News about Of Grief, Garlic and Gratitude

img_1274

 

As many of you know, I have been writing a memoir over the last several years. No, I really didn’t start out thinking that my life was interesting enough, or had inspirational fodder enough to write a book about it. But after the death of our son Sam, I started posting regularly on Facebook about the grieving process, and specifically, how the process of systematically looking at what I could be grateful about helped me move forward.

I think that writing a memoir is difficult no matter what. I mean, reflecting upon your own life is not something most humans do easily. In my case, reflecting on what Sam’s loss meant to me, to my life, to how I look at life — that was a challenge. Often in the writing I would find myself crying without even realizing it, and sometimes I had to stop because it was too raw.

Finishing it (okay, finishing the almost final version of it) was a relief, and something to celebrate. My editor has been a saint through this process, helping guide me even when she knew I might react emotionally to her suggestions.

Through the last couple months, I had finally reached the point of sending out a couple queries to agents and to a couple publishing houses that don’t require agents. I started small, figuring that if I got rejected, I would just keep trying.

Miracle of miracles, it didn’t get rejected at all. In fact, way sooner that I could ever have expected, I have signed a publishing contract on Of Grief, Garlic and Gratitude. I am so excited to be able to work with the publishing team on getting it into the final format, and getting it out into the world.

My hope is that this book will help someone feel not as alone, and feel like even on the darkest day, there is a path to joy and peace, no matter how broken you feel.

 

A trip down memory lane, sort of…

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to go to Massachusetts to Annie’s Book Stop in Worcester for a book signing event. What a great trip we had, although it was (as always with us) laden with so many emotions.

31944578_400932237050522_7333893542546243584_n

The book event? Just plain fun. Laughter, loved ones, and new friends — all together for an afternoon of joy.

After the event, we (my husband and I) went to our hotel, and passed the hospital where the first Anna Belle Rose had died. I have to admit, it hit me — the last time I’d been in that part of Worcester was on that night.

The next day, we went to West Brookfield to visit her grave, and those of my grandfather, cousin Michael, and my aunt and uncle. The pride and joy I feel about my writing career is something I so wish they are were still alive to experience with me — but planting flowers for them in the rain helped me feel like they were part of the experience.

Then we drove around the town, saw my grandparents house, familiar landmarks, stuck our toes in the lake. All the while, I kept talking about good memories — memories full of love, laughter, joy and fierce loyalty.

Now, as I reflect on the last few days, what a wonderful mix of old memories and new ones, all tied together by love.

Anna Belle Rose?

Someone asked me the other day how I picked my pen name. It’s funny because for many years, as I had first started writing romances, I had no intention of using a pen name at all.

Then one day, as I sat looking at this old boiler next to our wood stove, I knew what I needed to do…

copper boiler

 

This old boiler came from my aunt’s house when she passed away, but it originally came from my grandmother’s house. It never really fit with her house in terms of decor, and I never (sadly) asked her where it had come from, but it was always there in her dining room, next to the fireplace.

When she passed away, it went to my aunt’s house, and then eventually moved to ours. It is the perfect place to put some firewood, and it matches our somewhat eclectic decor.

Looking at it, I suddenly knew I needed a pen name, and moreover, I knew what that name would be. Annabelle Rose was my grandmother’s name. She was a piece of work, my grandmother. Fiercely independent, not a great cook or housekeeper, a professional woman long before that was fashionable, she’d even been a professional dancer before marrying my grandfather. She taught me to knit, taught me that dark chocolate is always a great snack, loved the Red Sox and the Celtics with her whole heart, and always welcomed me with more love than I can express. She also was the person who handed me my first Harlequin romance when I was in my early teens, and always kept a paper grocery bag full of them for me when I visited.

Of course, I did talk to her living relatives to make sure they were okay with the idea, and they were, and I’d like to think it makes her laugh (and hopefully makes her proud) to see my success as a writer using her name as my pen name.

