Archive for March, 2012

Read to Remember–Part II

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

When I began writing novels a decade ago, I vowed to use all my profits to benefit other people. When my first book, Luck of the Draw was released in May 2009, I needed to decide which organization I wanted to support.

I considered many. The year before, my mother had died from lung disease, so the American Lung Association was a good fit. My father and both my brothers had died from heart disease which is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for both men and women. So the American Heart Association is an important cause, as well.

I thought and thought.

I don’t know why, but I kept coming back to the Alzheimer’s Association. Fortunately, there was no history of dementia in my immediate or extended families. My Great-Grandmother Myers had lived to be 91, but only complained of a hammer-toe and how she couldn’t find slippers wide enough to fit comfortably. Her mind was sharp until the day she died.

www.alz.org

Still, I kept coming back to the Alzheimer’s Association as my target charity.

I went to my business partner, Allen Hager, founder of Right at Home. He’s the father of my children, a brilliant man, and extraordinary visionary. I asked him how to go about promoting my book to fund my adopted charity. He gave me sound advice. He told me to develop a business plan and run it by my accountant.

My business plan included national events where I would sell my books and talk about Alzheimer’s disease. Afterwards, I would turn over the profits to the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, wherever the event was held.

Only one problem, my accountant said—I’d have to get a bookstore to attend each event, so they could take care of the book sales.

If I failed to get a bookstore to support me at an event, I’d have to get a vendor’s license for each venue, and collect the appropriate state and local sales taxes, forwarding that money and all documentation to the appropriate revenue agencies. I’d have to keep meticulous records of my expenses and be sure I worked within the laws of each municipality where I sold my book.

Do you see my dilemma? I was headed for more work than I’d spent writing a “sellable” novel in the first place. That had taken me five years. Keeping track of the sales, taxes, and charitable amounts would take more organization than necessary to find an editor to publish the book. That endeavor had taken an additional two years of my time.

EEK!

I had to cut all the red tape. I had to simply.

I decided to purchase my own books. I decided to provide those books at every event. To give them away for a donation. That way, I didn’t need a vendor’s license and didn’t need to collect sales tax.

I would suggest a donation amount—more than the cover price. But if someone wanted to support the Alzheimer’s Association and get a copy of my book, I’d take whatever amount he or she would offer.

To entice people to contribute, I encouraged them to make out their checks to the Alzheimer’s Association, making their donation, tax-deductible. Or as my accountant warns—“possibly” tax-deductible.

To further persuade people to contribute, I would promise to match all private donations. And if my book signing took place at a sanctioned Alzheimer’s event, I would guarantee a minimum donation amount to the chapter.

I targeted my first book signings for the Memory Walks scheduled in the Metro Omaha areas in the fall of 2009. I named my work, the “Read to Remember” campaign.

Selling the Idea…

People thought I was nuts. Oh, not my friends or family. Their jaws had dropped open months before, when I’d explained my intention to raise money for a specified charity.

The people I promised to raise money for—the people at the Alzheimer’s Association—they thought I was nuts. I guess that’s a harsh term. It’s more politically correct to say they were astounded and incredulous.

The reaction to my pitch went something like this…

“You want to do what?” they asked. They always repeated my plan back to me as though saying it out loud might make me change my mind.

“You want to give away your books—your own books, that you wrote, then purchased yourself. You want to collect donations in exchange for your books. You want to give ALL the money collected to the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. To OUR organization?”

Yep.

But wait—there’s more.

(Don’t you love it when the announcer says that in the infomercials?)

2009 Memory Walk in Council Bluff, IA

“You guarantee a minimum donation amount?” the Alzheimer’s director asked.

“Yes, for EACH event.” I answered.

“And you match all donations made by the people buying your books?”

I held up my index finger to correct him. “Technically, and legally, people are not BUYING the books. I’m giving them away.”

“And donors can make out their checks to the Alzheimer’s Association?”

“Yes, I prefer that actually. It’s easier to keep track of the donations.”

“What’s the catch?” they wanted to know.

Honestly, I had a difficult time convincing the Alzheimer’s Association I was not trying to scam them.

I can see their point. I really can. They didn’t know me. I didn’t have any family member with Alzheimer’s. My mother-in-law had yet to show symptoms of dementia. (See photos of her in Read to Remember—Part I.)

Why would someone give away profits— more than the net profits, even more than the royalty amount,—to a charity for a disease that doesn’t affect their family?

I didn’t know.

I wondered if it was a karmic thing. If somehow I “knew” my best friend or my cousin would eventually need the services of the Alzheimer’s Association. For a while, I even worried that maybe I would develop dementia.

But guess what? It wasn’t any of those things.

The more I learned about the disease, the more I knew I had to help. I recalled the clients I’d worked with at Right at Home and the toll the disease took on their families. In 2009, I learned that 5.3 million people in the U.S. had been diagnosed with the disease.

Now that number is 5.4 million. And the number is expected to grow to 14 million by 2050.

I learned that if you live to be 85 years old, you have a 50% chance of developing the disease. Seriously? I’m as likely to get it as to escape it? 50%?

THAT’S UNACCEPTABLE.

I set my goal to raise $1,000,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association. During the 2009 Memory Walks and through 2010, generous people in the Metro-Omaha and Lincoln areas helped me raise over $10,000.

I know. People are incredibly generous. Especially, in the Midwest. But $10,000 needs two more zeros to reach one million. I’m an optimist and in the scheme of things, I’ve only just begun.

I learned something else as I talked with the wonderful people at the local Alzheimer’s chapters. It’s tough to raise money for the disease. For many reasons.

1) The people who have the disease can’t remember to turn off the stove, let alone organize rallies. And their caregivers are too tired to establish and run fund-raising campaigns.

2) There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s, yet, so people are afraid of the disease. Naturally, they’d rather not think about it.

3) The charity doesn’t have cute mascots like the animal shelter. It doesn’t have a “promise of hope,” like charities raising money for childhood diseases or breast cancer.

But you know what’s on the upswing? Younger-onset Alzheimer’s. Those are the people who get diagnosed before age 65. Some show symptoms in their 30s. Can you imagine a mother who can’t remember to pick up her kindergartener from school?

This is serious business, folks. We can’t hide from this disease any longer.

Change in death statistics for 2012

Every 68 seconds, someone is diagnosed with AD.

Currently, one in seven Alzheimer’s patients live alone. That’s just scary.

Wouldn’t it be great if all people who live to their golden years could live independently, if they choose?

So, how can you help?

You can attend one of my events. (Check back to my website for specific dates and times.) I’ll give you a signed copy of Still Kickin’ and/or Luck of the Draw for a donation. Make out your tax-deductible check to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Please give generously, as much as you can afford.

I’ll match your donation and send the money directly to the local Alzheimer’s Association chapter.

If you can’t make it to an event, purchase my books online through Amazon or Barnes & Noble.com. Or you can save yourself shipping charges and ask your favorite book seller to order my novels for you. The Bookworm at Countryside Village in Omaha is my favorite independent book seller and they carry copies my books.

100% of my royalty check goes to the Alzheimer’s Association.

If you’re not a reader, or my books don’t interest you, then what’s wrong with you and why are you reading my blog? (grin)

Send a check today to the Alzheimer’s Association.

If there is an author reading this blog who would like to join me in giving away your books for donations at Memory Walks in Omaha this fall, contact me. I’ll make room for you and your books at my table. I’ll buy space for a dozen tables if we need it at the Memory Walks. Whatever it takes to raise money to combat the disease and to help the families get the education and respite care they need.

