Posted by: MaraPurl | July 5, 2015

Ancestors Gathered in the Mountains

Goff family

Traveling from Head to Heart – Between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, 2015, my husband and I took a driving trip to honor my late parents, and to connect with family in the south-eastern part of the country. Our adventures expanded into a clearer sense of The Past—our personal memories, our ancestors’ stories, and our country’s history. Enjoy!

Each of us seems to have some places in this world that have special resonances. For me, these places always seem to be by the ocean, or in the mountains. In fact, I feel most connected where mountains and oceans are close together, which partially explains why my Milford-Haven Novels are set along California’s Central Coast. I often muse upon how these resonances began, and our recent travels through West Virginia provide some major clues.

There, the mountains are different from those we see in the west. Frost heaves have quarried boulders, glaciers have carved rocks, and rivers have sifted particles that scour like fine sandpaper, abrading the jagged upthrusts into shoulders rounded with age and gentled by weather.

Those rounded shoulders remind me of my great-grandmothers’, draped in black silks and adorned with lace collars. I remember her coiffed white hair and the sparkle of jewels at her ears. And though I was only a tot, I recall her final days, sitting in an upper room at my grandparents’ house, propped up against crisp bed linens, talking to those of us in the room, but also talking to people we couldn’t see, already making her transition.

But there was another version of Great-grandma Goff that I’d just encountered. While staying with my aunt and cousin a few days earlier, we’d opened a box sealed since the day our great-grandmother had packed it. Alongside the three massive family Bibles, we’d found a collection of formal photographic portraits, and there she was in her glory: young Alice with her glossy, upswept hair—the same color as mine—eyes flashing, waist cinched, seated in front of her dashing husband who stood behind with a hand on her shoulder. They were all there—the siblings and the spouses, two generations of grands and greats whom I’d only known briefly in their dotage, or heard about in stories.

For my husband and me, the prospect of getting to Harrisville was somewhat daunting. Though only about 1,000 feet above sea level, it’s situated at the far end of hairpin turns requiring four hours of winding into the Blue Ridge range. But his mountain driving skills carried us right to the door of the Ritchie County seat, where we found archived deeds mapping the real estate transactions of my maternal great-grandfather and his sons.

Then, while Larry parked our car, I wandered down a hill. I didn’t so much wander as respond to the unmistakable pull—as if a long-forgotten magnet had been activated—toward a porch that peeked from behind a steep slope. I stood transfixed in front of a two-story, wooden house while an internal movie began to play.

In my memories, honeysuckle twined itself densely through the framework along one wall of the wrap-around porch, sweetening the air. In the cool of the cellar, I reached high to grasp one of the scores of jars of applesauce my grandmother had made. My little legs pumped hard to make the rope swing go higher. I sat on my granddaddy’s lap and asked for the hundredth time to listen to his “tick-tock”—his gold pocket watch. The aroma of biscuits wafted out from the kitchen.

When I was about three years old, I spent some months here, staying with Granddaddy and Mamaw, as we called my grandmother, the nickname derived from the French spoken by ancestors. (The same nickname is used in my husband’s Kentucky cousins.) Each floor of what seemed like an enormous house delighted me with its treasures. Upstairs, I loved to explore Mamaw’s Cashmere Bouquet-scented dressing table. On the main floor, I “helped” in the kitchen or played glossy records on the beautiful turntable. In the cellar, I watched laundry being pressed through a hand-roller and heeded warnings not to get my hand caught. And when my first cousin visited too, we raced through the orchard or played with kittens in the barn.

Suddenly jerked back to the present by a round of barks from dogs chained on the porch, I watched as the current lady of the house pushed open her screen door to ask if she could help me. I apologized, and explained that this used to be my grandparents’ house. She stared at me unconvinced. She knew everyone in town, and no stranger could make such a claim. But when I mentioned my grandparents’ name, her face lit up. “Well then, we’re kin!” she exclaimed, beginning a litany of sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, while pointing at houses up one hill and down the next. I wasn’t invited in, but thanked her for her time.

In the courthouse, we’d found a helpful archivist who’d been able to look up which cemetery held the remains of my grandparents, and we drove there next. Having ignored the warning that we’d never find the headstones without help, we parked and somehow walked directly to the family plot. And there they all were: Granddaddy and Mamaw, Great-Grandma and Great-Granddaddy, Great-Aunt and Great-Uncle.

