hair salons, but when you enter our battered farm gate and close it behind you with a chain wrapped around it and hooked on a nail so it looks locked but isn’t, you enter a Longleaf pine and wildlife preserve that has turned this city girl into a nature writer. My desk looks out at a clearing in the woods.

    Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Westmark.

    Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Westmark.

    When the weather is fine, I may sit under a spreading live oak to write or on a low tree-branch bench down by the stream-bed.

    Do you find that place – your geographic surroundings – influence your writing?

    Without a doubt. My husband and I owned a summer home in the mountains of North Carolina for seven years, and the experiences there of coming to know and love the mountain folk in the valley, the struggle to hike to the ridge tops and breathe in that astonishing air, all stimulated and changed my writing. It became more particular. And now, living full-time in the flatlands woods of northwest Florida influences the DNA of my writing.

    Describe your writing space. How did it come into being, and why is it significant?

    Nearly every morning, I slip out of bed while my husband is still sleeping and pad to my study, where I boot up the computer, then go to the kitchen to make coffee. My husband, Buck, created the study for me when he designed the plans for our home. My step-grandchildren call it “the President’s office,” and when they were little, they liked to hide under my desk.

    Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Westmark.

    Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Westmark.

    The space itself has a traditional wood desk, bookshelves on two sides, a fireplace flanked by windows, and double glass and wood doors that open onto a dining room.

    It’s significant because it’s not only a space where I can leave everything “as is” and not worry about it, but also because it’s a designated space and honors my efforts. There’s also an informal space upstairs I call “the treehouse” because windows and sliding glass doors make you feel like you’re in the trees. That’s where I keep all the craft books and my stash of Poets & Writers, The New Yorker, and Creative Nonfiction.

    When do you do your writing?

    Early mornings are my regular time, but since my husband has been writing a book, too, we both tend to write throughout the day, walk together for an hour most afternoons, and then return to our desks for a couple of hours after dinner. Being a post-retirement-from-regular-work writer is like living in a writer’s retreat.

    Where do you find inspiration for what you write?

    There’s another advantage in being an older writer. At 62, I have a large file cabinet of experiences. There’s always something to be uncovered, whether for fiction or creative nonfiction essays or flash pieces. A walk in the woods almost always helps me connect head and heart to keyboard. Essential inspiration, too, comes from folks I run into in everyday life, from the dedicated young woman with Down’s Syndrome who loves her job at the Publix grocery store, the clerk worried about his job at the post office who helps me when I lock my keys in the van, or our friend Harold, who brings me newly dug potatoes and other treats from his garden.

    Why do you write?

    I haven’t always written, other than catch-as-catch-can journals. It started with a blog in late 2003. It wasn’t until 2008, while I was enjoying enforced couch time with a broken foot, that I had an epiphany: maybe some of my old blog posts were worth a second look; maybe someone would publish them. That’s how my first piece, “The Pond Builder’s Son,” was accepted at Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal. That’s the first time I began to whisper “Writer with a capital W, that’s what I want to be” to myself. When Brevity accepted my short essay, Tenderness, I gained confidence that if I worked hard and learned the craft, I might be able to find homes for my stories for the rest of my life. A big, thrilling thought.

    What are you working on right now? How did the project come to you, and why is it important?

    I am working on several projects: a series of creative nonfiction essays, a memoir (part of which involves gathering up all the shards of blogs and journals from the past thirty years), and the one dearest to my heart at the moment and the one that feels most daring – my first novel.

    Writing fiction is a different venue for truth-telling, but unlike creative nonfiction, at least for me, it requires me to send my inner editor packing. It feels like a wild, organic process, and I love it.  Eye of the Storm, my working title, is a coming of age tale about a young woman who gets a huge shock and discovers almost everything she thought she knew about her life isn’t true. As Grace struggles to learn her true identity, a hidden enemy hunts for her, too. It’s set primarily in Pensacola. There’s mystery, romance, a cat and mouse game, even a massive hurricane. In short: fun.

    Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Westmark.

    Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Westmark.

    In the process of working with my husband on his own first novel, I have gotten an education about revision, copy editing, writing query letters, and persistence. We’re finishing the “final” final polish on his manuscript and will begin the hopeful/scary process of sending out query letters and samples in about two weeks in a quest to find an agent. Life in our electronic cottage in the woods is never dull!

    What is one of the most important lessons you have learned through the writing process?

    I’ve learned to keep everything as fodder; a fragment written in a morning writing session may gain life two years later as the basis for a published piece or form the nucleus of a short story or novel.

    I’ve learned that when one literary journal or publishing venue rejects your work, to re-polish and send it out again. It may be rejected in one place and find an enthusiastic home in another.

    I find great joy, meaning, and value in the process itself. That said, probably the most important lesson I’ve learned is to write every day, study the craft, read like a maniac, and send my work out into the world.

    How do you balance time to write with other facets of life that demand attention?

    The short answer is sometimes I am better at that than other times. Always, though, real life in the here and now trumps my writing schedule. The time may come when I have nothing but time to write, and I don’t want to amass any regrets about the way I spent my time when the opportunity to love up close and personal was in the room. The tension caused by the balancing acts every artist experiences may even increase our sense of urgency to create. I get some of my best ideas chopping vegetables for soup.

    Who is your favorite author? How were you first exposed to this writer?

    This is a tough question, but I’ll try to answer as honestly as I can. The unvarnished truth is I don’t have a favorite author. I have a gazillion of them! Seriously, I am a voracious book omnivore, even more so of late, as I’ve intentionally exploded my comfort zone when it comes to fiction reading. For example, I’ve recently begun reading science fiction, fantasy, suspense, and Stephen King, who as your last interviewee, writer Jack Kline, noted, writes about “how people struggle and persevere.” Jack is so right. I have been amazed at how much I am enjoying and learning from Stephen King’s The Shining and its sequel, Doctor Sleep. My current favorite, and newest discovery, is Donna Tartt, author of The Goldfinch, The Secret History, and The Little Friend.

    In nonfiction, some of my favorites are Joan Didion, Diane Ackerman, and Kathleen Norris.

    Some advisers say:  “Quit reading all the craft books; just write.” I love the craft books, and have no plan to give them up. My current favorite is Jeffrey Vandermeer’s Wonderbook: the illustrated guide to creative imaginative fiction.

    Do you find that seasons inform your work?

    Definitely. Unlike South Florida, we actually have seasons here in the Panhandle. I noticed walking in the woods yesterday that tiny wild blueberry blossoms have begun to unfurl. Renewal, winding down, dying, solace, the harshness of weather and comfort of shelter, memory and the relief of seeing the same vine renew itself each year after seeming to die in the winter, the surprise of a deer or young coyote looking you in the eye seemingly as full of curiosity about you as you are about them, all of these inform the words that spill onto the page.

    A major theme in my novel turns on connection to the land. Grace discovers this love within herself after being exposed to seasons in a woodland sanctuary.

    Who have been some of your biggest influences?

    My piano teacher from the age of 9 to 17, Evelyn Clites. I imprinted on her like a baby duck during a difficult time of loss and tragedy in my own family. Any sense of grace, balance, discipline, or accomplishment I may achieve in life has its roots in those Saturday mornings every week at Mrs. Clites’ piano.

    My husband, Buck, who is my inspiration, role model, lover, friend, running buddy, and writer’s group. When we first met, 33 years ago, he would say, “You’re better than you think you are.” Sometimes it made me mad. I didn’t understand what he meant. Now I know he was right. He also said: “Fear is paralysis at the brain stem level,” which always helps me deconstruct my tension and overcome writer’s block. Did I mention he’s my counsellor and guru, too?

