If you enjoyed On the Way Home keep reading for a sneak peek at my new novel
Between Fire and Flame. Find out what happens with Brad and London, May 2015.
Traffic in the park was not unusually heavy. It was always crowded in July as tourists flocked to northwest Montana to take in the incredible beauty of Glacier National Park, but that didn’t stop Brad from feeling annoyed. He was hot, tired, as hungry as one of the bears he’d passed on the trail that day, and anxious for a shower. The hike he’d chosen for the day was one he hadn’t done since he was a boy. He remembered it was difficult and his dad had pushed him to the summit with words of encouragement and praise. Time hadn’t changed the layout, and he found it was just as difficult today, only there was no one urging him onward, just his owndesire to push himself harder, faster, and longer until his physical exhaustion overtook all other feelings. He’d beat out most of the crowds by getting an early start, but the Going-to-the-Sun Road was now littered with cars and people slowly inching their way along the narrow winding road that would lead them back to their campsites.
He noted as he passed that no one was alone. There were the famous red touring cars full of passengers stopped along the turn-outs so that those inside could capture the breathtaking views with their cameras. There were couples posing for pictures, the numerous waterfalls their background, parents with children, groups of motorcyclists, families, friends, old, young; and not one of them alone. Not like him.
A part of him—the part he tried to listen to most often—liked being alone. There was nothing quite like hiking through wildflowers and waterfalls with no one to disturb the sights and sounds. Alone was peaceful. Alone was a time for reflection. Then there was that other part of him that he couldn’t seem to push aside completely. The part that reminded him all too often that being alone was lonely.
Only last year he had driven this road with London and her kids. He hadn’t minded listening to the incessant banter between Corkie and Marty. He’d enjoyed joking and laughing with them. Seeing the wildlife had been all that much more exciting when there had been someone there with whom to share it. They’d never been able to hike as far as he could alone, but he never regretted it. He’d seen more through Corkie’s six year old eyes in one afternoon than he’d seen in years of hiking on his own; every rock was unique, every cloud was a cartoon character, every waterfall made a rainbow.
Stop! He told himself. Those were exactly the kinds of thoughts he was trying to clear his mind of when he’d pushed himself to the summit earlier. She was another man’s wife for cryin’ out loud. He had no right to keep thinking about the past. It was time to move on.
He was happy for her. Really he was. She practically glowed since the wedding. And it’s not like he could fault Ammon. It wasn’t his fault things hadn’t worked out between them. Brad could admit Ammon was a pretty decent guy. He treated London well, loved the kids, and provided well for them.
It still irked him that religion seemed to have pushed a big wedge into the friendship he’d once shared with London. It was fine if she wanted to go join some strange church and drag her kids into it, but he’d be hanged if she was going to push him into it. It wasn’t that he wasn’t Christian, but ever since she’d returned from New York last fall she couldn’t stop talking about God and Jesus Christ like they’d personally come down from heaven and changed her life. Yeah, like that could really happen. And wasn’t it convenient that Ammon belonged to her new church.
London had asked him to come to her and Marty’s baptism, but he hadn’t gone. He’d used work as an excuse. In truth, he was somewhat curious about it, but not enough to give up his hurt feelings over the whole situation. When she had first told him about her trip, about reading that book, and about meeting Ammon, he was angry. More than that, he was downright red with rage. He felt betrayed and the hurt was deep. After all, he had helped her out by doing her paper route while she was away, he’d kept up her yard and took care of things, all with the hope that the time away would help her see that they should be together. Instead, she found someone else, became someone else.
It took some time, but he realized she hadn’t really changed, at least not in a bad way. She was happier. She was more confident. She was more independent. And all of that translated into her needing him less. Ouch! It wasn’t easy to admit that his ego had been bruised. Once he did admit it, however, he realized he had changed. He’d quit being her friend. He hadn’t helped her nearly as much as he should have when she was trying to move to her new house. Ammon had still been in New York, coming to visit once a month and here she was, trying to go to school, work part time, take care of two busy kids, and keep a long distance relationship going. It took a few months for the pain to dull, but finally he’d swallowed his pride and tried to be the friend he had once been.
It wouldn’t be so bad even now, he thought, if it weren’t for the fact that every time he watched her with her new husband and their seemingly perfect life, it was a stark reminder that he was still alone.
Brad exited the park gates and headed towards the small town of West Glacier. The cell phone he kept tucked in his pocket started vibrating followed by the muffled singing of Bruce Springsteen. Pulling into a parking lot, he flipped it open, “Hello?”
“Hi, Brad,” Corkie said enthusiastically.
“Hey there Buddy. What’s up?”
“You’re still coming aren’t you?” the seven-year old asked. “Mom wanted me to call and remind you in case you forgot.”
“Um…” Brad hesitated. He had forgotten. On purpose? Maybe.
“I’ve been calling all day,” Corkie continued, “And I’ve left you lots of messages. How come you never called back?”
“Sorry, I’ve been up hiking all day and there’s no cell phone service on the mountain. I’m just heading back to town now,” Brad informed him.
“Good, then you can still come. Dad’s making homemade ice cream.”
It stabbed at his heart to hear Corkie calling Ammon “Dad,” a title he wished belonged to him. “Corkie, I’m kind of tired—“
“You have to come!” Corkie insisted, “You promised!”
How many times had those words come back to haunt him lately? He was going to have to be more careful about making promises. Keeping them was turning his hair gray.
“Why don’t you put your mom on, let me talk to her a minute.” It would be easier to offer his excuses to London than to this little boy to whom he couldn’t seem to refuse anything.
“Okay, but you’re coming!” Corkie insisted before Brad could say another word. He heard Corkie shouting for London and laughed at the commotion in his ear just as London came on the line.
She started right in where Corkie left off, “Brad, you have to come. You haven’t been over all summer. I feel like I’ve hardly seen you since the wedding, and besides, it’s the Fourth of July. If I didn’t know better I’d think you were avoiding me?” She raised her voice just enough to make it a question.
“I’m not—it’s just that I’ve been hiking all day, and—”
“No excuses this time!” she said emphatically. He sighed on the other end, so she tried another tactic, “Please, Brad. We really want you to come. It would mean a lot to me.”
