What Is Love?

smiling father and child

Worldly Love …

I’m not going to lie. I hate rejection and am far too fond of the world’s approval. When a person doesn’t like something about me I’m often too thin-skinned. I’m in awe of people who let things  roll off their backs.

Lately I’ve been realizing that my definition of love — what I really believe it to be deep down — is something related to people telling me I’m great in exchange for me telling them they’re great. So basically take-take relationships have been my thing.

Selfless Love …

I do occasionally have  true moments of unselfishness but I have to admit they are moments when I am kind to animals or people who won’t tax me too much. Animals, in particular, aren’t able to write negative reviews of the home-cooked meals I make for them but then they don’t mind eating trash and roadkill either so …

The other night I decided to look at the  book reviews that had just been posted on Amazon. A few weren’t as wonderful as I always want them to be. Here I will also admit that people who leave one star reviews on free books are very taxing to me (hey, I’m human).

I whined to my husband. He always brings me to the heart of the matter. “You want to put yourself out there, so you have to be able to take the heat. Do you think Trump spends time worrying about reviews?”

Yeah. Let’s not talk politics, but my husband of course was right. People write negative reviews on everything from pavement sealer to the Bible. Why should I expect to be liked all the time? Some of you remember that I don’t leave negative reviews online but that hasn’t stopped me from trashing movies, books, politicians and so on to friends and neighbors. I’ve also fallen out of love with people.

Anyway, since I’m reflecting on life’s purpose these days I’m reconsidering my definition of love as that happy feeling when everyone likes me and I like them. It turns out, that in general, I’m not even marginally good at selfless love.

 

I basically love the following reader who left this review of THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD:
“This is a love story from the first. So much love between two people. The story is wonderful. I want to read the whole series.”
Yet I find it harder to love this reader:
“I have never read anything so dreary, sad, depressing, and frustrating in all my life!! It took me forever, I had to force myself to finish it.”

Yet these two opposing views made me consider love even more. I get the desire for uncomplicated feel-good stories about love, but I’m incapable of writing them. I’ve never found love easy. Surface romance is fun but it ends so quickly. It ends because romance is always about drawing attention to oneself until that point when you can no longer keep up the facade of being a truly marvelous soul.

Romantic Love vs. Biblical Love …

On that day or soon after both partners have to decide if it’s better to run or stay. Staying means you have to enter into the Biblical meaning of love which can be not only difficult but also horrible in many ways. Yes, you begin to discover that your partner is so damned selfish and too hard on the kids. He’s quite possibly insane (or so you think when he disagrees with you). When this person isn’t spending all of his time reflecting you back to yourself in a positive way and begins to question your sanity, well then, it’s no rom-com.

Possibly because I have such trouble sacrificing my desires in acts of love (and also find that my passions are fleeting and that my eyes wander), I’ve always been interested in the after stories of the happily-ever-after stories. You know, when things get real.

Tortured Love …

But getting real means you have to be strong enough to deal with people who won’t like what you have to say. On second thought I have compassion for the reviewer  who just couldn’t like my story about a love that endures great hardship. I couldn’t  endure a similar relationship in real life and I really, really loved the guy (or thought I did).

Now that I’m older I see the promise in sacrificial love. I’ve done it once or twice and wonder in those moments why I don’t do it more often. Laying down every expectation comes with a weird peace that goes against my controlling tendencies. It usually brings about better outcomes (in the long run). For me I can only do it with God’s help in the form of daily digging into Scripture. My worldly self sees no reason to give myself to anything that doesn’t reflect back on me glowingly.

The Creator’s Love …

The gift that God has given me in writing  novels is an insight as to how God loves us despite our miserable behavior and hardened hearts. I tell the truth about my characters because I’m  compelled to do so in search of  greater truth. This may sound pretentious but why do we tell ourselves stories anyway? I told the Tenafly Road story because one day I was asked to let surrender my romantic ideas about love and let a different kind of love flow in — a love that believes that the lowliest sinner is offered a place in the kingdom.

Redeeming Love …

I write about these lowly people because I know where I come from (and it’s pretty low). I write because I know that deep love is hard and miserable sometimes. I’d always had a hard time imagining a God who really loved people until He showed me a creator’s love for the created. God in His wisdom and with His sense of humor got my attention when I first set out to write against Christianity years ago. No matter how I tried to get around it, I kept bumping into my own desire to redeem John Weldon and the rest.

And so after a few days reflection I’m ready to admit that I still have a lot to do when it comes to loving people who leave negative reviews or critique my cooking. Deep love brings with it risks, but I want to take God at His word that loving deeply is worth it.