And, I’ll match ALL donations YOU collect using YOUR own books.

If this cause “speaks to you” and you are a published author who would like to start a Read to Remember campaign in your own city, contact me. I’ll work with you to make that happen. Because Read to Remember is not about me or getting people to buy my books. It’s about helping the families affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

We must put an end to Alzheimer’s now.

If you need information about the disease or help for a loved one, contact the Alzheimer’s Association. Check out their website at www.alz.org.

Read to Remember–Part I

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

www.alz.org

The first time I worked with a person who had dementia, I was a caregiver for Right at Home. Allen Hager and I founded the company in 1995 with the mission to keep the elderly living independently in their homes for as long as possible. I often took a shift with a client if a caregiver called in sick.

I met Mrs. S, on a beautiful Saturday in May. Our company had been hired to take care of her husband who had cancer and had recently become blind. The family warned us that sometimes Mrs. S didn’t remember to give her husband his medications.

I introduced myself to Mr. and Mrs. S and let them know I was happy to fill in for their regular “girl” Suzie. I offered to make lunch and straighten the kitchen. Mrs. S wanted to visit first and invited me to chat with them in their living room.

We had a delightful conversation. Mrs. S told me all about their grown children whose portraits lined the walls. She explained their son was “biological,” while his older two sisters had been adopted. Trying to make an emotional connection with her, I explained that my husband and I had also formed our family by adopting our two daughters.

She asked their names and ages and was curious about their adoption stories. We had a pleasant chat. All the time I wondered why Allen had misinformed me. This woman was sharp as a Cutco knife. She pulled dates and names from her memory just as quickly as a college history professor.

I made the couple lunch, laundered their sheets, guided Mr. S through his daily exercise routine and took him for a walk.

www.RightatHome.net

When I returned to the office I asked Allen if Mrs. S had been misdiagnosed.

“She doesn’t seem to have any symptoms of dementia,” I reported.

“Just wait,” Allen replied. “And don’t let her send you home early. She has a habit of trying to dismiss caregivers before the end of their shifts.”

Two weeks later, I again had the privilege of working with Mr. and Mrs. S. The trees were in full bloom and the couples’ mid-town neighborhood was alive with people tending their gardens and lawns.

Mrs. S greeted me at the door. I re-introduced myself, reminding her I was from Right at Home and that I had worked with her two weeks ago. She enthusiastically invited me in and bade me to sit with her and her husband in the living room. She brought me a cup of tea.

During our chat, she asked about my two daughters. Without any prompting, she retold details of their adoption stories. She politely asked about Allen. We had a lovely ten-minute chat. Then without a verbal hint or physical cue, she stared at me, smiled, and asked, “So what’s the nature of your visit with us today, dear?”

Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding.

In the time it took for her to take a sip of tea, she didn’t know me. She’d forgotten who I was and why I was sitting on her sofa. Her instant confusion slapped me into reality. This was a stark example of the ravages of Alzheimer’s Disease.

I had other opportunities to work with clients who had dementia. Our company provided around-the-clock care for Mrs. G in her apartment in the independent living tower of an upscale retirement village in Council Bluffs, IA.

Mrs. G was an absolute joy. She told me of her travels to Asia. How she raised her two daughters alone after she divorced in the 1950s. She reminded me that a single-mother was rare in mid-century Omaha. But she had flourished, managing an apartment complex, later buying the buildings to secure steady income for her family.

She was an amazingly accomplished woman. One, now tethered to an oxygen tank because of her decades of smoking. Little by little I saw what happens when the brain is deprived of oxygen. Over the months I worked with Mrs. G, she lost her vivid memories. Her recollections of the life she’d built with her two daughters vanished. She always recognized me when I came, but forgot who I was when she discussed me with other caregivers.

I have to admit, sometimes her comments made me laugh. Like when her regular day-time caregiver, Marlene, told me that Mrs. G questioned why I left Allen and Right at Home to go build houses with Jimmy Carter and Habitat for Humanity.

“Why would Allen let Terry go?” she wanted to know.

Clara Eva Oswald

An Example Closer to Home

Clara Eva Oswald, my wonderful mother-in-law has dementia. We began recognizing the symptoms shortly after her husband died three years ago. Like in many cases, “Grandma” (as everyone calls her) can’t recall recent events, but her long-term memory remains intact.

Thank goodness she can remember me or she might be calling me by my husband’s ex-wife’s name. You see, I came to the Oswald party late, having married Alden just five years ago.

Grandma only remembers events that happened over three years ago.

So, she doesn’t recall the birth of her last three great-grandchildren. We do have to laugh though. Every time we talk about Ashley, who is two years old, Grandma wants to know who Ashley is. When we explain she is Cyndy’s and Don’s youngest child, we see the wheels turning in her head.

Then wide-eyed, Grandma exclaims, “Cyndy has FOUR kids?”

Grandma can’t believe it. She’s astonished every one of the hundreds of times we tell her. Cyndy has four kids.

Grandma now lives in Iowa with our daughter and son-in-law, Kathy and Larry Harvey and their two children, Melanie and Jacob. Grandma’s life is beautiful. Kathy and Larry take marvelous care of her and include her in all their activities. Grandma goes to soccer games, school plays, friends’ game night, and band concerts in the town square. She greets Kathy’s students who arrive every morning for the pre-school class in the Harvey home.

And when Alden talks with his mother and asks her what she’s been doing, she can’t recall. She denies ever going fishing with Larry and can’t remember last weekend’s visit with Cyndy and Don.

“Cyndy has FOUR kids?”

I guess Grandma lives the way many people claim they want to live—in the moment. She always enjoys the concerts, baseball games, and walks in the park. She smiles and claps her hands to the beat of the music. Win or lose, she hugs Melanie and Jacob after their ball games.

Grandma’s life is full. She really enjoys her days. She just can’t form new memories of her activities. She can’t recall those recent, amusing family reunions or simple, quiet afternoons. So, sometimes she gets sad. Sometimes she feels abandoned by her husband who isn’t there anymore. She frets over where Kathy is even when she’s gone only twenty minutes to run to the grocery store.

Life, even a good, safe, care-free one, can be tough for a person with dementia. Sometimes it is for Grandma.

In my next blog, I’ll tell you about the Read to Remember Campaign—my effort to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association. And I’ll let you know how you can help.

Grandma wears many hats.

Iowa State Fair reminds her of NY when she was 20

At a basketball game with Larry and Jacob

 

Grandma wants to wear Jacob's volcano project as a hat

Kathy, Melanie, Larry, Jacob & Grandma

 

Mothers and Daughters

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

Kellini today

My daughter, Kellini, is home from college on Spring Break. It’s always a treat to have her home. She loves staying in her own bedroom with private bath. She’s giddy over unlimited access to the washer/dryer and is thrilled with our well-stocked pantry. She appreciates these things even more than she did when she lived with us.

Kellini says we treat her like “a princess.” Of course, we do. Even more than we did when she lived with us.

In between the normal mother/daughter activities like shopping, eating out for lunch, and getting pedicures, we’ve had fun promoting the release of my book, Still Kickin’.

Kellini has always supported my writing career which started ten years ago when she was only ten. Huh, as I wrote that, it occurred to me it’s probably hard for her to remember a time when I didn’t shush her as she approached me working at the computer, talking to the people in my head.

