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Saturday, October 03, 2015

Why I love having birthdays...I have my reasons.

I LOVE BIRTHDAYS.

Call me crazy--I wear that Southern-color title well--but I actually like celebrating my birthday.

Cake without guilt; cards that make me snort-laugh; scrolling through Facebook well-wishers to hit the LIKE button.

Every person deserves to feel sparkly, if even only for one day a year.

By the time I reached the "woman-of-a-certain-age" category, much of life's deep magic had evaporated. Santa zoomed off with his reindeer and sleigh before I hit age eight. The Easter bunny hopped away as soon as that ludicrous fable ceased to make even a dab of sense. Chickens should deliver eggs. Someone was on crack (or hitting the vino) when they came up with that blend of warped reality.

Kids will believe anything for a glittery present or chocolate egg.

The commercial, generated, Hallmark occasions morphed into overdone, forced routines. They keep the florists and jewelry stores busy, so they're not all bad, I suppose.

But, a birthday? There's one personal throw-down no one can steal. Not unless I choose to sit the bench. And I don't.

Why do people lie about age? Stay young at heart, yes. Keep the body and mind as fit as possible, sure. Cultivate cornrows of laugh lines and some shimmery silver hair, absolutely.

But own those years.

My age is not "just a number." It is a badge of honor and, at times, courage.

Bring on the cake. Nix a few of the lighted candles, though. No need to be OCD and court the fire alarm. 

Better idea: you should estimate how long you might live. Start off with that many candles, while you still have the breath and endurance to snuff them with one hard blow. It would grow easier each successive year, and serve as a reminder that your time is limited, not to take one moment for granted.

I have such good ideas. Really.

Hand over the silly, corn-pone, snarky cards. I will relish and deeply appreciate every post, text, voicemail message, tweet, and freep.

'Cause it's my birthday and I have a perfectly good suit to go along with it.


Sunday, September 20, 2015

The story behind my novel "Secondhand Sister"


Writers know one basic truth: fiction is a blend of the author's experiences and a good portion of dreams and imagination. 

The spark for Secondhand Sister flared as a result of a family discussion about my series of novels set in my hometown of Chattahoochee, Florida--a town with two stoplights and a state mental institution on its main thoroughfare.

I recently attended a reunion in Chattahoochee where I heard the same sentiment echoed: my birthplace was a truly unique and wonderful area to grow up. I agree.

In my first novel, The Madhatter's Guide to Chocolate, released over ten years ago, I introduced the Davis family of Bonnie Hill, three miles outside of Chattahoochee. The second novel, Up the Devil's Belly, carried them forward. Though I tried to make this family dissimilar from my own, everyone thought they were us anyway.

My brother Jimmy (some of you know him as Gabby) said, "I'm sure glad you got the brother in the books into AA and dried him up a little. People keep coming up to me on the street to say, 'we didn't know you had such a bad drinking problem until we read your sister's book.' "

We laughed. My brother, you see, is much like me in this respect: we rarely drink. One beer every now and then, when it is hot outside and the beer is really, really cold. You could probably count on one hand the number of alcoholic beverages we consume in a two-year period. But Jimmy is a good sport, and he likes to kid around as much as I do. My older sister Melody was no slacker in the humor department either. My entire family is this way. Thank goodness.

"Well," my sister Melody said, "at least she didn't kill you off at birth."

In my attempt to create pure fiction, I had deleted the middle child from the Davis family. Bless her heart.

Later, Jimmy and I discussed this. Hated to make Melody feel left out. Jimmy suggested that the middle child could have been switched at birth. It happened, back then, more often than folks wanted to admit.

That notion swirled around in my mind like the eddies in the Apalachicola River. What if....?

And the main character for Secondhand Sister, Mary-Esther Sloat, came to be. 

Mary-Esther grew up and lived most of her patchwork life in New Orleans, found out she wasn't who she thought she was, then lost her home and everything she valued in Hurricane Katrina. Homeless, hopeless, and harried, she arrived in Chattahoochee in a beat-up Chevy van, intent on locating her real family. There, she hit more obstacles. But I won't give too many spoilers....

I dedicated this book in memory of my sister Melody DeVane-Kight. She never got to read it. She passed away at age 61, the result of a brain aneurysm. The manuscript idled for a number of years until I was ready to head into deep revisions. I wrote several others in the interim. Three of the books, Mama's Comfort Food, Cathead Crazy, and Suicide Supper Club, were also set in Chattahoochee, though they spotlighted different families.

Though Mary-Esther is unlike Melody in appearance and life history, she shares some important traits: a true kindness to others and unwavering optimism, even in the face of great odds. 

This one's for Melody. Hope you can sense it, up there. You left too soon, hon. And we miss you. Terribly.

