Thursday, June 15, 2017

Getting to know you...



"Getting to know you, getting to know all about you

Getting to like you, getting to hope you like me
Getting to know you, putting it my way but nicely
You are precisely my cup of tea" - Rodgers & Hammerstein

by Helen DePrima and Liz Flaherty


Most of the Heartwarming Sisterhood of authors would love to meet each other and spend quality time together. Some of us do--conferences and retreats that include Heartwarming Sister lunches or meetings or even (I'm making this up as I go along) occasional schmoozes in hotel bars. In all honesty, though most of us here are cyber-friends. 


But we know each other. We care for each other. We grieve and celebrate and "atta girl" together. We have each other's backs. We know the names of Kate's dogs and we worry about Mr. Curtis's health and I have laughed so hard at Pamela Tracy's stories about her family that I'd never have the courage to look them in the eye if we did meet--I'd fall apart.

We were quieted and saddened by things that have happened lately. We already miss Muriel Jensen, who's decided she wants to retire of all things. Personally, I think she won't hold out and there'll be more of her warm and wonderful books to read somewhere down the line, but so far, she's not giving in.

So, where are we going with this?

Helen DePrima and I, who share this day each month, were racking our brains over what to write about. Even though we are friends who know things about each other, we've never met. In the interest of knowing each other better, we decided to ask each other some questions.

So put us around a nice cozy fireplace and we'll talk. We're in New Hampshire, where Helen lives because (1) I don't have a fireplace, and (2) it's hotter than Hades here in Indiana right now so I can't even imagine one.

Helen, I said, what's your favorite thing about yourself?

She thought about that a bit. Had some tea and cookies and stared into the fireplace. And said, "My favorite attribute about myself is my persistence. I never give up. Like everyone, I've been through some rough spots in my seventy-plus years -- jobs I hated, a grueling stint of terminal care for my beloved aunt, the horrors of addiction in my family, the ordinary wear-and-tear of a fifty-year marriage. My sheer cussed stubbornness has served me well as a writer. I collected enough rejection letters  to paper a small room, and I self-published my first novel passed before my agent connected me with Heartwarming."

I think we understand about those rejection letters! 

So then, I asked, what's your least favorite thing about yourself?

Her answer was instant on that one, a little wry. "I'm a world-class procrastinator, sliding under all sorts of deadlines in panting disarray. I so admire people who live orderly lives as if a mean dog isn't nipping at their heels, but at my age, I'll probably never join their ranks."

What did you wish you had known before starting? 

"I had no clue what I was getting into when I started my first novel (still under the bed.) I did know I was enjoying the process more than sex or chocolate; the story seemed to flow with a life of its own, with only a little guidance from me. When I wrote The End, I was sure agents and then publishers would trample each other to acquire the rights, followed by film offers . . . After the first dozen or so rejections, I settled down to the gritty business of interesting agents in my work. The turning point came with a free ebook: Write A Great Query Letter by Noah Lukeman. I had been doing everything wrong; when I followed his advice, I started getting positive response from agents, including the endlessly patient and supportive Stephany Evans at Pande Literary. 

She went on to explain what what she was glad she didn't know.

I guess I'm glad I didn't know how rocky the path to publication would be, but I would still have taken it. I've learned so much from my agent, from free-lance editors, and from the editors at Heartwarming. It's been a wild ride so far, but I wouldn't have missed a single step along the way.

Where do you see your writing career in ten years?

I do get a chuckle from this question, considering in ten years I'll be eighty-three. If I'm lucky -- although I come from long-lived stock. I'd like to think I'll still be writing; certainly new plot lines keep popping into my head, and I'd love to revisit the mystery series that never saw publishing daylight. I've been deeply involved in New Hampshire's political pressure cooker and can think of several scenarios that could be the bases for thrillers. I've sailed the Maine coast -- maybe a family saga set in a harbor town. And I know the West will always call my name.


Before the fire burned down and the teapot and the cookie tray were empty, Helen turned the questions on me. 

Liz, how long have you been writing for publication and how did you break into the field?

I started writing a newspaper column at the end of the 1980s. My first book was published in 1999. At the newspaper, I bugged the editor until he let me try it. The book? Just like everyone else in those days: hard copies and SASEs!