He could already see it in his mind, just how the evening would be. He’d wrestle with Corkie for a while, spend a few minutes teasing Marty. Ammon would probably be manning the grill and he’d have to talk business or horses with him, pretend he didn’t envy everything the guy had. He’d watch London preparing the table, getting after the kids, sending glances towards her new husband. They’d all sit down to pray and eat, all the while him feeling like a fifth wheel. Added to the fact that he was tired, both physically and mentally, he just didn’t think he could do it.
“London,” he started to offer his excuses.
How was a guy to hold out when the woman he loved was begging him?
“What time?” There was obvious defeat in his voice.
“Seven,” she said triumphantly. The phone disconnected before he could change his mind.
I love music! From classical to pop, country to alternative; I love all kinds of music! It’s always been a part of my life. Starting from a very young age I had the opportunity to learn to play the piano. Later in school I learned to play the clarinet. Growing up my house was always filled with music, whether it was one of us practicing an instrument, or something playing on the stereo. With three older siblings who were also musically inclined, I sat through many youth symphonies. I remember once when I was really young and sitting still was hard to do, my great-aunt told me a little secret about listening to the music. She was a music professor and my teacher. She told me that when I was having a hard time listening, to close my eyes and “see” the music; picture the story in my head that the music was telling me.
I have tried to instill this love for music in my own children. So much so that each of them has learned to play some kind of instrument. For my oldest daughter it’s a challenge; she wants to play them all. But for now, she is concentrating on the violin. Recently I had the opportunity to attend her high school orchestra concert. Even as an adult I like to close my eyes and “see” the music. This time when I closed my eyes I could “see” elements of writing. The different parts came together to create something amazing!
Melody: This is the plot of the story. Without a plot there is no story, just words. Just like a melody, the plot is what sticks in your head long after you have finished reading the book.
Harmony: These are sub-plots intertwining with the melody to make it more interesting. The harmony can spice up an ordinary story into something really great.
Tempo: This is your story’s pacing. Is it fast and exciting or slow and gentle? Does it have a change in tempo or is it one solid race from beginning to end?
Venue: This is the setting. Sometimes the place where a piece of music is played makes all the difference. Classical in the elevator is just boring, but take it to the mountains with wildflowers and waterfalls and it becomes magical. The same is true of a story. The setting is crucial. It takes the reader to some place else where anything is possible.
Instruments: These are your characters. Each is unique and adds something to the overall effect. You might be writing about a soft and quiet person like a flute or a piccolo. It might be someone who is loud and can’t be missed like a brass instrument. What about smooth and romantic like a violin or viola. Mysterious like an oboe or bassoon. You need a suave and classy guy to make your readers happy? He’s a saxophone. A big bad villain? It’s got to be percussion.
Dynamics: This is the tone. Every piece of music makes you feel something whether it’s sad or happy, edgy or soulful. The tone of a story is the same thing. Is it forte–gives a real punch to your reader–or is it played with a little more finesse in piano.
Notes: These are the words. They fly across the paper, just squiggles, lines, and dots that mean nothing until they are played–or read.
Put all of these elements together and you have a symphony of words.
I imagine most people are familiar with William Shakespeare’s famous quote:
“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
Even if you haven’t read Romeo and Juliet, you’ve probably heard some version of this at some point. Juliet’s point was that names don’t really matter, but I disagree. Names definitely DO matter. If they didn’t, why would people spend months agonizing over what to name to their children? With the use of ultrasound, it’s gotten so that the sex of the baby is no big secret. The real excitement comes when the proud parents reveal the name to the world. Names are so important that publishing companies spend millions of dollars compiling baby name books and advertising gurus make millions off of creating the right name for a product. There’s also those famous last words of any conscientious parent before their child leaves the house, “Remember who you are!” Names are important to us; they are a label that says something about us.
One of the reasons I love writing is because I love names. I only have three children which means out of all the thousands–millions perhaps–of names out there, I could only reasonably use six (I’m not a fan of five “middle” names; one is good). I don’t even have any pets to name. So what’s a girl to do who spent her youth dreaming of all the names she’d one day foist off on her children? What else…write them.
Names of characters are just as important as the real people in our lives, so it it goes without saying that as writers we need to get them right. Using the wrong names can turn a reader off quickly (Crime and Punishment?). The wrong name can ruin a great story (Can you imagine Hortense of Green Gables?). The following is my own personal list of do’s and don’ts for finding the perfect name for those imaginary friends we call characters:
1. Originality is good, creativity is not. We like to think that our character is someone new, never been written about before, and for that reason, they need an original name. Great. Search through those baby name books and find one that appeals to you, maybe one you haven’t heard for a while. You probably should stay away from the top ten list. But once you find that original name, stick to the original or traditional spelling. Just like reality, creatively spelled names are annoying. I once had a friend named Lisa who joked about how unoriginal her name was. She said she wished her parents would have at least spelled it different–she was hoping for M-X-J-Q–and when all of her teachers called role she wanted the pleasure of saying, “It’s pronounced Lisa.” True, you can spell a name any way you want and it won’t change what you call someone, but when you are reading and a really great character’s name keeps tripping you up, no matter how much you like the character, you’re bound to hold their name against them to some degree.
2. Stay away from foreign names that no one can pronounce. Again, it trips up the reader and slows down the story. Tolstoy was a great writer, but I don’t anxiously pull out my Kindle while I’m waiting somewhere in order to read his stuff–and a lot of that’s because of the names. Granted he is actually Russian and so are his characters, but it’s so much easier when he gave them nicknames that even us Americans can pronounce. If you have a foreign character try picking a foreign name that isn’t quite so “foreign,” and maybe makes sense phonetically.
3. Don’t use stereotypical names–unless you’re going for stereotype. If you have a real hunky guy as your hero, don’t name him Rocky. And that nerd? Yeah, Steven Erkel went out with the eighties. If your characters are real to you, give them “real” names. Don’t let their name define them if that’s not who they are.
4. If you want to use an unusual name, think about tying it into the story. Let the readers know why their name is unique. It will give depth to the character. I love places as names; London, Ireland, Phoenix, Memphis…my own daughter’s name is America. In my first novel the entire family is named after places–for a reason. I was able to make that a part of my character’s identity and motivation. And even though one of the names was really not my favorite–nor my readers’–I couldn’t change it because that’s just who he was.
5. Don’t use names of people you know as villains or in any derogatory way. It’s never a good idea to take the name of your next door neighbor whose dog keeps using your lawn as a latrine and turn them into the “Poop Monster.” Even family names can be tricky, especially if you plan to kill that character or let them die tragically. That person may just read your work one day and think you have ulterior motives. Just be careful, you can’t afford to do things unintentionally.
