27 August 2010


Like many small towns, my hometown has a traditional summer festival that celebrates a unique aspect of American life just for fun. In this case, it's Derby Days, which is always held in August and begins with a parade down Main Street.

Parade participants are staples of small-town life: The high school band. Little League football players and cheerleaders. The youth soccer association. Churches, businesses and veterans. This year, the armed forces were represented by a small group soldiers from conflicts as far back as World War II and as recent as Afghanistan.

Whenever I see a group of marching veterans, I always wonder about those not marching.

Years ago, during an interview for the dedication of a new VFW Post in upstate New York, the topic turned to post traumatic stress disorder. "We didn't have a name for it," a WWII veteran said then (I'm paraphrasing) "but we all knew we weren't the same. We talked to each other."

But not everyone talked about it. My great-uncle Powell Henry was drafted into World War II. Because he'd been studying to be a doctor, he served as a medic, both in Europe and Asia. Although he was physically unharmed, he wasn't the same man after the war. When he came home, he put away his med kit, hid his medals and never told his stories. He lived on the family farm, growing tobacco, until his death in 1989.

In my studies and research for medieval romances, I've never come across an individual knight's reflections on war. In fact, I've not come across an individual's reflection on anything. However, drawing on more modern experiences, I assume the Crusaders (at least some of them) returned home different men. After all, how much can "being human" have changed in a thousand years?

The truth is I have no idea whether 12th century knights were changed by war or if they ever sat around the hearth and discussed it with fellow veterans. I make it so in my WIP, but I can do that because it's fiction. 

How about you? As an historical author or reader, do you think war has always changed those who fought?

22 August 2010

It was a dark and chilly hike

Call me a brave woman. Or a foolish one. Earlier this week I took the niece and nephews, along with Mom and Pop (mine, not theirs) to Mammoth Cave National Park to explore the cave on a four-hour hike. 

Plus, I have a heroine who's about to get lost in a cave, so I thought the research could be fun.

Let me save y'all future research right now: It's dark in a cave. And cold.

And an eight-year-old walks about 10x faster than a 70-year-old. 

Add in 60-degree inclines, 300-step staircases straight down or up and the damp chill that seeps from the floor through your shoes, and you can imagine the loving looks I received from my traveling companions.

The youngest wanted to race the ranger, jump the rocks and touch the 100 million-year-old formations.

The oldest asked where the elevator was. The middle one kept busy telling the other two to be quiet.

By the halfway point, I was enviously eying the spelunkers in their knee pads, pith helmets and nicely dirty coveralls. 

Meanwhile, Mom and Pop stayed at the rear of the tour group because they are too old to walk as fast. (Personally, I think it was to get away from the "when are we going to see the sun again?" questions.)

The best part, though, was when Pop mentioned the trip was much more rugged than when he went on the eight-hour tour with his high school class in 1956.

"Well, you were 17 then," I said.

"You're right," he said with a nod. "The park service has probably changed the route since then."

18 August 2010

Something new: A children's Book

STEPH: Keena, thank you so much for having me and caterpillar over for a visit today. "The Giving Meadow" is my first children's book. I wrote it as a play for my church's preschool Easter play in 2009. I showed Vivian (Gilbert Zabel, publisher, 4RV Publishing) and she offered it a contract. It was a pleasant, unexpected surprise.

CATERPILLAR: You're telling me.

STEPH: Telling you what?

CATERPILLAR: Hatching out of that egg! I was surprised, thirsty, and hungry.

STEPH: You were in a meadow. Couldn't you eat the grass?

CATERPILLAR: Grass? Hardly substantial. Good thing I found Frog.

STEPH: Frog?

CATERPILLAR: He shared his water with me.

STEPH: Did you make any other friends in the meadow?

CATERPILLAR: A very nice ladybug shared her grapes and a sweet little bee shared her honey.

STEPH: Grapes and honey? Didn't you get…ah, plump?

CATERPILLAR: I was hungry. Hungry caterpillars get real plump. Then I met snake.

STEPH: A snake? Yikes!

CATERPILLAR: Snake was cool. He shared his apple with me. When I started spinning silk around myself, he got worried and gathered up Frog, Ladybug, and Bee to see if they could help.

STEPH: What happened then?

CATERPILLAR:  You have to read the book!

STEPH: Keena, do you have any strawberries? Just in case?

KEENA: Yes, I do.

"The Giving Meadow" is wonderfully illustrated by Stephen Macquignon. Stephen primarily works in the medium of pen and ink and color digitally. He has had the privilege to work with Director Michael Sporn of Michael Sporn Animation Inc. He is also a monthly contributor for Stories for Children's magazine.

Stephen's children's books with 4RV Publishing include Angeline Jellybean by Crystalee Calderwood and Colors by Dana Warren.

"The First Flag of New Hampshire," by Stephanie, will be released by 4RV Publishing next year. It is a TW/Young Adult story.

GOODIE TIME: Leave a post here on the blog. I'll pick two lucky winners to receive an autographed postcard of the cover. Winners will be drawn out of a hat, and I'll return on 19 AUG to announce them.

