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A literal face-to-face with the woman who birthed me

March 31st, 2013
meand my birth mom Lori

me and my birth mom Lori

There was nothing I could really do to prepare to meet my birth mom, a women with whom I’d connected via email (and Facebook!) a little over a year ago (see previous posts!).

Forty-one years had passed since Lori had given birth to me, and after saying goodbye to me, dutifully handed me over to the nurses of the Indiana hospital for my upcoming adoption. Afterward, she joined the Navy, divorced my birth father, traveled the globe, remarried, had a son, and worked for the U. S. Postal Service for many years. She endeavored to put her past behind her, and very few people, outside of her family and closest friends, knew about me.

She’d been scheduled to come to my house in January because she’d planned a trip to D.C. with her younger sister Darla (from Bloomington, IN) to see Obama’s inauguration. They’d made reservations at a hotel in Short Pump the night after the Washington festivities. But while in D.C., Lori tripped over a barricade that had been set up for the events and fell squarely on her nose, which she thought might indeed be broken–it was painful and bloody and bruised, so she and Darla headed home for Indiana without even seeing Obama’s inauguration! Our visit was postponed to a later date, to occur around her and Darla’s vacation to Myrtle Beach in March.

 I like to prepare. I didn’t used to be that way when I was younger, and my college grades prove it. But now I know that I perform more successfully if I’ve given matters some thought, put a consistent amount of work into a project, etc.  Just a little bit here, a little bit there, is how I usually get things done. It’s how I wrote my first novel, actually, during my second-born’s nap times and preschool hours. But preparing to meet my birth mom proved impossible to get ready for.   

I tried to do what I could. I found a comprehensive photo album (wondering if she’d even want to see an album full of pictures from my childhood!), made reservations at a restaurant where I felt comfortable, planned the day around Ellery’s naptime, worked in a possible visit by my sister, cleaned the house, chilled some bottles of wine, bought a Key Lime pie, planned an outfit (neutral colors). But it was like I had a mental block–laced with periodic spasms of both dread and excitement–about the meeting itself. I’d never been in a comparable situation before. I couldn’t see past it, couldn’t possibly imagine how it would turn out.

When she pulled into our driveway with her sister, I peeked out the window to watch them walk up our walkway. She smiled, she looked the way she looked in the photos on her Facebook page–tall, pretty, friendly. Sean stood grinning next to me, our kids perched anxiously on the steps. And when I opened the door for her, we smiled and laughed and embraced, every single one of us exchanged hugs and greetings, and from then on, the day went more smoothly than I ever could have anticipated.

Once we settled next to each other on the sofa, I wanted to sit there and stare at her, but certain social conventions sort of prevented me from oggling her so I snuck little glances here and there, worked it into the conversation. And yes, we do resemble each other physically. She is tall (she has shrunk just a bit from her 6 foot height!), and blonde (of course we both color now!), and fair-skinned (we’ve both had skin cancers removed–apparently it runs in the family!). Dorsey and Sean said we resembled one another facially, and my sister teared up pretty bad when she saw us standing together to greet her. She said it was so obvious we were related.

But our similarities definitely go beyond the physical. It’s hard to explain, but we both laugh a lot. Guffaw, giggle and grin as well. Those of you who know me know that I laugh…some would say too much, and often inappropriately (when I’m nervous, excited, bored, frustrated, asleep, etc.). Well, I think Lori sometimes suffers from this affliction as well. It’s quite lovely, actually, to know that she is so good-humored. In fact, I could distintly imagine us having a great time hanging out together, on an occasion other than our very first meeting. My adopted mom and dad weren’t necessarily known for their ability to let it all hang out, though they were perfectly happy people. But it makes me wonder…is this particular personality trait genetic?? Also, we both enjoy a good glass of wine. We both like martinis and beer. And my adopted mom and dad hardly drank at all. Hmmm…genetic as well? And there were lots of smaller things…we both gravitate to the coast. We both like to read. Snoring bothers us. We both enjoy walking long distances in nature, preferably at the beach! Suffice it to say, we seemed extremely blood-related.