6. Stick to the name. If you give a character a name, don’t give them a completely unrelated nickname and then switch back and forth. This is confusing!!! If you want them to be the nickname, don’t confuse the reader with their “real” name, just use the nickname. Example: Scout. Most readers are familiar with this precocious little girl from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird. She isn’t anyone else–no one knows who Jean Louise Finch is. Lee introduced her name, but then left it alone and stuck to one name for the rest of the novel.
7. Avoid using multiple characters with the same name. This is pretty typical of English historical novels–we all love you Jane Austen–but it can slow a reader down when they are trying to remember who’s who. Even if there is a familial reason for the same name, think about using a nickname: Edward and Eddie, Robert and Bob, Lucinda and Lucy…I could go on, but you get the point.
8. Strong name–strong character. Weak name–weak character. Need I say more. However, don’t use celebrity names. George Washington was a great man, but your thirteen year old superhero will never live up to that reputation. You may be a fan of Katy Perry, but your reader may think she stinks, not to mention her questionable moral standards.
Do you have a favorite character’s name? What do you love about it?
Have you ever been part of that moment when you run into someone from your past; you know that you know them or that there is some kind of mutual association, and when you finally figure it out they say those words…
I just returned from an amazing weekend at the LDStorymaker conference where I learned so many incredible writing tips I can hardly digest them all. But that’s not what keeps playing over and over again in my head. Instead it’s that moment when I spoke to another author I completely respect and admire; one who has written over a dozen books which dominate the fiction shelves at any Deseret Book Store on any given day; one who graduated from my rival high school the same year I graduated and attended the same junior high school; and whose first words when we made the connection were, “Oh, you were one of the popular kids.”
It wasn’t even that she said it snidely because she didn’t. It’s simply the connotation that those eight words carry. I know what I mean when I say “the popular kids” and it isn’t positive. I conjure up all of the old feelings of loneliness, jealousy, and sometimes humiliation of those awkward teenage years. There was ever so much angst over wearing the right clothes, having the right hair-do, playing the right sports, listening to the right music, and knowing the right people. “The popular kids” never seem to be the ones who are the kindest, the most compassionate, the most accepting of our breed. No, they’re the ones that we all secretly wanted to be even though they were rude, condescending and down right cruel sometimes.
Was that me? Was I one of those kids? Was I somehow mean or cruel? After hearing her say that I can’t help but wonder what she meant. In junior high school I probably would have loved being called popular. But now, knowing all that popularity seems to bring with it, not so much. In junior high I at least knew a lot of people. But knowing people and having friends isn’t really the same thing. You can know a lot of people and still feel alone and out of place in the crowd. You can know a lot of people and still feel insecure about whether or not they really like you or are just tolerating you because they’re too nice to say otherwise. I would much rather be called “friendly” than “popular.” I don’t know if being a “popular kid” is a compliment. I hope it’s not an insult. I just know that even though I tried to be nice to everyone and I tried to fit in, that most of the time I felt like a goose swimming among swans.
Since those I-would-never-in-a-million-years-go-back days of my youth I still try to be nice to everyone. I still try to make friends wherever I go. I don’t care so much about fitting in anymore. After all, what does “in” really mean anyway? That I’ve stopped listening to 80’s music? Right, like that will ever happen. I’ve also learned that I really don’t like to swim; I’d much rather fly.
I recently had the privilege of reading Sarah Dunster’s newest novel, Mile 21. It’s a novel about a young woman trying to pick up the pieces of her life after the death of her spouse. The main character, Abish Miller has to figure out if there is life after death. And if there is, is there any happiness after death? In this rich and beautifully written story, life deals the 21 year old BYU-I nursing student a lot of tough cards. When things get just too much to handle, she takes to the road, running. But there are some things you just can’t outrun. It made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me want to keep reading when I should have been working.
Sarah’s first book, Lightning Tree, was released in April 2012. It’s the story of a young girl struggling to find her place among her foster family in a Mormon pioneer town on the edge of religious and civil conflict. At the tender age of 15 she has left behind her country, her parents, and her brother with only her young sister and herself to care for. What Maggie comes to realize is that “family” exists all around her in the form of caring people who are all willing to help her grow into the person God would have her be, if only she will let them.
With two successful novels under her belt–and a recent Whitney Finalist for 2013–I thought it would be interesting to find out more about this author. I asked Sarah a few questions. Here’s what she had to say.
1. First tell us about yourself. Where are you from? Where did you go to school? What did you study? What spurned your interest in writing?
I am from a small town in Northern California, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I’m an eight-generation resident to the area. My ancestors settled there in the mid 1800’s. Some of them were gold miners.
I went to school at Nevada Union High school! My favorite subject was choir. I had the opportunity to tour Italy with the choir my Junior year–one of the most memorable experiences of my life so far. I always wanted to go to BYU for college, from the time I knew what it was. I did not get very good grades in high school and so it took a year of community college and a year at Ricks (back when it was RIcks) to get me there. I started out as a music major–I wanted to be a choir teacher, but when I discovered I did not have the classical training I needed to keep up with the program, I switched to Psychology and made music my minor. And now I”m a writer! I think my education has really helped me with writing, however. And my last year of college, I took several classes just for fun–two of them were writing classes. I have always been a writer, however.
2. Your first novel, The Lightning Tree, is historical in nature, about some of the early pioneers in the church. Was this story inspired by your own family history?
The event in the story, that sort of promulgates the whole mystery that leads my main character to search and worry about her past, was directly lifted from my own family history.
3. Your newest novel, Mile 21, is a contemporary drama. Why the change? With two very different novels, which do you prefer, the history or something more modern?
I have always been an eclectic reader. I love everything from classics to silly, 60’s era (clean) harlequin romances. I just love stories and characters and the art of storytelling in every form. My favorite genres are Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Contemporary Womens’ Fiction, and serial mysteries. I plan on writing in each of these fields at some point. And I don’t know if you know that I also write poetry. I love reading creative nonfiction and nature writing (but haven’t really tried my hand at that too much… I find that a bit more intimidating, for some reason.)
4. In Mile 21, Abish Miller must learn to cope with grief. You do a very good job of describing what it is like. Have you had to deal with grief in your own life? How much of Abish is autobiographical?
