Nantahala
Class III rapids Nantahala

“ALL FORWARD!!”

In Nantahala River Guide talk, that means – you guessed it – “All paddles in the water and paddle forward until I tell you to stop!”

“Right Forward. Left back.”  – Is terrific!! Spinning in circles while going down rapids is a great way to spend the morning.

Apologies to readers who are more advanced rafters. My first trip was down the family-friendly dammed-controlled Nantahala in North Carolina, bordering the Great Smoky Mountains.

Hubs and I decided that after 17 years of marriage we’d take on some Class I – Class III rapids. As promised, the Nantahala’s “eight miles of bouncy waves and lively current”,made it a white water rafting “delight for all ages”. Yep. We weren’t the youngest or the oldest people in the boat.

We chose to sit in the front so we could see. Later, we learned this marked us as candidates most willing to be thrown overboard.

Hubs had his turn first at The Whirlpool, one of the most fun spots on the entire river. The river makes a turn to the right and creates a giant “eddy” (another name for a whirlpool- you look that up for a more technical description)  from the left bank to the center of the river.

The current pushes rafts to the right, but it’s fun to charge left and crash the eddy, which often spins kayaks and rafts. The side tubes of the raft will dip deep into the water. The dipping is what tossed Hubs out. Our raft guide says he’s been throwing people over and swimming there and no one has ever been able to touch the bottom.

I’d been teasing our guide, Kyle, that my side of the boat always got wet once my shorts got dry.

“Really?” he asked. “I thought I had you (going over) when your husband went.”

“My shorts weren’t dry yet.”

Thanks to Kyle and my inability to keep my mouth shut –

I got tossed at Surfing Rapid. A much rockier and less glamorous place to be in the water.

Keep in mind, the water is in the 50’s ALL year ’round. But… you don’t notice so much that you’re wet and cold and floating and not in the boat when Hubs is saying, “Hand me your paddle. Hand me your paddle. Hand me your paddle.”

I handed him the paddle and was pulled back into the boat without knocking myself on every rock imaginable. Honestly, the whole thing was over before it began.

“Wet now?” Kyle chuckled. “Cold?”

“Not so much.”

“Weird, isn’t it?”

(Keep in mind, he’s the sleeveless one in the back of the boat. I had to at least pretend. The dad and son behind us were in wet suits.)

The last rapids are the Class III. Hubs saw them coming, let go of his paddle, and grabbed my arm. You can see it in the pic.

“I’m good,” I said, wanting to remind him who went over first.

“Which river do we go to from here?” he asked. “What’s next?”

“I’m all for it, but let’s ask when we get to the bottom.”

I’ll let you know what we decided. Because that has to do with my WIP…

When it’s warmer.

And my shorts are dry.

New York Times Best Selling Author, Haywood Smith

I first met Haywood Smith in my early twenties. She is a kind, sassy and inspirational lady filled with laughter and sharp wit. We both love chunky jewelry and views of the outdoors. I hope you enjoy her passion for writing as much as her passion for living!

1. When did you first get bit by the writing bug?

When I turned forty, I was trying to sell houses in a subdivision, stuck in a sales trailer with no bathroom with an ex-stewardess cocaine addict for a partner, who propositioned my teenaged son, lied to the builders to make her look good and me look bad, and called me every Sunday morning from a different man’s bed to tell me she couldn’t come to work on my one day off.   In the middle of the S&L crisis, when mortgage interest rates were 14%.  But I’m loyal, so even that didn’t drive me out of the business.  The final straw came when I went on vacation and my partner sold a listing without clarifying the size of the lot, and both of us almost ended up being sued by the buyers.

That did it.  I called my friend Carolyn Stovall and asked her what else I could do.  I only had a high school diploma.  I couldn’t get a job at WalMart as a greeter, because my arthritis was so bad, I couldn’t stand on the concrete.  And I am so numerically challenged that two personal bankers (at two different banks!) who tried to sort out my checking account told me I could never have a debit or ATM card, or nobody would ever be able to get my account straight.  So I couldn’t check groceries at Kroger without risking a felony.

