Our Time

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I’d written this awhile back for “Chicken Soup for the Soul.”  I’d written it in response to the popular saying (by many of the Christian persuasion, of which I am) that everything happens for a reason, which I do not believe.  Sometimes things just happen.  And in those instances, we can choose to find meaning in what happened, or make something meaningful come out of the experience.

Taking an ethics/philosophy class has made me think a little more deeply about abstract things, but that’s what higher learning is supposed to do–make you think, not tell you what to think or how to think.

Now here is my story, though few stories are truly ours, and ours alone to tell.  Sometimes, we just happen to be the messengers.

It was 1981, the year of my birth, when my parents were robbed at gunpoint. They were managers of a cinema in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, and two men they fired had broken in. The whole episode must’ve had an effect on me in utero, for as a baby, whenever a light was turned on, I’d hold up my hands like I was part of a stick-up.

I literally dodged the bullet on that one.

When we were living in Rota, Spain, I contracted spinal meningitis at the age of six, losing all hearing in my left ear. When my mother was told by the doctor that most children die within 24 hours without treatment (I’d had it for three days before being diagnosed), I realize how lucky I was, and I wonder why me, instead of why not me? That is a question to which I haven’t sought an answer, thinking perhaps someday, the answer will come to me.

It wouldn’t be until years later that another medical miracle would occur in my family.

It was in February, a few years ago now, that my dad got real sick.

The first hospital he went to, he was told to go home and take a Motrin. He did so, but he only got worse.

He then went to our family doctor, who saw how ill he was. She called an ambulance for him, and he was taken to a second hospital. They kept him for a couple of days, then released him in a wheelchair, too weak to walk on his own, because they needed the bed.

My brother and I had a conversation with him during his stay that he doesn’t recall (which we found eerie), though he did remember a black minister coming to his room and telling him he was going to be all right.

A nurse, who showed up at our house the next day to check on him, told us to take him back to the hospital immediately. So we called another ambulance, where he was taken to yet a different hospital. Dad was diagnosed with pneumonia and a lung infection, including a blood clot on his lung. For five days, he was put into an induced coma in ICU.

Had that nurse not come, Dad would’ve surely died.

Dad’s near-death experience changed our lives in profound, and not so profound ways. He told our family dentist that he knew he was better because we were all mean to him again. My mom, dealing with the stress of not having enough money coming in, quit smoking just like that, and hasn’t smoked a cigarette since. I do believe we all become closer when these things happen, but then the awe and wonder that we have lived to love another day fades and life goes on again.

One can only guess why some things happen. I wanted to go into the military, but my handicap prevented that. Why did my dad have to get so sick, when it wasn’t his time to go? Maybe his getting sick, which led my mom to quit smoking prevented her from getting lung cancer in the future. Maybe my not getting into the Navy kept me from dying too soon.

We will never know.

I’m not one of those people who believes everything happens for a reason, but I do believe we can either find something good to come out of the chaotic events in our lives, or make something good come from them.

Query letter to Harlequin Romance

I’ve poked a little fun at Harlequin romances, but they SELL!  I wrote “Regina Fair” specifically for the market after my mom told me they read every manuscript they receive.  Janet Dailey, the most successful female author ever, started her career by writing for Harlequin.

~

My completed novel, “Regina Fair”, intended for the Harlequin Romance (Cherish and Riva) Line, is a light romance that deals with a serious subject: the decision to not have children.

~

Regina Morrow is a twenty-eight-year-old woman whose boyfriend dumped her several years ago because of her desire to be childfree.

Forty-one-year-old widower Rick George (whom Regina has loved from a distance for five years), is her boss, and fraternization is forbidden. It isn’t until Rick’s grown daughter, Cassie, and Regina’s kid sister, Juliet, plot to play matchmaker, that Rick and Regina are forced to acknowledge their mutual attraction.

As Regina becomes acquainted with some of Rick’s old girlfriends along the way, finding out why it didn’t work out between them, she begins to suspect that she will be just another ex-girlfriend.

The thing is, Rick has always wanted more children, so, fearing he would choose to marry her, hoping she will change (and resenting her if she doesn’t), Regina decides to break it off with him.

Months pass, and Rick realizes he must convince Regina that she is all he wants. Though he’d wanted more children with his wife, that was a long time ago, and what he’s wanted in life has changed.

It’s up to him to convince Regina that she is enough for him, and he does, in a way that surprises even himself.

