On this blog

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Fifty States of Pray - From Connecticut

My name is Diana Wilder and I am living in the state of Connecticut.   

I saw this blog hop, started by Mark Koopmans  which ties in with a good many things I had been considering over the past year.  I did not see the blog instructions until after I entered the hop.  Residents of Connecticut are sometimes called ‘Nutmegs’.  Drop the ‘megs’ and perhaps you have a good description of me, at least regarding reading instructions first thing in the morning. 

A man I chatted with once, who worked as a counselor, had this to say about past regrets: 

You have to think of your life as a sort of building.  Its construction continues while you live, and each happening adds to it.  Your past is in the lower courses of the building, and no matter how much you may regret it, it is there and without it the building would not be what it is now.  Concentrate on what is being done now: that is all you can do.  And it is enough.

I have dealt with the aftermath of my father’s death over the past year and a half.  His burial was two weeks ago.  During that time I found countless reasons to give thanks that that man had been my father.

Can it be so for us?  That people will count their contact with us as blessings?  I think so, and I am going to do what I can to make it so.  I am also looking at those I deal with using new eyes, seeing who they truly are, what burdens they bear, and how they have touched my life for good.  And if I see no good in an association from the past (I can name two complete scoundrels who seemed to like to wreck people) I will let go any bitterness and pray for them.

It doesn’t take much to spread kindness.  This video (I hope the link works) expresses it very well:

I wish everyone on this hop, and everyone who reads the posts, the most blessed and happy of years to come.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Holiday Best Wishes

I am sending this quick note wish to wish everyone all the best.  Over the past year or so I've met so many fascinating, enjoyable and good people, it is only fitting to share good wishes at this time.
It's funny how time seems to telescope as you get older.  My family celebrates Christmas.  I can remember how the month of December seemed to simply crawl by.  I would sneak down to the living room and look at the tree to see if maybe - just maybe - Santa might have misread his calendar.
Christmas eve, we left cookies and milk for Santa and a carrot for his reindeer.  Santa always wrote a thank-you note.  His handwriting was a lot like Dad's. 

I'd go to bed, certain that I was going to stay awake.  I always fell asleep.  Once or twice a blanket that I knew had been folded at the foot of my bed was spread over me.  Obviously, my guardian angel had taken a hand in things.  (Now I realize that I wasn't far wrong.  I'll be visiting that particular angel over New Year's while my sister stays with her over Christmas.)

When the 25th finally dragged around, half the fun was watching my family open the gifts I got them, even as I tore into those I received, myself.  My mother advises me that she isn't sure why Santa didn't give me sticks and coal on one or two occasions.

Off to church, singing songs, enjoying the weather, just...happy.  And, looking back, I don't think the presents had all that much to do with the happiness.

They still don't.

I wish everyone a happy Christmas, if you celebrate it, and a happy December 25th if you don't.  I hope 2014 is peaceful, prosperous and full of health and heartsease.

Raising a joyful noise...   Well, at least raising NOISE!

Did I leave anything out?  Oh yes - laughter.  Here is some, with my compliments.  I cobbled it together from a photo I saved and a vintage card.  From me to you: smile!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Celebrating the Small Things - December 20, 2013

It is Friday again, and a time to stop and take stock of the small things we celebrate, often unknowingly.  Thanks to VikLit, who had the idea for this wonderful bl0g hop, we can remind ourselves of the beautiful things in life that make our days just that much more lovely.  You're welcome to join - head on over to her blog!

Details are at the end of this post.

I remember, years ago, the first time I bought a condolence card for someone.  I write notes now, of course, but I was in 9th grade then (age 13 for non-USA folk) and I wanted to express to someone my regret at her father's death.  The card showed white roses and it said 'God gave us memory so that we could enjoy roses in winter'.

Roses in Winter

It was a nice sentiment and a pretty picture.  At that point I had all my grandparents, both my parents, and had never attended a funeral.

The card was well-received.  And it was true.

Memory allows us to enjoy roses on a snowy day.

I realized this anew over the past week.  Memories of happy times, of good parents, of laughter and caring and some scolding - all came back to me.  And (for those who read Proust) I didn't have to dip a madeleine in my tea...

I was bored, recently, and found myself remembering travels, books, conversations with friends.  In some cases they were better the second (or twelfth) time around.

Relax - it's just meatloaf with an onion at the 'wrist'

What would we do without memory?  How would we know where to go?  How would we equip ourselves for each day's endeavors?  savor a wonderful meal we enjoyed with others? Or avoid the wretched meatloaf served by the corner restaurant?