Do you find yourself using friends and family as prototypes for your characters?

Not really. I use names and locations, and one of my best friends was one of the girls in my women’s fiction title, The Girls of Tonsil Lake. She knew herself right away and I was afraid she’d be mad, but she wasn’t.

What has been the best/worst day of your life? (This really interests me even though I can't answer for myself.)

Best days keep happening. Last week, Duane and I were talking and celebrating the fact that the day had been perfect. I can’t actually say what makes a day that good, but I sure do feel blessed to have them.

Worst day? I don’t know and I’m afraid to say. I’ve had losses—I’m 66, after all. There have been hard marriage days, hard parent days, days when I just couldn’t stand myself for whatever reason. I guess the worst day—and I hope it never happens—would be when I couldn’t convince myself it was just one day.

Thanks for listening! We hope you've enjoyed the conversation!

43 comments:

  1. Wow, what candour, Helen and Liz! I love the bit about how it's just one day, Liz. I find that so easy to forget. I hope that today you both have a day of blessings!

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    1. Thank you, Moira! We had quite a time compiling this, didn't we, Helen? :-)

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    2. Hi Moira -- glad you enjoyed our ramblings. I expect writers do quite a bit of self-examination, all to the good when called upon to give depth to our characters.

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  2. Awww . . . Harley and Logan are thrilled to be mentioned in your post, Helen and Liz, even if not by their names (so I had to work it into my comment). You received not just tail wags, but full-body wags from them!

    I love your post, too. What a fun way to get to know you better. Maybe I should nudge Pamela and Amy to see if they think we should steal your idea (with your permission, of course) and make it a regular feature of our blog on spare days!!

    I wish you both many more releases!

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    1. Great idea, Kate. Although we were last-minuting this to the extreme, I love the chance to know each other better and I'd love to know everyone else, too. Pats to Harley and Logan! I was going to swipe one of their pics, but I was hurrying too much. :-)

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    2. Thank Liz for this format -- I had no idea how to proceed and ended up scrambling last minute for something to say.

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  3. Fun post, Liz and Helen! We would never have known you did it last minute if you hadn't told on yourselves. But you did a lot of telling on yourselves here and loved every word. It is so much fun to see some of you at conference but it would be so wonderful to get everyone (or as close as possible) together someday. Thank you both for sharing.

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    1. Thanks, Carol. I'd love to have a Heartwarming Retreat, wouldn't you? I doubt that it's realistic, but it would sure be fun!

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    2. What a wonderful idea for a get-together, maybe regional at some quiet inn, not a convention setting. I'm up for that.

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  4. Loved learning more about you. Happy writing.

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    1. Thanks, Sandra! Some days the word come like a creek in springtime spate, others like a hard birth, but always worth it at The End.

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  5. It's nice to get to know you both a little bit! I can identify with the "cussed stubbornness." LOL! It might have it's downside, but without it, how many authors would actually make it? Thanks for the post!

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    1. It's the choosing what to be stubborn about that can get us in trouble. :-)

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    2. I try not be be stubborn in contests of will, but when the going gets tough, my mantra is "you can do this."

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  6. Great post and how clever to think of it last minute. It's always great learning more about y'all. I wish I was going to Nationals this year and could get the answers to some of these in person! I like the idea of having this as a regular feature. Maybe feature one author and have the rest of us send in one question each? Just bouncing ideas around. Now, I'm in Melinda's conflict class, so I have to get back to my homework. She's making my brain hurt.

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    1. Oh, conflict...one of my major writing failures. I'm sure Mel's class will be great.

      I don't really like conferences much anymore--they're just too big--but I LOVE retreats! I think that would be so much fun!

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    2. I agree with Liz -- conferences are just too big and pressured. And crowds? The only crowds I can tolerate are Professional Bull Riding events and the Deerfield Fair to watch the horse pulling.

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  7. You two have presented a lovely image of yourselves, sitting by that fire. How nice to get to know so much more about both of you and also learn that we all share those writing experiences in some form or other. Thanks for this insightful and yes, heartwarming, post, Liz and Helen!

