Friday, November 30, 2018

Office Space (Just What a Writer Always Wanted!); and a CHRISTMAS GIVEAWAY!!

Once upon a time, when I was writing novels, I would have given my eye teeth to have an office space to work in like the one I have now.  That is one HUGE plus of our new house in VA, where we moved in March of 2017 in order to be closer to our grown and married sons and their families.  We did downsize considerably when we moved here; but one thing our old house didn't have was an office.  Oh, initially we did carve out office space in our basement, which was mostly finished off thanks to the DIY skills of my hard-working husband.  But after our boys got older and outgrew the desire to hang out together down there, playing with their toys and video games, heading down to the basement to write or do filing or paperwork felt like being banished to the dungeon.
I eventually fashioned an office space for my husband, behind the couch in the family room, where he could keep up with the family finances without getting a bad case of FOMO.  I did write most of Finding Grace down in the basement, because I was using an ancient (and finicky!) tabletop computer for the first few years I was writing it, and that old girl couldn't be moved to another room.  But after my husband saw that I really was going to do it--I was going to finish that novel!--he got me my first laptop.  And so by the time I was writing Erin's Ring, I either worked at the dining room table or went off to Barnes and Noble for the afternoon, where I ordered one Starbucks coffee (and maybe a pastry to go with it!) and sat at a little table in the café area, happily pounding the keys of my laptop until my battery started to run out.

In our new house, one of the four bedrooms upstairs had been used as an office by the previous owners.  Since we no longer have any boys living under our roof with us, and that means every bedroom other than the master is now a guest room, we decided to follow the previous owners'  lead and continue to use the fourth bedroom as an office.
His work area.

And hers.

More hers.

Full disclosure, dear readers: those photos were snapped shortly after we moved in and set up the room.  Almost two years later, the office has seen a few changes.  (And it is much messier than it was back then, especially on my hubby's side.  Wink, wink.)
I love that our grandchildren's artwork now decorates my side of the office.

My desk is crowded and messy...but I don't dare show you his!

I cannot tell you how absolutely wonderful it is to have a place where my husband and I can both work so efficiently.  We each have our own desk, our own printer, and we sit in matching faux leather rolling office chairs.  We have two filing cabinets and plenty of storage and shelving.  It is everything I ever wanted in an office, and as I said, it makes it so that in some ways, we are better set up than we've ever been--even though we loved our big Colonial in NH, where we spent 26 of the best years of our lives.

It's almost too bad that I don't really write anymore, now that I have a great place to do it.  I don't even blog as much as I used to.  (See above: we live near a small army of Pearl grandchildren now...and time spent with them and their parents trumps time spent at my laptop!)  I'm so happy that before life became too hectic to do it, I fulfilled that long-held childhood dream of becoming an author, of writing just one novel that might make some infinitesimal difference in the life of even one reader.

Well...Hopefully, that has already happened.  Because I recently was given the rather discouraging news that because Finding Grace has not sold well enough in the six years it has been in print, after the end of 2018 it will no longer be available to the public in the paperback version.  It will still be available as a Kindle download, however.  Erin's Ring has not exactly sold like hot cakes either (my husband, who makes me laugh every day, jokes that it's more like "lukewarm cakes").  For the coming year 2019, it will still be available in paperback from Amazon.  But after that...I'm not sure.  It was never formatted into a Kindle book, and unless my husband and I decide it's worth investing whatever it takes to have that done, it will probably not be available at all.

In our correspondence over the years, my publisher (Cheryl Dickow of Bezalel Books) often comments that although I have been blessed in so many ways, having my books be financially successful just isn't one of them.  But I do believe that there is a reason for everything: I fully believe that I was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write my first novel; and I also believe that it was not meant to be a best-seller, but had some other purpose (which I may never know in this life).  So I am a bit sad that the paperback version of Finding Grace will no longer be available for sale on Amazon; I much prefer it, personally, because I use a lot of dashes in my writing and they look the same as hyphens in the electronic version of the book, and I worry that it's confusing to the reader.  But at least it will live on in Kindle.

