Friday, May 18, 2018

The Little Oar House at Oyster Haven

That sounds almost like the title of a really cool mystery novel or something, doesn't it?  The Little Oar House at Oyster Haven.  And the above photo would make the perfect book cover for it!

Well, it's not a book title--at least that I know of.  If it is, I can tell you that I didn't write it.  And if I ever do get around to dipping my toes into the world of fiction writing again, it will be to produce a very long-overdue sequel to Erin's Ring, with a focus on a true story about Our Blessed Mother and Her miraculous help.  (I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for that one, though; because for now, life seems just a tad too busy for writing a novel.  I've got all I can manage trying to find time to finish an illustrated ABC Book for my grandchildren.)

There might be some toe-dipping going on, however; but it will not be metaphorical in nature.  It will be actual toe-dipping in an actual lake, because this week my husband and I have been working hard to get our Oyster Haven house on the shore of Lake Champlain ready for its first VRBO renters of the season.

Boo-yah!  How's that for a segue?

(Full disclosure: my delicate toes will probably not get anywhere near that icy cold lake.  Not until at least July!)

Anyway, we've been busy getting the place looking ship-shape.  We had it professionally cleaned and prepared for the next renters back in February, after our last guests departed.  But it's been sitting empty through the winter months, and the inside needed a bit of a spring cleaning to get it up to snuff (think dust bunnies, cobwebs, and dead bugs!).  The outside needed some TLC, too, including adding a new railing to the new Trex deck we had built over the winter.  (More on that in a future post, methinks.)  We also had to haul out, wipe down, and set up all the deck and patio furniture as well as the boating equipment and the gas grill.

While my husband was working on building the deck railing (the parts that didn't require a second set of hands to help him), I decided to spring clean an ancient little outbuilding that we like to call the "oar house."  This is where we keep the oars for our canoe, kayaks, and paddle boards, as well as various and sundry other items such as boogie boards, beach chairs, water shoes, and outdoor toys.  I love, love, love this little building!  It is one of the things that made me fall in love with the property the first time we toured it with the real estate agent.
Isn't that just the sweetest little building?

The inside of the oar house is always a mess in the spring, because mounds of dead leaves blow in through the open doorway.  Also, all sorts of critters make nests there in the winter.  The bird droppings I found yesterday didn't bother me too much.  The family of dead mice in a plastic bin in the corner, on the other hand...yikes, that was a different story.  I couldn't even get myself to pick up the bin once I knew they were in there, and had to call my hero over to throw the pathetic little carcasses into the woods--while I shivered and gagged.

So how do you like this post so far?  I hope I didn't lose you with all that talk about dead mice.  Try to forget about them and take a look at how sweet this little oar house looks once it's been cleaned up.
Those three colorful  boogie boards were once used by my boys, to ride the waves at
York Beach in ME during the years they were growing up in NH.

We only had one paddleboard the past two summers, but decided to add another this year.
(You're welcome, renters!)  The shark kite hanging on the wall behind the two boards
was left by the previous owners--and we think it gives this little building character.
The striped chairs hanging on the wall have spent many a summer day planted in the sand at
York Beach, as well as other beaches on the NH Seacoast.  And the pair of indestructible
Little Tykes trucks were favorite Christmas gifts of sons #3 and #4, way back in the 90's.

The two nautical-themed  paintings-on-wood were childhood works of art created by my hubby (and passed on to me by
his mom many years ago).  I thought this was the perfect setting for them.
Last night, when we'd punched the clock at the end of our work day, we spent a little time enjoying the fruits of our labor.  We pulled two Adirondack chairs up to the edge of our lawn and had a cocktail while we enjoyed this glorious view.
It's hard sometimes, putting so much effort into making this lake house so perfect, and then giving it over to other people to enjoy.  Hopefully, as the years go on, we'll be able to block off bigger and bigger chunks of time to spend in it with our family.  We have so many great memories of the week we had at Oyster Haven with everyone two years ago.  (Yes, we had everyone!  All of our boys, all of their wives, and all 7 of the grandchildren that had been born at that time!)
We do have a week in August blocked off this summer; but we won't be able to have everyone together this time, because our youngest son is stationed overseas and can't get home that week, and our oldest son's wife will be giving birth to baby #5 (which is grandchild #13 for us) just a few weeks before the planned get-together.

But we're hoping for an updated Team Pearl picture in August 2019--and by that time there will be 7 more little players added to the line-up!

Which reminds me: just next to the oar house, you can see the remnants of a cinder block foundation, partially hidden and overgrown with weeds and grass.  Talking with one of the neighbors (who used to play at this house when she was a little girl), we learned that some former owners who lived here for many years once had a sleep cabin on that spot.  At the rate our family is expanding, I'm thinking we may have to erect a new sleep cabin for our grandkids.  We are quickly outgrowing this house!
Hmmm...I guess you should stay tuned for a future post title with a similar mystery novel vibe: The Little Sleep Cabin at Oyster Haven.

