This road I'm on ... be it to Elwood or New Castle, Liberty or Hagerstown, Brookville or Mooreland, Springport or -- Muncie on Tuesday -- it's a sweet road, one filled with interesting women, friends from different times of life or new ones altogether.
I spent a chunk of Tuesday with the women in my friend Betty Brown's International Circle of First Baptist Church of Muncie. I sat in on their business meeting, shared with them in prayer, laughter, sweet treats around the table, and plenty of lovely girl talk. I love the company of women. The age of those women matters none to me.
I met Betty when she was my (non-denominational) Bible Study Fellowship leader a few years ago and we've stayed in touch since! Thank you, Betty, for having me in to talk about my new book, That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland. And thank you Betty's friends for listening and even picking up some copies.
Wishing an early Happy Birthday to Betty. She will be 85 on July 9 and she wears it well. VERY well!
The last two days have been a blur, albeit a sweet one, taking me Friday to the summer meeting of the National League of American Pen Women, Muncie Branch. (That's the beautiful Pen Women, above, top left.) Freelance writer and author Cathy Shouse issued the invite at the suggestion of our mutual friend, Janis Thornton. (Cathy is giving a brief history of the organization, top right.)
After a delicious luncheon (note the spinach-strawberry salad, above) catered, no less, by one of the members and her friend, I spoke on the requested topic of “Finding a Voice, Building an Audience.”
I wrote the 20-minute presentation specifically for this meeting and shared my view that an author’s voice results from all that she is as well as how she is wired, and according to her values and priorities. Marketing ideas ranged from talks to a variety of groups that may be interested in your writing, to figuring out who is in your “tribe,” and where you might find such women and then finding a way to put yourself in their paths. You have to find your readers. They won’t find you.
A lively discussion followed, during which I learned a particular editing-and-publishing need of one of the Pen Women, and the next day, an author friend displayed a post card announcing a new service she is launching that just happens to meet that need! The two women’s dots were connected via a phone number.
Pen Women date to the 1800s with the goal of women supporting women in their artistic and creative pursuits. Eleanor Roosevelt was a member. Anyone in the general Muncie area who is interested in applying or learning more about the Muncie branch may contact Barb Kehoe at 765-228-7676 or email: BarbKehoe@aol.com.
Author Kelly O'Dell Stanley
At Pen Women, the name surfaced of an author who has been on my radar for three years. Graphics designer, artist, writer and Tyndale-published author Kelly O’Dell Stanley was mentioned by Cathy, and I knew that Kelly was coming to Saturday's author fair.
Kelly hit publishing gold with her inspirational Praying Upside Down. In what we would-be authors are told is basically impossible (or happens when something freezes over), Kelly’s debut was published by Tyndale Momentum.
I met her at a Midwest Writers Workshop three summers ago. It was the same weekend I set out to take every bell-and-whistle session available, enter the writing contest, have my manuscript evaluated, pitch to an agent and soak in every dab of information for three days - until my head throbbed from the overload.
I promised myself that after that weekend, I would once and for all make a decision. Would I spend the next period of my life pitching Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast to endless agents and publishers, then potenially give up, or would I go rogue and get it out there and see what happened?
It was with a surprising degree of relief that I decided to publish it myself and have some fun.
In a session taught by author Colleen Coble, Kelly and I were in the same class. I don’t think Kelly recalls me, but I surely remember the humble, pretty redhead with the big-time publishing contract!
So Saturday, when I arrived at Tipton Library’s Authorama, I was encouraged when exchanging promising smiles with Kelly, and it wasn’t long before we were striking up a conversation. She shared some insights into her journey, and she didn’t in the least condescend about mine – even though I’m not on her level in publishing by any means.
We swapped books, I subscribed to her website, and we got our photo taken together as we held one another's books. (That's us, above.)
My friend Janis was in her prime in her hometown, visiting and hostessing, and selling her own books, a history of Tipton County and her cozy mystery, Dust Bunnies and Dead Bodies. The good day, well-organized, productive, and well-attended (the latter description not always my experience with an author fair) left us in good humor. (The poetry on demand was a nice element.)
I sold some books and handed out a good share of cards, plugging my speaking end of the business.
An Unexpected Take Away
And there was something more. A little thing, really, but a thing that tickled me. Next to the Tipton library is a large stand of evergreens reaching out to the sidewalk. The trees produce the prettiest pine cones! Long, tightly woven, and uniform in size, the crop had fallen, with cones strewn onto the sidewalk and street where they were getting crushed and where my car was parked. I gathered up a bunch of perfect strays and having no container, collected them onto a pile in my trunk. (Yes, I took a photo of them too, above.)
