Book Birthing


I’ve been introduced to so many new terminologies in the past two years, most of them pertaining to writing, my head spins like that little blue circle on my computer does every time it doesn’t want to connect to something.

I laughed the first time I read a Facebook post announcing a book birth. Boy, what a crazy term, I thought. As I’ve muddled through the complex and overwhelming process of self-publishing, I decided I probably know where the term originated, even though I haven’t confirmed it yet.

I remember the excitement being pregnant, eons ago mind you, but still, it’s one of those things you don’t easily forget. Oh, my gosh. The excitement! I had a baby growing inside me. It wasn’t long before I could feel her squirming about, kicking and reminding me that soon I’d be holding this precious little bundle with tiny fingers and toes, stroking it’s tender cheeks and drawing in the insatiable scent of a newborn.

As the months passed, my joy turned to anxiety. What did I know about being a mother? Sure, I’d learned some things from watching my younger siblings, but to be totally responsible for this tiny miracle I carried inside me? It was overwhelming to comprehend, especially since I wasn’t handed a book giving me specific instructions for handling colic, puberty or dating.

Similarly, when I first started writing The Dahlonega Sisters, The Gold Miner Ring, I was enthusiastic and couldn’t wait to complete each chapter. Then as I shared it with my critique group, I began to understand it needed a lot of nurturing. After many rewrites and edits, somewhere around my fourth draft, I got brave enough to set a delivery date of October, no later than November 2019.

That’s when the labor pains began. I had to learn the pros and cons of self-publishing versus traditional, and then someone threw in “hybrid” just for good measure. Simple words like genre became complex. I didn’t understand the challenge of finding the appropriate genre for the book I wrote. All I knew was that I wrote something I wanted to share with others.

With the hand-holding assistant of my mentor, dear friend, and talented author, Jeanne Felfe, https://www.BridgetoUsBook.com, I managed to learn the difference and need for an ISBN, LCCN, AISN, and a thousand other acronyms with which I won’t bore you.

The much anticipated day of arrival came and the delivery man left a box on my doorstep. I anxiously removed the first book and stroked the delicate matte cover, savoring the heavenly scent of my freshly printed manuscript. I restrained from using the term book birth, but I did take a picture to post on my author FB page, https://www.facebook.com/dianemhow/

And now I know the job of “raising” this new addition will be even harder than giving birth to it. I’m overwhelmed with notices from Book Bub, Facebook, Amazon, and dozens of unread articles on promoting and marketing. Then there’s twitter, FB, Instagram, and so many more social media opportunities. But I’m determined to do my best, taking one bite of the elephant at a time.

It would be an honor if you’d stop by for a visit.

https://www.amazon.com/author/dianemhow

It’s available everywhere!

Happy Book Birth, The Dahlonega Sisters! Hope you have many siblings to follow.

Reaching for a Star


Many years ago, more than I care to acknowledge, I dreamed of publishing a novel. I wasn’t hoping for fame or fortune, merely a desire to entertain some readers, bring a little joy to a stressful day, and know that I made just a smidgen of a positive influence in this often worrisome world.

My dream felt as distant as the stars in the sky. I’ve heard many writers share the same feeling, but the more I became involved in the world of writing, I watched others succeed and I decided I wanted it too.

First, I joined a writers Guild, http://www.saturdaywriters.org, and then a small critique group, Pen to Paper. Soon I belonged to a second critique group, The Round Table Writers, some of the most powerful and supportive friends and writers in Missouri. My vocabulary increased, I began to understand point of view, and soon, I was writing short stories and poetry that won contests and were published in anthologies.

Still, I held onto my dream of completing a novel. I was introduced to National Novel Writing Month, NANOWRIMO, https://nanowrimo.org, which challenges writers to compose a fifty-thousand word novel during the thirty days of November.

I dove in head first and succeeded the first year I tried. I fell short the second time, but I learned I could do it if I put my mind to it. My first two attempts are still works in progress. About two years ago, I began a third novel and fell in love with the characters and story plot. I finally gained the confidence to believe it should reach the shelves of a bookstore. With the help of many fellow writers, especially Jeanne Felfe, https://jeannefelfe.com/, , author of the heartfelt novel, Bridge to Us, I’ve stretched a little closer to that star.