The character herself is mildly autobiographical. She’s autobiographical in the sense of, “if I ever did go completely off the deep end in a spiral of self-destruction, what might it look like?” I think most main characters have a bit of autobiography to them. The part that is most “real” about Abish is feelings. I have experienced difficulty and tragedy in my own life, so I was able to write what it feels like to have that sort of upset and coping and grieving in the wake of a life-changing, difficult series of events.
5. I really enjoyed the first person present that is the writing style for Mile 21. You don’t find this in very many novels. Would you say it was easier or more difficult than writing in the traditional third person? What made you decide to use it?
It is very difficult! First person present is, I think, the most limited viewpoint as far as what a reader can see–because you can only think or see what your main character would think or see. But I also feel it is the most intimate viewpoint; you get fully immersed in the character; their psyche, their story. You get very close to them.
6. Mile 21 was recently nominated and selected as a finalist for a Whitney Award. With this kind of success, can you share what we may expect next from you?
I’m not sure about “success,” but I am very grateful people have liked the book. That is the reason why I write. I like to give people a story that moves them, and that helps them escape or develop a viewpoint or a new perspective. I just submitted another historical manuscript to my publisher, and I am currently working on two–another contemporary LDS story, and a fantasy novel.
Thanks so much Sarah! I wish you the best of luck and look forward to your next book!
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Deliah Dreser’s in town to take care of family business. They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, but there’s more to Lilah than meets the eye. Cole’s in danger of losing his heart when this firestorm throws sparks his way. Is she simply playing him for the fool in order to exact revenge for her brother’s murders? Bestselling author Sherry Gammon’s reviewers exclaim; “She has a gift for touching her readers with beautiful, gripping stories that you can’t put down.
Nothing good ever happens after dark. Those were the words country singer Daleigh McDermott’s father always repeated. Now her father is dead, and Daleigh finds a hidden journal hinting that his death was no accident. Small town mechanic Ryan Shields is the only one who seems to believe Daleigh. As the two work to unravel the mystery, it becomes obvious that someone wants them dead. They must rely on each other—and on God—if they hope to make it home before the darkness swallows them whole. Award-Winning Suspense Novelist and Bestselling Amazon Author, touted as “scary, funny, passionate, and quirky” by USA Today.
Rachel Saunders is looking forward to her all-expense paid weekend trip to New York. But, when her luggage is lost and she is accosted by an infuriating Homeland Security agent, events take a dangerous turn. Amanda Tru, Bestselling Amazon Author of Romance and Suspense. Discover the author who, as an Amazon reviewer raves, “continues to impress me and dominate my time with a book I can’t put down even after it’s ended.”
In a moment of weakness, Shane steals a kiss. In return, Cassie steals his heart…hen Cassie is forced to join the witness protection program, she fears her life is over… but then she meets Shane Emerson — the hunky cowboy posing as her husband. Will this sham marriage turn into the real thing, or will a hidden danger put it all at risk? Kimberly Krey writes romance that’s clean without losing the steam. What’s Beyond Forks calls this Best-selling Western Romance author “the master of romantic tension.”
Cami DiCarlo is not happy when her father forces her into heading up guest services at his newest five-star hotel and unveils the existence of four half-sisters at the same time, insisting they live together while they launch the new resort. When she meets Vince, the sweet, sexy landscaper her father would never have approved of, Cami can’t say no. If only she could be sure she is on the right track—and that they will be able to stop the person who is trying to destroy everything.
Layla Kendall is a burned out social worker one step away from a major depression. When she and her sisters inherit their grandmother’s bakery, she doesn’t know if she can trust her good fortune or not. But the chance to be with her sisters and get away from the heartache and pain she’s faced day in and day out is a chance she’s going to take. With Layla’s new life, come new friendships, including Michael Bender, a single dad. She doesn’t trust men but Michael’s little girl grabs her by the heart and won’t let go. Shannon Guymon is an Amazon Bestselling Author of lighthearted and clean romance who according to her many fans, has the ability to paint pictures of her characters so real that readers would know them if they saw them walking down the street.
Devastated by the loss of her brother, Natasha Senecot exposes the dangers of Matthew Chrysler’s violent video games, bankrupting and humiliating him. Chrysler sends a hit man after her. In a race against time, can Natasha expose Chrysler before his assassin murders her family and shatters her world? Bestselling author Cami Checketts has been touted as, “A genius! She writes about topics that aren’t widely discussed, and she does such a brilliant job of crafting these things into wonderful stories that touch your heart and remain with you for days afterwards.”
Mallorie (far left) with fellow classmates at the 2014 MHSA State Tournament
Yesterday I had the privilege of spending the day at the Montana AA High school State Speech and Debate Tournament both as a judge and a parent. It was rewarding to watch the diverse collection of students compete in various venues from serious and humorous interpretations of literature to extemporaneous speaking about current events. My daughter, a Junior, competed for the second year in a row in memorized public address. This venue requires students to memorize a speech given by someone else in a public forum. Their speech must include some kind of background regarding the date and place of the original speech as well as an analysis of the significance of the speech. Students (with some help from their coaches) choose from a wide range of topics–it can be anything from Abe Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address to Steve Jobs and Ted Talks.
My daughter took her speech from an address given by Alice Ozma at the 2011 American Library Association. Ozma is a young author of The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Read. You can watch her impassioned speech here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJMCuEhA4_s. It’s a wonderful speech about the importance of literature and reading in our lives. She discusses how books connect us and that sharing books is not just about the book itself, it’s about the relationships we develop as we share books.
I listened to my daughter deliver this speech with finesse and poise. It was beautiful. She has used this speech for the entire season–October through January–with varying degrees of success depending on the city in which they were competing. Sometimes she would place as high as sixth overall and other times she wouldn’t even make it to the semi-final round. When being judged by amateurs who are just community volunteers, I think who wins has a lot more to do with the values of the community and less to do with the way the speech is delivered. Yesterday I watched the faces of the judges as she spoke in the final round of competition nod in agreement at the words she delivered. I saw them return her smile as she stood before them and asked them to make the reading promise. With her sweet, compelling voice she had the room captivated. It seemed we were all under a spell.