In the quiet afternoon breezes, standing on the grasses of their final resting place, it was as though those photo tintypes we’d found came alive so vividly—their faces and smiles, their scents and movements. And then, as if I’d put my ear to a long disused railroad track, I could hear their voices singing down the rail—a trill of laughter, a call to dinner, a sing-song of warning, a snatch of story.

Where had they been all this time? My head had forgotten what they gave to me, and how much it meant. But, apparently, my heart always remembered.

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Posted by: MaraPurl | May 11, 2015

Cousins Reunion

Traveling from Head to Heart – Between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, 2015, my husband and I took a driving trip to honor my late parents, and to connect with family in the south-eastern part of the country. Our adventures expanded into a clearer sense of The Past—our personal memories, our ancestors’ stories, and our country’s history. Enjoy!

Our journey began with a “cousin reunion” my husband arranged with all the grand-children of his paternal grandparents. We stayed with one of his first cousins, a delightful, colorful woman who, within the mellifluent tones of one sentence, brings alive my husband’s Kentucky roots—as well as those of my character Sally O’Mally. One discussion involved the merits and properties of buttermilk. “Well it’s sour, you know,” she said, pronouncing the word as “say-er.”

The reunion included nine cousins and some of their significant others, who drove or flew from various parts of the country and was held at the lovely home of another first cousin and her husband. Counters had been polished clean in preparation for the arrival of food. Though most of it might have been “store boughten”, the menu was just what the old-timers would have slaved over hot stoves to prepare, and soon platters of fried chicken, bowls of green beans, baskets of biscuits, and numerous other favorites covered every square inch. We sat at tables in the ample kitchen, the den, and the huge screen-in porch, which overlooked an astonishingly green array of lawn and trees. When our sunny day gave way to a deluge, we delighted in the scents and sounds of fresh rain and kept eating—and telling stories, many of which were inspired by the hundreds of archival family photos my husband has been scanning and cataloging.

The stories are what made the day both indelible and significant. It all comes down to POV—Point Of View—that all-important factor in the writing of fiction, and in the telling of stories. The only story I’d heard about the Grandma these cousins had in common was her tyranny. She’d been known to yell across from her farm to her son’s, demanding that her daughter-in-law drop everything and come do her bidding. But at the reunion, I heard a new story. Someone in the family had married a n’er-do-well who preferred skiddaling off with his drinking buddies rather than caring for his infant son. Grandma put a stop to that, corralling two of her sons—an Army Private and a Marine Sergeant—for assistance, and swooping down to rescue the hollering baby boy, who then lived with his mom and grandma for four years, until a wonderful new daddy joined the family.

This same grandma was said to be a flashy dresser on occasion, and one of the cousins had saved some of her jewelry. Out of its case came a sparkling black-and-amber cut-glass-bead necklace with matching bracelet and earrings. To my surprise, these were given to me. Now that I knew more about this passionate, larger-than-life woman, I was thrilled to accept these treasures, which I’ll pass along to my step-daughter—though I might wear them first, say on New Year’s Eve.

Foibles and embarrassments, mistakes and forgiveness, recipes and holidays—all were mentioned as the long afternoon wore on into early evening. There was occasional sadness and there was laughter, lots of good-natured laughter. The rain stopped and the skies cleared to a lovely sunset, as the cousins helped themselves to one more piece of pie.

I came away with the impression that most of the greats and grands of the family were quite heroic in their way, surviving the Great Depression, serving in the Great War, and coming home to tend their farms and care for their families. Next time, we want our kids to be there with us, lest these stories be lost in the mists of time. These parental and grand-parental folks used their heads to the very best of their abilities. But mostly, they lived from the heart.

Posted by: MaraPurl | July 15, 2014

Dresses from Mom

Woman in red dress on pierMy mother was a “Dresser,” as anyone who knew her will tell you. Her wardrobe was legendary, and during the past year, my sister and I have found great joy in giving some her collection to friends who will wear and appreciate these pieces, from the Hong Kong-made raw silk suits to the sparkling, beaded tops, from the kimono collection to the luscious knits. Though she enjoyed her clothes, and wore absolutely everything she owned, what she might have loved even more was sharing clothes with my sister and me—sometimes from her own closet, but often from her shopping expeditions. Always generous, she seemed to have had my sister and me in mind throughout her entire adult life, and since she was a shopper par excellence, we made out like royalty.