I vacillate between not even believing that anything I've ever written is of any real worth or that I am even a real writer at all (instead of just "sort of" a writer), and hoping beyond hope that my books will find their way into as many hands as possible--particularly the hands of young adult readers whose lives might be changed, even in some small way, by these Catholic works of fiction. I trust that God knows what he's doing, and if Finding Grace  and Erin's Ring are meant to go the way of the dinosaurs, there is a very good reason for that.  But I have to admit that in my heart of hearts, I'd love to see those books available for my grandchildren's children.

In the meantime, I have plenty of copies in the office to share with my family.
And you know what?  I think in the spirit of Christmas giving, I'd like to give away one copy of each novel between now and Dec. 15. 

Leave me a comment by Dec. 15 and tell me which one you'd like to win and whom you'd like to give it to, and I'll toss all of your names into a hat (one for each book) and choose two winners randomly.  I will mail the prizes out to the winners the next day, and hopefully they will arrive in time for Christmas gift-giving.

I think I'll head on over to Instagram and post the contest there as well.  Thanks so much for stopping by here--and maybe I'll see you over there?

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

ABC Book Update: An Homage to Two Mothers

I have been working rather feverishly lately, trying to finish up the ABC Book project started long, long ago--back in 1993, when the youngest of my five boys had just recently joined our family.

This is what he looks like now.
That "Motherboy" selfie was taken a few weeks ago, when we met up with him at Notre Dame to watch them beat Florida State, giving the Irish 10 straight wins (and to my two daughters-in-law who went to FSU: sorry-not-sorry!).

As you can see, the boy for whom I started an ABC picture book in 1993 is a little too old for it now.  He's a tall, fair, and handsome 25-year-old Army LT who just returned from a 3-year stint in Germany.  Not a baby anymore.

But there are a lot of other babies and wee children on Team Pearl these days, so a few years ago I picked up where I left off and decided to finally finish what I'd started for him.

If you've been coming here lately, you know that along with all the original artwork I've done, I've been re-purposing old artwork (cleverly sneaking it into the rhymes whenever possible!), with a two-fold purpose: to preserve it for my kids--who will never hang these pieces up in their homes, but still might like to have them--and to save valuable time!

Once upon a time, I painted acrylic portraits of both my mom and my husband's when they were little girls, and I gave these framed canvases to them as gifts.  When my mother-in-law died in 2009, her painting came back to me.  And when my mother sold her house and most of her belongings and moved in with my baby sister a year ago, her painting came back to me as well.

These two canvases now hang in the "potty room" in our master bathroom.  (I don't know what else to call it!  It's a special little room, with a door, where you can get some privacy when Mother Nature calls.  Someday I've got to give you a tour of this bathroom, which is so roomy and well-appointed it's almost embarrassing!)

Here is the artwork my husband and I can study while we're in that tiny room, doing...whatever.

I have completed the pages for the letters V and W, and at the same time honored both my husband's late mother and my mom in the process by incorporating those two paintings.

Each letter has two pages of illustrations.  Here is second of the V pages, featuring my husband's dear mother.

And here is first of the W pages, featuring mine.

I do sometimes worry that there isn't enough unity of style in this book: some of the illustrations are relatively muted colored-pencil drawings, while others are vibrantly-hued acrylic paintings.  But then I remind myself that it's really just a gift from a Grammy to her grandchildren.  And in some ways, the fact that there is a lot of history in it might make it an even better keepsake for them.

I recently completed and scanned the N and W pages, so I'll be sharing those soon.  Now I'm down to 6 pages of illustrations left to complete, and one of those is about half-finished already--so really 5 and 1/2.  I can see the light, as I emerge from the tunnel after 25 years!  And I am so excited!

Feeling thankful, readers!  And I hope you have a blessed and happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Dusting Off the Blog

When I first started blogging in the spring of 2011, I could hardly wait to sit at my laptop every day to write about favorite family memories, or about what was going on in our household at the time, or just to do a bit of mindless navel gazing.  It was a joy to me to exercise my writing muscles on a daily basis.

For a good number of years, those muscles were in pretty good shape.  Now...well, they might not have atrophied completely, but if I don't start using them more often, they will.

If you come here much, you know that the Pearl family has been growing by leaps and bounds in the last few years.  When I started this blog, I had only one married son and his wife was a few months away from giving birth to twin daughters.  Since then, 3 more daughters-in-law have joined the family, and the grandchild count currently stands at 14 (with the addition of a new grandson just last month).