I am pleased to announce The Dahlonega Sisters, The Gold Miner Ring, is available for preorder on Amazon with a scheduled release date of November 5, 2019. It will also be available in paperback. https://www.amazon.com/author/dianemhow

To all the bloggers, dreamers and hesitant writers, I say go for it. Read, listen, join, and learn. Then make a goal and keep plugging away until that star becomes so close you can almost touch it. You can do it! I believe in you.

The Essence of Commications


I’ve always believed that the lack of communication creates most of the problems in the world. Today’s use of abbreviated texts, character-limited tweets, and instantly reported news challenges my aging brain and supports my theory. It’s like trying to read hieroglyphics without learning the symbols.

I think one of the reasons is the tendency to half-listen. Someone begins a conversation and the listener’s mind fast-forwards to finish the rest of the story or sentence using the person’s own experiences, certainties, and beliefs.

The same thing happens when a news article or even a post on social media is published. Often, the writer presents one version of an issue or event which may or may not be support by facts. Even if both sides of the story are presented, the receiver reads and applies principles, opinions, and prejudices that influence and sometimes distort the message. This can create conflict, disagreements and misunderstandings.

It happens to everyone. I’ll be the first to admit, I sometimes half-listen, or skim articles, and I misinterpret messages from friends and family. I venture to say everyone does it. I’m pretty sure no one is infallible, nor has anyone ever mastered all of the elements of perfect communications. Is there such a thing?

I offer an example of an event that occurred many years ago when my daughter, who had started junior high at a new school, left a message for me at work. I had gone to lunch and when I returned, I found a brief note on my desk that read, “Pick your daughter up at school.”

Before I left for work, she’d told me she didn’t feel well, but she’d insisted on going to school. I immediately assumed her cold had worsened and she needed to go home. My work schedule did not offer me the opportunity to take off on short notice, so I called my husband and asked if he could pick her up, reminding him of her new location and trying to give him directions.

“I’ll find it,” he reassured me. After nearly an hour of searching, he located the school and went directly to the nurse’s office expecting our daughter to be there. She wasn’t. The nurse directed him to the main office and they paged her on the intercom.

Meanwhile, the woman at the desk said, “I’m glad you’re here.” She presented a piece of to him. I can only imagine his puzzled expression as he looked at the blank personal check.

“We can’t accept this,” the woman folder her arms and frowned.

My husband, who does not write checks, advised her that he’d have me write out a new one. Meanwhile, my daughter arrived, surprised to see her father. When she asked where I was, he explained that I couldn’t get off to pick her up. Without communicating any further, they left, but on the drive home, my daughter inquired as to why she was being taken home. His reply, “Because you’re sick.”

“No I’m not,” she adamantly denied, and asked to be taken back, noting that she had an after school meeting with the Honor Society she didn’t want to miss. “Well, you are now. We’re going home.”

Embarrassed about the blank check and upset that I sent him to the school unnecessarily, he refused to take her back. Eventually, she convinced him and she made her meeting.

By the time I got home from work, I received an earful from both of them. I had failed to ask for details regarding the short note. He refused to listen to my directions for getting to the school, and she could have clarified why he was taking her out of school.

The check was another disaster for which I accepted full responsibility. It turned out that in my haste to take care of business before I hurried off to work, I had grabbed a felt marker and had written a check to the school to pay for my daughter’s weekly lunch ticket. When she turned it into the school, it had all the proper information. Unfortunately, all that had disappeared by the time they were processing the check into their system, making it useless. I had used a sewing marker with disappearing ink. It’s a great invention for marking material, but not very good for writing checks.

We all laugh about it now, but it truly taught me a great lesson about asking questions, confirming suspicions, and only using ballpoint pens for check writing. It saves a lot of time for enjoying the finer things in life.

I work hard on my communication skills even today. It takes practice to listen, ask questions, and clarify the messages received, but wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone worked a little harder at it?

In my soon-to-be released novel, The Dahlonega Sisters, superstitions, fear, and miscommunications create conflicts and test the bond between three aging sisters. Until then, I have a few questions for you.

Has someone misinterpreted a text or email you sent?

Did it result in a conflict or broken friendship?

What could you have done differently?

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.

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?

Hidden Treasures


Sometimes the thing we’re looking for is right where we are. Hope you enjoy this story.

Hidden Treasures

Julie Perkins’ crisp November morning started before sunrise, while nosy neighbors still slept and streets weren’t snarled in traffic. Other than a few boxes stacked near the door of her studio apartment, the room was bare. Julie sold the furniture and anything that didn’t have strings attached to her heart when she received the certified letter informing her of her father’s passing.