I’ll use them in my winter decorations. And when I do, I’ll think of the summer days spent with the Pen Women and Cathy Friday, and Janis and Kelly Saturday. And I’ll smile, remembering the many ways we connected. This author's journey has many rewards. You just have to know where to look. Sometimes it's under a pine tree.
It never occurred to me that my husband might have a favorite flower. Then the other day he said it was the orange tiger lily. “I love seeing those along the road,” he said. “They only bloom in June and that means school is out and summer is still ahead.”
I’ve always thought of those as happy flowers, too, or maybe even weeds. If they are weeds, bloom on, because they form picturesque floral-scapes along country roads, fences and ditches. They seem to bloom out of nowhere, in places you wouldn’t give a second glance 11 months of the year.
I think most of us spend our lives, to a degree, thinking of time in relationship to school calendars. If June means freedom and tiger lilies, those bright purple weeds and the sound of cicadas in August mean school is about to start. Crocus appearing out of the snow in late February mean hold on, spring break is coming.
The school calendar is even more significant when, like Brian, you have 40 years under your belt working in education. “I’ve been going to school since 1958,” he has often told people. He's now been retired from either attending or working in schools for a year. But he’ll never stop packaging life according to a school calendar.
And that’s why he loves seeing those orange tiger lilies blooming, as they are, now, in June’s remaining days.
Speaking of remaining days of June: If you live in or around Elwood, Muncie or Tipton, let’s connect! Three different venues, three different programs are on tap for the rest of the week with the little book tour for That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland.
I spent Thursday evening at a cookout and pitch-in with some Joyful Saints.
Not every day one can say that.
The Joyful Saints are a fellowship group at the Wilkinson Church of Christ in Hancock County. I knew they’d be a nice bunch. (With a name like that, how can they be otherwise)?
My first impression came when I rolled through the parking lot ahead of schedule. Much as I try to arrive at my book-program venues early to make sure I find them in time, unload and have a moment to myself, I almost always get caught! Sure enough, I couldn't sneak in last night, either.
I by-passed the handicapped-parking spots and continued looking for a place close to the entrance so I could unload my goods. But I had been spotted at a distance by a gentleman in his 80s arriving as well. He stopped the car and rolled down his window. “Are you from New Castle?” he asked. How did he know?
The long story is that no, I’m not from New Castle, but the short one is that yes, I came directly from New Castle and my day job as a newspaper reporter there.
“Go ahead and park in the handicapped,” he told me. “That’s just for Sundays.”
Once I turned off the motor, I was met by Joan Cupp, a lovely woman who has taught piano in Shirley for 61 years. She wanted to walk in with me, but I hedged as I needed to get settled by checking my cell and putting away the GPS and a couple of other things first. She waited on me inside the church door so I didn't have to walk in alone!
These Saints are helpful! Would you expect less?
Inside I met Barbara Alexander, the woman who had invited me to speak and who had shared on the phone our connection: We are not only both from Union County originally but she and I both attended first grade at the then-Dunlapsville School! Her two younger sisters were coming down last night from Fort Wayne for the occasion. Photos were taken. Landmarks from “down home” discussed. She was originally a Pentecost, I a Jobe. The world is small.
In her 80s and a busy-bee part of the Joyful Saints, Barbara said it would be wonderful if one day the four of us – her two sisters and the two of us – could take a drive together around Liberty and look at some old haunts. She mentioned streets and sites I know and know well. One of those, I believe where her parents or grandparents had lived, was Seminary Street.
It so happens that tomorrow, Saturday, June 18, I’ll be visiting Seminary Street myself—2 E. Seminary Street, Liberty, Indiana, to be exact. At 10 a.m. the Union County Public Library is hosting a talk and signing. It’s free and everyone is welcome. There are rumors of cake. And a couple of door prizes. And I want to visit with everyone. I’ll be there early to set up. So come visit!
I’ll have both books available and be pleased as punch to sign them.
It’s alumni-banquet day in Liberty, so I imagine things will be hopping. A year from tomorrow my class will be honored for its 40th anniversary. FOUR OH! I keep redoing the math and coming up with the same figure. How can it be?
We won’t think about that just yet.
If you are available on a beautiful June Saturday to join me in Liberty, Indiana, tomorrow, please do! Did I mention the cake?
For a couple years now, a group of friends in and around the little town of Springport, Indiana, just south of Muncie, gather monthly.
They discuss the book they just read and preview the next selection. Sometimes, they read classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird or East of Eden. Other times, they choose a popular favorite, maybe Fried Green Tomatoes. They’ve also read The Longest Ride, The Midwife of Hope River, The Secret Keeper, The Forgotten Garden, and The Help.
