Monday, December 25, 2017

A Couple of Minor Christmas Miracles (and a Minor Photo Dump, Too)

Just when I thought it was about time to throw in the towel as far as being a writer, I found two very sweet reasons to keep plugging away at it.

If you're in the habit of stopping by this little old blogsite of mine, you know that my blogging output has dwindled down to almost nothing during this past year, a year of extremely busy times for our family. (I mean, five new grandchildren--including triplets--were added to our string of Pearls in 2017.  And we moved from NH to VA.  And we've been managing a vacation rental in upstate NY.  And well, excuses: I've got a million of them.)

Anyway, as I said, with all that's going on in the ever-expanding Pearl clan--with all the LIFE that needs living, leaving very little time to write about it--I thought that perhaps my writing days were kind of behind me.

Then just before Christmas, in the span of a couple of days, I got two unexpected surprises.

One was an email from a woman in Austria (Austria?!  How did she stumble upon this blog?!), who contacted me to tell me that she's been following String of Pearls for quite a while now and praying for my family (including those aforementioned triplets and their mama).  She wanted to know how she could purchase both of my novels and have them sent to her in Austria.  I was a bit blown away, I must say. Blogging has certainly given me some wonderful blessings over the years!  I have "met" so many interesting people, and I've been humbled to learn that our family has prayer warriors who live far from us, people we may never meet who care about us as if they know us.  If that isn't reason enough to keep this blog going, I don't know what is.

This Austrian reader who introduced herself to me made sure to point out that she was from Austria, "not Australia!"  Could she be a Dumb and Dumber fan?  Was she worried that I was going to reply to her email by greeting her with Lloyd Christmas's goofy, "G'day, Mate"?  If so, I like her even more than I thought I did!
Gabriela, as soon as we can get the details all sorted out, those books will be on their way across the Atlantic to you.

The second minor miracle came on the heels of my Austrian friend's email.  I was checking up on my books' Amazon pages, to see if there were any new reviews posted.  Whenever I do this, I am almost always disappointed.  Neither book has had a new review in quite some time.  But lo and behold, I was surprised to see that there was a recently posted, generous 5-star review of Erin's Ring by a Christian YA author named L. Wahl.

Lovely Historic Fiction
on December 17, 2017
Such an enjoyable historic fiction book! I really liked how the book alternates between a modern day story and the history of Irish immigrants that came to America in the 1800’s.
It begins when Molly – a modern day middle school girl, finds an engraved ring at her church. When she discovers it’s a traditional Irish ring, she decides to research the town’s rich Irish history for a school project. As she delves into her research, we are drawn into the world of the Irish immigrants that fled from Ireland during the Potato famine to find a better life here in America.
This is a fascinating look into the struggles of the Irish Catholic immigrants – many of which were single young men and women who came over to work and sent money back to their families.
The historical parts were quite interesting and thought-provoking and the storyline in the modern day chapters was very touching as well. I really wonderful story about the importance of family, friendship, and faith.

Humbled!  Grateful!  Blessed!

I have added PayPal buttons to my home page, on the sidebar on the right.  If you live in the US and would like to order a signed copy of either book (or both!), you can do so directly through me.  If you live on the other side of the ocean, contact me and we'll see what we can do.

Anyway, enough about books and writing--now on to the reason that I started this blog in the first place: to create a sort of online scrapbook where our family memories can be stored.  I have so many wonderful photos of our first Christmas together in VA that I want to share here at the blog.  We are making new memories with our kids and grandkids, and the new house is starting to feel like a real home.  At the end of our big celebration on the 23rd (which included 12 grandchildren aged 6 down to newborn, and was crazy and chaotic in the best way possible), one of our 6-year-old twin granddaughters said to her Papa, "I'm going to remember this day forever."  Isn't that the sweetest thing you've ever heard?  I so hope that's true!  We want our grandchildren to have magical memories of playing with their cousins at Papa and Grammy's house.

