Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Writer Sees Stars


As writers go, I have a skin of average thickness. I am pleased by a good review, disappointed by a bad. None of it penetrates far enough to influence the thing I write next. (Rachel Cusk)

Book reviews have been around as long as writers have been writing books. I'm guessing that even before books were printed, storytellers around the fire pits got reviews, and they probably weren't any happier with listeners spitting in their fire to show they didn't like a story than writers today are with bad reviews. Even famous writers don't like bad reviews.  Danielle Steele says, "A bad review is like baking a cake with all the best ingredients and having someone sit on it."


I've gotten bad reviews and I try to be like Rachel Cusk and let them slide off me. As much as I want to, I can't write a book every reader is going to love. But that sure would be nice. When I first began writing, any review a book received was a printed review in a magazine or newspaper. The average book didn't get many reviews. Now the internet has changed all that. Reviews are everywhere and anybody can write a review. Amazon and Barnes & Noble e-mail you and ask you to write reviews of the books you buy or download. And of everything else you buy too! A reader can join up with Goodreads and review every book she or he has ever read. On there you don't have to say anything. You can just click on a few stars and either make a writer jubilant with five stars or be in despair over the one star slams. 

All this to say that my free book, Scent of Lilacs, has been getting a lot of new reviews on Amazon. (By the way, it's still free if you haven't downloaded it yet or know an e-reading friend who might enjoy the story.) The reviews have all been surprisingly positive which is great. Sometimes with free books, the readers can slam the book because it isn't the type of story they would normally buy. I had one reviewer say about one of my Shaker books when it was offered free a while back that "free was too much to pay for this book." The very fact I remember that points out the problem with reading reviews. I can get a dozen glowing reviews and not remember a word of any of them, except maybe those lovely works "I couldn't put it down." But let me read one of those one star reviews and the words flash like a neon sign inside my head. 

But tonight, I'm going to share bits of some of the 5-star remarks about Scent of Lilacs with you. 

"A beautiful heartwarming story. I loved it. It is so human and full of love. Some beautiful lessons about God's love for all of us." (E Carlson)

"I loved the voice of Jocie, the thirteen year old pastor's daughter who tells most of the story."  (Breiann)

"Loved, loved, loved this book! I laughed and cried. I'm so glad I read it." (Cindy)

"It is clean, funny and good. I enjoyed it so much I bought the next book..." (Dianne)

(I love those that say my story made them smile or laugh. I've always wanted to be funny. Always!)

"...a moving mystery of life including narrative arcs for each of the characters." (IJ Palmer)

"Lots of unusual, imperfect characters add to the great story line." (Book Addict)

I could pull out lots more excerpts. To date, Amazon has 185 reviews for the title, including the one where the reader said she "tried and tried" to read the story but just couldn't it was so dull. Had to throw that bad one in to balance the  others. But most of the reviews have been kind, even enthusiastic and lighting up all five stars to make this writer happy to see stars.    

 
A good, sympathetic review is always a wonderful surprise. (Joyce Carol Oates)

It's enormously cheering to get a good review by someone who seems to understand your work. (Kenneth Koch)

I am glad to get good reviews, but I try not to dwell on those any more than on the ones that aren't so good. I just have to try to write the next book better. 

If you wrote one of the reviews on my books, thank you. Reviews matter. On the internet a review is sort of like word of mouth and everybody knows that having a friend recommend a book is the very best advertising a writer can get. 

Have you ever written a review online? Or told a friend about a book you've read?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Seeing the Light through Dementia's Darkness


A Special Treat
I have a special treat for you on One Writer’s Journal this week – a guest post by Kristy Robinson Horine. 

I met Kristy at the Licking Valley Writers’ Conference when I was signing my books at a writer’s event last fall. At the time, Kristy was the executive director of the conference, but life was about to change for her. While her other three children have long since left babyhood behind, she was excited about expecting her fourth child. 