~

I am thirty-two years old, but have been writing since I was old enough to write. Cutting up every paper in the house was my creative outlet before then.

I enjoy writing in many different styles and genres, from light romance to Southern Gothic horror to nursery rhymes. I am currently working on the second book to “Regina Fair”, which will be part of a series set in the small town of Princeton, Florida.

Though I’m from Poplar Bluff, Missouri, I’ve lived in Pensacola, Florida, almost all my life, which has served as the inspiration for Princeton.

Thank you for your generous time. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Warm regards,

Sarah Lea Richards

Categorically, some of the best books I’ve read (thus far)

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LDS (Mormon fiction):  Shannon’s Mirror, by Luisa M. Perkins

  • I think a girl/woman of any age can enjoy this book, LDS or not.  Thirteen years ago, a friend of mine mentioned this book; the title stuck in my head until I finally bought it a few years ago.  It is a very beautiful, but very sad story, about how the quest for perfectionism (which I, as a former LDS woman, struggled with) can lead to heartache and destruction.

Christian fiction:  Any books by Linda Hall

  • This is the kind of Christian fiction I like–where Christians are real people who question things.  Rich in character, and description, too, but in a way that paints a picture as you read rather than slowing the momentum of the story.

Harlequin romance:  Redeeming Claire, by Cynthia Rutledge

  • Good Harlequin romances are as hard to find as an adverb in a Stephen King novel (or so I’ve heard), but this one is a gem because again, Christians are portrayed as regular people, not holier-than-thou or square as Wally Cleaver.  And it’s actually funny!

Mainstream romance:  Small Town Girl, by LaVyrle Spencer

  • I’ve read this book several times, and will read it several more.  It’s about a country music star who goes back home to help her mother and ends up falling in love with the one boy, now a man, whom she taunted all through high school.  The fact that Poplar Bluff, Missouri, the little town I was born in, was mentioned, was a bonus.

Memoir:  In My Hands:  Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer, by Irene Gut Opdyke

  • Though the subject matter isn’t unique, the voice was.

Biography:  Natasha:  The Biography of Natalie Wood, by Suzanne Finstad

  • I’ve been a fan of Natalie ever since I saw her as a little girl in “Miracle on 34th Street”, for she reminded me so much of myself when I was at that age.  She also personified physical beauty that did not come in blond hair and blue eyes (which I, and every other girl I knew, wanted growing up).  This book read like creative nonfiction.  I do think one would have to be at least a lukewarm fan to get pleasure from this book.

Chick lit:  Confessions of a Shopaholic, by Sophie Kinsella

  • Story and protagonist are hilarious (though I hope Becky learns her lesson by the end of the series).

Beach read:  The Sunday Wife, by Cassandra King

  • Though the author’s personal views are quite different from my own (and were presented in a very one-dimensional way), I enjoyed this because the friendship of two women was the focus, relegating the romance to the background.  Again, a bonus was that Pensacola, Florida (“The Buckle of the Bible Belt”/”The Redneck Riviera”), the town where I live, was mentioned.

Gothic horror:  Flowers in the Attic, by V.C. Andrews

  • I first read this book in high school and was hooked on V.C., till her ghostwriter became a hack.  I love this book because it’s just the kind of story I like to write.

Children’s book:  Many Moons, by James Thurber

  • I had read this book once, many years when I was in elementary school, and it stayed with me for almost 30 years, after I had my own daughter.  It epitomizes one of my favorite scriptures, “…and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6)

On writing:  Self-Editing for Fiction Writers:  How to Edit Yourself into Print, by Renni Browne, Dave King and George Booth

  • This book opened my eyes on how to break my stories up into scenes–how to show, rather than tell.

Best nonfiction/religious book (besides the Bible):  What if Jesus Had Never Been Born?:  The Positive Impact of Christianity in History, by Dr. D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe

  • This was an enlightening book.  I’d never thought about how life might be different had Jesus not come yet.  Whether or not you’re a Christian, I think it makes for a thought-provoking read.

Nonet Poems: My Geography

Writer’s Digest had a nonet poetry exercise awhile back (http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/nonet-poems-poetic-form), so I wrote about each place (with the exception of Poplar Bluff, Missouri), that I’d lived in.  I generally don’t care for poetry forms where you have to be aware of the syllable count (i.e. haiku)–I think it disrupts the creative flow.  These exercises did make me think, though.

I just read an article in Writer’s Digest yesterday that it is good to share one’s work on their blog, so I’ve decided that at least twice a month, I’m going to come up with something to share.

