Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Voice of Experience

"Momma always said life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."

Note to Forest Gump: Check under the lid.

Experience may be the best teacher, but sometimes she's a hard one. Fortunately, we don't have to make every mistake ourselves. Thank God for parents, teachers, writers, preachers, colleagues, friends, and mentors who share their knowledge and experience so that the rest of us don't have to get second degree burns to find out the stove is hot.

Of course, sometimes we're too stubborn to listen to the wisdom of those who have gone before. We've just gotta touch that stove. And once in a while, we discover the stove isn't so hot after all. In fact, it's quite managable if we take certain precautions. Just because someone gives us a piece of advice doesn't mean it's right, or right for us. That's how we gather the experience to pass down to the next generation.

Here's a piece of information I've shared younger relatives when they're ready to make their own way into the world. Suppose Earlybird invested $3000 a year in an index fund from age 25 to 35, and then stopped. Latebloomer waited until age 35 to start investing $3000 a year and continues until age 65. Guess who had the most money at age 65? Yep. Even though Earlybird only invested $30,000 and Latebloomer invested $120,000, Earlybird had more, due to the magic of compounding.* 

Now my father was a Depression baby. He didn't trust the stock market. Would his grandchildren be better off investing in CDs like he did, or taking my advice and putting their money into an S&P index fund? Time will tell. 

I guess the takeaway is to listen, learn, and weigh the advice carefully. We each have to make up our own minds about whether the stove is worth touching. But there's no reason nut haters should have to bite into a cashew chew by accident when there's a map right there on the candy box lid.

Do you have a piece of advice you've either found valuable or are glad you ignored? 

*I'd love to credit the book where I first read this but alas, its title is lost in the mists of time. It's probably still on a library shelf somewhere.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Road Tripping Dreams

Have you ever gone to a favorite restaurant and been torn between ordering your favorite item on the menu and trying something new? That's how I feel when it's time to plan vacations. Spend more time in those places we loved or see someplace new?

These are the states I've visited.

It looks like I've seen a lot of the United States, but  the map is deceptive; I've spent my life in the big states. Other than Disney World in Florida and Washington, DC, I've never seen the East Coast and somehow never made it to California. I have changed planes in Minnesota, New Jersey, and Oregon, but airports don't count. (Although Portland airport included an excellent meal and the view of sailboats, so it's almost a visit). And I suppose I was technically in Virginia during that trip to DC. So officially, I've touched land in half the states.

I've seen the wide-open spaces of Big Bend in Texas, the stalactites and stalagmites in Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, and incredible rock formations in Sedona, Arizona and Bryce Canyon in Utah. We honeymooned in Yellowstone, hiked in Montana, snorkeled in Hawaii, and raised a family in Alaska. I love spending time in all these places.

But, I've never seen the autumn leaves in New England. I've never been to Gettysburg, or Williamsburg, or Charleston. I've never visited the San Diego Zoo, or the La Brea Tar Pits, or the redwoods. Then there's Hoover Dam, and the City of Roses, and New Orleans. And that's just off the top of my head.

And there's a whole world out there. I've only visited five countries outside the United States, and there are at least a dozen more I'd like to see. In fact, it won't be long before travel isn't limited to this world. Space tourism is coming.

So if I'm going to fit all those amazing trips into one lifetime, I'd better start planning some trips. How about you? Where are you planning to travel this year?

Monday, January 16, 2017

No Light Without Darkness

We've relocated from Alaska to Arizona for a few weeks. Yes, it's good to be able to go to the mailbox without worrying about slipping on snow or ice, but the best thing about heading south is the daylight.

It's been rainy our first few days here, but the sun has been playing peek-a-boo all day today. It's high enough in the sky that when it does appear, it casts lovely sun puddles through the windows, much to my dog's delight. In Anchorage, the sun never gets high enough to shine through the windows this time of year, and after a month of eighteen+ hour nights, I appreciate what a wondrous thing winter sunshine really is.

This is the view today from the top of the mesa. Look at the way the light and shadows paint the valley below. It's the contrast that makes it beautiful. And I think that's the lesson life is teaching me today. Without shadows, the sunshine would be flat and uninteresting. 