Friday, May 11, 2018

ABC Book Update: I Can See the [L is for] Light at the End of the [T is for] Tunnel!

During the first few years of my marriage, before my baby boys started to arrive in quick succession, I worked almost every day as a substitute teacher at a public high school in southern Texas, while my husband went through Naval Aviator training and eventually earned his wings as a Navy fighter pilot.  Even way back then, I was dreaming of writing and publishing books.  But that was eons ago, in those prehistoric pre-Internet days when the idea of self-publishing was unheard of; so that meant it was necessary to find an actual mainstream publishing house willing to pay you for your work. (Not an easy task, as I would find out.)

My dearest dream, the one I rarely mentioned aloud because it seemed utterly unattainable--was to write a novel; but I was obviously not ready to tackle anything that huge at that time in my life.  Novels were very LONG, I thought; and what experiences had I had by the age of 22 or 23 that I could possibly write about?  No, the novel would have to wait, I decided.  I did, however, think that perhaps a children's book might be something I could manage.  I'd been dabbling in art my entire life, after all; and though I'd never had any professional instruction, I could draw and paint well enough to illustrate a children's book--at least that's what I thought.  And maybe I couldn't write the great American novel, but I could certainly write a simple children's story--couldn't I?  Children's books were short, right?  They didn't take a whole lot of talent to write, did they?  (I was young, as I said; there was SO MUCH I didn't know!)

So I tried a couple of ideas.  One of them involved a little girl called Bitty-Bit who wouldn't eat anything but chocolate chip cookies--and then lo and behold, she turned into one!   It was all about the importance of healthy eating, and although I think the idea was okay, the manuscript was too wordy for a children's book and the execution of the illustrations was, shall we say, a tad sub-par.
Not only do I still have the drawings I did, but I still have the rejection letters I received--as you can see!
And here's the shocker, readers: for my efforts, I promptly received a pair of very kind, typed-up rejection letters. (I wrote about these letters once before here at the blog, if you're interested in reading that old post.)  Then I tried a few more ideas, but never got very far (not far enough to even consider sending them off to a publisher, anyway).

I was blessed with five sons between 1983 and 1993, and those boys of mine kept me mighty busy.  I was a happy SAHM and really didn't think of writing any sort of book for a very long time.  The last of my efforts was an ABC Book, which I started in 1993 for my youngest son.  I got 10 pages completed before he learned to walk, but not too long after he became mobile, I couldn't seem to find much time to sit down at my drafting table anymore.

I did have an honest-to-goodness drafting table.  My ever-supportive husband surprised me with it at Christmas, during that year I was working on the ABC book, so that I would have my very own special place to do artwork.  He's just the best, as I've said many times here at the blog.  He has more faith in me than I've ever had in myself, and I don't know what I'd do without him.

Anyway, the amazing thing is that I actually got a novel written and published before I ever finished that ABC Book.  I began to write my first novel in 2007, just as my youngest son was about to start his freshman year of high school.  I was 49 by that time, with a little more life experience than I'd had as a baby-faced Navy wife in Texas, not to mention a greater understanding of how a work of fiction could actually be used as an evangelization tool.  God's timing was perfect, I believe, because I don't think I would have written the same sort of book before I'd raised my children.  Seeing how much the world had changed over the years, even since we'd welcomed our first son in 1983, and knowing how essential it was to teach our boys to swim against the ever-growing tide of secular humanism, made me determined to write a story that would inspire young people to fight the good fight in our fallen world.  Finding Grace was published in 2012.

It wasn't until the birth of my first grandchildren, twin granddaughters born in 2011, that I decided it was finally time to resurrect the ABC Book idea.  But the original illustrations were oversized, and I had hand-lettered them; so I pretty much started over from scratch and re-did a number of them on 8 and 1/2 by 11 cardstock, and I used Word for the text so it would look more polished.

For instance, here are a couple of the originals:
I really wanted to use that little guy in overalls again in the new book; he was inspired by a photo of my #2 son on his first birthday.  So I re-did him, painstakingly, and here is the result:
I was glad to get beyond having to copy old illustrations and just start on the new ones, because it's always harder trying to re-create something you like already (and don't want to have to do all over again!).

We had three weddings within a span of 11 months in 2013 and 2014, and then the grandchildren started to come rapid-fire; and even though that should have spurred me on to finish this project for them, I actually put the ABC Book on the back burner once again and let a few years go by without any progress.