We wouldn't even be able to sing along with our favorite songs on the radio.  For our passengers in the car, that might actually be a blessing.

So I am celebrating memory.

(And I am remembering that today is a Friday!  I hope you all have wonderful weekends.)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

My book Covers - Updated

Since Kindle covers are hard to see at the best of times, I'm setting up a gallery of mine in the order of their appearance in my story line:
The City of Refuge,  

the second uploaded was, actually the third one I wrote but the first in the cycle, chronologically.  I recently located its very first appearance in my imagination when I was going through some old notebooks.  I had a notation about an idea for a story - and it grew into The City of Refuge.  One of the main heroes, Lord Nebamun, is one of my all-time favorite characters to write about, and I was delighted to be working with him again in Mourningtide, which was published June 1, 2013.
This story follows one of the great kings of Egypt during a time of grieving, when he learns too late of his oldest son's death and has to withdraw to deal with it.  Peace and quiet are hard to find, and Seti, the king, finds himself in a small town of artists on the border of the desert.  At one point he has the pleasure of guarding his own tomb, which is under construction.  More urgently, though, is the fact that marauders are targeting the town.  He trains the town in the art of battle.

Pharaoh's Son

I hung on to Pharaoh's Son, the third in the cycle (soon to be the fourth, with its 'prequel' set to come out in about a year) for a long time.  It is a lively story, the one I enjoyed writing most, and I had wanted to consider what to do with it.  I concluded that Kindle and paperback were best for it, as for my others.  I ran into my first experience of the delicacy required to handle historical fiction involving characters that actually lived.  In the case of Pharaoh's Son, the names are real, the characters are my own - though I arrived at some insights into the character of Ramesses II during the course of writing about him.  I now have a strong disclaimer at the beginning of my historical novels.

A Killing Among the Dead

Chronologically, this is the last in the Egyptian cycle - and the first one I wrote.  Egypt was rocked by a scandal of tomb-robbing and desecration in the Valley of the Kings.  It happened toward the end of the XXth Dynasty (the last of the Ramesside dynasties) when Egypt was going into eclipse.  The scandal was far-reaching and implicated some of the great mortuary temples along the Nile.  The story came to life for me, and its main character, Wenatef, is the closest I have come to a true tragic hero in the Greek sense.

The Safeguard 

        Lavinia Wheeler had watched as her world had been torn  apart over the past three years When the Civil War comes to her doorstep, her generosity in opening her house as a hospital brings a change in her life far  beyond any blessing she could have dreamed of or asked for.
          Between dealing with the Yankee-hating townsfolk, her former slaves, a passel of wounded  Yankees, a government that takes a dim view of people who aid the enemy, and a  group of raiders that is ravaging the countryside, Lavinia isn't sure that she  has time to care for herself, much less fall in love.

I have another Civil War novel underway with the tentative title of Crowfut Gap.  Another, The Bones, has its roots in the Civil War and involves events set in motion then, but it is set in the present.  The Safeguard features two of my ancestors, who appear as Union foragers...

The Orphan's Tale

 Set in Paris in the autumn of 1834, The Orphan's Tale is my newest book. 

'Autumn is beautiful in 1834 Paris. But to Chief Inspector Paul Malet,   raised in a prison by the greatest master criminal in French history  the season's splendor is overlaid by a sense of gathering danger: something is afoot.
'When Malet learns that Victoria, England's young Heiress Apparent, will be traveling to Paris at Christmas for a state visit, all  becomes clear. Her assassination on French soil would shatter the accord between France and England. And war can be a profitable business for those criminals daring enough to mold events to suit their own purposes.'
 This is a trilogy, with the second book set to be released next year.  While the cover for #2 is problematic (do I use the hero's portrait - in which case I have to find it or the villain's?  I don't like the villain.  Decisions, decisions...)  I do have a projected cover for book #3:

Monday, December 16, 2013

Hail and Farewell

I was at Arlington National Cemetery on Friday, honoring my father at his funeral.

Honor Guard at the Caisson.  the riderless horse can be seen at Left

...and they move off to the gravesite.

It was stately, solemn, respectful and celebratory.  Dad would have loved it.  He would have loved it even more if there had been some little children to sit on his lap and have things explained to them, then told a bedtime story.

Let us now sing the praises of famous men, our ancestors in their generations…
There were those who ruled in their kingdoms, and made a name for themselves by their valor…
all these were honored in their generations, and were the pride of their times.

