Power of Touch


Some time ago, a friend and fellow author, Amanda Bretz (https://amandabretz.wordpress.com), described a tender moment between herself and her father. No words were uttered. A simple squeeze of the hand spoke as loud as a pastor from the pulpit. The power of touch amazes and encourages me, especially when words are not enough.

As a writer, I draw upon an infinite source of words to fill the pages of a book, yet there are times when words are not enough to convey the intensity of the moment. A gentle kiss, a stroke of a hand on one’s cheek, a strong embrace conveys emotions unreached by mere speech.

Perhaps that was why I wrote the following poem some years ago as my mother suffered the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Although she could not verbalize her thoughts, we spent many hours just holding hands and sharing gentle squeezes, along with heartfelt smiles. I think if she could have expressed her thoughts, she would have said these words.

      Timeless Treasure

The memories of yesterday
Will become distorted over time
The written word will lose its strength
A verse will lose its rhyme

The laughs we shared will pass by me
My words will make no sense
Such simple things we once enjoyed
Will now seem rather dense

Old photographs will fade away
Your face may lose its name
You’ll think I’ve traveled far away
But my heart will know you came

No need for words, no bouquets bright
No trinkets made of gold
No promise for a miracle
Just your hand for me to hold

Your love’s the only treasure
It will endure through all the pain
Just speak to me in silence
You’ll be my sunshine in all the rain

Have you been struggling to find the right words? Could the answer be in the power of touch?

Tell me your story. I’d love to hear it.

Finding Inspiration


Writing often is a solitary calling, especially in winter months. You’d think I’d flourish when confined indoors with plenty of free time to devote to my passion. Instead, my mind hibernates, shuts down, and refuses to unveil any hint of creativity. Even the ink in my pen coagulates when cold winds blow.

During the other seasons, I have a fantastic (monthly) writing club, Saturday Writers, (saturdaywriters.org) to encourage me with contests, open mic nights, and amazing guest speakers, but they cease meeting for a couple of months, just when I need them the most.

Unfortunately, weather, health issues, and holiday commitments tend to cancel many of the biweekly critique group meetings, leaving a void in my face-to-face writing support system. Thank goodness for email and Facebook, but it’s not the same. I want and need to see the person’s face light up when a particular phrase I’ve written hits the mark or pay attention when a frown appears letting me know I need to rework a story.

My husband and daughter tend to tolerate my obsession for storytelling, and on rare occasions they provide a nod of approval after being urged to read something I’ve scripted. I get it. Writing doesn’t excite everyone. I try not to take it personally, but it would be refreshing to have one of them ask “What are you working on?” or even better, “I’d like to read that when you’re ready.”

Of course, showing interests goes both ways. Hubby likes sports, especially wrestling, and the weather and gardening. He spends many hours on-line reading about upcoming matches, baseball trades, and the daily forecast. I try not to half-listen when he shares his recent finds, but there are times when my attention fades.

My daughter loves cooking, basket weaving and shopping on-line, especially for shoes and purses. My purse selection is limited to two at any given time, one that’s worn and tattered and the one I bought to replace it. We do share the hobby of basket weaving. She’s an experienced weaver with a basement full of reeds, handles and patterns. She made this amazing basket one Saturday while I piddled with two simple ones.


I’m still an advance beginner. All of my supplies fit in a duffle bag.

My daughter’s also a speed reader and while she will read whatever I send her, her comments are normally limited to pointing out my mistakes.

I’ve found a rather simple, possibly sneaky, way of gaining their attention and giving them a reason to care. We do share some common interests such as nature, humor and a loveable dog named Hammie.

Personal anecdotes and yarns often become part of my short stories. Before I publish anything that involves my family, I make them read it and give their approval. Sometimes they provide a different version based on their memory of the event or they might remind me of another humorous tale.

Now that spring has arrived, my inspiration blossoms like the lovely ornamental cherry tree in my side yard.