Later that night she stood among the other eight contestants on the high school stage waiting for the results to be called. I was sure she would win. She had gone into the semi-final round having won the previous five rounds. By the time the students get to the finals round, the competition is incredibly stiff. These students are all polished. They know how to speak, and speak well. They aren’t fidgeting or mumbling. They are the best eight students in the state. So how are they judged? How do three random judges decide who is best? I think it has to come down to the speech’s content. Will it be choosing your future from the woman who swam across the ocean from Cuba to Florida? How about protecting our children by John Walsh, or stricter gun control by the father of a boy killed in the Sandy Hook elementary shooting–both speeches addressed to Congress. Or will it be Malala and her address to the United Nations? Just where does a call for increased literacy fall among important topics in today’s world?
I listened as the first name was read–eighth place–and my heart sank…Mallorie Mason from Flathead High School. I was so proud and disappointed at the same time. I knew what she had accomplished. I had heard it, felt it. But this wasn’t just about her. It was about what she had said. Apparently, gun restriction is of greater importance than building relationships through books–the winning speech delivered by the father of Jessie Lewis from Sandy Hook Elementary to Congress. Didn’t they hear? She told them in her speech that 65% of prison inmates can’t read. Maybe if we were reading to our kids more, less of them would be prone to go out and shoot people. Maybe if we developed a relationship with our kids that included a love of history, fantasy, and science fiction we wouldn’t need to talk to Congress about guns.
Perhaps I’m biased, but I still feel hers was the winning speech. I’m thankful to people like Alice Ozma for her uplifting and compelling words, encouraging everyone to stand up for reading. And I’m thankful for my daughter who stood up before her classmates and the community to echo the same thoughts. I know it was much more than a speech to her. It is part of her core belief. I’m thankful for the time she and I have spent reading books together–some of which have become our own inside jokes, a language that only she and I speak. It is my hope, that you will be able to do the same with the ones you love. So get off the computer, make Ozma’s “Reading Promise,” and go read a good book!
I’ve included my daughter’s speech–Alice’s speech– below for those interested and so that you can make that promise. Your kids will thank you!
Alice Ozma ALA Speech 2011
In January of 2011, Alice Ozma addressed the American Library Association. This twenty-two year old author of the best-selling book The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Read, shared an impassioned speech about the importance of reading. The world we live in, she argued before hundreds of the country’s librarians,with our computers, our tablets, iPads, smartphones, and our busy lives, has devalued the significance of reading. To change that, she concludes, families need to work together to share a love of literacy.
Illiteracy has long been a problem throughout the industrialized world. It’s a trend we don’t hear a lot about, but as more and more emphasis is placed on technology, it’s a problem that is not soon to be resolved. Experts estimate that as of April 28th, 2013, there were 774 million people worldwide who could not read, 32 million of whom live in the United States. Furthermore, statistics show that 63% of prison inmates are illiterate.
This poses the question: how many could have avoided the path of crime that led to their confinement if they had been taught to embrace a love of reading?
Too many children are missing out on not only the wonderful stories and historical significance of books, but, as Alice shares in her address, they are also losing the connection and relationships built through reading. Emilie Buchwald once said, “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” We cannot underestimate the vital need for reading and its impact on future generations. Alice shares with the ALA the reason for her love of reading. She then challenges them, and all of us, to commit ourselves to reading. As we accept her challenge, we become advocates for literacy and will improve the world one page, one book, one child at a time.
Before I begin, I want to let you know that this is my absolute first appearance to do with a book so I’m really excited. I’m not going to try to be professional or cool because I am twenty-two and there’s really no need for that, so let’s be honest, when I found out I was coming here, I screamed and jumped up and down for forty minutes.
In a room full of strangers, we all have so much in common. We’re all readers to the highest degree. Bookworms, eggheads, whatever terms we use, I take great comfort in that. I feel as though I am among old friends. In fact, we probably have quite a few mutual friends. Aren’t we all rather close to Pip and Huck and Ramona? We may not have anything else in common but the moment I say those names, we all suddenly feel at ease. We conjure up similar images. We smile a little to ourselves. Books can be such insular experiences, and yet they connect us. They forge bonds among strangers. If you have read the same book as someone, you both have, however briefly, lived in the same world, breathed the same air, watched the same sunsets.
My book, The Reading Promise, is about this sort of a bond. When my father and I began what we call the streak, I was only nine years old and we made it our goal to read every night for 100 days. What we never realized is how hard it would be to stop. 3218 nights later, we had read for almost nine years, never missing a night.
In this day and age, this sort of bond is so vital. Twitter and Facebook, although good for some purposes, tend to give us a meaningless stream of facts about people we love. But these facts are hollow. Reading together is raw, perhaps even brave. Emoting sincerely and honestly together no matter what the cause seems infinitely more valuable to me than bombarding each other with status updates and whatever information you can fit into 140 characters. Even fiction is more sincere.
It seems a little dubious, the role computers play in our everyday lives. I want to be clear that I think technology serves many wonderful purposes, but there are some things computers simply cannot replace. Those of you that aren’t aware, I will tell you that my father, a former children’s librarian, who devoted forty years of his life to forging a bond between children and literature, ultimately lost his job because of computers. His passion for reading aloud was painfully beaten out of him as his school district decided that computers, not books, should be the focus of a library class. His reading time with each class was limited to five minutes per period and then cut all together. In the last weeks before his forced retirement my father huddled his children in a corner of the library, turned off all the lights, and read to them in a whisper. He was caught and reprimanded. This all took place, my dad said, in a school with 90 percent poverty rate that has not passed a state reading test in years.
It is wonderful to be in a room full of people who are fighting this kind of darkness; committed torchbearers in a dark and rather bleak time in the literary world. I would love to know how many American children are missing out on copies of Jane Eyre, The Great Gatsby, and Dracula. I’m afraid the Pickwick files are becoming an endangered species. But I don’t mean to be grim. I hope that in my own small way to be part of the solution, to bring us back to those, whether they’re tattered old editions or e-books on our kindles. The books we read shape our society. So what happens to a society that doesn’t read?
People often ask me, if myfather and I called it the reading streak, why is my book called The Reading Promise? Well, there are two reasons for that, one is that my publisher thought the word “streak” sounded a little too PG-13, and the other, is a bit more difficult to describe. The reading promise is what my father made to me. It’s what He made to His students, what I made to Him, and what we made to ourselves. It’s why I stand here today. I worked for quite some time on one particular page in my book. It’s the last one wherein I ask the reader to make a commitment to literature. This page is the most important to me. I’d like to share it with you now.