Before we were born, she had a Great Adventure in China. Mao and his Communist regime would soon be taking the helm of that great country, but she made it to Shanghai in its heyday, living there for several months with a French family with whom she remained close the rest of their days. Exploring the magnificent silks in a back ally one day, she thought, “What if I have a daughter?” She bought a bolt of white satin, patterned with an intaglio of delicate florals and swirls. Wrapping it in black tissue paper to prevent it from yellowing, she tucked it away. Soon thereafter, she joined my father in Tokyo, where he was serving in the Army as part of General MacArthur’s Occupation Forces. Once again, she found the part of the city filled with tiny fabric shops. “What if I have another daughter?” she wondered. She bought a second bolt of fabric, this one of famous pre-war silk, white-on-white satin patterned with an elegant Japanese design. Some decades later, when we were planning a wedding, she brought out the two bolts of fabric. I loved one, my sister loved the other, and our wedding dresses were sewn of this magical material.

For her final birthday, we planned a unique performance. Mom designed a dress for me to wear, and had her wonderful seamstress make it. A dazzling green organza confection, it made me feel as if I was wearing jade sliced as thin as clouds—and then she gave me her jade jewels to go with it. I knew this would be the last dress she’d ever give me. I wore it as passionately as a five-year-old wearing her first princess dress to a performance of The Nutcracker. It hangs in my closet now, and I hope I’ll have the spirit and the occasion to wear it again someday.

It’s a year later, now, and I have to find The Dress to wear for a big anniversary my husband and I will be celebrating with family and friends. I knew that sometime in recent months I’d seen a dress Mom would have loved in some catalog or other, but in all the recent organizing and reorganizing and home repairs, I couldn’t quite imagine where it would be. Then, today, when I wasn’t looking, I found it. Had Mom seen this particular number—vivid and feminine, sculpted but also flowing—she’d have bought it for me in a heartbeat. Though our taste didn’t always agree, in this case, we’d have been—literally—on the same page. I sat at my computer and went to the catalog’s website immediately to order it. “That item is no longer available,” said the onscreen message.

Usually that wouldn’t matter much, but this time it felt wrong. Just . . . wrong. So, though it was irrational, I called the company. I asked if they had any way of tracking down a discontinued item, or if they had an outlet. “But Mam,” the rep said, “that item is in stock.” Oh! Really? I placed the order, still wondering how this apparently magical thing had happened.

I got my answer a moment later. “What is the code on the back of your catalog?” the woman asked. It was then I noticed for the first time that this catalog had not been sent to me. In the address box was someone else’s name: my mother’s. I don’t recall taking that catalog from her house, nor do I recall her giving it to me. I receive this company’s mailings myself, so there would have been no logical reason I’d have her copy. Yet, clearly, this wasn’t about the “head”, this was all about the “heart.” I like to think this is one more gift from Mom’s heart to mine.

Posted by: MaraPurl | January 3, 2014

January Handsel

hand-heart-hand in skyHandsel: a gift given at the beginning of something, especially a new year.

Though it’s hard not to keep thinking to myself “this time last year, Mom was here,” what I try to do when these thoughts recurr is shift from grief to celebration, from loss to gratitude, from past to present. This is a new year, a perfect opportunity for new beginnings. Perhaps I can let the universe help me move forward, instead of tackling the forward momentum all on my own.

What better way to be brought into the present and its bright future than by children? I am blessed with step-children and their young ones, precious new humans for whom I am “Mamaw”, the beloved name I called my grandmother, and a traditional name both in my family and in my husband’s, derived from French ancestors.

Today as I write stories with our ten-year-old, I slip into that magical world of imagination that I inhabit by profession. But the wonder in her eyes as a new idea comes to her, the crystal-clear joy that bubbles up as the right words find their way onto my computer screen, the way she holds the soft stuffed kitty I keep in my office for her, all these unseal the spring of my own sense of wonder, and for a few hours, all things are indeed new again.

My head knows this is the right thing to do: spend time with her, think of imaginative pursuits that engage and challenge her, keep the television turned off for the duration, incorporate every idea she has into our story so as not to dampen her spirits.

But no matter how intellectual our writing efforts, this is no head-project. This is an unleashing of pure Mother-love that, though I can no longer receive, I can give. And here is the handsel for the new year: loss truly is gain when we listen with our hearts.

The Milford-Haven Novels and stories resume publication later this year. Find all of Mara’s news at wwww.MaraPurl.com.

Posted by: MaraPurl | May 10, 2013

Auntie-Mothering Heart to Heart

Enjoy my special Mother’s Day promotion! For a limited time, the e-editions of What the Heart Knows and Where the Heart Lives, are each available for only $.99! Visit Bellekeepbooks.com or your favorite bookseller to find direct links to all e-reader downloads!