I have had so many great topics to explore here--so, so many--but ever since we moved down to VA so that we could see our kids and grandkids on a regular basis, it seems like I've been too busy living life to write about it.  I mean, here are some of the things I've wanted to write about, from the deep and serious to the frivolous and mundane:

1. My dad's amazing last week on earth and his beautiful passing into eternal life, about which I have not been able to write in full (and the second anniversary of his death is fast approaching)

2. My mother's trials since losing her husband of 60 years, her frightening health decline, and the astounding (practically miraculous) way she has bounced back recently

3. My saintly baby sister and her husband, who lovingly took my mom into their home a year ago and are more responsible for the improvements in her health than any of the medical procedures she's had done 

4. Pearl family birthdays and anniversaries (there have been many which I have not gotten around to documenting)

5. The births of new Pearl grandbabies (we got a new grandson in June, named after my husband's dad, and another one in October, named after my husband!)

6. Family parties (including a fun shower I hosted for my daughter-in-law when she was about to have a boy after 4 girls in a row--and which I thought was practically Pinterest-worthy, but I might have been giving myself too much credit!)

7. Notre Dame football weekends this fall, with our boys

8. More installments of the house tour, wherein I show you some of the rooms of our new house in VA (which I am slowly but surely starting to consider HOME, after leaving a beloved Colonial on a quiet street in NH, where we'd lived for 26 years, about a year-and-a-half ago)

Those are just a few of the things I imagine blogging about...and then before I know it, it's time for a bone-tired Grammy to go to bed and another day has passed without a new blog post.

Sometimes, I really do wonder if the whole blogging phenomenon is about to die off and go the way of VHS tapes (and even DVD's).  I mean really, who needs those anymore, now that there are new-fangled smart TV's that allow you to stream just about anything you want to watch?  And who wants to bother to visit a blog, when so many former bloggers are on Instagram, offering much-easier-to-digest posts that don't take quite as much time out of our busy lives as a full-length blog post does?

For whatever reason, however, I'm not quite ready to leave the blogosphere, a place where I've "met" so many amazing people who seem like friends.  I've been blessed in countless ways since I set up shop here in 2011.  So instead of giving up, I think I'll just dust this blog off and spruce it up a bit, and maybe find the mojo to keep at it.

I'm not sure if I'm ready to give my site a whole new look (even though I've heard that it's best to have a mostly white background...and mine is, as you can see, very GREEN).  But there are a few improvements I can make.  After my most recent book club post, which was all about writing, I got to thinking that perhaps it was time to update my "author photo."  The one I've been using for a long time now--here at the blog, on Goodreads, on my Amazon author's page, etc.--is one that my husband took of me back in 2012, shortly after the publication of my first novel, Finding Grace.  We thought I should be sitting at my laptop, with my trusty cup of coffee at my side, looking very "writerly."  So, this was the pose I assumed.
That picture was taken 6 years (and at least as many pounds) ago.  I was only 54, and I'm not that young anymore.  (It's amazing how when you turn 60, 54 seems young to you!)

Also, I have a smaller laptop now and bigger glasses.  I have 14 grandchildren and back then I just had 2.  And I no longer live in NH, where the photo was taken, so I no longer have that spacious dining room with the red walls and outdated-but-I-still-love-it wallpaper border.

On Halloween, 11 of our 14 grandkids and their parents came over to go Trick-or-Treating in our new VA neighborhood (which is just about the most perfect neighborhood for that activity I have ever seen: it's flat and well-lit, with hundreds of houses situated very close together, wide sidewalks, and minimal outside traffic).
A cute pair of Trolls: G-Man as Branch and Princesa as Princess Poppy 
(these are the two oldest children of son #3 and his wife Preciosa).

Pumpkin as the Cowardly Lion, Paquita as Dorothy, and Peanut as the Scarecrow, along with 
the parents of those adorable triplets--son #4 as the Tin Man and his wife Braveheart 
as the Wicked Witch.