Grinning and giggling

Grinning and giggling

Lori brought along a photo album full of lots of different relatives going back to the mid-19th century. This, to me, was the one of the best gifts I’ve ever received, because I’ve never been related to anyone by blood before, except my own children. There is something very magical to me about looking at these people, and learning about them, and piecing together the past. I want to know these people some day.

I’d like to thank Lori, and the very lovely and fun Darla, and my own family and friends for all of your support during this whirlwind of a time. There have been times that I’ve wished for a “normal” family life, where blood relatives and histories are known and difficult personal reunions are minimal. But now I see that there is hidden magic–and an unknown and abiding love–in this life of mine. And I am one more step closer to discovering just who exactly I am.

A group shot, minus sleeping Ellery!

A group shot, minus sleeping Ellery!

Adoption Update: Birth Mom on the Banks!

May 10th, 2012

The last time I stood in the Atlantic. Ellery is cooling off her "chunkers."

So my birth mom just got back from the Outer Banks! She read my novel, The Outer Banks House, and I’m not sure if she booked her trip after that or what, but she and her sister soon traveled all the way from Indiana to Nags Head, North Carolina, my old stomping (well, really stumbling) ground! A few weeks ago she told me that some people in her family were reading my book, and I was so touched by that, these family members I’ve never met picking up copies of my book and actually reading it. She said that she’d read it as well, and maybe she was just being birth-mom polite, but she said she enjoyed reading it, and even saw some of herself in my main character Abby! (I think she’s got some stories to tell me…)

When I found out that she was going to the Outer Banks in late April, I booked my friend Eliza to go with me so that I could meet her down there. I envisioned having her to the beach house for lunch, or meeting her at Chili Peppers for lunch, or having lunch on the beach if the weather was nice…well, there was a lunch involved, and I was happy that I was going to have my BFF with me. But the date fell through for me and Eliza, and my crazy life (kids’ soccer, and lacrosse, and tennis, oh my! not to mention school and work) didn’t permit me to leave my family for a beach jaunt at any point during her week-long stay.

So I contented myself with imagining her down there, going to a few of the places I told her about…where I got married (Duck United Methodist Church), where the reception was held (Sanderling Inn), where I used to waitress (The Roadside), where the family beach house is, where I had a couple of book signings (the wonderful Manteo Booksellers and the charming Buxton Village Books).

All I know is, she stayed in south Nags Head and went to Owens restaurant…that was one of my parents’ favorite places to eat down there, and a real treat for the family. My sister and I would have to deal with pulling on sundresses and sandals over our sunburned skin and get in the station wagon and drive down the sandy beach road to the “fancy” restaurant, where everyone but me would order seafood. A fond memory of mine is dining there with my husband during a terrific rain storm and not being able to leave–I mean literally, not being able to set foot from the restaurant–because the parking lots had flooded so badly. The memory is vaguely Titanic-like in its tension, even though we didn’t have to enlist  lifeboats to get to the safety of our cars. The food there is great though, and so is the (normally dry) nautical atmosphere.

My birth mom posted some beautiful photos of the ocean on her FB page. My heart squeezed, looking at them, because I haven’t seen the Atlantic (with my family, that is–I had an Eliza girls weekend last November–see posting!) since Labor Day!! Inexcusable, but there it is. Such is the state of our lives now. But as it turns out, I’m going down there with Eliza next weekend to drink too much red wine and eat too much cheese and pate and white flour. This weekend is a major coup for me, considering I had to enlist two sitters plus the sitter’s mom to help my husband out. I expect I’ll be seeing my birth mom here and there (in my mind, of course, and yes, the wine might induce this reaction). But I’m really so happy she was there, that she took the time to discover a little bit about me and the things I hold dear. I’m sure I’ll be doing the same for her in the future…

Adoption Adventure Part 2

March 23rd, 2012

Motivated by a desire to find out my medical and ancestral background, I set out to connect with my birth mother a few weeks ago. In the short span of time between now and then, I did indeed find out all that I needed to know. But I also was introduced to probably the coolest birth mother alive! She emailed me when she received my contact information in the mail that day, and she said she did open the envelope while standing at the mailbox, just the way I imagined it. She then spent an emotional day with her sisters before penning a long email to me. The subject line of the email was “40 years ago;” I read the name and subject line on my blackberry while our family was on the way home from my son’s afternoon piano recital. (I had yet to receive her contact info at this point.) I’m sure I paled when I turned to my husband and said, “I got an email.” I read the email alone in our bedroom (while drinking a dirty martini my husband made for me!) when we got back home, and I think it must have been the most emotional email I’ve ever read or will ever read again.