In the next week, I will have the opportunity to visit her grave for the first time in more than five years and I plan to sit and talk with her for a while, and then eat (and leave) a piece of dark chocolate for her.

Today in Farming

What a wonderful day we had today farming! We started with tilling all of the vegetable garden plots. Then we planted part of one of the plots with lettuce, pea pods, beets, spinach and radishes. After that, we had to put down the pathways, and fence it so the chickens and rabbits will stay out.

We moved on to building and filling the new asparagus bed, but not planting it yet — the soil is too cold still.

After all of that, we took some time to admire the hens taking a communal dust bath in one of the freshly tilled plots, then fed the alpacas — and noticed that they each had an alpaca shadow with them.

Finally, we came in and replanted Sam’s hot pepper plants (started from the seeds from the originals he gave to me five years ago) — how healthy and happy they look!

Phew — what a great day we had, now it’s time to sit and edit for a bit…

 

Ellsbury!

IMG_0876

Our oldest alpaca, Ellsbury (fondly called Ellsy — black fiber), has always been a little bit on the timid side. No, really, he is terrified of just about anything. A squirrel? Scary! The wind? Terrifying!

Now, as timid as Ellsy is, he also has always been our most curious alpaca. When Paul is building something, Ellsy will follow along the fence, watching every moment of his progress. When we work in the gardens, he watches, and of course, makes his happy sound if he thinks yummy treats are headed his way.

Yesterday, however, Ellsy showed a completely new side of himself, and even today, he was clearly still pretty proud. This gorgeous, huge red fox killed one of our hens yesterday (a nasty possibility when you have free-range hens) right near the alpaca pen. We happened to see the fox carrying her head (yuck!) across the lawn, and shouted to him to get him to leave. Then we quickly went outside to deal with the remains, and the fox was back to get the rest of his dinner — Paul chased him away again, but in his fear, the fox ran into the alpaca pasture, then getting stopped by the fence, ran along the inside of the fence into the alpaca pen.

Then the most amazing thing happened — instead of Ellsy (and Kahuna) running away from the large fox, Ellsy ran toward him, making aggressive sounds, and got him pinned against the back fence. Then Ellsy was almost rearing fully up, trying to come down on the fox with his front feet. Wow! When the fox turned and ran away, Ellsy chased him as far as he could. Kahuna followed along, supporting Ellsy, but also letting him take the lead.

The drama over, we were cheering and clapping for Ellsy. We went and got them a really nice treat for his bravery — and for the rest of the day, Ellsy acted like a very proud puff-ball — head up, ears fully up, looking like a champion.

Even today, Ellsy seemed pretty proud of himself. As we started to work in the garden, Paul said, “Yes, Ellsy, we are still really proud of you,” and Ellsy made a happy hum, then laid down in the sun for a well-deserved nap.

Way to go, Ellsy!

An update

Just in case you were wondering, the sheep mentioned in story #2 yesterday was a full-grown ram, not a cute little baby lamb. Here is a picture of Ferdie:

267405_198689573516225_3740721_n

 

He wasn’t a little guy, and those horns! Here’s another picture of him, as he got older.

 

ferdie

 

So for your humor today, just imagine that huge, woolly, smelly, horned animal sitting up like a human (side note — he often liked to sit like a human, weird but true), belted into the back seat of a Honda Civic, as happy as could be as he listened to Jimi Hendrix and went for a ride.

 

 

A Sam Story — well, maybe two stories.

sam smiling

Yesterday, a faithful reader suggested that I tell a story about Sam that makes me smile. The thing about Sam, he made you smile. A lot.

So, here are two stories about Sam that still make me smile.

Story #1:

Years ago, we gave Sam and Ben a trip as their “big” Christmas gift. The trip included going to Springfield, Massachusetts to see Jesus Christ Superstar performed by an off-Broadway troupe. Sam loved JCS. He listened to it year-round, as loud as it would go, singing along. We would stay in a hotel overnight there, then go to Boston, stay overnight, and go see the Red Sox at Fenway. The Red Sox are a big deal in our house, and this was the first time they would see them play at home. So this was the ultimate gift.

