The Peanut Butter Airplane

In the fifth grade, Mrs. Whitaker would give us a title for the weekly story we had to write. Two of my favorites, that I still remember to this day, were The Runaway Chevrolet and The Peanut Butter Airplane. I guess even back then I needed a title to get going on a story.

We had to write at least two pages in our notebooks. No writing big. No repeating the same word for a whole sentence. I always wondered why my classmates complained all week about writing those two pages. By Monday night I had two pages and then some more, no problem at all. It is amazing how freeing writing is when you don’t know there are rules!

At least one time in the school year you had to stand in front of the class and read your story aloud. I was terrified. I didn’t want to go first and I didn’t want to leave it at the end and feel the pressure. I tried to time it so some people had read their stories but everyone wasn’t bored after hearing half a dozen of them with the very same title on a late Friday afternoon.

I so wish I still had that composition book from the fifth grade. Everyone read their stories of planes made of peanut butter. Obviously, even at ten my imagination didn’t work that way. Maybe one or two of them became fantasy writers. LOL My peanut butter airplane delivered peanut butter to starving children all around the world. See, even then I wanted a happily ever after.

Thank you, Mrs. Katherine Whitaker for opening up my mind with just a quirky, little title. Thank you for believing storytelling was just as important as math and science.

Do you remember a favorite story from childhood?


Jill James, writer

Sugar Sprinkled Memories coming soon in the
Authors of Main Street Christmas boxed set.

Get Started

 

The secret of getting ahead is getting started.   –Mark Twain

 

 

In October I gear up for Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) 50,000 words in 30 days in November. Just like I talked about last month on this blog, I’m trying to step outside my comfort zone in life and in my writing. For Nanowrimo this year I’ll be working on a women’s fiction story–a first for me. I love writing romance but this idea just came to me. I’ve written the first hundred or so words to get the idea started, but it will be my project for Nanowrimo. The title is That Moment. It is about two women, best friends all their lives. One commits suicide and the other is left to wonder where her friend’s life went so wrong. Was there a That Moment that would have sent her friend on a different path? A different direction that would have set everything right? And, if she could change it, would she? Should she?


(unedited, first draft)

From monumental to mundane. From beautiful to banal. Each moment of your life is ‘that moment.’ That moment when you make a decision. A decision to stay home with your family on the perfect September day and not go to work at the World Trade Center. A decision to not call in sick because you’re out of sick days and a psycho decides today, he will show the boss he won’t be pushed around anymore. A simple decision to go on that blind date and maybe meet your soul mate—or not. An easy decision to have beef or chicken for dinner.

Each decision you make is a pebble thrown in the smooth, glassy surface of the lake of your life. From a boulder creating a splash and setting ripples inside ripples across the pond to a skipping stone making ripples lost before they are gone and out of sight. Only, they aren’t gone, just out of your sight. They still touch the sandy beach across the water, the barely-hanging-on tree with its exposed roots grasping the muddy bank, the sweep around the bend, hidden behind the trees.

Every decision doesn’t just affect you. Just watch It’s a Wonderful Life to see how one person affects so many more. Most of us will never know if a ripple of a decision will affect someone else. But . . . sometimes we do.

Chapter 1

Shelly is dead. Would my best friend have still killed herself if she’d known the ripples of that decision would rip open time and space? Would she still have done it if she’d known it would rip my heart out? Would she still have done it if she’d known what I would do to make it right?’ Funny thing about time and space. You just don’t know. Until you do.

Shelly Benedict killed herself on a Wednesday. Did she know that made it easy for me to plan her funeral by Saturday? Knowing Shelly like I did, I’m sure she did. Just like she calculated how many pills it would take to never wake up, I’m sure my best friend wanted to make it as easy as possible for me. That was Shelly.

God knows, she didn’t make life easy for herself. If there was a poster child for every way your life could suck, it was Shelly. It sucked right up to and including her funeral. How can you live fifty years on this planet and have four ex-husbands, six children, your parents still alive, and your best friend is the only person at your funeral?

Wait, I take that back. The only person besides the minister who didn’t know Shelly and the men waiting for me to leave so they can finish their job. It hurt. It hurt to breathe. It hurt to see the clear blue sky and the gentle sun on that May morning. It hurt to know my best friend was gone and no one cared but me.

I tried from when we were teenagers until her last day on Earth to tell Shelly and show Shelly, she was the person I saw her to be. None of it sank in. Her life became a series of What If? questions.

What if her parents had loved her for the person she was? What if she’d had some self-esteem and didn’t fall for every loser on the planet? What if she hadn’t let her children abuse her just as much as their fathers had? What if she’d cared for herself, just a little?