I cried from joy and shock, mostly, at the revealing of such dramatic information, but also from the sadness she must have felt in giving me up. She and my birth father were briefly married, and young, when she gave birth to me. They were having problems, stemming from his issues as a Vietnam vet, and he wasn’t ready for a child (in fact, he wanted to return to Vietnam as a mercenary and was purchasing combat gear instead of baby clothes). Her family convinced her to put me up for adoption, and my birth mother and father divorced soon after that. She said it was very hard for her to give me up, and to make it easier for her in the hospital, they only let her see me once and then took me away for good. Soon after, she joined the Navy and traveled the world, eventually marrying again and having one child, my half-brother. She is now retired from the post office and living in Bloomington, IN, where she gave birth to me, living near her sisters and her mother.

She is tall–at her grandest, she was 6 feet tall, but is now 5’10”. She said her family has always been tall. Of course the first thing I did after reading the email was  Goggle her…and she is on Facebook. So I poured over her photos for a long while, just soaking it all in. I must say that she is very beautiful, with blondish red hair, fair skin, long legs and a big smile. She had posted some photos of herself in her Navy uniform, back in the day, and wow, those Navy men must have mooned all over her! My sister says we have the same facial shape and smile; even my kids said that I look like her.

She told me that my birth father’s background is all Irish Catholic. Lo and behold, that is why my son looks like an Irishman! Red hair, “the brightest blue eyes she’d ever seen,” freckles–describes both my birth father and my son. But my birth mother’s side is English and Scottish and Indian. In fact, she told me that I have some “distinguished ancestors” in my background. On her Facebook page, I saw a family tree that one of her sisters had put together…utterly fascinating! One of our ancestors was a governor of New Jersey and the “father of Newark” when it was still a colony, and his grandson was a signor of the Declaration of Independence, as well as a delegate from Massachusetts! She also said there are some presidents in the line somewhere too (she wouldn’t mention them because she is not a Republican!!), but I haven’t figured it all out yet. I do feel like I am researching for a novel that I’m thinking of writing though–it doesn’t seem quite real to me yet. Just when I was lamenting the fact that I had no family tree on, I find that I do indeed have one…and what a tree it is! It is a strange thing to find that you have an entirely different family from the one you know…aunts, grandmother, cousins, the works.

Her family has a history of osteoporosis and heart problems, and she had breast cancer years ago, although there is no history of breast cancer in the family. That is about it, on her side. These are wonderful things for me to know–health issues that I can monitor and try to prevent, and I can pass this information along to my own children. And now that I know what most of the medical background is, it sort of pales in comparison to the monumental connection that I’ve made with my birth mother. At first, I was pretty freaked out…my whole sense of self was thrown on its head. There was so much information to process, so many emotions to deal with. I just wanted to be “normal” for a little while, to have my old self back–mom, wife, sister, friend, daughter. I kept checking and rechecking my memories (I grew up in Newport News, I went to college, I was a teacher, I had a mom-she died of cancer), as if to remind myself who I was, what I’d done. I felt lost, sort of, even though a part of me was found. Soon, though, my husband and I took our kids to Orlando for their spring break. Nothing like endless amusement parks to take your mind off things! I returned to Richmond much more at peace with this new dimension to my persona.

