The Most Influential Figure in My Life Made It to My Books, and I Didn’t Know It.

Most of us can think of someone who has been the most influential person in our lives, whether as a child or an adult. For me, that person was my grandmother. I was raised by my grandmother. She was a strong woman, a Christian woman full of faith, a hardcore Catholic who spoke in tongues and prayed the rosary everyday. A woman filled with the Holy Spirit every single day of her life. She also had a strong character, and authority. To me, it seemed as she was always in control, no matter what was going around her. Her faith sustained her. She was compassionate, but never weak. When she spoke her mind, she just did, but never offended anyone. She had poise, presence, and good manners – good manners were very important to her. She was known in our small neighborhood, and was always eager to help in what she could. She never denied a glass of water (or coffee) to a stranger that would stop at our house. I never heard her complain about anything, but heard her sing throughout the day. She was frugal, but never in generosity. She also had a softer side, which she let out from time to time. Her word was law. She was a warrior.

It wasn’t until I had finished writing The Dinorah Chronicles trilogy that I realized one day how much Olga Gartier (the leader of The Blue Lily Society, the protectors of Dinorah Sandbeck) reminded me of my grandmother. I had drawn so much from my grandmother’s character to create Olga Gartier. The physical part was unlike my grandmother, the opposite, but her character was were I could clearly see her. It was a pleasant discovery, joyful. I even dedicated to her, in memory, the first book of the trilogy – Ramblings of the Spirit.

I have never met anyone like her in all my years, and she remains in my heart, memories, and somehow, inside the pages of my books.

This Old Farmhouse – My Take on the Journey So Far

About ten years ago, my husband and I bought an abandoned old farmhouse that was dilapidated and almost buried under a morass of overgrown bushes, grass, and trees. It wasn’t until five years ago that we moved into it. It took some money, time, and a lot of work to make it livable, and there are many areas that still need to be addressed, mainly exterior work. It has been hard work, and I mean, real hard work. Because we did not count with a large budget, we had to do most of the work ourselves (about 95%), just the two of us. We continue to work together in some outdoor projects, slowly, as the budget allows.

Will we do it again? Although a simple question that requires a yes or no answer, I find myself unable to answer it in such way simply because it has been quite a journey. A journey full of bittersweet moments – great moments, exhausting moments, unnerving moments, proud moments, and moments of faith as well. We both have learned so much – about ourselves, about working together and our working styles, about new skills, about the house, about appreciation and gratefulness, about our limits and disposition, and much more; but mostly, about trusting the Lord in our everyday lives. This is why a simple yes or no answer does not suffice.

In the practical sense, a bigger budget would have made things easier and faster – hiring people, easier/better materials and tools, and overall contracting out the hard work areas, and only dealing with the fun tasks. Ideally. However, we would have not experienced and learned as much, grown with the project, and appreciate it as much. It was hard work, but also fun. We would have done some things in a different way, but other things in the same way we did. Overall, I think the experience built up character, but also faith. In that sense, it is a step up from where we started. The long and hard working hours improved our physical stamina but also our mind; the overall experience, our souls. We will continue to work together on this old farmhouse and will share some projects here.

So going back to the yes or no question – will we do it again? I will answer the question for myself, but I think my husband feels the same way about it. The hard work was physically taxing but the overall experience was worth it. If you would like to take a look at the progress so far, please check out the “Fixing an Old Farmhouse” series of posts on this blog.

Yes.

Photo by M.A.D.
Photo by M.A.D.

A Great Eagle’s Prayer

Photo by M.A.D.

I have not been able to write a poem in so long. As I watched the evening news yesterday, this one came to me, as a prayer for our nation.

A Great Eagle’s Prayer

Through the dark clouds

an eagle soars

A ray of light

its wings restores.

Following the sun

wings spread, sublime it soars

Higher and higher its climb

for land and freedom implores.

High in the sky Great Eagle sees

darkness is gone, freedom restored

For God has seen its bloody wings

flapping in prayer, closer to heaven.

High in the sky Eagle can see

the fragile land that lies beneath

Its vision keen, its wings are strong

in God it trusts, its heart has healed.

Stronger than ever the Eagle stands

in Faith, in Freedom, in Holy Land

For it has conquered darkness of soul

the serpent crushed, in God it trusts.

When Others Don’t Understand What You Do

This is a light humor post, but one that will resonate with many writers who have gone through similar situations. It is written in the spirit of encouraging new and aspiring writers, as well as the veterans in the field whose work have not been found or given recognition. Consider this scenario, very common.

“What do you do?”

“I’m a writer.”

“Hum, a car dealership writer, an underwriter?” (Fill the blank on this one)

“No, I write books.”

