I don’t wanna grow up

I don’t want to grow up.

I’m a middle-aged woman with children, a steady full-time job, a new business venture, and a freelance writing business. Still, I have the mind of a juvenile.

I like it that way.

But I may have to tighten up the reins a little bit, especially if I get back in the saddle and continue my writing journey. I guess I’ll have to start with my blog. I mean, who’s going to take me seriously if I all I write about is chasing celebrities. I’m not the paparazzi.

No, perhaps I should focus on more literary-minded topics, such as agents, contracts, conferences, etc. That’s what I should be doing, but that’s not what I want to do. I like sparking the adventure in my reader. It’s okay to be a kid at heart. There’s a time and place for everything. I write to inspire, to make people laugh, to make people feel something. For without feeling, there is nothing left to say.

I ran into my dear friend Rebekah this morning. She’s the one who launched my journey by taking me on as a regular columnist in the paper she published. She’s fearless, possessing no qualms about approaching a source and asking anything.

See, we both like shooting famous people. Not with weaponry—with our cameras. We went on a few trips together to Nashville during GMA week and hung out at the Renaissance Hotel, gawking at every celebrity.

She attacked. I lurked, gathering the nerve to strike up conversations. But we both came home with stories to tell. Treasures.

I miss the hunt…the snag…the trophy shot…the adrenaline rush.

I try to surround myself with people who share my sense of adventure. I have a couple of writer friends at work who are literary groupies. They’re much too sophisticated to call themselves that, but I’m the one doing the writing here. I call it as I see it.

I’ve mentioned it before, but one of my groupie friends actually tracked down one of the most famous writers in the history of all of American literature—Harper Lee.

Brought the woman a milkshake to her assisted living facility. Was promptly asked to leave. But my friend has a story to tell.

Said friend also helped me follow my literary hero Rick Bragg during the Southern Festivals of Books. All I wanted was a trophy photo of me and him. Mission accomplished. My younger son, Michael, however ruined my story by accusing me and Bragg of being intoxicated. The first thing he asked was “Mom, who’s that drunk man you’re standing by?”

Okay, kid. Rick Bragg was exasperated–not drunk. He could not outrun me and my Harper Lee stalker friend through the back alleys and hallways of the War Memorial Auditorium. And I, dear Michael, had been carrying a professional camera bag, a notebook, a bag full of books, and a purse. I’m five feet tall. I was also out of breath and exhilarated. Can’t you see I looked a bit disheveled with good reason?

The dazed look in our eyes is easy to explain. I’m sure he was thinking, “Who is this woman, and what does she want from me?” And I was thinking, “Na-na, na-na, na, na. I got a picture of Rick Bragg —and You don’t.” Whoever You is.

But back to the story. I don’t want to grow up.

After a year off from promoting my writing, I’m hitting the publishing streets with literary feats in the running. I have a passion for helping others like myself find an outlet for their creativity, so I have agreed to sign on as a board member with the Tennessee Writers Alliance. It was through the TWA that I met Etta Wilson, who sparked my desire to write for young adults. I would like to pass on the torch that ignites the dreams of other writers.

I’m preparing to register for my Dallas ACFW conference, and I’m polishing two manuscripts. I have three more sitting in my brain. Two were spawned from killer titles, and the third is based on a late-night adventure a friend and I had while traveling through a small town, laced with mystery and intrigue.

If we hadn’t been in a silly mood that night, if we hadn’t been incognito, if we hadn’t been overzealous and in the red on the juvenile meter, I never would have come up with the plot. Actually, after I went home that night, I dreamed the entire story. Now it’s waiting to be written. A juvenile mind does have its merits.

I don’t want to lose my sense of adventure. The quest leads me to the story.

I take mental snapshots of the places I go so I can weave the experiences into the stories I write:  my trip to Roswell, New Mexico; my visit to Fishtail, Montana, to the world’s best little bait shop-gem shop-coffee house ever; my stop in the art district of Oklahoma City to wander into Galileo’s Coffee Shop. There are too many more to mention: Voodoo Village in Memphis, Elam’s Mansion in the Boro, and the Badlands of South Dakota top the tip of my inspirational iceberg.

But, alas, this summer I have to put on my writer face and behave like a professional. At least in public. And I can’t just talk about writing; I have to do something about it. It’s time to get my manuscripts to the agents and editors. I think I have my strength back. I think I can do this.

When God gives us gifts, He does so for a purpose. There is nothing in the world that makes me feel better than giving to the people I love. Maybe I can do for someone else what my writing mentors have done for me.

As an added challenge to my writing summer, I’ll also be taking graduate classes in English. I don’t want my professors to think I’m totally looney, so I have to be very careful not to spaz out. Focus, focus, focus. Focus shall be my mantra.

