Stephanie Wells Mason

Romance Author

Fiction as real Life

I really do hate the newspaper, just like the character in my book.  But with nothing else to do on my lunch break at work, I often find myself perusing the pages of our local paper.  One of the reasons I dislike it so much is that it is always sad and depressing, not very uplifting.  Once in a while I might find a funny comic strip, but they are rare gems.  The one thing that I do find extremely funny, however, is the police roundup.  I don’t know if all papers do this, I never read it enough in my other locations to know, but our local papers always have a section where they print excerpts from the 911 emergency line and/or police responses.  Some of the calls are absolutely hilarious.  It is unbelievable what people will call the police about and is usually worth a good laugh.  Yesterday while reading  I found this little gem:

“A thoughtful paperboy flagged down a deputy to get help for a man on College Avenue who had fallen down and was bloody.  The man was given assistance and later transported to the hospital by ambulance.”

If you’ve read my book you’ll see the significance.  Maybe there’s a future inheritance for this boy.  It just goes to show that fiction is is sometimes real life.

 

 

 

A Pond Full of Scum

I have had a fabulous weekend at the 2013 LDStorymaker Conference.  I’ve learned so much and met some great people.   The cogs in my brain are spinning out of control and I hardly know where to begin to process it all.  The information, I’m sure, will prove to be invaluable to my future writing.  But even more valuable, perhaps, is the perspective gained about writers in general.  There were some really talented writers there; big names with best selling books.  They have every reason to stand up and say, “Hey, look at me, look what I can do!”  They were all too nice to be that tacky, but many did share their underlying insecurity over the big question:  “Am I good enough?”  At one panel, in particular, an accomplished writer, Julie Wright, shared her feelings, saying even now there are times when she feels like pond scum.  Not that I want anyone to feel like that, but it’s comforting to know I’m not the only one.  Moving forward I hope will be easier now.  When I’m second guessing my abilities and having confidence issues I can feel comfort in the fact I’m not the only scum in the pond!

I’m not cold hearted!

My book has been available for two weeks and I’m now getting some feedback from friends.  It does my heart good to hear people say not only that they liked it, but that it made them cry.  I cried when I wrote parts of it (not that I let anyone see that, I was home alone).  It feels really validating that I could express those emotions, feelings, and ideas with words.  That I could actually touch someone’s heart.

I am not a very emotional person, or I should say, I am good at keeping my emotions hidden.  I come by it naturally.  My family is not very demonstrative.  We’re close but we all have  difficulty expressing our feelings through outward displays of touching and/or words of affection.  My husband’s family, on the other hand, are constantly hugging, holding, and saying I love you.  They cry at the drop of a Hallmark card.  At family events we joke about it and of course, they cry as we do.  I have become the designated spokesperson because I don’t cry.  Most of my in-laws can’t complete a prayer without getting choked up.  My brother-in-law labeled me the “cold hearted one” (all in good humor).  And that is what I tell people; I’m just cold hearted.

The truth is though, I’m not.  I feel things, I just don’t show things.  Not even to those closest to me.  But when I write, I can put all those thoughts, feelings and emotions into my characters.  Essentially, I can hide behind them and no one will know how I feel, because it’s not me, it’s them.  That’s also why when my book was finally accepted for publication I had several moments of panic to think that people would be reading it and finding out about the real me, which I’m so much more comfortable keeping hidden.  Having someone say they cried when this or that happened in the story, it’s like a connection is made.  I may not actually be putting my arms around someone. or crying with them, but we’ve connected emotionally.  It does my cold heart good!

Spring Break

Spring break takes on a whole new significance when you live in Northern Montana.  Winter is long, and I mean it could (and does) snow in June.  Even if there isn’t a lot of snow in the valley (which there hasn’t been this year), it’s cold and dark and you start to feel like a vampire hiding from the sun.  Traveling by car in winter is risky because no matter which direction you go there’s a snowy mountain pass to cross, so unless you’re willing to fork out the ridiculously expensive air fare (which I’m not), you’re kind of stuck for six months.  By the time April rolls around, you can hardly wait to skip town and experience new and exciting things like…freeways.  Kalispell is two hours from the nearest freeway.  120 miles to I-90.