It's Christmas Eve as I write this, and tomorrow morning my husband and I are going to be on the road all day traveling.  We went to Sunday Mass this morning and anticipated Mass at 9:00 tonight, knowing that we would have to leave early to head to the airport.  First we have to get from here to NYC, and from there we'll fly off to Poland.  We're going to spend about a week with our youngest son who is stationed overseas.  Oh, and his girlfriend, too.  

I won't be taking my laptop with me on the plane--I'm trying to travel as lightly as possible on this trip.  But I'll have my phone and I'll be posting pictures of our travels on Instagram.  Follow me there if you're interested  (my Insta-handle is @laura.h.pearl).  

In the meantime, I'm going to leave you with a Christmas photo dump.  The caption for each picture could read "We are blessed."
My guy, channeling Cousin Eddie.

The newest addition to the clan, a granddaughter born in November.

How cute is this guy?

It was a Build-A-Bear Christmas.


Can you tell I'm happy when I'm with my boys?

You get a baby.  And you get a baby.  Everybody gets a baby!

Love these smiles.

He was about three pounds at birth. And look at those cheeks now!

Papa getting a movie going for the little peeps.

Heart emojis all over the place.

Son #2 as Santa, son #3 on his lap.  These guys make me laugh.

A Christmas Eve Nativity Pageant with son #1 and his girls, narrated by his wife.
So adorable and touching.

That's it for now.  Must get to sleep or I'll never get through our tiring day tomorrow.

Well, it's not Christmas Eve anymore.  This took me so much longer to write than it should have (another reason I've been a blogger-slacker!).  So--

Merry Christmas to you and yours, and I promise you I'll be back here at the blog much more regularly in the New Year.  It'll be another Christmas miracle!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Sunday Goings-On

Happy first Sunday of Advent, dear readers...that is, if there are any of you left out there; and if so, God bless you, because there hasn't been a whole lot going on here at the blog as of late.

It's not that I don't have anything to write about, either; quite the opposite, as a matter of fact.  But the problem is that I just don't seem to have the time.  Or perhaps I do, but when I prioritize all the things I want to do or should do each day, sitting down to write keeps ending up at the bottom of the list.  (Kind of like working out.  And my expanding waistline is proof of that!)

So much has been happening in our family, it's enough to make my head spin.  The triplets were baptized, for instance.
I made the boys' christening gowns and bonnets with fabrics that my
mother-in-law had collected; the wee lass wore an exquisite 
heirloom gown from my daughter-in-law's family.
And a brand new granddaughter--our 12th grandchild--recently joined our clan.
My third baby, with his third baby.  It's the circle of life!
We celebrated our first big family Thanksgiving in our new house in VA.
The "grown-ups table," set for 11.  (There were also 12 kids,
aged 6 down to newborn!)
The first anniversary of my father's death came around, a tough day, followed by what would have been his 83rd birthday; and I had hoped to write the story of his amazing and inspiring last week on earth (the story of the making of a saint, I believe) by now, but even with a whole year to get it done, I still haven't been able to do it.
Literally hours before death, here he is: raising his glass of
Tia Maria and smiling, after enjoying a Thanksgiving meal
with his family at the hospital.
My mom has had a slew of health issues this past year; she has quite literally been in and out of the hospital or the rehab center.  Because she is not ambulatory anymore without a great deal of help, she is no longer a candidate for the assisted living home into which she'd moved shortly after my dad's death.  So not too long ago, she moved in with my baby sister and her husband, who hired round-the-clock aides to help with her care.  But as I was writing this post, my sister texted to say that Mom is sick again, about to be admitted to the hospital for the umpteenth time since she lost her husband of 60 years.  Please keep her in your prayers, if you would!

As you can see, there's so much to write about--so much, in fact, that I am overwhelmed and suffer from almost crippling writer's block.  I miss writing, and one of my resolutions for 2018 is to do it more regularly. the spirit of getting back on the proverbial horse, I am going to force myself to post something here today.