Buy Links:

Stephanie on the Web:

 Stephen on the Web:

15 August 2010

Just a spoonful of sugar...or maybe a pound

I've spent a lot of time this summer thinking about the art of diplomacy.

In my current work-in-progress, one of my secondary characters is a diplomat. So far, he hasn't said a word.

And in a way that illustrates how art mirrors life, in all my job interviews this summer, I've been asked what former employers would consider my strengths and weaknesses (or "challenges" if the interviewer has a public relations background).

Now after a few years in the professional world, anyone with an ounce of self-awareness knows what she does well and not so well. So it's a fairly easy question to answer.

I am not a natural-born diplomat.

OK that's an understatement. I can be rather blunt, more than a bit cynical and entirely too likely to say what everyone else is only thinking. I've been told not to admit this to prospective employers, but I figure it's better to give them a heads up. No sense in having them think they've hired Shirley Temple only to find themselves across the conference table from a less-witty (but more sober) Dorothy Parker.

What's interesting is each time I give this answer, the interviewer has smiled and said, "sounds like me. I'm always saying things I shouldn't."

I laugh, but also wonder if he is merely being diplomatic or if diplomacy is truly a rarified skill that we all wish we had, but few actually do. Who among us hasn't said something he shouldn't? How many times have you blurted when you should have been reticent?

After a lot of thought, I've decided that diplomacy isn't the ability to tell someone to go to hell and make him want to go (that's charisma) but the genius to tell hard truths yet still make peace. Mary Poppins reminds us that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, but finding the correct truth to sugar ratio is a skill worthy of a medieval alchemist.

This insight should help my diplomat character in his struggles to find the words that will prevent war (we'll know for certain after I write that chapter). And hopefully it will remind me to walk a little more carefully through the forest that is human interaction.

After all, writing requires we type what others only think, but reading it and hearing it are two very different things.

11 August 2010

Driven or obsessed?

I got my dining room table back yesterday. No, it hadn't gone anywhere, but when my niece came to visit a few weeks ago, she started a 2,000-piece puzzle, which was so large the table was  only place big enough to spread it out. We ate around the outside edge the first night, but couldn't after that.

The puzzle from Hades, according to my nephew.
The niece left, leaving the barely started puzzle still on the table. For two weeks, I ate on the couch as the puzzle sat untouched. Then I decided I wanted the table back, so I worked on it for five days--dragging my oldest nephew, who's visiting now, into my obsession. We put the last piece in place Tuesday morning.

But we finished. An hour later, I tore the puzzle apart, put it back in its box and had polished up the table. Then I could go back to my other works in progress.

The obvious question, of course, is why didn't I simply box up the unfinished puzzle. Let's call it a personality tick. Books must be finished, as must puzzles, laundry, cleaning, renovations, etc. It may take me days or weeks to complete the task--or I may need to call in sick to finish (did that once while cleaning my house) but I will finish. The closer I get to being done, the more obsessive I become.

There's a fine line between being driven and being obsessed, and I think perspective is the key.

I'm driven when I'm working on a big goal, such as finishing a book, painting the house or finding the perfect pair of shoes. But on a smaller scale, i.e. puzzles and cleaning, it's borderline obsessive. Perhaps it's even detrimental. After all, now that my table is back and ready for use, I've noticed the rest of the house looks a little cluttered...

07 August 2010

Blogging at Borders

Readers Crown book finalists (including me for Ties That Bind) are at the Borders blog today. Come by and say hi.

04 August 2010

Burning my boats

Almost 500 years ago, Hernando Cortes set out to conquer Mexico--his determination so great, he burned his boats once he and his men came ashore. This act not only made sure his men would fight when they'd rather retreat, but also provided fodder for motivational speakers for centuries to come.

By burning our boats, we ensure we don't quit when the goal becomes too big or too scary or too far away. However, by burning our boats, we also ensure our commitment to a cause that we obviously don't agree with--at least not wholeheartedly. For if we were wholly committed there would be no need to burn our boats.

These thoughts have been twisting through my head the past several days after the heroine in my current WIP takes a step that could be viewed as the 12th century equivalent of burning her boat.

My hero chides her for taking such a narrow view of success: "There is always another way to get what you want," he says in the story that I've taken to calling the Yorkshire Gothic (even though it's set in Northumberland). "In fact, there are usually two or three different ways to get what you want."

These were not the words I expected to come out of my hero's mouth. Until that point, I'd pictured him as rather monomaniacal, and the scene was supposed to spark a moment of empathy with the heroine.

Instead, she took umbrage at his attitude, and they are further apart than ever.
Then I began to wonder if Rye was talking to me. The truth is I can become fixated on one thing to the near exclusion of all else. And for the past six months or so I've been determined  to find a way to shake things up--only I can't decide on the one way to do it.

  • Travel?
  • New job?
  • Move to Key West and take up improv?
The problem is I've been looking for a way when there are multiple paths to get to where I want to be.

Overlooking the small fact that my characters are now talking to me, I've decided to try Option A and if that doesn't work, move on.  I'm not out to conquer Mexico, after all. I don't need to burn my boats.