I never realize just how far removed from the hustle and bustle I am until I go on a road trip.  First there’s the drive around Flathead Lake.  It’s a breathtakingly beautiful lake with the Swan Mountains towering over the eastern shore.  In spring, when the peaks are still capped in white and the sky is gray, it makes for a picture perfect contrast to the blue water below.  The road wanders and winds around every bend in the lake–all 50 miles of it–so there’s plenty of time to admire the view.  To the west are rolling hills of grass and forest, home to many animals who can’t read road signs and have no compunction about wandering on the road, including deer, wolves, squirrels, skunks, and coyotes, just to name a few.  This is no stretch to set the cruise control either because even though the speed limit is 70 on most Montana highways, there are at least four towns along the way which have a maximum speed of 25.  It’s also a two lane highway with only a few passing zones so if you happen to be behind a semi-truck fully loaded with logs, or a 30 foot RV, you might as well sit back and get comfortable, you aren’t going anywhere fast…

Yet, it’s this same drive along the lake that I’m so anxious to return to after a week in the city where everywhere I look there are cars, people and buildings.  It’s been a fantastic week with friends and family, shopping and eating at my favorite places.  But I love coming home to the rolling hills carpeted in yellow with winter grass, the mountains capped in snow and covered in fir trees, and the blue lakes that last week were frozen but in which I’ll be swimming in two short months.  I love the fact that I can drive for ten miles before I pass a single car, and that car just might be a truck with four dead mountain lions in the bed (yes, this really happened).  I’ve left behind the green grass and blossoms that were already popping open and returned to the north where it’ll be another month or two before the trees have any leaves.  The sky is still dark with rain and the temperature still warrants a fire in my fireplace, but I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else!  There’s no place like Montana!

Celebrating Success

I’m ten years old and in the sixth grade.  I shove all my papers, homework, and lunchbox into my back pack and hurry out the classroom door.  I wave to a few friends, but I don’t stop to chat.  I already know what they’re talking about, the school is buzzing with the topic.  It’s a short walk to my house, through the play field and down the hill where I can see my back yard.  Soon I’ll be home, safe.  Soon I can peek at the secret paper in private, or at least among my family, out of the critical eyes of my peers.  It’s report card day, and I don’t want them to see, don’t want them to know what it says:

A’s.  All A’s.

I’m not ashamed or embarrassed.  Inwardly I’m proud, but scared.  I’m scared of their heckling and teasing, of being called “teacher’s pet” for the ‘ump’teenth time.  I’m scared they’ll call me a “nerd” or a “geek” because I have perfect grades.  I’m afraid they won’t like me because they think I am smarter than they are, and worst of all, that they’ll think I think I’m better than they are.

I lived out this scenario every quarter, every semester of my school years.  Kids can be cruel, and not just to the “bad” kids.  In fact, I felt like I was the brunt of a lot of cruelty just for being good.  I worked hard in school.  I wanted to learn.  I wanted to be obedient.  And it wasn’t because I was looking to butter up the teachers, or because I thought myself better than anyone.  I wanted to do well to please myself.  Never once did my parents say anything about needing to excel or push hard in school.  I just knew they wanted me to be happy and successful at whatever I chose to do.  Their expectations didn’t need to be voiced.  They loved me.  And that love was enough to make me want to succeed.  That success came with a price, though; I had to keep it to myself or receive the taunting of my peers.  In fact, in order to fit in, I started putting myself down.  I wanted to show my friends I was just the opposite of successful.  Yeah, I might have good grades, but I’m too fat, or I’m not talented.  It became a habit, one that was hard to break.

As an adult I’ve learned that it’s OK to be proud of my accomplishments, that there’s a difference between being prideful and acknowledging success.  I’ve had to share that lesson with my children as they struggle with the same issues among their peers.  And I hope that I’ve taught them to celebrate the success of others as well.  It doesn’t take anything  away from ourselves to celebrate another’s achievements, instead it adds to our character.

The library card

If this were an addiction recovery meeting, I would stand up and say…I’m Stephanie Mason and I’m addicted to reading.  I don’t just love to read, I need to read.  When I’ve had a stressful day, I look for a good book.  When I’m tired and need a boost, I read about something new.  When life gets too busy and I am rushing from one thing to the next, I don’t crave sleep, or food, or time with people, I crave the solitude and peace that comes from losing myself in the pages of a book.