The strangest thing about the experience has to do with the technological era we’re in. The first thing she did when she found out my name was Google me, and there is a bit of information about me on the internet, since my novel got published in 2010. Of course, as luck would have it, the first thing she read was the most recent blog post about my adoption! Yikes! When I wrote it, I figured she would read it at some point…and she saw photos of me as well, including the video of me on a Richmond morning talk show. But now we are friends on FB and can see each other’s photos and learn information about each other. This is a fabulous thing, this electronic sharing, for instead of being forced to endure awkward phone conversations and write long letters, we can pen emails and post on Facebook pages. We don’t have to talk on the phone until it’s comfortable for us. We can get to know one another at our own speed. In a recent post, she told me that her family is now reading The Outer Banks House, and I can’t tell you how much this meant to me. She told me that she had already read it and loved it. She too is a beach person!

 We will meet some day, I’m sure, and that too will be a whirlwind of emotions for us. But the hard part has already been done–the making of the connection. This connection with my birth mother has filled a hole inside me. This hole, however much I didn’t notice it on a day-to-day basis, made me who I am today. Some might think that because I was adopted, I must have felt lesser somehow, unwanted, broken. But really, the opposite is true. Because I was adopted, I have always felt fortunate, chosen, given a second chance, saved for some reason. I have always wondered what that reason was–raising children of my own, teaching, writing books and columns and blog posts that other people appreciate, being a good friend, sister, wife, daughter, aunt. Perhaps it’s all of those things, or perhaps the reason is still waiting for me, later in life, and some day I’ll go, “Oh, so that was the reason!” Being adopted has given me the courage to tryvarious endeavors–writing a novel, having a third child, or even finding my birth mother–because I have always tried to make my life “count,” to enjoy and appreciate my life as much as possible, but to also push myself into unfamiliar terrain, somehow knowing that it will do me good, because someone “up there” is watching over me and wanting good things for me. And for that golden feeling, I thank my birth mother for her courage in giving me up, for having enough faith in the goodness of the universe that the decision she was making was the right one.

Adoption Adventure Part 1

February 23rd, 2012

I was adopted in 1971 in Indiana. My adopted parents, Pat and Norm Schnell, had told me when I was very young that I was adopted, and perhaps because of this early knowledge, I was content. My life in Newport News, VA with the Schnells–my little sister Suzanne was born biologically to them two and half years later– was the only life I ever knew, and I grew up happy and healthy. I never had an urge to locate my birth mother and/or father, in spite of my friends asking about it all the time, not quite understanding why I wouldn’t want to find my “real” parents. I was all about the status quo…why fix it if it ain’t broke?

I think it started to bother me a little when I was a teenager–when my sense of identity was a crucial stage of formation. Where did I come from? Who was I? My mom and dad always told me I had Irish and Danish stock in my blood. They told me I would be tall, nearsighted and have problems with my stomach! But that was about it. In spite of this paltry bit of info, I always thought that finding my birth parents was an ordeal that I wasn’t quite up to taking on. I had seen one too many Jerry Springer shows, I guess. Searching, and finding, looked too hard, and I didn’t want it that bad. I wasn’t sure I wanted to speak with my birth parents, to get to know them at all, to go down that emotional road. It felt wrong, somehow, like I’d be cheating on my adopted parents. They’d never given me half a reason to go searching for my “real” parents. As far as I was concerned, they were as real as parents got, full of bedtime stories and curfews and carpools and homework help and three square meals a day…they were the best parents I could have ever hoped to have.

Then I had children of my own. Three little crazies…my oldest, a boy, looks like me mostly (fair skin and blue eyes and freckles and strawberry blonde hair), but my daughters favor their daddy (skin that actually tans and brownish hazel eyes and dark eyebrows)! But I  look at them all and wonder if they resemble anyone from my birth background. Perhaps most importantly, I wonder what’s in their blood. I wonder what’s lurking in my own blood–cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s.

The second novel I wrote concerned aging, DNA and the growing field of genetics, and I learned a great deal about those topics during my research. During my research, I got on the website and was intrigued by the number of people who are very curious about their family trees–even knowing much more than I did about my background. But the whole thing saddened me too…how little I really knew about myself. I was a blank slate. And my kids became half-blank slates as well.