Carolyn asked me, “If somebody said you were going to die in two years, what would you do?”

I heard my voice say, “I’d write a book and try to get it published.”  News to me, who had always been an avid reader!

Carolyn laughed and said, “Then why are you waiting for a death sentence?”

So I quit my job and went home to write.  It took five years of writing and learning and rewriting to finally get my first book published, but when it came I out, it was nominated for four national awards, and won one.  Now I am living my dream.

2. You are most known for your Women’s Fiction titles, but you started out writing in a genre that required a great deal of research. Can you tell us about how it shaped your writing today?

I love accurate historicals, and when I wrote them, I mirrored the cultural conflicts of the times and places in the relationship between the hero and heroine, which helped the book to resonate on several levels.  I did my research at UGA’s library, getting advice about reliable sources in advance from professors who knew about the era in which I was writing.  (They’re always very glad to help.)

We didn’t have Google then, but I prefer to use works of tried-and-true historians, but take even them with a grain of salt.  Much of current history is revisionist, just as many historians before the scientific method reflected their own sensibilities in their accounts.  I am always aware that even scientific historians may reflect their own personal and political agendas, so I look at the overall accounts and get a wider picture before I decide to use a specific reference.

Now that I’m writing current novels, I still use the conflicts of my characters’ culture to give my stories resonance, but now I’m writing about women’s issues instead of historical events.  Still, I’m driven to “get it right” about my characters and their worlds.  My research background has taught me to do in-depth histories and psychological backgrounds for my characters, to give them believable motives for what they do.  Readers tell me they know these characters in their own lives, or relate to them personally, which is great—except when they sue you for defamation of character, and win!  (Only once, but once is more than enough.)

3. How is your next writing project going?

My next writing project, OUT OF WARRANTY, is way behind schedule, because—at my editor’s insistence—I’ve started social networking, and that takes a lot of my time.  I’m excited about the book, though.  It’s the story of a middle-aged woman who falls apart physically ten years before Medicare and ends up impoverished by medical bills, so she decides she needs to marry somebody for health insurance.  After a series of hilarious courtships, she ends up finding an unusual and satisfying solution.  As always, there are lots of laughs and plenty of heart.  And I send up the medical profession, the health insurance industry, and the frustrations of getting older.

4.    What is your greatest challenge?

My greatest challenge is trying to do everything myself and continue to write, promote, and sell my books, as well as manage my wonderful house and yard.  I can’t wait till my six-year-old grandson can become my e-publicist and personal techie.

5.     When do you feel the most victorious?

I feel most victorious when I get fan e-mails that say my books made my readers laugh so loud, they woke their husbands.  Or that my stories lightened their lives in dark times.  Or helped them smile during chemo.  Or showed them they could survive divorce and betrayal.  Or helped them stop blaming and move on to a more positive life.  Or brought them closer to God.  When I read messages like that, I weep for joy and gratitude.

I have a friend who has a terrific time coming up with names, but the names? Quite frankly, my dear… dry as a corn husk. I have another friend who dreads it, but her names roll off the end of the tongue like extra cherries at the bottom of your milkshake. They’re juicy, fit the character perfectly.

In an earlier blog post, I wrote about my obsession with cemeteries. A friend of mine works for Dachshund Dream Rescue in Atlanta & needed fresh names. Because of my crazy obsession and name banking compulsion, I sent her 200  names like Acel, Cobb, Mettie, Euphemia T. Proudfoot, Zodie, Moody, and Gillam. That was just the name bank that was on my phone.

That time of year is creeping up again, when it’s not too hot, not too cold.  I highly suggest pulling off the side of the road at an old church.  Jot down your favorite names. Add them to your name bank. You never know when you need a Mettie with a wandering eye or a Cobb who lost his foot in a war. Moody did not sell Bibles, though. I promise you. But Zodie read tea leaves in her kitchen for $5 a pop.

