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.)

Friday, September 23, 2016

Things are Getting a Little Nutty around Here!

Today as I was boxing up some books in my living room (high school and college yearbooks, college text books, and other weighty tomes that my husband and I have probably not cracked open more than once or twice in the quarter of a century-plus that we've lived in this house), I found the oddest thing.

Behind a very old, leather-bound family Bible that was lying horizontally in the bottom corner of one of the built-in bookshelves, there was a pile of almonds.
Wait a minute--what?!

I mean, it's not that my husband and I are opposed to snacking in rooms other than the kitchen.  We do that all the time, often bringing a tray of crackers and cheese into the living room to have while enjoying drinks by the fire, munching on chips and salsa while watching football games, or using our family room as the site for our in-house dinner-and-a-movie dates.  But I was really perplexed trying to figure out how in the world a pile of nuts could make its way to the back corner of the bottom bookshelf!

Then it hit me: there was a squirrel invasion in this house, back in 2011, when I was a fledgling blogger.  I first heard the sneaky critter skittering around in the living room (although I didn't know until later that he was a squirrel and not an axe murderer), and the next day I found a framed picture overturned in there on a table.  Discovering that hidden stash of nuts today made me wonder if before he eventually made his way upstairs, the little scamp had also found an open bowl or container of almonds somewhere and had started squirreling them away behind that Bible!

I have since immortalized my little nighttime intruder in a painting on the wall of the bedroom where I finally got him trapped until the Animal Control guys could come and get him the heck out of my house the next morning.
I chronicled this nutty story years ago, here and here.  The posts are long-ish, but they are entertaining, if you've got the time.  (I used to have more words and less pictures in my blog posts; I think perhaps I've gotten a bit lazy as the years have passed!)

And now, back to my boxes...

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Gee Whiz--The G's Are Finally Ready to Go!

I couldn't sleep last night (or more correctly, in the wee hours this morning).  While that wasn't good for my physical and mental health and well-being, it was good for my ABC Book.  Because I found that working on the G pages was a genuinely calming activity.  Doing artwork--sketching and coloring my little pictures, and dreaming of the day when I'll finally have a finished book for my grandkids--was a bit of a Godsend, I'll tell you.  If I'm going to be up anyway, I'd just as soon feel like I'm being productive.

So here are the G's, gang.

My husband appreciated that I got all the G's involved: the hard G, the soft G, and even the silent G.  If my grandchildren don't notice how generous I was with this letter, that's okay; as long as they feel the love Grammy put into these illustrations.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Grace-filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #21): Shelf Esteem

I had the thrill of a lifetime this past weekend, while out at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, IN.  Yes, I did go to the game on Saturday night with my hubby (ND Class of 1980) and a slew of other Pearl relatives, but that part was hardly thrilling.  (If you're an Irish football fan, I don't have to tell you what a depressing experience it was watching our boys lose to Michigan State and effectively end their hopes of having a successful season.)

But on a lighter note, my husband and I did spy something pretty ding-dang cool at Notre Dame's Hammes Bookstore. Two somethings, actually; and I thought I'd tell you about that today, because it's Tuesday--and Tuesdays are full of Grace...and Erin.

That's right, it's  Book Club time.
Shortly after Finding Grace was published in 2012, I contacted the Hammes Bookstore to see if my humble first novel, which included a key scene at Notre Dame's famed grotto (a replica of the one at Lourdes), was something they would be interested in carrying.  I was a newly-minted published author at the time, and I was a bit too shy to do much good in the marketing department; so as you can imagine I didn't "sell" the book very well in my email.  Not too surprisingly, I got a kindly worded rejection note from the folks at ND.

Fast-forward to last football season, when my second novel, Erin's Ring, had already been out for almost a year and had received two book awards from the Catholic Press Association: My husband's sister and I were walking past a display of Irish-themed books at the bookstore, during one of our Pearl family get-togethers out in South Bend, and she commented, "Your book should be here!"  I told her I'd already gone down that road a few years back, without success; and she said, "But now you're an award-winner.  You should try again!"  (I just love my super-supportive, always-affirming Pearl relatives.)

So I wrote another email, feeling slightly more confident this time...and lo and behold, last winter, the Hammes Bookstore ordered five copies of Erin's Ring and three copies of Finding Grace!  Then in May, they wrote to me again to say that Erin's Ring was almost sold out and they wanted five more copies.  And then in August, they requested ten more!  I'm still pinching myself here.