I thought maybe I could tell you about the holiday craft fair at our new parish in VA this weekend, and about how I decided to rent a table to sell my books.

I had fun setting up my wares; but I started out feeling really shy, even though there weren't really too many shoppers after the anticipated Mass on Saturday evening.  But on Sunday, I started to come out of my shell a little bit and enjoyed meeting and talking to some of the parishioners after the Masses.

I made a few sales--six copies of Erin's Ring and two copies of Finding Grace.  And talk about stepping boldly outside my comfort zone: I even asked a couple of buyers if I could snap photos of them to include in this post.  They were very good sports, as you can see.

In the spirit of the holidays, I wore a Christmas-y red Talbot's knit sheath dress (purchased on clearance)--because as my sister-in-law who wears almost exclusively Talbot's clothing likes to say, when your outfit is attractive and well-made and you feel comfortable in it, you feel happy and therefore you can't help but spread happiness.  (I have talked about this Talbot's happiness-spreading quality before here at the blog, actually.)  I paired the dress with a black 3/4-sleeved ruffle-front jacket from Dress Barn.
Okay, well now this is turning into a My Sunday Best post, isn't it?  So you know what?  I'm going to link up with Rosie et. al., as long as I'm talking fashion.
I closed the front of my jacket with a special pin--it's actually a tiny picture frame.  I found it on Etsy and fell in love with it, thinking that if I slipped a tiny picture of one of my book covers inside it, it would make the perfect brooch to wear for book signings.  (Or for church holiday craft fairs like this one, where my books didn't exactly sell like hot cakes, but more like "tepid cakes," as my husband so humorously put it.)
A couple of tables down, there was a sweet gal selling hand-made Rosary bracelets, and I couldn't resist getting one for myself.  I am a sucker for a Rosary bracelet.  Or anything made of pearls.
Although I didn't sell many books, I feel like it was a successful outing for me.  I grew in confidence as time went by, and I met lots of nice folks.  I'm finding that almost everyone I meet down here is so friendly and exudes the hospitality for which the South is famous.  The longer we live here, the more comfortable I feel in our adopted hometown.  I will always have a soft spot for the Northeast, and a deep sense of nostalgia for the beloved home on a quiet wooded street in Dover, NH where we raised our five boys.  But northern VA is proving to be a very nice place to live.

And those five boys?  Four of them, and their wives and kids, live a stone's throw from us down here.

Life is good.  It is very good indeed.

Well, that's it for today.  But I'll be back.  Sooner rather than later, I hope!

(Now head on over to Rosie's for more Sunday Best fashion talk.  And remember that you can get a signed copy of Finding Grace for $10 here at the blog, from now til Dec. 10.  Email me for details, or use the "Buy Now" button to purchase your copy via PayPal.)

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Cyber Monday Deals Continue!

I have decided to offer signed copies of both of my novels at reduced prices, with no extra charge for shipping and handling, from now until December 10.

Finding Grace: $10

Erin's Ring: $8

See yesterday's post for details on ordering.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Cyber Monday Deals at String of Pearls

I know I haven't been here at the blog in almost a month.  You don't have to remind me.  But can you blame me?  It has been an exceedingly busy month for this grandmother of 12--yes 12, with the addition of another wee darling granddaughter just a week ago.  It's been an exceedingly busy year, for that matter.  But I'm not going to get into any of that today.

I don't know about you, but I've been decking the halls like crazy since just before Thanksgiving.  I usually wait until the day after, but I cheated a little--because I was excited to see how the Christmas decorations I've been collecting over the years were going to look in our smaller, very different house here in VA.  (You see, back in March, we moved from the beloved home in NH where we'd raised our five boys, in order to be closer to them and their growing families.  But I'm not going to get into that today, remember?)  I've also been thinking a lot about gift-giving, and I thought you might be, too.


I've got some Cyber Monday deals for you, if you're interested.