Another route ( if you’re spooked by cemeteries) is Ancestry.com. This summer, I discovered that I have an ancestor named Pleasant Melvin Alexander. I am so not kidding. If Ancestry.com is pricey for you, go in with a cousin and you can each explore different ends of the family under the same password.

Another way to do names is to identify the thing that most describes/embodies your character. Here are some easy examples. For a cheat or a weasel,  “Wesley”. If you have someone who seems dreamy and lives for escapism, feel free to use “Misty”. For a liar, I’ve used “Lila” and for someone who offers forgiveness, “Joshua.”

For secondary characters, sometimes nicknames-as-names work best to remind the reader of that character’s role in the story. Say the Dad is enthusiastic and older and fast-talking, instead of calling him “Dad”, call him “Pop”. A sweet aunt can be “Aunt Sugar”, especially in the Southern US. For an aunt who cleaned until her fingers cracked, I have used “Aunt Blanche”.

There are a gazillion ways to go about this, I’d be interested in hearing yours!

“You gotta write about the Florida stuff. You know. When you were out on the island alone with the kids and the manatee scared you and you fell off the boat.”

“Well-”

“And you scraped your foot on the barnacles and couldn’t come back to Atlanta ‘cuz you couldn’t drive because you wouldn’t get stitches?”

When something happens and I say I might use it, someday, my mom only remembers the version that comes out of the shaky end of the HP printer. Often friends and family members have over-invested, over-blown ideas about what I’m writing.

(There’s times when they totally ignore it- this is not one of those times)

I crunch my Trader Joe’s corn chip. Mom has just come from Atlanta for Labor Day. I don’t want to disappoint a woman who just brought me six jars of Chipotle salsa.

“I saw your foot,” she says. “I know a nasty barnacle scrape when I see one. You needed stitches.”

There’s a reason for that. Our little gulf island has no bridge. You must have a boat to get here and there are no cars. The only consistent business on the island is the golf cart repairman. That’s how we get around. Golf carts on sandy paths of crushed shell. You bring your groceries over on your boat, put them on your golf cart. Your house, whether you’re renting or have the *luxury* of owning, was probably built circa 1970/80 and stands about ten to fifteen feet off the ground.

“It was almost dark,” I remind her. “Who wants to leave after sundown for the ER with a boatload of kids?”

We have water. We have electricity. We steal ice. It sounds poetic, but translate: summer camp at the beach.

“You are quite cavalier when it comes to stitches,” she says.

“I had steri-strips. I had Percocet.”

“You had sand ground into a wound four inches long. You limped around for over week.”

Understand why I’m reluctant to tell the tale of FALLING off my boat.

Last month, my neighbor, Adventure Woman, makes a late-night Publix run with three kids under the age of eight. This is nothing new to her. She lives here full-time. She tosses everybody in her cute little cabin cruiser, which she’s dubbed “the mini-van” and takes off.

On her way back, she sees the ferry, with my in-laws and about forty other people stuck in shallow water at ten o’clock at night. My mother-in-law will tell you she “doesn’t like to wade, much less swim, Honey”. (How she has a house on an island is for a whole other blog post.)

“You need help,” Adventure Woman tells the ferry boat captain.

(Not, “Let’s call for help.” Not, “DO you need help?” No tip-toeing around his ego. That just wastes time.)

She jumps off her boat into chest-deep water like it’s nothing, walks up to the knee-deep where he’s got the ferry stuck and ties the ferry to her boat while the captain protests. A little.

All the people on the ferry start whispering, IT’S A WOMAN. My mother-in-law whispers back that she knows Adventure Woman, gave her sweet tea when she was pregnant with the youngest baby.

Adventure Woman’s three little boys stand proud, watching Mom be a She-Ro. She hops back onto her boat, fires that baby up and pulls the ferry, loaded with whispering people off the flat.