After mulling over my own interests (and my main character’s, incidentally), I actually paid to have my own maternal DNA tested, to see where my oldest female relations came from, and the results were too generic to satisfy my growing curiosity (they came from northern Eurasia!! Along with the majority of the females in this world, I found out.)

Last month, as sort of a New Year’s resolution, I called a local genetic counselor, curious about DNA tests for people like me, who want to know what kind of diseases are lurking in my blood. She said the tests are expensive, and you have to do one disease test at a time. She said that in a couple of years, insurance will likley pay for more of the tests, and the tests will also soon decrease in price, but she said the best way to ensure my own health is to focus on my own nutrition and exercise–it’s the best thing I can do for myself, regardless of what’s lurking in my blood (because genetics only accounts for like 10 to 15% of all diseases).

I still wasn’t satisfied. I was feeling a deep need to know more about myself.

A few weeks ago, I decided to pull out my adoption records. My dad had given my the file, after my mom had died and he was getting ready to move from the house where I’d grown up with my sister into a continuing care retirement community. I read through the records carefully this time, finding my birth certificate and state birth record, as well as some records of payment and correspondence they’d saved from the Indianapolis Children’s Bureau, who had organized the adoption. Reading through all of the information always humbles me–trying to capture their anxiety and joy and fear as they readied themselves to adopt a baby–it  always makes me cry. It was me they adopted, a baby they named Diann Katherine, and brought me home two weeks after the birth. It always brings to mind my mom telling me how happy dad was when they got me home–holding me up in the air ala Simba in the Lion King and laughing, crying. It was nice to know that I made them so happy.

Mom died of cancer almost 11 years ago. It was by far the most devastating that has ever happened to me. But now, my dad is suffering from Parkinson’s induced dementia, and doesn’t even recognize me or my sister anymore, can’t even really speak to us. He sleeps most of the days away. It is like we have lost him too. Perhaps, deep inside me, I felt more inclined to look for my birth parents; losing mom and dad freed me to pursue my own background.

Still rather disconnected from what I was doing, I got online (something I hadn’t been able to do all those years ago) and read through the  Children’s Bureau procedures for adopted children trying to find their birth parents. I had to register with their program first, and if there was a match (if my birth mother had already registered in the program, indicating her desire to be contacted by me) then we would both be sent each other’s contact information.  It was that easy. No Jerry Springer drama, no hiring detectives, no stress. I downloaded some forms, which I printed and filled out and mailed to the Bureau, all without thinking any of it through.

I got a call today, about a month after I sent in the forms, from the Bureau, telling me that there was indeed a match. They will mail my birth mother’s name and contact information to me today…it will show up in my mailbox, and vice versa for my birth mother. How strange, that such momentous information can still show up in a mailbox. She won’t be expecting it, as I will. She will see the return address on the envelope and wonder, though…perhaps rip it open while standing at the mailbox. I hope she’ll be excited to read that the baby she gave up for adoption 40 years ago would like to talk to her.

But I feel as strange as I’ve ever felt. My sense of identity is shifting once more. Was this what I wanted? Geez, all I wanted was my medical info! I feel that perhaps it’s opening up a huge can of worms that I’d rather not have opened…a family that I never knew I had, emotions running high and wild–a long lost daughter, perhaps a sister, a granddaughter, a cousin, a niece has been discovered! It’s like bringing the dead back to life, in a way. It’s the stuff of novels, but I, a novelist, could never write about it. At least not now…

There is nothing more emotional than giving birth. I have done it 3 times now, and every time I have wept afterward (sometimes for days!) for the awful, wonderful miracle of life and love. I felt that I could finally see and touch the face of God while gazing into my baby’s eyes; I realized the power of love, especially for one’s offspring.  I could never have given up my babies; to even consider doing that brings me to my knees with imagined grief.

To to think that a woman, my birth mother, perhaps did the same with baby Me, and then chose, perhaps for both of our better interests, to give me up, well, it’s amazing. And I know that I have to ready myself to experience some pretty wacky emotions, to connect myself with a part of me that I didn’t know was there. To finally figure out who am I, where I came from. And most importantly, to connect with the woman who cared enough about me and my future to bear me to term, and to then give me up…to give her peace of mind that her baby turned out alright these 40 years later…that she made the right decision.