1. I'm selling signed copies of my first novel, Finding Grace, for $10 each (that price includes the shipping and handling costs).
This handsome satisfied reader may or may not be related to me...:)
If you'd like to order a copy, there are two ways to do it.  You can make your purchase via PayPal by using the "Buy Now" button on the sidebar at the right on my blog's home page.  Once I've been notified of your payment, I will get your copy of this Catholic coming-of-age novel (a recipient of the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval, geared toward readers high school-aged and up) in the mail to you ASAP.  PayPal is the quickest way to get your orders in.  But you can also contact me by clicking on the "Email me" tab and sending me a personal message.  I will email you back with instructions for purchasing a book (or books!) via check, if this is your preferred method of payment.

2. I'm also selling signed copies of my second novel, Erin's Ring, for $8 each (and that price includes the shipping and handling costs, too).
These enthusiastic young ladies came to a meeting at the Dover, NH Public Library (where I was honored to receive an award from the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution) to have their copies signed.
To order copies of Erin's Ring, contact me via the "Email Me" tab up there on the right side of this page.  Once I receive payment in the mail and know where to send your copies, I will get them shipped out to you ASAP.  Erin's Ring is a YA historical novel based on the true story of some 19th-century Irish-Catholic immigrants who were instrumental in getting the first Catholic Church built in their small NH town.  The recipient of two book awards from the Catholic Press Association, this novel can be enjoyed by readers from middle school to middle age.

I hope to hear from you!  Happy Shopping!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Grace-filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #31): Fighting Discouragement

Welcome to the club!  If you love books as much as I do...then we totally get each other.
For the past couple of months, my oldest son's wife and their four daughters (2, 4, and twins aged 6) have been living with us at our new house in VA, while our son was completing some flight training in FL in preparation for his new career with a regional airline.  It has been a wonderful opportunity for us to be involved on a day-to-day basis with the lives of these precious girls.  They will be moving into their own place very soon and we're going to miss having them around; but luckily their new house is less than 20 minutes away from ours, so we'll still be able to see them often.

This is the older of the twins (by a whole two minutes), doing what she loves to do best.  And I totally get her.
This eager reader cannot put a book down, once she gets into it.  She reads until the last possible minute before the lights go out at bedtime.  She brings whatever book she is currently devouring to the table (with her nose in it, just like the saying goes), and is barely conscious of her mom's gentle admonishments to close it and eat now, read later.  This photo was taken recently during their homeschool's weekly "Tea Time Tuesday" celebration, which features poetry readings and sweet treats, when she had a plate of animal crackers--and chocolate icing to dip them in!--on her plate.  (Now that, my friends, is dedication to reading!  Even I might have put my book down, no matter how good it was, for chocolate icing!)

I might add that these girls' mother is a former librarian/archivist; so they come by their love for books naturally.  All four of them think their regular trips to the library are almost unbearably exciting.  Fresh new piles of books for each girl!  It never gets old--it's like Christmas morning every single time!

I like to imagine giving Erin's Ring to this granddaughter (and all the rest of my growing brood of grandchildren, too) a few years down the road.  She will be ready for it before I know it.

And that, I think, is what will keep me from being discouraged by the lack of worldly success that has thus far eluded my two novels.  It helps me to remember that the whole reason I set out to write Finding Grace (which was the one and only novel I thought I would ever write) ten years ago was so that I could pass it down to my children's children.  I imagined writing a book that would hopefully inspire them to fight all the bad influences in our increasingly fallen world.  So despite the fact that neither book has made much money for either me or their publisher, maybe they can do their small part in helping young readers--the ones who are near and dear to my heart, and maybe even a few strangers I will never meet--to find the Catholic Faith, to embrace the Faith of their Baptism more fully, or to make a better decision when faced with difficult choices.