I didn’t allow Kellini to read the first few manuscripts I wrote. They were rated PG-13 and I didn’t want to have to explain the romantic scenes between Jenna and Kenton in his glass-blowing studio—novel number two, I think. Or the angst of Sage, Nikki, Marissa, and Jennifer as they worked out their extra-marital affairs, love triangles, family of origin issues, and step-parenting fiascos in book number three.

Manuscript number four hit pretty close to home since the women in that book struggled with identity crises. Each one of the three main characters was some version of me working through my own loss of identity—loss of marriage, loss of role as a business woman, struggles of dealing with an empty nest as I shared custody of my daughters with their father.

Looking back, writing the first four of my (deservedly unpublished) manuscripts was not only good practice to hone my storytelling skills, but also a cathartic experience for me. I look at those years of writing as a free supplement to the concurrent hours of expensive therapy.

At last, I didn’t make my life journey the center of a story and I sold manuscript number five, Luck of the Draw.

Eek. Again, an epiphany

Truth be told, Luck of the Draw was exactly a reflection of my life at the time. The heroine of the story, Amanda Cash, was in pretty much the same place as I had been when I wrote the book. She and I were both trying to help our mothers during their health crises and final declines.

Amanda was me, except younger and thinner. Amanda’s mother, Clara, was inspired by my own mother. Throughout the story, Amanda works desperately to tell her mother how much she loves her.

Now I realize, I was on the same journey as Amanda. At the same time.

I started writing the book soon after my mother entered a skilled nursing home. As much as we wanted to keep Mom at home, her physical needs were more than we could handle. She had emphysema caused by years of smoking. She was hooked to an oxygen tank 24/7 and had numerous other health issues related to her COPD—Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.

Between visits with Mom, I emptied and sold her home of 45 years, took over her finances, accepted legal responsibility for her, and I wrote Amanda’s story, which was—

—My own story

The premise of Luck of the Draw is also tied to my mother. When Kellini was born, I reconnected with my mom in ways only two mothers can do. I asked for her advice as I hadn’t since I was twelve years old. Many of these lessons took place as we watched Kellini play in my mother’s front yard. My childhood playground.

It was at that time, my mother and I started playing the lottery. She gave me a dollar and I added my own buck to buy two chances. At first, I had to drive across the river to buy the lottery tickets since Nebraska didn’t join the Powerball pool until Kellini was older.

G-ma and Kellini at the zoo

We never won “big,” but we always got our money’s worth. Over and over we discussed all the dreams we’d fulfill with the millions of dollars we would split 50/50 when we won.

One day, when Kellini and I visited, Mom had big circles under her eyes. She admitted she hadn’t slept a wink because the lottery jackpot had toppled over 100 million dollars and she worried how she would spend her share.

“A fortune like that could ruin a person’s life,” she’d said.

Amanda Cash has to decide how to distribute a 200 million dollar lottery jackpot to deserving people. To whom would you give $200,000,000?

Distributing a fortune wasn’t my dilemma while writing the book. Sure, I spent many sleepless nights while I figured out the plot, sub-plots, twists and turns, and relationships of Luck of the Draw. But my biggest challenge was how to show Amanda’s infinite love for Clara.

How does a daughter honor her mother’s love?

Back to my own daughter, Kellini. And the story of our time together this week. We had to decide how best to promote Still Kickin’, and by proxy, Luck of the Draw. A natural fit came to us over crab cake wraps at lunch. We needed to schedule book signings in retirement villages and skilled nursing homes.

I always seek Kellini’s advice on wardrobe, make-up, and hair when I prepare for any professional meeting. Skidding hangers along clothes racks in my closet, she approved of my recent purchases of sweaters, blouses and slacks in the new spring colors. She has natural talent as a stylist.

When Kellini was four, she declared her intention to become a heart surgeon. She also planned to cut hair in the evenings and on the weekends. It’s good to have fallback skills when you plan a career as a cardiologist.

In middle school, Kellini decided to become a fashion designer. This involved watching endless hours of “Project Runway,” arranging sewing lessons, and numerous trips to the fabric store. I learned from Kellini that my signature color is coral, complemented by a bright pink.

After tweaking my outfit, Kellini and I launched our quest. Soon, I had secured a commitment for a book-signing at The Bookworm, the coziest independent bookseller in Omaha. (Check back to my website for announcement of the date and time.)

The next stop for Kellini and me was the skilled nursing facility where my mother had lived the last year of her life. Mom had made many friends at Brookestone Village, but I didn’t hold out much hope that anyone would remember her since she’d passed away over four years ago.

Janie, the Life Enrichment Coordinator, hadn’t worked at Brookestone when my mother lived there. She patiently listened to my pitch for Still Kickin’ and how many of the scenes in Luck of the Draw were written after visits to my mother’s courtside room at Brookestone. Janie quickly committed to a book event for me close to Mother’s Day in May. (I’ll announce the details soon.)

Kellini and I had mixed feelings stepping through the automatic doors at Brookestone. They still have the baby grand piano in the lobby. They still have fragrant bouquets of flowers and complimentary lemonade and cookies to greet visitors.

The receptionist is new, but she is as friendly as the one who worked there four years ago. She’s accompanied by her well-trained and gentle dog, Target, who is a wonderful addition to the Brookestone team. Kellini and I snuggled with Target as we waited for Janie.

G-ma, Kellini, and me

Business completed, my daughter and I left, noting the ducks swimming in the brook outside the exit. It was a perfect spring day—sunny with a hint of a breeze. But the air felt heavy with the unspoken words that hung between us. We didn’t get to share a complimentary ice cream cone with Kellini’s grandmother, Frances Myers, who was my best friend and the best mother ever.

I took a deep breath of the fresh spring air. In my mind, I blew kisses to her and whispered, “I love you, Mom.”

~~Post Script~~

One month before she passed away, I read the unsold manuscript of Luck of the Draw to my mother. While nurses scurried in and out of her room, over the drone of her oxygen concentrator, Mom listened. Sometimes, she dozed to the sound of my voice. When she was alert, she laughed and cried in all the right places. After the last paragraph, she gave the story her “thumbs up.” It was the best critique I’ve ever had.

¡Pura Vida!

Monday, March 12th, 2012

I dedicate this blog to my familia tico in Costa Rica: Flora, Mayi, Jessénia y William, and Gaudy.

Pura vida literally means “pure life.” It’s similar to the Hawaiian word, “aloha.” The ticos, as Costa Ricans call themselves, use it as a greeting and sometimes as a goodbye. It’s also used as an exclamation of celebration and joy.

I met my Costa Rican family in 2003. I took my two daughters, Kellini and McKenna (then ages 11 and 9) to a language school in Heredia, Costa Rica to study Spanish. I wanted a total immersion experience and opted to stay with a host family.

The Hidalgo Family

We won the lottery when the school assigned us to the home of Flora and Nicolas Hidalgo. We called them Mama and Papa Tico.

Mama and Papa Tico have three accomplished daughters. The young women were in their twenties, unmarried, and lived in the family home. Rounding out the family were four dogs, two talking parrots, an aquarium of fish, and miniature hens in the back yard.

When our airport shuttle pulled into the front courtyard, lush with vegetation and an avocado tree, I thought the school had made a mistake. The home looked like a hotel. It had two stories, six bedrooms, three bathrooms, two kitchens, a formal dining room, three living rooms, a combination chiropractor office & massage therapy room, and a beauty shop.