Finally I got this review and it kind of sums up my feelings about life which  makes sense since I wrote the book. 🙂

“Not sure what I think of this book on its whole. A list of dysfunctional characters all so full with faults. But so well written I had to keep reading. Characters so frustrating one wants to slap them but so human one keeps hoping for the best for them.”

I want to know what you all think LOVE means in the comments. Have any of you survived a tortured love story? Do you like reading them?

The Tenafly Road Series

“Characters so deep you follow them into the abyss, hoping to come out unscathed, but never returning the same. They will haunt me forever.”

Advent: A Time for Reflection

“You keep us waiting. You, the God of all time, Want us to wait. For the right time in which to discover Who we are, where we are to go, Who will be with us, and what we must do. So thank you … for the waiting time.”
John Bell, quoted in The Westminster Collection of Christian Prayers

Do you think of this time of year as a time of reflection or a time for shopping? I confess that for most of my life I’d never even thought about the weeks before Christmas as something separate from the actual holiday (which I rarely reflected upon either).

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The dogs are reflecting upon how much they love blankets.

So what is there to reflect upon? For Christians advent is not about waiting to put the porcelain baby in the tiny manger on Christmas, but about waiting for the second advent when Christ returns. Non-Christians may find this a foolish notion, but I wonder if there is a person alive who doesn’t feel that humanity needs to be saved.

Social media and “the news” —  no matter the flavor — ask us to take sides in the battle to save children, animals, foreigners, neighbors and the planet because we all know in our bones that we need saving and that there is something of value to save.

This year I find myself at loose ends (the perfect time to reflect).

I wonder about blogging. I’ve made some great friends.

Yet …

I feel constrained sometimes.

Years ago at college I took a journalism course called Minorities in the Media. The professor loved my political writing, and I loved the praise. At the time, I was marching behind banners supporting terrorism in my spare time. I embraced a victim-hood that wasn’t even my own because I had an Irish last name. For a brief time the badge of victim-hood got me good grades and a seat at the university activist table. It also meant that I cared little for the people who might die for disagreeing over the issues I marched for in complete safety. In short, I was young, naive and ignorant of the complexities of human nature and history — so much so that compassion disappeared.

I remember one young man who dared question the narrative. He was Jewish and had living relatives who had survived the Holocaust. He refused victim status. The professor often stood back as the mob shouted him down. I remained quiet more out of cowardice than anything else, but that one boy’s stand against group-think made an impression on me.

In the books I’ve written I have never considered shying from controversial topics, yet more and more when I blog I find myself second-guessing writing about things I really believe in. The idea of offending someone and having to spend a day defending an off-the-cuff remark just seems so boring and useless. Politics and religion are fascinating subjects but the idea of writing about them in the present environment is so fraught with anger and hysteria I find it difficult to wade in.

With a few exceptions the internet is becoming a cultural desert for me. People are told to write how-to-blog/how-to-write posts to get more followers. People are told to stay away from religion and politics. Or to write about religion and politics to create extreme controversy and buzz.

I am guilty of it all. I’m guilty of chasing followers. I’m guilty of insincerity and of paying too much attention to the repetitive promptings of how-to-write/how-to-do-life blogs which at this point all blur into one another.

So why blog?

To build a platform? (when do we feel the satisfaction we are hunting for?)

To meet only like-minded people? (doesn’t this get so very boring?)

To trash opponents? ( I admit I  too often find reading this stuff entertaining — but such a waste of time)

To offer advice? (not always — but often — the advice is copy and paste)

To bring something of value to the world? (isn’t this what we all hope to do?)

I suppose we all value different things, but for advent I’m reflecting on Saint Paul’s admonition:

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Philippians 4:8

But, my friends, I’m at an impasse.

Where does opinionated fit in? Where do political rants find their proper place? How is boredom cured? How is fear of man dispelled? Have I been so tainted by the world that I can’t come up with things that are interesting and “good”?

This may all be Lyme-induced brain fog. Who knows …

Or maybe we just have to occasionally question why we do what we do.

One thing I do know is that I’m hungry for beauty, depth and inspiration. There are many blogs I really enjoy (but I want more!). Three that come to mind are:

Sharon Bonin-Pratt’s Ink Flare

retrospectivelily.com

A.M. Pine – Hearth Ridge Reflections

 

I would love to know what blogs you follow for your fix of positivity. Please leave your recommendations in the comments!

 

 

 

 

Family Histories (Holiday Edition): Pass The Pie

Welcome to Family Histories (Holiday Edition). I’ve invited readers and bloggers to share holiday themed pieces with the accent on “Family” and “History” in any way they like. I’m pleased to offer you this Thanksgiving  visit  from Chris Michaels’ memory bank:

” Pass The Pie “

Holidays.