    Elizabeth Westmark’s essays have appeared in Brevity, Florida Flash: a Christmas Anthology, Prick of the Spindle, Girls with Insurance, Road Trip Journal, The Binnacle Ultra-Short 2009, Camroc Press Review, Muscadine Lines: a southern journal, and Dead Mule, among others. She is working on her first novel, a coming of age story, wrapped in a romance, inside a secret, dipped in danger & deep-fried by a Cat 5 Hurricane. Her website is Cubagirl: a live journal from Elizabeth Westmark.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     


  6. Friday Inspiration

    January 24, 2014 by admin

    Experiments summer 2010 020Happy Friday! Here’s to kicking off the weekend with a fun dose of inspiration. It comes in the form of a question:

    What is the strangest thing you’ve seen this week?

    If you’re a writer in search of ideas, consider this your prompt to get the pen flowing. If you’re an artist or photographer, perhaps you can reflect back on your week in images. If you’re none of the above, think about it and have a laugh, anyway! (And share your responses in the comments section, so that I can share in your amusement.)

    This blog is a place to spur one another on in creativity, fun, and acts of kindness. It is a fixture of encouragement to help others notice – really notice – the world around them. Be a part of it!

    The strangest thing I saw this week? A semi pulling a load of refurbished hearses through a small town. If that’s not a head-turner, I don’t know what is.

    (And since now I’m thinking about hearses, I recall an off-the-wall comment my husband made over lunch earlier this week. He was looking out the window of the restaurant – oddly enough, the restaurant’s name is A Streetcar Named Desire – and said, “Oh!” and then, “Oh.” “What?” I said. “Well, I thought I just saw a really cool limo,” he said. “But it was a hearse.”)

    So. What is the strangest thing you’ve seen this week? Happy Friday — and don’t forget to laugh today!


  7. Writer Interview: Jack Kline

    January 14, 2014 by admin

    I am thrilled to introduce fiction writer Jack Kline as the second artist in my new series, “Artist and Writer Interviews.” “Artist and Writer Interviews” spotlights working artists and writers – the spaces in which they work, where they find their inspiration, what makes them unique. I feature one artist or writer each month. (If you are a working artist or writer who would like to be considered for this series, or if you want to recommend an artist or writer to interview for this series, please contact me.)

    I met Jack a year ago, when, new to the rural community of Louisburg, Kansas, I walked in on a writer’s group meeting at the local library. Jack was the group leader. After some fun sessions of swapping and critiquing work, I was asked to co-lead the community writing group for the 2013-2014 year.

    Photo courtesy of Jack Kline.

    Photo courtesy of Jack Kline.

    It is a thrill and an honor to work not only with such a capable and accomplished writer, but also with such a compassionate person. I hope you are inspired by Jack’s experience as much as I am. Enjoy his words!

    Where (what state) do you write?

    I live in Kansas, about four miles from the Missouri border. My favorite locations to write are the Colorado mountains and at my sister-in-law’s wheat farm in the sticks (Anthony, KS). But I can write anywhere.

    Do you find that place – your geographic surroundings – influence your writing?

    Only to a small degree, except the mountains. I am woefully ADHD, and distractions slow me way down and I have trouble getting back on track. For the most part, geographic surroundings are more or less neutral to my writing.

    But in the mountains I get all goosebumpy, and my writing becomes more verbose for better and worse. I get sappy and so does my writing. Yes, I love the mountains and lived there once a lifetime ago.

    Describe your writing space. How did it come into being, and why is it significant?

    I have no true writing space. Because I’m a restless writer I can’t sit still for long. So I move about and carry a little notebook computer with me. I’ve written on the kitchen counter, the fireplace hearth, even on the toilet and on a homemade desk top placed across the rim of our extra-deep bathtub.

    I live in the country south of Kansas City, and there’s one room that has floor-to-ceiling windows facing our horse pasture and the woods. But the windows face south and east, and in the morning and early afternoon I must fight the sun. I write there a lot after the sun heads west a ways.