I am happy to report that in 2018, I have finally found my groove with this ABC Book.  I have decided to re-use some old artwork wherever I can, in order to speed the process along.  I even used one of the drawings from Bitty-Bit, the Human Chocolate Chip Cookie (a Dodd, Mead, & Co. reject!) on one of the pages--for old times' sake.  And I've decided to stop being such a perfectionist and remember that more than anything else, this book is a labor of love for my grandchildren.   (Surely, the little eyes that are going to be looking at Grammy's artwork are not going to be as critical as those of the children's book editors at a big publishing house!)

A little over a year ago, we moved from a large Colonial "forever home" in NH to a smaller house in VA, in order to live closer to our grown married sons and their families.  We got rid of 26 years' worth of acquired stuff; we not only made countless trips to Goodwill, but also filled two dumpsters.  I came REALLY CLOSE to giving my drafting table to Goodwill, thinking there would be no place to set it up in the new house.  But I couldn't do it, for one reason and one reason only: it had been a gift from my hubby.

It's been leaning up against a wall in the storage area of our unfinished basement, unassembled; but just this morning I decided we needed to put it together and get it set up.  I started this ABC Book project way back in 1993 using it as my workspace, and I think it's only fitting that I finish it up here, too.  Better late (that's 25 years late!) than never, as they say.
I have a total of 48 illustrated pages planned for this book.  So far, I've completed 34 and I'm about 2/3 of the way finished with #35.  I'm still in the proverbial tunnel, but I can see the light at the end of it.  I really can.

And now if you'll excuse me, I think it's time to get back to the old drawing board and finish the I pages up.  But I'll be back soon with more updates--I hope!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Grace-filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #33): Erin's Ring Gets a Couple of Shout-outs

It's Tuesday, isn't it?  (Although it's getting late, and if I don't get this posted soon, it will be Wednesday!)

Well, Tuesday's child is full of grace, and my novels tell stories of God's grace (and one of them is even about a character whose name is Grace) I think that means it's time to call a meeting of the book club.  (While it's still Tuesday!)
Welcome, book enthusiasts!

Okay, so in case you've never been here before, I use this club to discuss my two Catholic novels with you, dear readers.  I never imagined or expected that the titles of my books would become well-known, or that I would become a household name, or that I'd make a fortune as an author.  But I always did hope that my humble works of fiction would do some good in the world.  I wrote them praying that they would be for God's greater glory and for the good of souls, including my own.  Obviously, God did not want them to be widely read, or to earn lots of money or accolades.  But there are no accidents.  Everything happens for a reason; and I still think there's a reason that I wrote these books and that they actually found their way into print.

It's been a long time since I had a book published.  Finding Grace came out in 2012, followed by Erin's Ring in 2014.  I can't believe it's been four years already since the younger of my two "babies" was born.  Time does indeed fly, doesn't it?  Four years.  Wow!

And just when I think that I lost my shot at marketing and promoting those books the way I should have, in order to ensure that I gave them the best possible chance of finding their way into the hands of young (or old) readers who might enjoy and/or be edified by them, I am made aware that there are generous folks out there who have been helping me--and I didn't even know they were doing it!

Back in December, Catholic YA author Leslea Wahl (The Blind Side, An Unexpected Role) did me the great favor of reading Erin's Ring and posting a review on Amazon.  This is always such an invaluable help to any author, and I was humbled and extremely grateful that she took the time to do this for someone she has never even met.  Here is that much-appreciated Amazon review.
As if Leslea hadn't done enough for me already, I found out that she had gone a step further: she had included Erin's Ring, along with two other titles, in a recent (May 1) blog post about YA historical fiction. Huzzah!  Or faith and begorrah, I suppose!

And then, God bless her, I discovered that Leslea had done even more: in a personal email message that she sent me after I thanked her for her lovely blog shout-out, she mentioned that she had also talked about Erin's Ring on a Reading with Your Kids podcast (a special St. Patty's Day installment highlighting books with Irish themes).  Here is the text of what she said on the podcast.
My little book, a story about some endearing 19th-century Irish immigrants whose faith inspired them to build a Catholic Church in a small New England town that didn't have one, has got a powerful advocate in Leslea, and I truly owe her a debt of gratitude.  Lately, I have been so busy with my boys and their rapidly growing families (now my close neighbors, after our move south last year from NH to VA) that I don't seem to have as much time to read as I used to.  But I am more determined than ever to make time, and Leslea's YA novels are now on the top of my "To Read" list.  Please support Leslea's works, too!

Before I sign off, I just want to let you know that Erin's Ring is currently selling at a reduced price on Amazon (marked down from $8.99 to just $7.27 per copy).   This would be a great time to order one for yourself, if you haven't read it yet.  ;)

That's about it for today, so meeting adjourned.  Thanks for stopping by!