A New Season in Life
Now she’s entered a new season in her life with the care of her baby girl and she's using this time to explore new options in her writing. Kristy read my posts about my mother’s dementia and very generously sent me a beautiful piece she’d written about the journey into dementia she witnessed her grandmother taking. Not a good journey, but sometimes there is joy in the moments. She found that joy with her Meme and wrote about it. The photo is of her Meme at a nursing home on one of her last birthdays before she got to go on home to heaven. Can't you just see her personality shining through the dementia?

Kristy is letting me share her story forward so that her words can perhaps bless those of you who have walked this hard path with your loved ones. In some ways every journey for those suffering dementia is similar, but at the same time, each walk along this path is also different. But sharing what we experience can help us to see the light between the dark things.  



Riding Fences  
       by Kristy Robinson Horine


     Momma gave me The Look when they arrived. Papaw had packed Meme into his candy apple red Toyota and bumped along country roads to our house. It must have been pretty bad this time. I urged Meme toward the door.


     “Come look at the garden I planted Meme,” I said. I grabbed both of her hands and steadied her down the brick steps, across the cistern, down a concrete block step, and into the yard. Meme puffed hard, wheezing. After a few steps, we stopped to rest.


      Inside, Papaw was telling Mom how Meme had removed the gate from the hinges when she couldn’t get out of the padlocked yard. He was telling how she had escaped and told strangers passing by that someone in her house was trying to kill her. He was telling about the conversation with the police officer who didn’t know about Meme and her Alzheimer’s. 


      Outside, it was just me and a woman who could no longer remember my name.


     “Now, I want you to just look out there,” she breathed with her mouth open. “Do you remember when we was in Caden Town?”


      I looked at her eyes and knew I would lie. “Yes ma’am,” I said.


     “Do you remember how much work it was? Daddy made me work. Would take that razor strap to me if I didn’t do it. You know that Mamaw T and Papaw Tuttle were multi-millionaires, but I thought I had worked my ass off,” she said. I no longer flinched when Meme cussed. Her filters were just about gone, but this time, she had remembered to whisper talk the bad word.


     “Yes ma’am,” I said. “They didn’t want for anything, did they?”


     She hooked her elbow through mine: us against the world. I didn’t have a clue about Caden Town, but I liked the co-conspirator feeling. Her eyes shined in the sunlight.


     “We was born different,” she said. “The two of us.”


     “Yes Ma’am,” I said.


     The distance to the garden from the house stretched with every wheeze, but we made it. I secretly hoped that Papaw was giving my mother an earful. I also secretly hoped that God wouldn’t answer my prayers to take Meme before she got too bad, right there next to the garden. Meme had gotten a bit heavy since she couldn’t remember the last time she had eaten. She couldn’t remember that full meant stop. I just wasn’t certain I could lift her if she hit the ground.


    We settled down onto a swinging bench at the edge of the snow peas I planted. I told her about shoveling manure and spreading it around after everything had died off the season before. I told her about running the tiller for the first time ever. I told her about how the wind blew as I hoed my rows, moving the string I had tied up between two broken tobacco sticks. I told her that Papaw said I could plant more in a crooked row anyway. There was something like an apology in my voice. Suddenly, I wanted my garden to be full and thick with fruit. I wanted Meme to see even though I knew she wouldn’t remember. I stopped talking when I realized her mind wasn’t sitting with her body.


    “I want you to look out there,” she said. I thought she was going to ask me about Caden Town again.


     “Yes ma’am?”


     “Do you see how that dark goes like that?” she moved her hand in a horizontal line and wiggled her fingers as if to mimic a flitting bird. “Do you see that dark?”


      I squinted into the distance, hoping to catch a glimpse of what she described. I shook my head.


     “Those dark things there,” she said, waving her hand back and forth, more insistent. “The ones with the light in between.”

  
   Again I looked and realization came at once. “Are you talking about the black fence just on the other side of the garden?”