Lucius-Mara-2012The first time I saw a picture of my darling nephew, he was making the thumbs-up sign in an ultrasound image. Close to the time of his delivery, my sister asked, “If he comes in the middle of the night, should I call you?” I answered, “Every other woman does!” This was literally true, since my husband’s an obstetrician. We laughed, and then dashed to the hospital at the appointed hour.

Even as a two-year-old, Lucius had uncanny coordination. My husband and I took him for an outing to a nearby park and he ran down a gentle hill. When we saw him trip, we ran to pick him up, but watched, astonished, as he used those strong little legs to right himself before we had to. In a way, it’s no surprise that he turned my sister into a soccer-Mom and is about to embark on a professional soccer camp. He’ll be graduating from high school next month, and we’ll be bursting our buttons when he takes his diploma.

If I had to use one word to describe the presence of this marvelous boy in all our lives, the word would be “magical.” When he was small, sometimes I’d see a flash of blond dashing past and for a moment I’d be a child again myself, playing with my yellow-haired sister. I’d watch him follow my husband up the trail to “Uncle Larry’s Cave” and for a moment catch a glimpse of what my father must’ve looked like as a boy. And because he’s here, I’ll always have the magical experience of sharing lineage and legacy with the next generation.

The primary magic is my sister, who seems to dance on air while swimming underwater. She’s a gifted actress with a stunningly successful career, her latest triumphs including her recurring roles in Homeland and The Office. But she accomplishes this between homework assignments and soccer practices. She’s a breathtaking chanteuse with a fabulous new CD Midnight Caravan, and she sings all over the country, somehow scheduling her performances but also finding time to take her son on an adventure trip to China, then managing to decorate Christmas trees and cook up various family feasts.

Being an aunt is a little bit like being a magical being. I appear and disappear, turn up with gifts and help out with celebrations. I truly felt the magic when I gave him his graduation present: a visit to a bank to set up his first accounts. If I’m a good aunt, it’s because I learned how from my beloved Aunt Madelon. She’s so much like her sister, my mother. And yet somehow she’s also entirely different. With sons of her own, she has her primary role as mother to her own family. But for me and my sister, she is always the magical being who looks and sounds so uncannily familiar, and brings to us pure, sparkling love. I hope I can be that for my nephew. I’m not sure who I’d be if Lucius weren’t here, but I know I’d be less than I am.

When I think of women I want to honor this mother’s day, my sister is high on the list, because she’s pulled off the greatest magic-trick of all: she has raised a wonderful son. He’s really using his head these days, figuring out the first chapter of the bigger life that’s about to commence. But in the rare moments when I can sit down with him as Auntie Mara, it’s pure love, heart-to-heart.

For more information on the evolving world of The Milford Haven Novels, visit my website www.MaraPurl.com where you can subscribe to my newsletter, follow me on social media, enjoy photos and videos, discover more special offers and more.

Posted by: MaraPurl | May 9, 2013

Step-Mothering is All Heart

Enjoy my special Mother’s Day promotion! For a limited time, the e-editions of What the Heart Knows and Where the Heart Lives, are each available for only $.99! Visit Bellekeep Books or your favorite bookseller to find direct links to all e-reader downloads!

Amelia-Mara-cropOne of my favorite roles in life is that of step-mother. Any more than one can plan or train for motherhood, one can’t schedule the unexpected eventually of becoming a step-parent. The job comes with its own prickly difficulties, but also with a series of gifts that continue to leave me, by turns, breathless and grateful.

My step-son was on the brink of manhood when we met, the same age, in fact, as my nephew is now. Matt and his several-years-divorced dad were living the bachelor life, mutually protective and similarly skeptical. I took my time with this handsome, strapping young man, allowing him to keep his reservations intact while I interviewed him about what he wanted in his life. A few months after his father and I married, he suddenly began to drop by our house for dinner, feeling at home enough to share his hopes and plans. It wasn’t long before he met a beautiful woman, married and started a family of his own. But that brief chapter before he did, taught me the value of giving someone the space to find themselves and the importance of empowering a young man by trusting him to his own process. Some of what I learned emerges in the father-son storyline in my Milford-Haven novels. Interestingly, I was already writing about Joseph Calvin and his son Zackery before I met my husband and his son. Perhaps that was one way the Universe was preparing me.

Things couldn’t have been more different between my step-daughter and me. Our affinity was so instantaneous, there seemed at first to be no transition between “before” and “after.” We’re both actresses, sharing a particular love for Shakespeare and Ibsen, Celtic tales and Star Trek. Both natural leaders, we also both are advocates for women’s safety and well-being. In 2002 I was given a Woman of the Year Award by the Los Angeles County Commission for Women. In 2013, she has been nominated by Rocky Mountain PBS for their Be More Award as founder of Impact Personal Safety Colorado, a personal safety training program. When people meet us for the first time, they even assume we’re mother and daughter because of uncanny resemblances.