It’s only May 3, but already I feel summer coming on. I write best at night when no one else is around. And, like Gus on Psych, I have a super sniffer. I am very sensitive to smell. Honeysuckle and campfires spark my creative passion. Have you been outside at night lately? The fragrances are alluring.

Let the adventure begin. Yeah, I know. I’ve got to tone it down. Study. Do my homework. Dress professionally—save the tee shirts, flip flops and shorts for summer nights. Ease up on my Southern accent. Leave my yalls at home.  

But I shall always, always, always carry my notebook with me. Because no matter how sophisticated and cultured people appear to be, they’ve all got their quirks. They’re all characters waiting to appear in in somebody’s story.

My Monday Mentor: Rick Bragg

Rick Bragg

First, allow me to quash the ugly rumor that I kidnapped Rick Bragg at the Southern Festival of Books.

I did not. However, last year my friend and I came very close. We watched his handlers whisk him away to his signing table, and we followed him down the secret corridor and corralled him into posing for a quick picture. It was my friend’s idea, really. She once stalked Harper Lee.

But that’s another story.

Apparently, we are not the only people who have ever considered the friendly abduction of a Pulitzer Prize winner. I arrived in Nashville later than I had planned and rushed into the War Memorial Auditorium, just seconds before Rick took the stage. I marched straight to the front, betting everything on the chance there would be one empty chair upfront between two strangers. I didn’t mind squeezing in.

“Excuse me, mam,” I said to the Junior League lady on the left. “Is anyone taking either of these two seats?”

The woman to the right ignored me, her eyes intent on the stage, but the sophisticated lady stood, waving her arms, scanning the packed auditorium.

“Oh, no, that one’s not taken,” she replied, half listening to me while pointing to the chair next to the lady who did not acknowledge me. “But this one—this one belongs to my friend. I’m worried about her. She has already accosted Rick Bragg at our hotel on the elevator. I’m afraid she’s going to follow him on stage. I don’t know where she is.”

Hmm. I thought to myself. Maybe that’s why this party hasn’t started yet. Somebody else is cutting in on my writer.

So no, I did not rope him (literally or figuratively) into being today’s Monday Mentor. But as I sat there in the packed War Memorial auditorium with dozens of other women and their patient husbands and a few persistent photographers, I listened as he read from The Prince of Frogtown, and I savored each word.

He is my mentor, whether he knows it or not.  

Sonny Brewer

I also purchased Sonny Brewer’s new release, Don’t Quit Your Day Job: Acclaimed Authors and the Day Jobs They Quit, featuring Rick Bragg’s story. I have everything else Rick Bragg has written. I just didn’t have this one. Plus, I liked the title. I figured it was apropos for a budding writing, awaiting her turn in the literary sun.

All of us budding writers dream of the day when we can sit in a hideway coffee shop in some romantic location and sip espresso and tap on our keyboards and turn out million dollar bestsellers that take us away from our mundane 9-5 lives.

Fat chance.

But anyway, I had the gall—as my grandmother used to say—to wait thirty minutes in line for Rick Bragg to sign a book he didn’t even write, hoping that he wouldn’t be offended that I hadn’t boosted his own book sales.

But he signed it, graciously, and he listened to me gush about him being my favorite writer, and we chatted, briefly, and he endured a photo op, and I left. Satisfied.

What is this strange power that Rick Bragg possesses?

What is this power lures droves of sophisticated women to fawn over a man in baggy pants and an everyday shirt speak about a culture to which they certainly cannot relate, a culture they most certainly shun. How can women who have never eaten saltine crackers with Vienna sausages or Underwood Deviled Ham, who have never stepped foot inside an outhouse, who have probably never even seen a tar-papered shack, appreciate his stories of the downtrodden South?

Is it romance? Maybe.

I can only speak for myself. I am a happily married woman with two children, yet I persuaded my husband to brave the crazy Nashville traffic on a packed 1-24 to drive 70 miles so that I could hear him read from a book he wrote three years ago.

I appreciate Rick Bragg because he writes the way I want to write, the way I try to teach my students to write. There’s a well-worn quote from Walter Smith about writing: “There’s nothing to writing. All you do sit down at a typewriter and open up a vein.”

When Rick Bragg sits down at his keyboard and opens his vein, he bleeds Rick Bragg all over the pages. That’s what I like about Rick Bragg. His style is distinct, unmistakable. When I ask my students to write, I want their writing to be infused with their own distinct style and personality, not some “nice blend of vanilla tapioca,” as Ray Bradbury describes in Fahrenheit 451.

I like Rick Bragg because he’s honest. (Yeah, yeah, I know the naysayers will bring up the New York Times controversy over his questionable use of stringers.) But Rick Bragg writes like Rick Bragg. He writes like a man inspired by passion. He writes like a man who tells a story with purpose. He writes like a man who is the voice of a people who would never speak for themselves, not in a way that people of a higher culture could understand.

