The Whirlwinds of Life

Life has been a bit of a whir since June. We sold the house, The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (and Their Muses) released. We moved. I’ve done author events with several book clubs and library groups. We went down the shore with our daughter and her family, and some friends. Frankie D and I went up to Bar Harbor, where I did an author talk/signing at the Jesup Memorial Library (gorgeous library, amazing town.) Just this past week, my son and his girlfriend came in from Portland for a (always too brief!) visit. They flew out this morning.

In between there were reviews, and lunches with friends; a wedding, family gatherings, and, of course, setting up my new home. Writing has been sporadic at best. For me–a writer who has written most every weekday, 9-4 since 1994–it’s been unsettling, to say the least. Now, next week, I head down to Myrtle Beach, a trip I’m really looking forward to, but it’s another week of no writing, making this shortened week less than productive, too.

Or is it?

I started a new novel back in April. There are two storylines, one that takes place in 2009, the other in 1947. The stories link through two characters–young in 1947, old in 2009. It’s been a struggle to get the two storylines to play nice. I love them both, they just didn’t seem to want to fit together.

And that’s because they really didn’t. Maybe it was all the upheaval, the enforced time away from the writing of it, but this novel proved to me today that it’s actually two. One’s not a sequel to the other–they’re entirely separate novels.

I’d written over 100K words in two and a half months, and the original book was nowhere near done. In trying to integrate the novels, they were both losing something of their voice, their heart. Now I have two novels in progress, and I adore them. The 1947 novel–Thirty Days Dancing at the Edge of the World–comes first. Then St. Simon by the Sea will get its turn. The novels still connect via those two characters, but the connection won’t alter the storylines in the slightest. It’s my hope that, if a reader reads both, they’ll take on an added depth. We’ll see. Maybe I’m just spouting nonsense.

One of the reasons I decided to post this is due to a question I get, every time I do a Q&A with a reading/writing group: Do you ever get writer’s block?

I’ve come to understand that what I experienced with this book that ended up being two, and pretty much every book I have ever written, is what some consider “writer’s block.” I never quite realized that until recently, and I think it’s because I never let it actually “block” me. I chip away, come at it from different angles, and I’m not afraid to shred it all to bits. It makes me get more creative, and tenacious. Writers who hit these walls and let it stop them call it writer’s block. I call it…something else.

Writing can happen in a wave of euphoric genius of putting words on a page that we never actually remember thinking; or it can be the above chipping, shredding frustration. Sometimes, we have to work for our art. No pain, no gain? Yeah, that works.

So, no–I never suffer writer’s block. Never have. Never will. Because if I ever come to a point wherein I won’t put in the necessary effort to get past it, it’ll be because I’m done writing. Period.

 

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A Dream, On Waking

This house feels like home

Like it’s where I’ve been all along. All

these years, all this life.

Passing strange, the log house and

all that happened there was

a dream I’m just waking from. Like, “Whew! I’m so glad it wasn’t real!

But it was.

Of course it was.

Yet that feeling has me in thrall right now, and

I’m not entirely sure

I want to disabuse it.

It feels a bit like betrayal,

on so many levels,

My dream. My home. My son’s painful life, and oblivious death.

A dream, a dream, a dream. And now,

I’m awake. Now,

it’s a bit of solace

I’d like to hold onto. I need

to hold onto.

*

All the curtains are hung, pictures,

in place, word art, (Q: What is a wall without a quote on it? A: A blank page!)

stuck to walls. My magic. My sparkle. My home.

The dream wasn’t all good, or

all bad. It simply was, and now it’s in the past. I don’t

long for it; how could I long for such sorrow?

Like a dream, let it fade into something less frightening, less

rending. Let the joy rise up and out, let it

follow me home.

BRAIN-BENEFITS-OF-DREAMING

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I Can Be Happy Here

Years ago, when Frank and I weren’t quite empty-nesters yet, we pulled into Oak Meadows on a lark, just to see what it was like. Frank fell in love instantly. I didn’t. I make NO judgement call on communities of cookie-cutter houses with vinyl siding! It just wasn’t me. I lived in a log house on the river, in the mountains, nothing but coyotes and deer and bear and great blue heron for neighbors. I tucked gardens here and there; the lawn was like green velvet; autumn blazed in the red/orange/amber of maples in New England. Inside, vast, multi-colored (burgundy, amber, yellow, blue, scarlet, pink, mauve) walls covered in murals and word art, dinosaur prints and fairies. Tucked into every nook and cranny, something new to see. My log house was the kind of place you could come to a dozen times and find something new, something fun or funny, adorable or kind of creepy. It was always Halloween, always Christmas. Somewhere.

