Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Book Release Party

George Atkisson's book release party was a huge hit!

Friends, neighbors, and family members gathered to celebrate his enormous accomplishment of publishing The Chalice and the Stirrup Cup at age 94. He had a wonderful time telling us some of the backstory on the novel and signing copies.

It has been so fun to share this story with you. If you haven't checked out George's book yet-- available on Kindle, softcover, or hardcover-- please do.

He is enjoying all of the feedback.








Monday, April 2, 2018

The Man Next Door, Part 3


George and I talked about his goals of finding an agent, shopping the manuscript to New York publishers, and how long that might take. I wasn't trying to be snarky about his age, which is one of the neatest things about this story, but I also didn't want to discount it. After losing my mom when she was 46 and my son at 12, I've come to realize that tomorrow is never promised.

I asked him if he wanted to invest years and possibly not ever get published, or whether he would consider self-publishing in order to make make his dream come true. I could tell he'd need to wrap his brain around the idea, so I let him know that I am self-publishing my upcoming children's book, and that it could be a faster way to get his book in the hands of readers.

Savvy as ever, George asked whether, if after self-publishing, he could still have his book traditionally published if someone showed interest in it. Yep. I explained that freeing it from the cardboard box in his bedroom could be a good first step in that direction. 

I reached out to a local friend who had already done research about self-publishing  and asked if she would be willing to edit George's book and shepherd him through the process. I knew she was not only a fantastic editor but a great conversationalist who would be awesome company for him as they worked through the process. The value of human contact is no small thing. I had no idea if they would develop a friendship, but I sure hoped they would.

I told him I felt bad I didn't have the time to be the one to get his book to print, but he made me feel better by saying, "Well, you are going to write about it on your blog, right?"

Do you love him, or what?

So here I am, spreading the news of the man next door, an amazing debut author, who at the young age of 94 (95 in June!) never gave up on his dream. Through work, family life and retirement. Through losing his beloved wife of 69 years. Through being housebound. George Atkisson did not let any of that stop him, and I know my life is richer for having witnessed this.

George holding his book for the first time

George and his editor, Michelle Layer Rahal

When we handed him his book for the first-time, he was speechless. It was a moment more than 40 years in the making.

For years I avoided getting to know my neighbor. How grateful I am to have not missed the chance to make a new friend and immerse myself in George's characters and the world he created.

Next week we are having a small book launch party at George's house for The Chalice and the Stirrup Cup, and now I'd like to introduce it to you!




The Chalice and the Stirrup Cup is a wonderful coming of age novel that begins shortly after World War I. This book has romance, history, theology, and characters you will root for. Here's a quick description:

"Only three things matter to Billie: her horse, her writings, and JD. But JD, the strong and introspective farm boy growing up in the shadow of his alcoholic father, has yet to determine what he wants out of life, and no one seems to expect much out of him, especially Billie's wealthy parents. It appears that JD is set to run with the hounds until an unexpected benefactor steps up to redirect his route. Though bound together by their love for each other, poetry, and the great outdoors, it is their opposing views on God that ultimately influence the choices JD and Billie will make. For Billie, trying to understand God is like describing a rose to a blind person. If she can succeed in this task, perhaps she would believe. Set in rural Virginia in the aftermaths of World Wars I and II, The Chalice and the Stirrup Cup chronicles the escapades of two unlikely friends as they grow and mature in this coming-of-age story. Their friendship sustains them through the darkest times, but it is their search for God that ultimately impacts how they live and love."

Please celebrate George Atkisson's enormous accomplishment from wherever you live.

Purchase his book (available in hardcover, softcover, and kindle) and/or leave an encouraging comment for him.

Please contact me if you have a local book club that would like to read George's book and connect with him.

And if you are a publisher looking for a new author, I have a special one in mind!

(affiliate links included)



Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Man Next Door, Part 2

Read Part One Here

Tim looked at me like I was crazy when I carted the box of binders inside. He knew how frustrated I was at my lack of time to write, and he was afraid I'd spend too much time wading through someone else's work to do my own. I also think he worried that I'd be too nice if I didn't like the book, even though George had insisted he wanted me to be straight with him. I was worried about that, too.