The family has remodeled the home over the years to accommodate life-style changes. And now the house is even bigger. The massage therapy room is gone since the middle daughter, the chiropractor, married, and then moved away with her husband, the young judge. The hair salon moved next door when the youngest daughter, who had been a financial analysis for Coca-Cola decided to balance her life and spend all her working hours managing her hair salon. Recently, that daughter married and moved to Mexico with her husband.

The eldest daughter, Mayi, still lives in the home. She earned a law degree, but decided she liked teaching better and became one of the many marvelous teachers at the school, Centro Panamericano de Idimoas, affectionately called CPI.

Mayi is the only person in her family who speaks English and my girls started referring to everything as Mayi’s. Mayi’s house. Mayi’s street. Mayi’s avocado tree. Now, Mayi’s job is as the assistant director of CPI.

Mayi and I have become good friends. She visited the U.S. for the first time in 2004, and stayed with us. We look forward to her return in October for her second visit. She’s an extension of the Omaha Chamber of Commerce as she asks all the students who stay with her family, “Have you ever been to Omaha? It is the most wonderful city in the United States.”

Sadly, Papa Tico has passed away. Mama Tica still hosts students who attend CPI. Only the luckiest of all students are assigned to Mama Tica. She and I quickly became good friends. Because we were close in age, she asked me to call her Flora.

Our Costa Rican Adventures

We had many marvelous adventures in Costa Rica. My younger daughter, McKenna, helped gather eggs from the miniature hens every morning. One day she sneaked a pecan-sized egg to school in her shorts pocket. Playing at recess, she accidentally smashed the egg. The teachers comforted “Mickey” as she cried and cried, proclaiming (in Spanish) she had lost her future baby chick. She learned a new phrase that day. Estoy muy triste. —I’m very sad.

Another day, on our walk home from our morning classes, we stopped at a small mom & pop grocery store. The girls picked out some snacks, while I snagged two cold bottles of Pepsi from the cooler for Flora and me. At that time, Pepsi was rare in Costa Rica. I marveled at the bottles, the likes of which, I hadn’t seen since I was a child. Instead of the plastic, 20-ounce bottles we have in the U.S., the Pepsi came in tall glass bottles reminiscent of the 1960s.

I was pretty darned proud of myself for being able to converse with the shop owner in Spanish. I set my Pepsi bottles on the counter. When he asked if I wanted the sodas in a bag to go, I casually answered, “por supuesto,”—sure.

While I helped my daughters on the other side of the store, the owner bagged my sodas. When I returned to pay for our items, my Pepsi bottles weren’t on the counter. Instead, he handed me two slender plastic bags filled with the cold drink. He’d stuck a straw in each bag, and closed them tightly with rubber bands.

Later, at home, Flora and I laughed as she explained one of our several cultural differences. Many of the school children cannot afford to pay the small deposit for the recyclable glass bottle, so the owner puts the soda in a “to-go bag.”

In Costa Rica, most of the streets remain unmarked which made it a challenge for me to navigate. There are no house numbers in Mayi’s neighborhood or the surrounding towns. Instead, their addresses are a form of description. For instance, Mayi’s address is “150 meters east of the church in San Lorenzo. The house with the avocado tree.”

I couldn’t tell you what happens if the church burns down or the avocado tree dies.

Comida Típica

The food is wonderful in Costa Rica. Students gather with the family around the table for meals complemented with plenty of home-grown pineapple, guava, papaya, and avocados. The comida típica, or “national dish,” is called gallo pinto. It’s a combination of rice and black beans seasoned with fresh cilantro and other spices. It’s delicious. And versatile. It’s appropriate to serve at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Flora, who has never learned to drive, buys her fruits, vegetables, meat, and fish from vendors who drive regular routes through the neighborhoods. Many times, she bakes the family’s breads. Mayi has a side business making special-occasion cakes, which are beautiful, as well as delicious.

Costa Ricans like to take showers in cold water. Yes, cold water. To accommodate the students, Mayi’s family has installed an instant hot water, on-demand system in the bathrooms. Mayi and Flora still prefer cold showers.

In the central valley, where Mayi lives, houses do not have air-conditioning. It’s not needed. Daytime temperatures in the summer reach 85ºF, falling back to 70º at night. Most of the time the windows remain open and there are no screens. Occasionally, a gecko climbs the wall, but flying insects aren’t a problem in the cities. I never found out why.

Once, when we walked home from school (a mile from Mayi’s house) we got lost and encountered a roadside Colombian bakery. The pastries were light, sweet, and yummy. My daughter, Kellini, claimed they came straight from Heaven. The panedería remains one of Kellini’s favorite places.

On the same route, we saw a Nebraska Furniture Mart delivery truck parked in the back yard of a small home. I never knew the Mart had such an expansive territory. Flora couldn’t explain that weird coincidence.

Souvenir plate

Life Lessons

In our month-long visit to the Central American country, we learned many things:

1) Costa Rica disbanded their army in 1948, putting their tax revenue into education, healthcare, and the arts, instead.

2) Their secession from Spain was bloodless. One of the few Latin American republics that can claim that.

3) They have the most diverse eco-system on the planet and many biologists come to study their plants and animals.

4) They have dozens of active volcanoes.

5) They grow the best coffee in the world. Okay, that’s my opinion, not necessarily a fact. Still, it’s true to me.

6) They are quick to point out, rightly, that they are also Americans—Central Americans. They call us, estadounidences—meaning “people from the United States.” Wish we had a simple word like tico to call ourselves.

7) Oh… and we learned Spanish.

White-faced monkey at Manuel Antonio

Iguana, sunbathing at the beach

We took many tours:

1) We descended on a narrow path to the pool of a twenty-story waterfall. The girls swam. The climb back up was murder.

2) We saw Costa Rica’s most active volcano, Arenal, and swam in the thermal springs below it. When the volcano erupts, it sounds like thunder.

3) We toured a butterfly farm. It’s a huge industry in Costa Rica. The farmers harvest chrysalis from many butterfly species for export to zoos all over the world.

4) We toured a coffee plantation and learned the history and process of growing coffee for export. Brit coffee is the premium brand. Papa Tico was a coffee farmer and he sold his beans to Brit.

5) We visited the Pacific coast and toured the National Park, Manuel Antonio. In the wild, we saw monkeys, parrots, caimans, and iguanas. Along our path, in the trees overhead, we took photos of a sloth and a python.

6) On later trips, we zip-lined through the jungle canopy and McKenna bungee jumped off a bridge into a fifteen-story river gorge. Three times. Yes, she is courageous.

On our flight home, I asked my daughters, separately, to name their favorite part of the trip. I expected to hear “swimming in the ocean,” or “laughing at the monkeys.”

Without hesitation, both girls said the same thing. “My favorite part of Costa Rica was staying with our familia tico.”

That sealed it for me. Our trip was a complete success.

Until next time….¡Pura Vida!

Te amo, Mayi. Abrazos a todos.

For information about studying Spanish in Costa Rica, click CPI. It’s listed under My Favorite Websites–at the top right.

Romance with a Side of Bacon

Friday, March 9th, 2012

I won’t apologize; I love country music. My grandfather, Leck Sammons, used to play and sing in a band. Back then, they called the genre “Country/Western.” Sadly, I only heard Leck play once, when he grabbed my six-string Gibson, propped his boot heel on our kitchen chair, and crooned a short ballad.

Seven years ago, a man I dated introduced me to the new country music. He played guitar and sang in a local band. Come to think of it, he looked a little bit like Leck.