Occasionally, they’ll enjoy a movie night when a film has been made from one of the books they’ve enjoyed. They’ve read many books, and I couldn’t write fast enough to keep up with the titles they rattled off at their discussion Monday night.
But I didn’t need to write down two of their titles: mine.
Reader leader is Nancy Richey, and she suggested my first novel, Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast. Would I attend the discussion? And by the way, they were going to have a dinner featuring recipes from my new book, That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland.
If all that wasn’t enough, there was more. They would read my second book for July.
I could hardly wait to get there after my newspaper work day was done. I was not disappointed as I pulled up to Pat Yapp’s beautiful Victorian on Main Street. I could tell I had arrived when I spotted ladies carrying in food.
The roster includes, along with Nancy and Pat, members Rosalie Sampley, Susan Williamson, Janice Ritchie, Sue Jester, Sally Burch, Teresa Allen and Glenna Divine.
We gathered on the back deck and gazebo under towering trees and over a lawn filled with two fish ponds and multiple gardens, including a clever fairy garden. There, we dined from real china at beautiful place settings. The ladies had prepared the chicken and macaroni salads and the Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie from the new book.
It’s a unique situation, for sure, to be served the very recipes you selected and tested for your own book. What is proper etiquette for such a situation? Do I say everything is delicious and compliment the chefs and baker? Well, everything was delicious!
But my favorite part was yet to come. After I gave a brief overview of the first book and previewed the new one, I heard the readers’ impressions and fielded their questions. While that was fun, it still wasn’t the very best part. That would center on how these readers related to the topic of returning to their roots, because several of them had done just that. Some were originally from Springport, lived interesting lives elsewhere, and returned to the place of their roots.
We discussed the pull of those roots and how we are drawn to home, and when we are home, back in the communities where we began, all around we see scenes from our past, a continuous slide show of ourselves in our youth. Over there is the school. Look that way and it’s where you lived as a kid. Look up the street and there’s your church. Scenes from one’s life remain, ongoing, unchanged, memories looping through our minds.
I will never stop being fascinated with the idea of returning home. Is it odd to be homesick for the place of my own roots? Judging from these women, it is not odd. It is what inspired me to write both novels. I don’t know if it will ever become my reality, the residential home-going to that sweet land of Liberty, Indiana. But on Monday night, I watched as these ladies live out that dream in their own sweet place. And live it well.
Yes, it was a lovely Monday evening in Springport, Indiana.
For a dozen or so years now, Brian, his brother Steve, and their good buddy Tom, take a summer fishing trip together. The few days spent on one Hoosier lake or another, and in recent years, Raccoon Lake in Parke County, are more than what it seems on the surface of the water or even into its depths where the fish are (hopefully) biting.
The trip is discussed all year long. On a frosty January day this year, in fact, we passed through the area and stopped beside Raccoon Lake to take photos and text them to Tom. Also about January, they decide the particulars of their reservations.
For a few days, fishing may be the official reason they get together, but the real reason has more to do with seeing each other and a designated stretch of laughing so hard—yes at each others' expenses—like goofy schoolboys, that hospitalization is a real possibility.
When Tom was a newlywed a few years back, his lovely bride enthusiastically suggested that the spouses be included in the annual to-do. I said that would be a to-don’t. “They really need their guy time,” I told her.
And I totally get it. If we blew in on them, the dynamics would change, the fishing trip fall apart. It would be like the guys showing up at my women’s life group and settling themselves between friends on the sofa, as they listened to our stories and plans. No!
Brian’s specific fishing-trip prep gets under way days or weeks before the trip. He gets his poles out and sees if they need adjusted. He rifles through his late father’s and his own tackle boxes looking for – something. He talks about (more than once) and finally prints his fishing license. Trips are made to town for supplies. It’s four days. And it’s a big deal.
The first year they took a fishing trip, I started what has become a tradition. I get them gifts that somehow relate to fishing. This can be a loose relationship, mind you, like the year I made each of them canisters of homemade chocolate-chip cookies using Brian’s and Steve’s late mother’s recipe. Who doesn’t love chocolate chip cookies, true, but these were really for Tom, who had a special love for these treats of Mary’s. So the loose relationship here was that they ate them while fishing.
Lanterns, T-shirts, novelty fish lighters, coffee mugs, caps, fishing or general interest books have all been prizes wrapped up and shared when they get to the lake.
This year was no different. “Have you got our gifts?” Brian asked weeks before the trip, adding that the guys would be disappointed if I didn’t come through. I think that means he would be too.