To be continued…


Happy Thanksgiving: An Ode to my Brain

November 23rd, 2011

Lately, I’ve begun to question my very own brain. It’s always been a mystery, all body-guarded up in skull and fluids and pulsing with its own dark, Frankensteinian life. I don’t usually give my brain too much thought (ba-dum-dum)…but lately it seems that my brain is using its hidden, protected qualities to its advantage, misbehaving and causing conflicts, knowing that there is no one around to tell it what to do. I deal with this kind of boundary-testing behavior all the time with my children, but with my brain?? Come on.

My son told me that his science teacher has a term that he applies to the student behavior of talking too much during class: “diarrhea of the mouth.” This is a common enough term, but I kind of questioned it being used so flippantly in school, and by a teacher no less. Diarrhea is an ugly word, no doubt about it.

But it got me to thinking: I believe I  have “diarrhea of the brain.” (Bear with me here.)  Picture my brain, randomly crapping bits of information here, other bits there, with no regard for symmetry and solidity of thought. It’s noisy and smelly and turns even my husband off. But I can’t help it. I’m afflicted, and the only known cure is at a yoga/mediatation retreat in the mountains, all by myself, preferably on a lake or a river.

As a writer and wife and daughter and sister and friend and border collie-owner and mother of three (ranging in age from 11 to 1), I constantly feel like I’m firing (or rather misfiring) off thoughts, all disconnected and random. I feel like the hub in the center of a bouncing and crashing mountain bike tire, the spokes my many duties and obligations, barely holding onto the dirty tire of my life.

My chaotic mode of thinking intensifies around the holidays, I’ve found. In addition to the normal day-to-day thinking I have to do, I also have to think about special food preparation, gift-buying, decorating, wrapping.  And not to mention the fact that my immediate family has THREE birthdays in the month of December. No wonder my brain can’t keep up. It’s insanity, but I call it reality. Brains really do have a lot to do. So I started feeling sorry for my brain a little, with all of the demands I put on it. It’s trying its best, and these are hard times after all.

My father suffers from a Parkinson’s-like affliction called Lewy Body Dementia. Symptoms are similar to Parkinson’s, but are heavier on the dementia. He can’t speak coherently, and he has gotten to the point that he doesn’t recognize me or my sister any more, a very painful conclusion to a long, drawn-out loss of memory and body function. I try to visit him once a week, but it’s difficult for  me and hard on my children and husband. His brain was once firing on all cylinders–he owned a company, raised a family with my mother, worked in the yard and on the house all the time. He was part of the “greatest generation.” He has lived a successful life. But his brain failed him in the end, greatness be damned. 

Brains are actually fragile, I’ve come to see. They are our own biological computers, and we all know how much we love and adore our computers! We must be thankful for our brains, for all that they do. I mean, just a few primitive invertebrates don’t have them– sponges, jellyfish, and starfish are cool, but pathetically brainless. This Thanksgiving, I plan to appreciate my brain by writing something that’s never been written before, by taking mental pictures of all of my loved ones and storing them in my mind for future use, by telling my loved ones how much I love them and appreciate them for all that they bring to my life.

Happy Thanksgiving, brain! I’d kiss you, if you weren’t so hard to get to.

Book Club

October 27th, 2011

I was the guest of honor at friend’s book club last night. It was such a lovely, lovely group of women, so intelligent and funny and stylish (a particular orange and white printed coat comes to mind.) In observance of  the ocean theme, the hostess made a delicious pot of shrimp soup (in ignorance of it’s proper name!), served over small French rounds in fish-printed bowls. She also served wine, which I really needed (it was Hump Day yesterday, and the hump felt extra hard to get over for some reason). Oh, and I can’t forget to mention the addictive cheesy stuff (I’m blanking on what she called it) in the middle of the most awesome appetizer dish in the world (it contained chick peas, diced and dressed cucumbers, sliced red peppers and pita chips!).