But before we could share the rare and beautiful woman-to-woman synchronicity we now enjoy, we had to go through a period of upsets and failures, misunderstandings and dashed hopes. From my lofty initial position atop a pedestal, there was no where to go but down. And as reality set in for Amelia—the reality that there was a new woman in her father’s life—for a while, fate seemed to have dealt her a losing hand. Compound this with the usual teen-years growing pains, and felt she was inhaling a toxic mix of vapors.

I’ve learned so much from my beautiful, talented and devoted step-daughter. First, I learned to reassure her she would always have a place in her father’s heart, and that we’d never compete for his love. We occupy different chambers in that sacred vault, and the more we let the love flow, the healthier are all our relationships. Second, I learned to set boundaries, clarifying what would be acceptable language and behavior. Though we only had to have that conversation once many years ago, I see now how it strengthened our bond, and how it helped to prepare her for her current role as the amazing mother of two precious, small girls. Third, I learned to let go of what she could not be to me, so that I could accept what she is to me. It was another lesson in giving someone the space to be who they authentically are. And this is a lesson I can’t learn too often.

Both my dear step-children have made me a step-grandmother, though, magically, the “step” seems to disappear with the generation jump. Interestingly, I had a beloved step-grandmother who was always just “Grandma Dorothy” to me. Now I get to be “Mamaw”, a special name that appears in both mine and my husband’s families.

Will there be a storyline in the Milford-Haven Novels about step-parenting? Oh, yes, it’s already underway. With it will come doubts and tribulations, but also well-deserved victories of love over fear. What I’ve really learned from being a step-parent is that progress comes step by step. While the head is trying to figure out strategies and make plans, the heart is growing more patient with each disappointment, stronger with each act of forgiveness. Were it not for my role as step-mother, surely I wouldn’t know . . . what the heart knows.

For more information on the evolving world of The Milford Haven Novels, visit my website www.MaraPurl.com where you can subscribe to my newsletter, follow me on social media, enjoy photos and videos, discover more special offers and more.

Posted by: MaraPurl | May 8, 2013

God-Mothering from the Heart

Enjoy my special Mother’s Day promotion! For a limited time, the e-editions of What the Heart Knows and Where the Heart Lives, are each available for only $.99! Visit BellekeepBooks.com or your favorite bookseller to find direct links to all e-reader downloads!

Mara-Sami-graduation-cropNothing could have been a greater honor than my friend’s request that I be her baby’s God-mother. We didn’t know exactly what that might mean, as this special relationship would occur without religious affiliation. But since Erin and I refer to one another as spiritual sisters, it made perfect sense that I’d be involved in the spiritual life of her daughter.

Samantha was a stunner from day one, wrapping us around her tiny fingers, breaking our hearts with pouty faces, cracking the room with sunshine when she smiled. I remember how huge she seemed, substantial in my arms as I rocked her, and how petite she appeared three years later in pink tights and a tutu, shy to dance for me. Erin and I were co-writing a book in Sami’s earliest years, and to start her reading-life, I’d given her an early-version Nancy Drew story. One day she marched into the office clutching the little tome to her chest. “I love this book!” she proclaimed. “I’ve loved it all my life!” (Needless to say, I proceeded to give her the whole set.) When her school established a special visiting day for favorite grown-ups other than parents to visit, Sami chose me. When I began traveling a lot, she painted me an airplane surrounded by a rainbow to keep me safe, which I still carry. Erin and I hosted her very first tea party at my house — fancy dresses, bone china, and all the trimmings. We managed to keep straight faces when she dove into the scones and emerged with a dollop of clotted cream on her nose. One year we dressed as cheetahs and tigers for Halloween, and that photo is still framed on my shelf. The very best Oscar party I ever attended was the year Erin and her husband and I watched the show on television at their home: during each commercial, Sami gave us her interpretation of the films under consideration in dance and recitation. If grade school and Junior High seemed to have sped by, highschool passed like a flash of lightning, and soon we were watching her process through Disney Hall in her elegant blue cap-and-gown, dazzling in both beauty and accomplishments.

