IMG_0765So, I’m comfortable with being unusual. In June, 2014, there was a move to that island where we used to spend summers, where I would write and revise while my kids ran barefoot and swam and caught tiny fish with their bare hands. But living there? That was not the same as a summer there.  Living  on an island with no bridge, only accessible by boat, with two teenage boys and a 10 year old girl for a year?  That was different.

The kids made use of the Florida Virtual School program, a computerized version of home school, one where I was not the teacher, thank goodness.  While living on the island, my daughter and I started a book together. It’s got fantastic potential, but has sat untouched for months. Work meant nursing jobs at two facilities specializing in care of psychiatric, detox and substance abuse clients. Early on, a coworker asked me how the shift was going and I said it was like being paid to go to a family reunion.

But, as I became more involved, I saw more. Living in an isolated environment while caring for those the every day world is incredibly uncomfortable discussing at Chipotle was incredibly draining. Always observing, I absorbed new people, their  mannerisms, tics, what they tried to hide and could not, their grammar, body language, their lies, their undercurrents, reactions to other clients and to the staff, all this new information flooded me and I absorbed it like a sponge. But by the time I got home, I was dazed. Journals wouldn’t hold my new understanding of human behavior. I needed sleep, but there were children. Learning personalities of staff at two facilities, which soon became three, exhausted me more.

My writing friends keep saying, this will show up somewhere, everywhere. I did not have time to review books; I did not have the brain space, or the emotional bandwidth. All the synopses sounded too close to home or far too unrealistic. I turned requests down, one after another, out of fear I’d critique too harshly.

We left the island for the big city of Sarasota once school started again, because… socialization. Which sounds minute compared to Atlanta, but Atlanta is made of thousands upon thousands of suburbs and not many people who say they are from Atlanta LIVE in Atlanta. Moving from suburbia to island to city has changed conversations in our family considerably, but it is also a combination of my kids’ maturation, their increasing awareness and my job. Nine days into the school year my two younger kids were pulled to a TAG school located  around the corner from one of the facilities where I work. Across the street from them is Planned Parenthood, the Salvation Army and a cemetery where some  homeless clients sleep and pass the time.

One morning walking them in, I spotted one of my regular clients, running through traffic in cut off shorts and a yellow t-shirt, leaning into every SUV and Audi, shouting, “Hey Mister! Anything you want for a 20.” This is not something my kids were exposed to in Alpharetta, Georgia. Also fantastic book title: HOW TO SPOT A HOOKER ON METH. Send me that for a book review and you have my attention.

With all this activity, I have been creatively drained, or should I say, my creativity has been diverted to other areas for quite some time. I’ve been actively navigating new territory and giving quick, neutral, humorous or encouraging responses on the fly, keeping my cool when threatening clients act out. I’ve found that psych facility staff offer creative and fun friends that write, draw, paint, sing, and make music. We make jokes faster than I can blink while holding a psychotic man down and giving him a shot in the ass. With the sadness and the sadsacks, the environment needs a turn of phrase, a laugh as often as possible. And what is storytelling, if not plunging into psych? The reasons why we all do what we do? Yes, my writing friends are correct. Something will come out of this.

 

Man in the Blue Moon

Author: Michael Morris
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (August 17, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414368429
ISBN-13: 978-1414368429

 Book Description:
“He’s a gambler at best. A con artist at worst,” her aunt had said of the handlebar-mustached man who snatched Ella Wallace away from her dreams of studying art in France. Eighteen years later, that man has disappeared, leaving Ella alone and struggling to support her three sons. While the world is embroiled in World War I, Ella fights her own personal battle to keep the mystical Florida land that has been in her family for generations from the hands of an unscrupulous banker. When a mysterious man arrives at Ella’s door in an unconventional way, he convinces her he can help her avoid foreclosure, and a tenuous trust begins. But as the fight for Ella’s land intensifies, it becomes evident that things are not as they appear. Hypocrisy and murder soon shake the coastal town of Apalachicola and jeopardize Ella’s family.

What I think:

If you like Southern Fiction, there is a great deal to like about MAN IN THE BLUE MOON. Set in a Apalachicola, a coastal town of cypress trees and Spanish moss, the characters face financial hard times and a war that has everyone on edge. Morris’ blends suspicious town gossips married to quiet men who say the right thing at just the right time, self-righteous know-it-all’s nosing around, loyal friends who don’t speak for years and evangelical pastors straining for a buck. He parades them before you with wonderful timing, a familiar step through turn-of-the-century north Florida. Morris brings up many captivating questions about faith, miracles and mysticism – reserving judgment or explanation. That’s an interesting turn for Tyndale, which typically publishes Christian fiction. Can I get an AMEN?

The main character is single mom, Ella Wallace. Due to her no -account husband, Ella is stuck with debts she can’t pay. She tries to run a commissary and raise three very different sons in the middle of a war, holding fiercely to the one thing her Daddy told her to never let go of – her land. Ella’s character is completely relate-able to today’s times. Though I cocked my eyebrow at the Snidely Wiplash description of her husband, wishing he and the “bad guys” had been given as much depth as other characters, the premise and story were so intriguing, I had no trouble continuing.