“Oh …” (followed by a blank stare)

For most people, unless you last name is King or you live at a coastal mansion, you are not a real writer. You are “playing writer” or are going through a phase. In their minds, Writing books = $$$, and a real writer is supposed to have status of some kind. You become one when you achieve this. If not, why do it? Sometimes, we entertain those same thoughts and feelings; you know what I mean. It seems to go deeper than that.

I would like to share a funny story, a conversation I had along those lines. About two years ago, a nearby neighbor had someone fixing her roof. She knew the person since he was a kid. He was starting his roofing business and she needed a new roof, so it was a perfect match. I was at her home when he arrived for that day, and since I had some questions about metal roofs, we began a casual conversation which centered on the type of roof for my 1910 farmhouse, which has an old style construction (beams) and an original stone foundation. The weight of a new roof on the structure was my main concern. After a few exchanges, he asked me what I did for a living. I told him that I was a writer, without going into much detail. Immediately, he shared that he always wanted to write a book and that he knew someone who worked at a local radio station “BUT” she was a “REAL” writer. (Imagine my polite smile). I asked him, “Really, and how many books does she have under her belt?” He answered that she had written a book sometime ago. I smiled, but could not help myself and said, “Oh, just one? I am in my sixth, and it doesn’t get any easier.” I thanked him, waved a goodbye, and walked home. Now we know who will not get my business when it is time for a new roof. I will hire a real roofer.

This is a perfect example of how writers are viewed based on status, which usually equals money in the mind of many people. Which brings another issue – fame before talent. These days, if you are a celebrity a publisher is ready and waiting, and your celebrity name/status precedes your book. You can write about anything and it will be published, promoted, and praised, because in most minds, celebrities can be writers. Ask a Cover Girl model what she thinks about that.

At another level, the sting is more bothersome when it comes from someone closer, who is viewed as a line of support, such a family or a close friend. A friend related to me how annoyed and hurt she was when her mother became very excited about someone’s first book, a person she barely knew, but not hers (many) because her books did not sell much. OUCH!

When I published my first novel, I was excited and proud of myself. I had prepared and waited years for this. I gifted a copy to someone I truly thought would be happy for me, and whom I knew for over 30 years, and for whom I had been there always as needed. Her response baffled me. She threw the book on top of the dinning table and said, “I won’t be reading it; I don’t have time for that.” I was shocked. I did not have a quick comeback for that one. It is different when it doesn’t come from a stranger.

People had asked, “Do you make any money?” or “How much money do you make doing that?” One of my favorites is, “Oh, you should write a book about this or that; I bet it will make money.” We know it doesn’t work like that, and for most of us, it is not even about the money. I am sure you have many similar stories as well. My point to all this? Many people don’t understand what writers do or why we do it. In truth, it is not about how many books, or how much money you make … it is about perception, people’s values, and about what it is important to them, ultimately the reason why they don’t understand what you do. Hence why you should be above it all, don’t give it two thoughts, and keep on doing “your thing.” When people don’t understand what you do, it is inconsequential as long as you know why you do it. Never judge a book by its cover?

The Right to Create Responsibly

These days, phrases and words like cultural appropriation, woke, and many other, are common in our vocabulary. We hear them in social media, the news … These concepts have become “a thing” and many are using them and are “finger-ready” to point it at the first sign of such heresy. The self-righteous mob found a new quest, and with it the holy grail of the times, the “woke” got up and chanted a new song of mob shaming. Just because we are so perfect and spotless, right? The taste of new blood becomes an obsession in social media, and in mainstream media as well. It has migrated into writing, with the latest censoring of old books, the shaming of “old culture”, and the removal of many from social media and the shelves. How will it all play out in the end? It is a question I ask myself. Will we become better people? Will we become better communicators and writers/creatives? Will we sensor ourselves, diluting the words as much as we can so we are not perceived as offensive? What about the writers who are in the historical fiction genre? How will they write a scene that has accurate historical influences in wording because it might be perceived as offensive? Will writers avoid certain ethnicities in their novels for fear of being misunderstood? Will writers of crime thrillers be accused of “inspiring” or “inciting” a crime if an unstable person decides to recreate that particular crime? Will authors be censored, arrested, and prosecuted? Will writing and every form of creativity become “illegal” in the future?

I ask myself those questions and many more. I don’t think I am too crazy and far off. Lone gone are the days when you and I could disagree on something, have a conversation about it, have an opinion, and express it freely without being chastised. We must respect one another by learning to listen to one another all over again, by learning to find common ground even when we disagree on many things, and by understanding that we are more alike than we think we are. As writers, I think that we should strive to write the best story we can write without being disrespectful while being true to the story and history, in the case of historical fiction based on facts. As humans, we are less than perfect, and I believe that most of us try to be as decent as we can, and strive to do better each day. When we look at another as a reflection of ourselves, most likely we end up seeing ourselves in that person in some way or another.

