Wednesday, September 28, 2011

One Cold December Evening ...

If only you could talk, I thought of the old oak tree at the bottom of my lane. As a teenager, I considered it ancient. The perfect Halloween specimen, it towered above me stripped of all bark, leafless, and pocked with more woodpecker holes than I could count. Keenly aware of its magical qualities even at a young age, I loved to run my hands along its weathered texture and contemplate the wondrous things it might have seen. There was no question—the tree felt special to me, but it would take one very cold December evening to prove just how special.

I’d always been a quirky kid. Gravitating more toward right-brained activities, I was a bundle of untapped creative energy ready to explode. Coming from a musical family, it only made sense that I would find my singing voice first. Singing brought me great pleasure; it was an acceptable way to release some of the pent up creative energy that, even as a small child, drove me mad. As for the journey to my writing voice, I'd categorize that as more of an expedition, an ongoing expedition, but its origins can be traced back to, you guessed it, the old oak tree.

Flanked by woods on three sides and a field on the other, I grew up “nestled” in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. We didn’t skateboard when I was growing up, we trekked across cornfields to our neighbor’s house passing old barns and antiquated farm machinery along the way. It was a simple life filled with simple pleasures like the occasional high school basketball game. On this particular evening in December, I received a phone call from a friend asking if I’d like to go to the game. “Heck, yeah!” was my response. The only stipulation? I’d have to walk to the bottom of my long driveway because there was no way her car would make it up our snow packed lane.

It was the perfect winter evening, still, frigid, and quiet, the lack of sound broken up only by the crusted-over snow crumbling beneath my feet. I heaved a steam-filled sigh when I finally reached the pavement. Standing ear bent for the sound of her car, I breathed into my cupped hands then raised my eyes toward the moonlit December sky. Where is she? I jumped in place as I marveled at the intensity of the moonlight, alternating one foot then the other. And then just like that, I stopped. I stood still— completely still, frozen in place by the undeniable sensation that someone or something was watching me. I could feel eyes, their intensity bearing down as I struggled to swallow. Moving ever so slowly, I slid my eyes toward the tree … my tree, and there it was—a great horned owl sitting perched atop my perfect Halloween prototype. Its immense frame sat black against the December moon, and then without much warning it spread its enormous wings and swooped silently over my head to disappear into the tree line.

Sigh.

I will never, ever forget that experience. It was the first time I wished I could put into words what I felt in my heart … the first time a scene haunted me … the first time I longed to put down on paper what was coming to life inside my head.

It was the moment I started to think like a writer, even though it would be years before I actually put those thoughts on paper.

As for my tree, time eventually took its toll. I came home from school one day to find that a road crew had cut it down and carted it away. I got off the bus and plopped down beside the only thing that remained … an enormous stump. I won’t lie. Tears were shed. Many tears. As for the great horned owl, despite my best efforts to reconnect, it remained elusive. For years and years I searched for it. My husband and I even took our boys out “owling” one night in the hopes that I might see another great horned owl. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be … until I finally started to write Courting the Flame.

It’s strange how images stick in our brains. The image of the craggy old tree was difficult to let go. You’ll understand when you read the book. As for my great horned owl … well, we’ve finally reconnected. Each and every night when I sit down to write, it hovers just above my head. In case you haven’t guessed, I’m fairly certain that my great horned owl was also my muse, the guiding spirit that finally said, “Enough is enough, Diana. It’s time to start thinking like a writer!”
Hey … no one ever accused an owl of being unwise, right? Gotta love that owl!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Chance or Fate ... You Decide!

Life experiences, they’re the building blocks of who we are. Each memory, a road traveled on that map we call life. But my question has always been … why? Why do we choose one route over another? What compels us to travel in a certain direction? It’s a question I’ve mulled around for as long as I can remember, and it’s a major theme in my writing.

Looking back at life, I’ve often wondered about my own choices. For me, the unwise decisions are often easier to explain away using words like immaturity and lack of life experience. No, it's the good choices that I find much more worthy of my contemplation. Was there a reason why I found my way to a certain job, location … person?
My existence is filled with countless examples of seemingly innocent introductions that have profoundly changed my life. Am I to believe that these meetings were mere coincidences? Should I just chalk them up to being in the right place at the right time? For those of you who haven’t figured out my M.O. by now … I’m leaning toward an emphatic NO!!!

So what kind of examples are we talking about? Well, my first chance encounter happened the day I talked to Lynda McBlain, the part-time vocal instructor at the music studio my friend insisted I call during my lunch break. I was actually calling to talk with Dr. Steven Gorton, the studio’s owner. He was very well known in the area, and my friend assured me that Dr. Gorton would be there if I called … During! My! Lunch! Break! So I did. But low and behold on this particular day, Dr. Gorton was not there … Lynda McBlain was. Two minutes into our phone conversation and I knew she was the one I was meant to work with. One month later, I was performing arias at a local talent show. On a side note, I had no idea I could sing classically until I met Lynda. Talk about a wonderful surprise.
I’ll spare you details of the numerous life-long friendships I’ve made that appeared to materialize out of thin air. Let’s not forget the “crazy” story of how I met my first editor and dearest friend Claudia Suzanne. That one still boggles my brain. Hmmmm. Come to think of it, I must remember to send a thank you note to “Camp Evanovich” some day for that one. And then there’s the day I vowed to not turn my computer on. Thankfully, I didn’t listen. That was the day I met MuseItUp Publisher, Lea Schizas. I wouldn’t be chatting with you right now if it wasn’t for that chance encounter.