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    1. Thank you, Janice. I really wish I did have a fireplace, but I'm almost sure they have to be cleaned...

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    2. Liz picked a great image of sitting by the fire. We heat mostly with wood, so cozying up to the wood stove is our reward for the splitting, stacking, and hauling in come fall. And yes, cleaning out the stove every day, but nothing beats the beauty and comfort of a wood fire.

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  8. Yes to the retreat idea. So good to learn more about you--and when do we leave for that cruise on the Maine coast? The best sailing ever. I was impressed by the dogged determination both of you showed in moving forward in writing--and in life. We're all more than writers, but writing seems to end up a part of everything else we are or are involved in. Thanks for the post--and cozy fire in NH.

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    1. Thanks, Virginia. That would be a good place, wouldn't it! Other than the people in my life, writing is my greatest love, so I'm not surprised it shows up in everything I do.

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    2. Hi Virginia -- so you've sailed the Gulf of Maine? I used to crew for a friend taking her 1939 wooden ketch to and from NH to Boothbay each summer. Waking on board in a quiet harbor has got to be one of the most peaceful experiences in life. Anchoring during an overnight thunderstorm in the lee of an outer island was quite an kick too.

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  9. Helen and Liz, Thanks for sharing about yourselves in this post. What a great way for us all to get to know each other better even though we can't meet in person. These are good questions for us to ask ourselves, too, for insight into our own lives.

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    1. Thanks, Linda. I love thinking about that last question. Its answer changes periodically, just as our thoughts on things need to.

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    2. The idea of getting together for an informal gathering has grabbed me by the throat. How cool would that be, to learn more about our craft and our fellow writers without the pressure of rushing to lectures.

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  10. What a great post! So glad to get to know both of you amazing ladies better. :) And I agree--we need to get everyone together. Talk about inspiring!

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    1. Thanks, Anna. Wouldn't it be great? And that trip to Maine Virginia mentioned would be great for Christmas Town veterans!

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  11. What a great post! So glad to get to know both of you amazing ladies better. :) And I agree--we need to get everyone together. Talk about inspiring!

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  12. Thanks for inviting us to your fireside teaparty. It's great getting to know the two of you better.

    Love the retreat idea. I have a guest room in Anchorage, but I don't think you'd all fit in the double bed.

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    1. Probably not, Beth, but Alaska is definitely on my bucket list!

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    2. Dang, I'd love to visit Alaska again -- so much we missed on a short stay. Maybe somewhere more central . . .

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  13. I enjoyed this post so much. I, too, know Kate's dogs, about Mr. Curtis's health scare, Muriel Jensen's retirement and Pamela Tracy's witty family. That's because I have been following the Heartwarming authors for the last few years because they're such a great bunch. I enjoy your books and the loving support you give to one another. You've graced me with such wonderful stories, gifts and encouragement. I'm truly grateful to have found your group.

    It must have been nice cozying up before the fire in New Hampshire. It's burning up here where I live too, Liz. Thanks for sharing details about your lives with us. Your wisdom and endurance is inspiring.

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    1. I think we consider you one of us, Laurie. We are so grateful for your steady support. Thanks for coming by today!

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    2. So glad you joined us today, Laurie. I was hoping to get back to Charlotte again this fall, but we're going to Raleigh for bull riding instead. I'll sure miss eating at Mert's.

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  14. What a great post, ladies! I really enjoying learning more about each of you. Helen, I laughed at your response to where you'll be in ten years. My guess is right here and still publishing books!

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  15. Hi Jill -- I once had a patient as a visiting nurse who had just published her latest book at 93. Her favorite saying: if I rest, I rust.

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  16. Hi, Jill. It is fun learning about each other, isn't it?

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  17. I loved this clever post and I'm with Kate, here, in that making this a regular theme for posts is a wonderful idea. We do get to know each other through our blogs and posts, but this was lovely. Thanks for sharing! I'm currently in Houston and boy, it's warm here, too, Liz!!!

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    1. Hi, Catherine--it's steam-bath time, isn't it? :-)

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    2. I'll think of you this evening, Catherine, as I cuddle up to my wood stove -- chilly and grey here in NH. Of course, we've already had several 90-plus days here.

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