A reader and friend saw this on Twitter and suggested I enter Southern Exposure to win an Independent BookBlogger Award from Goodreads and the Association of American Publishers.  While that would be lovely, the real fun was looking back over some of my previous blogs and trying to figure out which ones to use as samples. 
 
You can vote below, but whether you do or not, visit the site to see what other book bloggers are doing, as well.
 
I’ll probably include this cute graphic on posts for a while because I’m so proud of myself for figuring out how to get it on my blog and working.
 
Independent Book Blogger Awards

Vote for this blog for the Independent Book Blogger Awards!

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I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about the ways we help each other.  One Mountain Away, coming in August, explores that question among many others, and it will come up again and again as the series progresses.  Do we give money?  Do we bring casseroles?  Do we hold hands and provide a listening ear?  Do we give someone who needs it a kick in the pants?  Do we intervene in a dangerous situation by alerting authorities who might be able to help?

A man in Baltimore County, Maryland, made the news this week with his own unique twist.  With absolutely no fanfare Lenny B. Robinson, 48, wealthy and self-made, dresses up in a Batman costume, hops in his Lamborghini and visits sick children.  What better job for the Caped Crusader?

Mr. Robinson doesn’t don his cape for publicity.  When the police stopped him recently for having a license plate with the bat symbol instead of the more usual numbers and letters, he got out of his car dressed in full bat regalia and for the first time the world was aware something odd was afoot in Gotham.  But Robinson doesn’t extol his own virtues.  Today’s Washington Post published a front page story about him, written by a family friend with insight and sentiment, but only because bits and pieces of the story were already filtering out after the police encounter.

Picture a cancer ward filled with little children fighting for their lives.  In strides Batman, sweating beneath a specially made mask–he sweats away five or six pounds of water weight at each engagement.  Batman doesn’t come empty-handed, of course.  Robinson spends $25,000 a year on Batman toys and memorabilia, and he gives it–autographed when he can–to every child who needs cheering.  And which of these children wouldn’t?

Imagine the excitement, the hope, the joy that a real live Superhero is there to hold your hand and ask how you’re feeling, when that’s exactly what you need most?  Imagine the healing?

Our world can be unspeakably sad and lonely.  But people like Lenny B. (for Batman?) Robinson remind me that no matter who we are, we can reach out in myriad ways to change it.   

I’ve never been a big fan of Batman, but today I changed my mind.  Thank you, Caped Crusader, and all the other superheroes out there, in whatever disguise you wear, for reminding us that in our own way, we can always make a difference.

In the spirit of recycling, something I’m getting quite adept at as I get ready to move, today I’m recycling a blog from September 2010 about my silly beagle Nemo.  I’m pleased to tell you that Nemo is, of course, still with us and every bit as neurotic as I paint him in the following paragraphs.  Also every bit as good at “sniffing out the story.”  I’ll be back on Friday with something new.

I’m still not quite sure how this happened.  One moment I volunteered to dog-sit for the pathetic puppy that my son and daughter-in-law had  rescued from the path of a bush hog and nursed back to health.  The next I was on the telephone with my husband, who was out of town at a conference.  “Remember that beagle puppy the kids are trying to find  a home for?  Well, they found one.” 

Then, mimicking the words of generations of small children before me, I added:  “Of course since this was my decision, I’ll do all the work.”  And I meant it. . . exactly the way all those little kids had.

Today Nemo, the rascally beagle puppy, is an adult lap dog.  While the puppy Nemo never met a creature he didn’t like, the adult Nemo is much more reserved.  Show him a deer and he looks the other way.  He terrorizes sticks and rocks exclusively, leading us to view more x-rays of a beagle stomach than we ever hoped to see.  While he has his private pack, my husband and me, the son and daughter-in-law who rescued him and their dogs, most of the rest of the world is excluded, unless they come with treats in hand.  I spent more money this past week discussing Nemo’s peculiarities with my vet than I would have spent at a psychiatrist.

Today on our walk, after I pulled him past a monster trash Dumpster, through sprinkles of acid rain, across Beagle-Bashing-Boulevard (two lanes, no traffic) we finally got to the woods (most likely the same woods where Little Red Riding Hood met the wolf).  At the border Nemo dove under the thickest canopy of trees, plunked himself down and stared at me as if to say: “You go ahead, I’ll be here waiting.”   Although my arms are now as sturdy as tree trunks from hours of beagle pulls, I gave in and home we went.  Along the way we passed the world’s smallest and cutest cocker spaniel.  Nemo, of course, gazed at the horizon, and the friendly little interloper went its merry way.

