Welcome to our virtual cafe, where we'll chat about what I've been reading, writing, and doing over the past month. I invite you to have a seat, grab your inspirational beverage of choice, and join me in sharing a leisurely cup of caffeine for the soul.
What I'm Reading
I’ve been on a sort of themed reading adventure lately. Four of my last five novels have included a poet, author, or bookshop as part of the story. And each of those reads have come from a new author for me. While the previous three built gradually with intensity, this particular story captured me from the opening three sentences in a way that simply couldn’t be ignored.
Most people only die once. But my father is not most people. He is a monster.
With only sixteen words, the author tugs you into a story that explores a chaotic roller coaster of emotions split between a then and now perspective. The two story lines are interwoven deftly, somewhat separated at first. But they come together in a compelling way that causes the reader to turn pages more urgently with each subsequent chapter.
Not only was the premise fascinating, but the developing story line was unexpected. And the poetic charm of Ms. Bartel’s prose left me relishing the simple beauty of her exquisite form. While not my traditional type of read, this one may have just tilted my overall preferences in a slightly new direction.
Read my complete review for The Words Between Us on Goodreads.
What I'm Writing
The scene card has become an elemental part of my story planning process. It encourages an author to not only detail what happens in a particular scene. It forces one to scrutinize why what happens is important to the characters.
I’ve been using this approach while writing my latest novel, Splendid Chaos. With a tentative plan to have 45 chapters, I’m in the process of drafting the seventh chapter in this story. Drew Stratton, my protagonist, is faced with an immensely difficult decision: remain loyal to a tough love father who has finally offered him the professional opportunity he’s been longing for, or rescue an estranged mother from an impending hurricane, even though she abandoned him and their family twenty years ago.
When I began writing this chapter, I knew exactly what I had planned to happen and how the events would unfold over the course of that particular day in the story. But then, my character had a better idea, started acting on his own, and different words began flowing from my fingertips.
It’s a simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating experience, when your characters pull you along in a different direction than you anticipated. It reminds me, that while we might like to have a plan in place, it’s the ability to adapt and the willingness to go with the flow that presents the most exciting opportunities—while writing—and I suspect, elsewhere in life.
What I'm Doing
In the spirit of embracing the unexpected, I’d like to share two stories with you that happened while helping to facilitate a fundraiser for my son’s high school robotics team.
It was a simple bucket drop. Stand outside the local grocery store with our beloved robot, Max, share information about our team and season, and hope that it would lead to people dropping a dollar or two into the basket on our table. That happened, and so much more.
Early in the day, a mom and her daughter—maybe six years old—walks by us on their way into the grocery store. The young girl’s eyes widen with amazement as she watches Max move around the sidewalk. Mom, with a smile on her face, offers to stop by on the way back out. We’ve heard this promise to return many times, and it often goes unfulfilled. But I could tell by that memorable expression on her face that they’d be back. Fast forward ten minutes… With that same exuberant smile, the young girl marches toward our table with two dollar bills in her hand, dropping both of them in our basket. Mom offers a proud smile before sharing that she gave her daughter two bills along with an opportunity to give one as a donation and keep the other for herself. The six-year-old, with all her inherent human generosity, decided that she’d like to give both of those dollars to our team. Without any expectation for something in return. As a special treat, we let her drive the robot. That moment filled our donation jar and fulfilled our team’s mission in a way that no monetary donation ever could.
Later in the day, an older boy—maybe twelve years old—walks his bike along the sidewalk with two older brothers in their teens. It appeared as though they’d stopped into the grocery store to pick up some drinks on a hot day. As he walked by, the boy stopped, grabbed the remaining change in his pocket, and dumped it in our basket. There was no pressure from parents. There was no impetus for him to spend his last remaining coins on a fundraiser that he probably knew little about. He was simply struck by the desire to help someone who was asking for help, even if it only meant being able to toss a few quarters in a jar.
I expected this particular day to be long, and for lack of a better word, not all that interesting. Sitting in a chair for the balance of nine hours while watching customers come and go… it didn’t sound like the most exciting way to spend my Saturday. But I was so wrong.
This is a day I will remember for a long time to come. We had patrons drop twenty-dollar-bills into our donation jar. We ended up doing very well to meet our quota for the funds we hoped to raise on that weekend.
But it was the unexpected occurrence of that extra dollar bill and a few coins that made all the difference, to me. It’s a reminder that the small things are truly the most important.
I’m as much a creature of habit as anyone. I wake up and shower, have a bowl of cereal in the same seat at our breakfast bar, brew a pot of coffee, and begin the day with a check of my email. I rarely, if ever, deviate from this well-traveled path.
But there are times, over the course of a seemingly ordinary day, where the smallest nudge or idea might present us with a different path to follow. It doesn’t need to be something that’s going to change our lives with some monumental shift. It could be a small nuance that adds a new flavor to the day. And as tiny as that decision might be, it could be the most important one of your day.
After the most recent tropical storm, Humberto, turned northward out to sea, our family decided to travel over to our local beach, to help with trash cleanup. You’d be amazed how much debris gets washed up on shore from the surge associated with a storm.
Among many piece of glass and plastic, there were what seemed like a million different shells scattered along the surf line. The tiniest shell, an iridescent one with translucent qualities, caught my attention. As fragile as these tiny shells are, and as violent as the waves can be around these types of weather patterns, that shell survived to arrive at my feet at exactly the moment I was walking by it.
If we hadn’t decided to take that family side trip, I never would have found it. It’s not something grand or overly dramatic, but it was a simple pleasure that added color to my day in a way that nothing else could. That tiny symbol of taking the road less traveled and embracing the unexpected came home with me. And as tiny as it might have been, I don’t think I’ll be forgetting that experience any time soon.
Until next month, stay inspired! And, as always, I welcome a short (or long) email to say hi or share your thoughts on this month's final sip...
We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen.
~ Paulo Coelho ~