Some of them have left behind a name, so that others declare their praise.
But of others there is no memory; they have perished as though they had never existed;
they have become as though they had never been born, they and their children after them.

But these also were godly men, whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten;
Their offspring will continue forever, and their glory will never be blotted out.
Their bodies are buried in peace, but their name lives on generation after generation.
                                      (from Ecclesiasticus)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Sharing a Little Holiday Joy (flash mob)

This has taken the internet by storm, and it came at a moment this morning when I was feeling overwhelmed.  A good reminder of the Reason for the Season at a time when I, for one, am being bombarded by stories that I find upsetting.

But this reduced me to tears.  I am sharing the beauty.

I'll be away for a few days.  I hope return to find all well and happy when I return.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Just Plain Ghastly, Awful - Hysterically So

I worked with a fellow named John.  (No fear of him recognizing himself with such a common name.)  I hadn't thought of him in ages until yesterday when a single word brought him back to my memory and I started grinning.

He was neatly groomed, always impeccable.  Nicely bearded, pleasant to look at - and an complete original.  He sported a statue of the Madonna of Prague in his office and, on the back of the door, had a pinup picture.  Actually, I rather liked him, but you have to take the entire package, and he was an original. 

He loved cigars, loved brandy, loved to speak at length (not, surprisingly, pontificating) on things that were meaningful to him.  He offered to allow me to read his theological treatise on dying (he worked in insurance).  I thanked him with great enthusiasm but said that I had so many projects, I doubted I could give his work the attention it merited.  He beamed and did everything but bow.

Thus John.

He was a wonderful mine of erudite, eloquent gibberish.  I started jotting down his words:

But you have to understand - we have to take the bull by the horns and drive it!

I scrawled that down in a notebook.  And this:

Just because we are taking a muscular stance does not mean that we have to ride that horse to the bitter end and go down with it!

Oh, John, I miss you!  I'm not sure you miss me, though, after that time I zinged you good on the subject of required reports on April Fool's day.  *sigh* 

Dignity.  Always dignity.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Insecure Writers Support Group, December 4, 2013

Today is the first Wednesday of the month, which means it is IWSG day. The once-a-month blog hop started by Alec Cavanaugh . IWSG = Insecure Writers' Support Group We share our insecurities and support each other with empathy, sympathy or practical suggestions. 

Check out this bit of writing and see what you think of it:

     Pushing to his feet, The Hero drew a deep breath and lifted an eyebrow, his mouth twisting with disgust as he eyed the scene before him.  The Hero stalked to the doorway.  “So you say,” he growled.  “Speaking for myself only, begging your pardon and hoping that you will take this as it is meant, I must take myself off!  Good day!”
     She clasped her hands at her breast and took a hesitant step toward him.  “Ah, no!” The Heroine  breathed.  You mistook me – or I misspoke – or something – anything at all! – but what does it matter, truly, when you and I have found love and I can indulge The Author’s excessive love of hyphens by putting four in one sentence?”
     His steps dragged to a halt, his eyes lowered; The Heroine  could see the fan of lashes against his brown cheek.  Unwillingly, The Hero turned toward her, raised his eyes, and said, “She has never understood em-dashes and en-dashes…”
     They sighed.
     He spoke again, his voice easing into the thick silence.  “For heaven’s sake, don’t you think The Author has stuffed this passage with enough of those hackneyed, stilted, repetitive word choices that bug her whenever she comes up with them to the point where she ruthlessly blue-pencils them all?  D’you think she might let us go and do something enjoyable now that she’s made her point?”
     “Oh, no,” The Heroine said, lifting her chin.  “She has not yet used a semicolon; that is imperative!”
     "Hey!” The Hero exclaimed.  “Check it out!  She just did!”
     “At last!” The Heroine cried.  “We are free!”
      They turned and looked at the Author. “Well?”
      “Oh, go on with you.," she said with the hint of a grin. "You’ve made my point for me.”

      This passage contains most of my favorite (for which read 'deplorable') habits.  Turns of phrase, punctuation quirks, descriptions.  They're there.  I have others, but these are the main ones.
      I admit here and now that I have trouble shaking them.  That is, I have no problem taking a blue pencil to them, but they will crop out, do what I may.  (Y'know, Diana, your characters breathe a lot," said an editor once...) 
      I think most authors have quirks that they have to fight.  Kill them and they come back, rather like the hydra.
      ...and that's another quirk I have: quoting mythology, literary references, things that either make people go glassy-eyed or else run away.
      Vigilance takes care of them, usually, but I'm embarrassed to have them.