This year, as in several years past, I found the surprises at Cracker Barrel. There they were lined up on a shelf – three of them in fact –insulated beverage containers with fish motifs on the outside, lids included. Done! And a bonus by getting them at Cracker Barrel: free gift wrap.
I also made some homemade Chex Mix. Days before they left, Brian had everything all boxed up. He rolled west on a sunny morning and I felt happier for him than for myself when I get to do something special.
This morning, the fishing trip is over for another year. I think they should get together more often. I think they should take more fishing trips than one a year. Among the three couples involved, some are retired, some are working full-time, some part time and all have full, busy lives.
But no matter how busy, one thing doesn’t change: the annual fishing trip when these three best buddies get together and catch more than fish. They catch time together. And that is priceless.
This is the only photo I have with Debbie, taken two years ago at the Huddleston Farmhouse in Cambridge City at a farmers market. I found myself with a free Saturday morning and asked about setting up with my first book. There wasn't much of a crowd but good things happened. Debbie was free and drove over from Ohio. We chatted away the morning and then went to lunch. Also, one of the shoppers was a writer for the Western Wayne newspaper and did a little interview, took some photos, and that led to another gig down the road. I wish I had thought to get our photo taken together last week. But I am grateful that Debbie is in my life and helped edit the new book. And, I am grateful for her friendship.
I’m excited to welcome Debbie McCray from the Buckeye state as today’s guest blogger. Debbie was one of three editors for That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland, and when I asked if she would be interested in making the hour-and-a-half drive to New Castle for last week’s book luncheon, she said yes! Debbie beat me to my own event. It was such a comfort to see her sitting there, smiling, waving. It was not our first book-signing adventure together. A couple summers ago, we met up at a small farmers market and chatted away the morning. Debbie welcomes you to visit her blog at www.snowdrops4faith.wordpress.com.
Connections that entangle the heart
By Debbie McCray
Connections are our sense of belonging. We have connections from our tight-knit circles to ever-expanding circles that eventually connect us with people throughout the world. This past week, I was invited to spend time with one of my Indiana connections: Donna Cronk.
Donna was launching the book tour for her sequel, That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland. The venue was a group at a local funeral home in New Castle, Indiana. Witnessing her connections prompted me to reflect on our connection through the years.
I trace ours to our boys growing up together in the same school district, the same sports teams, and on the same street. We were friendly neighbors busy with life. Donna likes to remind me that Carriage Lane was not the place where we first met. Over 26 years ago, we were in the same Sunday school class at the same local church.
In a way, our connection has also been a journey of faith where God kept putting us together for a reason. God eventually revealed the reason a couple of years ago, when we shared our mutual desire to self-publish a book. In practice, the enduring connection has been our shared love of writing.
Writing was natural for Donna as she went to college for journalism and has been a community journalist for 27 years in one Indiana town and county. Writing was never on my radar given my engineering background with its focus on numbers and logic. I was the stereotypical engineer. I never aspired to be a writer and I did not care about writing, other than what was necessary to complete an assignment.
Hence the surprise when shortly after I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior in 1994, God prompted me to write. God was very specific. I was to write devotions for our church’s monthly newsletter. I often thank God for Pastor Dick Blose of Pendleton Christian Church. When I approached Pastor Dick, he said “Yes” and allowed God to use me. Pastor Dick’s encouragement enabled me to “blossom where I was planted!”
Donna’s recently published book was the day’s connection for the crowd that attended her new presentation. As I was introduced to people, I asked, “So how do you know Donna?” Some connections were common to all of us: work-related with both current and former co-workers. Other connections were more specific to the book: editors, reviewers, and fellow self-published authors. It was a friendly crowd with people Donna knew and friends of friends that Donna met for the first time.
Donna shared her new presentation, “Bloom Before You Are Planted!” Her message reminded us that God has good plans for each one of us. The deeper take-away involved self-reflection on my part. Am I paying attention to God’s nudges? Will I act on the seeds that God plants in my heart? Do I embrace God’s joy for my growth? Will I praise God for His beauty inside of me, waiting to bloom in the perfect season?
After Donna’s program, she and I enjoyed our unique connection by simply sitting and chatting for hours. We covered much territory, revisiting old connections and discovering new connections. Finally, it was time to walk out to our cars and say goodbye for the day. That’s when I remembered my family cookbook.
Over the previous six-and-a-half hours, I had completely forgotten about the cookbook I wanted to connect over with Donna. This is the nature of genuine connections. The time goes by too quickly and we are left with a longing for the next visit.
The best connections always explore the nuances of life and entangle hearts!
2 John 12
I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.