The GUY (there’s always a GUY): He arrives in a completely unexpected fashion, setting the gossips a-dither. He’s the opposite of the louse-like husband, offers to help right and left, and doesn’t even realize he’s filling the immense void Louse Husband left behind. Dream guy, right? He’s very mysterious, creating more trouble and town speculation than Ella (and her teenage son) can handle. She’s caught between the need for his help and gossip about him helping her and feelings, nothing more than feelings.

Meanwhile, there’s a power-grab for Ella’s land between a scurvy banker and an evangelist who turns local Indian beliefs about healing waters and Scripture on it’s ear. Ella’s is torn between her promise to her father and her debt. How will she survive? Money goes this way and that and Ella struggles to maintain her dignity, her family and her land. The murder described above is a huge slam-bang affair, written powerfully well. I was surprised how Morris, who obviously loves Apalachicola and knows it in and out, quickly turns to a well-drawn action scene that had me guessing.

Also amazing is that Morris pulls pieces of this story from his own family history. A man actually did arrive to his family farm in the same manner as Ella’s visitor to work for awhile before Morris was born. Interesting how family history contributes to authors stories, isn’t it?

If you like MAN IN THE BLUE MOON you may enjoy-

For the Southern aspect, Florida author – JANIS OWENS My Brother Michael, and American Ghost

A Christian, Southern author – CHARLES MARTIN The Dead Don’t Dance

For a Historical & Florida author – MARJORIE KINNAN RAWLINGS South Moon Under

MAN IN THE BLUE MOON is the SheReads.org online book club November read.. You can visit Shereads.org to read more reviews.

Hey, all! Greetings from the land of Spanish Moss and fiddler crabs. I have been on the island a week now, pounding out my revisions, going from the beach to the bay, handing out snacks, balancing the mother thing with the writer thing and becoming what my friends refer to as ISLAND MISTY. This is my favorite version of myself, my alter ego, my alias, in a place where there is no school, somewhere over the rainbow (cue the music and dancing Muppets) As I was saying, there is no school, other than the naturally occurring daily – sometimes three and four times!! – science lessons.  Yesterday science was a skeleton of a lizard and trying to figure out what kind of bird greets us every morning, and the ever changing loosening and tightening of the boat ropes due to tide water. I did, after all, earn a science degree, so this stuff never fails to fascinate me.  GEEK MOM.

Of course, there are some drawbacks.

I have mentioned before that this is no picnic. We do have water and electricity, but there are no stores on the island, so when I need groceries, it’s the golf cart (no cars on the island) to the boat, boat to the marina, get in the car and so on.
But- there is no practice or lesson of any kind for us to rush to. The only thing we try to beat is heavy rain and lightening.
We swim, we run, we bike, we tube, we hike. We meet dogs on the beach and miss ours that passed away.
We talk about the new dog we’ll have and how we’ll enjoy it. We make new friends, eat another snack.
When we’re tired, we sleep.

So far, the only bummers we’ve had are bummer batteries. One dead golf cart battery and two dead boat batteries, but we got it all fixed and we’re rolling now. Except that my aloe plant is dying.
This is summer. This is my island family.

Nana fishing

The fisherman comes up
Puts his two poles in the sand
Stares out at the sea
Just exactly like me
But I’ve got a book in my hand
We will have caught on to something
By the end of the day
But mostly we think about
The one that got away

Indigo Girls ~ Fleet of Hope

This is my maternal grandmother, Dottie Kalb, but at first glance, friends think it’s me. Something about the weather turning cold, makes me miss her. Is it simply that the holidays are approaching and I have no time to spend at the island? Winter is a time for reflection, right? I have  no idea which Florida coast she’s on, but I’ve treasured this picture since I discovered it. I have her hair, curling wildly in humidity, her nose, her mouth, and cheeks. We even wait on our fish, pondering the water similarly.

When I spent the most time with her, she and my grandfather lived in a mobile home park for retirees in central Florida, about an hour away from me. I spent weeks with them in the summer and they took me to good old Florida hot spots like Weeki Wachee Springs to see the mermaids, Crystal River to swim with the manatees (more like manatee poop!), Silver Springs for the glass-bottom boats, Cypress Gardens for the water ski show (now Lego Land). But our afternoons were spent at the pool with her friends, listening to gossip or sitting on someone’s porch doing puzzles and playing cards until Jeopardy! came on.

I remember going through her costume jewelry and seeing pictures of her dressed up, but she always wore shorts and t-shirts and drug me to flea markets for ‘finds’. She loved the beach and the garden and never minded getting dirty or wet.

I think this ache of missing her began when Hubs and I showed the DVD of our wedding to the kids last weekend. At first they groaned, but when they started recognizing people (“Uncle Tim had HAIR?!”) it got exciting. My grandmother was in a wheelchair at my wedding, was very shaky and needed help moving into the pew. My kids never knew her because she died six weeks after my wedding.

My dad’s mom always says the same thing about my Nana, “Dottie was a great lady. She behaved the same around everybody. Comfortable with the highest of the high and the lowest of the low.”

Every memory I have of her has to do with water or treasure. My brain knows she lived in Virginia and Georgia and elsewhere, but to me, she will always be Florida and mermaids and holidays and whispering secrets and “Honey, this is what we’re going to do…”

“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?