It was a LOT of work. In the end, too much work. For those and a myriad of other reasons, it was time to move on.

We checked out Oak Meadows again. When we pulled in, my instant reaction was, “Nope, nope, nope! Can’t do it!” A week or so later, Frank said, “Let’s just go into the model and see.”

I walked into the model. It was warm, inviting, and obviously EASY. Beige walls. BEIGE! Not a color on my spectrum. But a switch flipped in me. I didn’t want “different and super-cool,” because “different and super-cool” needed to be maintained. I wanted smaller. House. Gardens. Rooms. No more high ceilings we needed a 30 foot ladder to clean twice a year. No more log walls that collected dust. No more rooms (and rooms and rooms and rooms) that went unused. I wanted efficiency. I wanted easy. I wanted it to look nice without me having to work so hard at it.

There’s no lawn for Frank to mow, only common ground that gets mowed for us. The pool is just down the hill, and we don’t have to maintain it. My garden–that will be taken care of for me, should I so choose–is all of about 9 x 9. I can have the profusion of flowers I love without it requiring days of planting, weeding, watering on a weekly basis.

I wanted Oak Meadows.

I didn’t think I could ever be happy in a community of cookie-cutter, vinyl sided homes. Never in a million years. But I am. I love this place, top to bottom. I love the lifestyle it affords us, the freedom.

I miss the woods, the river, the trees and the wildlife, but I got to have it. I had the showplace house people came into and stood in awe. The reality of upkeep made leaving it do-able. That dream was had, skewed, and given up for good. As a wise young man once told me, when I felt terrible about giving up my Jeep Wrangler, a vehicle I’d dreamed of having all my life, “Dreams change, Mom.”

Some people dream and never attain their aspirations. I’ve never been one of those people. I’m lucky, I know, but I work hard for the dreams I’ve made come to pass. Yet, sometimes, the dream changes. Sometimes, it’s changed for me. Leaving the house on the river for this townhouse in the woods was a little of both.

I can be happy here. I am happy here. A year ago, I’d never have believed it should anyone have told me where I’d be right now, and glad to be so.

“Dreams change, Mom.”

Yes, they do.

Oak Meadows (model shown, not mine.)

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Some other beginning’s end

Know what happened on moving day? As the guys were loading the truck? Our bear, the one I’ve never seen but Frank has on several occasions, came wallumping out of the woods behind the house, down the driveway, and across the street.
A bear.
If that wasn’t Chris sending us off on this leg of life’s adventure, I don’t know what it was.
 
I teetered on the brink of breaking down in the days prior to and just after the move. When I felt the sorrow welling, I pushed it down. Not now. Nope. Can’t do it. And I didn’t. It made me feel guilty, but I couldn’t leave that house if I let it overwhelm me. So I didn’t.
 
The house stopped being mine when my stuff was packed away. I detached from it, couldn’t wait for moving day. I’m so ready for a different lifestyle, simple, less work. Neighbors for the first time in nearly sixteen years. When I left, I thought I was going back to pick up a few things (like my cat) so I didn’t say good-bye. I didn’t walk room to room, remembering. Making peace. I just drove away. And I didn’t go back. That upset me, at first, but I’ve since come to realize it was better not to leave that house with that kind of emotional cloud hanging over me.
 
Leaving behind my log house on the river, in the back of beyond, didn’t quite suffice to convince my heart to tag along. It’s still there in the bricks and the boards, in the gardens no longer mine. In Jamie’s magnolia, Gracie’s cherry tree, Chris and Scott’s apple trees. Mixed into the roots of the tree where we buried Chris’ ashes. Not all of it, but a piece of it. I suppose that’s the way of such things; when you’ve lived and loved and lost so much in a place, you can’t just close the door and be done. It’s never done, and I’m okay with that. I really am.

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Quixotic Drama

I rarely bring up Goodreads or Amazon reviews here on this page. It breaks an unspoken rule, and that fourth wall between writer and reader. Do you hear a but coming? Today, I found something amazing in the review section on Goodreads, and it struck me so completely I had to immortalize it here.

