The Autumn of our Lives – Jill James

We are often told that age is just a number. That is easier said than done when your daughter will be 33 next month and your grandson (gasp!) will be 12…a hop, skip, and a jump from teenage-dom. How did that happen? LOL

GingerbreadGrandparentsThat the years are passing was brought forcefully home this week as we helped the mother-in-law to move grandma into an assisted-living facility. She turned 94 last month and broke her hip so it wasn’t a surprise so much, as a reminder that time ticks on, whether we want it to or not. My sister-in-law who was barely a teen when she was my Maid of Honor at my wedding will be 40 this year.

I remember when I turned 40 and being a published author seemed as out of reach as being chosen by NASA to be a Mars colonist. (secret fantasy!) I can still envision that younger me who thought she was so old that life had passed her by. I had been a daughter, a mother, and now a grandmother. When did I get ‘me time’? A few years after that my mother died at the age of 61. Talk about a shot to the gut! Not only was I now parentless because my father died a few years before that, but at 67 and 61 a long life did not seem written into my genes. I had dreams. Things I wanted to accomplish in this life.

So, no more wishful thinking. No more bucket list. If I want to write a children’s book and an erotic romance novel in the same year, I will. If I want to see how many books I can write in one year, I will go for it. If I want to climb a mountain, I will get in shape so I can. I will always grow older, year after year, but I don’t have to grow old.

Who’s with me??!!  Jill, dreamer of dreams and writer of stories

How is writing like remodeling?

We’re in the middle of remodeling our kitchen, and it’s a formidable job. So far we’ve torn out a wall to combine two spaces, ripped out most of the cabinets (saving the sink for the last possible moment because life will be much harder without it), pulled up all the hardwood flooring, closed in two doors and created one wider opening, and removed a huge, ugly window to make room for a smaller bay window.

I’ve set up a “camp” kitchen in my living room for now so I can continue to cook meals. Soon my boys will arrive to help us for a week and we hope to make a lot of progress while they’re here. Of course, that also means I’ll be doing a lot of extra cooking.

So far we’ve gone from this IMG_2660IMG_2657

To this

down to the subfloor

 

We’ve run into some trouble along the way, like discovering a colony of mold behind the dishwasher and sink, and finding out the joist that holds up the front part of the house is rotted through. There are other rotten spots as well, which means a lot of work on hubby’s part. But we’ve finished the deconstruction phase and we’re now in the repair and replace phase. Once that’s completed we can start putting things back together into something I hope will look similar to this Luxurious-Kitchen-Design-with-Oak-Cabinets

So how does any of this relate to writing? I’m glad you asked.

First, there was the birth of the idea. Writers are always asked where our ideas come from. Sometimes we have no clue. They burst fully formed into our brains, sometimes from a dream and sometimes out of nowhere. We mull on them for a while, we make notes, do character sketches. Some lucky souls can actually plot out their stories without losing interest in writing them. (I’m not one of the lucky ones)

For my kitchen, I’d been wanting to do this for a long time. We knew there were rotten spots in the floor. We could feel them when we walked across it. But we also knew there was no way we could afford to buy all new cabinets and appliances. Then my son remodeled his kitchen out in California and it just happened to be the perfect size to fit into my house if we took out that wall. They saved all the cabinets, cook top, ovens, the fancy pantry and the center island for me, and we drove out to California with a trailer and brought them home.

Next came the plans. I drew plans and drew plans for weeks until I had it just right. Kind of like plotting, which might take weeks or months of sketching out scenes, plot points, twists, conflicts, and resolution.

Then the actual work started. Let me tell you, remodeling a kitchen from the joists up is hard work. And so is writing. I grit my teeth when someone tells me, “Oh, I should write a book. It couldn’t be too hard.” Think so? My suggestion, then, is to go ahead and do it. 90% of people who start one never finish it. That’s one thing about tearing out your kitchen, though. You have no choice but to keep going if you don’t want to cook in your living room from now on.

My kitchen project has a beginning, a middle, and an end (I hope!) Books are the same. The beginning is exciting, and fun, in both a kitchen remodel and in writing. Fresh ideas, excitement about the possibilities, and at this point you don’t see the pitfalls just ahead. And just like this kitchen project, the middle of a book is the hardest part to write. Unfortunately, I happen to be at the middle of both my book and my kitchen. Lots of hard work ahead of me for the next few weeks. The end, well, that’s the best part. That’s where your story (or your kitchen) comes together and you see the vision you had coming to life.

There’s nothing better than writing the end of the book, or finishing the kitchen (though I’m still waiting for that feeling). That’s when you want to show it off to everyone and hopefully bask in the praise for a job well done (or for authors, to see those sales climb and good reviews come in).