The reading promise: I, you can fill in your own name here, promise to read. I promise to read on my own, on print or on a screen, wherever books appear. I promise to visit fictional worlds and gain new perspectives, to keep an open mind about books even though the cover is unappealing and the author is unfamiliar. I promise to laugh out loud, especially in public when a chapter amuses me and to sob uncontrollably on my bed for hours at a time when my favorite character dies. I promise to look up words I don’t know and cities I can’t locate and people I can’t remember. I promise to lose track of time. I promise to read with the people I love, if not every night then whenever I can. I promise to remember that this person is more than my son, daughter, father, mother, aunt, uncle, cousin, or dog walker. He or she has a mind that like mine loves to be used and challenged. I promise to appreciate the time we spend together and the literature we read even when I am stressed or tired or sunburned, or an awful combination of the three. I promise never to give up on reading. I promise to support reading in my community however I can and anywhere else for that matter. I promise to spread the word about words whether it’s volunteering at my local library or just recommending good books to friends. I promise to speak out when reading is cut from the school curriculum and fight for them whenever their value is challenged. I promise to tell everyone I know how reading calms me down, riles me up, makes me think or helps me get to sleep at night. I promise to read as long as human thought is still valued and there are words to be shared. I promise to be there for books because I know they will always be there for me.
Tis the season…the tree is lit with hundreds of lights, the house is warm with firelight while the snow falls outside. The gifts are wrapped in colorful paper and the kids gather anxiously wondering what surprises await them. It’s a wonderful time of year, and yet, sometimes I find myself wondering if I’m really enjoying it. I ask myself, am I keeping the Spirit of Christmas? As wonderful as it is, there is always so much to do– school projects, community service, concerts, church events–and I often wish I could just relax and enjoy Christmas.
One of my favorite poems has helped me evaluate and re-think how I keep the Spirit of Christmas. It’s a little long, but I share it here with you…
Adapted from How The Great Guest Came by Edwin Markham
It happened one day near December’s end,
Two neighbors called on an old time friend,
And they found his shop so meager and poor,
Made bright with boughs from ceiling to floor,
And Conrad was sitting with face ashine
When he suddenly stopped as he stitched a twine
And said, “Old friends, at dawn today,
When the cock was crowing the night away
The Lord appeared in a dream to me–
And said, “I am coming your guest to be!”
So I’ve been busy with feet astir,
Strewing my shop with branches of fir.
The table is spread and the kettle is shined,
And over the rafters the holly is twined–
And now I will wait for my Lord to appear
And listen closely so I will hear
His step as he nears my humble place–
Then I’ll open the door and look on his face.”
So his friends went home and left Conrad alone,
For this was the happiest day he had known.
For long since his family had passed away,
And Conrad had spent many a sad Christmas day.
But he knew with the Lord as his great guest,
This Christmas would be the dearest and best.
So he listened with only joy in his heart,
And with every sound he would rise with a start
And look for the Lord to be at the door
Like the dream he had a few hours before.
So he ran to the window after hearing a sound
But all he could see on the snow-covered ground
Was a shabby beggar whose shoes were torn–
And all of his clothes were ragged and worn;
But Conrad was touched and went to the door,
And he said, “Your feet must be frozen and sore–
I have some shoes in my shop for you,
And a coat that will keep you warmer too.”
So with a grateful heart the man went away–
But Conrad noticed the time of day;
He wondered what had made the dear Lord so late
And how much longer he’d have to wait–
Then he heard a knock and ran to the door,
But it was only a stranger once more,
A bent old lady with a shawl of black,
And a bundle of kindling piled on her back.
She asked for only a place to rest–
But that was reserved for Conrad’s great guest,
Yet her voice seemed to plead,
“Don’t send me away,
Let me rest for a while on this Christmas day.”
So Conrad brewed her a steaming cup
And told her to sit at the table and sup.
But after she left, he was filled with dismay,
For he saw that the hours were slipping away,
And the Lord had not come as he said he would
And Conrad felt sure he had misunderstood.
When out of the stillness he heard a cry,
“Please help me and tell me where am I?”
So again he opened his friendly door.
And stood disappointed as twice before.
It was only a child who had wandered away
And was lost from her family on Christmas day.
And Conrad’s heart was heavy and sad
But he knew he could make this little girl glad.
So he called her in and wiped her tears
And quieted all her childish fears,
Then he led her back to her home once more,
But as he entered his own darkened door,
He knew that the Lord was not coming today
For the hours of Christmas had passed away.
So he went to his room and knelt down to pray,
And Conrad asked, “Lord, why did you delay?
What kept you from coming to call on me
For I wanted so much your face to see.”
Then soft in the stillness a voice he heard,
“Lift up your head for I kept my word.
Three times my shadow crossed your floor,
Three times I came to your lowly door;
For I was the beggar with bruised cold feet
I was the woman you gave something to eat
And I was the child on the homeless street.
Three times I knocked, three times I came in,
And each time I found the warmth of a friend.
Of all the gifts love is the best;
I was honored to be your Christmas guest.”
When I read this, I am reminded that all of the things I am doing: buying gifts for loved ones, staying up late to help my children with homework and projects, making Christmas treats for others, serving at food drives, delivering packages, choir practice, and so on are all a part of serving. We celebrate Christmas as a reminder of our Lord and Savior. The scriptures remind us that when we serve others we are in the service of God.
So to all those who say they hate the holidays because they are so busy and there’s just not enough time to enjoy Christmas, I say, “Bring it on!” The very fact that we are busy doing things to celebrate, to make Christmas just a little bit better for someone else, is the Spirit of Christmas itself.
May you have a bright and merry Christmas with wonderful things to come in the new year!
When Avery Lane sets out to discover what really happened to the 117 settlers at Roanoke for her masters thesis she gets far more than she bargained for. For years historians have blamed their disappearance on the American Indians, but Avery is determined to prove that their vanishing was part of a treasonous plot perpetrated by the Spaniards. But what she finds, could cost her her life. Full of unexpected twists and turns, this exciting novel keeps you on the edge as it jumps back in time and gives you the unfolding story of the 117 settlers that left their homeland for a new beginning as well as the mystery that surrounds their disappearance. A great read for anyone and everyone!
This past June, I had the privilege of meeting Auburn Seal during my travels. We had tons of fun eating and talking books over fantastic Mexican fare in Vancouver, Washington. Not only is Auburn spunky and full of life, but she’s a real go-getter, turning her dreams of becoming an author into reality by launching her first novel, Roanoke Vanishing, just two months ago.