With a loud grunt, she hoisted a box of rejected screenplay manuscripts and spiral bound notebooks and carried them to the `65 Mustang that would take her back to Missouri, provided the tires didn’t go flat and the transmission held up. “Shit,” she moaned when she realized her car key was in her hip pocket. She tried to balance the overstuffed container on the bumper with one hand. The minute she popped the trunk, a gust of wind sent papers flying out into the street. “Crap,” she cursed and dropped the box into the trunk.

By the time everything was retrieved and the final boxes were loaded, sweat dripped down Julie’s neck. Now hot and exhausted, she rolled down the windows, put the car in gear and took off.  Screw this town. I wish I’d never come here. Tears stung with the acknowledgment.

As an only child, Julie swore Hollywood whispered her name in dreams. She envisioned walking on stage to receive an award for best screenplay. She wanted fame and fortune. She wanted to be somebody special. Growing up in the rural Ozark Mountains didn’t afford those opportunities. Julie’s mother, gone since she was twelve, would have understood. She took Julie to the matinee every time a new movie came out.

Her dad, on the other hand, fumed and cussed at Julie, calling her a fool for chasing an elusive dream. “Everything you need is right here,” he’d insisted. The more he talked, the more relentless she was to prove him wrong. Julie never forgot his hurtful words the morning she decided to go. ‘If you leave, don’t come crawling back.’ Too proud to admit defeat, she never returned. Spirit-broken and alone, the need to return to her childhood home tugged at her heart.

The man standing by the stoplight went unnoticed by Julie until he reached into the car and snatched her purse from the passenger seat. “Nooo!” she screamed. He took off down an alley with Julie following close behind in her car. “Stop!” The thief ducked between two buildings and disappeared. What the hell am I going to do now?

Julie circled back around determined to find her belongings. Surely the man would dispose of her purse quickly. A trash bin caught her eye and she threw the car in park, leaving it idle while she dug into the nasty metal container. “Got it.” Pleased with her find, she brushed off her jeans and straightened her blouse, just in time to see her car drive off. “Son of a bitch!”

The sun glared overhead as she stomped her way to the nearest police substation. In her furor, she hadn’t noticed the reporter standing within ear distance and armed with a camera. “Don’t you dare,” Julie protested in vain. The headlines would read, Free-Lance Writer Robbed Twice in One Day. The black mascara streaming down her tear-stained face was just the type of photo the sleazy magazine loved to print and not the kind of fame Julie imagined.

“Just doing my job, trying to make a dime. You know how it is.”

She plopped down on a park bench, distraught and homeless. On the following day, the police recovered Julie’s stolen car. Wanting no more delays, she dropped the charges against the teenage joyrider, withdrew the last of her money from the bank and with the warm California sun to her back, she headed east.

November winds had stripped the trees of their leaves, still the rolling Missouri hills brought nostalgia and a sense of peace that had escaped Julie for many years. She’d cherished the memories of picking fresh vegetables from the garden and the endless hours in the kitchen helping to snap the beans, shuck the corn and fry the chicken in preparation of the next meal.  When the sun went down, Dad would come in from tending the fields and give her a big hug.

As the Bloomsdale exit came into view, Julie noticed the addition of a large truck stop. Bet all the farmers love that. She wound her way through the back roads, past quaint little towns, and across low water bridges, in giddy anticipation of seeing the two-story home that held so many treasured memories. She hummed to the music on her radio as the miles clicked away.

The euphoric mood imploded when the house came into view. Abandoned for years, the deteriorating home mourned for attention. Not a window pane survived the solitude. The roof barely provided shelter for intrusive squirrels. Even the front door succumbed to the gravity of its unattended wounds.

“Oh my God,” Julie moaned as she shook her head in despair. The words echoed across the barren yard. Gone, the prized rose garden her mother tended to as if it were an innocent child. Gone, the field that once bore acres of corn, now overgrown with weeds. Gone, the man who protected it all. Puddles filled Julie’s eyes and she blinked to clear them. In the distance, an image appeared. Frozen in disbelief, she watched the man walk toward the house. “Dad?”

“Good, you’re finally home. Follow me.” His firm command, a faint whisper in the wind, wrapped around her and caused a shudder.

