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The spirit who loved children – Part 2

Convinced that she had been dreaming, Cindy shrugged off the experience. She continued working with Doug and soon their house became a home.  Closet space was limited in the old house and they had to hang their clothes in what would someday be their upstairs bedroom. For now, though it was merely an attic.

“Doug, I know we can’t afford to finish off the upstairs this year, but do you think we could at least wall off the area that will be the walk-in closet? I’m tired of the kids playing hide and seek among our clothes when I let them go up there to play with their slot cars.”

Weeks later, a new walk-in closet held their clothes and Cindy was elated.  Doug had built the closet large enough to not only store their clothes, but Cindy’s boxes of craft supplies; he even built a little sewing area for Cindy to get away to. It was spacious and blocked off the entire front of the attic.

“It’s beautiful,” she said as she hugged her husband. “I love it, especially my sewing area. Now I can leave my machine set up without the kids getting into everything.” 

Doug grinned. “Just make sure to lock the door when you’re not up here,” he said pointing to the hook and eye latch at the top of the door. “We don’t need to heat the attic when they’re not playing.”

Summer turned to fall and with that came evening school meetings. Cindy didn’t mind, though because with Doug working nights it provided her with an opportunity for adult company.  It was following one of those meetings that with the boys in tow, she turned the key in the lock and stepped into the dimly lit kitchen.

“Go get your pajamas on,” she said to the boys. “I’ll be in to read you a story in a minute.” Her words were punctuated with crash that startled even the children. Cindy’s mind raced. Was someone in the house? Instinctively she grabbed a butcher knife from the drawer and clasped it to her chest.  She waited and listened. Silence. Slowly she walked into the living room turning on lights as she went. She glanced around but saw nothing out of the way, so she flipped the switch to the light at the top of the stairs. The latch was still engaged. 

Cindy breathed a sigh of relief.  Yet weeks later she still wondered what could have made such a horrific crash from the area of her new walk-in closet for, when she went up to inspect the next day, nothing had been disturbed.

To be continued...

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The spirit who loved children

Happy Halloween everyone! This week begins my series on haunted houses. While the tales are true, names and locations have been changed to protect privacy.

The spirit who loved children

Doug and Cindy had been searching for their first home for months. But as was the case with most young couples starting out, each home they looked at was just beyond their means. One evening, they were lamenting with friends at a backyard barbeque over yet another disappointment when their friend rubbed his chin and said, “You know, Doug, the house next door is being rented to an elderly couple and she just had a stroke. Her husband told me last week they were moving to senior housing at the end of the month.”

Cindy and Doug looked at each other and knew instantly that this would be a house they could afford. It was a fixer upper to be sure. But Doug was handy and they could certainly live in it while they did the improvements. “Now don’t get your hopes up,” Doug told Cindy. “The owners may not want to sell.”

“I know, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

It was a disappointed Doug that returned home the next evening. “They don’t want to sell, Cindy. They’ve rented the place to the same couple ever since his mother died and it’s given them a steady income for years.”

But Cindy was determined. “They’ll sell. They just have to get used to the idea. You said they’re older? They aren’t going to want to put up with bad tenants. Why don’t you give it a week and then go see them again?”

Doug was hesitant. It wasn’t his nature to be a pest, but Cindy was right. And he really wanted to sink his teeth into that house.

By the third visit even Cindy was becoming discouraged. But when Doug returned dangling the keys in front of her, they danced a jig in the middle of their living room. “He said to go take a look at the place and then we’ll talk.”

The house was tiny, but solid and before Christmas that year, it was theirs.

Their budget was tight, but with careful planning they began to renovate their new home. “We’ll do one room a year,” Doug said. “We’ll tackle the rooms that need the least amount of work first, and save the expensive stuff like the kitchen, bathroom and upstairs for last.”

It was a good plan and they stuck to it. Cindy learned how to hang wallpaper and Doug shingled the roof, insulated the walls and cut wood for the new woodstove that would heat the little house.

While Doug worked nights, Cindy worked days making it tough to stay connected, but by all accounts, they “were living the dream.” So it was unsettling for Cindy when she woke out of sound sleep late one evening and saw a shadow move across the foot of her bed and then disappear. Always careful not to wake their two boys, she assumed Doug had gotten home from work and had passed through the hall, creating the image on the far side of their bedroom. Satisfied with her theory, Cindy rolled onto her side and glanced at the digital clock on the nightstand.

It would be another hour before Doug was due to arrive home.

To be continued. . . .

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Roses in the Snow

Roses in the Snow is a compelling piece by Lee Stroncek. I stumbled upon it in a magazine one day and was so drawn to it, I searched the web until I located it.

What makes it compelling? There is an immediate connection for anyone who has suffered a loss.

Whether honoring a loved one during the holidays or a remembering an early spring birthday, the act of trudging through knee deep snow to place a bouquet at the monument knowing the blooms won’t survive the night is a simple expression of enduring love.