And that’s when Nemo showed his true colors.  While completely uninterested in socializing with this potential new friend–a harmless friend twenty pounds lighter and inches shorter–Nemo was now utterly fascinated.  He sniffed every inch of the dog’s path to that point, until he knew all there was to know.

Voila!  I finally understand.  Nemo has the heart of a novelist.  No wonder I fell in love with him.  Nemo, like those of who write, is most comfortable tracing the paths of others, finding out where they’ve been, maybe even wondering where they might next go, than he is in actual encounters.  He is a detective, happiest ferreting out the intricate details, the secrets, and yes, the evidence left behind. 

Even before that revelation, I wouldn’t have traded a scrap of fur from Nemo’s blue tick body for a less neurotic dog, but now maybe I can relate to him a bit better.  The next time he puts nose to the ground to follow a scent no human could ever detect, I will understand.  Nemo’s looking for a story.   If only he could talk.

Welcome to Sunday Poetry.   If this is your first visit you can read about the purpose and inspiration of my Sunday poetry blogs here.

This is probably our last spring as residents of the Washington DC area, and I’ll confess that I’ll miss this season the most.  Spring in DC is a parade of blossoms, but this year, the show has been more like a fireworks display, a burst of color ending quickly, but oh, those glorious moments. 

Looking at this photo of my husband and me at the Tidal Basin a few years ago, I remember how cold the day was, and how windy, nothing like this year’s unusually warm weather.  Right now, and for the first time I can remember, everything seems to be blooming at once.  Dogwoods with daffodils are normally unheard of.  Cherry trees bloomed about two weeks earlier than predicted, and our neighbor’s tree is already dropping petals.  But what a sight to see our area garbed in its entire spring wardrobe,  like a lady who can’t decide which Easter dress or hat to wear, so she dons them all.

Today’s poem is in the public domain and I can print it here for you to enjoy.  I discovered this one at the Poetry Foundation website, and to learn more about the poet A.E. Housman, follow this link to that site. 

What do you want to view each year in whatever years are yours to enjoy?

A Shropshire Lad II: Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now

by A.E. Housman

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
 
Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
 
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow
 
Remember there are no quizzes here, no right ways to read or contemplate the poem we share.  Absolutely no dissecting allowed.  Just come along for the “read.”  What line, word or thought will you carry with you this week?  If you’d like to tell us where the poem took you?  We’ll listen.

I love to fantasize.  You probably knew that.  Last night when I should have been sleeping I began making a list of everything I ought to pack on two upcoming trips.  Honestly, who cares?  But I did, at about 2 AM.  Then as I began to make my list, I thought of you.  What fun to find out what you can’t live without when  you travel, no matter how small the suitcase.

This morning as the idea formed in a fully conscious brain I realized some of the things I would always take with me on trips are also things I need for life.  Period.  And that sounded like even more fun to blog about.

So today’s list?  You’re about to be born to a family here on earth, and you can pack a few things you will have with you all through your life.  What will serve you best?

Just tell us by commenting here–and not on my pages at Facebook or Goodreads, since it’s too easy to lose track of entries.  Remember that I give away an autographed book each month, and if you comment on any of that month’s “list posts” then you’ll be entered in the giveaway.  It’s that simple. 

Lists: Packing for Life

1–A sense of humor, because without this, life can be overwhelmingly sad

2–An appreciation of beauty, because without this, life will seem ordinary and plain

3–A sensitivity to the feelings of those around me, because without this, life will be lonely

4–A desire to help others, because without this, it’s impossible to make any lasting, meaningful connections

5–An understanding and appreciation of my own talents, because without this, I might not find the courage to explore them.

Now it’s your turn.  What will you pack?  You don’t have to list five.  Just share your thoughts and enjoy.

Somewhere during the first trimester of my sophomore year in college, I realized I was signed up for the wrong major.  I was in music education, and observing just one high school music class was like having a bucket of ice water dumped over my head.  Me, standing in front of those kids?  Trying to teach them something about music? 

I changed to music therapy immediately, but I found myself yearning for a wider education.  There were so many things I wanted to know about, and the music program was so extensive we were restricted to few electives.  So, at the end of the year, I transferred to American Studies, a major which by itself is nearly as useless as my Masters degree in Family Development–unless you happen to write novels about families set primarily in the United States, in which case both choices were brilliant. 