Rick Bragg is like a bridge between cultures. He has a foot in both the upper middle and the lower.

Charles K. Wolfe

Rick Bragg reminds me of my MTSU professor, Dr. Charles K. Wolfe, the man who taught me to appreciate and to preserve folk tradition and culture, particularly the culture of the blue collar laborers, the working class people, my people.

Rick Bragg is a champion of the blue collar laborer, the working class. Although we may not see eye to eye politically—or maybe we do, he paints a picture that is true. His words ring true.

But what I like most about Rick Bragg is that he remains humble—or at least he appears to be. He’s not afraid to throw the word “ain’t” out in a roomful of high culture literary elitists. He knows what he is, and he knows what he isn’t—or ain’t.

Rick Bragg hasn’t forgotten his roots. He hasn’t gotten above his raisin’. He sees the value of a people, of people, beyond their socio-economic worth. He peels back the layers of people and exposes them for what they are, respects, maybe even loves them, just as they are.

An honest picture ~ No coercion involved

Rick Bragg is the kind of writer I want to be.

I don’t know where Rick Bragg is spiritually. I think he knows where he ought to be. But he inspires me as a writer—and as a Christian—to see all people for what they are and to love all people as they are.

Time for romance and autumn reads

Wednesday is the big day. Fall arrives.

Ever since I was a little girl, autumn has been my favorite time of year. I think it’s because I am a romantic. When we discuss romance in my English classes, my male students squirm in their seats. But then when I explain what real romance is all about–from a literary standpoint anyway, my guys fess up to being romantics themselves. True romantics lean toward the idealized, the heroic, the adventurous.

I like autumn because I can feel the adventure in the air. There’s a random sprinkling of sinister deeds and mischievious pranks that keeps me looking around corners for what I’m not sure is really there.

The onset of twilight, the unexpected chill, a darting shadow and the glow of a blood-red moon create the perfect ambiance for a spooky tale around a campfire under the stars.

Autumn to me means cozy. Just mention of the season conjures up images of a fire, a blanket and a good book. Speaking of which, I have a whole list that I’ll share with you later–my Autumn Must-Read List! What’s really exciting is that I met several of these authors at ACFW! I bought their books! Now let’s read.

Autumn is a time just waiting for escape. I plan to start writing again. I have two books in mind. One, I’ve already started. It’s a stand-alone romance with a baseball theme. The other is a continuation of the TJ Westbrook series. That’s the one I can’t wait to develop. I’ll be heading back to Memphis. Nothing like a good road trip.

And speaking of road trips, it’s just about time for a retreat to the mountains of East Tennessee. Give me nature’s palette of color, a hide-away cabin, a hot tub, pumpkin spice candles and a book from my must-read list, and I’m all set.

The arrival of autumn also signals the arrival of the Southern Festival of Books. Mark your calendar for October 8-10. You can find a full schedule on the Humanities Tennessee Website:  http://www.humanitiestennessee.org/festival/index.php

I obviously can’t list them all here, but here’s a taste of whom you’ll see if you make it to Nashville. Again, you’ll find a full list on the website:

Rick Bragg — Pulitzer Prize winner for Feature Writing; author of All Over but the Shoutin’, Ava’s Man, The Prince of Frogtown and other best-selling books and memoirs

Susan Gregg Gilmore — Author of the novel Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen and others

J. M. Hochstetler — Author of the American Patriot Series as well as publisher and editorial director of Sheaf House Publishers

Sharyn McCrumb — Award-winning author of numerous bestselling novels including The Songcatcher and She Walks These Hills

Ramona Richards — Award-winning editor, speaker and author of Steeple Hill novels

Jen Stephens — Author of The Heart’s Journey Home

Share your thoughts. What does autumn mean to you? What book tops your list of Autumn Must Reads? Let’s celebrate this season of harvest, a time when God’s fingerprints and brilliance of design are all over his creation.

              

You know you’re a writer when …

I had to rely on a little help from the Facebook gang for tonight’s blog. Between preparing for the start of school and preparing for critiques and contests, my brain is on the blink. So I asked the crew to finish the sentence.  What do you think? 

You know you are a writer when …

  • Your kids have nothing to eat because you have to finish a deadline.  ~  Jessie
  • Your family and friends think you are insane because you carry a pen and paper with you at all times and observe people at every chance you get…and dinner? What’s that?  ~  Rachel
  • You wake up in the morning and all you can think about is writing. Then you are a writer. (Whoopi Goldberg, Sister Act II)  ~  Phillip
  • It drives you insane when people spell things wrong.  ~  Jennifer
  • Every time you go to Wal-mart, you are yet again tempted to buy the latest, prettiest journal.  ~  Emily
  • Everywhere you go, or see, or do—you think it would make a great article.  ~  Sarah
  • You’re more anxious to see your mailman than your spouse.  ~  Sarah
  • You drink a lot.  ~  Patrick (Note:  That would be STARBUCKS for me, Pat!  Ha!)
  • You write stuff.  ~  James

I have a few more to add.