    When do you do your writing? Do you adhere to any sort of schedule? Why or why not?

    I write anytime I have the time, sometimes even if it’s only for a few minutes. I carry a little spiral notebook in my back pocket and when I see something that sparks me I write it down. Often it relates to what I’m working on, but not always.

    I guess I write best in the early morning. My wife just retired, and she’s always been a night owl. My career required that I be an early riser, so I’m always up a couple of hours before she is. It’s just me and the dogs then, and I write productively and they lie around me and sleep productively.

    Where do you find inspiration for what you write?

    Most of the ideas for my fiction just show up unannounced. So the cheesy answer is “everywhere.” For my personal essays, or what a writer friend calls creative non-fiction, the ideas usually come from deep inside. The men in my family don’t show our emotions, we hide them, never angry, never sad—we certainly never cry. Writing about events, some recent, some long buried, allows me to express in writing what I couldn’t in other ways—love, anger, sadness. Sometimes when the feelings are particularly raw, I fictionalize it, putting my fictional character through the ringer and allowing him to handle things much better than I could or did.

    I’ve gotten more inspiration that gets me out of a writer’s jam, or ideas for an entirely new piece while taking a shower. I don’t know why. It just happens. And I learned to be prepared, since pen and paper and laptop are not conducive to shower-taking. But there’s pen and paper waiting a few feet away for when the muse strikes.

    Why do you write?

    One of my favorite writers, Kurt Vonnegut, once asked his Iowa University writing class that question. No one gave him the answer he wanted. And the answer—his answer—was because I have to. And then he explained how writing was a critical part of him, a part he couldn’t live without. I won’t go that far. I don’t have to write to live. I didn’t begin writing until I was in my 50s. But I always loved to read—always. And I always wanted to write. I love to write.

    I have a vain streak in me. And the vain Jack inside likes me to write things that other people will read and enjoy. I don’t do it for money. Money’s just whipped cream on the pumpkin pie. Few writers ever make enough to support themselves.

    I could live just fine without writing. But my life wouldn’t be as rich or rewarding. And all of that stuff bottled up inside would never be uncorked.

    Photo courtesy of Jack Kline.

    Photo courtesy of Jack Kline.

    What are you working on right now? How did the project come to you, and why is it important?

    I just finished a novel, something I wasn’t sure I could do. That alone makes it important.

    In 2006 I enrolled in night school at the University of Kansas after a 30+ year layoff. The degree program was called Literature, Language and Writing. Most of the students were young enough to be my children, and I wasn’t sure I could compete. I earned a scholarship and won a couple of English Department writing awards.

    The very last class I took for graduation was Literature of Noir. Because I’d had the professor in a non-fiction writing class and he knew I could do the work, he told me I could write noir fiction for my grade instead of the usual class papers. So I started this noir story. Each time a paper was due I added to it. At the end of the semester I had about forty pages. When he asked me how long it would be, I told him about another forty pages. Professor Luce told me I might as well make it into a novel.

    So I did. And I found it to be very difficult and very rewarding. And if I can do it once I can do it again.

    Through a streak of good fortune a literary agent read the novel and liked it enough that she will represent me as she peddles it around the New York publishing houses. I’m hoping for the best, but prepared for letdown.

    What is one of the most important lessons you have learned through the writing process?

    I had very thin skin when I began writing. Criticism, even constructive, hurt a lot.

    I’ve learned not to be negative—at all, period. And I’ve learned not to take literary criticism personally.

    If I get stuck on a piece (some call it writer’s block) I know now I can work through it. If I send out a short story ten times and get six rejections and never hear from the other four, it doesn’t mean the story’s not good. I remember the first story I published. I read the letter saying they wanted to publish it if I would just make these suggested corrections and changes. I looked at the story and almost cried (But remember, Kline men don’t cry). The story was covered with red ink.