How do you get motivated to just get started?

Jill James, author of Sugar Sprinkled Memories/Christmas 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In (Out) My Comfort Zone

I’m most comfy in my sweats and at the computer. But every once in a while I have to step out of my comfort zone and do stuff that is on the top of my non-comfort list.

Like flying on an airplane! By myself! So not my favorite thing to do. I get an anxiety attack. What gate am I supposed to be at? What time is my flight? What are the rules for security?

I had to do this once before so I’m getting better. But still, not my favorite thing to do. When I was a little kid, flying on an airplane was exciting, adventurous, and fun. The seats were wide and the legroom was enormous. The food was served on china and the salt and pepper were tiny little crystal containers. Flying somewhere was an event with ladies in hats and gloves and shiny shoes. Men in suits. Now, we’re packed in like cattle and told not to complain while we remove everything just to check in.

But, I will step out of my comfort zone and fly in an airplane to see my high school friend I haven’t seen in 30 years, give or take.

By the time you are reading this post I will be back from my journey to Seattle!


What is outside your comfort zone?


Jill James, romance writer and reluctant traveler.

My First

Romance novel. hahahaha.

I was about 12 or 13 when my mom bought me this romance novel. It was from Avon (the perfume company) and came with a tiny bottle of perfume to match the title. In this case, Lily of the Valley by Margaret Rome.

I loved the story. The hero was blinded in an accident and is recuperating at a hospital. He convinces his nurse that he wants to marry her—thinking she is homely and won’t mind being married to a blind man. Hey, it was the ’70s and I guess that plotline sold. LOL

It had it all. Vindictive ex-girlfriend, annoying brother who points out that the heroine is actually quite beautiful, jealous ex-girlfriend who tries to sabotage his marriage and get him back, hurt feelings, sadness, true love at the end, along with a hero who is cured and can see the woman he has grown to love. Again, it was the ’70s. Romance novels had heroes who don’t seem so heroic today, who could hurt the woman they professed to love until true love opened their eyes (literally) and made them better men for the woman they loved.

As I’ve matured, I hope my choice of romance reading has matured, as well. I like my heroes to be heroic, even if a little clueless at the beginning, thinking they don’t need love. I want to believe they will grow as characters and men and deserve the heroine, who by the end of the story shows them that love is as necessary as the air we breathe, the water we drink, the shelter we need from the storm. I want the heroine to turn a man who may be rough around the edges into a prince of a guy. I need to believe he will do that to be worthy of her. That the idea of life without her is lonely and meaningless.

So, back to that book at the beginning of my post. For the beginner teen I was when I got the book, it was my first taste of a romance novel and I loved it. Fleur and Alain fueled many dreams of romance. Thanks, Mom. Because without that book and the thousands that followed, I wouldn’t be a romance writer today.

Do you remember your first romance novel?


 

Jill James, author of Sugar Sprinkled Memories

Family Traditions

I love family traditions–what ornaments go where on the Christmas tree, the inside jokes that only the family understands, summer evenings with board games, photos, trips, memories.

Did you know that scents are the strongest memory makers we have? A whiff of cocoanut and you are back on your honeymoon in Hawaii. A scent of cinnamon and you are in your grandma’s kitchen helping her to make cookies. A favorite perfume and you are there with a favorite aunt or your mother, even when they are no longer with us.

When I went to write my story for the Authors of Main Street Christmas boxed set I decided to put a twist on a family legend and cookie.

So, the legend goes that the butter cookie recipe came from Ireland with the Redmond family and has been passed down generation to generation. I can’t say whether the legend is true, but the cookies are to die for. So I took the IDEA of a family tradition of a cookie recipe, hijacked a little of my family history, and came up with Sugar Sprinkled Memories.

Maggie Mason has dreamed her entire life of owning her own bakery and making the family-famous Traveling Cinnamon Cookies. The only thing standing in her way is tall, dark, and handsome Warren Kincaid who claims he owns the building where the bakery now sits and he wants it for his new law office. Tempers rise, misunderstandings get in the way, but just maybe–a sprinkle of sugar, a touch of Christmas magic, and life-long memories will be made for Maggie and Warren.

 

 

Chapter 1

Maggie, age 8

 “Mommy, tell me the story. My story, about Maggie the elder and Maggie the younger,” Maggie Mason pleaded as she snuggled deeper under the covers.

Her mother smoothed the covers as she sat on the edge of the bed. “I’ve told you this story a thousand times. You must know it by heart now.”

She nodded. “I do. But you tell it so well.”

Dimming the bedside light, her mother leaned over and kissed her forehead. “Okay,” she whispered. “The tale of Maggie the elder and Maggie the younger.”