We are more alike than we care to admit (photo by M.A.D.)

Intermittent Writing

No one expected last year, and certainly, this year is already showing up as challenging in many ways for this country. It has affected people in many different ways and aspects of their lives. No one the same. This post is about an update on my latest novel, The Girl Who Could Not Love. What’s up with my novel? The quick answer is nothing is up. I have had to put it aside for a while, after periods of long intermittent writing. The past year has affected my writing in ways that I did not expect, after all, as a writer I enjoyed solitude, and it helped my writing in the past. However, I find myself with a dry inkwell and no desire to tackle my current novel, something very unusual for me. Everything that last year brought, which hasn’t changed much this year, played a number on my “little psyche” thus affecting my writing disposition. I have been busy with many other projects, but not with what I consider my most important and precious endeavor (it is to me). If you have been able to finish a novel during the past year until now, I congratulate you, and please, give yourself a pat in the back, because I know it has not been an easy task. God bless you. You are a Warrior Writer.

So what now? This post serves (me) as an outlet, a source of release, a sort of permission, a passing ritual, and an acknowledgement to myself – the writer – that it is fine to feel this way, that is is ok to put the guilt feelings of a writer aside, and to pick up that novel again sometime in the future, when the writer has healed the soul. For now, all previous self-imposed deadlines are released, and each day will be received and acknowledged with a grateful heart.

Totally unrelated – Find the bird in this picture.

Can you find the bird? (Photo by M.A.D.)

Heck of a Mess!

Taking advantage of a few good “warm” days, my husband and I have been slowly working on the mess that the last ice storm made around the property. We have been cutting trees and piling up broken branches and debris in the back so we can dispose of it later on. Once piled up, we realized that it is too big of a job and it will take a long time for us to manage all of it, so we have decided to either rent a brush/garden dumpster or hire someone who does this type of work. An estimation of the cost will be our next step. In the meantime, we were able to clear out most of it, that is, into a huge pile.

Most debris has been cleared out. The old cedar looks thinned out.
Large mounds of debris are spread all over the backyard.
And the side of the property as well.

Some of the down trees were large enough that we were able to use the main trunk for delineating some areas in the garden, and slowly continuing with my husband’s pet project – the enchanting trails. So far, it looks like this.

Part of the garden. The logs also prevent a large amount of leaves to roll over. We like a more natural garden look; rigid manicured gardens are not our style.
Part of the slow-developing trails.
We stopped around here. Ran out of logs, and we have to find a pathway as well.

As I mentioned before, my husband wants the trail to end where the lighted tree is located, and to have four entrances that will connect to one another along the way. I mentioned the possibility to spray paint the logs with fluorescent paint so it would look magical at night. I am not sure if he will go for it.

There has been plenty of chores around here, such as a broken well pipe and pump, which we fixed last weekend. Took an entire day, and several trips to three different stores in order to find the only pipe available in the area – we were blessed and lucky. Found it out of town at the Home Depot, but it was the only one left.

We worked together and fixed the issue. Setting up the 40/60 psi took a while, but we got it. You learn something everyday around here.

There have been beautiful sights as well. New birds that I have not seen before arrived the other day. At first glance, I thought they were woodpeckers but they only stayed around the ground and pecked the ground constantly. These had a long beak and gorgeous colors and feather patterns – yellow, pink, aqua blue, a darker blue, gray, black, red, beige, and a rosy beige gray in some areas. One of them had yellow bordering the wings, the others did not.

Gorgeous bird.
These birds moved constantly and pecked the ground, so they were very difficult to photograph.
Here you can see a bit of the blue on the sides, near the neck area. Was unable to take a picture of the one with the yellow bordering the wings.
There have been sublime red skies in the mornings.
Lazy morning moon as well.
Unexpected doorways to heaven.

I have been craving for Spring, and just about had enough of winter, so I decided to welcome it myself and decorate the porch for it.

Welcome Spring!
The first signs of Spring.

There are tons of farmhouse chores awaiting, and hopefully, I will be able to share a few here. I hope you enjoyed this post.

Just Around the Corner

Yes! Spring is just around the corner. I have observed more and more birds arriving. The other day, a large flock of starlings arrived. I called them crazy birds because they don’t stop moving, and sometimes they look like they are having a bad hair day. They are a bit hard to photograph, but they are as adorable as any. The flock was large and it covered the front and back lawns. If they heard any noise or a car went by, they all took flight and descended a few seconds later, all at once, lovely to watch. One of the cats enjoyed the show.