The ferry boat captain will never live it down. I won’t mention his name because as I type this, one of my boys is paying Lego’s on the front porch with one of the other ferry boat captain’s grandsons and they are still completely mortified ON BEHALF OF THE GUY. Sheesh.  I’m sure the ribbing will go on forever. The story will be told at his funeral. I have no doubt.

“So, if it wasn’t a manatee,” my mom asks. “Why’d you fall out?”

“I couldn’t reach the weight when I was tying up. I stretched too far and… Splash. I could tweak it, but-”

“That was you first summer on the island. You’ve gotten better. I don’t even worry about you anymore.”

“I’m not Adventure Woman.”

She frowns at her salsa. “I liked the manatee aspect. Now, I’m suspicious of your stories.”

“You should be suspicious of everyone’s stories. You have to look through what they’re not telling you. It’s fiction.”

Her eyebrows come together. “Like, what was Adventure Woman doing out at ten o’clock on a Tuesday?”

“Mom,” I say. “That’s not what I meant. She was out of diapers.”

She raises an eyebrow. “And your barnacle injury?”

“Out of chips and salsa.”

“Ah,” Mom says, crunching away. “Island necessities. Still, you should put that in your book.”

I giggle until salsa starts coming out my nose, thinking of the line from DANCES WITH WOLVES.

Kevin Costner is sitting at the campfire, scribbling away and the other guy has just had enough. He lets one loose and delivers the line: “Put THAT in your book.”

Sometimes we don’t have to step farther than a family reunion before Aunt So&So is elbowing us about Uncle Jimmy’s Sad Tale. “SO tragic. You have to write it. Like Nicholas Sparks.”

Ever had your arm twisted when someone was desperate? Has a friend ever gotten screwed over by her company and called close to tears, wanting you to write her Blockbuster screenplay, but you don’t write screenplays?!  “I swear this is like THE FIRM.”

Or vindictive. Has your ex ever emailed an article: “This was so freaking weird, I thought of you. Sounds like your obsession with cemeteries.”?

I’m curious. Class reunion? Funeral? Someone has bent your ear.

What’s your “Put THAT in Your Book” story?

As writers we are not only drawn to the interesting, it is the quirky and odd that inspires us. Sometimes we get caught up in our research, spending hours following rabbit trails to insanely pursue new nuggets of information that only a handful of souls would ever find noteworthy, believing that one more click will somehow unlock the missing piece in our manuscripts.

Or, we’re just nerds. At one point, we were Helen Keller, and now, with Wikipedia as our personal Annie Sullivan, we have found W-A-T-E-R.

When I am in this zone, scarfing down chips and salsa, my kids have been told only to interrupt if there are broken limbs (theirs) or blood (gushing, not oozing) or something is on fire (three foot flames only).

Summer is my favorite time for research because I drag my kids along and call it a field trip. The Hernando De Soto national memorial? Thomas Edison’s summer home? Uh…Ron Jon Surf Shop?

This summer I visited Mobile, AL and walked through a cemetery created for victims of yellow fever. Guess what? Right beside it sat the Mobile Historical Society. Fully air-conditioned, thank heavens. It is so easy to lose track of time when you’re surrounded by the scent of old paper and Murphy’s oil soap.

My friends know they are in trouble when 1) they haven’t heard from me in a few days and 2) they call me and I say, “Of course I’m fine! Why wouldn’t I be fine?” then the next words out of my mouth are 3) “Did you know…?”

So, now we have returned to the beginning of another school year and what have we learned? What trails have we followed (or stumbled upon) that can be applied to our WIP?

The one thing I’ve learned is that Google Chrome doesn’t have a really good FAVORITES button. There are no folders, either. It’s annoying. If anyone has figured out how to save more than five things at a time, please let me know. I put my thirteen year old on it and even offered him money, but so far, no dice.