I like many popular country artists today. Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood—I can’t possibly name all my favorites.

My husband and I saw Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, in concert when they opened their Soul2Soul 2007 Tour in Omaha. The concert broke sales records in the Midwest. I suspect that was due to a combination of musical talent, stage presence, and their unique love story.

Reba McEntire

Reba McEntire is a marvelous story-teller. She’s an amazing, multi-talented woman. Singer. Song writer. Television star and producer. Stage/ screen actress. Entrepreneur. Author. I really respect that she shows the world how accomplished and hot a woman our age can be. Yes, we were born the same year.

I especially enjoy songs whose lyrics weave a story. If the story is a boy-meets-girl tale, and ends happily-ever-after, so much the better.

One of my all-time favorite romantic songs dates back to 1975. The hit, “The Old Home Filler-Up-An’ Keep On A-Truckin’ Café” was written by C.W. McCall (Bill Fries) and Chip Davis, the genius behind Omaha’s own Mannheim Steamroller.

The Keep on Truckin' Shuffle

The song tells the autobiographical story about an over-the-road truck driver (C.W.) whose best friend and traveling buddy is his dog, Slone. One day, C.W. meets a waitress, Mavis Davis, who serves him a BLT and captures his heart.

It brings a tear to my eye each time I read the lyrics and listen to the music.

This is C.W.’s description of his lady love. “This girl’s built like a burlap bag full of bobcats; she’s got it to-gether.”

Finally, he works up the courage to ask Mavis out. “How’d ya like to go for a ride with me and old Sloan: I just had my truck warshed.”

Yep, he said washed with an “r.”

Her answer?

“She allowed as how it sounded like a whole lot of fun. But we was gonna have ta wait until the dishes was done. And was it all right with me if she brought along her mother as a chaperone?”

Doo-dee-doo

The music builds at this point. Races, like the pace of a well-written novel.

Now, I don’t want to spoil the ending for you. But, it IS a romance, so of course, they live happily ever after.

Some people say romance novels are formulaic. The plots are all the same: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back. Sometimes the roles are reversed and the girl does all the work.

I’ll argue that opinion in a future blog.

I write mysteries which don’t have to have a happy ending. They are supposed to have at least one dead body, many suspects, twists and turns, and a climatic ending that reveals the murderer.

In a future essay, I’ll explain the nuances between the types of mysteries—the sub-genres. You won’t want to miss that riveting blog.

Back to my point.

I love romance stories. Some of my best friends write romance novels. I wouldn’t be published today if not for the help of the Romance Writers of America and, specifically, the generous support of the women of RWA’s local chapter, the Heartland Writers Group.

While, I write mysteries, there is always a romantic element to round out the book. Like in real life, good, fleshed-out relationships add dimension to the characters, connecting the reader with the story.

In my Harmony Hills series, the widow Kay Powers (age 71) falls for a much younger man, Detective John Vendetti (age 61.) The age difference fills Kay with doubt. However, most of her angst comes from the fact that she hasn’t had a first date since Jimmy Carter was president.

Her dilemma also sets up some pretty funny situations.

I wrote Kay’s feelings straight from the heart. Eight years ago, when I returned to the dating scene, I was younger than Kay (age 49,) but my insecurities were just as real. In Still Kickin’, I translated some of my own anxiety into Kay’s reactions to Vendetti’s romantic pursuit. Like in my own experiences, Kay’s uncertainty leads to some comedic moments.

You might wonder how much of my own experiences I put into the book. I’m not telling. I will say… I write fiction. And good fiction is always an exaggeration of life.

One last point.

I like following celebrity romances. There are so many dynamic couples in the country music industry. Miranda Lambert & Blake Shelton, Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood, the late Johnny Cash & June Carter Cash. In real life, there’s not always a happy ending. The marriage of George Jones and Tammy Wynette ended in

D-I-V-O-R-C-E.

Faith Hill & Tim McGraw

That never happens in a true romance novel.

When Tim McGraw and Faith Hill took the stage together on that summer evening in 2007, there wasn’t an empty seat in the auditorium. Their chemistry electrified the arena. Their love—expressed through their music—brought the crowd to its feet.

See how the romance of Kay Powers and Detective John Vendetti begins in Still Kickin’—a Harmony Hills Mystery. Due out in late March, 2012.

Old Home Rolls

Here’s some trivia. The song of C.W. McCall’s romance with Mavis Davis played out in regionalized television commercials. I enjoyed them in Omaha during the mid-1970s.

The product advertised? Old Home Bread. Check out the YouTube video below. The video’s grainy, but the audio’s great.

Old Home Filler Up and Keep on A-Truckin’ Café.

I have the URLs for RWA and the Heartland Writers Group on my Links page.

Until next time…Keep on Truckin’.

 

Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Fred and Barney? Some characters’ names are self-explanatory. Others require contemplation.

My blog, THE NAME GAME, explained how my father named me after a character in a Zane Grey western. The character, Terrill Lambeth, carried the name of her uncle who had died in the Civil War.

This is how Grey described the event on the first page of West of the Pecos.

“The baby came and it was a girl. This disappointment was the second of Lambeth’s life, and the greater. Lambeth never reconciled himself to what he considered a scurvy trick of fate….He never changed the name Terrill. And though he could not help loving Terrill as a daughter, he exulted in her tomboy tendencies…”

I don’t want to imply that my gender disappointed my father. It didn’t. I had an older brother already and my dad had hoped for a girl. He called me his “little princess.”

Grey sets up Templeton’s motivation to raise his daughter to have the strength and courage expected of a man. She needs to be as tenacious as a man to save the family’s Texas ranch.

(No arguments, please. I agree with you about those qualities being equally present in men and women. Grey wrote within the parameters set by the social culture of his time. Forgive him.)

Do you see how giving Terrill a man’s name sets the reader’s expectations? With a man’s name, she must be as strong and daring as any male hero.

Let me give some more examples of crafty character naming.

Movie Characters, Daisy Buchanan & Jay Gatsby

Author F. Scott Fitzgerald

Characters, Jordan Baker & Nick Carraway

If you haven’t read The Great Gatsby by the American author, F. Scott Fitzgerald, I highly recommend it. Or rent the 1974 movie with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. It’s a bonus to see Redford in his prime. He’s dreamy even in the pink suit costume designer, Edith Head used for the movie’s tense climactic scene.

Of course, the book is better than the movie.

Fitzgerald chooses names wisely to reflect his characters’ personalities. I’ll examine three.

We know little about Jay Gatsby, the New York millionaire who gives lavish parties, but never attends them. Some say he was a war hero. Some say, a murderer.

SPOILER ALERT

By the end of the book, we discover Gatsby had been born poor and made his fortune illegally as a bootlegger, all to impress Daisy, the wealthy, society woman he lost and wants to win back.

We learn from Gatsby’s father that Jay was born James Gatz. (His father called him Jimmy.) The fact that he changed his name aligns well with his goal to reinvent himself. Lengthen your last name, shorten the first name and, voila—you’re a new man. It’s interesting Fitzgerald didn’t even give Gatsby an entire first name. The initial “J” is more mysterious, don’t you think?

I saw the Gatsby movie in the summer of 1974 in Iowa City, IA. I was visiting my friend, Pam Lyons. We had been editors together on the Benson High News. A freshman, she was studying Journalism at the University of Iowa. The U of I is home of the famous creative writing program—the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

After the movie, Pam and I grabbed a Pepsi for our critique. We were just two literature nerds discussing the foreshadowing, symbolism, and character names. Good times.

