Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Grace-filled Tuesdays ("Meeting" #24): Austen Talk, and a Giveaway Reminder

It's Book Club time again!  Because Tuesday's child is full of Grace...and Molly, and Theresa, and--well, you get the idea.  ;)

I do love the meme I've been using for the club.  When I found this vintage-y-looking drawing of this sailor suit-clad little Victorian lass reading a book, it was like, "Bingo!"  It was perfect--just what I was looking for.  (Why don't little girls wear gigantic hair bows like this anymore?!)

Anyhoo--let's talk books.

Some readers might deduce that my first novel, Finding Grace, is at least partly autobiographical, since Grace Kelly starts high school the very same year I did, falls in love with a handsome, gap-toothed boy like I did, etc., etc., etc.  But it really isn't.  However, I don't think a novelist--especially a first-time novelist--can help but have parts of themselves and the people and places with which they are most familiar in their first efforts; at least that was true for me.  But if this sort of thing is good enough for the likes of  Jane Austen, then I suppose it's good enough for me.  Here are some quotes about Austen's writing that I've used before here at the book club:

"Jane wrote her early pieces for the amusement of her family and friends, and she put in shared jokes, teasing jibes, and allusions to real events in their lives."

"Austen is never autobiographical in the crude sense of recording what happened to her or to people she knew.  But a real situation was sometimes her starting point and developed in her imagination as something quite separate from the 'real'."

Please don't think I'm trying to say that I should ever even be mentioned in the same breath as that esteemed 19th-century author (the nerve!); but those passages from Jon Spence's biography Becoming Jane Austen perfectly describe the method to my madness when it comes to writing fiction.  Many of the characters and scenes in my books come completely from my imagination; but others have their starting points with real people or situations and then develop into something entirely different in order to fit into my story.  (Case in point: at our last "meeting," I told you how I took a loving pat on the head from my future father-in-law, a gesture that made an indelible impression on me, and transformed it into a touching exchange between Tom and Grace in Finding Grace.)

There is less of me and the people I know in Erin's Ring.  Having spent four-and-a-half years bleeding onto the page (that is, onto the computer screen) with Finding Grace, I thought that was the one and only novel I would ever write; when I finally finished it, I was pretty sure that I didn't have another one in me.  So Molly and Theresa, the main characters in Erin's Ring, are wholly fictional creatures--unlike Grace Kelly, whose confidence issues, shyness, and deep love for a boy she meets in high school were well-known to me.  The only trait Molly and I share is an obsession with combing through the attics of old houses in search of treasures that hint at a romantic past.  At her age, if I'd found an antique Irish Claddagh ring buried in the dirt, engraved with the names of two lovers, I would have been every bit as intrigued by it as she is.

That being said, Molly's dad is an airline pilot (like my husband) who is also a talented wood-worker (like my husband).  And Molly's parents have just the sort of loving relationship--one with lots of teasing and laughter, and a deep shared love of family life--with which I have been blessed in my marriage.  I definitely thought of my hubby when I created Dan McCormick.  So there are small bits of my real life embedded in my second book, too.

Okay then, before we adjourn this "meeting"--
I just want to remind you that I'm giving away five free copies of Erin's Ring.  Share news of the giveaway on your favorite form of social media (on your blog, Instagram, or Twitter, using the hashtag #erinsringgiveaway), and you'll be entered to win.   Winners will be chosen and announced on Nov. 1.

I'm not the best marketer/promoter, so I could really use your help sreading the word about this giveaway.  I actually roped my family in to help with the campaign, and look at the photos I've been using, featuring my middle son and my two youngest grandchildren, Princesa and Junior.  These peeps of mine are so adorable that for the first time ever, I got lots of people to re-tweet my tweets on Twitter.  (Really, who can resist these these faces?!)

You're probably smiling now, aren't you?

And on that note: until next time, dear readers...

Monday, October 24, 2016

Pearls in Prague: Part Three

If you come here often you might have read "Pearls in Prague, Part One," wherein I told you that my husband has been flying commercially for 28 years, the last 20 of which he's been working strictly international flights.  And wherein I told you that I never got around to tagging along to see any of the wonderful European cities he'd flown to until 2011, when he'd already been an airline pilot for 23 years.  And wherein I said that I went on a string of awesome trips with him in a relatively short period of time, but then hadn't been able to do so for about four years now.

Then I told you how I played stowaway (make that spoiled business-class traveler) on his most recent four-day trip to Prague, flying over the ocean on October 17 and flying back on the 20th.

So now we're all caught up.

