Saturday, September 28, 2013

Sunday Scenes: HEAVEN'S BLUE

HEAVEN'S BLUE won the EPPIE Award in 2005 for Best Inspirational Fiction. It is the story of Samantha Lyons who works as a research scientist in Clam Creek, a sleepy little town on the marsh in New Jersey. She needs an assistant to complete her mosquito research if she wants to continue living at Field Station Number 37, the first real home she has ever had. When David Halpern drives into town, she is sure he is the answer to her prayers. David is out of options when he and his son find sustenance in the basement of Holy Redeemer and a job offer from Samantha. David assumes he'll be safe from discovery in the backwater town and accepts the position.

In this scene, David has made up his mind to leave the field station and move on. Samantha knows she won't be able to finish her research without him. When they pull up to the field station, Fish, Samantha's neighbor is waiting with a bucket of crabs.

James climbed out of the back of the car and stared down into the bucket with an air of resignation, an odd emotion in one so young. Samantha's heart ached.

“Do they bite?” he asked in a dull tone.

“Oh, they snap at your fingers something terrible with those claws.” Fish pulled out a can opener from his overalls and dangled it in front of the crabs. One crab lurched at it and hung on, even as Fish lifted the creature out of the bucket. “Make a grown man cry if one of those held on to his finger.”

James’ eyes widened in interest for a moment. Then David came around from the other side of the car and the youngster's shoulders sagged. Samantha wanted to hug James and never let go.

“Um, this is David Halpern, Fish.” Her heart felt wooden as she twisted a stray lock of hair around her finger. “James’father.”

Fish dropped the can opener with the crab still attached. He stuck out his hand to David. “Pleased to meet you.”

A few seconds passed by before David reached out to grasp Fish's hand. The reluctance on David's part seemed awkward and obvious to Samantha, like a social snub, but apparently it didn't bother Fish.

“You got a nice boy there,” Fish noted, grinning at James.

David cleared his throat. “Thanks.”

“Neptune stopped swimming in the can,” James stated quietly.

“That can happen,” Fish rumbled sympathetically. “But I found you some new friends. A whole bunch of ‘em. They're as lively as any of God's marvelous creations.”

James lifted his face, and Samantha saw the light of hope spark ever so faintly.

Fish lumbered back to his truck.

“We aren't taking any souvenirs with us,” David warned in a low voice.

“Miss Samantha will keep them for me,” James responded with confidence.

“Yes, I will,” Samantha said firmly. “Forever.”

They followed Fish to the truck. He slid another big bucket out of the back, and then lowered it below the level of James’chest.

“Hermit crabs,” Fish said. “Crazy little things. They don't have a home of their own. They go creeping around looking for empty shells that some other animal left behind. Then they crawl inside and make it their own.”

“Squatters,” David commented, giving a sardonic twist to his mouth.

“Nah.” Fish shook his head. “They're just using shells that are already empty. Doing what the good Lord wants ‘em to do. Nothing goes to waste in His creation.” He stuck one hand down deep into the bucket and picked up one of the small creatures.

“Here ya go, son. They don't bite. Open up your hand and let this little guy tickle you.”

Samantha saw eagerness shining in James’ eyes as he reached out for the hermit crab.

“What's his name?” James asked as the animal sat in the middle of his palm with all of its spindly legs drawn up inside the shell.

“Why, that one there you can name yourself, son,” Fish decreed.

James’ smile spread slowly. “He's gonna be Kyle, like my friend.”

“Any man with a true friend is a king,” Fish said.

Samantha saw the old man's eyes water a bit, and found a lump welling in her own throat. Fish had the tender heart of a poet, and Samantha wished she knew what had hurt him so badly that the pain still plagued him. Undoubtedly, any probing questions would upset him further and she would never do that.

The little animal in James’ hand gingerly stretched its tiny legs out from under the shell and started to scurry across James’ palm.

James giggled. “He's tickling me.”

“Now don't let him fall down.” Samantha cupped her hands beneath the young child's.

“Hey, Kyle,” James laughed. “You're so funny.”

Fish pulled a red bandanna out from his pocket and blew his nose. “Well, I better get moving,” the old man said in a gravelly rumble. “I was up at three this morning.”

“Why don't you join us for supper?” Samantha offered.

“No, thank you. But it's mighty kind of you to ask.”

“Oh, Fish,” Samantha sighed. “You've given me so much, it would be nice if you would help me eat some of it once in a while.”

Fish gave her a shy smile. “Those are from God's bounty. You best be thanking Him and not me.”

“Miss Samantha always thanks God,” James piped up.

“She's a good woman.” Fish nodded. “A special gift for some lucky man.”

Slowly, Fish's gaze turned to David. He stared long and hard, without saying a word for several moments. Samantha watched as David shifted uneasily from one foot to the other.

Then Fish, obviously finished with his assessment, scratched the beard on his chin and turned to push up the tailgate on his pickup.

Samantha stole a quick glance at David. His eyes had a stony resignation in them that chilled her. Tension crackled in the air as she watched David's jaw stiffen.