You have to admit, there’s very
few occasions that create more
memories than those family
get-togethers around the holidays.

My grandmother had a tradition –
– she liked to do Thanksgiving
at her house each year, which,
considering how well she cooked,
became quite a favorite event in
my family over the years.

There were several dishes she
could make that no-one has
ever gotten close to doing as well.

Lovely.

Yes, Thanksgiving during my
teen years was very special.

Well,
usually, that is.

Except for the time1915judge
my Aunt Minnie made such
a fuss over it, that it was
somehow decided
(on the board room level)
that she could host it at
her house that year.

I can still tell you
exactly which year
that was – 1974.

Memorable?
Oh sure.

Because it was the year
of the great ‘pie in the eye’
controversy.

Now, to start with,
lemme say that it was
a complete accident……

Alright, I’ll start at
the beginning.

Nobody had asked me –
– I was a kid – but the idea
of going over to her house
for dinner at Thanksgiving
just seemed like a terrible
waste of a perfectly good
holiday – not to mention
missing out on all my
Grandmother’s traditional
goodies.

And it didn’t take long for
the idea to start losing any
merit it ever had-
(if it ever had any)
when Aunt Minnie
proclaimed that everybody
would bring a cooked
dinner component,
so she wouldn’t have
to cook herself.

Perhaps it did make sense
on some cosmic level –
considering that the
predominant flavor profile
in all of my Aunt’s cooking
could be described as
ewww, that’s way too salty‘.brundage

She was the only person I knew
that had a 50 pound bag of
Morton’s salt in her pantry.

When it rains, it pours.

( It was widely rumored among
us youngsters that the lady lost
her sense of taste and smell in
a gas attack during the
Crimean War –

ok, so, hey,
we were still kids,

and didn’t know that much about
history, but still, her taste buds
had to have gone somewhere. )

But my Aunt wasn’t much
on organizational things….1880
and so, when she told
everybody to bring ‘a dish’,
I guess she just assumed that
they knew what she meant.

And, considering how long
she had been a member,
(a charter member, one
might say), she should have
remembered that our patronymic
name’s alternative meaning in
it’s original language was
something resembling ‘cheapskate‘.

When the final menu was
assembled and inventoried
on the big day, the holiday
haul consisted of:
several (5) cans of green beans,
1 can of French Fried Onions
(meant as a topper for the
green beans applied ‘a la minute’),
a yellowish gray jello-mold thing,
1 canned ham,
a tray of Gino’s pizza rolls,
a large turkey-noodle casserole,
some damp and foul smelling
slimy stuffing-ish substance,
macaroni cheese (still in the box),
a package of hot dogs and buns,
a hunk of Kielbasa,
cookies (my Grandmother’s)
and a very large assortment1909
of cold drinks and alcoholic
beverages.

Happily, my family brought
some pumpkin pies
and whipped cream.

Now, I have to say that,
due to the turkey-noodle
casserole, my Uncle Harry
didn’t put on his usual
big production about carving
the bird, which might have had a
motivating factor in the choice,
for all I know, although it still
tasted, of course, as awful as
it sounds.

During ‘dinner’,humor
my Aunt Minnie used her
once-in-a-lifetime home court
advantage to full effect :

She started with a blessing that
included a plea to the Almighty
to help:

my older cousin Larry ‘get a
real job instead of living off
the fat of the land’,

my Grandmother to
‘share the holiday’,

my Mom to ‘dress more
appropriately’

and other assorted
helpful suggestions
like that ………

While passing the green beans
(served three different ways)
she was also kind enough to
remind me that she didn’t like
the length of my hair, my clothes, my manners, and my plans to go into the Navy
when I was old enough.

As the pie was coming out,
she was ragging on me
for not bringing a date….
‘you’re old enough to have
a girl friend, aren’t you?’
….

Hey, who would subject
anybody they liked to
dinner with Aunt Minnie?

But you see,
no matter how hard
the going gets at one
of these doooos —-

one always must keep some kind of
secret plan for sweet revenge in the
back of your mind, just in case.

And I had one, too, buddy……

It was more fantasy than plan, really….

— involving an innocuous lookingchase
can of Reddi Whip that my family had brought with the pies —

— one would only need to
shake firmly, point it in the
right direction and push down
on the tip for instant gratification.

Uh huh..

Ever hear of ‘thinking’ out loud?

Well, what about ‘doing’ out loud ?

One naughty thought caused
the slightest pressure on the
nozzle to explode in a very
specific direction —
— all over my Aunt.

Ooooops.wwdenslow

“Oh, I’m soooo sorry…..”

Well, “,
my mother added helpfully:
“…. that wasn’t exactly a new dress there, Aunt Minnie… ”
(she’d worn it every year
since 1957) ”
….. and accidents will happen,
ya know “.