Sometimes it was a slog going through the double-spaced pages. This was no short memoir, like I had written. It was an epic novel spanning decades, exploring class, family dynamics, American History, and theology. Some of the chapters plopped me right into the scene, leaving me wondering which thread of the story I was reading about. George told me he sometimes liked to keep his readers guessing, but I didn't want to have to guess. Tenses occasionally shifted, making me lose my place.

But each night, when I turned out my light, I thought about JD, the young boy in the novel. I pictured him growing and maturing among the agricultural fields and streams where my suburban town now stands. I wondered if he'd go off to college. If he'd get the girl. If he'd find faith.

It dawned on me.

JD and the other characters had become real to me. And once again, I was awed by how anyone ever writes fiction. How I could hear JD's voice in my head as clearly as someone I knew in real life. How I could practically smell the reek of liquor as his alcoholic father stumbled in and out of his life. How the funny and poignant anecdotes of the townspeople placed me in a community as believable as the one I live in right now.

In my pre-sleep thoughts, it was as if I were watching a movie.

I was no expert on publishing, and certainly not on fiction, but I knew without a doubt I could tell my 94 year old neighbor that I loved his book and wanted to help.

More to come...

Read Part Three Here

The Man Next Door, Part One

I have the neatest story to tell you.

Shortly after we moved into our neighborhood, I learned there was a really interesting man next door. He'd lived in our town for his 90+ years and was filled with good stories about local history.

You would think I hurried over to introduce myself. Nope. I told myself if I bumped into him, we'd chat, but I wasn't going to extend myself. I'd come out of my last neighborhood feeling bruised, broken, and vulnerable. I was running away from something instead of toward something, and if my new neighbors didn't reach out to me, I pretty much kept to myself. Tim prodded me to meet him, saying, "I really think you would hit it off." But I resisted.

Finally, late last year a knock came at the door. A young woman introduced herself as my elderly neighbor's caregiver, and handed me a slip of paper with a phone number on it.

I'd been summoned next door.

I arranged a babysitter and headed out. I walked upstairs to the bedroom where George spent his days, unable to walk as a result of a bout with polio when he was a young husband and father. Now I knew why I'd never bumped into him in the yard.

Within seconds, my fears vanished, and I was enthralled by what my charming neighbor had to say. We hit it off instantly, taking about history, politics, and faith. And even though I was paying a sitter by the hour, I didn't want to go home. I realized how much time I'd missed out on getting to know a kindred spirit.

As things wound down, George told me why he'd invited me over. I'd been summoned because George's daughter and granddaughter had read Rare Bird. George had also written a book. He'd started writing a novel way back in the 70's and wanted my professional advice. Could we talk agents, publishers, and publicity?

A few hours later, I walked back across the lawn carrying a cardboard box with three black binders in it-- George's manuscript--that had been around almost as long as I had.

I was excited but apprehensive.

I loved meeting my new friend, and was looking forward to reading his work, but what if it wasn't any good?

Read Part Two Here

Read Part Three Here



Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Morbid Humor

I spent time with a grieving friend recently. Some of our conversation involved morbid, irreverent humor, and a generous helping of curse words. We bounced from topic to topic, and ridiculous cemetery stories were mixed in with talk about youth sports and silent, wide-eyed stares that said, "Is this really happening?" "WTH?"

It reminded me that humor, cursing, and wide-eyed disbelief all have a place in grief. Morbid laughter is not the same as the gentle laughter and even belly laughs that come during a memorial service as sweet and hilarious stories of a loved one are shared.

Morbid humor has an edge, and it might make people uncomfortable.

It's laughing at the sheer absurdity of it all. How life was one way yesterday, and oh so different today. When you'd just stocked up on a bunch of snacks that now will never be eaten, on Irish Spring soap that no one else wants. For how could stupid soap or Cheez-its "outlive" a beloved person?

See? Ridiculous.

I remember joking that I had a little cloud of doom that went with me wherever I went. Now if you'd just met me, with smile lines around my eyes and a talkative nature, you wouldn't jump to that conclusion. Doom? She's just a regular person. But what if you found out I was the girl whose mom died? What if, years later, I was known to you only as the mom of the boy in the creek?

Not exactly laugh-inducing.

But by describing myself as such, with my own little cloud of doom, I could laugh at the absurdity of  the most boring, predictable person in the universe living a life marked by something as dramatic as death. By making jokes, I could feel like I had some control of the narrative, even though deep down I'd come to realize I had none at all.

