Running From Time

If there’s one thing I’m unable to manage, it’s the number of stories colliding inside my head.

Characters are always in competition. Hello, she says. Hello, he says. I’m next. Me, me, me! Tell my story.

Every writer I know has the same issues with characters. Whispers in the ear and knocking on the door, inside our heads, are the upside and downside of being a writer.
The upside is there’s always another character plying for story priority. This is a good thing.

The downside is time. Time is the enemy. Yes, the enemy.

Life takes over and there is nothing we can do about that, except to block time to write. A little here, a little there. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, many words pour onto blank pages.

A few years ago I committed to write fifty-thousand words in a month. Well, I did. But about half way through the manuscript, there wasn’t much rhyme or reason to the remainder of the story I undertook. Other stories became priority, so the story lingered on my computer gathering dust until I could find time to make some sense of the clutter.

I will admit to writing fifty-thousand words in a month was a spur of the moment decision. A big mistake without a fairly good outline. While I write many of my stories by seat-of-the -pants, either before I begin, or at some point during writing, I do re-evaluate the storyline. I have much work to do on this story.

Here is a scene from NOT MY OWN.
As an only child, and estranged from her father for nine years, Megan Phillips finds herself the administrator of her father’s estate. In order to acquire the vast estate, which she has no desire to attain, until she learns she must accept responsibility of her seven-year-old half-brother, Adam. News of Adam comes as a complete kick in the gut.

NOT MY OWN

Despite the sunlight’s warmth spider-webbing across the gray marble floor, Megan felt a chill cut to her bones. Death hung in the air. She smelled it. Felt it. Her senses alive with familiarity.

Each click of her heels inched her closer to the hissing respirator of room 407.
Megan pressed three fingers against her temples, hoping to rid herself of the blinding headache.

Accommodating the Vail attorney’s request, providing closure to a chain of unhappy incidents in her past was not what she’d had in mind. Still she’d come. Facing the man in the bed would be the hardest thing she’d done since her husband and son’s death.
Uncertain of his feelings, Megan moved into the room and stopped beside his bed. She knew his illness was terminal, but was unprepared for what she saw. It was all she could do to keep from crying.

She was stubborn, and couldn’t give him the satisfaction of seeing her tears. With a smile pasted on her face, she walked forward and braved the sight of her father again.
Her breath caught at the blue eyes that once tormented her, staring back glazed in impending death. Anger and resentment passed like a storm in the night over their nine years of separation.

He’d been a virile, yet vain man. The salt and peppered hair that he’d cherished had turned to alabaster.

Thin, yellowed skin folded into crevices of his skeletal form and stilled bony fingers, did little to satisfy her need for revenge. What did it matter that he’d not known she’d become successful in spite of him.

Megan recalled her mother’s words. ‘Time waits for no man. Savor every moment.’ There would be no more moments for her, nor her father. No more time to ease the pain of separation and the precious lifetime they’d spent apart.

A lump rose in her. She felt cheated of the time they’d lost. Had her stubbornness been worth what she knew now to be the last days, maybe hours of her father’s life?

***

 Bret sauntered through the suite’s adjoining room while Megan sat and stared out the hospital’s window. Snow piled high on the window’s ledge and swirled from the winds that had the temperature dropping at an alarming rate.

Unable to get the husky feminine voice out of his head since their phone conversation, he stared at the petite vision before him.

“Ms. Phillips?”

“Yes.” Megan turned. “Mr. Evans?” A shock of sandy hair that fell forward on bronzed skin caught her off guard.

“Bret. Bret Evans.” Bret smiled, immersed in the scent of her perfume. He reached to shake hands but closed his right hand over hers. From photos of her, he’d known she was beautiful but in person, was even more so.

“Please…call me Bret.”

“Thank you. Is it possible to speak with my father?” Bret noticed her eyes and saw a deep hurt inside.

“I’m sorry. Your father has slipped into a coma. If only you could have gotten here sooner.” Bret didn’t know how she felt, but from the look on her face, she was clearly stunned at her father’s condition. “He asked for you.”

Thomas had discussed that they weren’t particularly close and that led Bret to wonder about their estrangement. Something definitely was amiss in their relationship. Bret reached for his briefcase. “Can we talk?”

Megan glanced toward her father and nodded.

Bret rang for the nurse, then led Megan to the elevator and down to the coffee shop. The mirrored elevator gave Bret a perfect view of Megan’s face. She was definitely a beautiful woman.