 I’ve still not identified its exact variety, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s twisted, gnarled trunk and snowy white canopy bring me joy and signal a fresh start. The ink in my pen flows again.

Connecting with the Lighter Side


I start each morning with an essential cup of coffee and the daily newspaper. I feel the need to keep current on issues of importance, but all the crime and political craziness that fill the dozen pages I read do nothing to put me in a positive mood for the rest of the day.

I believe writing is a reflection of who we are and how we process the experiences we’ve had. Being an insufferable optomist is hard. I need a positive kick in the rear to balance out the negative effect of the disheatening news and keep things in perspective.

Fortunately, many blogs have a foot up ready to give me a push. One of them, Stories by Shivangi, reminds me to maintain a balance of realism and positivity. The writer focuses on a wide range of topics, yet she leaves me with a peaceful sense that influences my keyboard. Take a look at the joyful face of the baby on this post https://adivir.wordpress.com/2019/01/11/just-a-thought-humor/.

My spirits lift when I see that giggling bundle of innocence and it sets my sails in a better direction. Even when I’m attacking difficult rewrites, a simple glance at that photo brings a smile to my face . So does my granddog Hammie

How about you? Is there a blogger that brightens your day?

What do you do to find balance and perspective in your day?

Interview by Tammy Lough, Word Nerds Unite



I had the exciting opportunity to be interviewed by Tammy Lough – Word Nerds Unite. Welcome to my world!

What inspired you to write your first book?

While taking a few creative writing classes, I wrote what I knew, short stories based on life experiences. After taking a memoir class, I thought about the stories I’d written. Most were reflective of how I deal with challenges, looking for the lesson learned, adding a dash of humor and finding a positive outcome.

I realized that I’d avoided writing anything that drew upon my deeper emotions. So I spent months spilling my guts on paper and drying my tears. The therapeutic process brought me peace and healing of wounds long buried beneath the surface.

My first book (and only one published to date), Peaks and Valley, became a reality with the help of my dear friends and authors, Amanda Bretz and the late, Jerome L. Pionk.

How did you come up with the title? 

Life is a series of rollercoaster rides. While trying to decide on an appropriate cover, I found a picture I’d taken that represented the beauty of nature, uncontrolled and unsymmetrical, much like my life. Peaks and Valleys represented the memories that made me laugh and those that brought me tears.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

There have been many writers who have influenced my writing. To pick just one is difficult, I could name a dozen. In reality, Jeanne Felfe, a devoted writing and critique partner, has taught me the most. Her ability to show me how to add depth to my characters and stories with examples, references and explanations puts her at the top of my long list.

Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.

Saturday Writers, a chapter of Missouri Writers Guild, has been the foundation of my support since I joined some years ago. The Round Table Writers Novel Critique Group, formed within that organization, provides me with a daily support team.

Can you share a little of your current work with us? 

Currently, I have three novels in progress. Burning Embers is a romantic suspense for which I am seeking a agent/publisher. Brittany Harbor never anticipated her childhood retreat, a primitive Colorado cabin, could become a death trap. Orphaned by death and deception, she flees New York paparazzi in an attempt to heal her broken heart.

Misjudged is another contemporary romantic suspense that continues in Colorado with many of the same characters as Burning Embers. Detective Bernard Kratz thought no one could penetrate the wall he built around his heart, yet. Brittany Harbor did. With a crack in the foundation, he faces his painful past and ventures into unchartered territories.

The Gold Miner Ring is a woman’s fiction about the journey of three elderly sisters and the negative effects of keeping secrets.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

I believe every writer needs to be actively involved with a critique group. The benefits of having more than one perspective is essential. As a writer who want to be her best, I must be open to change and occasional harsh feedback. I learn from everyone who writes, accepting what fits and leaving what doesn’t. Most importantly, I try to be honest with the process, even when it hurts.

What is the first book that made you cry?