    Through hard work and honing my skills I have become a confident writer and a more confident person. I can take criticism, weigh it, and use it if it makes my writing or the piece better and discard it if it doesn’t.

    How do you balance time to write with other facets of life that demand attention?

    It was difficult to write for pleasure when I worked full time and went to night school at KU and had kids at home. As a parks and recreation manager, I made a career of prioritizing. There never was enough staff or time to accomplish everything. Consequently, as a prioritizer, I do well juggling writing and life.

    Who is your favorite author? Why? How were you first exposed to this writer?

    I’ll say it at the risk of being stigmatized. My favorite writer is Stephen King. He is prolific (62 books at last count). At his best, he is a scintillating. At his worst—at least a half-dozen books—he is pedestrian. People pigeon-hole him as a horror writer. But he writes about people and how they struggle and persevere. And not just in a horror setting: he wrote Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and the novella on which the film, Stand by Me, is based.

    I want to write about people, their strengths, and weaknesses and how they struggle to deal with the raw deal life so often hands us. I want to do it as well as Stephen King. And Stephen King wrote a damn fine book on the craft of writing (On Writing).

    First exposure? I read The Shining when it first came out. It scared the shit out of me.

    Also on the short list of writers I love are: Kurt Vonnegut, John Irving, Roddy Doyle, Jodi Picoult, Herman Wouk, Leon Uris, Alice Munro, Adrian McKinty, Karen Russell and Gillian Flynn

    Do you find that seasons inform your work?

    To some degree. I’ve been writing a Christmas story every November/December (8th year in 2013) that I give to family and friends for Christmas.

    I live in an area where there are four distinct seasons. And I suppose I’ve written most of my winter-based fiction in winter. But most of the time for both fiction and non-fiction writing the season I write and the season of the story don’t necessarily jive, nor is there any conscious influence.

    Who have been some of your biggest influences?

    I wrote this dedication in my short story collection, Blowing Carbon: “To my parents, Jean and Phil, who instilled in me the desire to read even before I knew what an alphabet was.”

    I love sharp, humorous wit. Mark Twain and Will Rogers.

    In the academic world: Giselle Anatole and Mark Luce (the Lit of Noir guy)

    My long-distance writer-friend-mentor-cheerleader, Priscilla Myers.

    Martin Luther King

    My wife, Nancy.

    ****

    Jack Kline has been seriously writing since 2005. He has had numerous essays and short stories published in the U.S. and Great Britain. A collection of his short stories and essays, Blowing Carbon was published in 2010 and is available at a smattering of bookstores and on Amazon. His novel, But Not for Me ,currently winds its way through New York publishing houses. Jack lives with his family, dogs and horses near Louisburg, KS.  http://jackkline.squarespace.com/

     

     


  8. Invitations and PRIZES: Creative Nonfiction 101, a reading, and sharing your resolutions

    December 31, 2013 by admin

    I am about to embark on a chilly trip up north to Minnesota, to connect with some dear friends, meet my godson for the first time, and enjoy some concentrated family time for the New Year. The weather will hover at 0 degrees while we’re there – “but don’t worry,” says my husband (who will be sticking around the Kansas City area where temps are much more mild), “it’s supposed to be a high of 7 later in the week.” Thanks, dear.

    Copyright Melissa Brawner, from www.creativecommons.org

    Copyright Melissa Brawner, from www.creativecommons.org

    I still have bags to pack, gifts to put into the car, snacks to get ready for the boys. But first I want to pause and say, “Thank you.” Thank you for supporting me this year in my endeavors both as a writer and as a parent. Thank you for inspiring me, for asking questions that get at the heart of writing and communicating, for reading my work and spurring me on.