Here’s where my memory has played tricks on me. Pam was taking a German class and we looked up the name Gatz and Gatsby in her German dictionary. (Yeah, that’s what writing geeks do.) I could have sworn that we had discovered one of the renditions meant “host” in German. Today, when I Googled “Gatz/Gatsby” to fact-check, I couldn’t confirm that definition.

So, if anyone has a German dictionary or is fluent in German, drop me a line. It would be great to know if I have a faulty memory or whether I’m just fictionalizing again.

If Gatz/Gatsby does mean “host,” it’s a perfect name for the character.

Daisy Buchanan is Jay Gatsby’s one true love. The name makes perfect sense. Daisy is a summer flower, delicate, beautiful. Just like the character. By the end of the summer—in real life and in the book—Daisy is lost. Until another season.

Jordan Baker is Daisy’s wild friend. Daisy wants Nick, (her cousin and Gatsby’s only friend) to get involved with Jordan. Timelessly beautiful, Jordan is a professional golfer, who isn’t beyond cheating to get what she wants. She plays life fast and loose.

1909 Baker Runabout

It’s rumored that Fitzgerald combined the name of two popular car companies to form the character’s name.

Jordan Motor Company produced a model called the Playboy, projecting the image to support the woman’s “fast” reputation.

Baker Motor Vehicles provided automobiles for the White House fleet, promoting the image of the character’s elegance and high social standing.

I tend to simplify the symbolism in the names I choose for my characters.

Amanda Cash is the heroine in Luck of the Draw. She needs money. Doesn’t have enough. Gets to decide who deserves $200 million that an anonymous lottery winner wants to give away.

For my Harmony Hills series, I get to use names from my mother’s generation. I love this opportunity. Simply, love it!

Kay Powers—I want her have a strong name.

Vita Orsi—She’s Italian. Vita means “life” and she’s sure full of that.

Audrey Campbell—I want to invoke the grace and softness of Audrey Hepburn. Then I turn that image on its ear by dressing her in Gothic black corsets and fingerless, leather gloves.

Here are a couple of resources on my bookshelf.

100,000+ Baby Names by Bruce Lansky

Character Naming Sourcebook by Sherrilyn Kenyon

I also like to run a name through this website to check the description.

http://www.kabalarians.com/cfm/what-does-my-name-mean.cfm

Take a minute to look up your name. Does the meaning match your personality?

For more information about the Iowa Writers’ Workshop for creative writing, here’s the link.

http://www.uiowa.edu/~iww/

Until next time…

Read some fiction. Feed your imagination and watch it grow.

Beginning the Journey

Monday, March 5th, 2012

Sometimes, people ask me how I got started writing fiction, professionally. As I’ve explained in previous blogs, I’ve written stories for as long as I can remember. You can read about the birth of my passion in the blog: FROM DREAMS TO REALITY, February 29, 2012.

The Mighty Benson Bunny

I wrote for my high school newspaper, the Benson High News.  I’ll be forever grateful to my journalism teacher, Mr. Gunnar Horn, for selecting me, in my senior year, to be co-editor of the Feature Page.  I happily shared that privilege with Doug Nelson.  (Thanks again, Doug for covering my assignments the week I was laid up with a judo injury.)

As editor, it was my job to fill Page Two of the four-page paper with compelling articles.  Not the editorials; that was Randy Wright’s job.  My mission wasn’t to dig for the hard news, either.  That was News Editor, Barb Boyer’s job.  I was tasked with rounding out the edition with softer, human interest stories.

Mr. Horn hoped for articles about interesting hobbies the teachers had, or maybe a biography of a heroic janitor.  What he got, were my essays.  Fiction.  I didn’t officially get my own column, but I did get a byline.  I published my musings, disguised as human interest stories.

Many times, Mr. Horn assigned Bill Shaffer to illustrate my feature articles.  I liked working on those issues because Bill is a talented artist, and because his graphics took up space for which I didn’t have to scrounge written material.

The Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett

At that time, there were two newspapers in Omaha.  The daily was the Omaha World-Herald.  (Now owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.)  The defunct, weekly paper was the Omaha Sun, a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper owned by… Warren Buffett.  This smaller publication was broken into neighborhood editions. The edition delivered to my house was called the Benson Sun.

The Teen Beat page appeared in the Benson Sun.  It held news articles written by teens, for teens.  I vividly remember the most popular teen girls wrote one particular column.  The entire article was paragraph after paragraph of the names of the couples dating that week—Marcia Duncan ‘n’ John Bowenkamp; Barb Decker ‘n’ Jim Fullerton; Jodie Fratt ‘n’ Jim Young.

The clever editors at the Omaha Sun made a contraction of the word “and” to save column inches.  See how “Mickey ‘n’ Minnie; Jack ‘n’ Jill” takes up less space than “Mickey and Minnie; Jack and Jill?”  BTW, it was a precursor to modern-day texting.

But I digress.  Hang with me, I’m about to make this relevant.  Not to you, but to me.

I suspect, to compete with The Teen Beat, every other Friday, the Omaha World-Herald reprinted articles published in high school newspapers.  Many times the editors reduced the copy, abridged the reports, but not always.  At least that was my experience when they reprinted several of my feature articles—giving me full credit—in their “big city” newspaper.

My parents were proud.  I felt honored.

My point being, I was “published” by the time I was seventeen, albeit, no money exchanged hands.

I took one journalism class in college which convinced me I wasn’t cut out to be a reporter.  I believed there were no viable career options for an English major, except to teach, so I eschewed that path, as well.  I went a totally different direction—I majored in Spanish.

LOL.

In hindsight, I realize that I took the same number of composition, literature, and speech classes an English major would have taken, but I did all those things in Spanish.  Ole!  My goal was to work in a multi-national corporation.

It didn’t happen.

Instead, I began my career in adult training and development.  It (kind of/sort of) gave me the opportunity to create.  At least, I earned money by writing.  My self-instructional, computer-based training programs taught sales associates how to book hotel reservations.  The text wasn’t as glamorous as a novel by Fitzgerald, but I always sprinkled fun scenarios into the skill exercises I produced.

Here’s a sad fact.  During a fifteen-year period at the start of my career, I didn’t read recreationally.  If I had any time after work, I spent it reading non-fiction books, business journals, self-help magazines, and newspapers.  Not that I wouldn’t have enjoyed a good mystery or romantic comedy.  I just didn’t use my time that way.

Isn’t that a shame?  I wonder how many young people, hungry to climb the career ladder, did (and still do) the same thing?

Then, one day, after co-founding a company and co-founding a family, I woke up to find myself out of a job and out of a marriage.

Don’t cry for me, Argentina!  These were very healthy changes.

A friend, Margery, invited me to visit her in Coos Bay, Oregon for an extended weekend.  I went.  Neither of us had much money and she had planned some activities that didn’t cost much or were free.

My first night in Oregon, we went to a church for a free, public meeting to hear an author from Portland read from her current, published mystery.  Margery had thought she needed to entice me by mentioning the complimentary cookies and punch.  But she had me at “author.”

NY Times Best-Selling Author, April Henry

As it turned out, the author, April Henry, didn’t read from her book.  She did, however, talk about the craft of writing and how she adjusted her schedule to accommodate her creative passion.  I was struck by her approachability, warmth, and humor.  She seemed like an ordinary person, not at all intimidating.  When I chatted with her after the lecture, I didn’t feel like I was conversing with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but rather my next door neighbor.

