Her big, soft lap, wide welcoming arms, and gentle voice were made for stories. Every morning, I crawled up onto the couch below the portrait of my Great Great Grandmother Mary Ann Mitchell and listened to Grandmother Lovejoy tell stories of our family.
Then Grandmother tied my shoes and took me by the hand. We walked through her bountiful, old-fashioned garden, and she named the plants, told me the stories of their life, how they were used, and what critters liked to visit them. I listened, and the stories seemed to pour into my mind and lodge in my soul.
At lunch time, we went indoors and sat in Grandmother's sunny breakfast nook where we watched the birds at her busy feeders. Grandmother Lovejoy's stories taught me where the Mockingbird babies were hidden in the boysenberries, how the hummer licks at her nest with her long, long tongue, and that the jays were the easiest birds to tame.
Before nap time, I crawled up into Grandmother's lap and curled into her arms. She read Little Lame Prince, Heidi, The Secret Garden, Little Women, Robert Louis Stevenson's Child's Garden of Verses and Treasure Island, and so many books that still hold a place in my heart.
When Grandmother died my family sold her house and ours. I was torn from the hillside neighborhood and the friends and family I loved. Hardest for me was leaving Grandmother's garden. But, I found refuge in stories. Refuge in the books she left behind. Like so many of you reading this, I hid books in my bed and read under the covers until my flashlight dimmed and went dark. Stories kept me sane, gave me hope, assuaged my homesickness, and led me to a dream world of possibilities.
Throughout my life, stories and story telling have remained my sanctuary. That is why I so love to write, to create books, and to tell stories to children who are eager to merge with and become a part of the words.
Yesterday I welcomed some of my favorite women-writer friends to my home for the read of the final four chapters of my new children's novel. I was scared to my toes. Would they like it, despise it, think that the plot and climax were clunky or unbelievable? All these things were worrying me as they sat and listened to me read for almost an hour. They oohed and ached at all the right places, urged me onward, and at the end of the story, they sighed and applauded. But the applause wasn't the end of the meeting. Then they helped me pick out tiny inconsistencies, checked on the time line of the book, made sure that my main character's voice fit, and checked on how a man mounted a horse. Tiny little details that merge seamlessly when one tells a believable story.
Some critiques are written. I save all the papers and comb through my manuscript to make necessary additions and adjustments. But, I don't always agree with everyone and any writer must feel things are right with himself/herself.
Afterward we feasted on my freshly harvested fruit, toasted each other with champagne, and celebrated how much we all love being writers and love sharing books.
Blueberries, grapes, a bumper crop of nectarines, and a few Sequoia strawberries, sprinkled with rosemary, menthe citrate, and chocolate mint.
I use limoncello as a tart/sweet dressing.
Author Elizabeth Spurr, next to her is author Elizabeth Van Steenwyk, my Jeff, author Lori Peelen, Red Fox Literary agent Karen Grencik (others are cut out of photo) out under our grape laden arbor.
Lori, Karen, author Roni De Coster, and illustrator Helen K. Davie
Two Elizabeths on a bench! A toast!
And me toasting these FABULOUS and creative friends (and editor-agent husband).
Thank you for being such an important part of my life!
When we finished our dessert and champagne toasts, we returned to the living room to listen to the readings of Elizabeth Spurr, Elizabeth Van Steenwyk, and Veronica De Coster. We missed Lori's reading because she had to leave early. We also got to hear the good news of Karen Grencik's recent sales of many more books. Her literary agency is thriving and connecting more authors to publishers. Hurrah Karen and Red Fox Literary!
Missing from this meeting due to schedule conflicts were authors Sherry Shahan, Cindy Rankin, Cynthia Bates, and author-illustrator Stephanie Roth Sisson. Next time girls!
I send love across the miles-and keep on creating, keep on reading, and cherish your friends,
P.S. Jeff caught me tending the hollyhock this morning. Of course, I was in my nightgown. This hollyhock towers almost to the top of the little, blue window upstairs in Mockingbird Studio. You can see the pink blooms, but the tight, green buds are up there a few feet above the blooms. This is the tallest hollyhock I've ever grown. Lovely.