Sunday, September 25, 2011

Curling Up By the Fire

No one would ever call me a perfectionist. I’m more of a big-picture, good-enough kind of person, but my environment, both writing and living, has always been important to me. My personal space has changed over the course of my career, adapting with the changes in my family and my finances. At first, when my children were small, my “space” was a small computer table and steno chair in the family room. My children played games, watched television and invited friends to play while I created and typed away, oblivious to noise, music and, occasionally, minor wounds.

As my family grew and square footage increased through moves and room additions, I graduated to my own office complete with desk and chair, a comfortable couch and, the most wonderful of inventions, a laptop computer which allowed me to move between desk and couch as the mood struck. Over the years, I’ve done away with the desk and straight-backed chair, choosing to, at first, keep files in a cabinet and, eventually, in bookmarked pages on my computer. I’ve come full circle because, now that I’m an empty-nester, my office has returned to the family room. I sit in a very deep, comfortable chair, usually cross-legged but, sometimes, with my legs stretched out in front of me on an equally comfortable ottoman.

I love color and my space reflects it. My chair and ottoman are a deep garnet-red. A chest hand painted in gold, black and more red serves as a coffee table for my tea habit and the shelves of my bookcases are painted a dark, lacquered green. Even more than writing, reading is my passion. I surround myself with books, hundreds and hundreds of books, written by authors who inspire me, as well as photos of my family to remind me of my focus, and prints of Ireland and Scotland, the settings for my novels.

CATRIONA, my current release, is a story set in Scotland. CATRIONA began at the ruins of Stirling Castle. After exploring the grounds, I climbed the stairs to the watchtower where Margaret Tudor, daughter to Henry VII of England and James IV of Scotland, waited for her husband to return from the Battle of Flodden Moor. This was a particularly difficult time for her because her husband and father fought on opposing sides. I read in the small brochure handed out, when I turned over my nominal fee for visiting the castle, that Margaret had carved a poem into the stone wall. The poem is no longer legible and no one really knows what her thoughts were, but standing there with a death grip on the parapet because of the terrifying wind, I imagined what they might be.

Jamie Stewart was a handsome, charismatic king who spoke 8 languages, fathered 38 illegitimate children, founded universities and demanded that the nobility learn to read. History tells us the marriage was not a love match. I decided, for purposes of my novel, that it would be. Why not, I thought, create a woman, with ties to both England and Scotland, a woman with a shameful secret who needed Jamie’s protection for her own purposes? Why not pair her with her equal in intelligence, Jamie’s favorite, a powerful border lord, who’d helped him win the crown? Why not set the two of them amidst the intrigue of the Tudor and Stewart royal courts?

Then it was time to create the contemporary plot of my novel: enter Kate Sutherland, her descendent, an American born 400 years later, an educated woman searching for answers to the odd circumstances of her birth and her frightening ability to see what others could not. This part I dreamed up at home, curled up by the fire in my bright red chair, along with the others that followed. There are still, I hope, quite a few more to come.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

In Retrospect … Post Wedding Day Thoughts

We celebrated my daughter’s wedding on Friday. It was a beautiful, intimate and elegant wedding. Vows were exchanged without a hitch; the flowers, candles, linens and band, particularly the band, were everything we’d hoped for. Food and spirits were delicious and plentiful, toasts were tasteful and, most important, the bride and groom looked relaxed and happy. All flowed smoothly... I think. If something didn’t, it wasn’t enough to notice, but then, unlike my daughter, details frequently escape me. I’m a good enough kind of person.

I did notice that guests looked comfortable; the dance floor was filled while the band played, plates were emptied and people stayed late, all signs of a successful event. Was it all necessary, I wondered, all the worry and organization, all the hours spent on the smallest of decisions, all the meetings and follow up with professionals who provide the services and products for an industry that has shown no decline despite the economic woes of the past few years? The question intrigued me enough to seriously consider the qualities necessary for a wedding to be deemed successful, what must be included and what can be left out when budgets are stretched, as they usually are.