While we were out there I just had to see my books on those shelves with my own two eyes.  So after we arrived on campus Friday afternoon, the bookstore was our first stop.
There's Finding Grace, on the bottom shelf, far right.

I can't help but think that the lovely front cover, chosen by
Cheryl Dickow at Bezalel Books, helps to sell Erin's Ring.

It was kind of surreal for me to find those books on actual bookstore shelves.  And not just any bookstore's shelves, either.  On the shelves of the bookstore at my husband's and sons' beloved alma mater.  With price tags that say "Univ. of Notre Dame" above the bar codes!  I never thought I'd see the day!

Exclusively online book sales are the norm these days for little-known authors like myself, and unless your books are bestsellers, it's hard to get them on the shelves of real live bookstores; so these sightings of Erin's Ring and Finding Grace at the Hammes Bookstore gave my novels a much-needed shot of shelf esteem.

I was one happy author, I tell you.
We'd had to get up at 2:30 a.m. that day to get ready to catch an early flight,
and had had a long day of travel by this point; thus the epic eye bags!

The joy of finding Finding Grace!
If you have any questions regarding either of my novels, please leave me a comment.  I'd love to hear from you--and your queries could provide fodder for a little Q and A session at the next meeting of the club, perhaps? 

Okay, before I sign off: just a reminder that I'm giving away five free copies of Erin's Ring. 
The winners will be picked on Nov. 1.  To be entered to win, just share a link to this blog post on your blog, on Twitter, or on Facebook--basically, on any form of social media that you enjoy.  Contact me when you do, and I'll throw your name in the hat.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Slow Down...Just Slow Down, Would You?

Oh my goodness, have you heard this song/seen this YouTube video yet?  If not, go grab some Kleenex before you do.
This morning, my husband showed it to me, after it made its way onto his Facebook newsfeed.  When he warned me that listening to this song would make me cry, I said, "Whenever anyone tells me I'm definitely going to cry, I don't cry."

I was wrong.  I cried.

It all goes so by so fast, doesn't it, moms (and dads)?  It wasn't that long ago that I was a young, newly-minted mother with an unlined face, completely besotted with her firstborn son.  Well, it was actually 1983, but it doesn't seem that long ago.
And after that, things just sort of exploded.  Within 2 and 1/2 years, we had a crew of three.  (BTW: this was a photo gift I made for my husband in 1985, before there were nifty ways to play on the computer and make something that would have been much more professional-looking.)
And things just kept getting better.

And better.
And by 1993, we had our own Pearl basketball team (even though all but our middle son stopped playing basketball by the time they got past freshman year of high school, preferring to take a season off between football and lacrosse--but I digress!).

And those boys just continued growing up at warp speed, getting taller and deeper-voiced (and sweeter...and more lovable...and more loved) every minute, despite their mom's best efforts to slow down time.

Fast-forward (and I mean really, FAST-forward) to now, and here's what those boys look like. 

Amazingly, they range in age now from 32 down to 23.   Four of them are married.  Three of them have children of their own.  And my husband and I are now the doting grandparents of 7 little ones-- who are also growing up way, way too quickly. 

It's been a beautiful ride.  My only regret is that we've been traveling much too fast for my liking.  I sometimes feel a bit sad now, about precious moments I might have wasted when I had the chance, wishing at the end of a particularly tough and exhausting day with my brood of boys that bedtime would come soon (like every parent of littles on earth, I suppose); moments I can never get back.  Because boy oh boy, is this adage ever true: the days are long, but the years are short.

Unfortunately, we can't slow down time; we can only try our best to make the most of every minute we have with our children.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

String of Pearls (Book Club "Meeting" #20): An Erin's Ring Giveaway!

Tuesday's Child is full of Grace...
Welcome to the 20th meeting of the Grace-filled Tuesdays Book Club at String of Pearls!