   Her hand relaxed, patted my knee. She exhaled then, after I named the darkness for her. “Yes. Fence. That fence. That’s right. Look there, between them.”


    I leaned my head closer to hers, tried to see what she saw, like a child trying to find a single constellation in a sky full of stars.


    “That’s what you need to see. The part that’s not dark,” she said. “You need to see the light.”


    In that moment, I rode the fence between my reality and hers. In that moment, we both saw the light.


About Kristy
~Writer, teacher, poet, artist, mother & wife Kristy Robinson Horine has worked as a journalist, studied through the Christian Writers Guild, and is now a freelance journalist. She writes for Kentucky Monthly and has a couple of blogs, A Kentuckian in Paris, and Write One Real Life.



Thanks, Kristy
Thank you, Kristy, for sharing. My mother is struggling more each week with communication, but she has begun to hold and talk to a doll and that seems to comfort her. Perhaps it gives her purpose to care for the “baby.” But each smile whether directed toward me or toward the doll is a moment to appreciate when I visit. As Kristy’s Meme said, you need to see the light.




Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Imagining Life's Coming Attractions



In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on. (Robert Frost) 

I love spring. A time when the spring peepers make music so loud that even with the windows closed I can hear them trying to convince some other peepers to be their dates. I like how one week the trees are winter bare and then a couple of weeks later leaves are waving in the breeze. I like how flowers start popping up out of the ground like magic as soon as the sun begins to warm the ground and then seem to grow tall overnight. 

I especially like those flowers that no one planted. That are just there. The wildflowers Mother Nature herself sowed in the woods and fields. Every year they show up again. Sometimes they spread out into bigger patches. Sometimes they shrink back and cling tightly to their little bit of earth and wait for a better year. But they keep blooming without fail. Flowers like the Dutchman's Breeches up above. 

They seem to be proof that, as Robert Frost says, life goes on. And if you look at my picture really closely, you'll see that even as I was taking that photograph, life was going on. A spider, that I surely didn't even notice, was building a web and using one of the blooms as an anchor post. It was paying me no mind. I was paying it no mind. We were just each in our own spring mode.

Life is going on in my work in progress too, but sometimes it seems to be still frozen in the winter of my mind instead of springing forth in the right words. 


Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions. (Albert Einstein)


That's where my story is. In my imagination and I'm trying to tell it so that you might make it come to life in your imagination. While Albert Einstein isn't talking about fictional lives, the same can hold true for my characters. If I can imagine it, I can preview their lives' coming attractions. But I have to write it moment by moment or more aptly, scene by scene. Each scene has to flow into the next until the story is told. Because even in a fictional story, life goes on. My story might succeed if I can pull out the right succession of moments.

Life is a succession of moments, to live each one is to succeed. (Corita Kent)

In real life, we can't pick and choose among the moments that make up our stories. We have to live the ones that come to us. But we sometimes can preview our lives by imagining what is to come. 

When I was a kid, I imagined myself married and a mother. I remember the moment when I looked forward to that life with a certain surety. Then I also imagined myself a writer. With a dog by my side. Lots of things have happened that I didn't know to imagine, but those things I imagined true. 

What are some of the things you've imagined that have come to pass in your life?   

Thanks for reading. Check back Sunday for a real treat. I'm having a guest post from someone who writes about her grandmother's struggles with dementia. A beautiful story I know will touch your heart. 
Life is a succession of moments, to live each one is to succeed.

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/c/coritakent162489.html#DvO4Gp26V52g3WGr.99
Life is a succession of moments, to live each one is to succeed.

Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/c/coritakent162489.html#DvO4Gp26V52g3WGr.99

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Stories Never Told in Words

"Life is a journey; photography is thy shepherd." (Destin Sparks)

On my Facebook page I have certain things I do on different days of the week. Mailbag Tuesday. Shaker Wednesday. Sunday morning coming down when I give my Facebook friends a glimps of the world I see outside my window. Friday, I do my best to post smiles all day long. And Thursday is Throwback Day when I, along with many others on Facebook, post old photos. That has me looking back through old photo books and snapping pictures of pictures. The one above is from my mother's first photo album. That photo album is about the size of one of the bigger paperback books and has a wooden cover attached together with leather strips. The front cover has a piece broken off it. It's been that way ever since I can remember. 