I’m sure I’ve cried over many books, but the one that sticks in my mind is The Bridges of Madison County by Robert J. Waller. It makes me cry every time I read it, which I’ve done year after year. The raw passion tugs at my heart. If you’ve only seen the movie, you’ve done Mr. Waller and yourself a disservice.

Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotion strongly?

There are millions of books written and published. I’m sure many are void of emotions. However, for books that draw my attention, emotions are essential. I want to experience laughing, crying, fear and anger. It helps me relate to the characters.

If you could tell your younger writing-self anything, what would it be?

Write. Write anything, every day, and keep it. I’ve found pieces of stories that I started and didn’t finish until years later. I wish I had kept everything I’ve written. Much of it wasn’t my best, but seeing how I could improve it with what I’ve learned would be fun. If it’s important, back it up on the cloud.

Read. Get some books that show you how to be better. Writing with Stardust by Laim O’Flynn is great for beginners. The Thesaurus books by Angela Ackerman are amazing. When I need a new way of expressing an emotion, I pull out her book and find exactly what I need. Put it on your Birthday or Christmas wish list or treat yourself to them now.

Read more of what you enjoy and make yourself read something you’d usually avoid. Pay attention to what keeps you interested and what makes you want to close the book and toss it in a pile.

Not everything I write will be my best, but it could be with a little more work. I’ve learned to enjoy the journey and celebrate my small successes.

Vindictable


Vindictable

 Do not have fear, rather deep respect

for the power of the sea

My crashing waves and giant swells

demand to remain free

Don’t build your wall around my sands

I’ll crush them to the ground

I own the beaches and the shores

as others sorely found

Just when you think you have control

when everything’s divine

I’ll reach my arms around your best

“till you recognize it’s mine

 

by Diane How

Writing with Perseverance


My fingers rest on the keyboard, waiting for profound words to flow. The painful delay remains the same each time I write something new. That first sentence, the one needed to hook a reader, remains scrambled like a cryptogram waiting to be solved. I wonder, does it ever get easier? Still, I must persevere. I must write.

Fortunately, I no longer begin my posts, short stories or poems on yellow, pre-lined pads, wadding up my futile attempts on half-filled sheets of paper and tossing them into the recycle bin. My laptop’s delete key has saved many trees from extinction over the past few years.

While I am slow to start the process, once the journey begins, I must complete it. Each muse bares a part of my soul. It requires attention and nurturing, never reaching perfection, because there is no such creature in a writer’s world, but every scrawl has worth and I must give it my best.

There was a time when I clutched my prose and poetry tight to my chest, afraid of the reaction I’d receive if anyone caught a glimpse. Confidence didn’t exist in my vocabulary. Hiding away on my deserted island did little to improve my limited writing abilities. Isolation is lonely and depressing. Desperation drove me to try something different.

A creative writing class at a local college opened my mind to new possibilities. The instructor told us to “Write what you know.” So I started with myself, jotting down cherished childhood memories and funny vignettes. Then I cleaned some skeletons from a few closets. Before long, I had accumulated a collection of short stories. With the help and encouragement of a writing buddy, I published Peaks and Valleys, a compilation of the joys and pains that made me who I am today. The therapeutic trip back in time helped me heal wounds long buried behind the scenes, even though most of those stories didn’t make it into the book.

I share that bit of information hoping to inspire other writers who may be on a similar journey. I had assumed the role of caretaker and servant for most of my life. Taking time to write wasn’t as important as everyone else’s needs. Honestly, it was an excuse. It was fear of failure and a belief that I wasn’t good enough to succeed.

While volunteering and caring for family are commendable attributes and often necessary, they don’t always stoke the fire in your soul. Without fuel, your soul will wither away, your passions will die, and the gifts you’ve been given will have been wasted. I offer what I’ve learned to those whose furnace needs stoking. Dare to pursue your passion, whatever it is. Do it today.