Having a husband who flies here, there, and everywhere makes movie-watching interesting--especially when you live in a house where you are the only woman among six men, so you watch  more action/adventure-type movies, like the Bourne and Mission Impossible franchises, than you do romantic comedies.  These macho sorts of films always seem to be shot in exotic locales like Rome, or Moscow, or Athens, or Paris...or Prague.  All places that my husband has been multiple times.  And as the action is unfolding, he'll usually say something like, "I've been to that plaza."  Or "I've walked on that street."  And I'll usually tease him, saying something like, "Oooh, la-di-da!  You're such a world traveler."  (But actually, he IS a world traveler.  So joke's on me!)

When we were in Prague, I was so taken with the iconic Charles Bridge.  The view is spectacular, to put it mildly.  And all along its length on either side, there are larger-than-life-sized holy statues.  It's truly an homage to the Faith, and so heart-stoppingly beautiful that I think I could spend all day on it and never get bored.  Its wide, cobbled walkway was teeming with tourists the whole time we were there.

And bonus: my husband informed me that now when I watch the first installment of Mission Impossible, which was shot in Prague, I'll be able to do what he usually does and say, "Hey, I recognize that street!  I recognize those stairs!  I stood on that bridge!"  He found this YouTube video clip for me, so that shortly after I'd walked the same route Tom Cruise walks in this scene from the movie, I could watch it on my iPhone and have the thrill of firsthand recognition.
So cool!  That's really how it all looks!

Anyway, without further ado I'll show you some of the photos I took while we were walking across Prague's Charles Bridge (and not falling off of it, like John Voigt's unfortunate character).

I never had even the slightest hankering to see Prague, but I should have.  I would go back there in a heartbeat, I really would.  It's such a clean, beautiful city, so filled with history and Catholic imagery and gorgeous architecture.  I'm still pinching myself when I think, "I was there."
But I was.  I really was!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Pearls in Prague: Part Two

I told you in yesterday's post that I'd accompanied my husband on a four-day working trip to Prague.  And I promised you that there was going to be a lot of sight-seeing today (and with a lot of sight-seeing comes a lot of pictures, always). 

It was a very full day--kind of like the best date ever!--and we're both really tired and thinking of turning in ASAP and getting a good night's sleep.  After all, he has to fly us home safely in the morning, and I...well, I have to be in a really good mood, so that nasty fear of flying bugaboo doesn't come back to haunt me again before I board that big old airplane.

So...until I have a chance to sift through my hundreds of pictures to put together some better posts, here are a few of my favorite shots from today.
On the Charles Bridge (if you're on Instagram,
you might have seen this picture already.)

THEE Infant of Prague statue,
at the Church of Our Lady Victorious.

The statue itself is rather small, but its showcase is
utterly magnificent.

Near the castle on the hill, overlooking the city

When we get back home and I rest up from the jet-lag, there will be more pictures.  Pinky swear.

(Hey, don't forget the giveaway.  I'm giving away free copies of Erin's Ring to five lucky winners, to be chosen and announced on Nov. 1.  Just share information about the giveaway via your blog, Facebook, or Twitter, and you will be entered to win.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Pearls in Prague: Part One

My husband has been a commercial airline pilot for 28 years, since just around the time I gave birth to our fourth son in 1988.  For the last 20 of those years, he has been flying internationally--to places like Rome, Moscow, Dublin, Milan, Brussels...there are too many cities to list, and he can't even count the number of times he has been to each of them.

It is typical for the wives of airline pilots to occasionally tag along on their husbands' working trips, leaving their children in the care of loving grandparents (which is what is known as a win-win situation).  It's a great deal, after all: if there are empty seats up in first class or business class, the spouses of employees can fill them; when they arrive at the trip's destination, they can share the free hotel room provided for flight crew members during the one- or two-day layover.  So for the price of a few meals out, they can enjoy exotic (but very short!) vacations that they might otherwise never be able to afford.

I, however, have not been a typical airline pilot's wife.  Not by a long shot.

Although we did take some trips with our kids (to places like Disney, Notre Dame, and even Bermuda, where my husband's brother was stationed in the Navy), we really didn't fly as much as your average airline couple or family. There were a few good reasons for this.  First of all, even with the enviable perk of free flights, hotel costs and meals out for a family of seven adds up quickly.  When our boys were growing up, making sure that we had the funds to keep up with their Catholic school tuitions took priority over traveling.  Secondly, our boys' mom suffered from a severe case of fear of flying (which, coupled with the crippling separation anxiety that would have ensued if she'd flown off and left her babies behind, was downright debilitating).  And to be honest, once our sons all started playing varsity football and lacrosse, they were unwilling to go away during school vacations if it meant they might have to miss a game or two or lose their starting spots on the team, so they were perfectly happy to be homebodies most of the time.