    I am excited to share my new year’s resolution. And I want to hear yours, too. But first, I want to extend a warm invitation. On Jan. 12, I will host a writing workshop, titled, “Creative Nonfiction 101” at The Writer’s Place in Kansas City. Following the workshop, I will join novelist Marchel Denise Alverson, in a public reading. Alverson is the author of Kissed by Madness, a fictional account of domestic violence. I will read an essay from my book, Tough Love: A Wyoming Childhood. The workshop begins at noon, with the reading at 2 p.m. If you live in the Kansas City area and know of anyone who might be interested in either or both events, please spread the word.

    And now, resolutions. My resolution for 2014, my one and only resolution, is to do less, not more. To have more the attitude of nature, which never hurries yet still accomplishes all it was made to do. To be still more often and live in continual thankfulness.IMG_5138

    How about you? I am giving away three prizes to my three favorites. Share your New Year’s resolution in the comments below for a chance to win a line-a-day journal, a Starbucks or iTunes gift card (your choice), or a bottle of Kansas City’s BEST barbecue sauce.

    Cheers to an awesome 2014!

    P.S. – Check out the new Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game for my essay, “Message in a Bottle. A second essay, “Due Dates,” is forthcoming in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Multitasking Moms, scheduled for publication in March 2014.

     

     

     


  9. Artist Interview: A Chat with Musician Dawn Williams

    December 9, 2013 by admin

    As the holiday season gets into full swing, I am beginning a new series on the blog. “Artist and Writer Interviews” will spotlight working artists and writers – the spaces in which they work, where they find their inspiration, what makes them unique. I will feature one artist or writer each month. (If you are a working artist or writer who would like to be considered for this series, or if you want to recommend an artist or writer to interview for this series, please contact me.)

    Dawn_IMG_7304ed

    Photo courtesy of Dawn Williams.

    Kicking off the series is a longtime friend who just happens to be a professional musician and music teacher. Dawn Williams, a Minnesota native who now makes her home in Durham, North Carolina, considers her music an extension of herself – bold, stunning, and vulnerable. In this “chat,” Dawn talks about the beauty of mistakes and music as an art of “layering.” Read on to learn how she taps into her creative well, see what major project she has going right now, and how you can win some free music.

    1)      Describe your work space. Where, in what environment, do you find you are the most productive and creative? 

    I do most of my work in my piano room, an open room in the front of my house where my baby grand Kawai lives. When my husband and I were house shopping, we knew our future home had to have room for a piano. The baby Kawai is the first piece of “furniture” we bought as a couple.

    I do my best composing when I am home alone. I get self-conscious creating when anyone is around (my husband included). I keep track of my ideas via the voice recorder feature on my iPhone.

    2) When do you do the bulk of your creative work? Do you adhere to any sort of schedule? Why or why not?

    Because I teach piano lessons from home, my schedule is different each day. I find I have to be intentional about using my time wisely. Every once in a while, I have a few hours to myself in the mornings to work on songwriting. Other times, I compose in spurts of 15-minute breaks here, 30-minute breaks there. (This is where the voice recorder is crucial!) If I’ve been teaching lessons all day, I find at the end of the day it’s important to simply get out of the music room and do something else. (My husband, also a musician, sometimes wants to “jam” with me when he comes home from work. It can be a challenge, because music is still an “outlet” for him, whereas for me music is what I do all day, every day. So when he’s ready to “unwind” with a music jam session, often I am in need of a different outlet.)

    My projects come in waves, so my work schedule depends on what projects I am seeking or fine-tuning. Sometimes I’ll be working on an arrangement for a student or playing through music books to discover a new piece for a student to work on. Churches hire me to compose anthems in honor of significant events. Sometimes I rehearse to accompany an instrumentalist or singer. My projects are always different, and by and large I am open to anything.

    3)      Where do you find inspiration for the music you write? Who have been some of your greatest influences?

    Often my ideas come from where I spend most of my day – teaching lessons. I might latch onto a recurring sound, or hear the beginning of a new song that stems from a mistake. I have found that my students can make really great mistakes that are perfect for the start of a new piece of music.

