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…”
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.