The Intangible Gift

I don’t know about you, but each year I find myself searching for the fictitious ‘perfect gift.’ In the spirit of this hopeless pursuit I’m going to share a small story featuring myself as the main character and a special appearance of my son. I hope you enjoy this fictitious short story.

The Intangible Gift

Ashlyn let out a sigh as she studied yet another store shelf. She already had several wrapped boxes and the small items for her son’s stocking, but she hadn’t found that illusive ‘perfect gift.’

“Maybe it doesn’t exist.” Ashlyn muttered as she moved to the next collection of merchandise. It was silly searching for more when she had plenty. Even though she knew this, she still couldn’t let go of the possibility that this store would have what all the others hadn’t. She had searched all the chain stores before checking out the local boutiques and consignment shops along her travels up and down the Shore.

She was now in a small shop that had a variety of items that could only be described as eclectic. There didn’t appear to be a theme to the store. Two walls were covered in shelves that housed locally made jams and rubs alongside an odd assortment of books and games that no doubt had pieces missing. Tables were scattered around with different crafted items on them. A miniature tree had multiple homemade ornaments that ranged from cute to tacky.

The books held the most promise, so Ashlyn abandoned her polite perusal of beaded jewelry and crochet hats. The shelf had no obvious method of organization. Children books sat nestled between textbooks whose neighbors appeared to be both fiction and nonfiction.

Ashlyn fought not to let her eyes wander distractedly across the titles. She had looked at so many things already she had little expectation of finding anything worth buying. On her third sweep, she noticed a burgundy spine with faded gold letters. Pulling it out, she smiled at the cover photo before flipping through the pages. It was a collection of classic Christmas stories with illustrations. She took the book to the front counter and purchased it.

When she got home, Ashlyn contemplated hiding the book so she could wrap it but decided to just give it to her son. Bryson enjoyed reading and it would be strange giving him a book of Christmas stories on Christmas.

Bryson was already in bed when she entered his room to kiss him goodnight. His face lit up with excitement when he spotted the book. “Mommy, can we read it tonight?”

She almost told him that it was late but instead she settled beside him and opened it to the table of contents. “So, which story should we read?”

“Could we read two?” A hopeful expression filled his face and Ashlyn couldn’t help but smile as she flipped to the first story.

Ashlyn kept her tone casual as she replied, “You know what? How about we read the first three.”

Merry Christmas everyone, and remember, the perfect gift is something simple. It’s not bought with money, but time. It is simply the gift of love.

An Excerpt for Christmas Coins (a novella in the latest Authors of Main Street Christmas Boxed Set

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After Ethan put Misty to bed—something he hoped to only have to do once in his life—he returned home and found Zoe sitting on their front porch, clutching a Mason jar.

“What’s this?” he asked.

Zoe stood and held out the jar. “A thank-you token for being a hero.”

“You don’t have to do that,” Ethan said, but he took the jar anyway. “Are these cookies?” he asked hopefully.

“Lavender with lemon zest. I love them. I hope you will too.”

“Want to share?”

“Tonight?” Her voice squeaked with surprise.

“We could sit and watch the stars.” He dropped down on the step she’d just vacated.

“Okay,” she said in a small voice, joining him.

“I have a favor to ask,” he said, nerves hitching his voice.

“Yeah?”

“The gallery has an annual holiday party. Would you like to go with me?”

“Sure.”

“It’s stuffy and pretentious, and there’s usually cheap wine and smelly cheese.”

She leaned over and bumped him with her shoulder. “How can I resist cheap wine and smelly cheese?”

“Your being there will make it bearable for me.”

“I take it you would do things differently if you owned the gallery?”

He nodded. “Hannah thinks I should just open up my own, but it’s not that easy.” She waited for him to go on and after a moment, he did. “As it is, Oak Hollow can’t really have two galleries…well, maybe it could if the two galleries were radically different from each other. But as long as Dez has his gallery, I can’t open another.”

“You could somewhere else.”

“I want to be close to Hannah.”

“You are close to Hannah.”

“Geographically as well as emotionally.” He turned and looked into her eyes. “Does that make sense to you?”

“I’m all about emotional and geographical proximity.”

“I’m glad to hear it.” He set the jar on the porch, debating.

“Because?”

“So we could do this.” And this time he kissed her, only it wasn’t brief or tentative. It was the sort of kiss that burned through him, the sort of kiss he hadn’t had since Allison’s death. He broke away, not wanting to think about his late wife while kissing Zoe. It wasn’t fair to her.