Starlings – Photo by M.A.D.
Busy, busy, busy. (Photo by M.A.D.)
Here you can see their gorgeous iridescence. (Photo by M.A.D.)
Taking flight. Can you find the squirrel on the tree? (Photo by M.A.D.)

Hope you enjoyed seeing the pictures of these amazingly synchronized birds.

On Writing – From Best Friend to Nemesis

A best friend turned to nemesis is a common occurrence in story telling. The evolution of a main character’s archenemy is something that doesn’t happen instantaneously. It has been brewing through time, and is usually preceded by an unfortunate event that most likely involves directly or indirectly, the other best friend (usually a main character). When writing the deterioration of this relationship, the history/background of the two characters is important, but mostly, the actual interaction between them is. Whether this unraveling occurs due to a supernatural or perfectly natural event, the relationship and interaction between the two (or more) characters cannot remain the same. Writing has to reflect that.

In The Dinorah Chronicles, Hael, an embodiment of evil via supernatural origins, is Dinorah Sandbeck’s nemesis. When a supernatural event is the cause for the “turning of the coat,” the vilifying of the other character seems a bit less complex and left to the imagination of the writer. When natural/human issues are involved, the vilifying becomes a bit more humanized, thus exploring the psyche of both characters, hopefully without risking to bore the reader. I think that too much detail/drama that is prolonged in the natural deterioration of the relationship between both characters becomes boring; at least for me as a reader, it is. Whether natural or supernatural, this vilification process has to evolve over time, have a history, and a clear motive throughout the story, which is developed and supported mostly via dialog and prose, sometimes even description, and through other secondary characters.

Throughout a series, the archenemy can remain the same, be a different character(s), or even be reborn into a different physical vessel that embodies the original evil essence. Sometimes, this nemesis can be a duality, a part of the main character, one that is awakened through a devastating psychological, physical event, or a combination, that leaves a permanent mark in the character’s persona. The important aspect on this friend/nemesis evolution is that there is a thread that the reader can easily follow throughout the story or series.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Feel free to add your take on this topic.

Fixing an Old Farmhouse – Future Projects

We had a pretty heavy three-day ice storm, and I am so grateful that we did not lose power, and also grateful that we did not have any trees damaging our home. I also feel for the people that are without heat in this type of cold weather. We are expecting another storm by tomorrow, and that will add to the damage we had, which was nothing compared to other people. The amount of ice was so heavy on the trees that I could hear the tump tump tump every time one fell. Many of our trees lost a considerable amount of heavy branches, including the one near the house, my beloved old cedar tree, which is as old as the farmhouse is, or older. This storm put into perspective the need to remove two more trees that are too close for comfort, although I truly hate to see them go. This of course will be expensive because they are old giants. One of them lost most of its branches, a few of them hitting the porch at the corner but thankfully, only leaving a slight dent on the old roof, which is over 100 years.

With most of its branches gone, at least the weight of this old cedar has shifted away from the farmhouse. (Photo by M.A.D.)
Many of its branches are still hanging ready to fall. For now, we will avoid walking underneath. Another reason why we have decided to add it to the list of trees that unfortunately will have to go. (Photo by M.A.D.)
Another old giant that have been added to the list is this tree, about the same height.
(Photo by M.A.D.)
This smaller branches missed the tin can. Although smaller compared to the other branches, these are still heavy. I saw pieces of broken branches that fell with force buried into the ground about three inches or so. Imagine if that hits one’s head. One of nature’s teachings. (Photo by M.A.D.)
This is one of my favorite trees. Not sure if eventually, it will have to go; I hope not. Time will tell. For now, it is healthy, and it is a very young tree. It was half its size when we bought the farmhouse. (Photo by M.A.D.)
Our friend came around when the ice started to melt on Sunday. (Photo by M.A.D.)
Other little ones came out as well. (Photo by M.A.D.)
It amazes me how these little ones can handle the ice. (Photo by M.A.D.)
It was a beautiful sight. (Photo by M.A.D.)
When the ice started melting, it sounded like waterfalls, like heavy rain, and every time a chunk of ice slid and hit the metal roof, it was like thunder and lightning. (Photo by M.A.D.)
Sometimes, beauty is found in the least expected places. (Photo by M.A.D.)
Even on a frozen flag (Photo by M.A.D.)
Colors become more vibrant. (Photo by M.A.D.)
“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap, or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Mathew 6:26 (Photo by M.A.D.)

The list of chores keeps growing around here. For now, the way to tackle these coming up projects will be one at a time, little by little, and all in due time. I will share some of them here. Hope you enjoyed this post.