In the spring of 2011, our oldest son and his wife welcomed twin daughters, our first grandchildren; suddenly my fear of flying started to abate a little and I became, in fact, a frequent flyer.  Flying still made me incredibly nervous, but there was no way I wasn't going to do it.  It's amazing what having your kids and grandkids living far from home will do to cure a phobia like that.  The fear of not being able to see them became greater by far than the fear of sitting in a steel tube 30,000 feet above terra firma.

Most of our travels revolved around visiting our beloved progeny; but in December of 2011, just a few months after the youngest of our five boys started his freshman year at Notre Dame and our nest was well and truly empty, I finally accompanied my husband on one of his working trips.  It was a four-day trip to Nice, and it was spectacular.  During the two-day layover, we were able to make a side trip to Monaco, which was a complete thrill for me.  Between 2011 and 2014, I was quite the jet-setter: I went to Nice, Amsterdam, Athens, Barcelona, and also took two trips to San Juan--each time with my hubby at the controls up front.  But for the past two years, our lives have been so hectic and full and over-scheduled that we haven't been able to fly to far-off lands together.

My husband spends most of his energy making sure that I'm happy and doesn't really ask for much; so when he mentioned, this past summer, that he'd like to have me go on a trip with him sometime soon, I knew that I couldn't say no if just the right trip came up.  Well, it did: a four-day trip to a beautiful European destination, with plenty of seats on the flights there and back.  So...

On Monday night, we took off from NYC and flew across the Atlantic.

We flew over Ireland (the magical land I desperately yearn to visit one day, God willing!).
We flew over Germany (hello, my youngest son!).
And finally, after almosst eight hours in the air, we landed in Prague.
While I was watching our progress on the flight tracker (on my personal TV screen up in business class--I know, I'm spoiled), my husband was looking at this sort of thing.
The trip was a lot more work for him than it was for me, as you can imagine.

But after getting a nice long nap in at the layover hotel (along with a workout for him and a bit of blog-writing for me), we showered, dressed, and took a long walk through the city.  We strolled over the famous Charles Bridge.  We ate a lovely meal at a restaurant near the river that was more upscale than either of us needed.  Then we walked back to the hotel.

Prague, I must say, is just beautiful!
Selfie time!
The Charles Bridge in the distance.
My dinner date.

The famous Prague astronomical clock.
Tomorrow, there'll be lots of sight-seeing and lots of picture-taking, so stay tuned for Part Two.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Grace-filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #23): Cliffhangers and Cliffs

In my last Grace-filled Tuesdays post (coincidentally, my last blog post, written way back on Sept. 27...sheesh, I am not a very prolific blogger these days!), I left you with a cliffhanger of sorts.  I promised that at our next "meeting" I would reveal the inspiration for the scene in Finding Grace where Tom Buckley pats Grace Kelly--who is dying of unrequited love for him--on the head, and she just about dissolves into a puddle of goo. 

Well, if you think I wrote that scene into the story because my very own Tom Buckley (that is, my husband, who became my boyfriend when we were both 15 and has been my one and only ever since) patted me on the head in a similar manner, well...you would be...


There are many scenes in the book that were inspired in part by my high school memories: Grace and her friends eating at a local pizza joint after a football game, for instance, and Tom patiently giving Grace ski lessons at Whiteface Mt. (which a similarly gap-toothed heartthrob also did for yours truly), to name two; but that head-patting scene was inspired by something you would probably never guess.

The fall of our senior year, my husband broke his arm in a football game, ending his season prematurely.  (And the team's season, too, because we didn't manage to win another game without him.  But I digress.)  Because of the location of the break, his arm was in traction and he had to sleep sitting upright in a chair rather than lying in a bed.  He was in the hospital for a few days, and I went to see him as often as I could.