Finding a writing buddy and support group opened more doors for me. I gathered enough confidence to share my stories and risk hearing how I could improve my writing.  I admit, the first few critiques hurt a little, but most every comment helped me improve. With time, I learned to accept critiques that helped me and ignore the ones that did not fit my style. Now, I looked forward to a thorough (sometimes harsh) critique for two reasons: First, it’s a sign the person cares enough to offer insight, not just a cursory glance. Second, I take it as a personal challenge to see my stories in a new light.

Writers have an abundance of opportunities to share their work. There are contests and anthologies open for submissions almost daily. A simple google search provides prompts and on-line help. Local libraries often promote writing groups and allow them to meet in their facilities. I’m blessed to be a member of one of the most successful groups in my area, Saturday Writers, a chapter of Missouri Writers Guild.

http://saturdaywriters.org/index.html.

I’ve won numerous contests and have had my writing published in a many anthologies. I couldn’t have done it without help from my writing partners. If I’d never faced my fears, I’d still be scribbling on a yellow pad, hiding behind a façade of distractions. I still have insecurities, but from what other writers tell me, that’s normal.

If I submit a piece and it is rejected, I don’t toss it aside. I work on it and improve it, determined to get it right, and submit it to another contest. Many of my winning entries were rejections revisited. A few months ago, I found a story I’d begun, but never finished. I dusted it off, put some lipstick on it and sent it off. Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

My first attempt at writing a novel happened during NANOWRIMO, National Novel Writing Month, https://nanowrimo.org/. The concept is to write a 50k word novel in 30 days. I completed the challenge 7 years ago with a novel titled Burning Embers. Through more rewrites and edits than I care to remember, I finally reached a place where I was confident enough to pitch it to an agent a few weeks ago. Much to my joy and amazement, the agent requested the entire manuscript. Now, I wait patiently to hear the results. Both of my feet are planted firmly on the ground, trying not to get too excited, but hoping for some positive feedback. Regardless of the outcome, I will keep trying.

No matter where you are on your writing journey, persevere and keep looking for ways to fulfill your dreams. Consider me one of your writing buddies. I hope you share your journey with me. I’d love to hear all about it.

 

 

 

Love Revealed


Dear Blog,

I’m ashamed. It wasn’t my intent to neglect you. Really.

I was charmed by short stories contests and I needed all those ideas in hopes of getting published. I know, it was hurtful to ignore you for so long, but there is good news. I did get published and now I can share my winning entries with you. See, good things come from change. And now that I’m back, I’ll be sharing more often. I hope they make you smile.

Sincerely, Diane M. How

This short story was published in the 2014 Saturday Writer’s AnthologyUNDER THE SURFACE, Anthology #8.

Love revealed

I noted my morning appointment on the calendar.  The fine print underneath my scribble caught my attention.  Valentine’s Day.  It probably would have slipped by unnoticed had I not checked my schedule.

Amorous fantasies of this holiday had faded into reality sometime during our 40-plus years of marriage. Perhaps its complacency or indifference, whatever, but a simple exchange of a box of candy or a purchased card usually marks the occasion.

But, romanticism is incurable.  While the sea appears calm, under currents are never still.  Dreams, as translucent as they are, swirl just below the surface, waiting to be resurrected.  My romantic dream involves a scripted poem or a passionately profound thought, penned on linen paper, left on my pillow or tucked somewhere unexpected.

With my empty coffee cup placed in the already cluttered sink, I grabbed my coat and looked for my husband to say goodbye.

“I’ll wash those when I get back,” I nodded toward the kitchen.

“Ok.  Be safe.”  He gives me a quick peck before trailing off into the computer room.

Guess he didn’t remember either, I reason.  A deep sigh escaped my lips while I buckled the seat belt and pondered the dispassionate parting.  Even our kisses had faded to a mere brush of our lips.  I tried to remember the last time we’d hugged.

The thought dissipated when Willie Nelson’s voice echoed through the radio speakers. You Were Always on My Mind.  The song always makes me cry, so I pushed the scan button and searched for a distraction.