    My dad played a lot of instrumental music around our house when I was growing up. My car radio is always playing music. Both these sources have influenced the sounds and styles that define my music today. But my middle school piano teacher was the biggest influence on me starting to create my own music. She gave me freedom that previous teachers had not. I started reading and thinking in chords. I’d change the left-hand bass to a different pattern, adding in little flourishes or altering the ending. These exercises made the music mine.

    4)      Why do you make music?

     I love the way music can tell stories. The swells that build emotion, dissonances that build tension and consonances that bring resolution – all of these characteristics help music to speak. Some people journal to express their thoughts and emotions. I write music. I like to think of my writing and playing as my life’s soundtrack.

    5) What is one of the most important lessons you have learned through the music and creating music?

    Photo courtesy of Dawn Williams.

    Photo courtesy of Dawn Williams.

    Creativity can’t be forced. Sometimes you just have to stop and revisit an idea on a different day with a different attitude. On my new Christmas album, I had 10 of 12 songs ready to go the weekend before I was headed to Nashville to record. I still needed 2 more and was quite anxious about which songs to do, how to arrange them, how to make them unique/“mine.” Everything I tried was plain lousy. I was angry and frustrated. I walked away from it for the rest of the day (really hard to do when you have a fast-approaching deadline!). I slept on it, prayed about it, and the next morning I woke up with fresh ideas. By the end of the day, those songs were complete. Personally, they’ve become 2 of my favorites on the album.

    6) How do you balance time to pursue your creative endeavors with other facets of life that demand attention?

    Um, if you’ve got the answer, can you fill me in? I’m still struggling with that word “balance.” I often operate with a “get ‘er done” mentality. Real life happens, and if I want to be a musician, I just have to jump in and do it on top of everything else.

    7) Do you find that seasons inform your work?

    My first thought is that my work is dictated by whichever project I am working on. But, if it’s a project of my own choosing, such as my new Christmas album, then seasons definitely play into it. The Christmas season is nostalgic for me; for years I have used that time to prepare church solos and relish in my favorite carols at the piano. I have channeled that seasonal energy into a big writing and recording project that I’ve dreamed of doing for years. While this project has been beckoning for a long time, the “season” has never been right – that balance between music, jobs, finances, family life, etc. just didn’t quite all fit. However, all the pieces have come together in 2013 to make this a fitting time to approach this project.

    8) Describe briefly the album recording process.

    There are so many approaches to recording an album. In my case, I want to be the one who does the composing and arranging. Other musicians choose to collaborate with another writer. I begin with a foundation of creating the piano parts, leaving space for other instruments to add their parts. Occasionally, I’ll have a specific line or melody for a specific instrument, but most often the instrumentalists will listen and improvise their own part to match the piano foundation.

    For my new album, “Wonder: Songs for the Season,” I recorded the piano parts at home and sent the files to my producer in Nashville. Recording my parts at home allowed me to change sections if I wanted to. My producer listened to the piano tracks. Then, we collaborated about what instruments we imagined in certain sections. Comparing the process to a movie, I am the script writer who also gets an acting role. The producer is the movie director; his job is to see the music as a whole, cast the right characters for the other parts and see that all the parts come together successfully. The songs are built in layers, one part being added on top of the next. Rarely are multiple musicians recorded at the same time.

    9) How did you land a producer? Describe your relationship with him.

    I met my producer because God put me in the right place at the right time. I was teaching after-school piano lessons in 2009 when I met the music teacher whose classroom I used to conduct lessons. She had just recorded her first album that summer and was having a CD release concert that winter. On a whim, I encouraged her to let me know if she ever needed a piano player for any of her shows. Turns out, she did. Her producer was also there, so we briefly worked together. Later on, he offered to work with me one-on-one. So a few months later, I worked on my next recording project with him. We see each other only when I’m working on a project in Nashville, or occasionally when he travels to North Carolina to meet with another client. We touch base via phone every couple of months.

    10) What are you working on right now? How did the project come to you, and why is it important?