“To sum it up, Ms. Phillips, your father retained me as your attorney, at least until his estate is settled. Which is quite large, I’m at liberty to say. I’ll act as your attorney until such time you deem no longer necessary.”

Bret waited and watched Megan, as a hint of pain etched her face. “What your father has requested will no doubt come as a complete surprise. There is a matter of great importance that must be taken care of before we can get on with executing the will. My apologies.”

She stared into his eyes. They reminded him of a stormy blue sea, and probably just as dangerous. Surprised that suddenly anger replaced her professional attitude, so much that he had mistakenly seen her as someone who might only think of money at a time like this.

“Mr. Evans. For the record, I’ve no intention of accepting anything from my father. I have no need for an attorney. I came here to appease my father and you, since you were both so insistent.”

“But…”

“Mr. Evans. Whatever monies there are, can be distributed between charities of your choice. How my father’s estate is closed is of no concern to me.”

“Perhaps you’ll experience a change of heart after hearing provisions of the will.” Bret looked as though he’d tried to read her mind, but she’d thrown a wall around her.

“You’re the only person he trusts.”

“I have no reason to believe that line, since he knew nothing about my way of life the past nine years, but if I’m to get this over with, I’ll play along. Tell me. What is this I’m supposed to be so honored with?”

“I’m not sure if you were aware your father had remarried. From the marriage there is a child…a seven-year-old boy. His name is Adam. Adam Phillips.”

Megan’s eyes flickered. “So there’s a child. A brother.” She took a deep breath. “A child my father didn’t even bother to tell me existed.”

Bret ignored Megan’s comment and continued. “Adam is a well mannered, bright child for his age. He loves his father deeply and hasn’t a clue of how to deal with his grief. His mother abandoned him when he was a year old. So, you see the child has no one else which to turn.”

***

Suddenly the sound of Bret’s voice and his demeanor, made Megan nervous. She rose from her seat at the table and walked to the door, intending to end their conversation. But against her better judgment, the child, Adam, her brother, changed her mind.
She made here way back to their table.

Megan sighed and folded her hands on the table. “I’m terribly sorry. I had no way of knowing.” Why was he talking of this child when all she wanted was to get out of here?

“Look, Ms. Phillips.” Bret stuffed his hands in his pockets, stared out over the coffee shop and continued. “Please, may I call you Megan?”

The conversation wasn’t going in the direction she’d hoped. This was not good. She couldn’t shake the uneasiness.

“If you wish.”

“There’s no way to tell you except to ask you outright. Adam is in need of a mother. It’s pertinent we go before the judge before Thomas passes. Not that it’s impossible afterward, but the procedure is more simple beforehand.”

Megan gasped. “What does Adam have to do with me? Surely his mother can be found or there is another family option.”

“Well, you are his sister. And according to your father’s wishes, he’s chosen you, and only you, to care for his son.”

“Quite astounding for a man who hasn’t bothered to call, write or acknowledge the fact that I’m alive—in over nine years. I’m sure you know he disowned me when my mother died.”

“We talked, yes.” Bret stared over at her. “He had a change of heart.”

“He makes certain decisions when the situation benefits him.” She could almost hear her father talking to Bret. “Look. I was young and full of ideas for my own future. Not one he’d built for himself. He was never there for me, and now in death he wants to rule my life? I’m sorry. I can’t do it. I won’t. It’s impossible to mother a child I don’t even know. Besides, I know nothing of raising a child who may or may not want me around. Surely there are other family members.”

“None your father wanted to pursue. Adam’s grandparents could assume responsibility for the boy, but…”

“Well, then. You have your answer, don’t you?”

“Not quite. You see, they haven’t seen Adam since he was a year old. There were objections from his wife’s parents. Thomas was twenty years older than Adam’s mother and her parents grew bitter when she’d married him without their approval. Your father has no desire for his only son to be reared by the aging grandparents. Who, by the way, have had no contact with Adam since his mother left.”

“Is locating the mother out of the question? How do you know the grandparents wouldn’t jump at the chance to raise their grandson?”

“They don’t care about him. If they did, they’d have made provisions to visit him before now. No. The grandparents are not an option.”

“As I said. The child isn’t my problem…or my responsibility. At least they were aware of his birth, so the responsibility stands with them. Now if there isn’t anything else I can do for you, I’d like to get back home as soon as possible. You need to search for the boy’s family.”

“How can I help you reconsider?” Bret spread his hands on the table. “Perhaps you’d meet with me at Thomas’s home this afternoon?”

“And why would I do that? We have nothing else to discuss.”

