Tag Archives: writing

Chance Encounters, The Chaos Theory, and Jesus

Have you ever noticed how our smallest encounters with other people, even perfect strangers, can be life-changing? These days, my life seems to be moving at Mach speed. The visual metaphor that pops in my mind to describe this pace is the military’s new high-tech wave rider which promises to get a person—or a bomb, I presume—half-way around the world in less than ten minutes. Have you seen the footage on CNN? It looks like a toy Batman or James Bond would play with. Imagine: Europe in under an hour—traveling at nearly 4,000 miles per hour. Talk about jet lag!

This week, I dropped off my firstborn at college, registered my other two kids for a new school year, tried to work a bit on a new book, fought the good fight against steroid-engorged dust bunnies, cooked, washed clothes, sang in the choir, and attended to the usual births, deaths, and cultural milestones in the lives of friends traveling life’s path beside me. My forties have been busy, let me tell you. I don’t like rushing headlong through my day. I feel like I never finish a thought. If I were a dog, a squirrel would undoubtedly dash across my path every few minutes. It makes me wonder if I’m losing my mind. Seriously. I might REALLY be losing my mind this time. My brain feels leaky—like an overflowing colander.

Because of this frenetic pace, I often fail to stop and savor moments like I should. Do you do this, too? I don’t want to live the rest of my life this way! I feel like I just barely keep my nose above water. After watching the Olympics, let’s just say that if I were a water polo player, I’d be dead.

At the most inconvenient moment possible, when the washing machine is overflowing, and the cat has escaped out the front door into traffic, and my daughter can’t find her cheerleader ribbon, and my mother-in-law is talking to me on the telephone–all at the same time–that’s the moment when I usually experience an epiphany, or as I prefer to call it:  a smack down by Jesus.

A smack down by Jesus is the Southern colloquial equivalent of the standard literary term, “epiphany.” I am like the grandmother in Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find.” I, too, “would of been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” Yep. That’s me, or to be more grammatically precise: I am she.

That doesn’t sound right, does it? I know, but it is. Trust me. This is the kind of useless information I have embedded in the wrinkles of my brain. If you want to arrange flowers on the cheap, feed a bunch of hungry boys, write a quick essay, sing a little, or check your grammar, I’m your woman. I’d have been a heck of a catch a few centuries ago. Here–not so much. Try making a living with my talents. I dare you. I’m not a prodigy by any stretch of the imagination. My gifts don’t make for deep pockets.

End of digression.

Where you sit on a plane, the time you walk into a building to go to work, where you choose to see a movie—any of these random events can change your life forever. I have a friend whose parents were scheduled to tour the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001–at 11:00 AM. I know someone who met her husband on the side of the interstate when he stopped to help her change a tire.

What if . . . that’s the question. Chance. Fate. Kismet. Predestination. Luck. Pick a reason. All of our lives can change on a dime—for good or for ill.

The Chaos theory in economics says that there is an inherent order in the seemingly random nature of the world. Just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Most religions claim there is a divine plan or a benevolent God overseeing it all, at the very least. If I didn’t believe that, I don’t think I could get out of bed in the morning.

The meaning of life is a debate above my pay grade, to say the least, but I’m determined be more open to the small, seemingly insignificant events unraveling around me. I believe with all my heart that the greatest joys in life lie in the smallest details—ordinary moments that are easily overlooked.

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Things I Love About Summer

1. I love the smell of sunscreen and of wet swimsuits drying.

2. I love the clink of ice in a glass of freshly made lemonade and the smell of my hands after I pick homegrown mint leaves for iced tea.

3. I love even thinking about napping on a porch under a ceiling fan with the sound of water lapping nearby.

4. I love that there are fewer schedules and agendas that require my attention.

5. I love the feel of beach sand between my toes and salt spray on my lips.

6. I love that I can finally read the stack of books I have waiting in the wings without feeling too guilty.

7. I love to arrange sunflowers and zinnias in my bare feet.

8. I love to ride in the car with the windows rolled down and the air conditioner on full blast.

9. I love that in August when the air is suffocating and thick, signs of fall begin to appear like lifelines into a new season.

Does this list seem familiar? It’s an excerpt from my first book, Southern Women Aging Gracefully.

 

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True Confessions: Long-Term Love Affairs With Books

What are your comfort books?

I’m not asking you to list your all-time favorite books. I don’t want to know which books changed your view of the world or the people around you. (Well, I do, actually, but not right now.) I don’t care which books you consider “great” literature. BO-RING. I do not want you to tell me that if you were trapped on an island, the only book you’d need is the Bible, even if that’s true for you. And if you list Little Women, I will throw up, but, hey, that’s just me. If Louisa pots your plant, list her book, sister.

I want to know the titles of books you return to again and again over time—for whatever reason. Tell me your reading touchstones—not like Pat Conroy does in his book—but in a list format, so I can write them down and buy them.

When I speak to groups, I am almost always asked what I like to read. I always tell the truth, and I’m a startlingly eclectic reader. It always surprises people. I don’t know why. (Do I look boring?) I’m well educated, so I’ve read the classics, but I enjoy almost every genre if the writing is good. I’m a fast reader, and I need to read every single day to be happy. In fact, immersing myself in a book is my favorite way to beat the blues. I recommend this strategy to all of you. It works; it’s also cheap, quiet, portable, and doesn’t require participation by others.

Post your comfort list in “comments” to this blog post or on my Facebook fan page: Facebook.com/MelindaRaineyThompson.  If you’re really ashamed of them, email me. I want the unvarnished truth. I am curious about the stacks on your night table. I want the REAL list—not the books you feel compelled to read for whatever reason. I promise not to poke fun. Much. Read my list. I’m obviously sharing the unedited truth. No need to hide your titles on your Kindle home page!