Along with being a successful actress, business woman and civic leader, Erin is an imaginative, devoted mother, both to Sami and her older brother. I love being a sounding board when big choices are afoot, or an assistant when major events are being planned. Of course, through the years it was Sami’s parents who did the heavy lifting: discipline and homework, wardrobes and tuitions, friendships and pets. I seemed mostly to float above these earthbound duties, offering special moments and the occasional words of wisdom from my God-mother cloud. And yet this precious young woman will forever remain on my radar screen, and I check her position and altitude as I pilot my own plane through the skies. Dear as they were, those early years were really prelude to the life-long friendship we’re just beginning to enjoy.

Samantha is now an actress already listed on IMDB and a writer with her own blog Tinselhound.tumblr.com, created for the appreciation and review of up-and-coming indie artists. “It’s my goal to have their voices and melodies heard,” she explained. While she supports other artists, she’s also working toward balancing her own life — the artist with the business woman, the brains with the beauty, the thinker with the feeler. Her own words say it best: “I’m focusing on finding a way to have the heart of a starving artist, the mindset of a responsible and contributing member of society, and the soul of a caring and outgoing friend and family member.” With this vivid statement of purpose, she’ll succeed at all this, and in some ways already has. I’d say she and I are in different chapters of the same pursuit: balancing head and heart.

When a child is present in our lives, the question of nature or nurture always comes up. Samantha has taught me the answer. We have to use our heads — every bit of our ingenuity and intelligence — to notice what they need and do our utmost to nurture. But it’s with our hearts that we support their essential nature, loving the essence of who they are, and taking a stand to protect their individuality even when it might be at odds with our own beliefs. What I’ve learned from my God-daughter is how to love unconditionally. No matter what choices she makes in her life — even if they’re choices my head doesn’t understand — I’ll always be able to love her with my whole heart.

Posted by: MaraPurl | January 31, 2013

A Year for Mom: January Foreshadows

Purl family Xmas photo 2012 Broadmoor“A Year for Mom” is a collection of posts written during 2013, the year of my mother’s final illness and of her passing. Some of the most heartfelt and extraordinary communications I’ve ever sent or received took place during this challenging year. I feel I learned so much that ultimately it was as much a year of gain as of loss. Many of my friends and readers have expressed a wish that I share my experiences. These personal moments are shared . . . from my heart.

My family all had a fabulous Whirl-Purl of a holiday season. I’m sure you’ve had years like this. We all gathered in Colorado. Friends and family who’d said at various times they’d like to visit from out of town, did. Friends who’d wanted to give holiday parties, did so. And if ever we were going to visit local spots that decorated to-the-nines for the holidays, this would be the year.

From our closets we plucked every outfit that could be made to look Christmas-y. We got out our jewels, polished our silver, and hung tiny white lights. We festooned the houses with poinsettias, dug to the very bottom of the boxes to use all the decorations. We planned special menus, practiced-up for a carol-sing, and wrapped presents till our hands cramped. We raced from home to home to celebrate with children and grand-children, parents and siblings, nieces, nephews and God-children.

My elderly parents kept pace with all this, scarcely noticing their advanced years. They did have help from us, but managed a lot of it on their own as well. Mom outdid us all. First she created her annual “House Beautiful,” till their home gleamed and sparkled with seasonal treasures. Then she hosted her ninety-three-year-old sister for a month-long visit. Next she hosted two other short-term house guests, whose stays overlapped with my aunt. One guest sprained an ankle and had to be waited on hand-and-foot, as it were. And to top it off, after managing Dad’s wardrobe, she dressed in her velvets and silks, looking like a million dollars at a round of holiday parties and at my sister Linda’s fabulous Christmas performances at the Broadmoor Hotel.

It seemed like a lot. It seemed like too much. Yet any mention of resting or postponing, cancelling or delaying, was met with vehement dismissal. She Who Must Be Obeyed would not have it any other way.

In January, we recovered. We all put away Christmas. We got started with New Year projects, the first of which was sending out my parents’ annual letter, a task I’ve been doing with and for them for the past decade or so. My sister was scheduled to sing at a gala fund raiser for a theatre company in our favorite little mountain town. We saw a chance for a getaway to force my folks to put their feet up for a long weekend.

That first morning, Mom and Pere slept till 10a.m. for possibly the first time since 1974 (and then, it was because of jet lag). My husband and I waited on them, and they absorbed the attentions gleefully, with Mom actually giggling at the idea of “room service.” The morning we left for home, she pronounced, “I feel like a new woman!” We bundled them into our car, renewed and refreshed. My husband and I were tired, but gratified, pleased at the opportunity to give them a respite.