Megan knew how her father worked and saw that Bret suffered at her father’s hand in not making the custody case easy. Why hadn’t Bret suggested he talk to Megan himself? Explain it all to her. Before, it was too late. Maybe he had, but now—it was too late.

Comatose men tell no stories.

“Adam is looking forward to meeting you, Megan. He’ll be home from school at 3:30.”

“So Adam knows about me? This is heartless. Why wasn’t I told about Adam when you first called?”

But, she knew. She wouldn’t have come. Would’ve refused to come.
Megan’s temple’s throbbed while her insides shook violently from learning she had family in this manner. She wasn’t so sure she wouldn’t crumble under pressure, but stood firm in her belief that family always came first. She was strong and would remain so…if possible.

Adam was her brother, whether she wanted one or not.

 

I wish you Butterflies, Music, and most of all…Love.

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Dreyer’s English, Godin’s This is Marketing, and Kaufman’s Personal MBA. And, yes, I used the (damned) comma.

So far this year I have purchased, and am currently reading, three “How To” non-fiction books. I purchased all three in paper, or hardcover as two of them are only available in physical form in hard cover editions. Generally I prefer e-books, but, this time I wanted to go through the physical motion of pulling out my ruler, underlining the passages that particularly resonate with me and then set them on the shelf directly across from my bed so I see – and think – about them every day.

What could be so important you may ask?

Dreyer's

My answer is the mindful daily application of their contents. Dreyer is probably cringing right now over what is no doubt a plethora of correctable word usage. Mr. Dreyer, I am as of this writing, not finished with your book. Even so, dear reader, you should buy it. The first thirty-two pages alone are worth the price of the book.

This is from Chapter 3:

“If words are the flesh, muscle, and bone of prose, punctuation is the breath.”

That makes punctuation the living, breathing heart of the author’s intent. I never thought of punctuation as a means to convey intent. I thought of it more as visual cadence. Now, I see it as both.

I also thought (past tense intended)of the “Oxford” comma as a plate filled with beans – fine if you like beans and completely passable if you don’t. Here’s what Mr. Dryer has to say about the series or Oxford comma (pg. 24):

“Whatever you want to call it: Use it. I don’t want to belabor the point; neither am I willing to negotiate it. Only godless savages eschew the series comma.”

Although I am not insulted by the moniker “godless savage”, I do not want to be guilty of eschewing the basic points of punctuation.

Buy the book. It’s funny, charming, mildly insulting, AND informative. Grin.

seth

The next book I recommend anyone interested in business, including the business of writing, pick up is Seth Godin’s “This is Marketing – You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn To See.”

I was skeptical about the utility of owning this book. So much so, I spent three separate days sitting in my local Barnes & Noble with it, reading as I enjoyed my coffee. After day three, I’d read and taken notes on, the first seventy-five pages. That day I owed Mr. Godin for more than the $24 I paid for the book.

I purchased “This is Marketing”, for insight on how to promote a new division of our family business, not for my writing. To my surprise, and delight, it has helped with both.

Here’s what Mr. Godin has to say (pg. 92):

“For the independent creator of intellectual property (a singer, perhaps, or a writer), it turns out that a thousand true fans might be sufficient to live a better-than-decent life.”

Translation, we don’t all have to be J.K. Rowling or Lee Child to have a good income if we market to our true fans. I love this book. If you don’t want to plunk down the $24, then order it from your library. It’s worth reading.

MBA

I purchased the third book on my non-fiction business list at Half Priced Books for $8.99. What a steal.

“The Personal MBA” by Josh Kaufman, is much dryer reading than Dreyer’s English (how do you like that alliteration?), or Godin’s This is Marketing, but it is no less helpful.

I don’t need an MBA. I would love to have the knowledge required to obtain one. The insight and knowledge required to run and grow any successful business is invaluable. Business models change. Fundamental practices and foundational concepts don’t.

The 2012 edition, which is the one I’m reading, is 417 pages long without the ‘Acknowledgements’ section. Mostly the book focuses on the need for every business to create VALUE, that others NEED or WANT, at a price they are happy to pay, and a price that earns enough profit for the business to continue. Yep. Easy. Just do that.

This book is helpful for anyone determined to learn and do everything possible to see their business succeed. If you’re interested, peruse it at the library. Even if you open it randomly to any given page, you’re likely to come away with something wonderful to help make your business more successful.

If you’ve read or are reading any of these books, please let me know what you think.

Are you a fan of the series, Oxford, or as I like to call it, the beans comma?