Have you ever tackled a project like this, where you do all the work yourself? Did you enjoy it, or did you wish every day that you could afford to hire someone to do it for you? There’s a special kind of satisfaction you get from doing things yourself that you just don’t get when someone else does it for you. The satisfaction that comes from seeing your book from idea to finished product is the same. You just sit back and stare at it, thinking, “This is mine. I did this all by myself.” Or at least with a little help from your friends.

My current work in progress is a sequel to Lone Star Justice. Cody finally gets his story!

Here’s a snippet (subject to change during editing)

Cody couldn’t believe his eyes when he walked into the briefing and saw the same blonde he’d nearly run into the day before. She was a new deputy? He wasn’t sure what Rand had been smoking when he hired her, but it must have messed with his head.

Since when did they hire women? And not just any woman, but one with a body that could throw any man off his game. Well, not him, of course. She was cute and all, but not his type. He liked women who enjoyed the same things he did, like hunting and fishing, watching football, hiking through the woods. He doubted she’d ever done anything more strenuous than working out at the gym. How she’d passed the academy was beyond him.

Rand hadn’t given any clues as to why he’d hired her, but Cody sure as hell planned to find out. At least Rand knew him well enough to know not to pair him with her. Cody worked alone. Always had, always would. And when he called for backup, he expected to get an experienced deputy to back him up, not a girl fresh out of school.

Cody headed for the front office, anxious to see if Rand would make an exception for him on the partner thing. If not, he hoped he got one of the guys for a partner. One of the regular guys who knew how much he hated small talk and would be content to leave him to his thoughts.

When Debra handed him his assignment, Cody stared at the piece of paper, sure it had to be a mistake. He even made her look it up on the computer in case she’d made an error and copied the information down wrong. But no, he could see it for himself on the computer screen. Cody Wills and Charlie Booker were now partners.

Seething, Cody stopped by to get the dreaded vest from Linda before storming down the hall to confront Rand. He took a deep breath and forced himself to knock normally rather than battering down the door like he wanted to. Man, could this day get any worse?

lonestarjusticeb

Seems I’m Always Behind

No matter what, I can never get caught up. I wonder how other people do it. As a teen, I was active in sports. I did whatever, came home and studied. Most weekends were spent doing reports and studying for an upcoming exam. My peers goofed off and still got good grades. I was a straight A student with a heavy schedule, but I constantly felt overwhelmed. Looking back on it, I can see where I was compulsive. I had the need to be the best. Part of that was my own doing, and part of it was parental pressure. They expected a lot from me, yet my mom hated that I was in sports. (It was so unladylike.) That meant I had to constantly prove I could do it all.

When I married, I exchanged parent approval for husband approval. Now that seems terribly silly, but I did it. I was young with an older husband. I wanted him to know that I was capable of being the perfect wife and that he hadn’t made a mistake by marrying me.

I had no idea how to cook or clean or doing anything domestic. Maids did the cleaning, and my mom enjoyed cooking so she did that. At least, I sort-of knew how to wash dishes. And I could iron because my grandmother taught me when I was little. There were ads on TV for things like dish washing soaps and those woman all wore yellow gloves and put their gloved hands into water with lots of bubbles. And I knew it was supposed to be really hot water. My mom told me to wash the crystal first, the silver second, then the dishes before I started on the pots and pans.  I discovered that those yellow gloves were useless things. My water and bubbles would spill over the top and run inside. And the more I rinsed, the higher the water became in the sink. It took me a while to get the hang of it.

My in-laws gave us a vacuum cleaner because they had an old spare. I didn’t know what it was. (I’m serious. No clue.) I learned to push it slowly or it didn’t pick anything up. Gosh that was a handy invention! But it quit sucking stuff up. That’s when I learned it had a bag. (My husband showed me. Gross!)

I learned to cook, clean, and polish furniture. Maybe someday I’ll write about my first foray into scrubbing a floor. For now, I’ll leave it with I was darn lucky that I didn’t kill myself mixing chemicals and it took my husband hours to clean up my water and mess. To this day, I’ve never figured out how to make a floor totally spotless or clean enough to eat off of.  But maybe it was never meant for serving food anyway, so why bother.

Even when my children were little, I never could seem to get all my ducks in a row. If I got the house actually clean, I had laundry overflowing. How did other people manage to do it? By nine in the morning, my house looked like a hurricane blew through it. I had unmade beds, a sink full of dirty dishes, a pan or two to wash, overflowing hampers, toothpaste in every bathroom sink, along with the usual dust, dirt and clutter. My heart would sink.

That’s also when I discovered the neighborhood kaffeeklatsch. Oh thank goodness! So for an hour or so I had a reprieve and learned to drink coffee. There was life beyond my house and I had friends! Then I’d face my mess. Except by that time, the egg yolk had vulcanized itself to the plates and it seemed as though I was walking into a bigger mess. That’s also when I realized I was extremely different. Other people fed their children bowls of cold cereal or handed them a granola bar, and hubbies were not getting bacon and eggs for breakfast. I also discovered that other wives took their husband’s shirts and pants to the cleaners, then picked them up nicely washed and ironed. I couldn’t afford to do that.