Of course, Margery and I both bought copies of April’s book, Circles of Confusion.  For three evenings, we read her mystery, in our separate rooms, and compared notes in the morning.

April Henry made writing a novel look so easy that I ran right home and finished composing my first mystery in eight weeks.

Proud as I could be, I gave it to all my friends to critique.  Not!  I should say, my close friends teased, pulled, and then finally yanked it out of my tight fists.

My author colleagues agree: It’s scary to show a first manuscript to anyone.  What if they don’t like your production, your baby?

A quick eight years and four rejected manuscripts later, I published Luck of the Draw.

This is what I learned.

1)    Always take the opportunity to sample free cookies and punch.  You might fall into a new career.

2)    Treat yourself to a fictional read.  You’re worth it.

3)    A successful anyone—writer, painter, baker, teacher, mom—makes it look easy.  That’s because she’s mastered her craft and loves what she’s doing.

4)    Publishing a book does not mean you’re “home free.”  You still need to continue polishing your craft and studying the publishing business.

5)    Mastery takes a lot of practice.  That’s not so insightful, but it’s true in all professions.  I have a little magnet on my desk lamp.  It was given to me by a colleague in the Heartland Writers Group.  It says, “Even if it’s crap, just get it on the page.”

Inspriational quote for a writer

Don’t you love lists?  Here’s another one.

For more info about writing fiction, check out

1)     April Henry’s website.  Thank you, April for your inspiration.

http://www.aprilhenrymysteries.com/

2)    Romance Writers of America

http://www.rwa.org/cs/home

3)    Heartland Writers Group

http://www.heartlandwritersgroupomaha.com/

 

Do yourself a favor today and choose something fictional to read.  Feed your imagination and watch it grow.

Did I make that line up?  Or did someone else?  I read and write so much, sometimes I forget.  If you know that answer, let me know.

 

Thank you, Darrell Klein for posting this link to the archives for the Benson High News.  Go Bunnies!

http://bhs.stparchive.com/Year1973/

The Name Game

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

Growing up, I had a love/hate relationship with my name. My paternal grandparents, whom I saw often, proudly called me Teryl or Teryl Diane. Not because of anything I did to deserve admiration, although I was a pretty amazing kid. They liked the name because their son tagged me with it.

Author Zane Grey

My dad named me after the heroine in a Zane Grey western he’d read as a boy. West of the Pecos was copyrighted in 1931 and reprinted in 1938, when my father was eleven. It is part of the five-book collection he received for his birthday or Christmas. I assume it came from his parents, or possibly his Aunt Irene, as she doted on him. She had more money than my grandparents, but that’s not saying much since my father grew up in the Depression. Most everyone my family knew lived hand to mouth. How the books became his “library” is pure speculation since there is no surviving relative with whom I can verify my assumptions.

Notice how I used quotation marks around “library?” It’s a writing device to catch the reader’s attention. Did it work?

These five Zane Grey novels, which proudly sit on my shelf, were the only books my father ever owned as a boy.

Impossible to imagine, right?

Getting back to my love/hate relationship. Everyone called me Teryl through kindergarten. On the initial day of first grade, tragedy erupted. This is how I remember the scene.

Teacher: “Is James Miller in the room?”

James: “Here.”

Teacher: “Debra Moore?”

Debra: “Present.”

Teacher: “T..Te..Ter…Turtle.. Tur-rell Myers”

You can see why the children laughed and I cringed.

Embarrassed, I clarified it for her. Teryl rhymes with Cheryl. It’s a phrase I’ve repeated often as most people have never run across my unique moniker. I don’t want people to feel stupid if they mispronounce my name, so I try to preempt the embarrassment.

Teryl rhymes with Cheryl. Everybody knows a Cheryl.

For a while, in the last decade, I joined some dating services. I wanted potential suitors to be surprised, a little jolted, definitely intrigued by my unusual name. I hoped to stand out in the crowd. I updated my mantra to sound more alluring. “Teryl rhymes with Meryl—as in Meryl Streep.” Imagine my sexy impersonation of the great actress—in say, “The French Lieutenant’s Woman.”

Teryl, as in Meryl—Meryl Streep.

I never want to leave a reader hanging, so let me finish the story of poor Turtle Myers. The teacher gained control of the raucous six-year-olds with a firm, “Settle down, now.”

Snickers lingered.

My parents, Clarence and Frances Myers. I'm there, too.

On the spot, I made up my nickname, “Terry.”

You might think it odd that I chose the boy’s spelling of the name. I didn’t know any better. Most girls, as I soon discovered, spell the name with an “i” –Teri or Terri. After several people pointed that out, shame forced me to switch the spelling to Terrie. That iteration lasted the first semester of third grade.

I could tell you that I’d cleverly extracted the “y” from Teryl for my nickname. At six years old, I wasn’t that shrewd. I spelled it that way because my mother spelled her nickname with a “y.” My mom, Frances Jeraldean Myers, had been nicknamed “Jerry.” (That’s a story for later.)

Over the years, a few friends have called me Teryl, and I like it, but most people call me Terry. I sat in a quandary for months trying to figure out what name to use for publication. Terry or Teryl? Or maybe a pseudonym.? For a while, I spent more time trying to decide on my pen name than I did writing the book of my heart.

One friend, Joe Lipsey, suggested the nom de plume, “Palmer Grayson,” because he thought it sounded very sophisticated, gender neutral, and could work with whatever genre I finally decided to write—romance or mystery. I hadn’t chosen one yet. (Yes, I was at that confusing stage of writing.)

Another friend, Ann Adams, suggested I use “Mya Dane” – cleverly crafted from my maiden name, Myers, and my middle name, Diane. It sounded like a perfect pseudonym until I Googled it and found a porn star had already snagged the name for her professional use.

The same witty friend also suggested the pseudonym, Stephen King, since that author had suspended (temporarily, thank God) his writing career.

When push came to shove, and I’d finally found a publishing home for my first novel, Luck of the Draw, I had to make a decision on the name for the cover. My author name. To be recorded forever in the Library of Congress. On my first book.

To honor my father, I chose Teryl. To honor my husband, I chose Oswald.

For this essay, I Googled famous Teryls. None. A quick search of all derivations found Terrell Owens and Terrell Thomas. Both professional football players.

Read the book West of the Pecos. You’ll discover the heroine, Terrill, (as it was spelled in the novel) was named after her uncle who had died in the Civil War.

I had never come face to face with another Teryl (male or female) until recently when I had the pleasure of meeting the lovely owner of Terryl’s Flower Garden in Omaha, Nebraska. I felt a kindred spirit despite the fact she spells her name with two “r’s”. I told her the story of how my father chose my name. She admitted, amazingly, Zane Grey was her favorite novelist when she was young. Check out her beautiful floral work. http://www.terrylsflowergarden.com/

There was a popular song released in 1964 called “The Name Game,” written by Shirley Ellis and Lincoln Chase. Shirley Ellis recorded it.

Come on, you remember it. Sing along.

The name game!

Shirley!

Shirley, Shirley bo Birley Bonana fanna fo Firley

Fee fy mo Mirley, Shirley!

Lincoln!

Lincoln, Lincoln bo Bincoln Bonana fanna fo Fincoln

Fee fy mo Mincoln, Lincoln!