I grew up in a library.  One of my first memories is my dad constructing a huge wall-size bookshelf for our family room.  He had it laying on the floor, taking up the entire room, and I recall stepping over the shelves like it was a maze.  Those shelves were soon filled with books from romance and thrillers to biographies and atlases.  As I grew, our house continued to fill with shelves and books.  To this day there is a book shelf filled to over flowing in every room in my parents’ house, and I’m happy to say I’ve carried on the tradition in my own home.  I can’t sit down without being surrounded by my books.  Perhaps that’s why I’m not anxious for the digital revolution.  I see the convenience of e-books; the ability to take as many books as you want in the space of a cell phone, but I miss seeing them, browsing through the titles on the spines as I sit in a room, remembering or anticipating my connection with them.

I am so grateful for the love of reading that my parents helped instill in me.  They had/have one philosophy about books:  You can give one away, but you can never throw one away.  I gather books like a kid in a candy store gathers jelly beans–always wanting more.  I have stacks of books in the process of being read, stacks to be read, stacks I’ve already read, stacks to return to their owners, stacks boxed up and stored for the future…I think Dr Seuss could have made something out of that:  One stack, two stack, old stack, new stack.

I work in an elementary school helping kids learn to read.  I love to see their excitement when things finally click and they get excited about a story or book.  I just wish it would happen more often.   One of the books my fifth graders and I have been reading this month is called The Library Card by Jerri Spinelli.  It’s four very different stories with a magical twist about how a library card impacts the lives of four young kids.  Though none of the stories are close to my own experience, I can relate to the life changing aspect of having the world at your fingertips in the form of a library card.  I think I checked out every Amelia Bedelia book there was when I was six before moving on to great works like The Secret Garden and my all time favorite, Mandy.  They’re still some of my best friends.

Some say life is to be lived.  I say life is to be read!

Meat for Thought

I’ve lived in Montana for nearly eight years.  It feels like home with the beautiful mountains, the incredible lakes, winter sports, summer sports–you name it, Montana’s got it.  But as much as I love it, I don’t know that I can ever really be considered a wholehearted Montanan.  There will always be a crucial piece missing and no matter how hard I try, I just can’t fake it…I don’t like meat!

In the fall of 2005 my husband took a job here in Montana and we left our beloved town in Western Washington.  We found the perfect home, one that would meet the needs of our small family.  My husband claims I fell in love with it the first time I opened the hall closet and found there was a window in it.  That’s not exactly true but I did ooh and ahh over that just a little.  What can I say, it was charming.  The man whom we bought our house from was in a hurry to leave and left behind a lot of stuff, particularly in the garage.  Most of the homes in our neighborhood are older like ours and have detached garages.  In the process of cleaning out the garage, ridding it of old windows, old remodeling supplies, old baby furniture, even some re-bar, we found a huge grappling hook hanging from the rafters.  Being the city folk that we were, we assumed he must have used it for mechanical work.  Our friendly neighbor, who had kindly offered his truck to haul all the junk to the dump, saw us throw that old hook onto the pile and immediately pounced.  “Can I have that if you’re just going to get rid of it?” he asked.  “Sure,” I replied, “Do you do mechanic work too?”  Here’s where I think he was trying not to laugh…”Uh, no.  It’s for hanging deer.”

Since then I’ve learned that hanging deer and elk in your garage, shed or even the back porch is a critical part of Montana living.  I grew up in Salt Lake City,  Utah and I knew about hunting.  Hunting was the reason we got out of school one Friday every fall, even if they insisted on calling it a teacher work day.  Hunting was something men and boys, fathers and sons did to spend time together, to show off a few horns.  But, as I’ve come to learn over the past eight years, hunting is a way of life in Montana.  People actually eat that stuff.  Yeah, they might be excited about the size of an animal’s rack (“Did you see the ten point Bob shot last weekend?”), but it’s all about the meat.  People stock their freezer for the entire year.  It’s bad news if you aren’t able to slaughter Bambi; you might actually be reduced to eating hormone injected beef from the grocery store shelf.  Heaven forbid!

Fortunately, there are a lot of opportunities for buying beef fresh off the range.  We’ve stocked our freezer with our neighbor’s cow–and had steak sitting in there for two years–I wonder if it has freezer burn?  My husband will have to find out, because I’m not about to cook it.  There’s just nothing appealing about a slab of meat sizzling on a grill, no matter where it came from.  I’m not a complete vegetarian by any means.  I enjoy a very well done hamburger now and again, but it better look like a hockey puck or I don’t want it.