She began, “In the wee village of Dunby, which no longer exists, if it ever did…”

Dunby, Ireland 1919 

Maggie McGill nee O’Shay rushed up the pebbled path to her home, her shawl wrapped tightly around herself on this blustery March day. Winter didn’t want to loosen its grasp this year.

Her fingers tingled from more than just the chilling breeze. Sean at the post office said her ma had received mail special delivery this afternoon while Maggie had been at work in the button factory.

She crossed herself. It had to be good news. The factory was closing next month and that would spell the end of Dunby. Her gaze swept over the cottages nearby. Two more had boarded-up windows and a board across the doors. The Great War had started the end of her hometown with the leaving of all the eligible men and the factory closing would end for those who were left.

“If only…” She sighed. Wishes were for the wee folk, not regular people. Wishing her John had returned from the war wouldn’t make it so. Crossing herself, she wiped her shoes on the doormat. Pity served no one when her John wasn’t the only husband who hadn’t returned.

The aroma of cinnamon wafted over her as she opened the door. She hadn’t dared hope, but her mother’s smile gave her the good news anyway. If the scent of the cinnamon buttons hadn’t proclaimed it before she’d opened the door.

“Mama, mama,” tiny voices cried as Virginia and Robert flung themselves at her legs, wrapping her in a warm muddle of boy and girl.

She hugged them back and then pushed them gently away. “Go clean up, I’m sure Granny will have dinner for us shortly.”

Her mother turned from pulling cookies from the oven. Tears flowed down Maggie the elder’s cheeks, threatening to ruin the precious cookies.

She looked away before she had tears to join her mother’s. Cinnamon was a luxury they hadn’t seen during the war and only had some since they’d had it before the war, hidden away in the back of the cupboard. Saved for only one thing. The traveling button cookies.

Setting down the cookies, her mother opened her arms and swept Maggie into a hug. Her body shook and tears dampened her hair. She clung to her mother. The familiar scents of flour, butter, and sugar painting a picture of her ma she would remember to her dying day.

Maggie stepped back, wiping the tears from her mother’s face. “I haven’t even opened the letter yet. How do you know it is good news?”

Her mother smiled, touching the side of her head. A dusting of flour added to the white strands in her dark hair. “I know you’ll be needing the cookies. You’ll be traveling far over the sea to America.”

Maggie’s fingers trembled as she tore open the envelope. She’d read the few pages in a moment. All she could do was stare at the three tickets for a ship to Baltimore, Maryland. One for her and each of her children. Unconsciously, her hand settled on her stomach.

Her mother placed a hand over her own. “This little one will be born where no one knows he doesn’t have the same father as the other little ones.”

She jumped, her face heating. “I didn’t know you knew,” she whispered, whipping her head around to see if the children were back.

Maggie the elder smiled, touching her head again. “I knew. I will always know how you are. Are you safe? Are you happy? Even when I’m an ocean away.”

She couldn’t stop the tears, even when Virginia came back into the room and wrapped her long arms around her mother and grandmother.

“Did someone die?” the eight-year-old whispered, her face blanching white with her freckles sticking out like the pox.

Maggie wrapped her arms around her. It had only been a year since the men had come and told them of John’s death in a nameless field in France. Her little boy had only been three and would never remember the devastating news or the father who would remain just a few pictures and stories and memories from his mother.

“Ginny, we’re going to America. Uncle Thomas has sent for us.”

The little girl’s face lit up, her green eyes sparkling with the idea of a grand adventure. Her red hair bouncing on her shoulders as she grabbed up Robert and danced around the room.

“Robby, we’re going to America,” she crowed as they spun across the wooden floor.

She started to speak up, but her mother’s hand on her shoulder stopped her.

“Let them have their fun. Time enough to hear the story of the traveling buttons before we get you packed and sent on your way.”

A week later and Maggie the younger stood among the bags and trunks of all her worldly goods. Her vision blurred but she refused to let tears fall down her face. Her last moments with her mother would find her with a smile on her face as she waved good-bye to the only family and home she’d ever known.

Virginia held the tin of cinnamon button cookies as her granny did up her coat.

“Ginny, this is why they are traveling cookies,” she explained as her fingers pushed the buttons into their buttonholes on the coat. “They are only to be made when someone is going away from home forever.”

The young girl sniffled as she put on a brave face. “But, we will have a new home? Mama and Robby will be there?”

“Of course,” Maggie the elder said, straightening Ginny’s collar made of a fox’s tail. “But the baker makes them to send a piece of themselves with the travelers and the travelers eat them, one each day, to remember the baker.”