Tell Daddy and Mama and the rest of the gone-to-glory crew I send my love, and oh . . . you best save me some chocolate.

Love you.
Rhett

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Secondhand Sister is slated for release end of October, 2015. The Kindle version is already available for preorder on Amazon.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014




The Error on 99



Like my fellow writers, I understand one fundamental truth: words and characters are unruly. I start each novel or short story with a spark of inspiration, perhaps a rough plot outline. I settle down with the laptop, expecting to corral a raging herd of ideas, scenes, and dialog into 90,000 brilliant, perfect words.

(Right.)

Then the muses seize the reins and shove aside my feeble attempts at control. Should I try to pen them in, force them in directions they don’t prefer, they will shut down my literary flow like Beethoven blared at a redneck round-up.

During final editing and revisions, I have meager input. My latest Southern fiction novel, Suicide Supper Club, provided more than a handful of the muses’ “teachable moments.”

Weeks before the book went to print, I zeroed in on the final, marketable product. A talented copy editor, three beta-readers, and my critique group members helped to flush out the typos. For sure, the spelling and grammar computer-creatures miss a lot. If it’s truly a word, it is okey dokey with them. Hey, I meant to write shut and not slut—it’s only one small letter’s difference. Why quibble?

Yet no matter how many times I cull a manuscript, typos lurk. I know it. I hate it.

Final proof. I checked back one last time to make sure all of my changes stuck. I always suspect the corrections switch to their former imperfection the moment I close the file, a condition I label writer-noia.

Then, on page 99, the word popped out at me. It had snugged itself next to a correction. All of the trained eyes missed it. Even the word itself (the one I thought I had typed) was eerie: a slang term meaning “let it go!”

At first, I groused about having to redo the file. I couldn’t leave an obvious error in place. Or could I?

The lesson provided: if I could not let it pass on some level, I had missed the point. Missed life lessons have a way of repeating themselves until the thick human ego catches the subtle drift.

To note: I did not correct the Error on 99 in the Kindle version. Had to correct it in the print version. I’m too much a stickler. And that book will be on file in the Library of Congress. Besides, there are other errors hiding in there. They appear in all books.

At the same time—why let things ever be simple?—I was plowing through a difficult life transition. Things beyond my control had shifted my settled world. I struggled to find solid footing.

The Error on 99 appeared at the right moment, the right time. It even fit into the underlying theme of Suicide Supper Club.

Not everything can be controlled. Most things can’t. And left to their own, situations will work out exactly as they should.

That lesson, I understood. Thanks to the Error on 99

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Changes and New Year's Resolutions...HAH!

Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes!



If I had my druthers, I’d stay much the same. No new lifelines (otherwise known and wrinkles), no serious drama, no changes in the family, or at work.
But would I prefer that, really?
I’ve learned a lot, being an author. Reaching the well-over-fifty mark hasn’t dented the learning curve either.
In a novel, no one wants to read about happy people living happy lives. Barbie and her perfect self, driving the latest pink convertible, with her waspish waist and high-riding bust. Ken with just-so rakish hair, cut muscles proclaiming an overabundance of testosterone.
 Snooze fodder.
Happiness is elusive, perhaps nearly attainable. There’s hope, but the reader isn’t sure if the hero will win, or even survive. These are the stories we want to keep reading, and miss when we flip the last page.
Show me the real Barbie—she goes by “Babs”—schlepping to the kitchen for coffee, her nappy over-processed hair sticking out like a scared cat’s tail. Ken’s in the bathroom, doing that three-fart thing he does every morning, humming to himself off-key and leaving whisker specks gummed in toothpaste trails across the counters. The kids are grown. One’s a recovering alcoholic, country-star wannabe in Memphis; the other sells manufactured homes in Lake City. The dog has ear mites, and barfs up pieces of rubber bands and pantyhose and anything else he can get his paws on. The cat shreds the furniture and has sprayed the back door so often, the porch smells like Wild Kingdom.
The toilet in the master bathroom sounds like a waterfall. When Barbie turns on the ancient dishwasher, she has to step outside to talk on the phone. Better out there anyway. Ken hates the mounds of cigarette butts she scatters like pixie dust. Heck with him. Her smoke smells better than his gas.
Have to use my imagination, when I think of Barbie and Ken. Keeps me from wanting to, I don’t know, shave their heads and pull off a leg or an arm. Perfection is annoying. Probably the reason my childhood dolls never made it to the “collectables” stage. Even as a kid, I sniffed a load of marketing hoo-hah.
One thing for sure: change promotes growth—with characters, and in real life. Some years, I face greater challenges. We all do. Death, taxes, jobs, relatives. A few things you can see heading your way. Others come at you like a texting, drunken reveler at a busy intersection. One minute you’re minding your own business, thinking about how you’re going to reheat that frozen vegetable soup for dinner; the next you’re steaming in the ditch with a 911 operator yammering in your ear.
This year, in lieu of New Year’s Resolutions, I made a list of things I wanted to manifest in the coming twelve months. A friend suggested this technique. Said she did this every January and hid the page so she could pull it out later to see what had come to fruition. Most things did.
Beat the heck out of swearing off sweets, or losing five pounds, or getting organized. I have pounded those poor resolutions down until they are flat enough to be a fetching wall hanging.
So here’s to a year of change. To crawling from the ditch, should I end up there by no intention of my own. To loving and supporting friends, to eating some chocolate, to writing some stories.
To living. Messy as it can be.