If you are interested in receiving a signed copy of Finding Grace at a discounted price, visit Catholic Reads and find out how to subscribe to their newsletter.  The sale is going on for a limited time through this website, which is dedicated to helping relatively unknown works of Catholic fiction by relatively unknown authors get into the hands of more readers.  Knowing there are generous folks like this out there, working hard to promote books like can I be anything but encouraged?

That's it for today.  Now go find yourself a good book to get lost in!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Grace-filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #30): a New Book Review from Catholic Reads

Welcome to the club!  I'm so glad you're here, fellow bookworms!
So I've got some news today.  I was absolutely thrilled to read a new review of Finding Grace, which was published just yesterday over at a wonderful website I discovered recently called Catholic Reads.  This novel, my debut as an author and my beloved "baby," is not a newborn anymore; it has celebrated its fifth birthday already.  (Where does the time go?!)  But even though it's been out there, available for reading, for half a decade, it can still use all the help it can get as far as promotion and marketing.  So I will be forever indebted to the good people over at Catholic Reads for including Finding Grace (a recipient of the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval) on their site.

Here's a snippet from that brand new review:

Finding Grace by Laura Pearl

Reviewed by S. Leigh Hall

The theme of Finding Grace, a young adult novel by Laura H. Pearl, is to understand the life of a teenage Catholic girl surviving high school amid the rapidly changing culture and tumultuous conflicts of the 70’s. There is so much to talk about because there is so much to Grace’s story as she strives to live her faith during a time when our society questioned deep moral issues.

The first part of the novel covers 1972, Grace’s freshman year. From the beginning, we learn that Grace Kelly who comes from a traditional Irish family dislikes her name. She finds it humiliating that she is so unlike her namesake, the beautiful actress/princess from the movies. As she discusses the problem with her father, the first issue of the decade is introduced as he demonstrates an aversion to “women’s lib.” His hopes for his daughter’s future include a good marriage or life as a nun.

This topic of discussion isn’t the first conversation of its type, but her father indicates that he believes his daughter is a saint or will be someday, and Grace makes an important decision affecting the rest of her life. Her mission becomes learning all she can about the saints and striving to achieve that goal.

There's the teaser; now if you want to read the entire review, here's the link.  (Spoiler alert: there's a passage in there that particularly tickled me, about how the writing style reminds the reviewer a bit of St. Therese's autobiography, The Story of a Soul.  AND...I think I can die happy now.)

If you're looking for worthwhile works of modern Catholic fiction, you should check out Catholic Reads.  Here's an excerpt from the founders' mission statement, which appears on their website's "About" page:

Our Mission

We are four readers who got fed up with how hard is to find good Catholic fiction that features authentic  Church teaching, themes, and characters. When we did manage to find a good story it was usually something written fifty years ago or in a genre that wasn’t always our favorite.
But we love books and we love reading. So we kept searching.

And we found dozens of hidden worlds, indie authors, small presses, and magazines. Despite the lack of advertising, imagination and art are alive and well in our parishes. We started Catholic Reads with the aim of putting authentic Catholic fiction into people’s hands. We want our nation and our world to have the chance to see what the Church’s imagination has to offer.

Wow, I just love this!  And I hope that exposure on this wonderful site will lead more readers to Finding Grace, and that Finding Grace will in turn lead even just one soul closer to Christ.

Okay then, until next time, happy reading!

Monday, October 23, 2017

My Sunday Best: The Notre Dame Fan Edition

I don't seem to have time to blog as much as I'd like to anymore...and when I do blog, it's often to link up with my fellow Virginian, Rosie, to show you what I wore to if you didn't know better, you might surmise that String of Pearls has become a fashion blog.  Which would make me a fashion blogger.
If you're finished rolling on the floor laughing (or just LOL-ing, or whatever it is you're doing), I'll continue with this "My Sunday Best" post--which is even more fun than usual because the backdrop for my fashion shoot is none other than the lovely campus of Our Lady's University, Notre Dame, in South Bend, IN.

You see, I was out there with my husband this past weekend, along with various and sundry members of the far-flung Pearl clan, to watch the Irish play the USC Trojans--and spank them, 49-14!