Food aside, it never fails to amaze me when a book group decides to read my humble tome.  Book clubs are comprised of sophisticated readers, for the most part. They have read a few books in their time, if you know what I mean. They know their way around the book spines, the Kindle scroll bars, even the iphone touch screens. Nothing gets by them, and they have their opinions.

For instance, after my first spoonful of soup, my friend asked how realistic it was to have Abby cross the Roanoke Sound every night to teach classes at the Roanoke Island schoolhouse, then cross the sound again, get back into bed and start the day with her family as if she hadn’t been up to anything. I put my spoon down, took a big gulp of red wine, and started to perspire. I wondered what I had gotten myself into with this group! They appeared so harmless, at first.

But a part of me rejoiced, because it was a perfectly good question, probably one of the most insightful questions I’ve ever gotten and coming from someone that obviously knew the area well. I myself had always wondered on the feasibility of such an undertaking. In fact, it was a major sticking point for me throughout the writing of the novel, for I knew that Abby and Ben had to make it across that sound as quickly as they could, in order for Abby to undergo the character development that she needed to undergo.

From vantage points on both Roanoke Island and Nags Head, the body of water seems easily crossed (to a landlubber like me), and I guesstimated a hour or so, with an experienced fisherman at the helm of a fast-moving skiff. But eyeballing distances across bodies of water are not really my forte (I can hear the laughter of experienced boaters as I write this…I can hear you saying that you didn’t know they had motorboats back then).  I told my friend that I wished I had taken a skiff out and done the trip myself.  I did a quick search on the internet, but couldn’t find an exact distance, but I will keep looking and get back to you. It more than likely took longer than an hour, but I didn’t have any time to spare. And I gambled that most readers wouldn’t notice the difference. In other words, I thought that the plot device was in the long run more important than the feasibility of the trip.

My point here is that as an author, I must always try to write to please the most intelligent of my readers. If I’m writing about sailing or hunting or lifesaving or butchering hogs (all of which I am currently writing about), I know I have to do my research, because all of those things are foreign to me, and experts in such fields will know if I’m, which in turn will pop the happy, fictional bubble of believability that readers like to surround themselves with.

Which reminds me: We talked about the covers of the book in a similar vein. Both covers feature a woman in a dress that isn’t of the Reconstruction era. The dress appears more turn-of-the-century, or even later, to me. And the paperback cover shows this woman stepping over dark green rocks. The beaches of the Outer Banks don’t have rocks. It’s very simple. There are  tree stumps on the shores near Corolla, but there are no rocks. And I pointed out to my editor these discrepancies before I gave the design the okay, and she said that it didn’t really matter, that most readers wouldn’t pick up on that sort of thing. But I am willing to bet that some readers, readers with first-hand knowledge of the Outer Banks, noticed the rocks on the paperback cover! Again, I think we should always strive to please the most insightful readers. Why not strive for complete accuracy?

I really did try to find every little spelling mistake in the book while it was going through the copy editing process. I am one of those readers that immediately picks up on misspellings in books, and it’s always very annoying to me. But I see now how it happens, and I’m ashamed of my self-righteousness. There are so many corrections to be made, transferring from the hard copy to the electronic version, and I have no idea who is actually making the corrections at the publishing house, or if he/she is saving properly. I wish I could have done it myself, for a major misspelling occurred in the final printed book. It’s actually kind of funny, now that I’ve gotten over it. Ready to laugh? “Collard” greens is spelled “collared” greens. Picture a bunch of steaming little green guys with white collars turned down in a business-like way, and you’ll get even more of a messed-up visual. An astute Southern reader picked up on this misspelling and emailed me within the first few weeks after the book was out. I then met her and her husband at one of my book-signings and included the “collared greens” reference in her book inscription. She was very good-natured about the whole thing, but I’m sure the tiny little detail popped her bubble of believability for a bit, and for that, I’m deeply sorry.