(Not the full review–just the pertinent part)

“What is real; to what extent do we live our fictions; what should be real? Wonderful characters whose souls are stirred by death and words and a past built upon more words and immortal youthful misdeeds. […]this is a book for the spirit and the mind. It is also a paean to the passing of an age of great authors who lived immortally, if not tragically. Kudos to DeFino. I call this category of fiction, Quixotic Drama.”

Quixotic* Drama. As Linus Van Pelt is prone to exclaim, “That’s it!”

This is exactly what I do in all my writing, whether fantasy, romance, fairy tale, or contemporary fiction. Quixotic drama. I have a name for it now. And you know what the old tales say about naming something–there is power there. Great power. I can already feel it thrumming in my fingertips.

In googling the term, I see it’s not quite unique to the world, though I don’t find it in reference to fiction. Whether a thing or simply new to me, it’s magical. The connection to Don Quixote, in all its facets, pretty much says it all.

Peanuts1

*quix·ot·ic
kwikˈsädik/
adjective
  1. exceedingly idealistic; unrealistic and impractical.
    “a vast and perhaps quixotic project”
    synonyms: idealistic, romantic, visionary, utopian, extravagant, starry-eyed, unrealist unworldly.

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A Moment to Reflect

Life has been coming at me super-fast these days. Only two weeks left until we move from our log home on the river, to the townhouse in the woods. I went up to Framingham (Boston area) for a signing, was interviewed for an article, agreed to a whole bunch of writerly events from local book clubs to a library in Maine. The rest of August, September and October are almost completely booked by trips to the beach, appearances, and moving.

And then there are the grands who love to come over and swim.

I’ve had very little time to reflect on all the changes in my life since June saw The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (and Their Muses) release into the world, and the sale of our home. This quiet Sunday morning, I sat with my coffee, reflecting.

I thought I’d be okay staying here if the house didn’t sell, but I was wrong. I didn’t know that until today. I’m so ready. To go. To leave behind this house, let go this dream, and step into the next phase of my life. Staying here isn’t going to change the fact that life here didn’t work out as we anticipated. It won’t bring my son back. It doesn’t even keep him close to me. It’s time, and I can’t even be sad about that.

It’s going to be hard to close the door that last time. Knowing I can’t go back inside, see the rooms we lived in as a family, the roof over the walkout that Chris built with a shattered ankle, from a wheelchair; all my word art; the mural I painted when we first moved in; the gardens I planted; the trees grown so tall; the table where we all played Loaded Questions, laughing so hard over the bawdy and bawdier answers we came up with; the kitchen where fifteen years of Christmas cookies have been baked with Jamie and her friends–a tradition that goes back to her junior year in high school; the “grow room” Chris and Scott worked in together; the turtle WWF sticker on the wall in Grace’s room that I’ve never had the heart to scrape off; the fireplace that kept us warm when the power was out for over a week.

My writing loft.

So much happiness here. So much sorrow. A piece of life lived, and now, let go.

51yt7dpRFZL

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One of those heart-stoppy ones

From blogger, living read girl.

“Now, I did intend to read one of the other books on my High Summer TBR pile but alas, my attention was lured away to one of my recent library loans and I really don’t regret that at all.

Terri-Lynne DeFino’s The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers(and Their Muses) is the true definition of an enchanting read. While the main action of the story is set in 1999, where legendary author Alfonse Carducci arrives at the title location to live out his last days, a good chunk of the book is set in the 1950s.

That portion is a work in progress, as the ailing Alfonse regains his desire to write again due to Cecibel Bringer, a young woman working as an orderly whose scarred face matches the emotional scars on her soul. At first, Alfonse keeps his work a secret but then one of his contemporaries, the still feisty Olivia Peppernell , is asked for her opinion on his story and winds up adding a few chapters of her own.

The spark of literary inspiration jumps to two more of their fellow residents(one of which is an editor suffering from early memory loss) and Cecibel is given the chance to read along as they write along. You’re not only following the lives of Alfonse and friends, you’re also following the forbidden romance of Aldo and Cecilia, who are trapped by their social roles in the fifties to be together and yet always apart.

Both stories come to a moving and thoughtful conclusion, giving the reader a double blessing and a few surprises for each set of fictional folk. It may be bittersweet at times but DeFino balances the changing tones of both stories with a sure hand and infinite grace. If you haven’t read this book yet, I strongly urge to do so as soon as you can. A good story that showcases the joys and sorrows that real love possesses is a pearl that needs to be treasured, even if it’s just the once.”