Suddenly, it’s the day before we’re supposed to leave, and the Sox tickets still haven’t arrived. The third-party seller wouldn’t respond to inquiries, and the website went black. We headed to Massachusetts, holding onto the idea that it would all work out, and when we got to Springfield, went for a swim in the hotel pool, then I went back to the room to try to figure out the Sox tickets.  Lots of phone calls, finally I talked to our credit card company and they worked out the whole ticket thing for us.

So we went to the show, more relaxed than we had been, and the show was spectacular. Part way through the show, as Mary Magdalene was singing Everything’s Alright, Sam leaned over, and laid his head on my shoulder, and squeezed my arm, whispering, “This is the best night ever.”

We got back to the hotel, tired, but Ben needed to release some more physical energy, so Paul took them back to the pool while I went back to the room to make sure that everything truly was all set for the Sox game. Imagine my surprise when suddenly there was the pounding at the door.

I rushed to the door, expecting an emergency, and it was Sam, flushed, wet from the pool, barefoot, and dripping all over the rug. “Sam, what’s the matter?”

He yelled with such joy and force, “Mom! Mom! I just met Judas. I met Judas, Mom, on the elevator! I met Judas! And he says if I come right down to the lobby with the program, he’ll autograph it for me.” And off he ran with the program — and we have it still, kept safe in his treasure box for all time. His joy about meeting Judas still makes me smile.

The next day, we drove into Boston, and checked into our hotel. We wandered the city, then walked to Fenway. Sitting just past Pesky’s Pole, we basked in the sunshine. All of a sudden, Sam says in absolute wonder, “Hey, guys, that guy looks just like Curt Schilling.”

His little brother looked at him, looked at the guy coming out of the bull pen, and cracked up in gales of laughter, almost choking on his mouthful of hot dog, and shouted, “Sam, dude, who is pitching today?”

Sam’s eyes widened, and he whacked Paul’s shoulder, “Dad, Dad, that’s Curt Schilling!”

Every time Schilling took the mound after that day, someone in the house would yell, “Hey, Sam, doesn’t that guy look just like Curt Schilling?”

Story #2:

The second funny incident occurred a few weeks before Sam’s graduation from high school. I was at work, doing the normal work stuff, and my assistant said that I had a call. She said it was the principal of Otter Valley, Jim, but that he said it wasn’t an emergency, he just needed to talk to me.

So I got on the phone. And he calmly said, “Kris, do you guys have a sheep?”

What a strange question! “Yes.”

“Does he like Hendrix?”

I certainly hadn’t heard him correctly. “What?”

“Does your sheep like Jimi Hendrix?”

“Jim, what the hell are you talking about?”

Now I could hear his suppressed laughter, “I think your sheep is outside the school, belted in the backseat of a Honda Civic, with Hendrix blasting. He’s with Sam and the boys, and they are here to pick someone up.”

I started to laugh, and even now, thinking back to the conversation, I laugh. “Seriously?”

“Yup.”

So I called Sam’s cell phone, and when he came on, Hendrix was blasting. “Sam. Do you have Ferdie with you?” Ferdie (Ferdinand) was the name of our ram.

“Hi, Mom.” There was a chorus of “Hi, Moms” in the background and a bleating of a sheep. “Yeah, he’s right here.”

Sigh. “Sam, why is Ferdie at Otter Valley?”

His voice was patient, “Mom, he was bored. We went to the house to play basketball. ” Okay, he would have been skipping class to do that, mental note to chew him out about that later, “And we let him out to play with us, and he seemed bored, so we took him for a ride.”

The funny thing was that it actually sounded pretty reasonable when explained that way. Wait, no, think about it. I swallowed and took a deep breath, “So, Sam, here’s the deal. Turn down the music, get out of Otter Valley’s circle, and take the sheep home. Got it?”