Before they got here in their killer costumes, I wanted to test out the expensive digital camera my husband gave me as a gift years ago.  I'd lost the battery charger for it, and for ages now I've just been snapping photos using my cell phone.  I'd finally gotten it up and running again, and I wanted to see how pictures turned out using the "smart portrait" mode.  So I took this picture of my favorite guy while he had a "Why are you doing this?" look on his face.

And I took this selfie.
Those are the new (kind of ridiculously large!) glasses.  Those are the stairs of the new VA house.  I like that you can see my Miraculous Medal, and that along with my orange and black Halloween ensemble, you can see part of the white apron I was wearing while I made the mac and cheese for the grandkids who would be arriving soon--and then never got around to taking off.  This is real life, folks; I have an apron tied around my waist about 75% of the time.  One of my boys insists that I even wear it when I sleep, but that's pure exaggeration.

Okay, maybe not.  Here is a photo of my apron collection.

And that doesn't include my newest apron, this buffalo plaid flannel number that I was wearing when I took the picture of the others!

I have gotten so used to the old picture up there at the top, which I associate with anything having to do with my writing activities.  And I really love the Irish-green color of the sweater I'm wearing in it.  But I feel like it's not really "me" anymore.

So what say you?  Should I use the selfie-on-the-stairs pic here at the blog--or perhaps get my husband to take an updated one for me?  Or should I just leave well enough alone and be forever 54?  Should I change my blog's background, get rid of the green?  Your thoughts?  (I realize your thoughts might be something along the lines of, "I don't care!"  But you guys are so nice, you probably won't say that!)

Dust blog: check.  Stretch blogging muscles: check.  Let's see if I can keep this streak going!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Grace-filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #35): Austen, Writing Fiction, Etc.

I was looking through some old saved documents on my computer yesterday, and I came across something I'd forgotten I'd even written.  I believe it was the beginning of a presentation I was going to give to the Daughters of the American Revolution at a meeting in Dover, NH, in October of 2015, when I was going to be their guest speaker and receive that year's "Women in Arts Recognition Award (for Contributions in the Field of Literature)" from the local chapter of the DAR.  I was nervous about speaking in front of a crowd, and I thought maybe I should have a speech prepared and try to memorize it (but also have a printed version there in front of me to fall back on).

I never finished writing it; I remember now that I told my husband I had decided not to go in with anything prepared, because the few times I'd spoken to young readers at schools, they seemed to like the Q and A format best.  And when answering particular questions, having a sort of "conversation," I felt the most at ease.

So imagine my panicky feelings when the woman who introduced me began by saying, "Here to speak to us today..."  Oh, no.  I fought through my nerves, wishing after all that I'd brought a typed-up speech to present; but somehow I got through it.  Most of the listeners were older women, but there were a few young granddaughters of the Daughters there, who were delighted to have their books signed afterward and were just delightful in general.
Anyway, yesterday when I stumbled upon that partially written speech, I thought, "Hey, I see a blog post brewing!"  So I decided to tweak it a bit, and since this is Tuesday--and that's Book Club day--I thought I'd share it here at the blog.

Jane Austen is a 19th-Century novelist whom I greatly admire.

She once observed that "the best authors have often been the worst talkers."  And I'm not trying to imply that I count myself among the "best authors"--not by a long shot!--but I do believe that I express myself much better on paper than I do in person.  So forgive me if I stumble a bit up here.  I'm a little nervous talking to you all--I'd do better writing you letters!  [See how I was preparing them for having to listen to a sub-par speaker?  Classic me!]

Okay, let's get down to it, shall we?  How does one go about writing fiction?

In his biography Becoming Jane Austen, Jon Spence wrote this of the famous author: "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."

In my case, this did not happen as much with Erin's Ring as it did with my first novel, Finding Grace; but in Erin's Ring,  for instance, I just HAD to have a reference to dinosaurs, because all five of my sons were completely obsessed with them growing up.  But I wasn't sure I could use that term in 1870, when I wanted Michael Kennedy to use it while he's talking to Erin Finnegan at the Halloween dance, on pages 170-171.  So I looked it up and was thrilled to find out that in 1842, biologist Richard Owen had given that name to the pre-historic creatures whose bones he'd been studying in England.  So I could use it, and it would be historically accurate.  (And that reference  to dinosaurs--that was totally for my boys.  Like a secret shout-out.)