Pictures don't need to say a thousand words if they evoke one strong emotion. I hope I accomplish just that with my opening scene in Lakeside Lodge. If I do, you can thank Lee Stroncek for the inspiration.

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Sugar Maple Memories

We had a maple tree in our front yard when I was a kid. In the summer, my sister and I would set up our lemonade stand under its shady canopy. In the fall, we’d rake the leaves and play hide and seek in the piles. And in winter, it stood barren, its skeletal frame silhouetted against sepia skies. But in springtime it gave us sap!

When the sun started to climb higher and daytime temps rose to the “I don’t need my mittens” degree, my mother would dig out the spigots and my dad’s hand drill and she’d tap the tree.

Then we’d wait.

If the weather cooperated the pails would fill at a good clip and when we had enough on hand, Mom would drag out the old washtub, scrub it out and set it on the fire pit. Then we’d pull up lawn chairs, toast a few marshmallows and wait for the steam to rise.

The process was long and tedious, especially for Mom, but it was worth it. That old tree yielded a half gallon of the sweetest syrup on earth. The only thing sweeter is the memory of how it came to be.

We visited a maple syrup farm stand recently and came home with a half gallon of dark amber and this cookbook. Here is my rendition of Maple Beyond Pancakes’ recipe for carrot cake with maple cream cheese frosting.

You can buy the cookbook here

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I was there!

I spent a delightful evening with my readers this past week at an event graciously hosted by Strafford Wellness Massage in Rochester, New Hampshire.

The discussion was lively and one question in particular was asked that I thought I’d comment on here, because it's been asked before.

It was, “I felt like I was a part of the story. It was as if I was in the scene, feeling what the characters felt. How do you do it? Do you feel the emotion as you write?”

This is what a writer dreams of hearing!

My answer was, “Yes, absolutely! If I can't feel the emotion, how can I describe it to you?"

I am what I’ve heard called a "video-writer." Scenes unfold in my mind like a movie. The trick is to describe the scenes in words that will let the reader visualize them, too. Of course the characters have to be realistic and their emotions genuine in order for the reader to identify with them.

So, back to the question, “How do I do this?”

By doing two things. I try to give the reader just enough detail to engage their imagination and to emotionally identify with the characters. If I am successful, you the reader will allow yourself to be in the scene. It's human nature.

How much detail? That depends. If an enraged woman has just discovered her husband’s infidelity, I may need to go into a little more detail than if my stoic Penobscot Indian has just been told his cabin burned down. In other words, the body language as well as the dialogue must be appropriate to the character’s personality.

Once I've crawled into the mind of the character, it’s not so difficult to wrap myself in the emotions and the body language that accompanies them. Again, not every detail is revealed, but a mere mention of an action will evoke the video response.

And about that body language... you can observe it anywhere. Have you ever watched a couple in a restaurant? It's not too hard to tell how comfortable they are with each other simply by studying their body language. Do they lean into each other as they speak, careful to maintain eye contact, or are they seated comfortably, leaning back with their arms outstretched in front of them?

In order to find the right balance, I often try on the body language and facial expressions that occur during a piece of dialogue. Would she dismiss someone by sweeping her arm around this way, I think to myself as I demonstrate the action. Would he have cocked his head to the right or left? What kind of frown would that comment elicit? Can you capitalize on the frown by describing a facial feature, like caterpillar eyebrows?

It may be quite funny to watch, as my husband will tell you, but I must practice my body language in order to make my scenes immediate. My readers tell me it works, so I'll continue to give my husband something to laugh about when he catches me trying out my new moves.

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Truth or fiction?

A flock of robins swarmed into our back yard today and dined in the crabapple tree.

For dessert, several of them landed in my window boxes and devoured the winterberries left over from the holidays. I was surprised to see them and wondered whether they were a harbinger of spring or just the result of our wacky New Hampshire winter. So I did a little research and learned the following: Males are far more likely to remain in the north than females. Why? Come spring, the male’s main job is to find and defend a territory. The females’ main job is to create and lay the eggs. This requires a lot of good nutrition and food energy, so females go where they are sure of good food supplies in winter. Yes, they have to use up food energy to migrate north. But migrating and laying eggs are easier for well-nourished birds. 

I’ve often said that writing fiction is 20% imagination and 80% research.  Why did I weigh research so heavily? It’s the credibility factor. Successful writers understand that and research every detail, often learning far more about a topic than they ever end up using in their story.

As a writer, I may choose to share all or only a portion of this research with the reader. Too much information slows the pace and adds no value (unless the information serves to advance the plot).

Would I have ever thought to write about robins in a winter scene? Probably not because I wouldn’t have thought it would be credible. I know better, now.

Will there be winter robins at Lakeside Lodge?

We’ll see.

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Darmies, Pickledactyls and Pigtails

To my grandchildren, I am known as “Darmie.” It’s not a name that will ever be found in a dictionary or thesaurus because it’s a name that I made up. Not for myself— rather for my own grandmother. You see, when I was just learning to talk, I couldn’t pronounce Grammy, so therefore Darmie was born.  It would have been senseless for anyone to correct me. In my mind, my beloved grandmother could never be anything but Darmie.