In all honesty, I’ve had so many chance encounters in my lifetime, I could literally write a book. Hmmmmm. (Pauses to contemplate her last statement) Have I mentioned that my debut novel Courting the Flame comes out June, 2012??
Enough about me, though. I’d like to hear your thoughts. Do you believe in chance encounters? Do you think that two people can actually be fated to find one another? I love to read your comments, so feel free to drop me a line or two or twenty! As always, I’m anxious to hear what you have to say.  

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Little Kathy Kill-Joy

The year was 1978. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was out on the playground jumping rope with some other fourth grade girls when little Kathy Kill-Joy raced up with her nose held high. “Mr. Ravenport wants to see you.” She waggled her head as she spun on her heel and skipped away.

I’m sure I blinked. Several times. What could Mr. Ravenport possibly want with me?! I wondered as I started toward him. Sure, I could be chatty, but this was recess, I thought the words over and over as I trudged across the lengthening play yard. Tipping my head, I sported my best lopsided grin. “You wanted to see me, Mr. Ravenport?”
He scanned just above my head to smile at the group of girls that had followed me. “Yes, Diana,” he began, “I want to talk to you about something.” He wrapped his arm around my shoulders and directed me toward a bench. I scooted up on the hard, wooden planks. “Sweetheart … I, uhhhhh … I just thought you should know that … well … some of the other children are talking.”

“Talking? About what?!” My brain felt just as wrinkled as my forehead.
He shook his head and sighed. “Honey, they’re talking about the fact that you still believe in Santa Claus.”

Blink. Blink, blink. “Still??” I asked what I believed was a very logical follow-up question.
He pressed his lips together and shook his head a second time. “Diana,” he narrowed his eyes, “haven’t your parents told you that … there’s no such thing as Santa Claus?!”

The last part of his question rattled around my brain for a second, a minute—forever.

Yep. I’ll never forget that day. It will forever be etched in my psyche. I’d like to point out that I harbor no ill feelings toward Mr. Ravenport despite the fact that he dropped his little bombshell on me in the fourth grade. He was a good teacher, and eventually when I became a teacher, we ended up working together for a few years before he retired. I had many opportunities but never once mentioned the incident to him. Mainly because I was sure he wouldn’t remember it, but even if he did I was also sure his response would be that he was just trying to protect me.

But what does all this have to do with my journey to becoming a published author? Well, anyone who writes knows that, good and bad, our life experiences are what help to shape us as writers. Even with my lack of experience in this business, I know that. No, my point is more subtle. There was a reason why I didn’t want to let go of the idea of Santa Claus as a child, and it’s the same reason why as an adult I find myself wanting to believe in the Loch Ness monster, Big Foot, Hobbits, and Dobby the house elf. The same reason why, at age 42, I find myself fascinated by stories of ghosts, reincarnation, e.s.p., and astral projection. The same reason why, as a writer, I choose to believe that I never write alone.
Visit my computer room any night around 10PM, and I guarantee you’ll find my muse hovering just above my head. I agree to work diligently on improving my writing skills, and she agrees to help me find my scenes. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

My question is: What if?? And more importantly: Why not?!
Why do the Kathy Kill-Joy’s and Bobby Burst-Your-Bubble’s of the world take issue with my choice to believe in something greater than me?! Why must they pounce on me with their demystifying tirades using phrases like: That’s nonsense! or Don’t be ridiculous! I live a completely stable life, I assure you. Soccer mom, mother-of-two, faithful wife, teacher, believer in God ... I respectfully accept their views.
Sigh.

Why, why, why can’t they respect mine?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Bass Ackwards, Anyone???

The more time I spend wearing my author’s hat, the more I realize I may have gone about this whole “writing” thing a bit backwards. Of course, this epiphany wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me. Doing things “bass ackwards” is my modus operandi. It’s how I operate. Sure, I could have taken writing classes before I decided to write a novel. They would have made for a lot less red ink during those first edits. Can you say … Ouch! But where’s the fun in that?! No, I chose to learn how to write, by writing, and looking back at the past three and a half years of my life, I wouldn’t change a thing about that decision, red ink and all. In my opinion, learning on the fly is one of the most exciting parts about being an author. It’s how I’ve honed my skills (shivers with excitement). Yes. That’s right. I’ve become a writing geek. But honestly once you’ve been bitten, there’s really no turning back, at least not for this author. I’m officially obsessed.

Perhaps my opinion is skewed, though. Working as a reading teacher for 13 years can do that to you. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about teaching reluctant readers and writers, it’s this: if they’re not intrinsically motivated, you’ve got your work cut out. It just makes sense that human beings would learn best when their motivation is driven by interest or enjoyment (hence my backwards approach to writing). When the need arose, I became a human sponge and soaked up anything and everything I could to make my project the best that it could be. At the very least, I owed it to my characters. They’ve thanked me many times since then, by the way, especially Gracie my protagonist. Why just the other day she told me that …

(Clears throat) Diana? The plot?!
Yes, yes. Moving forward. Always forward. (Takes a moment to review post) Hmmm. You know what?! Upon closer reflection I’m now thinking that maybe I didn’t go about writing my novel “bass ackwards”. Upon closer reflection, I’m thinking that maybe, just maybe, I wrote it precisely the way I needed to. Why? Because I’m Diana DeCameron, and that’s the way I write. Talk about your epiphany!!