Pockets

It happened just yesterday, in

a box store, I

whisked through the aisles, wanting

to be out of there quickly, and

slipped into a time pocket.

It only lasted a moment, long

enough to steal my breath, to

make my eyes water, to

send me back in time. Smoked salmon,

of all things. I’d

buy it for him, even though it was

expensive, and

he’d eat it all in one sitting, because…

just because. I

slipped into that time pocket, I

reached for it, my

hand snagged on a thread that

pulled me back, out of the pocket, to

the now where he’s not here to

eat the whole package

in one sitting, while

I watch indulgently on.

 

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An Interesting Observation

I got to be the guest of honor at another Senior Book Club yesterday, out in Stratford, CT. I love these groups. The insight, the wisdom, the open and genuine comments, questions, and understandings. They make me know I did a good job writing people their age in The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses). I get them! And they get me.

One thing that has cropped up time and again is a certain character’s uncanny cleverness, her ability to think and act quickly, her calculation. It doesn’t seem believable, or even feasible that a woman of her age and experience could come up with the plans she does, in the time she does it in.

I find this infinitely interesting, and slightly disheartening.

When I create a character or situation–unless it’s fantasy–I make sure there’s at least one instance I know of to give credence to a character trait, or a circumstance. There’s an adage that goes something like, “No matter what you can think up, there’s been weirder/sadder/horrific…er.” In the case of this character, I’ve known young women as clever, as calculated, and as quick as my character. They exist, most certainly, and outside of literature and movies.

We have no issue believing in Hermione Granger’s brillaince, but she’s from a fantasy world. Lisbeth Salander (Dragon Tattoo), but she’s a psycho. How about Young Sherlock Holmes? Hmmm…why is it so hard to believe? Is it because she’s female? Beautiful? Young? Too otherwise ordinary? All of the above?

I painted my character (Tressa) as a sheltered southern belle who looked and acted–outwardly–as one would expect. But I showed her doing things outside of that facade. In her background, she went to college when women of her place in society typically did so only as a “husband major.” She not only got accepted into college, but into a major largely reserved for men. She went out in search of her brother the moment she came into her inheritance at twenty-one, against her family’s wishes–something she’d been planning and working towards since she was little more than a child. Before she ever stepped foot on the page, she manipulated her circumstances, and the people she was supposedly obedient to, without anyone being the wiser. By these things alone, her cleverness should have been evident. When she does all she does in the body of the book, it comes off–to some–as unbelievable that a young woman her age could not only think it all up, but pull it off.

There are other questions that always come up–What actually happened to Enzo? is a big one. The question of my clever, cunning Tressa is one, I suppose, that strikes me as a surprising thing to question at all.

It makes me wonder how many others thought the same thing, and why. To be clear, I never have an issue with any nits or picks a reader has–all opinions are valid, whether or not I agree. It’s their take on things, from their perspectives. When I get a question, or read a review that gives me better understanding into minds that don’t think the way mine does, I’m truly grateful. It’s all fodder folks! All fodder.

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Filed under The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers, Writing is Life

I can’t seem to let it go

I’ve started this entry three times now, and can’t seem to get the words right, so I’ll just get to the heart of it–Myrtle Beach is one of my favorite places to be. It’s the location of countless good times with loved ones, days on the beach, seashells and sand and shopping and delicious food I don’t have to cook. And it pulls out my sorrow like no other place on earth.

It’s the last place I actually spent time with Chris, before his brutal fall into depression. He was happy. On top of the world. He’d just moved out on his own, was working his dream job, and was generally looking forward with confidence. Or so I thought. I don’t think Chris ever fooled himself, even if he fooled everyone else. It was always there, waiting, and he knew it. But that’s not what I’m here for.

We had a great week, that April of 2015. The weather kind of sucked, but we sat on the beach anyway, went to the hot tubs, the pool. We took him to the aquarium, not realizing it was kind of for little kids. It was ridiculously fun anyway. When the week was done, we took him home. Little more than a month later, he’d crashed completely. He quit his job, left his apartment, and came home. And then he was gone.

Myrtle Beach is a bittersweet place for me now. I always have fun. I always look forward to it. It’s still one of my favorite places to be. Yet I don’t get through a day without memory falling and grief slapping me across the face so hard my eyes tear. The billboard for the aquarium, a chilly day at the beach, the New Balance store at the outlet mall–kapow.

I had Gracie all to myself for a whole week this time, for the first time since…I can’t even say, and it was amazing beyond words. She makes things better, my girl. And yet I couldn’t help being sad sometimes. I tried not to show it, but she always knew.

One night, at the tail end of the week, I dreamed of Chris. We were in town for some big event, lots of people all around, and I spotted him getting a drink at a water fountain. My mouth dropped open. I called his name. He turned, smiled and came my way. There was an air of impatience about him, but he pulled me into those massive arms and held me so tight. Chris had this thing, he’d hug tighter, a beat longer than anticipated. This time, I held him just as long, just as tight. “I knew you couldn’t leave me,” I told him. He only smiled, let me go, and headed back off into the crowd.

He knew I was sad. He knew why. And even though he’s off on  his bear-dreaming adventures, he came back to hug me. His turtle.

I write this with tears in my eyes and the weight of his hug still lingering across my shoulders. I wasn’t going to record it here, but like my sorrow called him back from his travels, his hug led me here until I wrote it all down. I guess he wanted credit for his long trip back.

That’s my boy.

Myrtle Beach

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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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Filed under The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers, Writing is Life

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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