One day when I was there with him, he got tired; so I told him not to worry about staying awake to visit with me, and I held a pillow for him, so that he could rest his head against it while he slept in his chair.  As I was sitting there, holding that pillow and ignoring any aches or numbness caused by staying in that awkward position (and staring at the sleeping face of the handsomest boy I had ever seen with a look of utter adoration, I expect), his dad came into the room so quietly that I didn't notice him right away.  And before I knew it, I felt the warm and loving hand of this man--who was truly a giant in the way he influenced my life--resting on the top of my head.  His son and I had been dating for going-on-three years by then, but there hadn't been a whole lot of physical signs of affection between us up until that point.  (You have to understand that this was the mid-1970's, and in general, they were far less huggy times than we're living in now. I could no more imagine hugging Mr. Pearl--or one of my male teachers, or any grown man who wasn't a blood relative--than I could imagine living on the moon.)  So that simple pat on the head, so unexpected and so sweet, flooded me with warmth and made a lump form in my throat.  That hand resting on my head made me feel so loved and appreciated that from that moment on, the head-pat became one of my favorite ways to give and receive affection.  And that's why Tom pats Grace on the head; and that's why Grace, who has never been kissed by a boy, thinks it's so wonderful that she imagines it must be every bit as knee-weakening an experience as a kiss.

My father-in-law has been gone for 13 years now, so I can't ask him what he was thinking that day; but when I remember the incident now, I often wonder if a lump formed in his throat, too, when he walked into that hospital room and saw his eldest son being so obviously LOVED by his young girlfriend, who was holding a pillow for him to rest his head on and gazing at him as if she was witnessing a miracle or something.

Okay, so that's it for Finding Grace.  Now for a quick word about Erin's Ring, a novel that goes back and forth in time between the 1990's and the early 1800's and tells the story of some Irish-Catholic immigrants who had a big influence on a small New England town.  I'm giving away five free copies of Erin's Ring, with the winners to be announced on Nov. 1.  I'm looking for help via tweets (use the hashtag #erinsringgiveaway), or via Facebook posts, or via blog posts that mention the giveaway.  If you'd like to help me share the giveaway details, I'll throw your name into the hat.

Before I sign off, I want to show you some pictures of my youngest son (the one who is currently living in Germany), taken on some famous cliffs overlooking the ocean.  He and a friend decided to spend the four-day Columbus Day weekend in Ireland.  They flew to Dublin and visited some pubs and castles (and of course, they also visited the home of Guinness beer!).  Then they took a bus tour to the Cliffs of Moher.  My boy said that it was an absolutely mind-blowing experience for him.  He could hardly believe that he was really there on those iconic cliffs; truly, he said, it surpassed any expectations he had for it.  He's got lots of Irish blood in his veins, and I think he felt as if he'd come home.

My love for Ireland runs very deep, in spite of the fact that I don't have nearly as much Irish blood in me as my husband or my sons.  (If you've read either of my novels, you might have guessed this about me.)  I've never had much of a bucket list, since my life has been blessed already beyond any wishes I ever had for it.  But I think I need to stand on those cliffs one day, too; yes, I think I need to see the Emerald Isle with my own two eyes.

Until next time, dear readers:

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Grace-filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #22): On Being a Writer (Sort of...)

Ready to do some clubbin'?
My kind of nightclub: not the millenials' version,
but the circa 1940 version, filled with jitterbug enthusiasts.
Not that kind of clubbin', silly; not nightclubbin'.  BOOK clubbin'!
So yesterday, my dad wanted to show me some books that mean a lot to him, one of them titled Charlie Wilson's War (which was made into a movie starring Tom Hanks), a non-fiction work written about his old Naval Academy buddy Charlie Wilson, who signed Dad's copy and inscribed it with a personal message.  He wanted to show them to me because he thought I might be interested, because (and I quote), "You're a writer, sort of."

As the author of two novels (and a frequent contributor to the crowded field of Internet blogging), I should have been offended by Dad's little addendum, "sort of."  But I wasn't.  To him, I'll always just be his little girl, and also the mother of five boys who never had a "real" job while she was raising them.  Even though I've had two books published, I don't believe I've become a "real" writer in my father's eyes.

But that's okay with me.  The only job/career/vocation by which I identify myself, the only job/career/vocation by which I measure whatever success I might have had or will have in my lifetime on earth, is that of wife and mother.  This whole writing thing...well, it came to me much later in life than it does to most folks that people call writers.  I was 49 (with the youngest of my five sons about to begin high school) when I started work on my first novel, 54 (and a newly-minted grandmother to my oldest son's twin daughters) when it was published.  I was no spring chicken when Finding Grace made it to print, that's for sure.

Since becoming a published author, I think of myself as a "Grammy" more than a writer.  Writing is something that I love to do, but it does not define me.  So I've often wondered: am I a real writer? 