Saturday, November 16, 2013

Things I learned from Sissy Kat. May she rest in a sunbeam.



Things I learned from Sissy-cat


Anything is better after a nap.

If it doesn’t serve you, hack it up (hairball, food, pieces of string). Purging your life of things that no longer serve you is a good thing.

Don’t settle for something you don’t find pleasing (dirty litter box, lumpy pillow, some people).

Don’t hesitate to speak up (meow) if you have something important to add.

You can always go back to the bowl for seconds. You don’t have to suck it all down in one bite.

A sunbeam is worth a million dollars.

Learn to purr. And purr well and often.

Love a human unconditionally, at least once in your life.

---
With love to my tuxedo kitty. 

May you find cans of tuna, feathers on string, a soft pillow, and all of your friends that have passed before you. And someone to scratch behind your ears until we meet again across the rainbow bridge.

One of your humans,
Rhett DeVane





Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Ode to a Big Freakin' Can of Tuna

ODE TO A BIG FREAKIN’ CAN OF TUNA


From what I heard, the cashier at Sam’s Club even thought this was over-sized  Have to admit, it’s a monstrous amount of tuna: 4 pound, 2.5 ounces to be precise. Even I can’t consume that many “tiny-fish” sandwiches and I like tuna. A lot.

 I’ll refer to this as the BFC from this point forward, save myself some typing. Special thanks to Gina Edwards, our lovely hand model, for her part in artfully displaying the BFC.

The BFC held enough to make tuna salad for the gang at the writers’ retreat on St. George Island, Florida, November of 2013. This is a serious-minded group of scribes, a talented bunch that will work endless hours pounding out a new rough draft, but still take time to yammer and drink coffee. Gallons of coffee. And chocolate, did I mention chocolate?

I rescued the BFC from the trash. Washed it several times, used some environment-friendly spray cleaner, yet it still reeks of fish. Thing is a work of art, the hulk hero of aluminum cans. And it doesn't deserve some landfill as its final resting place. Heck no. I’m planting something in the BFC, maybe catnip since the scent won’t disappear in this century. My cat family will love it
.
The BFC illustrates something I have always known: writers can take anything, anywhere and weave a fantastic tale around it. One tidbit of overheard dialog in the line at Whole Foods, one flash of shared angst with a stranger, one glimpse of a baby’s grin: there’s a story in there, perhaps a novel. And we will find it and write it, in different voices, tenses, and settings. Yet the shared humanity will echo in our words.

Something as ordinary and benign (mostly, if you don’t count the odor) as a BFC can inspire, make us ask questions, create the answers.

It’s how we make sense of the world. Thank you, BFC, for reminding me of this.

Rhett DeVane



Sunday, September 22, 2013

Cross-Purpose Revelation



Cross-Purpose Revelation




Seems I can’t spend time at the beach without having at least one epiphany…something about water rushing to shore and time to think without interruption. Add being a writer into the mix, and the revelations trip all over each other trying to be the most profound.

This trip, the Cross-Purpose Revelation beat out the others. No worry. They’ll be back for seconds like redneck relatives at an all-you-can-eat potluck dinner.

The wind raged the entire four days, flinging sand into the air. The late September sun beat down, oblivious to the fact the first day of fall loomed. Waves crashed to shore, beating the shells to pumice. A scattering of North Florida surfers—thrilled over the churning sea—fought the rip tide on their short boards.

At one spot, a narrow sandbar confused the incoming surf. Primary waves combated secondary waves, sending fountains of spray into the air.

Cross-purpose waves, like life, often came from opposite directions, buffeting me. Which way to go? What’s the most important? What crisis requires the majority of attention? The questions bombarded my brain. Meanwhile, the waves crashed, blended. Ultimately, they all made it to shore, licked a small mark on the sand, then sucked back into the whole.

Where was the grand epiphany? Here goes.

No matter what turmoil, what conflict, what indecision, what cross-purposes life flings your way, the outcome is the same. You make a small mark, then your spirit blends back into the common ocean. And you try not to let the waves pound you to mush.


I must get back to work. Stop all this thinking. Epiphanies are exhausting.