The old fisherman shuffled around to the front of the vehicle and pulled himself up into the driver's seat. “Won't be any rain now for a good long time. Gonna dry up the marsh, keep an eye out for smoke.”

You can read the beginning of the book at Amazon!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Look It Up

Do you know what this is? Do you know what it looks like before it turns into that big puffy ball of fluff?

I'm not going to tell you. If you know the answer, good for you. I've met a lot of people who don't have any clue where that thing comes from. If you do not know the name of it, please look it up.

Do you know what those little bell-like flowers turn into? Blueberries--wild blueberries. These low shrubs grow all over New Jersey. In fact, blueberries are New Jersey's official state fruit. I photographed this little blueberry bush in Turkey Swamp Park.

What is this amazing plant? Daughter #1 took this photo on a hike. The people hiking with her did not know the name of this unusual plant although it grows in woodlands all over New Jersey in the spring. It is called a jack-in-the-pulpit.

Why should you care about the names of plants?

Because they are part of the world around you. If you are a writer, you just might get a story out of it. :-)

While walking around the block one day, I noticed a large plant with small, white flowers. I looked it up and discovered it was boneset. Native Americans used it for fevers. (Though you should not try this at home.) You can read an article about it HERE.

Boneset plays a big part in Patriot's Heart, my Revolutionary War historical which will be released in February. If I had not been intrigued by the plant and had not looked into the background of boneset, I suppose I could have come up with something else for my story--but boneset was perfect considering the historical time period and the availability of the plant in this area.

So look around you. If you see something and you don't know what it is, find out. You'll be amazed at what is in your own backyard.

You might get a story out of it.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

My First Memories

Once upon a time, I was little. Yes, that pudgy, round face belongs to me. It's hard to believe but my mother labeled the photograph in her lovely flowing script so I know it's true.

I've changed considerably since I posed for that photograph. With another birthday looming ahead, I can look back and be grateful for all I've had--loving parents who made sure I had a good education, great siblings, a terrific husband, wonderful daughters, interesting work experiences, and fun friends. I had some tough times, but life has been rather interesting--and any of the bad parts I can always use in a book. :-)

Yes, that's the beauty of being a writer. Nothing goes to waste. All sorts of experiences can be recycled.

My first memories are not happy ones. I went into the hospital at the age of three and the doctors did not know what had caused my illness, but since polio was rampant back then they suspected it and put me in an isolation ward. I was there for along time. I remember sitting in a crib in a huge dark room, all alone. I remember the irritable nurse. I remember my father coming to visit me wearing a suit. (He always wore a suit to work.) He read me a story and gave me ice cream. He also lifted me up so I could look down and see my mother and brother far below on the pavement. Only--I could not see them. It was a long way down, and I was not sure where to look. My mother was not well and could not visit me. :-(

The doctors gave me antibiotics and I recovered. I did not have polio.

I remember leaving the hospital. Stepping out of the elevator in a beautiful party dress. (Yes, I knew it was a special dress even then.)

What's your first memory? Is it a good one or a bad one?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Sunday Scenes: SEA OF HOPE

SEA OF HOPE won EPIC's ebook award in 2002 for Best Inspirational. You can see the list of winners by clicking HERE. The book is still available. You can purchase it at Amazon by clicking HERE.

The following scene opens in a hospital. One of the crew members on the fishing boat, the Merrichase needed an emergency appendectomy. The fishing boat had belonged to Doria's father, but he willed it to Murray--not to his daughter, Doria. She joined on as a crew member for one last trip...

Then, from somewhere above her she heard Murray's voice shouting.

"Wake up," he demanded.

With her heart still racing wildly, Doria opened her eyes and blinked against the bright white lights overhead.

"What was that nightmare all about?" Murray asked.

Groggy, she fought to focus her gaze. When it dawned on her that her head lay in his lap, she sat up in horror and slid quickly to the other side of the vinyl-covered sofa.

Murray had the audacity to laugh. "You were the one who snuggled up to me like I was a pillow."

Doria shoved her curls back. "What time is it?" Her voice came out sounding hoarse and her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth.

He glanced casually at his watch. "About noon." The brows over his bloodshot eyes rose. "By the way, it's Tuesday, we're in a hospital in Virginia Beach, and Chad is in recovery. He'll be fine."

A small sigh of relief escaped her lips. She hated Chad, now; despised him for what he had done. But she hadn't wanted him to die. His appendix had ruptured before they docked, making the last hour of their journey a desperate race that had become a blur in Doria's mind. She tried to rub the sleep out of her eyes.

As soon as the Merrichase had been secured, they had taken a wild ride in the ambulance to the hospital. When Chad had lapsed into an unconscious state, she had become hysterical, believing that he had passed away. Murray's arm had come around her to soothe her and she had been so crazy with fear, she had allowed him to comfort her. She felt her cheeks blaze with embarrassment as she remembered her panic.

Murray told her that the paramedics had given Chad something to take away the pain and let him sleep. She could have guessed that herself if she'd been thinking properly, but she'd become so distraught.