Not too long ago, however, I saw this meme on the Internet and had a eureka! moment.
I may not be a financially successful writer.  I may not even be a good writer.  But if the need to write is what makes one a writer, then I have that in spades.  So often, I am suddenly hit with an unstoppable urge to put sentences together to express whatever is on my mind at the moment.  I often just have to write.  So perhaps I am a real writer after all.

Sort of.  Maybe.  I guess.  But first and foremost, I'm Mrs. Pearl/Mom/Grammy.

Hmmm, now that we've got that settled...this book club meeting didn't even involve any book talk today.  So I've got a question for you, readers.  Have you read Finding Grace?  If you did, do you remember the part where Tom Buckley pats Grace Kelly (who is dying of unrequited love for him) on the head and it just about melts her?  Would you like to know the rather surprising inspiration for that scene?  Can you guess what might have inspired it?  Stay tuned: next week, I'll give you the answer.

Before I sign off, don't forget about the giveaway: five free copies of my second novel, Erin's Ring, will find their way into the hands of five lucky winners, to be announced on Nov. 1.  For a chance to win, click on the "It's Giveaway Time" image up there on the sidebar.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

About a Boy

Once upon a time, there was a little boy who lost his dad to suicide at the tender age of six.  "Don't be mad at him," he remembers his paternal grandmother, "Grammy," tearfully pleading with his mother in the days following his father's funeral.  "Why would my mom be mad at my dad for dying?" the little boy wondered.

That boy wouldn't know the details surrounding his father's death for many years, until he was a 21-year-old newlywed with a niggling suspicion that he hadn't been told the whole story...and spent hours in the library poring over old newspapers until he uncovered the devastating truth, and then shared his newfound knowledge with his beautiful young bride.

Not a great way to begin a marriage, you might say; but that tall, handsome newlywed with the Paul Newman-blue eyes and the movie star good looks just celebrated 60 years of wedded bliss with his one and only sweetheart.  I'd say that's not too shabby, for a boy whose life could have been irreparably shattered by events that took place when he was only six.

After his father died, the boy's mother (who was the eldest of six siblings) went away to attend nursing school and get her career started, so that she could eventually become the sole supporter of her children.  The grieving widow left the boy and his younger sister with her mother, who'd become the head of the family after the crash of '29 robbed her father of his financial success and left him a broken man.  "Mimi" was a tough-as-nails matriarch, a sensible, hard-working, no-nonsense woman who, when it came to her fatherless grandson (an admittedly sometimes naughty little tyke!), never thought it was best to spare the rod if it meant spoiling the child.

This might sound like some horrifying Dickensian tale, but never fear: that boy adored his upbringing in that tiny town in upstate NY, describing his seven years in his beloved grandmother's care to his own offspring in later years as the most idyllic of childhoods imaginable.  He was surrounded completely by women (his grandmother, his sister, and several teenaged aunts who were still living at home at the time); he had no strong males in his life to use as role models for later on, when he would become a husband and dad himself.  And yet he was married at 21 and soon after became the dad of many.  By the time that boy was just 28, he was already the father of five: three daughters and two sons.

Once, when that boy's eldest daughter's fourth son was six years old, it suddenly occurred to her that he was the same age as her dad had been when he lost his father.  The idea of leaving her own boy motherless was so difficult to contemplate that she asked him if he had any memories of his father.  "Nope," he said, in the tight-lipped fashion typical of him when he didn't feel like talking about something.  "None at all."  And the boy's daughter was unspeakably sad when she heard his answer.

But a few years later during a thunderstorm, the daughter realized that her dad hadn't been entirely truthful when he gave her that curt reply.  As a fierce storm raged outside, she told him how much thunderstorms frightened her.  "Oh, not me," he replied.  "I love 'em.  One of the earliest memories I have from when I was a little boy is of sitting on my father's lap on the porch, watching the lightning come down."

"Aha!" thought the daughter.  "So he does remember his father!"  And she was happy, because that meant if she'd died when one of her own boys was only six, he might remember her, too.

That boy is an old man now.  His health is deteriorating, and he is facing the end of a long life well lived.  He's handling the most recent prognosis from his doctor with his usual courage...because at six, he had to learn how to be brave and strong at a much younger age than most of us have to; at six, he learned to take what life threw at him without complaining or asking for pity.  He didn't have a father to show him the ropes when he was growing up, but he learned how to climb them on his own.  He was a boy who figured out, all by himself, how to be a man.

I am proud to call that boy my father.
My dad, first row on the right; his "Mimi" next to him;
his mother holding his little sister on her lap;
and his father, not too long before he died, back row on the left.
(The other man in the photo is an uncle who was already grown
and gone when Dad moved in with his grandmother.)