Morbid humor shows up as families do the unthinkable-- pick out clothes for funerals, write obituaries, or try to remember important details when their brains are misfiring and the sky looks too, too blue. It's easier to make fun of the way a hapless funeral director or grief therapist said something than to fully grasp why you were in the funeral home or in the therapist's office in the first place. It's easier and a lot more fun to play the "My Friend Compared my Loss to a ________ Game" than to agonize over whether anyone will ever truly understand the extent of your grief.

Morbid humor is the domain of the grievers themselves.

PLEASE know I wouldn't have taken kindly to someone making jokes around the death of my mother or my child. In fact, many grievers save this kind of humor for grief groups or with others who have "been there" and can "get" the sometimes snarky shorthand of grief. It feels safer in that atmosphere.

But what if they do share it with us?  How can we show support for a friend who lets us in on this sacred facet of grief?

Be honored. Buckle up for the ride. Embrace irreverence for a while. Listen. Hug. And if it feels right, throw in a few curse words now and then.




P.S. When Tim, Margaret and I entered our room at the safari lodge on our dream Africa trip last December, these insect repellents were the first thing I saw.




Monday, March 19, 2018

Busy Bee

Last week was a challenge, with Tim traveling, Andrew getting a cold that quickly turned to croup and landed him in the ER, and the painful lead-up to Jack's 19th (yes, NINETEENTH!) birthday on Sunday.

There were many bright spots too.

Andrew and I were playing on our hill when he made a bee-line for the garage in search of something. He came out with a toy shovel and started heading toward a neighbor's house. He'd spotted their enormous pile of mulch and wanted to "help" shovel it.

These kids notice everything, don't they? The only thing that got him away from their mulch pile was his fortuitous discovery of a balance bike in the garage I'd bought at a yard sale for when he was older. Much older.

Here he is all tangled up in it. It took some serious restraint not to untangle him, but I could tell he didn't want help, "I OKAY! I OKAY!"






Today, he was at it again. After some time lovingly embracing our local fire hydrant, he saw the mulch guys show up in a big truck, and he wanted part of the action.


This time he got his wheelbarrow and took it down so they could all compare equipment. He wanted to be sure they knew his wheelbarrow has ONE WHEEL, so please get that on the record.


So glad he's on the mend. I love seeing how his mind works. Now Tim and I are trying to teach him to sleep on his own after being sick...

Monday, February 26, 2018

Thoughts and Prayers

After Jack died, thoughts and prayers helped carry me.

I could feel our pain being shared in our town, across the country, and around the world by readers like you. You were willing to step into our story, to care and pray, even though it hurt. Those thoughts and prayers helped me get up and speak at Jack's service, and greet his classmates in the carpool line each day after school that first terrible year. They helped me have enough strength to parent Margaret in my most depleted state.

Some people wonder why "thoughts and prayers" are getting such a bad rap these days. I'd love to share my perspective.

For those of you who were with me in those early days, there was absolutely nothing that could be done to "fix" our family's situation. There was no real "cause" attached to Jack's accident. The best thing that could be done for us was to send up fervent prayers.

You prayed, and it did make a difference.

"Thoughts and prayers" ring hollow, however, when those in a position to effect change after a tragedy choose to do nothing, or even actively WORK AGAINST change, while saying they will pray.

This heaps pain upon pain. It is the utmost in disrespect.

When I see yet another child with cancer come across my timeline, I pray. Hard. But I also get out my credit card and donate to children's cancer research, because I know that money will make a difference. I am not a policy maker. I don't decide why children's cancer only gets about 4% of research funds. But I can pray, donate money, spread awareness, and not look the other way.

In the case of our nation's epidemic of school shootings, I can honor the children who died by advocating for common sense gun control. I can support Sandy Hook mom Scarlett Lewis's program to increase Social Emotional Learning so that fewer children will feel so alienated that they turn to violence.

It's easy to say that NOTHING will prevent all school shootings.

Is that reason enough not to try? The victims' families can't be "fixed." They need our prayers, big-time, as they grieve. How generous of them, in the depths of their pain, to use their voices to try to stop this from happening to another family!

There is no way to gauge the power of a single heartfelt prayer.
Or a single weapon that didn't get into the wrong hands.
Or one human connection that made the difference between destructive anger and hope.

I'll close with this powerful video from Aaron Stark, "I Was Almost a School Shooter" Interview is at the top, Aaron reading his letter is at the bottom.