But let me assure you, I am striving for complete and utter accuracy in my sequel. There will be no inaccurate distances, no rocks on beaches, no collared greens. Because I know I have book clubs to attend, intelligent readers to please. The stakes are high. After the first doozy of a question, the ladies went on to ask even more insightful questions regarding character (who are the inspirations behind my characters), plot and publishing. I really enjoyed myself, eating great food, meeting cool people and talking about what I love most: reading and writing. Book clubbers, thanks for having me for dinner and for reading my book!  I look forward to picking apart other novels with you in the future!

The Sound

October 15th, 2011

So I did a little research on the origin of the noun “sound.” I’ve always been curious why the bodies of water between the Outer Banks and the mainland of North Carolina were called “sounds.” Based on, the word derives from many sources, including Latin, Old English, Old French, Old Irish, Old  Norse, Sanskrit and Proto-Indo-European. The word looked similar in many languages: soun, son, sonus, swonos, swen, svanati, svanah. It basically was used to mean “noise” or “sound,” with interesting variations. In Old Irish, the word senim meant “the playing of an instrument.” In Old English, the word geswin meant “music, song,” swinsian meant “to sing,” and swan meant “swan” or “the sounding bird.” The Sanskrit word svanati meant “it sounds.” Note all of the “S” sounds–the best letter to indicate sound, perhapssss?

“Sound” can also be an adjective: I am of sound body and mind, for instance. For a cool bit of trivia, the post-sneezing interjection “gesundheit” comes from the German word gesund which means “healthy” and has origins in the Old English word gesund meaning “sound, safe, healthy.” I suppose we are telling the person who’s sneezing “be sound of body!” In other words, don’t get sick, or get me sick either.

Around 1300 Norse people starting using sund to mean “narrow channel of water” and “a strait, swimming.” It doesn’t seem much of a stretch to see how people meshed  “sounds” and “songs” with “bodies of water.” What makes a more delightful sound than bodies of water? Whether it’s crashing with force, rushing along the sides of a water craft, trickling along rocks and marsh grasses, or cascading down mountains, water sounds wonderful to our human ears. It is nature’s “song,” the earth’s “instrument.” It makes us feel “sound” in our bodies and souls.

I understand now. THE SOUND indeed. Have you ever seen the sun set over an Outer Banks sound? I can recall one such sunset from the window of Aqua Restaurant in Duck. Over a delicious meal and good bottle of wine, my husband and I watched as the sun slowly made its way into the lavendar clouds and waters of the western Currituck Sound.  If you are in the right frame of mind, you feel that such events are happening just for you, that the world is just that lovely and kind of a place. Usually, when I’m in that sound frame of mind, I am somewhere near water. Go figure!

I imagine that in the future, whenever I write “Albemarle Sound” or “Roanoke Sound” or “Pamlico Sound,” I’ll be thinking of the world’s people who’ve come before me, who’ve appreciated water and its sounds just as much as I do now.  Who knew word origin study could be so interesting?

Welcome to my blog

October 13th, 2011

I am suffering from Outer Banks withdrawal. It always sets in around October, November, several weeks after Labor Day weekend, our last summer trip down from Manakin Sabot, Virginia. Perhaps someone should start an “Outer Banks” withdrawal rehab facility, where my fellow beach-loving Virginians can go to hear the digitized sounds of the Atlantic, walk barefoot in a giant sand box, spray themselves with a bottle full of actual sea spume (great word). Reading and/or sleeping in a beach chair would be mandatory, as would a prolonged dip in a big vat of salt water, complete with a wave machine. But of course, we would all know that nothing compares to actually being there. A three-hour drive for us Richmonders. And with tennis tournaments, soccer games and social obligations, my family and I have a hard time going down to the Outer Banks in non-summer seasons. So I must content myself with writing about it. I am diligently working on the sequel to my first novel, The Outer Banks House. And research and imagining are my favorite parts of the process. Of course, I am writing about the Outer Banks over 130 years ago, so my imagination is rather limited. But I do know that certain things haven’t changed on the Outer Banks– how whitecaps look on a winter sea, how hot the summer sand can get, what the gulls will do for just a small bit of your food, how much people love to spend time there. Welcome to my blog! I hope you’ll find inspiration from it. Until tomorrow…