The unnecessaries, according to Jeanette

Favors are unnecessary. Most people leave them behind.
If wine is served during the meal and champagne for the toast, an open bar for the duration of the reception is over the top.
Expensive flowers are unnecessary. Whatever is seasonal works just as well.
Linens need not break the bank. After all, when the glassware, flowers, candles, china and silver are on the tables, the linens barely show, especially during an evening wedding.
The choice of cake should not take up an inordinate amount of time. Guests are dancing and socializing during the serving of the cake and, frequently, never eat it, which breaks my heart because I am particularly fond of cake.
Stylish and painful shoes are unnecessary, particularly for the bridal party.
Pass on new underwear and expensive jewelry.
If there is a choice between teeth whitening and waxing, always choose the whitening.
If the wedding is outside or at the beach, women should reconsider having their hair professionally styled.  Better yet, wear a hat.
I’m not convinced having makeup done professionally is necessary either, but I’ve become a fan of false eyelashes in place of mascara. All the crying in the world won’t leave raccoon circles under your eyes.
More than four toasts are unnecessary.

The necessaries according to Jeanette

A reasonable schedule and a wedding party who can tell time.
Feed the bride and groom during the day, especially if an evening wedding is planned
Vows should be meaningful but not too humorous or too sentimental.
Candles. There is nothing more beautiful than the glow of candlelight after the sun goes down.
The band. An accomplished and professional live band is a gift for the guests as well as for the bride and groom. Give up whatever you must for this treat.
Flowers, no matter what kind, speak of celebration.
Good champagne, the kind with the smallest of bubbles...enough said.
Guests seated with those they know, and are comfortable with, are happy guests. Smaller table groups encourage conversation.
The bride and groom should know every guest’s name, greet him personally and thank him for coming.
Dancing lessons. Dancing is fun when you’re confident on the dance floor.

One final thought: There is little point in taking people to task for arriving late, failing to schedule a haircut or not bringing a jacket. It’s too late. As long as you’ve invited people you love and the bride and groom show up, all will be well.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

I Made a Mistake

I made a mistake. It was one verb in one sentence and I wrote it in 1996. It wasn’t a grammatical mistake, it was one of degree. The word, my reader explained, should have been “help,” not “correct,” and it referred to a surgical procedure anticipated by the mother of a deaf child. Deafness cannot be “corrected” although there are implants that will “help” the child hear as long as the implant is in place. The character wasn’t a major part of the story. In fact, he never comes into it again, but someone noticed and was offended. I apologized, but still some damage was done, although my reader was very polite and assured me she enjoyed my book and will order others.

I’ve learned a few things about deafness since 1996 and I’m aware of the controversy over cochlea implants. The situation made me think of other “mistakes” professionals make and whether it’s possible to be a professional anything without making an error over the course of a working lifetime. Doctors certainly make mistakes, hence malpractice insurance. Teachers make mistakes. According to some, the answer is to evaluate teachers on the test scores of their students. Others imposed “No Child Left Behind” which stipulates that all children should test at the proficient level by 2014. Are all children ever proficient? Are all adults? Legislators make mistakes. Californians decided to impose term limits and withhold salaries. Don't we already have term limits called elections? Are we any better off with people who never stick around long enough to gain experience? On the other hand, should the leader of a country lead for 40 years?

Dentists make mistakes, too. Mine certainly did two weeks ago. I needed a long overdue bridge which required crowning two neighboring teeth. A week later I was still in the kind of pain that, without the miracle of Advil, took my breath away. Back I went to the same dentist for an attempted root canal. 90 minutes into the procedure I was referred to a specialist who explained that the root canal might be on the wrong tooth. Sure enough, after another week of pain, many dollars later and 600 mg of Advil every 6 hours, I will endure root canal number two. 

Pain is a funny thing, funny as in strange. It changes a person’s perspective. Logic and reason no longer apply. My dentist is a perfectly nice man, concerned and kind. The endodontist is equally nice. She answered my panicked call immediately. But I’m in pain. I no longer care how nice they are. I hurt and I’m past reason. I want to blame someone. I also want my money back.