You know how they say that
every cloud has a silver lining?

It certainly was nice to have
all our Thanksgivings back at
my Grandmother’s house again…

And we did for many
delicious and memorable
years afterwards.

Happy Holidays, y’all.

.

For more of Chris Michaels go visit his FANTASTIC Blog: THE MUSCLEHEADED BLOG

Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Author/Blogger Promotion!

Yes, it’s a little too soon, but I wanted to offer all of you wonderful writers an opportunity to promote yourselves here in the next few months. 🙂

AUTHOR PROMOTION in two ways:

1.Family Histories

I’m hoping to do a holiday edition of Family Histories. Those of you who participated in the past are welcome to submit another piece relating to history and/or family in some way. Don’t be shy either. The more the merrier when it comes to promoting our fellow writers! For those who didn’t submit in the past, the basic “rules” are that there are no rules (okay, do I need to say no monster porn?). Whatever comes to mind when you put the words FAMILY and HISTORY together (while keeping holidays in mind as well).

This is a good place to promote any books you may have written (or are in the process of writing) and your blog writing too.

I’ll accept work up until December 15th. (we can talk about exceptions if you’re interested).

2. Author Interviews

If you have written books (or are writing a book) that in some way involves history (historical fiction, family history, human history, poetry about history, the history of your blind date last week — you get the point), then I’d love to feature you here!

I’m not going to reinvent the wheel on this one so the deal is that you pick 5-10 questions on this excellent LIST to answer at your convenience. Send me your answers,  any promotional material you want to share, and links to social media.

This is an open invitation with no deadlines, but I will work with you if you have a special release date or something.

***BTW, I have a few books out and certainly wouldn’t turn down any interviews 😉

Please share the love on this because it’s so fun to see what others are up to!

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An Encouraging Note to Mistake Makers

“Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.” ― Oscar Wilde

Some people come to the table with all of their research done. They’ve outlined every subplot of their future novel, they’ve studied the market, they’ve researched every aspect of publishing, and they’ve networked the hell out of their blogs.

I love those people. I’m impressed by them … but I’m not one of them. Even when I really, really try.

Instead I seem to learn best by making mistakes and having adventures.

Some mistakes I’ve made in life: marrying with doubts, wasting my time at NYU and

not having my book professionally edited.

Yes, most people are forgiven (and sometimes celebrated) for marrying and divorcing multiple times. Many of us think little of wasted nights at university, but everyone despises those writers who don’t pay to have their books professionally edited.

For a while (until I could afford to have my growing library of book titles edited) I kind of despised myself now and then.

But this is where the encouragement comes in:

Publishing mistakes can be fixed and sometimes in the fixing we learn a lot.

I consider myself lucky that I wrote my first book before I knew anything about publishing or else I wouldn’t have started. If I was told that I’d have to figure out how to blog or format documents I would have curled up in a ball despising myself all the more.

I published when a trusted friend dared me.

I published so that my children would have something to remember me by (they think I’m ridiculous for thinking of death all the time, but it’s in my blood).

A Historical Novel Society Surprise

When I started getting random good reviews I was pretty shocked (though I loved my book). When I got a really good review from the HISTORICAL NOVEL SOCIETY I hoped and prayed that my self-editing had been enough —  yet knew deep down that no one catches every typo or weird writing habit for themselves. I gave it a good try — and with each re-edit I learned a lot about editing.

The First Negative Review!

When the first negative review came in and mentioned that I randomly always used the verb “pat” when I meant “patted” the worries flooded in. This was just a weird glitch in my brain, but how many other glitches were hidden from me???

Honestly, I was thrilled that my self-edited early versions of THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD still managed to get mostly good reviews yet I knew I was selling myself  and my readers short and leaving myself open for the occasional vicious review about little typos and the word pat. I even felt some satisfaction when I found typos in traditionally published books. 🙂

Every writer comes to the point were they have to decide how devoted they are to their stories. After writing a six book series I knew — I  really, enthusiastically believed in my work (that’s fifteen years of my life right there!).

Having my series polished up by the great KEVIN BRENNAN at INDIE-SCRIBABLE EDITORIAL SERVICES this past year has been such an amazing experience and one that I’m not sure I would have appreciated as much had I handed over the books earlier because I was too insecure back then. Kevin is great at getting a feel for a writer’s work and stepped in with wonderful suggestions, comments and encouragement.

I won’t lie, I was incredibly relieved each time I opened one of his emails and read that he was enjoying the series and that the typos and occasional wonky wording were just that — occasional. On a professional level, the fixes were super important to me because I wanted all of my hard work to shine and flow. Fifteen years ago I didn’t even think I could write a short story and certainly didn’t believe  in myself enough to hire a REAL editor.