Ginny wrapped her arms around her granny, cookie tin and all. “I’ll write to you all the time, Granny. And Robby too, as soon as I teach him how.”

Her comment set them all to laughing and put smiles on their faces as a truck horn beeped outside.

Maggie the elder scooted them around and had Maggie the younger, and the children, and all their belongings soon settled in the truck. She marched up to the driver and leaned in the window.

“Padraig, you take care of my babies. Don’t you leave until they are safely on their ship.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied, doffing his hat and pulling it back on as the truck slowly moved down the road.

Maggie the elder stood there until the truck turned a corner and disappeared from sight. Only then did she allow tears to flow into the cinnamon-scented hands covering her face.

*****

Since we only make our family’s butter cookies at Christmas I loved the idea of a cookie that was only for a certain occasion, in this case when a loved one is moving far away and never returning home. Now, in our connected global world today, that is usually not true anymore, but I liked the idea that you can return home but it isn’t the same when you make a new home and are just a visitor to your childhood home and memories.

Hope everyone will check out our new boxed set when it is released….Jill

Family Ties

With the passing of my grandma-by-marriage this week, I’ve given lots of thought to family. My own and my fictional ones in the books I write.

At the age of 98, 99 if she had made it to September, Grandma Jane lead a filled, full life. She left her earthly bonds surrounded by her family. Her son and daughter. Two grandchildren with their spouses. A great-grandson. We sat with her as she struggled for each breath, her lungs full of pneumonia, her age against any chance of fighting it.

My husband and I are now three hours away from our family. My husband’s sister called us a few days ago and said Grandma was in the hospital. She was sent back to the nursing home. Two days later, she was back in the hospital fighting for her life with aspiration pneumonia. Sister called us at 9 pm. to say they were in the ER and they would keep us updated. At midnight, she called to say Grandma was not expected to survive the night.

We threw off our pjs and whipped into our clothes. We grabbed a duffel bag and threw enough in to it to go for a couple of days. (God forbid you are ever in this situation, have a go-bag) We reached the hospital at 3 am.

Grandma left this world at 11 am that morning.

Nurses are angels on this Earth and don’t let anyone tell you differently. They had to know it was hopeless, but they came in time and time again when we asked them to take blood pressure readings. They asked if we were okay numerous times. They brought us coffee, tea, and cookies as the sun rose and the darkness fled from the windows. They went above and beyond to give us comfort in a time that no comfort could help. They did all they could to make an impossible time bearable.

So, what does this have to do with writing?

I have a bad habit of erasing my characters’ families. It is easier to write if they are only children with deceased parents or only one or a grandmother raising them. I didn’t start out giving this much thought when building my stories, but…how our characters interact with their families says so much about them. The inside jokes. The teasing. The memories. The stories.

I didn’t plan on so much family when I started writing my story for the next Authors of Main Street anthology until I realized I could use my family history to give Maggie a family history and the legend of the traveling cinnamon cookies.

From me to you–hug your family, keep them close, hold them in your hearts forever.


Jill James, romance writer

Hiatus or Not!!

First, I love writing. Years ago when I started, I would write all-year long. Summer, holidays, vacations, didn’t matter. I wrote. Words, glorious words.

I have a writer friend who doesn’t write in the summer, she is an outdoor gal. Running, biking, hiking, camping. So not me. I’m an indoors, binge-watch a series kind of girl. My friend doesn’t write during the holidays. She has a large family and she is now the matriarch in charge of the occasion.

Before, I’ve always written during the Christmas holidays and grumbled because I didn’t write every day and I didn’t get how much done I wanted to do. I would be a group and think “I should be writing.”

So, Christmas 2018 I decided to take a hiatus for the first time. Not worry about writing. Not think about writing. Enjoy the holidays. I would get back to it after New Year’s.

Bad idea. Really bad idea!!

January came and went. No writing. It was okay. I could start again in a couple of weeks.

February came and went. No writing. I thought that’s okay, it’s a short month.

March came and went. Now I’m panicking. Don’t know where to start. I should have at least one story done by now.

April came. Okay, this is getting stupid. Just put some words on the screen!!! Finally, the end of April I forced myself to sit at the computer and work on my book for the Authors of Main Street. Come on, Jill!! You don’t have a title or characters or plot, but just write. Funny, not funny. The words are in my head but they aren’t coming out like before. Each sentence is a struggle. I’m deleting as much as I’m writing.

I’m not where I wanted to be when I pictured this year at the end of last year, but I’m writing again. (fingers crossed, knocking on wood)

Hiatus? Never again!!!


Jill James, romance author (which means I must write)