I’ve learned what “gamey” means and which animals are the least likely to be.  I’ve also learned that nearly everyone owns a rifle and is anxious to use it.  There’s a whole hunting lingo I’ve yet to master, but I’m no longer surprised by grown men wearing neon orange.  I’ve come a long way in eight years.  It doesn’t bother me a bit to see the carcass of a dead animal hanging out the back of a truck, but I certainly don’t want to eat it!   , I’m just glad they don’t ask you these things on the Montana State driver license exam.  Because truthfully, I’d rather have a salad than a steak.  I’d rather gnaw on carrots than a piece of elk jerky.  I’d pretty much rather go hungry than eat a hunk of meat!

Spring

It’s a beautiful sunny day in March, light winds, blue sky, an occasional bird chirping–probably not unlike many other places.  But in Northwest Montana it’s a rare and precious gift.  People come out of hibernation.  They pull off their coats, their hats and gloves.  At 48 degrees it’s practically tropical.  No white before memorial Day? Forget that.  It’s time for shorts and flip flops!  The sun has been hidden for so long it almost seems like a UFO in the sky.  Don’t get me wrong, I love clouds!  I love dark, cloudy rainy days.  I loved living in the Pacific Northwest for that very reason and I love that Flathead Valley in Northern Montana gets about as much sun as Seattle.  But the occasional vitamin D boost does wonders for the psyche.    I love that people come out of the woodwork like cockroaches and I wonder where they’ve been all winter.  People are walking, running, biking, and hiking.  It doesn’t matter that it’s still cold.  It’s sunny and that’s all that matters.  I love that my kids have turned off the TV and are outside playing–even with no coats on.  Everything is still dead and brown and ugly, but there’s hope that before too long it won’t be.  Chances are it will snow again, maybe even tonight, but for today I finally need my sunglasses.

Editing vs. Gardening

Recently I spoke with a cousin who is also writing her first book.  As we talked about the process, the ups and downs, the conversation turned to editing.  We mutually agreed that editing and being edited is a hard thing.  When you write, you put so much of yourself into the story, whether through personal experience, similar experience, or just plain effort.  Through the writing process, you live the story; fiction becomes real and non-fiction is relived as you share with your audience your story.  It all becomes very personal.  It’s your baby!  And then, like any anxious parent on the first day of school, you send it off for review, hoping the editor will treat it kindly.

This whole process is not unlike a recent article I read. (Ensign, April 2011, D. Todd Christofferson)  The article describes a conversation with a currant bush and the gardener who owns the bush.  After cutting the overgrown bush down nearly to the ground, the bush complains, “How could you do this to me? I thought you were the gardener here.” And the gardener lovingly replies, “Look, little currant bush, I am the gardener here, and I know what I want you to be. I didn’t intend you to be a fruit tree or a shade tree. I want you to be a currant bush, and someday, little currant bush, when you are laden with fruit, you are going to say, ‘Thank you, Mr. Gardener, for loving me enough to cut me down.”

I think this is editing in a nutshell.  Sometimes the story we’ve written isn’t the story we meant to tell and the editor is there to kindly cut us back down to size.  They know best, what will be most effective, what will appeal to the audience, what is totally irrelevant to the story.  It’s painful.  But it’s necessary to turn the story into a beautiful work of prose.  Thus, so many books with page-long acknowledgements, thanking their gardeners!

Lions and Tigers and Bears! Oh My!

Where to begin…?  I feel a bit like Dorothy who suddenly finds herself in the strange yet intriguing world of Oz when she turns to her dog and says, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto!”  I don’t have a dog, and I haven’t ever been to Kansas, but my world has been hurled through the hurricane of publishing my first novel and finally landed in the digital world.  I’m convinced if I follow the yellow brick road  of e-books, blogging, and tweeting I’ll find my way back to my own comfort zone.  There’s a wicked witch of doubt hot on my trail though and I continually have to outsmart her.  So far, thank goodness,  there are no flying monkeys in sight!

All writers want to publish (OK, maybe not Emily Dickinson, but everyone else).  That’s the ultimate objective in writing–having someone read it.  And not just read it, but like it.  So you write, and you hope, and you wait. And wait. And wait for someone to read it–the right someone.  And when finally they do, it’s amazing!  It’s unbelievable! It’s overwhelming!  There’s contracts to sign, edits to make, cover designs to pick, publicity to arrange…I don’t even have any ruby slippers!

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