     I think writers are insecure by nature.  I just picked up Guy Gavriel Kay's wonderful book, River of Stars, a fantasy of sorts, certainly alternate history set in almost-China of the Soong dynasty.  A scene where a condemned man, dying at the command of a nothing of an emperor because he is loyal to that emperor, is offered a chance to escape and live out his days. 

He thought about his friends, about wind in your face on a galloping horse, about waiting for dawn and battle, the beating of your heart then.  The taste of good wine.  Even bad wine sometimes.  Bamboo woods, the sun through leaves, a bamboo sword.  His mother's hand in his hair.

   It is beautifully written.  Effortless, with the tinge of poetry.  And of course, I have to compare it to my own efforts.  How can I write that way?  I can't write that way.  There is no beauty in my writing!  Or so I thought.  After all, if you're an aspiring writer you have to be not-so-good...don't you?

Do you?  ...well, do you?

I riffled through some things of mine and came upon this scene.  It is toward the end of a story that needs to be written.  The first man nearly betrayed his king.  And now, defeated, he is waiting:

          He stood in the darkened hallway as his son hurried away.
          Heartbeats passed and he heard the change in the sounds around him. A cheer, suppressed, the rumble of wheels, clatter of bronze-clad weapons. More cheers, silenced again.
          A clank...hushed voices. He raised his head, facing the tall, bronze-clad door, and waited.
          A slit in the darkness widened to painful brightness that spilled across the pavement and lapped at his feet. Movement, merely sensed, solidifying into a form and a face that came in from the sun and moved toward him, gaining solidity and substance as it approached.
          He waited.
          The voice seemed to come from the light. "Why?"
          "I do not know."
          "That is not an answer." 
          "It is the only one I can give."
          Silence, poised on a knife-edge of thought. He had the sense that if he chose to wait an eternity to answer, the listener would be there as well, waiting with a terrible patience.
          He raised his eyes, met the dark gaze upon him, and went to his knees. "You have defeated me," he said. "But grant me this credit: I never tried to fight you."
          "You considered it and took steps to do so in the teeth of my commands."
          He lowered his head. "Yes."
         "And you did not, though you had everything in place to do so. Why?"
          "I could not."
          The man moved out of the light.  "Why?"
          He could see him clearly now. "You have asked and I have answered," he said. "Why continue asking?"
          The other folded his arms. "Because I do not like the answers you give, Holiness," he said. "I want to know how we got to this place from where we were."
          He looked down at the floor, at his hands clasped on his knees. "End it, Sire," he said. "I beg you. If you ever held me in regard, end it."
      I am not Guy Gavriel Kay.  Or not just yet, but that isn't too shabby, considering it's a first draft.  We don't read and appreciate our own work nearly enough.  That is a shame, since we are writing to give enjoyment (aren't we?).  It is not wrong to enjoy your own work or at least, having created something, it is perfectly all right to read it and admit that maybe you do have a spark of ability.

      We're all a bit insecure in that regard, I guess.  Something to share and work on.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Review: Hot Flashes & Cold Lemonade

Hot Flashes & Cold LemonadeHot Flashes & Cold Lemonade by Susan Flett Swiderski

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wisdom, Tears and Laughter. Pull up a chair!

I encountered this book the first time I read something by Susan Flett Swiderski (who is a very active and enjoyable blogger, among other things). She had a picture of a glass of lemonade with a twist of lemon, with the words 'Hot flashes & Cold Lemonade' on it. The photo itself was enjoyable. When I learned that it was actually a book cover, I had to pick up a copy. Being a cautious sort, I checked inside, skipped around the previews, and bought a copy.

The story starts out with a bang. Pearl is driving through her childhood neighborhood, remembering the happy moments, savoring the memories - and suddenly sees her father driving off with a woman who is not her mother. At her childhood home her mother has a couple pithy things to say about her husband and the situation. Reality - the existence of inconvenience, unhappiness and even tragedy - comes crashing down into Pearl's consciousness. And the story unfolds.

This book is a little like sitting down with someone you enjoy, who can tell a good story and somehow make a laundry list enjoyable. That is not to say that this book is a laugh-fest. it isn't. It touches a great many serious issues like adultery, aging, disillusionment, but it does so with a smile.

Wisdom and laughter are almost inseparable. Tears are not always tragic. And, sometimes, listening to someone telling a wise, deep story through laughter can stay with you longer than anything you have read to date.