  • Either you, a family member, or your newspaper adviser has stalked a real-life superhero, Rick Bragg or Harper Lee.
  • You travel 30 miles to another town to sit in a coffee shop so that you can eavesdrop on interesting conversation at a nearby table.
  • You travel 30 miles to another town to sit in a coffee shop so that the people at a nearby table can watch you at your computer and finally get up enough nerve to ask you if you’re a writer.
  • You actually enjoy correcting other people’s grammar.
  • You enjoy smelling the books at Barnes and Noble.
  • You hang out in the book section at Walmart and imagine what your name would look like on the cover of a novel.
  • You get paid for lying.
  • You possess several personalities and the men in white coats haven’t yet taken you away.
  • You prefer writing over sleeping, eating or drinking—Starbucks.
  • You’ll steal cool ideas from your friends and pass them off as your own creativity. (Just kidding!)

Don’t forget to add more if you think of ’em!  Stay cool. It’s only 100 degrees out there TONIGHT.

The donkey brays after midnight

I believe people are just generally happier when they make time to escape to their favorite worlds to read. For some people, their favorite worlds involve a comfy couch or bed. Other people retreat to different planets, underground cities, magical kingdoms or alternate realities. You fantasy aficionados know who you are.

I have never been a fantasy reader, but as my reading tastes transform, I’m open to any type of book that catches my fancy. But, basically, I like to believe the world I read about really exists. I suppose that’s why in the past I have enjoyed biographies and memoirs. I suppose that’s why I have an insatiable appetite for the works of Rick Bragg. His words drip off the page like molasses. Whether he’s avoiding alligators or setting readers down to meet his family members, he draws us into his world by satisfying our five senses through delectable imagery and emotion. It also helps that he’s a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist. My passion for journalism runs deep within my soul.

When I’m drawn into a story, I want to feel as though the setting, the characters, the conflicts, etc. really do exist. When I was a kid, I read Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, and then I became Teresa the Spy, jotting down my illicit entries in my own composition books. But my all time favorite novel is The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. At the young age of 14 Hinton breathed life into her characters, and they became alive in my mind. I became so attached to the book that I refused to return it to the library. I slept with it under my pillow every night. I made the librarian mad. There was a little part of me that agonized over the fact that I would never be able to meet Sodapop or M&M or Ponyboy. I suppose I subconsciously rationalized that if I didn’t return the book then I wouldn’t have to give up my friendship with the Greasers. To tell you the truth, I think the war between the Greasers and the Socs sparked my decision to minor in sociology.

Journalism teacher Sean Kincaid (from my book The Edge) starts each class with a quote of the day. On one occasion he tells his students, “Words are things; and a small drop of ink, falling like dew upon a thought, produces that which makes thousands, perhaps millions think.” The quote foreshadows events that change the lives of TJ and Megan.  Ah, the power of words. Even the utterance of one syllable can initiate a butterfly effect.

As I mentioned, I am morphing. I am transitioning from the nonfiction world into the fiction world, and in the words of one of my characters, I “kinda like it.” I am happy right now to stay in the realistic realm although I do not discount fantasy. I think I’ve read just about everything by Frank Peretti, and even though his works include nonhuman creatures, I believe the entities he writes about really do exist.

I have heard about other strange paranormal, legendary creatures straight from the pages of fantasy. Some people even claim a few of these creatures are real. Could it be that fantasy and reality do occasionally intertwine? I live near a bluff overlooking a river, and there have been documented rumors that Big Foot lives in the proximity of neighborhood. I can’t say that I’ve actually seen Big Foot, but I have heard donkeys braying outside my window after midnight. That is a fact. I have heard them with my own two ears. Could it be that these alleged donkey brays weren’t made by donkeys at all? Could it be…?

I have yet another challenge for you. Ever so often we encounter maniacal entities that try to bring about our demise. What monster do you face in your life right now? Give it a name. Describe it. How does it try to do you in?  Let us morph fantasy with reality and add an allegorical twist.

My fantasy creature is the idgit. It is very similar to a gnat or a midge. It sucks the life force out of its prey through zings, snarky remarks and backhanded compliments. The idgit possesses a brain the size of a gnat but is twice as annoying. Victims of the idgit may not realize at first they have been bitten, but soon their wounds swell and create pain. Idgits feed on the rotten, as do gnats, and they often carry hidden toxins. It’s best to seek help right away if you are attacked by an idgit.  Better yet, potential victims can avoid the idgit through strong repellant such as self confidence, strong prayer and daily Bible reading.

Okay, it’s your turn. What fantasy creatures lurk about your reality?