“Got it. Love you, Mom.”

 

That was Sam, through and through. Every experience was the best, every moment had the potential for wonder and joy, and if the sheep seemed bored, why not take him for a ride in a Honda Civic?

The Ups and Downs

This week has started somewhat strangely. Huge ups of the joy and wonder of seeing my novels showing growing sales. The joys of being featured on two blogs/websites:

ABR on Nancy Wood’s Blog

and

ABR on Awesomegang

Then, the joy of the sense of accomplishment as the first round of queries for Of Grief, Garlic and Gratitude went out into the universe. Writing a non-fiction query is different than one for a novel, and frankly, there obviously also is the very deep emotional piece to this memoir. Then, immediately getting interest from an agent and a publisher (just interest, not offers or a contract, but requests for more samples), that was a joy.

Seeing the seedling grow, especially Sam’s hot pepper plants, is a joy. Getting the bee equipment ready for another season, a joy. The garlic shoots poking through the straw mulch, a total and complete joy.

April 9th, not so much of a joy. Four and a half years ago, exactly, we lost Sam. The thing about anniversaries and milestones is that I know logically that one date/day shouldn’t matter any more than another, but the milestones still kick me in the head and heart, make it hard to breathe, make me struggle to think in a positive way about much of anything. And I admit, hitting 4 1/2 years reminds me that the 5 year anniversary is coming, and that terrifies me. I know that I shouldn’t be starting to worry about how much that anniversary will hurt, but I am. I know that I have been scared of other milestones before, and gotten through them, and I know I will this one too, but still, it is looming out there.

So, it’s only Tuesday, and it already has been a powerfully emotional week. I guess it may be time to sit and count the joys again for a while.

 

Guest Blogger — Cyn Ley!

Today I am thrilled to welcome Cyn Ley as a guest blogger! Cyn not only is an amazing author, she also was my Solstice editor on The Phone Call and More Than I Can Say, and I have so enjoyed working with her, and getting to know her.

About Cyn:

Cyn takes much of her inspiration from the part of the beautiful Pacific Northwest she calls home, where fire (the active volcanoes) and water (the many rivers and the Pacific Ocean) actually do mix. Among her many interests are history, embroidery, folklore, and things that are generally rather strange. And she is a top-reviewed author on amazon.com.

The best of her earlier writings (2014-2016) were revised and given new life in the collection Encounters Tales Recounted and Reborn, published in spring 2017. A number of them had made previous appearances in various Solstice seasonal anthologies and smaller collections. This was followed in early fall with an anthology of all new stories, entitled The Ossuary Playground and Other Unexpected Tales. Shortly after, the story Plot Twist found its way into the annual Solstice fright fest anthology Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep Volume 5. It is now available as a stand-alone story on Kindle.

In addition to her writings, she was named the 6th top book editor in the 2016 Preditors & Editors poll, and advanced to 4th place in 2017.

Pink Flamingos & Other Follies is her latest anthology, released in March 2018.

All of Cyn’s titles are available on Amazon.com.

Social Media

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CynthiaLey2@cynthialey2

Blog: https://authorcjl.wordpress.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/Cleyfiction4/

 

From Cyn:

Thank you for the opportunity!

My latest release is PINK FLAMINGOS & OTHER FOLLIES, a collection of five short stories. It follows THE OSSUARY PLAYGROUND AND OTHER UNEXPECTED TALES, and an anthology of older stories which have been in some cases reimagined entitled ENCOUNTERS TALES RECOUNTED AND REBORN. All of these are available on amazon in print and Kindle venues. I also currently have a short story single out on Kindle, entitled PLOT TWIST.

ENCOUNTERS grew out of a challenge from a writer friend. I’ve always loved to write, but never had the courage to do anything with it. She explained what flash fiction was, gave me a topic, and the rest is history. From the very beginning to the present, I discovered I was a top-reviewed author on amazon.com!