Swooooooooooon!

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Fishing

There’s a fishing pole in the rafters
out on the front porch of this house on the river
He bought it one day, convinced it would quiet the chaos
Give him some zen
A fly rod, dancing the line out over the water
Enticing bass
He tied a few flies. I wouldn’t know
If they’re any good. But he was proud of
Those lures.
He only went a couple of times. The zen didn’t happen
The calm didn’t come
But he had one perfect day on the water
With his dad, casting the line
Casting, dancing, searching
One day is something, at least
The rod stays with the house.
It’s where it belongs. Here in this haven that was his cage
His safety net
His noose.

flyfishing

TLD

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So I Can Find It Again

The author posted this on my Facebook timeline yesterday, but I wanted it here, where I can easily find it again. I wish I could put ALL my (good!) reviews here, but that would be obnoxious. Modesty may be for suckers, but obnoxious is as obnoxious does, right? 😉

Beyond The Cover Review

Having read fantasy and romance from DeFino, I wondered how a straight up fiction novel of hers would be. I know that DeFino dislikes being pigeon holed into genres since she sees so many books falling into more than one. Which is exactly the case with The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers. In fact, her straight up fiction book has both romance and fantasy neatly inserted within its pages.

Set in, yes, (you guessed it), Bar Harbor at, yes, (you’re right again), a retirement home for aging writers, DeFino quickly introduces a cast of diverse and thoroughly developed characters. Of the writers, there is Alfonse, a sort of elderly Dos Equis man, the most famous of the authors. Then, there is Olivia, his ex-lover and quick-witted marijuana smoker; Judi, the group stenographer who laments the realization of her increasing dementia, and Switch, the taciturn, good hearted spoil sport. On the employee side, there is Dr. Kintz, kind and flustered, as he tries to manage these aging autocrats as well as his trove of damaged employees. And, Cecibel, the physically marred orderly who becomes Alfonse’s muse; Sal, the massive black nurse who moonlights as Wispy Flicker, the drag queen; and, Fin, the convicted murderer. Yep, I have that right.

As his last hurrah, inspired by Cecibel, Alfonse begins writing his final novel. It becomes a group project as the authors each take their turns adding to the story. How it evolves and ends and how all these characters interact with one another is part of this story’s magic. And, true to her roots, DeFino works in bits of romance and fantasy. There is a dream like quality to the relationship between Alfonse and Cecibel which goes well beyond patient and caregiver. At first, I was a little unnerved by the sensuality between these two, but DeFino’s writing simply exposes love that exists in places we often fail to look. And, also, who’s to judge what’s appropriate when it comes to love better than the lovers themselves?

DeFino’s timing between the story unfolding at the retirement home and the one that the authors are writing is pitch perfect. Just as you’re about to reach the cathartic moments in each story, she switches you to the other such that you have to keep reading to find out what happened in the previous plot line.

DeFino’s “jump” to fiction is seamless because it really wasn’t a jump at all. She brings together the best of her different story telling techniques to yield a lovely book that addresses dark issues but leaves the reader feeling hopeful and filled with love.

The retirement home for aging writers is a figment of DeFino’s imagination but I can picture it perfectly and hope that maybe, at some point in the future, there might actually be such a place.

Published: 2018
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks

Elizabeth’s rating: 4 stars

BarHarbor_PB_Final

Coming June 12, 2018

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Friday the 13th

“It’s marked as deceased. No one can do anything with it.”

Those words, overheard just now, they

hurt. Sorrow welled up and

out of my throat.

I covered my face so

my husband wouldn’t hear, wouldn’t

know, because those words hadn’t hit him

The way they hit me.

 

Two nights ago, a phone call from Texas:

“I’m calling for Christofer J. DeFino,

About a car he just asked about online.”

“He’s gone three years now. It couldn’t have been him.”

“I’m sorry, so sorry.”

My husband said it was our boy pulling a prank, letting us know

he’s still around to do so. I feared someone using

his name,

his identity.

That’s where we are, now. Him and me,

He and I,

Us.

“It’s marked as deceased. No one can do anything with it.”

Social Security, moments ago, assured my husband on the phone.

Upstairs, writing at my computer, I broke

into silent tears. He’ll read this and

He’ll know, silent will no longer

be silent.

They’re here, on this page, screaming.

~TLD

images

 

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