Saturday's game didn't start til 7:30 p.m., but preparations for the family tailgater (a long-standing Pearl tradition) over at the stadium parking lot were underway about 12 hours before that.

For the tailgater, I wore jeans along with a Notre Dame sweater vest that I snagged on eBay awhile back, used but in good condition, for a fraction of its original cost.  It was unseasonably warm yesterday, sunny and in the 70's, but that's what I'd packed so that's what I wore.  I could have gotten away with short sleeves, that's how nice it was.  In October.  In South Bend.  Go figure!
I love the embroidery on this uber-rah rah sweater vest.
I used to think these sorts of sweaters were a bit much, geared toward grandmotherly types.  In fact, I had a mild case of buyer's remorse after I'd ordered and received this vest, and I never seemed to be in the mood to wear it.

But now I'm a grandmother.  (Many times over!)  So it's perfect for me.

My husband and I took a break from the festivities at about 3:15 and started walking over to the Sacred Heart Basilica, in order to get there in time to get a seat for the crowded pre-game 4:00 anticipated Mass.  I normally like to wear a skirt or dress for Mass, along with a lace mantilla on my head; but as you can see, my Sunday Best ensemble yesterday was a lot more casual than normal for me.
These are the tightest-fitting jeans I own.  They are not absolutely skin-tight, but are as close to "skinny jeans" as I've ever come.  They're Riders brand, bought on the clearance rack at Walmart for a mere $5, and they've been mostly sitting in the bottom of my drawer for the past few years.  I've got about six pairs of looser-fitting jeans that have boot-cut legs, and I'm more comfortable in that style.  But it was a day of taking fashion risks.

It was also a day of having my picture taken with photo-bombing strangers, outside the Basilica, in the shadow of the Golden Dome.

After Mass, we had a little time to kill before we could enter the swanky club section, located way up high above the crowd, with a magnificent view of not only the field, but also the Basilica, the Golden Dome, and the "Touchdown Jesus" mosaic on the Hesburgh Library.   Yes, up there in the first-class section with all the beautiful people: that's where we were going to watch the game with my brother- and sister-in-law.  (The fact that our family now has access to these seats is a long story for another post; but suffice it to say, we are all a bit giddy about it.)

So with about another half-hour before we could enter heaven the club, my husband and I went around to the back of the Basilica and found a big rock under a tree, just off to the side of the Grotto, where we sat and said a Rosary together.
Here's another fashion risk I took yesterday: see those blue-and-gold, perfect-for-a-Notre-Dame-football-game leather flats (a bargain find from the TJ Maxx clearance aisle)?  When the day started out, I was wearing them with nude knee-high stockings (like grandmothers tend to do), for several reasons; they were new and never-worn, for one thing, and I didn't want to risk getting blisters; and as a rule I don't like to wear closed-toe shoes without socks or stockings anyway, because I worry my feet will sweat and make my shoes get stinky.  However,  I know wearing stockings or panty hose has become pretty much obsolete with the well-heeled crowd these days; so I decided to live on the edge and ditch my hose (literally--I threw them in a trash can).  I believed that these deceptively comfy shoes wouldn't give me any trouble.

How wrong I was!  By the end of last night, walking had become brutally painful, and you should see the blisters I had on my pinky toes when I woke up Sunday morning.  Ouch!  I shall never go without socks or stockings--or at least peds--ever again.

But what an incredible day and night!  The tailgater get-together with so many wonderful relatives and friends!  The exceedingly comfortable club seats!  The endless food and drink in the fancy club!  The fabulous view!  THE BIG WIN!!  It was about as great as it can get.