In the album, Mom has attached the pictures to the pages with those black corners. She has photos of her dating days with Dad and also shots posed with other friends from when she was in school. It's a stroll down her memory lane. Those are memories she has lost now, but there in her photo album, they live on in the pictures and in the notes she wrote under the photos. 

This picture is my dad, years before he met Mom. He was 21 years old and had ridden his motorcycle all the way across country to Oregon to visit cousins there. Mom would have been 11 or 12 when this photo was taken since she was almost ten years younger than Dad. She didn't meet him until she was 18 and he was 28. They met when he was on a date with a friend and she was with a different fellow. She used to say that she took one look at Dad and knew he was the man she was going to marry. I don't know how long it took her to convince Dad of that, but they did start dating right away. And they did get married the day after she graduated from high school. 

"Look at the people in the very old photographs! They are gone forever but they still can give us messages with their eyes, they still can touch our hearts with their looks and they still can give us courage with their standing upright!" (Mehmet Murat ildan)

I look at Dad in this picture and I see a young man I never knew. A man willing to take off across the country with a map and a little money in his pockets in spite of his mother in tears begging him not to go. He went. He slept on the ground, shivered in the cold, sweated in the heat, and made it to Oregon. It was a highlight of his life and I wish I had asked him more questions about that journey. It was a journey off the farm and toward independence. He came back to the farm after his summer in the west, but I daresay he was never the same boy who rode away on that motorcycle. 

There are things that I can never know about how my parents were when they were young, but I can see glimpses of them in those old pictures and imagine how it might have been for them. I'm sure it is the same for my children. Stories never told in words, but only glimpsed in a face staring out of a photo.
  
"When someone you love becomes a memory, that memory becomes a treasure."

Do you have treasured photos that make you remember? 

Do you wish you'd taken more time to talk about back when with your parents and grandparents before it was too late?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Almost 98 Years Young


Our church went to visit a very special member tonight. Loretta will be 98 next month. We were a little early with her birthday cake, but she didn't mind. She was quick to tell us the age on the cake was wrong. She was proud to claim that extra year even if it is a few weeks until her birthday. 

Loretta is an amazing woman. If her picture were in a church annual with Biblical descriptions, beside her picture would be all the good fruits of the spirit, faithfulness, kindness, love, joy, peace, patience and goodness. And on top of all that, she remembers everything about the old days and about the new days too. 

She's had some rough spots in her nearly 98 years. One of the roughest was losing her husband a few years ago after 76 years of marriage. But she soldiered on then and continues on today. Still living in her own house. Still cooking and cleaning for herself. Still sewing. She just made new cushion covers for her kitchen chairs and a new valance for her window. This is after having carpal tunnel surgery in December. At the danger of repeating myself, there is only one word for Loretta - amazing. 

But maybe the very best way to describe Loretta is to say that she is a prayer warrior who walks daily with the Lord. She reads her Bible through every year and prays for her family and for her church family too. She's one of those people you'd best not ask to pray for something unless you're sure you really want it to happen. 

A few years back, her youngest son found out he had a brain tumor. The doctors were not optimistic, but he was because he knew he had his mama lifting him up to the Lord. When the doctors were giving him only a short time to live, he told them, "You don't know my mother." And they didn't, but the Lord sure does. It's been several years since Joe's diagnosis and his journey hasn't been easy, but he's still on it. He's gotten to see his son graduate from high school. He's gotten to hold his grandchild and he gets to keep hugging his mama's neck. What a treasure she is to her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and even a few great great grandchildren. And what a treasure she is to her church family and to me!