As a meditation for the new year, I’d been working with a quotation I love that says “giving does not impoverish.” It seemed to have ramifications personally and professionally, economically and emotionally. I thought about giving in a new light, saw giving at the heart of all my work, wondered if I’d given enough. I examined past hurts and was able to forgive them more completely by realizing what really mattered was that I’d given, even when gifts weren’t recognized or appreciated.

The previous year had been filled with professional breakthroughs: five book tours; a keynote address for the American Heart Association’s major Go Red event, which Mom attended as my guest; best-seller status for the first novel in my series. My heart brimmed with gratitude. My head spun with possibilities and responsibilities. How would I take my work to the next level? How would I keep up the pace? How could I do an even better job with my writing and presentations?

As she often did, Mom invited me over. “I have some lovely orange roughy. Would you like to come for lunch?” As usual, I said “Yes!” wondering whether she really thought that only her superb cooking would entice me. She added, “I know you’re very busy. We can make it quick.” Happily, lunch was never quick. My parents asked about every detail of my life: my family and close friends; my time allocations and plans; and always, my writing. “You’re such a good writer,” Mom said, lifting her glass and chinking it against my dad’s. “Let’s drink a toast to Mara. I want to live long enough to see her name on the New York Times Bestsellers list.”

Posted by: MaraPurl | November 12, 2012

Indie Book Tour – Linn’s of Cambria, CA

Thanks for joining me on the 2012 MARA-thon! This includes a physical book tour through Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and California. And it includes a national blog tour. During the entire MARA-thon, please be sure to download your FREE prequel short story, When Whales Watch at http://www.MaraPurl.com/downloads. As of January 1, you’ll be able to find purchase links for all e-readers at http://marapurl.com/books/when-whales-watch.

This is posted from the road during my All-Indie-Bookstore book tour titled MAPPING THE JOURNEY OF YOUR HEART. Revisit the entire tour at any time by visiting http://www.MaraPurl.com/calendar where you’ll see event details, links to the bookstores, and soon, photo archives. Also join me on the ongoing Double Blog Tour , which will be archived at http://marapurl.com/fall-blog-tour-schedule.

Linns Cambria logoBack when Milford-Haven the radio drama was just a twinkle in my eye, I found myself calling upon new friends in Cambria, California. I’d managed to sell the idea of my radio drama to the local radio station, if I could find my own local sponsorship. Lots of people in that lovely little town knew me by then, as I’d spent a summer co-starring in Sea Marks in the local playhouse. Those who watched television also saw me regularly on Days of Our Lives. So when I visited local businesses with an inquiry as to whether or not they might like to sponsor my new radio drama, many gave me an immediate “Yes!”

It was so inspiring and encouraging! I’d never sold anything in my life, but felt such a passion about this story and its potential that my heart was aflame. Though I didn’t quite realize this at the time, several of the businesses I approached were as young as mine was, and we’ve later discovered for how long we’ve been in synch. Such is the case with John and Renee Linn, who preceded me to Cambria by only a few years. Having moved there with their young kids from Detroit, they’d bought a lovely farm and begun growing fruit and creating scrumptious fruit pies. The fruit pies became famous, and traffic began to beat a path down the quiet, country road to their farm—so much so, that neighbors complained. So they opened their first retail business in town, called Linn’s Fruit Binn.

The Linns became one of my very first sponsors, paying a modest weekly fee in exchange for being broadcast as a sponsor of Milford-Haven, and so we came to help one another get established. Ultimately, my radio drama became a hit with a few million listeners in the U.K., and now a series of novels with as many followers in the U.S. And Linn’s had become a nationally known brand, offering not only their famous pies (frozen for shipment) but sauces and jams, mixes for pancakes and muffins, seasoned oils and hand-blended spices. They long ago outgrew their original Main Street location and now have their own enclave, a charming cluster of cafes and retail shops that surround an umbrella-ed garden.

Nothing could have delighted me more than to be invited to do an event at Linns, and the garden-facing porch of their HomeStyle Gifts & Sale Loft. The gracious and dynamic woman who invited me is Roxane Broderick, herself a former professional editor, who wouldn’t agree to my event until she’d had a careful read of my first novel. Happily, I passed muster, and Roxane then devoted her considerable energies to creating an event with all the trimmings. Her compatriot who runs the books-and-sundries shop lent her support and creativity, and by the time the event began, we had an inviting display, delectable food, and an appreciative crowd, creating a full-circle experience that allowed me to conclude this long and winding book tour exactly where the entire story itself began, signing my new book. In so many way, this really is . . . Where the Heart Lives.