Aside from the Basilica, the Dome, and the Library, from where we sat we also had a great view of the new Jumbotron screen.  And what moved and touched us immeasurably was the way it was used as a vehicle to spread the Faith.  Before each game the ND team kneels together in the locker room and says the "Our Father."  They showed this sweet tradition on the Jumbotron; and as the sports fans watched the team praying, many voices in the crowd could be heard joining in to pray the Lord's Prayer.  At one point there was also a priest giving a public service announcement about Mass times and inviting visitors to attend.  In a world that tries to squelch all talk of God and religion, it was refreshing and encouraging to witness the way Notre Dame is evangelizing on game day.  I know that in recent years many faithful Catholics have been very disappointed by some of the decisions the administration has made; but be assured, the Faith is still alive and well in South Bend.  And the fans who fill the football stadium on game day appear to be on board with that.

They are also on board with standing and singing along during the National Anthem, loudly and proudly, with their hands over their hearts.
God, Country, Notre Dame.  Yes, indeed.

Now head on over to Rosie's for more Sunday fashion talk!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Grace-filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #29): Where Real Life and Fiction Intersect, Redux

If you've never been here before, welcome to the club.  I'm so glad you stopped by!

Several years ago, I did a four-part series of posts called "Where Real Life and Fiction Intersect" here at the blog, to detail which parts of my first novel were inspired by true events and people from my life and which were purely fiction; and then when I formed this online book club, I re-posted the series in 2016.  (You can read the last installment of that series here, if you wish, and it provides links to the previous three.)

I'm not a very prolific blogger these days (said the busy Grammy who moved from NH to VA last spring to be closer to her grown sons and grandchildren, and who now has so much to blog about, but so little free time to do it!  A good problem to have, by the way!).  But yesterday I happened to pick up an old photo album with a 1984 picture of my husband and me on the cover, all dressed up to attend a Navy dinner, and I knew I had to write a Grace-filled Tuesdays post about something that happened that night and made its way into one of the scenes in Finding Grace.
I'm kind of glad I came across this almost-forgotten photo again, because I do think it's time to revisit the idea that when an author writes a work of fiction, she can't help but allude to people, places, and events from her own life.  It's just about impossible to avoid it.  They say you should write what you know, after all.  However, nothing in either of my books is autobiographical, per se.  (Except of course the way Grace Kelly feels about Tom Buckley in Finding Grace, because I was channeling my high school self there, and the inspiration for Tom was my then boyfriend/now husband of 37 years.  But other than that, anyone who reads my books must understand that the rest is fiction. And even Tom became a whole new person to me in the course of the four-plus years I spent writing the book.)

Let me tell you about those two crazy kids in that photo above.  They were young (so young! Only going-on-26!) so in love, and the relatively new parents of their first baby boy.  The fresh-faced girl in that photo never thought she was thin enough (but the woman she is now would kill to have that body again!).  She was still working on losing her post-partum weight when this photo was taken, and in fact was probably already pregnant again here with her second son, but didn't know it yet. Aside from the unfortunate uber-thick bangs, she's not at all bad-looking, but she is about as self-deprecating as they come.  For this fancy Navy "dining out" event, she is wearing a Victorian era-inspired bridesmaid outfit that she'd worn in her sister's wedding a while back (and they say you can never wear a bridesmaid outfit again!).  The lace-trimmed cotton calico skirt was made from a Laura Ashley pattern and the blouse, from the then-popular Gunne Sax brand, was dyed to match.  She is also wearing ivory-colored tights and her wedding shoes.  Her husband thinks she looks great; but then again, love is totally blind in his case and he always does.  He looks like a movie star here, because even a not-so-handsome man looks amazing in Navy dress whites.  And he's already handsome, no matter what he's wearing.  Very handsome.

Okay, enough with the third person narrative.  The girl is me.  Switching to first person now.  The bridesmaid outfit had looked perfectly at home when I wore it for my sister's nuptials--after all, her wedding dress was an authentic Victorian white lace gown, circa early-1900's, that had been found in our grandmother's attic.  Why, then, would my sweet and modest skirt and blouse ensemble not be perfectly at home at this Navy shindig?