After reading her book I was filled with questions for Auburn. Here’s what she had to say…
Me: First, tell me a little about yourself; background, family, etc.
Auburn: I live in Vancouver, Washington with my husband and three kids. My husband and I were married in 1998 and will celebrate our 16th anniversary in just a few months. My kids are 15, 8 and 7. I have a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State in Justice Studies. I worked in juvenile detention out of college and really loved working with the kids. I homeschool my younger kids, which is great and terrible at the same time.
Me: The main character of your novel is headstrong and moves with her instincts. Would you say she is like you?
Auburn: That’s a good question, Stephanie. I’m definitely determined and focused on mygoals. I tend to act first and think second. I asked some of my friends what they thought and most of them said that yes, I am headstrong and yet also a peacemaker. So, go figure.
Me: What five words would you use to describe yourself?
Auburn: Fun, silly, headstrong, alluring and passionate. For five words, I took a poll of my writing group and they came up with a small list. Some of the folks in my local writing group did a personality test based on the Meyers-Briggs test and some of the words that come from that description of my personality and mine is ENFP. You can see a full description of what that is here: http://www.personalitypage.com/ENFP.html In a nutshell, it says that I don’t like doing laundry.
Me: After meeting you, Auburn, I think those words are perfect! What first got you interested in writing about Roanoke.
Auburn: I first learned about the lost colony in junior high and have always loved history. In2011, after I finished my first National Novel Writing Month, I started thinking about what I wanted to write the next year and I began doing some in-depth research on prevailing theories for what had happened to the colonists. I have experienced a lotof death in my life, friends and family, and so because of that I have a particular fascination with the paranormal. I seem to mix a lot of historical and paranormal. But also, adventure and mystery. I sort of broke a bunch of rules writing Roanoke Vanishing. I crossed several genres. Makes it a little difficult to categorize it, but I suppose part of that is the rebel in me coming out.
Me: How long did you research? What were your sources?
Auburn:I researched on and off throughout the next couple of months and just saved all the info in my Scrivener file. When I actually decided to write Roanoke Vanishing, I justpulled up all the information and started writing. I think my sub-conscious worked onthe story in the background of my life for a year!
Roanoke by Lee Miller was one of the main sources that I used for factual information as well as actual writings from John White. The internet makes it very easy to find primary sources for research. And I prefer primary to secondary whenever I can get them. (Maybe you can overlook the nerd in me that just said that out loud!)
Me: You’re obviously a fan of historical fiction. What time periods interest you most and why?
Auburn: I LOVE historical fiction. Little House on the Prairie was probably my first lasting exposure to the genre and of course I love reading Gerald Lund. I don’t have any favorite time periods, necessarily, because I love all history, but I’m drawn to early American all the way up to the industrial revolution. I think my love of history goes hand in hand with my love of doing genealogy, which I’ve been passionate about sinceI was a teenager. Who knows which came first. The chicken or the egg, you know?
Me: Any sneak peeks at your next novel?
Auburn: I can tell you that things get worse for Avery. She will find out a little more about the Descendants,which helps satisfy her but that comes at a price. It also brings up more questions. Avery’s love life tends to be a mess and it takes some interesting twists and turns. We also meet some new characters in book two who will greatly impact Avery.
Me: Wow, thanks Auburn! I can’t wait to read it! Good luck!
You can find out more by visiting Auburn’s website at http://www.auburnseal.com.
You can purchase Roanoke Vanishing at http://www.amazon.com/Roanoke-Vanishing-Auburn-Seal
Two weeks ago I submitted my second novel to the publisher. I have been working on it for over a year. It took up my summer vacation. It filled my free time with worry, and my work time with anxiety. When I wasn’t working on it, it was there in the back of my mind, festering like a toothache, demanding to be heard. People asked how I managed to get this one written. With a full time job at school and a full time job as wife and mom, not to mention the many other hats I often wear, the answer is…half an hour at a time. I can’t tell you how good it felt to hit send on that e-mail. And yet, it’s still there, in the back of my mind–How long until I hear back from them? Maybe I should have included another scene. Maybe it’s total garbage and they’ll hate it. I’ve come to realize that as a writer, this is life. The questions, the uncertainty, the nagging is always there along with characters that need their story told, landscapes that would make the perfect setting, and plots that constantly twist and turn my mind into mush. And I love it!
Now it’s time to refocus. It’s time to get back to blogging (shoot me now please!) and marketing and promoting On the Way Home. It’s time to think about blog tours, library talks, reading groups and bookstores…all the things that make my insides quiver and my mind go blank. Sure, I can write a novel. But can I sell a novel? This seems to really be the big question in today’s world. There are many great writers out there, just as there are great artists and musicians. But as I have learned, it takes more than being good or even great at something to make your dream a reality. If you can’t get the word out to the world about whatever it is you are selling, it doesn’t matter how wonderful it is, it will go no where.
I took a continuing education class over the summer to beef up my computer skills and as I talked with some of the others in the class, one of the continuing complaints was, “I didn’t know when I became a musician, an artist (or baker, or candlestick maker) that I had to become a businessman too. I just want to paint!” Which is exactly how I feel. I just want to write. I want to focus on my characters not my blog. I want to talk to other writers about perfecting my craft, not about marketing strategies. I don’t want to have to divide my rare and precious time between writing and selling. The one I love, the other I hate. But the fact is, I can’t do one without the other and have any kind of success. Writing without promoting yourself would be living like Emily Dickinson. She did a lot of writing in her life, but no one knew who she was until she died. I don’t want to wait that long!
So I am recommitting myself to the whole package. It scares me and it’s hard for me, but nothing that is worth it is easy! So with my morning Zumba done, followed by a generous slice of pumpkin pie (I know, don’t say it), I’m ready to begin again!
Everybody keeps secrets. It might be a secret stash of money under the mattress, or how much money you made last year. It might be how much you weigh or how old you really are. There are family secrets–Did Aunt Polly really have an affair? Was Uncle Jo really a CIA agent? There are company secrets–Who really knows the formula for Coca Cola? What will Microsoft’s next big release be? And there are national secrets, things so confidential no one really knows the truth, especially the American public. After all, we’re still waiting to see our president’s birth certificate.
In northwest Montana the biggest secret of all isn’t where the guns are stashed or which politician is lying. No, our biggest and best kept secret is where we pick Huckleberries.