The point is, all those years ago I didn’t have the money, but more importantly I didn’t have the guts to consider myself a professional at anything. I did everything exactly how you’re not supposed to do it, but I’m still here. I’m more a writer now than ever. I’m more willing to defend my work and my life than ever.

I feel like things are working out just as they are supposed to.

I wrote a book.

I edited it myself and designed the first cover (more to come on that disaster).

My sister told me that writers had to blog. I didn’t even know what that was.

Through blogging I met Kevin and never even thought about his editing services — until the right time and then I knew without hesitation that it had to be him. It was all meant to be, in my humble opinion.  The thrill of sharing the series with a writer I admire who happens to be an excellent editor has been one of the highlights of my life.

How often are you afraid to begin things?

I get it. I really do. How often have you turned back after making painful mistakes? I get that too. But if you have a dream, don’t give up on yourself too early (and it’s probably always too early to give up). Your path is your path. Winding roads aren’t always a bad thing.

Just the other day I got the following review for THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD:

“I saw that this book was close to 600 pages. That didn’t daunt me, but I wondered if I would be engaged in such a long book? I was. For 3 full days. I really enjoyed The House on Tenafly Road. It is an interesting story with well written characters I came to care about. The Civil War history is well researched and accurate. There were many eye opening and fascinating facets of the Civil War, and the military in general, that I found interesting. I liked how the character of Katherine became a major one, and following her domestic life as a military wife in a then-remote outpost (Arizona) was excellent. I commiserated with her in the awful heat; pregnant, lonely and struggling in a barely livable hut. The all too real issues of war crimes, Native American relations, pain, family stress and addiction were woven seamlessly throughout this enjoyable read. One thing I will say; unlike almost all Kindle books I have read, this one had hardly ANY typos. There are some books that are so badly transcribed that they are almost unreadable…thoroughly frustrating and annoying. Not this book. Flawless and that made reading it truly enjoyable.”

So it took a while but I did it and you can too. No matter how off track you get. No matter what you don’t know yet. Just love what you do. Love yourself too –even when you make mistakes. They are often hidden gifts.

P.S. I obviously HIGHLY recommend INDIE-SCRIBABLE EDITORIAL SERVICES

 

Adrienne Morris is the author of

The Tenafly Road Series

The Tenafly Road Series

“Characters so deep you follow them into the abyss, hoping to come out unscathed, but never returning the same. They will haunt me forever.”

What’s Your Mission in Life?

all books cover-page0001

How do you start with a tiny spark of inspiration and end with a six book series?

I’ve just released THE ONE MY HEART LOVES, the fifth book in THE TENAFLY ROAD SERIES so I thought it would be fun to walk down memory lane.

My writing mission that I didn’t know I had at the start:

To write deep characters with real flaws who, despite it all, find love and redemption. I didn’t know what grace was until I gave it to John Weldon in THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD.

THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD: Looking back it would have been impossible to write compassionately about morphine-addicted Civil War veteran John Weldon if I hadn’t fallen in love with a handsome boy in high school who was addicted to drugs. We dated on and off through college. He even looked me up after I was unhappily married with children and he was sober. I hope he still is — though the last time I looked he’d disappeared.

WEARY OF RUNNING: An addict’s road to redemption takes its toll on others. I was curious how John Weldon’s son William would handle adulthood with the hurts he carries. The saddest scene is when William takes his first drink. All of his secret yearnings for Thankful Crenshaw slip into far off second place.  Thankful’s brother, Buck Crenshaw carries secret hurts of his own — how else could he be so easily tempted to take out revenge on one of the first black cadets attending West Point?

THE DEW THAT GOES EARLY AWAY is a reference to fleeting love. Buck takes center stage as he wrestles with disillusionment as a new Christian and runs off to a utopian society that promises a fast track to God (and worldly delights). He hardly has time to notice his sister Thankful, still reeling from the loss of her unfaithful fiance, and rushing headlong into another mistake. William’s cousin Lucy takes him to task over his drunken lifestyle but will he change? (You’ll have to read the book to find out :))

FORGET ME NOT is SAD. It just is. I do love how it ends and that’s all I’ll say.

THE ONE MY HEART LOVES: All of my favorite characters are paired off and making a hash of things. Buck is a wreck over his engagement. Thankful is a wreck because she’s jealous. Seeing how Lucy McCullough and William Weldon navigate the Crenshaw minefield satisfies something deep within me and sets us up for the final installment.