My brothers and I played the Name Game on car trips with our folks. We would start with our own names –Steve, Terry, Tim, and then insert a variety of first names. We laughed and feigned innocence when a “naughty” rhyme echoed throughout the 1966 Pontiac.

What’s in a name? A lot, as you can see.

One of my favorite parts of writing is choosing the characters’ names. Successful naming is important because it helps to develop the reader’s image of the character. A carefully chosen name helps to determine the emotion the reader feels for the character.

I’ll tell you more about that in a future blog. And by the way, the baby name book I use to research character names reports that “Teryl” means “Thunder Ruler.”

Yep. That’s me.

Until then…choose something fictional to read. Feed your imagination and watch it grow.

I found “The Name Game” lyrics on the following website. Thank you, very much, Digital Dream Door.

http://www.digitaldreamdoor.com/pages/lyrics2/nov_namegame.html

I credit Wikipedia for the photo of Zane Grey.

All That and More

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

In casual situations, I think in terms of linked clichés. When I’m talking with my neighbors, my dentist, and my family, clichés spill from my mouth like water over a dam.

As a professional writer, I spend hours and considerable effort to compose fresh narrative, vivid descriptions, and snappy dialog. I strive to use concrete nouns and active verbs, but it’s not something that comes naturally. I admire those authors who think clearly, write quickly, and speak as elegantly as they write.

I’m just not one of them.

Recently, I wrote a rather firm, but professional email to a business group of which I’m a member. Mulling their reactions in my head, I found myself getting more than a little worked up, wondering if the organization would rue the day they had elected me to their Board of Directors. Although I would never throw in the towel, leaving the group in the lurch, to change horses in mid-stream, I toyed with the idea of finding greener pastures.

Teryl's grandparents

For me, thinking in clichés is as easy as falling off a log. That’s probably why I enjoy writing the Harmony Hills Mystery series. The characters are the same age I remember my grandparents were when I was growing up. It’s not fair to generalize, and I hardly ever do it, I wouldn’t bet the farm on it, but people of my grandparents’ generation talked in clichés. At least that’s how I remember it.

Reasonable people might disagree with me, saying my assessment is a lot of hogwash, a product of muddled thinking. They might say I’m full of baloney, barking up the wrong tree, and I don’t know what in the world I’m talking about.

But, I digress. I’m putting the cart before the horse and it’s time I get my ducks in a row to get on with it. I need to explain myself.

Ducks in a row

I had a blast writing STILL KICKIN’, the first novel in my Harmony Hills Mystery series. To have any hope of understanding why I was as happy as a pig in mud, I need to bring you up to speed on the plot of the story.

When Marvin Stemple, the richest man at the Harmony Hills Retirement Village dies in his penthouse apartment, the police rule the death accidental. Resident Kay Powers suspects murder and sets out to dig up the evidence to reopen the case.

That blurb is called a log line in the business. An elevator pitch. My ten-second spiel. It’s quick. Concise. Meant to sound professional. Supposed to sell books. Get the job done. Bring home the bacon.

But it’s nowhere near, not even in the ballpark, of the pitch I really wanted to write for the back cover of the book. What I wanted to say, my editor had been hard-pressed to print. In fact, if truth be told, she flatly refused. Not even when I begged her pretty please with sugar on top. She wouldn’t buy it, not for all the tea in China.

My publisher said we’d get hauled into court. Thrown in the slammer. For something, that in my humble opinion is no big deal. But lawyers have a tendency to make mountains out of molehills. And it wouldn’t have gone unnoticed by the big boys upstairs, in their ivory tower. Who are the powers that be? The head honchos of network television, of course.

On the back cover, would if I could, I’d write:

Still Kickin’—The Golden Girls become Charlie’s Angels to solve a murder in an old folks’ home in Omaha, Nebraska.

Did I mention the story takes place in the Heartland of America? The Nation’s Bread Basket. Right in the middle of the Bible belt. Where people, one generation removed from the farm, like to kick back and settle down, in front of a roaring fire, on a cold winter’s night, to read a tall tale, set in their own back yard. A story right up their alley. In amber waves of grain.

Happy as a pig in mud

Want to know the best part? The thing that tripped my trigger? Put me in seventh heaven? I wrote the entire book, the whole shebang, the kit and caboodle, in the first person point of view. Yours truly got to crawl into the head – the heart and soul—of my heroine, Kay Powers.

Kay is a dream come true. Everything rolled up into one neat package. Jack of all trades. Leader of the pack. Amateur sleuth. Loving sister. The best friend you could ever have. She has never met a stranger. She’s stubborn as a mule, smart as a whip, honest as the day is long. A good egg, with a heart of gold. She wouldn’t take any wooden nickels. As my father used to say, she’s been around the pump handle a few times.

Kay has celebrated seventy-one birthdays, but doesn’t look a day over sixty. That’s a lucky break since a man ten years her junior has his cap set for her. Will Kay get off the fence and jump head first into a romance with the handsome detective, John Vendetti?

One can only hope.

Ever vigilant, Kay knows in her heart of hearts that something’s not right about Marvin’s death. She smells a rat. She’s not buying what Detective Vendetti is selling. He’s got it all wrong. Marvin’s death, an accident? In a pig’s eye.

As sure as God made little green apples, someone killed Marvin Stemple. Who’s the murderer? Well, that’s the $64 question.

Now, all Kay has to do is rally the troops. Forge ahead. March up the hill with her best friends, Vita Orsi and Audrey Campbell.

Well, what I can say about those two spitfires? They weren’t born yesterday. They’re no spring chickens. In fact, Vita’s a little long in the tooth at seventy-five years old. That’s six bits, to you, son. And Audrey, she sits just shy of eighty. But she’s not one to let the parade pass her by or let grass grow under her feet. She keeps up, you know what I mean?

Nope, Vita and Audrey didn’t just fall off the cabbage truck. No-siree. They’ve been around the block. They know the score.

You can bet your bottom dollar, by hook or by crook, Kay and her friends will solve the case and save the day.

Fortunately for me, Kay frequently thinks the way I do—in clichés. Here’s her rundown of the major players in Still Kickin’:

Marvin Stemple—Sweet as honey. Dead as a doornail.

Vita Orsi—Red-hot mama. Hell on wheels.

Audrey Campbell—Going through her second childhood, but she’s right as rain, and nobody’s fool.

Detective John Vendetti—Handsome as all-get-out. Salt of the earth. Could he be Kay’s knight in shining armor?

Barbara Finnegar—Kay’s nemesis. Butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. Too big for her britches.

Mary Dodson—Big boss of Harmony Hills. Kay can’t quite put her finger on it, but Mary’s up to something.

Marilyn—Kay’s big sis. Got the short end of the stick when Alzheimer’s cut her down in the prime of life.

Arthur Stemple—Marvin’s son. Milquetoast, hen-pecked. Or, do still waters run deep?

Donna Stemple – Marvin’s daughter-in-law. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. Up to no good.

Walt Garvin—Marvin’s best friend. Not playing with a full deck. Is he the murderer’s patsy?

It’s been a barrel of laughs writing this blog. Jotting down whatever popped into my head. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

Check out this book for more idioms

I can’t wait for you to read about Kay’s adventures. Cross my heart and hope to die, the book isn’t filled with clichés. I cleaned up my act, kept my nose to the grindstone to write a fun mystery. I did take some poetic license to sprinkle in a few endangered phrases—but only when I was camped out in Kay’s head.

Stay tuned. I’ll drop you a line when my book hits the shelves. See you later, alligator.

Later, Gator