     Right now I am doing one of the most ambitious projects I’ve ever undertaken. “Wonder: Sounds and Stories of Christmas” features arrangements of some well known tunes mixed in with the beloved Christmas tales, readings and poems, with the storytelling talent of local radio personality Bill Jordan.

    For a long time I have dreamed of putting together a performance where people come simply for the sake of enjoying music. Christmas is a season when people crave events to attend as a family and “get in the spirit.” I wanted to create a show that would help families prepare for the Christmas season in a feel-good, traditional way that focused on the true reason of Christmas. I don’t want to get caught up in the glitz and commercialism so often associated with December. The songs of “Wonder” are traditional, yet arranged in interesting and contemporary ways.

    The shows are incredibly important to me as a musician. I am taking a leap of faith and jumping into the next tier of being a performing artist. I hope to grow this year’s show of two performances into a future tour, where I would travel to more venues and cities in the coming years.

     

    *Share your favorite Christmas carol in the “Comments” section below to win a free copy of “Wonder: Songs for the Season.” Happy holidays!


  10. Don’t Let Black Friday Become “Bruised Thanksgiving”

    November 27, 2013 by admin

    You probably know this: Black Friday deals are spilling over into Thursday now, with those endlessly deep discounts starting before consumers even have time to digest their turkey and take that tryptophan nap.

    “Quick!” The response seems to be. “Let’s put in our 10 minutes of giving thanks for what we have, then go out and get more stuff!”IMG_2689

    What’s more, these “deals” aren’t even really focused on getting and giving to other people anymore. Need a new big screen? Now is the time. Have an iPad but really, really want an iPad mini? Now is the time.

    Cynical me, I am starting to refer to this black Friday spill-over as “bruised Thanksgiving.”

    So where are you in this mess of chaos and acquiring of stuff? Do you pause enough to let Thanksgiving be Thanksgiving? Do you pause enough to really, truly give thanks? Do you pause to think about those things that seem so easy to come by, the many blessings you may take for granted? A washing machine. A car with gas in it. Heat. Blankets on your bed. A loving and healthy relationship with your children/mother/father/fill-in-the-blank.

    Growing up, Black Friday was one of my favorite days of the year. I lay in bed Thanksgiving night thinking about the Christmas list I had stashed in my purse and the five-hour drive we would make to Salt Lake City the following day for a fun-filled weekend Christmas shopping. Maybe I had $100 to spend, and with that money I would buy gifts for my whole family.

    Fun-filled. Stress-free.

    Black Friday shopping isn’t what it used to be. Our noisy, me-centered society threatens to drown out the true giving spirit of the holidays.

    IMG_2691Every year I re-visit this dialogue with myself: I will NOT let my society’s view of Black Friday dampen my Christmas shopping spirit. Christmas shopping, to me, will still be fun, other-centered, a crazy adventure. Because we are coming into the season of giving, and if you’re not giving with a pure heart, you’re not really giving much at all.

    Right now I am mentoring a teenage girl on a big writing project. She is 18, and she’s grown up too fast, having to play both big sister and mother two her two younger siblings because her parents are never home. Her dad buys her stuff – lots of really good stuff from what I gather – but she doesn’t really care.

    “All I want is a relationship with him,” she told me. “I just want a relationship with my dad.”

    Think about it. What is the best gift you have ever been given? I’ll tell you, point blank: It’s Jesus. God sent his only son to us, and allowed him to be killed on a cross to pardon all of our sins. The gift of His love, His provision, His forgiveness, is there for the taking. All you have to do is say, “Yes.”

    Christians mark the Christmas season as the celebration of the birth of this best-ever gift. Is it coincidence that a tradition of gift-giving to others centers around this holiday?

    This Thanksgiving, I encourage you to spend quality time in thanks for the intangibles. You can be thankful for your washing machine and your big-screen, too. Just please don’t buy a new one on Thursday at 5 p.m.