In my first trimester of American Studies I immediately registered for Pop Lit 101, fondly known as Trash Lit.  I was enthralled.  What a terrific idea.  Study a society through it’s popular literature.  Find out how morals, beliefs, opinions, are either influenced by popular culture or the force behind it.  I began reading the books on the syllabus and immediately fell in love.  Horatio Alger was a favorite.  All those plucky boys, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.  It’s no wonder that even today, the old copy of Dan the Newsboy on my bookshelf refuses to be given away. 

Fast forward to this morning.  As I was heaving my old edited manuscripts in the recycling bin after carrying them from house to house for years, I realized I just  didn’t feel comfortable.  Surely these were worth something to somebody.  My agent had suggested the Popular Culture Library of Bowling Green State University in Ohio.  My son was a BGSU grad, and I lived in Ohio for a dozen years.  So on a whim I called them.  Yes, not only do they want my manuscripts, but all the research I did, including a box of books I shipped home from Australia that I am particularly loathe to toss.  Some of those books are rare, although probably not valuable, and now they will have a home.  I’m delighted.

The Brown Popular Culture Library is dedicated to the acquisition and preservation of research materials on American popular culture (post 1876), and it is the most comprehensive repository of its kind in the United States.  In addition to their print collection, they have manuscripts in the genres of mystery, romance, science fiction, popular entertainment, history of popular culture, and more.  My manuscripts and everything else I include will go into storage, where I can still access them if need be, and more important, where scholars can access them.

I love the idea of my manuscripts sitting, side by side, in a climate controlled facility for years to come, my characters chatting away in the darkness.  Sometimes things just turn out the way they should.

Welcome to Sunday Poetry.   If this is your first visit you can read about the purpose and inspiration of my Sunday poetry blogs here.

It’s March, and while much of the United States has seen unseasonably warm weather, we’re still hoping and waiting for spring to emphatically arrive, no maybe yes and maybe no, but right here at our doorsteps, with no turning back.

When I discovered Revival, by Luci Shaw, I knew you would appreciate it as much as I do.  Spring as resurrection in progress.  This one is simply to breathe in and enjoy.

Remember there are no quizzes here, no right ways to read or contemplate the poem we share.  Absolutely no dissecting allowed.  Just come along for the “read.”  What line, word or thought will you carry with you this week?  If you’d like to tell us where the poem took you?  We’ll listen.

Do you ever wonder how a novelist chooses a setting?  Me, too.  Really.  Because the entire world is open to us, and sometimes all those choices can be daunting.

When the time came two years ago to begin planning a new series, I had all the usual options.

Should I use a real town (like Toms Brook, Virginia, in my Shenandoah Album series) or a fictional town (like Palmetto Grove, Florida, in my Happiness Key novels.)  Sometimes, of course, what I decide hardly matters.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen Whiskey Island (of my book with the same title) referred to as a fictional peninsula in Lake Erie.  For the record, it’s real. 

Should I write about a city I know well, or one that would require constant research?  Not as easy as it sounds.  Someone well acquainted with a place may not notice how fascinating the details he or she takes for granted might be to readers.

Should I write about a place so colorful it almost becomes a character in my novel, or a place that recedes into the background?

Should I choose a place with many different kinds of people, or one whose characters will come from a similar background and outlook?

As you can imagine, I gave this a lot of thought.  One of my brainstorming friends suggested Asheville, North Carolina, and I tussled with myself.  I know Asheville fairly well, but not perfectly.  I have a son there, own a house there, visit there regularly.  I’ve spent many summers in Highlands, not far away, and understand much about mountain culture from those years and an earlier year as a VISTA volunteer in the Arkansas Ozarks. 

On the minus side?  Asheville is so rich in its own unique culture, that I’ll never quite be an insider.  On the plus side, what I witness, I pay close attention to, because it’s new to me, and absorbing because it is.

On the minus side again?  Asheville is easily recognizable.  As a novelist I’ll be forced to change things to suit myself.  Real restaurants will rub up against fictional ones, for instance. If I need a park with certain playground equipment, I’ll need to make it up.  And when we mix fact with fiction, readers sometimes confuse fiction with mistakes. 