It's true in fiction, too. In any good story, it's the struggle that makes a happy ending so satisfying. The characters need to grow and change to deserve their reward. And we readers have to experience the darkness with them in order to feel the joy when they come into the light. 

Have you read any books lately that left you smiling?

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Catching Lizards and the Path to Publication

Did you ever try to catch a lizard when you were a kid? I did. It’s not easy. They’re incredibly quick, and they don’t often get too far from safety. Meet Roxy – Lizard Hunter. She’ll spend hours prowling around rock walls and rip-rap piles, sniffing in the cracks and looking for lizards. She’s had little success, but the occasional lizard sighting or scent is enough to keep her hunting.

I was thinking today that a career as a writer is a little like lizard hunting. Someone said eighty-one percent of people surveyed wanted to write a book. I have to wonder why, because another survey said only seventy-two percent actually read even part of a book last year, but that’s a topic for another day.  The point is there are a lot more people writing than there are publishing slots to fill.

Sending out queries to agents, hoping to catch their interest, is a little like sniffing around the rock pile. Just as Roxy occasionally spots a lizard, occasionally an agent will ask to read all or part of the manuscript, but more often than not, that ends in a polite rejection, or in Roxy’s case, a vanishing lizard.

So you write another story. And then the big day comes. An agent actually likes the manuscript and wants to represent you. Hurray! Now you’ve got the lizard by the tail. But as Roxy discovered, sometimes those tails are detachable.  Sometimes, even though the agent loved the manuscript, she can’t sell it.

So you write another one. And another. Don’t give up now. Catching that lizard tail only spurred Roxy on to greater enthusiasm, and eventually, she caught a lizard. And, if you’re very, very lucky, eventually your agent finds an editor who recognizes your brilliance, and you become a published author.

Of course, that's just the beginning. Every new book you write will be a challenge. As a writer, you must prove yourself over and over. 

So why do it? I think Roxy’s wagging tail as she sniffs along the rock wall answers that question.  She hunts because she’s a hunter. That’s what she was born to do. Writers write. Whether or not they’re ever published, they create stories.  It’s what they were born to do. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Being Thankful

Today is Thanksgiving, a day set aside to take stock of all the good things I tend to take for granted. Family, community, home, health, country, pets, books, love, laughter, and so much more. I have so much to be grateful for.

It’s funny how even bad things can turn out to be blessings, like that broken leg in March that gave me lots of couch time to write one of the two stories that led to a writing contract in September.  I’m thankful for good medical care and a devoted husband who picked up all the slack while I was laid up. I’m thankful to the people who shared their knowledge and experience to help me become a better writer. And I’m thankful for the support of my friends and family. My cup overflows.

What were your special blessings this year?

Sunday, November 20, 2016

A Visit to the Corvette Museum

Can a car be a work of art? I vote yes. I’m not really a car person, but even I can appreciate the sinuous curves of a Chevy Corvette. I should say Corvettes, because in the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky, we got to see Corvettes of all vintages, and I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite.

Seeing these amazing cars, many displayed in historical dioramas, makes me wish I could climb into Roy Orbison’s '67 Vette and roar off to explore Route 66.

The Corvette factory is here, too, and in the entryway to the museum, brand new Corvettes sat behind velvet ropes, awaiting their proud parents to come and claim them.

The museum also contains an unintentional display of a natural disaster. In February of 2014, the cave under part of the museum collapsed, creating a huge sinkhole that dropped eight Corvettes thirty feet into the earth. Fortunately, the museum was closed at the time, and no one was injured. The cars have been pulled out, but as you can see, they were severely damaged. A tape marks the outline of the sinkhole, and they’ve left a window in the floor so visitors can see just how far they fell.


To top off our nostalgic tour, we enjoyed burgers and fries at the adjacent classic diner. It was a fun outing. If you ever find yourself in Bowling Green, I’d highly recommend it.

One warning: a trip to the Corvette Museum can be expensive. Not the entry fee, that's only ten dollars. No, the expensive part is that after seeing all those gorgeous sports cars, my husband is itching for a 1977 model of his own. And judging by the vintage Corvette dealer just a block away, he’s not the first to catch Corvette fever. 

What do you think? Can you see yourself in one of these beauties?