When summers hit, I had a huge garden. I worked the garden in the morning and often spent a large portion of that day canning and prepping food for storage. I also learned I couldn’t grow enough of some things so I bought from a local truck farm. That mean when corn was in season, I’d buy 500 ears and freeze it. (I also learned never to buy 500 ears again!) Or I’d pick strawberries or peaches or whatever I could. Pick-your-own was always cheaper. Then I’d freeze, can or make jellies and jams. I was still trying to keep the house clean and make certain I had a nice hot meal on the table when my husband came home from work.

When our girls got older and we were staring at college, I went to work. I still tried to play superwoman and do it all. At some point, I collapsed both mentally and physically. It was a tough lesson. But I learned to let things go. I also realized I was angry because no one helped. And I was very angry at my husband for never lifting a finger in the house. That still didn’t mean he helped, but he was aware of my feelings. I think he tried a little harder not to make things worse for me.

Then the girls flew the coop and we moved into a house that we renovated. Housework came to a screeching halt! I had a cloth snake I put at the bottom of the bedroom door to keep the sawdust out. Sheets were lucky if they got changed weekly. My kitchen consisted of a gas BBQ outside the back door, and a microwave setup inside wherever I could find a place to hold it. (Mostly on sawhorses with a heavy piece of OSB between them.)

Then my daughter moved in with us! Yikes. She was leaving her husband and their baby was due anytime. I knew she had tripped and fell down some steps about a week before moving in with us. What I didn’t know until later was she had help going down those steps. But as she moved in, she and her husband got back together. So I had her and him, and twenty-four hours later, she gave birth. Two families in 800 square feet with a brand new baby. Not good!

We bought the house we’re in now. Big mortgage! The intent was to renovate this one and leave it for them. With the combined income the mortgage was no big deal and we’d put money into renovations.We figured in a few years, my daughter’s husband be making enough to take over the place, and we wanted to build on some property that we owned. (Our little piece of heaven. It was going to start as our weekend get-away and then be our retirement home.)

Except we kicked her husband out. What started as a verbal argument, escalated. I promise, Daddy is not going to allow anyone to abuse his daughter or granddaughter. That’s when we discovered she’d had help going down that flight of stairs. When her husband threatened to toss the baby down the stairs, my husband went after him. I was afraid both men would be arrested. Not a pretty night. A few months later, my daughter left, too, and filed for divorce, but I was the babysitter for the next ten years of that grandchild’s life and my daughter was working 24-hours shifts and going back to college. My life had returned to crayons, toys, books, and Barbie doll shoes. (It would have been easier if my daughter hadn’t left but she was on a mission to prove that she could do it alone.)

Again, I went to work but only part time. I was trying to help my daughter and pay for whatever the grandchild needed. The company my husband worked for collapsed, and for the first time ever in his life, he didn’t have a job. Our renters on our two properties jumped ship, one after the other, and both left us with huge messes that took more money to clean up and repair damage. We sold both places including our little piece of heaven. It took him about a year to find another job. He took a severe cut in pay just to have income because any savings we had were depleted. Yet he had coworkers that still didn’t have a job two years later. He was glad he had a job.

We started on the kitchen in this house. It was never finished. Sometimes I care and sometimes I don’t. When the wiring died to the overhead light, I gave up. I avoid that room like the Black Plague! Today, I only do what I absolutely must to keep going. I have other things that are more important such as writing the next book.

But it’s not just writing the next book. We have all this other stuff to do in an attempt for readers to find our books or know that we’ve put out another one. Plus it’s a fickle market. There’s a lot of trash out there because anyone can say they are an author and put out a book. Plus readers seem to think we are capable of writing a whole novel every month. It’s impossible for me. I don’t type very fast, and I put thought into every sentence. When I’m done. I go over the story several times trying to make it the best it can get. Then starts the process of going to edits. Groan! I’m still compulsive. I still want everything perfect.

So here I am with four immediate manuscript projects going and more on my plate. Not to mention several unfinished  novels on my hard disk. I’m behind. I’m always behind.  Maybe I’ll have plaques made for my girls that will say, I was always behind, I never got everything done that I wanted to do. I was never perfect, no matter how hard I tried, but I always stopped to smell the roses, take in nature’s beauty, and enjoy a cup of coffee with girlfriends. Because maybe that’s all there is.

I’ll never have a picture perfect house. My sock drawer will always be a jumble of unpaired socks, my kitchen sink will always contain something unwashed, and there will always be dust. But how many of you know what the moon phase is, what’s blooming in the garden, what color the sycamore tree will turn in the fall, when the pecans will drop, or how many pecans two squirrels can bury in the garden in less than five minutes?