In the end, though, how could I resist?  If you need convincing, too, just watch the irresistible video above.  The Spirit of Asheville, produced by exploreasheville.com, says it all.  I think you’ll see the rich potential for background that I did, and beginning in August, I hope you’ll be glad to share and explore with me, this unusual, vibrant city in the heart of the Blue Ridge.

We’re having company to dinner.  Four friends we traveled with to Guatemala several years ago are coming to eat my homemade tortillas with all the (vegetarian) fixings.  Along with this I’ve made Cuban black beans and brown rice.  You can’t serve this meal to just anyone, but these friends?  You bet.  In exchange, they’re bringing photos of a recent trip they took to Africa. 

A good evening ahead, particularly since Michael’s just made our daughter-in-law’s Girl Scout Thin Mint Cookie Gelato to top off the meal.

To ready the house, Michael and I continued our “we-will-be-moving-why-do-we-have-all-this-junk” rampage.  Somehow I got suckered into going through my cookbooks.  We will live in two places once we move, so some are to go north and some are to go south.  Choosing which was the easy part.  Then came the inevitable ”these-cookbooks-shouldn’t-go-anywhere” moment.  And there were many that fit that description.

Wouldn’t you expect that part to be tough?  After all, if the cookbooks had taken up valuable room on my kitchen shelves all these years, of course they were worthwhile.  And hadn’t I hosted CHUsday here, nudging all of us to make recipes from cookbooks we hadn’t used in, say, forever? 

So what a surprise to discover that I owned not just wonderful, “I-will-use-you-someday-I-promise” cookbooks, I still had far too many ”I-would-not-cook-anything-in-this-cookbook-ever-again” cookbooks.  Lots of them.  An entire box, in fact.

Even more surprising was the way the cookbooks mirrored my personal and culinary history.  How about the one with stories about a young woman’s adventure exploring 1960s communes and getting recipes from each?  Couldn’t toss.  I did, after all, spend two years in Berkeley, California in the early 1970s, so I also kept Moosewood and it’s Tassajara buddies, too.  Ah, the memories.  Then there was a set of Better Homes and Gardens basic cookbooks, none of which had been opened in years.  Browsing through them, I understood why.  Out they went.  We think differently about food now.  These were relics.

How many crockpot cookbooks does one family need?  Particularly a family that doesn’t often eat meat?  And three bread machine cookbooks.  Really?  I haven’t owned a bread machine since I started baking bread the old-fashioned way several years ago.  Muffins?  Waffles?  French county cooking?  And all those collections from charities or causes I can’t even remember.  Some stayed, some left.   One of my favorites, from the New Orleans Junior League, will forever be enshrined in my personal cookbook hall of fame.  Michael, be warned, don’t touch this one.

These days we cook with fresh ingredients, little if any meat, lots of whole grains, plenty of herbs and spices, and olive oil.  Shortening?  What’s that?  Butter, just a dot, not a stick.   I was surprised and pleased at how many cookbooks and food habits I’ve left behind, and how many great recipes I still have to try.

So, if you’re ready for a quick personal growth inventory, you might look through your cookbooks, as well.  The memories are great, but the recipes may not be.  I bet, like me, you’ll find that you and your tastes have changed.  Let us know how.

 

Welcome to Sunday Poetry.   If this is your first visit you can read about the purpose and inspiration of my Sunday poetry blogs here.

This week and last I’ve blogged about old books, so today’s poem is an ode to books written by Billy Collins, the poet who convinced me, after a lecture at Chautauqua Institution two years ago, that I needed to rethink my disinterest in poetry.  From that lecture came this weekly blog and a  year long journey.  

In a side note about that journey?  Recently when the name of a presenters at an upcoming writer’s workshop jumped out at me, I realized just how much I’ve learned since we began here together.  I posted Martin Espada’s poem Who Burns for the Perfection of Paper some time ago, and it’s still one of my very favorites.  I would never have read the poem or known him as a poet, were it not for Sunday Poetry. In the next year I look forward to learning much, much more.

Simply called Books, there’s nothing simple about today’s Billy Collins poem.  What part of your life has revolved around books?  How have they changed you?  Have you experienced the “endless, paneled rooms?”

Remember there are no quizzes here, no right ways to read or contemplate the poem we share.  Absolutely no dissecting allowed.  Just come along for the “read.”  What line, word or thought will you carry with you this week?  If you’d like to tell us where the poem took you?  We’ll listen.