Hot Flashes & Cold Lemonade is skillfully written. The narrative, while very enjoyable, allows the story to move on even as it collects little items to salt in among your consciousness.

I really enjoyed this book and would suggest it to anyone. I hope more are in the works.

...and don't forget to read the postscript.

View all my reviews

Thoughts for the Season, Busyness, a Milestone and Remembered Love

I have been away for nearly two weeks. There is much going on and I am going to be spotty in my posting (though I have a great idea for the Insecure Writers Support Group, which posts the first Wednesday of the month).

Life has been a kind of mélange at this moment, with ups, downs, busyness and frustration.  Sorting things out, whether in the silence of my own mind or on paper (keyboard?) sets things in order.

Thoughts for the Season:
It is good to have a time where we sit back and take stock of the things that we are grateful for.  Counting one's blessings has been used as a way to deal with the doldrums for centuries, though it does sometimes lead to the thought, Yeah, well with all these blessings can someone explain to me why I'm still feeling glum?  What kind of creep am I?  In my case, I have bunch of things to be grateful for and something coming up celebrating one of those major reasons and providing some closure.

Making haste to no purpose is a good way of describing the downside of busyness.  No idle hands, but little accomplished.  We have all, I am sure, had cycles where we rushed about and fussed about and accomplished nothing.  I have been in the middle of one of those, with too much to do and not enough time.  What do I propose to do?  Ride it out.  Accomplish what I can and not fuss too much over the answer.

A milestone is approaching.  Possibly the last milestone in this series.  My father's funeral is set for a week from this coming Friday.  He died in August of 2012 and was cremated.  He was a career Naval officer who had accomplished a great deal in helping to organize the Judge Advocate's Corps'  procedures and organizations.  He never spoke of that.  He went into civilian practice after he retired and worked for many years in Philadelphia.  He was a combat veteran from World War II, serving as a radar officer (top secret technology then) on a Destroyer.

Dad died over a  year ago and was cremated.  The burial in Arlington was put off for various reasons: 1. there are a good many younger, non-cremated casualties who need to be buried there.  Dad would not have objected; 2. You have to ask for a date to be selected.  My brother forgot to do so.

Well, the interment was requested and scheduled - caissons, buglers, a band marching behind, and a LOT of family attending.  Dad would have enjoyed it.  Dad's ashes were requested from the funeral home, which has been storing it and Dad's flag, which will drape the caisson. 

My older brother, whom I privately think of as a consummate doofus, phoned my sister to tell her to ask our long-suffering and very kind neighbor across the way to check the front porch and see if Dad's ashes  had been delivered, since he didn't want anyone to run off with them.  Uh...  You directed them to deliver the ashes to ME, Chuck?  Why not our other brother who lives in the same town as the funeral home?  You think he'd be inclined to forget to bring them to the funeral?  Kind of like forgetting to ask Arlington to schedule the funeral in the first place?  Did I mention that you're a Doofus?  I did?  Well, it bears repeating, Doofus!

I arrived home from Thanksgiving after a long, grueling drive to discover that a package was, indeed, sitting on my front porch.  My sister opened the box, which was surprisingly heavy, and saw, inside, the flag, folded into a triangle (as we had done for years) and a small box, perhaps 10" square.  "Dad's in there," she said.

Well, currently what is left of my father's body is residing in my garage along with his flag.  It will be taken along to Philadelphia and then to Arlington in two weeks' time.

The milestone is coming up.  People talk of 'closure', and while I haven't been stewing over the fact that the funeral wasn't scheduled (Dad wouldn't have been, either), it will be good to have a public acknowledgment of his quality as an officer.  And yet -

If the funeral had not been scheduled as it was, I would still be acknowledging all the ways Dad influenced me.  Not a day has passed that has not brought with it something that gives me a reason to be very thankful that that man was my father.  He had a temper, he could be very pointed, and he was known to yell at us kids (never saying anything demeaning or insulting), but he always rang true, and everything he did for his children he did out of love.  Military families had access to 'free' medical care (a quid pro quo for the unrealized fact that if you are in the military you are on duty 24/7, no excuses.  Well, we went and got free shots - but when my family moved to a new town, Dad looked up the very best pediatrician in the area and took us to him or her.  (Now I am remembering the time I did NOT want a shot and fought the doctor, tooth and nail, and scornfully rejected the proffered lollipop after I lost the fight.  Dad said I was stubborn.  Hah!  I was all of six years old...)

Love remembered never leaves us.  It keeps affecting us and we reap its benefits all our lives.