For more information on the evolving world of The Milford Haven Novels, visit my new website www.MaraPurl.com where you can subscribe to my newsletter, follow me on social media, enjoy photos and videos, discover more special offers and more.

Thanks for joining me on the 2012 MARA-thon! This includes a physical book tour through Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and California. And it includes a national blog tour. During the entire MARA-thon, please be sure to download your FREE prequel short story, When Whales Watch at http://www.MaraPurl.com/downloads. As of January 1, you’ll be able to find purchase links for all e-readers at http://marapurl.com/books/when-whales-watch.

This is posted from the road during my All-Indie-Bookstore book tour titled MAPPING THE JOURNEY OF YOUR HEART. Revisit the entire tour at any time by visiting http://www.MaraPurl.com/calendar where you’ll see event details, links to the bookstores, and soon, photo archives. Also join me on the ongoing Double Blog Tour, which will be archived at http://marapurl.com/fall-blog-tour-schedule.

Keplers_logoIn September, I wrote about what a joy it was to speak at the Central Coast Writers’ Conference. I also mentioned my brilliant new friend, the multi-faceted author Victoria Zackheim. We stayed in touch after the writers’ conference. And we began discussing the book tour that I’d soon be doing, and the fact that I’d be in the Bay Area, which is her neck of the woods. Wondering whether it might work to do a book signing together, we came to a stumbling block: her new books are non-fiction and mine are fiction. But when I thought about the essays she writes and edits—for example in her book The Other Woman—and the storylines of my protagonists, it struck me that me that at the core, we’re each interested in women’s lives: what we’re facing, where we find our allies, why we work so hard to live our best lives.

“What about Women’s Voices?” I asked. “How about that for the name of our event?” “Women’s Voices!” she cried. And by later that same day she had moved forward so fast, we had our first bookstore invitation! The store that invited us was Kepler’s . . . a fixture in Menlo Park with a rich history woven into that of this culturally colorful region. Maybe I particularly resonated with this store because, like me, its founder started in radio: Roy Kepler was a staff member at Berkeley’s KPFA, and as soon as the bookstore opened its doors it became an epicenter for both students and faculty at Berkeley and Stanford. In the ‘60s it hosted concerts by the likes of the Grateful Dead and Joan Baez and by 1990 Publishers Weekly named it Bookseller of the Year. With the encroachment of chain and on-line bookstores, Kepler’s actually closed its doors in 2005. But that didn’t last long. Three months later, local investments and donations had sprung the doors open again and all three locations of Kepler’s are thriving.

Women’s Voices at Kepler’s proved to be a fantastic event! Victoria expanded our event by inviting three other outstanding local authors with followings of their own.

Zoe Fitzgerald Carter, a noted journalist, wrote her first book, Imperfect Endings, a haunting memoire about her mother’s suicide. Its publication was followed by a slew of awards, starred reviews, and talks around the country. Elizabeth Rosner wrote the novel The Speed of Light, in which she drew upon the experiences of her own parents to chronicle the story of descendants of holocaust survivors. The novel has won multiple awards, been translated into nine languages, lauded by reviewers around the world and remains a favorite among book clubs. Her second novel Blue Nude brings together an Israeli model and a German artist who must confront their legacies. Elizabeth also writes poetry and teaches. Pam Houston, who lives on a Colorado ranch but is also Director of Creative Writing at UC Davis, is the author of two collections of linked short stories, Cowboys Are My Weakness and Waltzing the Cat, and the novel, Sight Hound. These and other works have earned her multiple awards, a loyal following and an active social media community.

As these accomplished writers began to read from their books, I began to wonder whether I was even fit to be in the same room. Their imagery, metaphor, and literary mastery powered over the mic. But then it was my turn, and I could feel their support and sisterhood. To hear them read from their hearts was to really hear women’s voices. And our voices both challenge and inspire us and those who hear us. What mattered most at this event was the authenticity of these tales, the words serving to rip away the veil that too often obscures the vital messages women have to share. These were messages that reached the heart of everyone in the audience. We hope to do more of these. I’ll keep you posted when they get scheduled.

If you’re just south of San Francisco in Menlo Park or Palo Alto, Kepler’s has a few signed copies of my new novel Where the Heart Lives. Or you can order your hardcover or e-book at your favorite on-line bookseller. Join me in Milford-Haven and discover where your heart lives.

For more information on the evolving world of The Milford Haven Novels, visit my new website http://www.MaraPurl.com where you can subscribe to my newsletter, follow me on social media, enjoy photos and videos, discover more special offers and more.

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