And he wasn’t sure it was fair to Allison, either.

Zoe stared at him with wide eyes. Then she startled him by climbing onto his lap, wrapping her arms around him, and kissing him so deeply, he forgot about Allison, Hannah, or the neighbors who could be watching over the hedge. The only thing he could think of was the kiss searing through him and curling his toes with pleasure.

#

“Okay, this time it is a date,” Zoe told Mildred. They both stood in front of Zoe’s open closet, but Mildred was much more interested in her bath than she was in Zoe’s wardrobe. Zoe rifled through the clothes on the hangers, considering. No, no, no, nope with an extra helping of nope sauce.

Her phone buzzed. Courtney.

“I need you,” Zoe said. “Bring cute outfits, preferably ones that will fit me.”

Moments later, Courtney and Laurel arrived, each bearing a laundry basket full of clothes. “You didn’t tell me the occasion,” Courtney said, sounding breathless.

“There’s a party at the gallery,” Zoe said, holding the door for her sister.

“Will the lush be there?” Courtney deposited the basket on the bed and motioned for Laurel to do the same.

Zoe closed the door, hoping Ethan hadn’t overheard the conversation. “Probably, but I’m not worried about her.”

“Mom, can I go and see if Hannah can play?” Laurel asked.

“Sure, sweetie,” Courtney said. She waited until Laurel had disappeared through the door before she continued. “Just because he’s not interested in her doesn’t mean she can’t cause problems.”

Zoe perched on the side of the bed and rifled through Courtney’s basket of clothes. “I’m not even sure he’s all that interested in me.”

Courtney began to pull clothes out of the basket and lay them out on the bed in ensembles. “Girl! Please! Has he kissed you?”

Zoe’s cheeks grew warm.

Courtney chortled. “Tell me! Tell me everything!”

#

Courtney had agreed to watch Hannah so Ethan and Zoe could go to the gallery gala. Before this night, every time that Ethan and Zoe had been together had felt natural—like two friends enjoying each other’s company. But tonight, as he held the door open to the gallery for Zoe to pass through, felt like a date.

Ethan hadn’t been on a first date in years. Maybe even decades.

He ran a finger around his collar, wondering what had made him include Zoe. She’d probably hate it. Even he had a hard time when artists started acting snooty—as if their art came from some woo-woo planet detached from their own imaginations. And a few of the artists who would be attending tonight were some of the worst. She’d probably be bored out of her mind. He knew if Misty started talking harmonious compositions he would be, too.

Zoe, wearing a curve-hugging black dress, stiletto heels, and long strand of pearls, looked better than the art on the walls—his included. He still tingled every time he thought of her kiss.

Oak Hollow Gallery sat on the corner of PCH and a tiny cross street that angled off toward the beach. The large plate-glass windows gaped at the busy sidewalk to the front and overlooked the seasonal creek in the back. White walls stretched up to twelve-foot ceilings. Everything looked pristine, avant-garde, and beautiful, but Ethan had misgivings. He didn’t know if Zoe was ready for the art crowd. And he wasn’t sure he was ready to show her this side of himself.

Not that he was embarrassed about being an artist. He’d fought long and hard to get to where he was…or had been. He knew better than anyone that if he didn’t start producing soon, his name and reputation would slide away into oblivion. And that would be okay, wouldn’t it? He liked teaching.

Ethan followed Zoe’s gaze as she surveyed the room.

“Your paintings,” she began.

A discussion on his work would lead to speculation on why he no  longer painted. Because he wasn’t ready for that conversation—and maybe he never would be—Ethan took Zoe’s hand and led her to the group gathered in the corner surrounding Desmond.

Tonight, Desmond looked especially debonair. De-boner, Allison used to say in a hillbilly’s voice. No one could make him feel more down-to-earth than Allison. But tonight, he didn’t want to think about Allie. He put his hand on the small of Zoe’s back and stepped close enough to smell her perfume. Typically, she smelled of the bakery—yeast, cinnamon, sugar. Tonight, she wore something else. He hadn’t decided if he liked the change, or not.

The crowd in the corner made way for him. “Desmond, Lance, and Leo, Mr. and Mrs. Greer —this is my friend, Zoe.”

They all shook Zoe’s hand. Lance and Leo—better known as the Gear Heads—eyed her. They were both stoned already. Their parents were only slightly steadier on their feet.