We love you, Loretta! You have blessed us with your prayers and your love, and we thank God for your example of faithfulness. 
 
Thanks for reading!
 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Mom's New Place




I haven't talked about Mom for awhile here. Not since I told you we were moving her into The Lantern, a memory care home for those with Alzheimer's or dementia problems. It's a very nice facility, bright and open, and the staff are kind and caring. 

Even so, it's been a difficult transition. The first week, we were in the ER twice because she fell, once at night and once late in the daytime. She had bruises and no major injuries. I cringed every time the phone rang, fearing another fall. But since then in almost two months now, we've made one more ER visit. Again, a fall in the night. Again, only bruises. 

Mom's a pretty tough cookie. But it could not have been that way. She could have been hurt worse, and that makes the falls a major guilty poke for my sister and me. We were watching her so closely at her house that we were right with her every time she sat up in bed. We had a bed alarm but after replacing it once at a high price, we just went with wind chimes tied to her walker. Then we placed the walker beside the bed so that she'd hit it and ring those "bells" when she tried to get up. The memory care home is not equipped for one on one observation at night. We signed numerous papers saying we were aware of that before Mom moved in. The workers do check on the residents periodically, but there's plenty of time in between checks for Mom to wake up and decide it's time to "go to school" or that somebody is "out front waiting for her." Or maybe just because she needs to "go."

There are other problems. She wouldn't eat at first. At home, she ate whatever we fixed, but once at the home, she wouldn't even look at the food on her plate. That is getting better. She eats breakfast now and dabbles with her other meals. Another problem, she doesn't like them giving her baths and helping her dress in the mornings. You have to realize where she is with this. At home, when I would tell her we needed to go get cleaned up, she'd tell me she just had a bath. In her mind, I'm sure she had. Sometimes I would have to talk for an hour before she'd come around to letting me help her bathe. The aides don't have the time to do that at the home. They have other residents to get ready for breakfast. So I understand the problem, but I know no solutions to suggest. The best help I had at her house was simply prayer that she'd be in a cooperative frame of mind.  

All's not bad though. Even though she wouldn't smile for me in the photo I snapped on Friday, she seems happier or more satisfied there than she was at her house. She still talks about "going home" to see her mother and father or that she needs to go cook supper for my dad. But she doesn't try to go out the door the way she did at home. I think because the place is bigger and the trip to the door is so far up the hallways, (and of course, locked if she did get to the door) she gets distracted easier. She thinks she'll have to wait until later. Plus, the other people there distract her too. 

There are residents at the home who are much younger and in better physical health than Mother and in better mental health too. Some of them wander a bit, walking to find an escape from the confusion that reigns in their minds. Others never say a word. One lady whispers everything and another lady sometimes stands in the corner and cries. 

In contrast, Mom has been chattering a mile a minute the last week. Nothing she says makes a lot of sense and she doesn't process what you say to her correctly. You say one thing and she thinks you've said something totally different. Makes for hard conversations. In this photo, she's telling me she has four of them - fingers, I think.
I haven't felt as if she's known me for a couple of weeks now. When an aide asked her if I was her daughter on Friday, she said no quite emphatically. But I am, whether she knows it or not. And she still smiles when she sees me. At least at first. Then sometimes she's ready for me to leave so that she can go home. After all, you can't leave company to do what you want. Innate hospitality forbids that. Maybe that's what keeps her satisfied in the big gathering room. 

My sister or I go see her almost every day. I'm not sure that's helping her, but it helps us. You see, it's not only Mom who has to adjust to the new arrangement, but us as well. Care taking is a demanding thing and it wraps tentacles of guilt around you when you come to the place where you think you can't do it any longer. 

But what we are continually reminding ourselves is that she wasn't happy at her house and she seems more content at the facility. There is the danger of falls. She is getting worse with her communication, but that could have happened at home too. The main thing for us to remember is that we love her and she loves us whether she's able to show that any more or not. 