I like to experiment with various genres, pushing myself in directions I haven’t gone before. It’s an excellent way to learn the craft behind the types of stories. I write general fiction, humor, horror, paranormal, mystery, social satire—stories designed to entertain, but that will hopefully also make readers sit back and think.

I take much of my inspiration from the place where I live. A town with the motto “Keep Portland Weird” is surely a good location to hunt down the quirks and quarks for many a tale.

A writer’s life is based on language, and what is language but sound? To me, words sing—they have tone, volume, pitch, and nuance, and they have to be right before hitting the page.

I love the challenge of conveying much in few words. A short story can be huge in scope, compressed down to a couple of pages. It’s all about how the words are used. One of the adages for any writer is “Don’t use words because you can. Use words because you should.”

PINK FLAMINGOS & OTHER FOLLIES  is my third short story anthology, just released. The stories here are engaging, funny, and frequently quirky. The collection also introduces a new series—a cozy mystery entitled “It’s A Mystery I: The Lost Boys.”

The stories are:

“Charlotte Plays God”—Take three physics proteges, one adventurous professor, and a cross dimensional portal constructed out of a coffee maker.

“Prickly Weather”—Groundhog’s Day in West Coast Portland. Bring on the hedgehogs!

“’Randa’s Wrath”—It’s Pledge Week, and a favorite late night coffee house is ready for it with a challenge guaranteed to burn.

“It’s A Mystery I: The Lost Boys”—Introducing the first of a series, two bookshop owners find themselves surrounded by clues and conundrums in a case where time is of the essence.

“Bored Laureen & Wally”—Even the most serene of marriages needs a little shaking up from time to time!

Is there a pink flamingo in your future? There could be…

***

Other Works

THE OSSUARY PLAYGROUND AND OTHER UNEXPECTED TALES

All tales are built from bones, the reminders of lives present and past, of lives walking the edge between this world and the ones beyond.

“Remains”—A lonely and forgotten battlefield bears the spirits of those who linger there.

“Calling You Out”—Many a historic house has its ghosts, but for one spirit, all he yearns to hear is his own name.

“Stilts”—A house up in Portland’s West Hills bears a terrible stain and a terrifying manifestation.

“The Ossuary Playground”—It remains to children to recall the past, as only children can.

Praise for THE OSSUARY PLAYGROUND:

“Superb, highly recommended”

“The stories are crafted like jewels”

“Classic ghost stories written in elegant prose. A book well worth reading.”

***

ENCOUNTERS TALES RECOUNTED AND REBORN

These are the best of the early tales, some as originally published, some expanded and reimagined. Ranging from social satire to the paranormal, from fight to flight to friendship, they touch base on the encounters of the human experience.

Included:

“Benefits”—A new home development is all about location. And what you dig up.

“Food Chain”—Wildlife documentarians Owen and Nate are in search of a new challenge. But sometimes the largest challenges turn out to be very small.

“The Logo Men”—What if the Seven Deadly Sins walked into a bar, and nobody noticed?

“Rinse, Repeat”—All the days are the same now. All because of one date.

“Perfect”—Sometimes life is as transformative, and as simple, as a holiday gingerbread cookie.

“The Tin Foil Hat Society”—It’s time for the millennial alien visitation! What could possibly go wrong?

…and other tales of wonder and terror

Praise for ENCOUNTERS:

“Magical, charming, original, and captivating”

“Thought-provoking and soul-searching”

“A satisfying and interesting reading experience”

***

PLOT TWIST

A humorous and horrific little romp about what happens when a demon on assignment shows up at a sci-fi convention.