Just a thought:  If you’re ever in a slump, Writer’s Digest has some wonderful story prompts that would serve as springboards for constructing a flash fiction piece.  I’m working on coming up with 100 flash fiction ideas, because that, along with creative nonfiction, seems to be in vogue right now.

Pensacola, Florida

A cavalcade of freaks and weirdos;
meth-heads and potholes populate,
homeless and screaming preachers
stand on every corner.
City of bad news,
Pensacola.
Hell on Earth.
Worst. Place.
Yet.

Sidney, Montana

Strange smells waft from the sugar beet plant,
as snowflakes blanket the grey town.
An isolated enclave—
a moose in every shop.
Meat and potatoes,
the usual
dinner fare.
Hardy
peeps.

Provo, Utah

Psychological lobotomies,
using group-think, mass hypnosis,
created temples of doom
in this mountainous place
of happy faces.
Mormon Mecca,
Jell-O love,
mellow
mouths.

 

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Mr. Wonderful Full of Himself, Wordsmith Stars, and Perfect Sense

I happened to catch an article (wish I had kept the link) that suggested a book doesn’t sell as well if it won an award.  My theory is that when people see a book won a prestigious award, they assume it’s boring (or overrated, like some classics).  Most people don’t like highbrow stuff.  They don’t want to think, they want to be entertained.  At least one out of every ten books I read is for pleasure, though I am challenging myself to read at least one nonfiction book a month (which I am 99% sure will be about writing, though the last nonfiction book I read was a biography of Marilyn Monroe, which read like creative nonfiction).  As you can see, I am not an egghead, nor will I ever pretend to be, but I am educated and do believe in lifelong learning, whether it be taking a class (I am hoping English composition will be one of the first classes I have to take when I go back to school) or teaching ourselves something new (I am getting ready to make my first batch of handmade soap).

Though an award would be an honor, I’d prefer to have the sales (unless the award came with a big payout).  I’m like Mr. Wonderful (Kevin O’Leary) from “Shark Tank” in that way, though only in that way.  I will forever care about the quality of the writing that will be published under my name, whether I write for Harlequin Romance or a scholarly journal.

I’ve been on a “Little Women” kick lately.  I tried watching the 1933 version, but I just can’t stand Katharine Hepburn, so after about fifteen minutes, I had to pass on it.  I’ve always liked the 1949 version, even though I’ve never been a fan of June Allyson, who plays Jo, and then I watched the 1994 version with Winona Ryder, who made a less annoying Jo.  Her spouting “Christopher Columbus” all the time in the earlier versions was annoying, and seemed put-on to make her more of a tomboy (though I realize this was probably how she was portrayed in the book which I read a VERY long time ago).  Though the cinematography was far more realistic in ’94 version, I still prefer the ’49 movie.  The ’94 version just didn’t have the charm its predecessor did.

I like “Little Women” because the protagonist is a writer, but I relate to her because she is a female writer.  However, one of my favorite films of all time is “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”.  I fell in love with it as a little girl; Francie Nolan was just like me.  She had what her teacher called imagination.  My third grade teacher, Ms. Cahoon, was the first person outside my family who recognized my talent, and will be one of the first people who will receive a copy of my book.  Every morning, we had to write in our journals, and I would always write about my summers up in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, when I stayed with my grandparents.  My aunt, uncle and cousins lived right next door to them.

I wrote about what I knew and loved.  I still do that today.  Oh, I’ve fancied myself writing some nonfiction piece about a subject I know nothing about (writing creative nonfiction is a great way to learn something new through research), but personal essays are one of my favorite mediums to write in because it is a story no one else can write.

That teacher scene with Francie after class still brings a tear to my eye.

Now though I am not a fan of Stephen King’s books (or even most of his movies), I did enjoy his novel, “On Writing”, and I like his personal story of how he got where he is today.  It is very inspirational.  I’ve noticed he likes to make authors his main characters, as in “Secret Window”, “Misery”, and “The Shining”.  (I liked those.)

Cuba Gooding Jr. played a struggling writer in “A Murder of Crows”.  I don’t think it was a hit, but it drew me in like a Lisa Jackson novel.

While I’m on the subject of movies, there is one that I believe everyone must see for the experience, if nothing else, and that is “Perfect Sense” with Eva Green and Ewan MacGregor.  It’s like poetry on celluloid.  I will say nothing more.