Do you have any “How To” or “Guide” books you’d like to share?

What books have been the most helpful in your career?

I look forward to your thoughts.

Peace, and Happy Reading,

Leigh

 

Happy Family Day

snowsuitToday is Family Day here in Ontario. Family Day takes place on the third Monday of February. It’s also observed in New Brunswick, Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia; it’s called Islander Day in PEI, Louis Riel Day in Manitoba, and Nova Scotia Heritage Day in (you guessed it) Nova Scotia. Most of us in the private sector get the day off, but federal workers don’t. Banks and most stores are closed.

It’s a fairly new holiday. It all started in 1990 in Alberta, when Premier Don Getty created a February holiday so Albertans could spend time with their families. The date was chosen to coincide with Washington’s Birthday, to avoid disrupting trade with the United States. Over the years, other provinces adopted the holiday – often as a campaign promise at election time, as happened in Ontario in 2008.

Before that, there was no public holiday between New Year’s Day and Good Friday, which was a mighty long three-month gap filled with a whole lot of winter. The real value of Family Day is that it gives us something to look forward to at the point in the season when we’re fed up with the snow and cold and aren’t sure we can take much more.

If the weather cooperates, a good use of the day off is to enjoy winter activities with your family, such as skating, skiing, sledding or snowman building. If you find it too cold to hang around outside, museums and art galleries are open. Or just putting on a fire and playing board games with the kids sounds good to me!

If today is a holiday where you live, what will you be doing?

South Island, Here We Come!

 

I hope you all had a wonderful end-of-year! My family and I sure have!

Following a week of research in an SCA medieval reenactment camp near Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand, my (also-author) partner and I hired a mini camper-van and traveled the South Island giving author talks, selling books, and promoting my upcoming novels: Tatiana I and Somewhere Called Home!

We left Christchurch and headed into the High Country… to look for Edoras, the stronghold of Rohan… it was awesome. Good little climb.

We also looked for Clydesdales and scenery up above Ashburton… found a lovely lake by which to camp! Morning Scenery…

We began by traveling to Dunedin, where we visited our son at the University of Otago. It was a great time. We went to a special place, researching, and then on to Gore—and the Gore District Library, the first library visit of our tour.

The enthusiastic readers and librarians were wonderful! Thank you so much to reader Sally, who instigated our visit there, and to librarians Penelope and Lorraine! We camped the next night in a freedom-camping site, then we went on to Arrowtown for its historic gold mining and historical Chinese miners village (more book research), before heading on to Lake Wanaka. That night, we camped near Albert Town beside the Clutha River, then in the morning, returned to Lake Wanaka for a swim at a magical spot recommended by our son. 

 

Westland District-Hokitika Library was our next stop, where we spoke with a large crowd of readers, some of whom were nearly moved to tears by some of the talk’s topics — mostly about some of the Māori history and their own personal family connections raised in discussing The Hills of Gold Unchanging. A few tears truly began with my very first reading of the dramatic beginning (i.e., I’d written it in the van on the drive from Wanaka) from a new story I’ve just begun from the Once Upon a Vet School series. It will be the first book in this age-relative set of tales of Lena, a gutsy equestrian who dreamed of becoming a vet—her life on the way and beyond. Book One is being written for 8 to 10-year-olds. You may have read some of Lena’s later stories in the Authors of Main Street box sets! Thanks so much to Head Librarian Natasha for all your help! After a truly exquisite dinner at The Kitchen Hokitika, we drove that night onto Westport, where Head Librarian Emma’s lovely mother Chris put us up at her Westport Spa Motel. Emma blushed as she told us how wonderful it is that her mother is supportive of her and her Buller District: Westport library. Library volunteer Sue Walsh (you stalwart!) was fantastic too! A lovely group of readers attended and as at our other talks, so many joined my VIP Readers Club. You can join too, on my website here!

We drove back toward Christchurch via Reefton, where discovered Alison Hale’s Hale Gallery, an exquisite equestrian and NZ rural artist!  Her work is truly wonderful. I hope you can stop and see her when you’re by that way! And her STORIES!

We stayed overnight at Arthur’s Pass and met some cool German tourists, then had a wonderful, if challenging, hike in the morning. We drove on to Christchurch and finished our wonderful trip with an out of this world Phil Collins concert (complete with his 17 year old son on drums, after dinner with the fantastic family of our friend and fellow author Rebekah.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little tidbit of our life. Read more about my writing here. Be sure to sign up for my VIP Club to hear about new releases, free goodies, and all the good stuff!