Today, I thought I'd talk a little bit about my second novel, Erin's Ring.
Just a little shy of two years ago, at the end of November 2014, this YA Catholic novel was published by Bezalel Books.  Part historical fiction, the story includes some fascinating information about the Irish immigrants who came to Dover, NH in the early 19th century, worked their fingers to the bone in the Cocheco cotton mill, and wouldn't rest until they were able to build the first Catholic church in the area.  That wooden church completed in 1830, St. Aloysius, burned down in 1870; but in its place, on that same plot of land deeded by the mill to its Irish-Catholic workers, a larger brick edifice was constructed.  This church, St. Mary's, still stands today and is in fact where my husband and I attend Mass every Sunday (when we're in Dover, and not off visiting members of our far-flung family).

I was very humbled and honored when I learned that Erin's Ring had received two book awards from the Catholic Press Association.
Here is what the CPA had to say about it:

2nd Place Catholic Press Awards 2015 Winner Category: Books for Teens and Young Adults  
"Presented in a story-within-a-story, Erin's Ring offers an historical novel set within the story of two contemporary teen-age friends from very different kinds of families. Both stories have elements of Catholicism offered as ordinary and important parts of life. The small town setting is appealing and the characters are multi-dimensional. Erin's Ring would appeal to younger teens and older ones looking for light reading."

3rd Place Catholic Press Awards 2015 Winner Category: Catholic Novels  
"This is a charming story, beginning with a charming cover and with a good measure of history, contemporary drama, and spirituality between the covers. It is highly readable and can be used effectively as an evangelization tool for young people who would otherwise never open a book that espoused Catholic morals and teachings. Adults, particularly of the Celtic persuasion will enjoy this lighthearted yet meaningful tale as well."

Last Sunday after Mass, I was thinking about Erin's Ring as I stopped in front of the garden located just to the right of the front entrance of St. Mary's Church in Dover.  This sweet garden dedicated to the Blessed Mother was actually the inspiration for the opening scene of the novelI thought it was the perfect place for young Molly McCormick to find an old Irish Claddagh ring, buried in the dirt at the foot of the statue, which would in turn compel her to research the history of the Irish in Dover, hoping to figure out the origins of the ring.

Here's a picture of the St. Mary's garden, a spot I've always loved.
And here's an excerpt from the first chapter of Erin's Ring.

          Before she could finish storming the heavens with her heartfelt petition, a sudden cool, apple-crisp October breeze blew, and Molly's white lace chapel veil was lifted into the air and landed at the feet of the statue of Mary.  That's what she got for forgetting to fasten it into place with bobby pins!  As she bent to retrieve her veil she noticed a tiny gleam of gold peeking through the dark topsoil in which the mums were planted.  She dug around it with her fingers and pulled the metal object out.  Just as she got to her feet again, her family was suddenly there beside her.  Her mother forgot all about asking her why she hadn't gone in to find a pew yet, for she saw the look of wonder on her daughter's face as she stared at something she was holding in her upturned palm.
          "What is it, Molly?" asked Ellie.
          "It's...a ring.  A gold ring!  I think it's pretty old.  It's got a crack in it.  Look."
           "Oh, it's an Irish Claddagh ring!  How lovely." [Ellie said]...
          "And it's engraved!"  Molly cried, squinting as she read "To Erin--Love, Michael" there as plain as day on the smooth inside of the band...

          Who were Erin and Michael?
          And what story might this ring tell, if only it could talk?

I hope this makes you insatiably curious to know who Erin and Michael were, too, if you haven't read the book yet.

If you haven't and you'd like to, today might be your lucky day.  I'm hosting a giveaway here at String of Pearls, and giving away five copies of Erin's Ring.
If you're a blogger and you'd like a chance to win a free promo copy, just mention the giveaway at your own blog and send me the link to your post, and you'll be entered in the contest.  If you're a blog reader but not a blog writer, you can tweet about it or share it through an Instagram or Facebook post (where applicable, using #erinsringgiveaway), and your name will also go in the hat for the drawing.  Just get in touch with me to show me where you shared the information about the giveaway, and you might be one of the five lucky ones to receive a paperback copy.  The winners will be announced on November 1, the Feast of All Saints, which is fitting for a number of reasons.  It's actually the date I finished the manuscript for Erin's Ring in 2014, and it's also my late mother-in-law's birthday (and the book is dedicated in part to her Irish immigrant dad).

I believe that Erin's Ring would make a great addition to a homeschool or Catholic school reading/religion/history curriculum.  I would love to see it in the hands of more YA readers of all ages, and I greatly appreciate your help in spreading the word.  Thank you!