She was a wonderful mother and I miss her. Those of you going through some of the same things with your loved ones understand what I mean when I say I miss her. Let's all lift up a prayer for those with this dreaded disease and for the families who have to watch their loved ones decline into a terrible world of confusion.

P.S. 
I took a walk back to my wildflower area today and was surprised to see a lot of the flowers blooming. The one above, Dutchman's Breeches, was always one of Mom's favorites. And I also saw my first snake! I think he was cold since he didn't slither away but let me step right past him on the path. 
  
Thanks to all of you who downloaded my book, Scent of Lilacs. It's going to be free for a while longer, so if you have e-reading friends, I hope you'll tell them about it. You can check my last blog post to see the links to the places where you can download the book. And you're always welcome to share my blog posts with any friends you think would like to read my ramblings. Thanks. You're the best.  


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Free Download News & Walking Down TV Memory Lane



Television Memory Lane



On my Facebook page today, I posted a picture of Don Knotts as Barney on the Andy Griffith Show and asked my friends to share their favorite TV shows from back when most of the television sets were black and white and the shows were a half hour of fun. Except the Westerns. They usually got an hour to entertain us. Matt Dillion and Kitty in Gunsmoke. The bachelor brothers on Bonanza. It was dangerous having one of those boys fall in love with you because before the hour was over, you would be gone, often dead. Poor Pa, Lorne Greene, had zero chance of ever getting to be a grandpa.



When Laughs Came Easy

Most of the shows mentioned on my FB page were situation comedies. I Love Lucy. F Troop. Hogan’s Heroes. The Dick Van Dyke Show. The Beverly Hillbillies. I bet there’s hardly a person of a certain age who can’t sing that song. “Shooting at some food and up from the ground came a bubbling pool. Oil, that is. Black gold.” And do you remember how Jethro could cipher. Of course, he sometimes had to take off his shoes so he could count on his toes too if the problem was difficult. LOL. Then there was that little sea excursion that ended up stranded on Gilligan’s Island. Somehow they could build or come up with everything except a boat.



And how about Petticoat Junction? Those three girls needed to take a trip to Bonanza. We could have had some TV weddings. What I remember best about that show was they didn’t bother to send the characters off to school or kill them off when one of the actresses decided to quit. They just moved another actress in and let them take over the role. They figured we knew it was all a show and they were acting anyway. And we did.



Of course, father always knew best. That was true not only in Father Knows Best but in My Three Sons and Leave it to Beaver as well as others. I liked fathers knowing best and mothers too. Somewhere along the way the shows started making the parents out as more than a little nutty and hardly fit to be parents of the really smart, and often smart aleck, children. But you know what? There’s something comforting to a kid to know that adults have a few things figured out and that they are dependable people in control of their world.



So Many Great Shows
 
But there were action shows too. Zorro. The Lone Ranger. Superman. Dragnet. Help me out. I know I’m forgetting lots of them. Then we had Carol Burnett. Perry Como. The Ed Sullivan Show. Hee Haw. The Smothers Brothers. So much fun entertainment that you never had to worry about letting your kids watch.



It could be I’m romanticizing a little here. After all, I watched Bugs Bunny and now many parents think those cartoons are too violent for kids. But I knew it was all just silly stuff on television. I never once thought I could pop my sister on the head with a stick and not get in a pile of trouble.



How about you? What shows do you remember best and which ones made you smile?  



Free Download of Scent of Lilacs




FREE! FREE! If you have an e-reader, you can download my book, Scent of Lilacs, for free at your favorite place to grab e-books.
If you haven't already visited Hollyhill and gotten to know Jocie and friends, I hope you will give the book a try. Free's a great price. And if you have read the books and enjoyed your visit, tell your e-reading friends about the free download. It's only for a limited time, but the time's not up yet.

Thanks a bunch for reading. I'm a day late this week, but I don't have to worry about that dollar short since my book is free!