“Are you an artist, too?” Mrs. Greer asked.

Before Zoe could answer, Ethan cut in. “Culinary art,” he said.

“Ah,” Mr. Greer patted his stomach, “my favorite.”

“Daddy!” Mrs. Greer screeched and widened her eyes at her sons, trying to apologize for her husband without using words.

“It’s okay, mom,” Lance said. “I know our stuff takes some warming up to.”

Leo hooted as if Lance had said something hilarious. “Warming up,” he said between breaths, “because we’re machine artists.”

Zoe smiled politely and sent Ethan a questioning glance.

Lance must have noticed, because he asked, “Are you familiar with machine art?”

Zoe shook her head.

“It’s the combination of art and machines,” Lance said. Holding his hand in front of him with his fingers flexed, he mimicked a rotating device. “Cogs and wheels fused together into the fantastic that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery.”

Ethan was impressed. He didn’t know the Gearhead Brothers knew such big words.

“Let me show you,” Leo said, taking possession of Zoe’s arm and leading her across the room to a canvas that had been painted red and covered with bits of broken machinery.

Ethan felt naked without Zoe at his side, he moved to follow her and Leo but just then Misty clicked into the gallery on her Kate Spade shoes. Grabbing Ethan’s arm, she pulled him into a corner. “What are we going to do if Desmond sells the gallery to the potheads?” she whispering hissed.

Ethan tried not to be annoyed that Misty hadn’t even apologized for making him take her home from the bar. But maybe she’d been so soused, she hadn’t remembered. He shrugged and tried to look nonchalant. “I’m not sure what we can do.”

“We could pool our resources and buy it ourselves,” Misty suggested.

Could he live with a daily dose of Misty? He didn’t think so, but he wasn’t sure how to say this. Misty, although a talented artist, was probably the last person he’d want to go into business with. He sought out Zoe. Their gazes locked.

She was one of the few people who wasn’t interested in him because of his art. He liked that. He liked her. When was it too soon to tell her?Aof MS boxed set

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The New Content for Books

The new term is sensitivity, and we must content edit and write for sensitivity awareness.

HUH?

Yes. It’s the new thing, sort of like being politically correct but on steroids.  So what does this mean for the reader and the author.  It means stereotypes must be avoided all the time. If we create a character who is different from the hero and heroine in name or color and has any negative or apparently positive qualities, we’ve stereotyped.  What exactly does that mean? I’m not totally certain, but in theory I can’t create a homosexual male who loves to flame. (Is flame a universal term?) Because I’m stereotyping.

I was discussing this sensitivity issue with my friend who has taught college English in a predominately Black college.  She said if the character is well developed, the reader will accept almost anyone. But she did warn about doing certain things.  Not all cops are bad, not all Black boys play basketball, not all Asians eat rice, and list goes on.

Yes, but…

No buts. Can’t profile based on color, religion, clothing, etc.  And that discussion morphed into how we are dressed/look determines the way we are treated.  And that deteriorated into her rant about the way her aunt was treated at a local hospital.  Why? Because they figured this was just another dumb Black family. Wrong! There are more PhDs in that family than all my friends put together. There are medical doctors in that family, yet they were treated as though they didn’t have a brain cell.  So someone assumed, based on the color of their skin, that this was a poor, uneducated family.  (That’s not just being prejudice – it’s also stereotyping.) I guess by now you know my friend is Black.  I don’t think of her as being Black. She’s my friend. If you asked me to physically describe her, I’d probably say something along the lines that her skin is the color of black coffee. Her hair has those little braid-like things that are about five inches long and frame her face.

Her mom’s name is Mommy. And her dad is Dad, although most of the world refers to him as Doctor. I know her sister and her brother, her nephew, her niece, her daughter and her granddaughter.  I actually do know her dad’s first name but I have no idea what Mommy’s first name is.  But I do know that the family is loving, caring, gracious, and intelligent, and when I’m with them, I’m family. No one sees color. We see personalities. We see the people we are. We see love.

I know I often create characters who are not WASPs (white Anglo-Saxon Protestants).  Maybe I need to be very careful about my characters. I hope I never offend a reader. Maybe it does start in our writing. Maybe we need to be careful how we portray our characters.   Maybe we need to be more open and honest in our writing and make certain that we’ve created believable characters.  I don’t care what adult people do behind closed doors or who they worship. How they treat me means more to me than anything else. I’ve traveled the world and met all sorts of people. I’m no longer that little girl who was reprimanded by a stranger because I drank from the wrong water fountain. “If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh?” Maybe Shakespeare  was a few hundred years ahead of his time.