These small wild berries are similar to blueberries and are actually from several varieties. In Montana they typically grow in higher elevations. Despite many efforts, no one has found a way to raise them commercially. Some say it’s because they have to pass through the digestive tract of an animal (usually bears) before they will germinate. I even have a friend who collected bear scat, kept it in his freezer all winter, cut it into pieces, and planted it in his garden in the spring in hopes of creating his own private huckleberry patch.
Huckleberry picking is as much a part of living in the Flathead valley as hunting and skiing. And everyone has their secret spot. Don’t ask them where it is, because they won’t tell you. At $40 a gallon, no one’s going to spill the berries. But trying to get a gallon? Yeah, good luck with that. Each plant may only have three to four berries on it. And when you consider that each berry is only the size of a small pea, it takes a lot of bushes. That’s why no one is anxious to share their stash. It takes a lot of hiking and walking through scratchy underbrush, spiderwebs, and who knows what else (I try not to think about it actually) just to get to them. My efforts this year only got me a bowl full. Two hours of wandering for less than a sandwich bag full. I’ll be rationing them out like they’re gold.
So if you decide to move to the Flathead and people ask, “How much did you get this year?” they probably aren’t asking about your salary, more like what’s stock piled in your freezer. Because there’s nothing quite like sitting at home on a cold winter day when it’s snowing outside, enjoying a bit of huckleberry cheesecake, or a handful on a salad, or in a bowl of cereal. It’s a little taste of summer to help us endure the winter.
My summer is disappearing all too quickly as it does every year. In the spring, as I anxiously await the last day of school, I think of all the things I want to do before the snow flies again in the fall; hikes I want to go on, new camping spots I want to explore, and places I want to visit. Sadly, I only ever get to a few of them. There are just too many fantastic places in Montana…
This week I went camping on the shores of beautiful McGregor Lake, just 32 miles from home. I love this lake! It’s so blue. That is, until you stand out on a dock and look down and realize it’s totally clear! Below, you can see to the very bottom where old logs lie crisscrossed like sunken pirate ships and crawdads scurry around like miniature lobsters. McGregor is colder than some of the other area lakes, but it didn’t stop us from jumping in and enjoying the water. The campground sits right on the shore under the trees, providing a shady place to sit back and gaze at the reflection on the glassy surface of the lake.
After a hearty breakfast of eggs, sausage and hashbrowns cooked on the Coleman, we headed off for a drive to Ross Creek Cedars. You don’t have to go to the California coast to see giant trees. These 500 year old cedars are unbelievable! Located between Libby and Troy off highway 56, it’s off the beaten path, but worth the drive. We walked the well worn mile long trail through this protected old growth forest, climbing inside hollowed out trees and up enormous trunks. Ross Creek runs through this idyllic forest in a quiet, lazy path, leaving a trail of moss and ferns the likes of which I’m sure are home to fairies and elves. It truly looks magical! And great inspiration for writers! I wonder if Tolkein ever visited…?
If I was a drinker, I would raise a glass of champagne in a special toast to all my amazing friends and thank them for their support. But since I’m not, you get a blog post dedicated to you instead…A million thank you’s to all my wonderful friends! You are amazing and I couldn’t do this without you.
In the past week I have met with three book groups between Oregon and Washington organized by great friends. Months ago when I asked anyone if they were interested in doing something like that, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It wasn’t because I didn’t think my friends were willing to help me, more that I couldn’t imagine enough interest in my writing. I’ve quickly learned that my imagination is sorely lacking. I am overwhelmed by the response I have received from so many. I have met lots of terrific people, made new friends, and had a blast doing it. I’ve also learned a great deal.
Most importantly I’ve learned I’m not alone in this. When I set out to write a book I really kept it to myself. Aside from a few friends and my family, I didn’t tell very many people about it. I think I was afraid people would criticize, maybe not to my face, but let’s face it, how many people have dreamed of writing a book only to never actually do it. And how many more have started one and never finished? Probably even more. Even when I learned I was going to be published I wasn’t comfortable talking about it for fear of criticism. But this experience has shown me that people are far less likely to criticize and more likely to support you in your endeavors if you give them a chance. Sure there are the occasional sour grapes in the bunch, but most of them are sweet. In fact, I can honestly say everyone I’ve encountered has been amazing, offering encouragement and applauding me onward. They are as anxious for my success as I am and are helping me achieve it. I’m also learning to talk about myself. I have issues with recognition, but I’m getting better at accepting it gracefully. It’s hard to answer questions about yourself, especially when you’ve never thought about them before. Talking to people about my experience, my writing process, my character ideas and more has forced me to look inward and really hammer out those responses. I know myself better now than I ever have.
Thanks again to all my friends, family and readers. You make it all worthwhile!
I’m so excited to announce my first book signings…
I’ll be at the Deseret Book in Lake Oswego, Oregon on Saturday, June 29th at 1pm:
15010 SW Bangy RD, Lake Oswego, OR .
I’ll be at the Deseret Book in Bellevue, Washington on Saturday, July 6th at 1pm
3080 148th Ave SE Suite 108, Bellevue Washington.
I’m more than a little nervous about this, so come by and see me shaking…and get a book signed!
I absolutely love my town! I love that it’s June and my heater comes on every morning because it’s still cold at night and by afternoon I can be swimming in a glacier fed lake. I love that on a Saturday afternoon I can walk eight blocks with my son along tree lined streets with uneven sidewalks where the roots are finding their way to the surface to the local ice cream shop and buy a huckleberry ice cream cone for just $2. I love that we have huckleberry ice cream, and honey, and licorice, and all things huckleberry because they grow in our incredible mountains. I love the ginormous maple trees in my front yard that are constantly dropping sticks, blossoms and seed pods all over my lawn so that I have to rake it half of the year. I love that when I look around my neighborhood I see beautiful flowers in every color, tenderly nourished by their owners, because I know they won’t last long, yet for the few short months we call summer, they bring a smile to my face. I love that there are yard sales around every corner where someone’s garbage can become my next DIY treasure. I love that I can’t go to the store without seeing someone I know and that the kids I work with at school call out, “Hello, Mrs. Mason.” I love that rush hour lasts for ten minutes and then the streets are empty and I can ride my bike down the middle. I love that deer feel comfortable eating my garden like they were invited guests, and that I have to stop my car for wild turkeys crossing the road. I love that I can see mountains in every direction, smell lilacs in bloom, hear birds singing, and feel totally and completely alive and satisfied.