I pulled into the driveway of the couple I’ve come to visit and opened the car door.  The wicked, cold wind blew the notepaper from my hand, but I quickly caught it before it got away.  I grumbled under my breath while I fought to untangle the graying strands that whipped across my face as I walked to the entrance of the brick bungalow.

“Good morning, Mr. Smith.” I said to the slightly built fellow when he opened the aging red door.  “Just wanted to drop by for a short visit to see how you’re doing.”

“Please, please, come in out of the cold.”  The elderly man ushered me in and closed the door. I followed him as he shuffled past the antiquated brown couch into the tidy family room where his wife rested in a medical reclining chair.

“Look who came to see us.  It’s the hospice volunteer that called earlier.”  He grinned at the woman he had spent 67 years adoring.  I couldn’t help but notice the difference in their size.  Mrs. Smith outweighed her husband by at least 30 pounds.  How did he manage to get her into the chair, I wondered?

“Good morning Mrs. Smith.  Happy Valentine’s Day.”

The woman’s eyes darted in my direction then quickly returned to study the loose thread that dangled from the soft purple quilt wrapped around her legs.

“Oh, my.”  Mr. Smith clasped his wrinkled forehead.  “I completely forgot.  I’m not very good at remembering those things.  I should’ve bought her some flowers.”  The man berated himself as he leaned over and kissed the woman’s cheek.  “I’m sorry honey,” his voice barely audible.

“Habada, habada, habada, habada, habada.”  The robust woman smiled as she loudly proclaimed her repetitive gibberish reply.  She might be unintelligible but she’s seldom silent, I thought.

“Can you understand her?”  The 93-year-old’s voice paled in comparison to the volume coming from his wife.  His eyes pleaded with me to explain what she said.

Mr. Smith stroked his wife’s hand gently while he waited on my reply.

“Not really, but I think she forgives you.  Look at that beautiful smile.”

The man took a deep breath, patted his wife’s shoulder and wandered toward the kitchen.

“Sometimes, she seems happy, like today.  Other times, she fusses like she’s angry and her chant is more like an argument with herself, or maybe the disease.”  The old man’s voice quivered with emotion as he spoke.

“It must be difficult not knowing what she’s trying to say.”

I looked up at the framed certificate on the wall, recognition from a prominent senator for Mrs. Smith’s efforts as chairwoman of his campaign.  Next to it hung a plaque engraved with stellar remarks for her accomplishments as an instructor of English as a second language.

Every room was adorned with paintings created by Mrs. Smith.  On either side of the cherry wood china cabinet were two exquisitely detailed landscapes she painted while in Germany.  A portrait of a Japanese emperor was suspended over the piano.

Pleasant reminders of yesteryears, of happy times before Alzheimer’s disease invaded her brain and slowly stole away her ability to function independently.  It was an eleven year battle nearing the end.

“Can I help you?”  I asked as I watched Mr. Smith begin the daily routine.

“No.  I can manage,” he insisted.

The frail man picked up a plastic medicine bottle and studied it carefully before removing the cap.  He placed a pill in a ceramic bowl and then repeated the effort three more times.  Next, he prepared some instant oatmeal for the microwave.

“At least let me fix her scrambled egg.”  I suggested.

“No.  I know just how she likes it.  I have to stick to my routine or I’ll forget something.”

His eyes lingered on the microwave oven as if he was trying to decide which buttons to push.  I worried about the inevitable.  How much longer could he care for her in the home without more assistance?

I looked at the large metal contraption that consumed most of the dining room floor.  It looked like an oversize sling shot.  It was another sign that the disease was progressing rapidly.  “I see the medical lift arrived.  Will you be able to learn how to use it?”

“The nurse told me not to touch it.  She said it’ll help the staff when they give her a shower or move her from the bedroom to the chair.”  He muttered in a defeated voice.