THE GRAND UNION starts off in Saratoga Springs, New York at The Grand Union Hotel. Will Buck’s marriage be a grand union? Will he screw up even this? What happens when his wife really gets to know him? I love this couple and want only happiness for them but new troubles await (with Thankful leading the charge) when they arrive back in Englewood to start a family. (Preorder TODAY!)

I love big books about families. How about you? Do you have a favorite literary family? I’m obviously biased.

And more importantly, what’s your mission? I’d love to know in the comments below!

 

 

5 Great Writing Quotes to Get You Motivated

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
― Maya Angelou

Yes, the agony of not writing! I’ve tried it. I played that game for thirty years. Don’t do it unless you enjoy feeling like a worthless and envious slug. Pick up your pen. Tap away on the computer. Do something with those half-baked stories in your head. It won’t hurt anybody.

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“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
― Toni Morrison

Done. There is nothing like a life transformed by allowing the voice God gave you to speak out on paper. No need to look left or right to see how others are doing it. Your voice is just fine, in fact your voice is exactly what YOU need.

Once an agent dismissively told me U.S. historical fiction was dead. Well, I’m not dead, I still wrote the stories I wanted to read, and, as a bonus, a bunch of other people continue to read and enjoy them. Did I mention THE LATEST ONE is out today and you might enjoy it??

Stop listening to decrees for the moment. Stop searching for how-to rules online. After you have a first draft you can go back and beat yourself up for not following some semi-famous author’s guidebook – but you probably won’t want to beat yourself up by then because you will have finally realized that this is YOUR UNIQUE LIFE and IT HAS UNIQUE VALUE. You will be so in love with the discoveries you’ve made, the new people you’ve created, the very pens you’ve used that there will be no turning back.

When you finally seek advice it will be from a place of self-love and not self-protective fear.

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“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
― Sylvia Plath

Even if it’s awful. Even if it’s insane. Even if you find that you have creepier thoughts than you like to admit to the ever-present failure police in your head. One of my characters develops an obsession with eating pie – I thought it a bit gross for her because she’s usually so prim and proper, but realized finally that we all deal with grief and despair differently.

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“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”
― Henry David Thoreau

In first grade I wrote about a kitten who liked to drink tea and take showers. Since I was six I hadn’t lived much. Don’t take Thoreau too seriously here. Don’t wait for permission like I did. Don’t listen to parents or teachers or agents who say you’re vain to think your story about kittens needs to be written.

goat nora

Writing what you know is bullshit advice. Write what you want to discover:

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”
― Kurt Vonnegut

Don’t wait! Jump. Right now! Your first hundred pages will feel like weights keeping you from flying but it’s an illusion.

About The Tenafly Road Series:

Buy THE ONE MY HEART LOVES (book 5 of the series) today!

“Characters so deep you follow them into the abyss, hoping to come out unscathed, but never returning the same. They will haunt me forever.”

The Tenafly Road Series

5 Types of People You’ll Meet at Civil War Re-enactments

Whores, Thieves and Militants of the Civil War

I may have mentioned before that I love men in uniform (I think because my father was in the army and then became a police officer but who cares? Men just look great in tailored outfits). So when my best friend’s husband suggested I come with him to the 140th Re-enactment of Antietam for research for my novel, I jumped at the idea.

Someone lent me hoops, a corset and a fantastic day dress and I was hooked. All of the reading in the world could never replace the smell of campfire in my hair and the way it felt to flirt with soldiers while wearing truly feminine clothes. I learned a lot about Enfield rifles( too heavy for me to ever try to use) and about human nature.

Civil War Re-enactment Types:

  • SNOBS  I think this is what I expected to find more of: people who talked about blouse button accuracy and looked scandalized by a soda can peaking from beneath a canvas tent. I personally drew the line between kids and adults. Kids were being dragged to these events and forced to wear weird clothing and hang out with weird adults who lectured them about civics and states’ rights. The occasional soda did no harm. On the other hand I wanted to time travel and fully immerse myself in the period. Plastic milk containers and talks about television spoiled the mood sometimes. Most people were exceptionally kind and understanding.

 

civil war reenactment-33

Pardon us while we slip this milk carton under the table.

 

  • ECCENTRICS The leader of our hospital unit was a toothless old lady who refused to be called by her real name–ever. Her modern bank account even sported her Civil War persona’s name. She really thought she was a surgeon. She really thought we were nurses. The men were afraid of her but loved lying in the shade and having their foreheads dabbed with cold water by the nurses. “Doc” also fantasized about her nurses dressing as whores in the evening. She wanted to be our pimp. She said she didn’t want a partner because she knew how to sexually satisfy herself. Thankfully my kids were too young to understand much of what she said.