 

Lizzi Tremayne: unpretentious, eminently readable Contemporary and Historical Fiction… by a horse vet!

 

Happy Valentine’s Day

Traditional hand embroidered Valentine’s Day card

I’m in a Valentine’s Day mood today, though it isn’t a holiday I grew up with. Here in New Zealand, sales of Valentine cards and gifts have picked up in the past couple of decades thanks to American television, but when I was a young lover, we barely gave the day a nod, though any excuse for a kiss was a good excuse.

But I’m celebrating the release of a Valentine box set, a collection of five historical novellas centred around a Valentines’ Day Ball in 1815 Bath, England, so I’ve been researching and thinking about this holiday for at around eight months.

I’m in the mood to do something special with my lover, my darling personal romantic hero, tomorrow. Steak for dinner, a glass of champagne, and who knows?

The oldest surviving Valentine is a bit of a sad story. After the Battle of Agincourt, the 21 year old Duke of Orleans was imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he stayed for 24 years.

He wrote a letter to his young wife (she would have been 15 at the time), which is shown in the image above — a poem for Valentine’s Day. Here it is.

Original French     English

Je suis desja d’amour tanné,
Ma tres doulce Valentinée,
Car pour moi fustes trop tart née,
Et moy pour vous fus trop tost né.
Dieu lui pardoint qui estrené
M’a de vous, pour toute l’année.
Je suis desja d’amour tanné,
Ma tres doulce Valentinée.

Bien m’estoye suspeconné,
Qu’auroye telle destinée,
Ains que passast ceste journée,
Combien qu’Amours l’eust ordonné.
Je suis desja d’amour tanné,
Ma tres doulce Valentinée.

I am already sick of love,
My very gentle Valentine,
Since for me you were born too late,
And I for you was born too soon.
God forgives him who has estranged
Me from you for the whole year.
I am already sick of love,
My very gentle Valentine.

Well might I have suspected
That such a destiny,
Thus would have happened this day,
How much that Love would have commanded.
I am already sick of love,
My very gentle Valentine.

Of course, in our stories, the endings are much happier. I found this lovely Valentines advertisement in an 1819 newspaper in England. I wonder if the lady responded? I think there’s a story here, don’t you?People mostly made their own Valentines until the 1850s, when an American entrepreneur, a lady called Ester A. Howland began mass producing cards. Here are a couple of others from Victorian times.

And I just can’t resist leaving you with this one. What goes one step worse than being dumped by text? Being dumped by Valentines’ Day card!

Oh. And the book? Here’s some more information about it and the stories it contains, plus buy links.

 

A Visit to Louisa May Alcott’s Home

Louisa's House.jpg

We went to visit Louisa May Alcott’s home. Because I wrote in my diary that I wanted to be a writer when I was eight and I didn’t read Little Women until I was ten, I know my career decision wasn’t determined by Joe March, but she definitely reconfirmed my goals.

It’s been decades since I first read Little Women, but I still have a tender spot in my heart for the March girls. (And I’m still a little sad that Joe didn’t marry Laurie.)

Louisa was an amazing person. For many years, she was the breadwinner in her family. She paid for her younger sister to study art in France. And she did this through her writing in an era when many women had to write under a male pen name. (Of course, she did use a pen name when she first started.)

I wonder if we were to ask her, would she say Little Women is her best work? It’s absolutely her most well-known and most beloved. But I wonder if it’s her favorite.

She is someone I would like to meet. But going to her home was as close as I could get. Interesting note, her home has been open to the public since the early 1900’s and 80 percent of the furnishings belonged to the Alcott family.Louisa's2.jpg

louisa.jpg

Just Because

With Valentine’s Day around the corner and the bombardment of all things red, heart-shaped, and love-inspired, I was thinking about what love means to me.

I don’t need or want a diamond bracelet or a trip to Paris or a 5-course dinner that will set us back a few hundred dollars.

I don’t need the grand gesture. I love the just because…

Just because I was thinking of you and what you like, let’s stop by Barnes & Noble and see if any new books are out that you want.

Just because I saw a purple sweater that made me think of you.

Or my favorite! I was running errands and saw your car at your writer’s meeting so I put a bouquet of roses on your front seat…just because.

Not for a birthday, an anniversary, or holiday. Just because.

As the beautiful quote says, paraphrasing here, it isn’t the moments that take your breath away, it is the moments that make you catch your breath.


Jill James, a true romantic at heart…every day of my life.