I asked my friend who reads all my books, if she had any issues with  my characters, and she said  no. But maybe after this sensitivity episode, I’ll be even more aware and careful with my characters. I want people to accept all people and to accept the characters that I create. I happen to believe that the world is a very colorful place and the differences between people make things more interesting. If we all ate the same foods, or acted the same way, life would be boring.  We need to celebrate the differences and learn to accept.  There really is no stereotype of person. We are all different.

Maybe I’m not comfortable with this new sensitivity content thing. If I want to create a despicable character, I will.  If I want to create a loving, wonderful character, I will. If I make them a certain color or a certain nationality or whatever, they just are.

If you are an author, do you write diverse characters into your books? If you are a reader do you like reading about characters who are different?

Thanksgiving – A Time for Giving

What are you thankful for?

I count my blessings every day. There have been too many to count or list. Whether large or small, they’re all important.

Thanksgiving is a special day to listen to my heart and be thankful for what God has given me. I’m thankful for everything, but most of all, for His love.

My family means the world to me. We’re a large family and sometimes there may be squabbles, misunderstandings and rifts. But in the long-run, those issues are worked out.

We’re family after all.

What family doesn’t have their problems? I don’t know of any that hasn’t had difficulties at one time or another. My family is no different.

When there are struggles to deal with and I have no answer, that’s when I have to let go of what I can’t control, because we can’t control other people. We can only be true to ourselves, forgive and forget.

Then we can move forward.

It’s a special time to remember loved ones who are no longer with us, and be thankful we were blessed to have them for the time we did. Those memories will last a lifetime.

Here are a few things I’m also thankful for.

Tough upbringing, because it made me strong
Hugs when my heart was weary
Angels to watch over me
Nonstop faith
Kindhearted, because kindness builds up others
Freedom of worship
Unbelievable blessings
Loving family

I wish you and your family the best. That you have wonderful and safe Thanksgiving. Enjoy time with your loved ones on this  special day. 

My Geometry Lesson

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

I remember this lesson, but I don’t always follow it when I should. I don’t mind taking the scenic route when there’s time, but those leisurely “Sunday drives” down back streets and past horse farms aren’t for deadlines and time crunches. They’re supposed to be used when there is no hurry. Unfortunately, we may use these pretty distractions when we need to complete a project and then have difficulty getting back on the main road.  (Ex. What starts as video research for a book turns into a night of binging on sitcoms.)

We fall behind and end up scrambling to try to make up for lost time. It doesn’t always work. Think about the speedsters who pass you to weave in and out of cars only to end up stopped in traffic beside you. You can’t get back 15 minutes by shaving 25 seconds off your drive down the street. The simplest way to prevent the possibility of that problem would be to leave ahead of the time you estimate is necessary to get to your location. However, in order to do that, you must plan ahead (even if you’re a “pantser”).

That brings me back to my geometry lesson. As much as I loved math, I struggled to last through that course. It felt like every other class was straightforward, but geometry had me going through mazes just to move forward five feet. It was like a pottery session on my brain every week. I didn’t know what shape it would be when we finished. But…for all the struggle I went through, my logic and problem-solving skills increased.

“The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” It sounds simple enough, right? Point A ___________ Point B. It’s direct.

student and ruler

One of the things I learned from all my rules, theorems, and proofs was how plan my trip from Point A to Point B. I know where I’m starting, and I know where I want to go. The only thing I need to do is figure out the most direct route, which should (depending on other variables like traffic) get me to my destination in the quickest time.

We can apply this lesson to other areas of life. I remember challenging my kids once with this idea. I said, “I have hidden a white barrette somewhere in this room. You may ask me any five questions you want, and I will answer truthfully. You job is to find the barrette.”

One child asked a couple of questions and looked around the room. The other child stayed in one general spot and waited. After a moment, I heard the golden question, “Where’d you put the barrette?” Bingo! I held out my hand to show her that I had been holding it the entire time.

We can make our lives unnecessarily complicated by doing all the work, trying to examine 5,000 possibilities, or even avoiding the obvious because it seems too simple. But simple may be the only thing required…and less stressful. (Independent doesn’t mean you have to do any and everything by yourself.) So, the next time you’re facing a project and aren’t sure where to start, start with the simplest thing and what you know.