 

Find me under “Cyn Ley” at http://www.amazon.com

The Ossuary-001Encounters-001pink flamingos-00129425980_10213956853814580_3508501248720502784_n(1)

 

115 A Day! Breaking the Rules — No apology given…

When you start a writer’s website/blog, there is endless advice from “experts” about what you should and shouldn’t include in your posts. Promoting your work (your books and other writing projects) is a good choice. Sharing your political views, a bad choice. Little, mostly positive tidbits about your life, good. Tirades about issues, bad. Post frequently, but not too often. Vary your type of posts. Add photos or videos, but not too many in an individual post, or too often overall. Sharing posts from other people you know, good, as long as those posts stick to the rules. And the lists went on and on…

Those of you who know me personally know that most of the time, I try to be a rule follower. So as I have written this blog, I have tried to keep those suggestions in mind, and have mostly followed them.

I also try to do the “right” thing in the rest of my life, and in doing so, I try to keep the image of staying true to my own internal moral compass. So today, I can’t follow those rules for a writer’s blog.

Today, I am writing from a place of almost imaginable darkness, sadness and rage. Today, the weight of growing grief is too much for me to paste a couple platitudes out there on twitter or Facebook or this page. Today, I need to express that I am so very tired of watching this incredible generation of the most wonderful human beings die due to drug overdoses, and I am not willing to stuff down that rage and sadness to follow the rules of having an upbeat author’s page.

My father is a minister, so when I was very young, he always had a church youth group. In that group were many drug addicts, but in my father’s view of Christianity, he welcomed them into the group, showed them love and support. Many of them became part of the extended family, but continued to use drugs heavily. They dropped out of school, they didn’t have jobs, many were homeless and couch-surfed. They looked like society thinks drug addicts should look, often dirty, unhealthy looking, missing teeth, pale and oh-so thin.

Fast forward forty-plus years, and welcome to the new reality of addiction in the United States or perhaps the world. Our young people are dying in record numbers, the CDC states that more than 115 people a day die in the United States of drug overdoses.

115 a day.

Let that sink in. 115 a day! A day!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And the number grows each year.

I have heard some politicians say that this is God’s way of cleaning the earth, getting rid of scum. This is not scum! These are human beings. These are children who are so loved, and so loved others.

When Sam died, and my mother dared to mention drugs at his celebration of life, some people said that we should have not shared his cause of death, that we should have just left it alone. THAT WAS THE PROBLEM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We didn’t know that transdermal pain patches could kill him, because our little part of VT had so hidden the drug problem (nice towns don’t have drugs, don’t you know?) — maybe if it hadn’t been so shrouded in shame, the outcome would have been different.

So let me state this now. The population dying of overdoses are not losers. They are bright, educated, loving, motivated, creative people, so very loved by their families. They brought joy, love, humor, music, art, caring to the people around them. Yes, some of them also brought the heartbreak of their struggles to those same people, but many didn’t — many were so able to hide or control their usage so that their ultimate deaths still had an air of surprise to them. And their deaths have caused almost limitless pain due to how much they were/are loved, and the grieving just goes on and on.

I am tired of watching these beautiful lights being snuffed out. I am tired of watching this most incredible generation of 18-35 year olds, who are so amazing, who have showed us such love, given such joy and light to the world, being taken from us.

I rage against a society that spends time arguing about whether to arrest and imprison or treat, who vilifies the addicts and their families. I rage against a world in which these beautiful souls need either the high of the drugs, or the release of their pain through them. I rage against the number of broken hearts they leave behind, in their parents, siblings, extended family and friends.

So today, I don’t have any words of joy or light to share. I have only that I have been so fortunate to have all of these souls in my/our lives, even as they are taken from us. I will not hide from their cause of death, I will not vilify them or their families, and I will speak their names with joy, love, thankfulness, and with a smile at the memories. I will not let them be relegated into the shrouds of history as less-than others.

Let me start with our Sam. Today, as every day, I shout his name loudly, with love, with thankfulness, with grief and rage that he is no longer here with us in person. Today, I share one of my favorite pictures of him, to help others remember the beauty of these lost ones.

sam

115 a day. It’s time for it to stop.