Also, because of those five sons whom I adore, I knew from the get-go that in Finding Grace, title character Grace Kelly had to have five older brothers (who are loosely modeled after my boys, of course).  In Erin's Ring, Molly McCormick has four brothers and a sister, but her mother is pregnant with a 7th child and in my head, I've decided it will be a boy.  Because I think any work of fiction I ever write will have to include a household with five brothers in it.  (Brothers who are handsome, intelligent, kind, faith-filled--and who treat their mother like a queen!)
[Pause here for raucous laughter of the crowd!  Ha!]

In Becoming Jane Austen, Spence also wrote: "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.'"

That is definitely the way I went about writing my first novel, Finding Grace.  So much of the story is reminiscent of my own experiences growing up: the Catholic school I attended; the house where I lived in Plattsburgh, NY and the houses by the lake where my best friend and my boyfriend (now husband) lived; the kids who were my girlhood classmates and friends; but even people and places that were initially inspired by my real life took on a whole new life of their own through the writing process.  I recently read a book by a modern novelist whom I also admire, Elizabeth Berg [who writes popular, mainstream works of fiction that actually feature positive Catholic characters and families--huzzah to that!!], and she alluded to this very thing.  In an answer to an interview question at the end of The Art of Mending, she says, "The truth is, writing fiction is for me a magical and largely uncontrollable act: the characters create themselves, as does the story."  Before I wrote a novel, I would have said that that statement was just a load of artsy nonsense, because books don't write themselves; after, however, I knew for a fact that it was absolutely true--at least it was for me.  I thought I knew where both of my novels were going at the outset, but they changed course on me (and the characters did and said things I hadn't planned on them doing and saying) as the story progressed.

Austen called Pride and Prejudice "my own darling child," and it's true--when you're an author, your books are your "babies."  You become very attached to the characters you create, and then you sort of miss those people when you finish writing the book.  And you are like a worried mom when one of your precious babies goes out into the world alone, without you, and is now open to criticism and judgment.  There are some people who will not like your baby at all, and that makes an author feel unspeakably vulnerable.  I'll tell you what, I had stomach cramps for about two weeks at the end of the summer of 2012, when Finding Grace went to print.  During most of the close to five years I had worked on it, it was my happy little secret, shared only with my nearest and dearest; I kind of wanted to keep it close to me forever--the way a mom feels when she gives birth to a new baby and can hardly fathom that this child will one day grow up and leave her.  You would think that seeing a book make it to publication would be thrilling for an author, but it's actually pretty terrifying.

Anyway, I read once that a niece of Austen's who wanted to become an writer, too, asked her what advice she could give.  And the esteemed author told her, "Read, read, read!"  So--if any of you think that one day, you might like to be a writer, the best thing you can do now is to read as many works as you can, by people who are good at expressing themselves with the written word.  Reading good writing will help you to become a better writer yourself.

Reading this essay over again, I'm wondering if this was actually something I was working on in preparation for one of the school visits I did (the invitations came from two sweet relatives of mine who taught at the middle school level--a niece and a sister-in-law).  That ending part seems more like something I would say to young people who might be aspiring writers than to a group of DAR ladies.  Especially since I think the Daughters' focus was Erin's Ring, which was filled with historical information about the town of Dover.  If I'd been writing something to say to them, I think I would have focused specifically on the process of incorporating that fascinating local history into the novel.  Either way, it makes a pretty good book club blog post, don't you agree?

Well, I guess I should wrap up the meeting now.  I'm not even sure I should continue to host this online club, because it's not as if my humble little books have been read by too many people.  I have a rather large collection of copies of both novels in my office right now, because I stocked up on them for a holiday craft fair at our church last December and sold only a few copies.
There are lots more in boxes...
I would be happy to sell signed copies through the blog, for the same price as Amazon sells them--but without the shipping costs.  Email me if you're interested.  But please, dear readers, do not feel like this post has been one big commercial, trying to get you to buy something!  I just thought I'd offer that.

Okay, before I go, here's today's discussion question: do you prefer Jane Austen-style 19th-century fiction, or are you more interested in the offerings of modern-day novelists?

Thanks for stopping by.  Now get your nose back in a good book where it belongs!  (Sorry.  Bookworm humor.)