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

NaNo November, and Writing

tough writingWriting is hard. At least it’s hard for me. I love the flow of it, once I get there. I love going where the characters lead – especially when I don’t know that the path I’ve set them on is the right one.

Invariably (so far) I have to rewrite my first few chapters. Rarely am I right about what makes an amorphous story idea great at the beginning of the first draft.

deadlinesDeadlines help. They help me get out of my head and just write. That’s when the magic happens. Words get written. Stories evolve.

I am a better writer when I write every day – even if what I’ve written is only one page. I don’t know why that’s true – maybe because the story stays alive inside me when i write each day.

However you write, whatever your process, it’s the writing and the resulting story that matter.

NaNo write MoI’m thankful for NaNo. Not because I follow the rules, I don’t, but because it forces me to just sit and write.

Happy writing. Happy Thanksgiving

May your November be filled with joy, productivity, and writing (or reading or both).

Leigh

A Journey of Reading

Keeping with the unintentional theme of experiences for this month’s blog, I thought I would share my memory of the first time I was able to read and how it has shaped me.

I was approaching the end of first grade and there was a strong chance I was going to fail. No matter how hard my mother and teacher tried to explain it, I couldn’t even read a simple two-word sentence. I wish I could express to you how difficult it was for me, but since I was six, I don’t really remember.

What I do remember is that just when we were about to give up, I got a phone call from my father, whom I hadn’t seen often since my parents divorced when I was two. He had just moved to VA, and I was back in CA where I had been born. That long distance call from one side of the United States to the other was what I needed. I distinctly remember sitting on the toilet while I read to him The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein without making a single mistake. It was one of the proudest moments of my childhood.

My mother was, of course, a bit bruised that my father got me to do something with one phone call that she couldn’t with months of hard work and coaching. I’m still not sure how my father calling me helped either since the conversation did not include him encouraging me. I had actually asked if I could read him a story, and he said he would love it. I recently mentioned the memory to my father, and he informed me that he hadn’t realized how big of an accomplishment it had been at the time. But with every book I pick up, I’m reminded of that moment. Maybe all that was holding me back was stubbornness, at least that’s what my mother thinks.

Three years later, my mother remarried and we moved to AL. I was in fourth grade, and my reading teacher was named Ms. Swann. Having read The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B White, I loved the name. Her class was my favorite too, and she encouraged me to read anything I wanted. I’m not sure how many can say this, but Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling (apparently a 7th grade level book) got me kicked out of her class and sent to an Advanced Reading one. There, another teacher informed me that ‘the author of a story I can’t even remember made the curtains blue to express the character’s depression.’ I, for one, have never colored a scene to suit my character’s emotions. Maybe their personality, but that isn’t the same.

Despite my lack of interest in breaking down stories to find a hidden meaning where there isn’t one, I kept reading “advanced” books and eventually stumbled across The Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop. My mother had found them in a stack of used paperbacks the library was selling and bought them for a cheap price since the covers were coming off.

These books shaped my love for fantasy and made me want to write my own stories. I was captivated by the way her heroes weren’t completely good and how they were constantly mistaken for being the enemy. The female was not a damsel in need of saving from a strong man either. She was a powerful adversary who would not allow anyone to harm those she cared about.

 My current taste in books can be generously described as eclectic and I often re-read The Black Jewels Trilogy, which has expanded beyond the original three books. I read almost anything and have difficulty not buying a book when I walk into a bookstore. The smell of paper and coffee just might be my weakness.

It never fails to amaze me how a good book can make the reader feel as if they are with the characters. My ultimate goal as a writer is to touch upon this phenomenon. I don’t expect to become famous or make millions, but if my books can touch a person’s life and transport them, even for a moment, I will be happy.

Last year, my seven year old son discovered a passion for reading, and I’m proud to say I am raising a bookworm who would rather buy a book than something else. For his birthday, he received some spending money to buy anything he wanted, so I took him to Walmart. He quickly found a Pokemon towel and said he would get it since he had enough. Before we left, we went to the book isle where he found a book he had been wanting. After some adding, he realized he could only buy one, and I watched him debate over the choice between the towel and the book. It must have been difficult for him, but his response warmed my heart.

“I’m going to get the book since I have lots of towels, but I don’t have this book.”

Every time I catch my son with his nose in the latest book, I’m reminded of The Giving Tree and how it started my own path in reading. Isn’t it amazing how a story can shape you?