I’ll go first: 

  1. Beach Music by Pat Conroy. Conroy is THE MAN for me for novels about the South. I think this is the best “brother” book I’ve ever read. I re-read it every couple of years. It’s my favorite Conroy novel.
  2. Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie. Weird, huh? I was temporarily obsessed with the demise of the Russian royal family in high school. I still like to read about them. Massie taught a history class at Tulane while I was there. I also like books about genetics. We all have our little quirks. I’ll be nice about yours if you’re nice about mine. I have a friend whose IQ is off the charts, and her secret pleasure is reality television which gives me a migraine. Who am I to judge?
  3. Favorite mystery writer: Mike Stewart. Sins of the Brother, Dog Island, A Clean Kill. Mike writes about my part of the country, and his prose is sharp, clean, and powerful. I am in love with his hero, Tom McInnis, the perfect Southern man. I wish Mike would quit practicing law and write more books. We have plenty of lawyers. Just my opinion, of course, but I’m right.
  4. Favorite mystery series: The Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne series by Julia Spencer-Fleming. What can I say? I’m a good Episcopalian, and the heroine is an Episcopal priest.
  5. Best beach/bubble bath books: Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels. Fair warning: You have to love vampire lit. I do. So sue me. Add a bag of Reese’s peanut butter cups to that, and I’m one happy reader.
  6. A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness. Witches and vampires for smart people who love history. Written by a professor who managed to achieve commercial success without screwing up her tenure. Amazing.
  7. Sullivan’s Island by Dorothea Benton Frank. I’m a bit of a Frank groupie. She’s the author I’d most like to eat dinner with. I’ve signed in the same bookstores, and everybody loves her, as far as I can tell.
  8. Non-fiction: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Depressing but worth it.
  9. Kiddie lit.: All the Harry Potter books and the Twilight series. Pure escapism and beautiful prose.

ImageNow: Tell the truth about what YOU love to read. I’m taking suggestions! And before you ask, let me just go ahead and confess: Yes, indeed, I read Fifty Shades of Grey—the entire trilogy, in fact, like every other woman in the United States and abroad. I read all three books in TWO DAYS. Oh, my. . . .

 

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Ask Melinda: Book Promotion, Live Interviews, and Challenging Hosts

Question: Do you like doing interviews to promote your book?

Here’s how I see it: Every job has benefits, challenges, and some downright unpleasant parts. My primary job—raising three teenagers—is a good example. Sure, I get to preen proudly when my teenagers win awards, cheer loudly when they score the winning basket, and bask in 24 hours of Mother’s Day glory, but I also get to handle discipline, consequences, poor attitudes, moody dispositions, sick days, and fender-benders. I’m sure CEOs enjoy their big, fat paychecks, private jets, and stock options, too, but I bet they hate firing people. Unfortunately, that’s part of their job, too. Responsible people don’t pick and choose. They do whatever has to be done. Lord knows, I am nothing if not nauseatingly responsible.

Writing is a real job, you know. I’ve said this at least a million times. Just because I work on a laptop in a corner of my bedroom doesn’t mean I don’t work! Sigh. This is a sore subject. Book promotion is part of my job. If nobody knows about my books, they won’t buy them. If they don’t buy books, I don’t get to write. It’s third grade math—not that complicated. Book promotion involves interviews for newspapers, radio, television, and online media outlets.

Here’s the secret: IT’S REALLY, REALLY FUN! Of course, there are exceptions. Not every interview goes as well as I’d like. Sometimes, I just can’t establish a rapport with an interviewer. In the hills of Tennessee, I once looked up in a radio booth while putting on my headphones and read decidedly racist and sexist bumper stickers stuck to the wall—right there in plain view for guests to contemplate during the interview. I had about 3 seconds to process that before we went on the air. Some interviewers (writers, too, obviously) are quirky. Usually, I can tell immediately if an interview is going to work or not. A good interviewer can talk to a wall and make it sound special. I can do that, too. I think that’s because I am naturally nosy, curious, and bossy. I really am interested in every little thing. That comes in handy in my line of work.

Bottom line: To interview well, you have to be flexible, ready for anything, and able to roll with whatever happens live. It helps to have a sense of humor and to be perky and eager to please. I am a pleaser personality. As a Southern woman, I think everyone should be happy with me all the time. I am naturally inclined to try to please my host and audience rather than being contentious or ornery. Because I write humor, interviewers expect me to be entertaining—even at 4:30 AM. That’s part of my job. Because radio and television personalities host so many guests every week, they rarely have time to actually read a book or even a page from a guest’s book. Generally, they flip through the book for the first time when I sit down for the interview, in the 30 seconds before we go on the air. I don’t blame them one bit. It’s not worth a big investment of time or energy on their parts for a 10-minute interview. I am always ready to hijack the interview and take it wherever I want to go—regardless of what I am asked. Yep. That really works. I have had my humor books introduced on live television as: a “cookbook” (well, no, although I do talk about chocolate, gumbo, sweet tea, and tomatoes a lot), a “love manual,” (ah . . . not so much, although if you pick up a few relationship tips from I Love You Now Hush, I am okay with that). I’ve Had It Up To Here With Teenagers has been introduced as a “manners book” for teens. (Nope, just funny essays, although I am, generally, in favor of good manners in any endeavor.) An interviewer in Charleston once told me, while I was attaching my microphone to my dress:

“I’m really hung over, so I’m just going to read your name and your book title. Then you can just talk for about 12 minutes. Okay?”

“No problem! I can do that!” I responded gleefully.

I really do like an open mic, lots of room, and few constraints. I do some of my best work that way.

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