“But if you can’t use it yourself, how are you going to get her up every day and then back to bed in the evening?  You’re going to need to make other arrangements soon.”  It was a subject I hated approaching as much as the man hated hearing.

“I’ll find a way.”  The proud man pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and lifted his glasses to dab his eyes.

The despondent look made me decide to table the discussion.

Mr. Smith wheeled his wife into the kitchen and secured her chair next to the table.  He picked up the bowl with the pills in it and using a pestle, he pulverized the contents into a white powder.  He then mixed all of it into some applesauce.

His wife continued to jabber as the proud man fed her each spoonful until every drop was scraped from the bowl.  Next, he tested the oatmeal with his lips to be sure it was the right temperature and consistency.  I felt like an intruder watching their intimate ritual.

I search for a new subject to discuss.  I decide my romantic curiosity needed to hear their love story again.

“How did you meet your wife?”

“We both grew up in small towns in southwest Missouri, not too far from each other.  I was home on leave from the Army and my buddy told me about this diner, so I decided to try it out. The misses strolled over to my booth, chewing gum and holding a pencil in one hand and a note pad in the other.  She had on a white pinafore apron and her curly red hair was tucked behind her ear.”  His eyes glistened as he spoke.  He paused to gently wipe a napkin across the woman’s lips.

“When I ordered toast and eggs, she scowled at me and told me I needed to gain some weight.”  He chuckled as he told the story.  “Those emerald green eyes hooked me and she pretty much ran the show ever since.”  He brushed his hand across her cheek.

I pointed to the collage of pictures hanging on the wall.

“You were an officer in the Army?”

“I was an airplane pilot During World War II.  She spent a lot of lonely days and nights worrying about being a widow.  But she never complained.  When the Korean War began, I flew a helicopter.  She wrote to me every day.  That’s what got me through each week.”

He nodded his head and glanced back toward his wife.  “We had some good times too.  She loved Germany and Japan.  She even learned to speak German and a little Japanese.  I think sometimes she speaks German when she’s talking.  She loved being an officer’s wife.  It wasn’t always easy, but she stayed by me through it all.”

“I can see how much you love her.  It shows in the way you fix her meals and give her the meds, even in the way you touch her so tenderly.”

“She took care of me for more than 50 years.  She kept me on schedule and made sure I remembered people’s names.  I couldn’t have done it without her.”  He gazed into her eyes as he spoke.

“I never told her how much I appreciated it.  I often forgot her birthday.  I seldom sent her flowers, never had a romantic bone in my body.  But I love her and hope she knows it.  Now, it’s my turn to take care of her,” he said as he brushed her thinning silver hair.  “I just hope I’m doing it half as well as she did.”

His soft spoken words made the tears spill from my eyes.  There it was.  Love in its most powerful form.  Tested and true.  Unwritten.  Unspoken.  Unconditional love.

I cleared my throat and wiped my eyes.  “Actions speak louder than words.  You’re doing just fine.”  I reassured the gentleman as I prepared to leave.  He walked me to the door and I gave his hand a gentle squeeze.

The morning replayed in my mind as I drove home.  No flowers, no candy, no card.  Yet, the profound love I had just witnessed left an imprint on my heart and inspired me to make a detour before going home.

A short time later, I pulled into the garage and gathered the grocery bags out of the back seat.  As I climbed the stairs of our split level house, I heard my husband get up from the couch and meet me at the top of the stairs.

“You went shopping?” he asked.

“Thought I’d fix us some steaks and potatoes for dinner tonight.”  I replied as I put the items away.

“Sorry, I forgot to wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day before you left,” he said.

The sun reflected on the shiny, clean counter top.  I glanced toward the sink and noticed the dishes had disappeared and the floor had been mopped.  I smiled to myself.

I drew him close and the unexpected passionate kiss I planted on his lips brought a smile to his face.  “I was going to say thanks, but actions speak louder than words,” I said as I took his hand and led him into the bedroom.