Still in command. That’s my dad. Julie smiled to herself. She reached out to touch him just as he disappeared and was met with the hard surface of the wood siding. “Dad?” Julie stepped toward the front of the house peeking through the collection of spider webs, brushing them aside as she stepped through the opening. Her father stood near the bedroom he’d shared with her mother.

“Should have given this to you sooner. Your mother wanted you to have it. I think it’s what you’ve been looking for.”

At the foot of the bed was a slat of wood, slightly ajar. She bent down and dusted off the area before removing the board. With both hands, she wiggled the old cigar box from the snug hiding place. “What is this, Dad?” She glanced up just as her father faded from view. “Dad! Don’t go!” Julie clutched the box close to her chest and hurried outside. Her father was gone. Julie collapsed to the ground sobbing.

***

Dr. James Howell escorted Julie to the front row of the theatre just as the lights flickered, indicating the play was about to begin. She glanced at her handsome date and smiled. Who would have thought I’d be here tonight? The journey had taken her thousands of mile and years of struggle, but the rewards exceeded her greatest expectations.

Her father had been right. The treasure she sought had been there all along. Had he shared it sooner, he might have celebrated with her. Inside the box had been a love story like none she had ever read. The handwritten journals provided Julie with the foundation for an award-winning screenplay and more. She’d never expected to find a family member.

The search to find her brother, placed for adoption years before Julie had been born, had taken longer than writing the screenplay but had been worth it.

Jimmy touched Julie’s hand and whispered, “I’m so glad you found me. We’re finally home.”

“Me too. Finally Home. I thought it was the perfect title for a play.”

The Threads That Bind


quilt

The Threads That Bind

My leisure retirement, often spent writing or accompanying my husband to a local casino, left a significant void in my life. I yearned for a sense of purpose. As I skimmed a list of volunteer opportunities in my local newspaper, my eyes settled on two words, Story Keeper. I paused to read more. Story Keepers capture the meaningful moments of a patient’s life. The simple description intrigued me as I’d always dreamed of writing life stories of other people.

As enticing as the opportunity sounded, the thought of volunteering with a hospice care organization weighed heavily on my mind. The pain of watching my mother die a slow, difficult death made me question my ability to keep my emotions under control. I wasn’t sure I was ready for a task involving the potential death of a loved one. I cut out the contact information and let the thought simmer.

The clipping remained visible near my laptop for the next two weeks, tugging at my heart and urging me to act. Finally, I picked up the phone and called the manager of volunteer services listed in the ad.

“I may be interested in the Story Keeper position. Can you tell me more about it?”

“We’re looking for someone to record the life story of a hospice patient for their family to keep as a legacy after the patient passes.”

“Oh,” I felt a hint of disappointment. “I’m not adept at electronic things, more pen to paper.”

“Why don’t you come in and talk further about it? It’s a new position. We can work through the details. And while it doesn’t involve writing, you never know where the journey will lead you. Maybe it was meant for you.”

The charismatic manager’s reassuring words urged me to make a leap of faith. I met with her to learn more. Within two weeks, I’d completed all the prerequisites: TB tests, study guides about working with hospice patients, and Hepatitis injections.

It wasn’t long before I was assigned my first visit. I studied the manual that came with the small, hand-held recorder. Since I was the first person to fill the position, training had been minimal. The anxiety and nervousness I anticipated never surfaced. Instead, an unexpected tranquility about the process made me excited to get started.

“The patient is hesitant to make the recording.” My manager warned me on the drive to his home. “The wife is urging him to make the recording. I thought you should know before we get there.”

The patient’s wife greeted us at the door and invited us in. The man, already seated in a recliner, extended his hand and nodded as he studied my face.

My manager made introductions and a brief explanation for our visit. The man frowned and grumbled, pursing his lips. Then it was my turn to speak. I wanted to help him relax and feel comfortable about the recording.

“We’re just going to talk today. I’d like to get to know you and your wife.”

“Ok.” The tense lines around the man’s eyes eased.

“Did you grow up in Florissant?” I smiled and tilted my head awaiting his response.

“Jennings. I went to Corpus Christi grade school.”

“I know that school. I attended St. Paul the Apostle. We were practically neighbors.”

“I went to St. Paul’s!” His wife announced with excitement. “Oh my goodness! You’re Diane Hootselle. I saw the resemblance to your mother when you first arrived, but couldn’t place who you were.”

My eyes welled with tears at the mention of my mother. I was unable to say anything for fear I’d start crying.