My dog is at my feet and the cat is sleeping nearby on his back, completely relaxed as only a cat can do. It’s a beautiful cool autumn day and the sun is shining. I’ve got a cup of coffee and I’m meeting friends for dinner. There are clean jeans in the dryer and I’ve got edits to keep me busy. Life is good.

Sixty Mile Walk in Comfy Shoes

sgkomen walk banner

In the fall of 2004 a small group of ladies from my work, and my sister, decided to take a sixty mile journey around San Diego. We had all been affected, in one way or another by cancer, not all of us breast cancer, but we knew someone, who had cancer, who had survived or not, from the disease.

San Diego - Susan G. Komen Walk

San Diego – Susan G. Komen Walk

Due to the weather in San Diego, it’s usually one of the later walks that the  foundation runs, usually in October or November. We started to “train” mid summer, doing our best to be prepared for walking sixty miles, in three days. Each day is a 15-22 mile walking day. It’s a lot!! We started out slow, walking five miles after work and then more on the weekends. We would change-up the course, try to enjoy the training, with breakfast after or the occasional nose piercing during one eighteen mile Saturday adventure (long story :P). We had a blast, you have a lot of time to talk when you are spending so much time together walking around your city. It turned into a strong bonding experience for us all.

Tent City for 3-day Walk

Tent City for 3-day Walk

The first day requires a pretty early wake up call, the excitement boils over – mixed with a little nerves. We had a hearty pancake breakfast, prepared by lovely supporters and then with backpacks on us we headed to the start.

It was a pretty amazing experience, there were survivors all around us, family and friends with photos of people they had lost. Which on some occasions made the walk a very emotional experience. It might not have helped that by mid-day, on day two, everyone starts to get pretty tired. My group, while we had walked 18-20 miles at a time – we had not walked a full sixty in a row. It’s tough on the feet, the back, the knees, okay every thing starts to hurt! As lovely as the tents they set up for us, at the night were, it’s still grass and earth under your body all night. By day three some of the group had blisters, one of us had a sprained ankle, but we were all happy to be a part of the experience nonetheless.

The last day, when you wake up there is a sense or relief that you are almost done, a sense of pride that you are about to complete a pretty cool challenge, and just enough motivation to get you up the last hill and to the finish line and celebration.

Finish Line/Celebration

Finish Line/Celebration

Once you make it to the end of the last day, and see the sea of pink and white there is such a feeling of accomplishment. There were so many moving speeches that last day, people who were thankful for the support of the foundation, for the walkers and a general sense of hope that every year we would lose less women (and men), from breast cancer.

From an early age I started to lose very important people in my life to cancer, various versions of the same deadly disease. This walk felt like a nice way to celebrate their lives, their importance to me, and to be a part of an experience that was meaningful with 10,000 or so strangers. 🙂

This month there will be a lot of PINK things around, supporting Breast Cancer Awareness. We should all make sure that the women in our lives are taking steps to check for all cancers, the same for the men in our lives and the cancers that are higher in their life. We don’t all have to walk sixty miles or send in money to a cause, sometimes the simple act of reminding someone close to you to make that mammogram appointment, or even just not to skip their check-up this year could be the difference between detecting and beating cancer or not.

Thanks for stopping by today, if you have a cancer foundation that you support or a story you want to share, please feel free to do so. Maybe someone will see the cause you care about and think, I care about that too and send in a donation.

Wishing all the best in life and fiction,

Kelly Rae

In loving memory of my beautiful grandmother Kentucky Potter

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Does the May-September (er, October) Romance Still Work?

daphne du maurier

How do you feel about romance where there is a large age gap?

I recently read Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier and I loved, loved, loved it. The opening scene is spectacular and sets the tone for the rest of the novel. But as I read, I was surprised by the age difference in the hero and heroine. It didn’t bother me in the book. I realize that in its historical setting, it was accurate, and the fact that the hero was a widower made even more sense. But when I watched the film, which had actors fairly-well represented according to age, I got a different feeling.

wife husband

Watching it was quite different than reading it. And I wonder if such an idea is past its prime. While there’s nothing immoral or illegal about a May-September (or even December!) romance, does it still feel natural or even ho-hum when it comes to romance novels and films?

Before the longer life expectancies and medical advances we enjoy today, husbands could easily find themselves widowers if their wives died in childbirth. Seeking out someone perhaps younger and stronger could help survival. Or in some cultures, men couldn’t marry until they had built up an estate. Naturally, they’d probably prefer a younger spouse. Or a young ingenue could be guided in marriage by the steadying influence of an older man. To wit:

harlequin

But in this day and age, it seems to be a more unusual pairing–especially when the news is filled with child predators and teachers in sexual relationships with minors.

What does this mean for romance novels? Is the May-September romance a thing of the past? Or is it still a legitimate tale of love?