 

  • MILITANTS  “Doc” was also a militant —  as was the head nurse. Towels had to be hung in an orderly way. Children had to use proper slang. “Doc” once lectured my son about his period incorrect hair and his period incorrect use of the term “mom.” Not all militants were bad. All of the men I met — without exception — had a healthy respect for period correctness and some were quite militant about it but they seemed to always have more fun around their campfires at night than we nurses who were forced to sing Grandfather’s Clock and be in bed by nine. (Many overly militant people — even in missionary work — have this weird desire to control other people’s bedtimes).

 

civil war reenactment-05

Kids living the dream.

 

  • THIEVES One thief arranged for our unit to “star” at a National Park living history event and pocketed the money for herself. No one realized it was a paid event. This same person lost her real job. My husband at the time found her a job at his very modern company as receptionist. It was discovered that she was stealing cases of soda and modern chips to bring to re-enactments and then to her home (along with food we all brought to the events). She was fired from the job and kicked from the re-enacting world.

 

  • FLIRTS Okay, so this was my true role. I found that as soon as I put on those dresses I couldn’t stop flirting. Many of the militant men couldn’t help flirt back. Once a man I knew from a Union unit stopped me on the lane and gushingly said I was “positively glowing.” My kids have never let me live that down. A surprisingly fair amount of affairs took place in tents at Gettysburg and Antietam — or so I’ve heard. I may have flirted but I never cheated. Once “Doc” warned me not to break a lost puppy of a soldier’s heart. I told her he needed to man up if he wanted to re-enact (I’ve always been more the Scarlett than the Melanie). “Doc” wanted to keep us ladies for herself and said as much.

 

 

Admittedly my time at re-enacting doing “research” didn’t do much for my failing marriage but it was a lot of fun.

How about you? Any unusual hobbies or methods of research that led to meeting interesting people? Let me know in the comments!

Further reading:

DRESSING FOR THE WAR

GERMANS RE-ENACT THE CIVIL WAR!

CIVIL WAR RE-ENACTING UNITS

 

“Writing has nothing to do with meaning. It has to do with land surveying and cartography, including the mapping of countries yet to come.” ― Gilles Deleuze

Do you love fictional MAPS as much as I do?

I love maps in books so much that I decided to make a map of my fictionalized version of nineteenth century Englewood, New Jersey which I included in the first edition of THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD.

For a book series brimming with family drama, addiction and child abuse, my map turned out kinda cute. Life tends to look cute on the surface in certain neighborhoods and in certain time periods, but we all know that down every lane with the ticking away of every moment there are secrets hidden behind freshly painted doors.

englewood map cut (4)

 

 

 

When a desperate and addicted JOHN WELDON arrives on the McCullough doorsteps he enters a soft world with a pretty girl waiting for him:

Weldon considered bolting. He didn’t belong here, but after a quick glance toward the house he crouched down to run his fingers over the hilly pumpkin skins and the soft round tomatoes. Weldon pulled a furry leaf from the low-lying lamb’s ears and slipped it into his pocket. Sunny black-eyed Susans burst out where they’d be most pleasing. The wild lilies stood at attention like well-disciplined followers of an inspired leader. Weldon marveled at the planning. His visit was unplanned, unannounced—that had been a blunder. The McCullough family might not like such surprises, and it was still so early in the day.

He hadn’t slept, and the night had seemed forever. He had two or three days without the urges … just enough time to meet this girl—he’d stop for her.

interior map tenafly road (2)

Much later a young boy, WILLIAM WELDON, still grieving many losses, poisons a teacher at the Kursteiner School for Boys:

“It was just an old medicine bottle—blue pills, I think. We only thought it might make Mr. Finney queasy for the examination tomorrow.”

Mercury? My God—you could sicken the man for life or worse,” Scott yelled. “What were you thinking?”

“I’m sorry to say there is more to the plot. We found Mr. Finney’s grade book in with William’s things.”

“You’re a thief now too?” Scott asked and then turned to the secretary. “When will Mr. Kursteiner come by? I will have my wife and daughter ready for his arrival.”

Scott closed the door still gripping his grandson’s ear. William tried to pull away. “Do you have any idea how much trouble you have caused?”

William tried to scratch free like an animal in a trap. “I don’t care! I hate Mr. Finney!”

“You hate everyone—do you plan to poison us all?” Scott dragged the boy through the hallway into the kitchen and toward the side door.

“You’d have done it too if he called you a liar and said things about your father!”

“No, I would not!”

“Then you’re just a dumb old coot!” Willy said as he pulled and got free. Out the side door he went, but Scott surprised him and caught him as he flew off the steps, landing with a great thud.

“You’ve become as savage as a meat ax, and I will have to put a stop to it if you will continue living in my house.”

“I don’t want to live here anyway!”