“I’m your grandmother’s niece. We’re cousins. I grew up two blocks from you.”

I realized that I knew her parents well, but because of our age difference, our paths had not crossed except briefly at funerals or weddings. The emotional journey over the next hour was overwhelming and rewarding. The wonderful stories about my mother, who was an only child, and her distant cousins with whom I had lost touch over the years, brought such joy to my heart, I left the visit feeling like I was given a gift, one that I would treasure for life and share with my siblings. I even learned that my grandfather saved my cousin from drowning in the Mississippi River when she was a teenager.

Over the next few visits, I recorded heartwarming and memorable stories told to me by the patient and his wife. From their heritage, to their marriage and their many life experiences, we worked together to create a treasured gift for their children, grandchildren and future generations. I completed the project and presented the audio recording to them on their 65th anniversary.

I’ve always believed that a common thread connects us all. That belief was again reinforced during my second recording, another male patient unsure about telling his story but encouraged by his daughter to do it. As he talked and became more comfortable with the idea, he shared stories of bar-hopping with a group of friends when he was much younger. The stories sounded familiar, much like some told by my first patient. It turned out that my cousin’s husband was one of this man’s best friends with whom he made the tavern rounds. They had lost touch over the years.

The validation that I was exactly where I was supposed to be filled me with joy and anticipation of where my journey would take me next. And then it happened. On my initial visit with another patient, the opportunity to achieve my dream presented itself. I remember it was a sunny Friday afternoon. A middle-aged woman invited me into the quaint, senior-living apartment. A bouquet of flowers scented the room. A young girl sat on the floor doing cross-stich.

“This is my daughter. She likes to sew. Her grandmother taught her.”

“Nice to meet you.”

“This is my mother.” The woman who let me in directed me to a robust woman who was busy rearranged a large stack of assorted papers and clippings.

I smiled and extended my hand. “It’s so nice to meet you. How are you feeling today?”

“Fine.” Her voice as firm as her handshake.

“Looks like you have some important papers there.”

“When can we get started?”

The abrupt response surprised me. “It sounds like you’re ready. I don’t usually start recording on the first visit. It helps if we prepare for it by getting to know each other a little first. That way I can be sure we meet your wishes and make the best recording we can. Would that be alright?”

“What I really want…” she hesitated before continuing with tears in her eyes. “I wanted to write my life story, but I don’t know where to start and I don’t have enough time.” Her eyes pleaded for understanding.

I felt the corners of my lips turn upward. I touched her hand in reassurance. “I love to write. I’ve always wanted to write someone’s life story or help them write it.” I drew in a breath while contemplating my offer. “Perhaps that’s why I’m here. God works in mysterious ways. Maybe I can help you.”

Her eyes beamed with excitement. “Really? Would you? I can’t do it by myself.”

“I’d be happy to. How exciting! I can’t wait to get started.”

“Will you take these with you and read them, if you have time?” She pushed the pile of papers in my direction.

“I’d be honored. How about 1:00 p.m. on Monday? Will that work for you?”

“Oh, yes. That would be fine.” She reached for my hand and squeezed it. “Thank you.”

“It’s my pleasure. I’ll see you Monday and we’ll jump right in.”

I spent Saturday, reading the scribbled notes and brief stories, trying to place them in chronological order. The woman’s parents had owned a 350 acre farm in South Dakota and in the menagerie of papers, I found an essay written by her mother. It described the challenges of feeding twenty-five farmhands during harvesting in the 1900’s. It was a piece of history that had been entrusted to me.

On Sunday, I received a call from the volunteer manager telling me that the woman had passed away. My heart ached knowing her wish went unfulfilled. I planned to return all the paperwork to the family, but before I could, I received another phone call from the hospice manager. “The family asked if you could help write the book for the patient. They want to meet with you to discuss it if you are interested.”

A couple of meetings and two months of emails between family members allowed me to piece together the information. Additional stories were shared and incorporated by her children and surviving sister. The woman’s wish had been fulfilled. I have no doubt that a greater force brought us together for that very reason.

The simple act of giving my time returned ten-fold, not in money, but something much more gratuitous. I admire the people who share their life stories to create the audio recordings. They allow families to continue to hear their voice after they’re gone and by filling a void in their lives, they’ve filled the void in mine.

How has volunteering blessed you?  I’d love to hear your stories.

Diane How