There have been three of us Darmies so far and I expect there will be a few more.  That’s the great thing about traditions— they are the foundation to some of life’s most precious experiences.

Speaking of traditions, we just returned from a long Thanksgiving weekend at our North Country camp where we were joined by our son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren.  Our grandson is almost four and in love with dinosaurs. Our granddaughter, two, is a girly girl who is very proud of the fact that her hair is now long enough to be put into pigtails. It was a never ending display of contrasts, Baby Girl and I accessorizing with hair ribbons; Big Boy and his grandfather dueling their dinosaurs

 “Grampa, this is my Triceratops.”

“Very good. And what is this one?” he said, holding up Triceratops’ opponent.

“That’s a Pickledactyl.”

“You mean Pterodactyl.”

“No, it’s a Pickledactyl.”

I sighed. Better to quit while you’re ahead, Gramps. Sometimes the made up words are just better.

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Boo!

Greetings from beautiful New Hampshire! As I write this, the autumn leaves are in full color and homes around town are festooned with cornstalks, pumpkins and an occasional goblin.

I originally planned to blog about Halloween by sharing a few stories of houses purported to be haunted in our little town, but as usual, life intervened and I realized I have a message that is far more important to share.

October is breast cancer awareness month. This is the one month of the year when more women can save their own lives than at any other time because of the national attention this initiative receives.

I know, because I am a survivor.

Seventeen years ago this month I was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer. Was I terrified? Absolutely! Although I was acquainted with a few survivors, I was also acutely aware of those whose lives had been taken.

And I felt helpless. They say knowledge is power, but remember—the internet had not yet been invented and I was dependent on information from my healthcare providers. They were wonderful and answered the questions I asked, but their focus was on saving my life, not on offering tips of how to regain control of a life that had been tossed into the air only to land with a hard “thump.”

As the old saying goes, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” For instance, I had never heard the term “chemo brain” and simply thought my inability to formulate coherent thoughts was a permanent side effect of the treatment. (I’ve since recovered and gone on to write Loon Cove!)

I share my story with you for one important reason: Women and their families have a resource that will inspire and encourage them as they journey through diagnosis, treatment and survival of breast cancer. UPLIFT—Secrets from the Sisterhood of Breast Cancer Survivors, 10th Anniversary Edition was released on September 26, 2011. Authored by New York Times bestseller Barbara Delinsky (a survivor herself), UPLIFT provides hope and non-medical, common sense advice from survivors like myself and their families.

Please consider purchasing UPLIFT for yourself, if you are surviving, or a loved one who may be battling this disease. This gift of love will not only benefit its recipient but many others as well—for all proceeds from the sale of this book (and all prior editions) go to Barbara’s breast cancer research foundation at Mass General.

And remember, don’t be a fraidy cat! Get your mammogram!

It’s not what you know that can hurt you. . .

UPLIFT can be purchased here.

Peace and health, Pam
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Igniting the flame

I recently read a blog written by Nathan Bransford, a former literary agent with Curtis Brown, Ltd, and author of Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Kapow.

He discussed how writers can add mystery to their plots. The essence of his blog was that there are all types of mysteries, not just whodunits. Mystery is created by the simple act of strategically placing and withholding information throughout the novel. The element of mystery is essential to creating a page turner, for without it there is no action and the story becomes dull. Mystery keeps the reader engaged. I won’t go into further detail, but if you’re interested, you can read more here.

I started thinking about how I became such a bookworm as a child and the answer is—mysteries. I was a bit of a tomboy, as you might suspect and I devoured every Hardy Boy and Nancy Drew mystery I could get my hands on. Still, my favorite was the Silver Spoon Mystery, written by Dorothy Sterling. (Published in 1958 and still available through Amazon). Available here

Curiosity coupled with my love of nature and animals, (Rin Tin Tin and Lassie Come Home come to mind) make it clear to me how my reading interests influenced my writing style.

Tell me, what were your childhood favorites?

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Nature’s Beauty

Last summer, while out in our kayaks, my husband and I watched a bald eagle circle the sky above us. An early morning mist rose from the lake as he rode the thermals hunting for his breakfast and it was a mesmerizing sight; one that quickly ended when he tucked his wings tightly into his body and dove toward the water. His taloned feet outstretched, he snatched an unsuspecting trout from the waves and flew with it thrashing and flapping to a lone bull pine where he settled with his meal.

For those of you who will never have the privilege of seeing such a wonder, here is the next best thing. The live feed of this Decorah Eagle is brought to you compliments of the Raptor Resource Project out of Iowa.

The nest is 80 feet up in a Cottonwood tree and weighs 1.5 tons. She has three chicks and if you're lucky, you'll catch her or her mate feeding them.

Update - January 27, 2012

Love is in the air!

The Decorah Eagles are in courtship. We don't know when eggs will be laid for sure, but will be starting our vigil on February 14th.


Video clips at Ustream

Pamela Lord, Teller of New Hampshire Tales

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