“Believe me, young man, I’d love to send you away, but your father won’t take you!” Scott continued, pulling his grandson toward Simon’s willow. With his strong right arm he kept hold of William, who began to plead. Scott ripped a long branch, still in bloom, from the tree. Unfortunately for William his school trousers were of a shoddy, thin weave and every strike across his backside stung as if hitting his skin directly.

englewood map cut (3)

My little map leads the reader past shops full of patent medicines, past hotels where hops are held and up the hill to where the Crenshaw family home sits. The Crenshaw siblings hide their own secrets behind the respectability of living on “The Hill.”

Tall and handsome BUCK CRENSHAW looks down upon the McCULLOUGH / WELDON family even as he envies the obvious love that is shown down on TENAFLY ROAD:

Buck skirted the room, his fingers running along the finely crafted bookcases until he came upon a scrapbook labeled in a sloppy masculine hand—“West Point Memories.” He touched it and Weldon saw.

“Oh, Buck, you might enjoy that,” Weldon said, feeling sorry for him. “It was Simon’s—Mrs. Weldon’s brother.”

“May I look at it?”

“Yes, of course.” Weldon took the museum piece off the shelf, as if letting Buck in on a great and happy secret. “Let’s find you a nice comfortable spot and some good light. There’s a blanket in here somewhere.” Weldon limped for the tattered throw hanging over a well-worn Scots-plaid chair.

Buck’s face flushed at the gracious attention. He sat where Weldon put him.

Graham watched with jealous eye. “Buck, we really should have made you comfortable at home.”

“This place stinks,” Fred said. “Must be a leak somewhere. I’d get that fixed if I were you, Weldon, or these medical books and other treasure will all go to ruin.”

Do you like seeing maps or imagining fictional worlds? Do you like making maps? Why are maps so fun?  I’d love to read your take on maps in the comments!

EXPLORE MORE MAPS AND TELL ME WHICH ONES YOU LIKE BEST!

20 GREAT MAPS OF FICTIONAL PLACES

LITERARY WONDERLANDS by Laura Miller

PLOTTED: A LITERARY ATLAS by Andrew DeGraff

PS~ Thank you AMY of HEARTH RIDGE for the inspiring this post with your INSTAGRAM!

englewood map

Are You Self-made?

America has gained this reputation as the land of opportunity. It has done so by trying to destroy any and all hereditary obstacles to advancement. Instead, in America the idea is that individual initiative alone could create social mobility. A self-made man would owe his advancement to things like self discipline, loneliness, sobriety, the avoidance of debt, an excessive workload, relentless effort, disregard for his likability, self denial, and self abuse. A self-made man would live for the future and reject any self indulgences like a holiday or even a day off. Instead, under constant pressure, he would focus on grueling accumulation, one penny at a time. I’m a self-made man. Vincent Gallo

Is the above list of requirements a useful motivational tool?

Do self-made people need motivational tools written by actors (or anyone else)? There certainly isn’t anything sweet about Gallo’s description of a successful person, but I think most of what he says is true.

I’m having trouble staying on vacation from writing, plotting, and self-abuse (all mental). Work keeps me believing I am sane (others may disagree).

The only thing Gallo leaves out is the joy of being driven, the reckless disregard for food and shelter, the adrenaline rush of being productive.

This thing called self-made is like any medicine. Read the label. Too much and you overdose on self, too little and you never make anything.

BALANCE … I’m not sure it’s possible with the self-made man. Balance is an elusive nirvana, a fiction for the coasters in life. This is what my self-driving brain says in a loop.

Walk in the field. Do yoga. Call a friend. A few days of such behavior and I’m worried I’ll never produce things again. My husband told me he was proud of how I was handling suddenly taking care of his two elderly parents in our home. The loop in my head says production is all that matters. Care-giving is just what you do when you’re not intensely involved in your self-made habit.  His compliment fell on deaf ears.

Like any addict I have moments of clarity. Life can’t only be about joyfully serving your ego and amassing material accomplishments. I am a Christian after all and believe (mostly on an intellectual level) that serving others and appreciating God’s creation outside my window are good, important things, yet  I struggle to put any of it joyfully into action when there’s work to be done.

I seriously believe God is cool with me obsessively thinking about writing … well if you knock off the obsessive part. Vincent Gallo’s quote paints a picture I admire and am troubled by. America has always been a place where most people have a chance to rise above perceived castes. I think obsessing about victimhood is more deadly than obsessing about success, but addiction (and aren’t we a nation of addicts in one way or another?) is getting things out-of-order. We fill that part of ourselves meant for God with something less than God. And then we wonder where God is.

Tell me what you think about working too hard. Is there such a thing? How does your work affect how you relate to the divine?