"So are you going to forgive him for starting that rumor?" Murray asked as he scratched his chin and yawned.

"Never." She sat up straighter and tried to sweep the wrinkles out of her flannel shirt and her jeans. She cleared her throat. What she needed was a large cup of coffee.

"Why not?" His expression grew hard as granite as his lips thinned.

"Because I hate him." Despite the savagery of her reply, Murray didn't blink. His eyes stared at her, cold and remote, as dangerous as the deep fathoms of the ocean.

"I see," Murray commented mildly. "I assume he played a large part in your nightmare?"

Doria froze. Oh yes. He had heard her scream in her sleep. She ignored his question.

"I'm going back to the Merrichase," she said as she stood up. "I'm sorry for -- for falling asleep on your lap." She could feel the flush warming her cheeks.

He flashed a sudden, devastating smile. "My pleasure."

Her breath quickened. She turned her head away in shame. Why did this have to happen to her?

"Aren't you going to go in and say 'hi' to your former sweetheart?" he chided.

She whirled as hostility flashed through her. "He never was my sweetheart and I don't want to speak to him ever again. How could he do that to me? I have never been pregnant! I have never even -- " She stopped herself in time. She surprised herself with what she had been about to reveal and the silence in the room lengthened uncomfortably.

Murray's eyebrows lifted a fraction. "Never -- ?"

"That's none of your business," she blurted out.

He cleared his throat. "Right." Getting off the sofa, he headed to the door. "Come on. We'll check on Chad and then go back to the ship."

Doria narrowed her eyes. "There are nurses who can check on him."

His green eyes had a lethal quality that sent a shiver of fear racing through her. "We won't be long."

Doria decided on a counterattack. "You can't go walking through this hospital. You look terrible. You need a shave."

"Do I?" He drawled. "And you, my marsh mallow bloom, smell like a fishing boat."

That comment set off the sparks again as Doria seethed with fury. "What do you expect? George and I got stuck putting all those porgies on ice." Then she frowned. "Hey. Where is George?"

"Supporting the local phone company." The cynical twist to his smile marred his handsome profile. Her fingers itched to touch it and erase the cruel quirk that kept his features from perfection. It annoyed her that she should care.

"I think we'll have to take all those porgies to New York to get a decent price," he continued.

Doria's breath caught in her throat as the sight of that thirty-foot wave in her dream terrorized her thoughts.

"W-what's the forecast?" she asked, nearly choking on the question.

"The same," he responded roughly.

Doria swallowed hard. It had only been a dream after all. The Merrichase always made it back to Port Harbor. Always.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

My Brother's Birthday

My brother would have been sixty-five years old today. Instead, he died nearly forty years ago in an F-111 fighter jet crash.

Happy Birthday in heaven, bro.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Buy This Book

I wish I had this book when my mother was in the hospital.

I found the book at the AAUW Book Sale last Saturday. I got it for $4, used. Whoever owned it underlined all the pertinent passages.

It's scary! But knowledge is power--and the information in this book could save your life or the life of a loved one.

Click on the Amazon link below:

If you don't have the money to buy it, borrow it at your library.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Bulletin Boards, A Tough Chore

School is back in session, but I'm home writing books. :-) I taught first grade for seven years. After our daughters were born, I did some substitute teaching, and then I spent eighteen years working as a pre-k teacher. I enjoyed teaching young children. I did not enjoy putting up bulletin boards. To me, creating bulletin boards was the toughest part of the job, but I had to do it.

I enjoy sketching and painting, but those are far different artistic disciplines. Plus bulletin boards have to be changed constantly. Some of my attempts were good, some--not so good. It was always a challenge. I liked displaying the kiddies' projects best. Below are a few of the bulletin boards I put together.

This is me about ten years ago standing in front of a rather simple bulletin board. The kiddies cut out the flowers, which was a difficult task for some of them. (One problem with pre-k is that some of the kiddies don't want to give away their flower once they've cut it out.)

Obviously, the class was working on the sound of the letter R. I liked the bright colors in the rainbows. The letters were made with sponge stamps.

I like snowflakes. I made paper snowflakes. The kiddies played with blue fingerpaint. When they were done sliding their fingers around, I dropped one of my paper snowflakes on their fingerpaint. Then I placed another sheet of paper over that. Voila! A print! This was fun. :-)

I put heart-shaped paper into a tray, added paint and marbles. The kiddies rolled the marbles around in the tray. They loved doing that. Some were a bit too enthusiastic and paint-covered marbles went rolling across the floor!

Teaching young children was exhausting but I got a huge dose of happy smiles every day. My arms got plenty of exercise tacking up those bulletin boards. :-)

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

My Special Toastmaster

That's Daughter #1 at the Toastmasters International Convention. One of her stories was included in an anthology, Heart of a Toastmaster. She went to Cincinnati for the convention and signed copies of the book. Toastmasters is a terrific organization. You can find their website HERE.

Toastmasters become better, more effective speakers. If you don't believe me, read Heart of a Toastmaster, which you can purchase HERE.