So we got to the event, and I looked around at all the beautiful young women with their salon-styled tresses, attired in classy LBD's and silky body-skimming, spaghetti-strapped cocktail dresses, wearing strappy heels and statement jewelry...and I felt like a juvenile country bumpkin dressed as if I was on my way to a square dance.  I was mortified and wondered why in the world I had no idea how a girl was supposed to dress for such an occasion.  I stuck out like a sore thumb.  I remember feeling embarrassed for my husband, who must surely think every woman there was more lovely-looking than I could ever hope to be.  Our good friend, a single guy who was in flight school with my husband, smiled at me and said, "You look nice, Laura."  I knew he meant it, because in my experience I've found that men are so much less critical, so much less likely to overthink everything, than women are.  He was a friend who liked me and he was trying to give me a sincere compliment.  But my cheeks were flaming.  I was mortified and wished I could twitch my nose, "I Dream of Jeannie"-style, and be magically transported back home.  Maybe there was something--anything!--in my closet that I could change into that would fit the occasion better than the outfit I was wearing.

I excused myself and went to the ladies' room.  And while I was in the stall, I overheard two women at the sink talking in conspiratorially hushed tones and giggling.  "Oh my gosh, that outfit!  Did you see her?"  "I know.  She looks like she's on her way to a high school prom!"  They said a few other specific things that made me realize with a pang that the person they were talking about was none other than I.  I felt pierced by their words, utterly mortified, and I hid in that stall until I heard them leave.  Then I returned to the dining area and somehow made it through the rest of the night with my head held as high as I could hold it.  Not that high, mind you (the heavy bangs were probably weighing it down), but I managed.  And later, when I unloaded on my husband about my tragic fashion faux pas and my ladies' room nightmare, he assured me that I would always be the prettiest woman in any room in his eyes.  Sigh...When you're loved like that, how can it possibly matter what you wear?

When I was writing about Grace Kelly, with whom I share some personality traits (among them shyness and sometimes crippling insecurity), I thought I'd tweak that real-life event to make it fit into her story.  So when you read this part of the novel, an excerpt from Chapter 8 about Grace's difficult first day of high school, know that it was inspired by that night when I was the young wife of a Naval officer and had to listen to some gossipy women rip apart my outfit as I crouched in a bathroom stall, fighting tears:

       After the final bell had rung and Grace had retrieved from her locker the books she would need to do that night's homework assignments, she made a quick trip to the girls' restroom before heading down to Sister Immaculata's classroom [for detention].  Just as she was about to exit the stall, two girls came in, tittering and talking in conspiratorial whispers as they brushed their hair and touched up their faces in front of the mirror.  Grace froze with her hand on the door latch as she heard one of the girls say with mean-spirited glee, "She looks nothing like her hunky brothers.  Not the least bit.  That awful, kinky hair!"
       "Maybe she's adopted," coldly suggested the other.
       With a jolt, Grace realized that she was the most likely target of their catty comments.  Grace herself had wondered the same at one time--it would certainly explain why she didn't resemble the boys in the least--until Gus pointed out that she was almost the spitting image of their Aunt Nancy, proof positive that she'd been born a Kelly.
       "I'd be embarrassed if I had that name--and looked like that!"
       "I'd have it legally changed as soon as I turned eighteen.  I mean, c'mon."
     Crestfallen, humiliated, yet reluctant to embarrass the two girls by revealing herself and letting them know that she'd heard every petty word, Grace remained behind the safety of the stall door until she was sure that they were gone.

I know just what my poor little heroine felt like, and so that scene was easy to write.  While it was not exactly autobiographical, it was definitely inspired by something I'd experienced firsthand.

But at least I never had to share a name with the iconic beauty who was the princess of both Hollywood and Monaco.  That would have been a hard name to live up to indeed.

Does this post make you want to read Finding Grace?  If so, please do!  And share it with your friends.

Okay then, that's it for today.  Meeting adjourned.  And until next time, happy reading!