I've been emailing back and forth with a reader from another part of the world for well over a year. She wrote to me after my first 24 hour book came out, and we struck up a rapport, because her fiancé had the same name as one of my heroes. She's been filling me in on upcoming wedding plans and the building of their little newlywed cottage by her fiancé and his brothers.
Then in January, I got an email saying her fiancé had leukemia. They were optimistic as he began chemo. In May, the news wasn't so good...his leukemia was not responding to any of the drugs.
Last Monday, I heard from her again. He has around four weeks to live. They've married in a quiet ceremony with just their families present, and are spending their last days together treasuring every minute. But what made me sob over her message, was the part that said, "My real-life hero has made me promise that I will read to him from your upcoming book. Even if he's not with me anymore here on earth, he says he will hear me. And I will always have that special connection to him."
And that brought home exactly why I climb out of bed every morning and boot up my computer.
I was an avid reader long before I ever became a writer.
My very first memory is sitting in my pram, watching my librarian Grandma visit with patrons and stamp their books. I wasn't’ even 2 years old, but I remember thinking, "that looks like so much fun! When I grow up, I want to laugh and joke with people and stamp books!"
Yeah, I was a precocious kid, a "blessing" I passed on to my daughters.
But I believe the love of words was percolating in my blood from the moment I was born. My father was away serving in the Air Force, and my mom worked full time at the post office. The post office did not allow babies behind the counter. Fortunately, the library where Grandma worked, did. I spent the first four years of my life surrounded by books and people who loved them.
In Grandma's small town, the library was a tiny white clapboard building with red trim. It boasted two cozy rooms, one for adults and one for children. Shelves of books lined the walls. The moment you stepped inside, the wondrous, cottony smell of paper and the sharp, crisp scent of ink surrounded you, drew you in. The children’s room had three short red wooden tables and a dozen primary-colored wooden chairs "just the right size" for miniature bibliophiles. Bright blue step ladders helped vertically-challenged tots reach the upper levels.
During those happy times, Grandma and I went on adventures with Curious George, laughed with the Cat in the Hat and boogied with Maurice Sendak’s Wild Things.
When I was five, dad was transferred, and we moved, leaving grandma and the cozy little library behind. Soon, there was a new town, and a new library to explore.
It was a pattern our family repeated often over the years. The first thing we did after settling into our most recent house was find the town library and get our library cards. It was lonely, always being the new kid. Sometimes it was hard. Meeting different people, adapting to different climates and accents. Saying goodbye to old friends. Attempting to connect with new ones.
But the characters who lived inside my favorite books never changed. My sisters and I would ride our bikes to town, and spend many delicious hours engaged in the selection process. Then we’d pedal home as fast as we could with our bike baskets stuffed full of books.
We couldn't’ wait to grab a juicy apple and curl up with our treasures. I could depend on Joe and Frank Hardy to entertain me when I was bored. For Ann of Green Gables to make me laugh when I was blue. For the four March Sisters in Little Women to keep me company when I was lonely.
And hey, if I needed a good cry, the scene where Beth dies never failed to provide a three-hanky read. My childhood copy of Little Women is all warped on those particular pages.
In my preadolescent years, an astute librarian recommended Mary Stewart. Mary’s characters quickly became cherished companions. I eagerly glommed every book she wrote. Discovering a new one was pure joy. To this day, I can recite long passages of The Moon Spinners by heart.
I’ve read that book at least 50 times. I occasionally pull it out for a fond read-through…and you know what? Even after all these years, it holds up. It still gives me both goose bumps and grins.
Then when I was 14, a momentous event occurred in my life.
I discovered a box of Harlequin romances stashed in my mother’s closet. All that summer, I lounged on a blanket under the shade of the big oak tree in our back yard and devoured stories about complex men and intelligent women with the courage to dive into the biggest adventure of all – falling in love.
My imagination was challenged, my soul captivated and my heart thoroughly hooked on the genre. Every couple not only deserved a happy ending, they got one.
Every single time.
When I was 18, I married my very own handsome prince. I look at my teenaged daughter now and cringe. Yikes! Waaay too young to get married!
But I knew within 10 minutes of meeting my husband-to-be that he was "the one."
It did take him a wee bit longer.
Difficult circumstances in my home life had shown me what I did not want in a spouse. Reading romances taught me what kind of man I did want. I learned that I did not have to put up with less than I deserved. I looked for an honorable man, like the heroes in my favorite romances. Someone kind. A man who would treat me with respect. A man who would love my intelligence and support me in whatever I chose to do.
Twenty-nine years later, I am still thrilled to see my husband when he walks in the door.
During the six years prior to my publication, my husband worked approximately 7,000 hours of overtime so that I could stay home and write.
Once, when a particularly nasty rejection made me cry, he sent me roses. The card that accompanied them expressed his complete and utter faith in me, and urged me to keep striving toward my dream.
Now that’s a hero. I am truly blessed to have him in my life.
Back when I was first married, as a newlywed, I continued to read. I read when my husband was away in the Army and engaged in dangerous training, and I was so worried I could barely see straight. I read as a lonely young mother, at three in the morning, rocking a restless baby with one hand, holding a book in the other. I read sitting in dentist's waiting rooms, jittery with nerves. I read in hospital waiting rooms, nearly sick with dread.
The characters in those books became my friends. They helped me forget worry, loneliness, fear and pain…and run away to a new world…a new life…an exciting adventure where I could be happy…even for a while.
And that is why I write.
Some people belittle writers and readers – especially of romance. They think we’re living in a make believe world. They condemn us for wasting our time with "trashy novels."
But when I write, I’m reaching out to other women.
Women who've had the worst day ever.
Women with nasty bosses.
Women with broken hearts.
Women who are sick and suffering.
Abused women who've been humiliated and hurt.
Women bravely living through terrible circumstances I can't even begin to imagine enduring.
I hope that through my stories, I can help ease these women’s sufferings a little.
I hope they forget their own troubled lives and take off on an adventure with my characters. That they escape from the real world.
And when they finish, when they reach "the end," and close the covers of the book, they go back to their own lives with a little more peace in their hearts.
Better able to cope.
Because in romance novels, good always defeats evil. Tomorrow is a better day. Relationships are mended, hope is restored, love triumphs over all.
This is why I write.
For the angst-ridden adolescent who wonders, "what does real, lasting love look like?"
For the office administrator stuck on the commuter bus forty minutes a day.
For the weary nurse on the cancer ward who's lost one too many patients.
For the young mother with three kids under three and reaching the end of her rapidly fraying rope.
For the elderly woman trapped in a body that no longer works, with a still-young mind that cries out for companionship.
For a newlywed with a dying husband and the strength to soldier on in the face of heart-breaking loss.
What an incredible gift I've been given.
What a humbling responsibility.
What a privilege.
Copyright 2003 Diana Duncan
no use w/o written permission of author
The Men In My Closet
by Diana Duncan
People often ask what life is like as a romance writer. For me, writing is a ton of fun. But my family has suffered through some adjustments.
This is what living with a romance writer is like for my husband.
Remember Mork and Mindy? Befuddled and exasperated, poor Mindy spent every episode coping with the eccentricities of life with an alien. My husband can relate. Living with an alien is a lead-pipe cinch compared to being married to a romance writer.
Just yesterday, he was rummaging through the closet and pulled out a gray, European-style ribbed T-shirt - something he would never wear in a million years. "What's this?"
I looked up from my laptop. "Oh, that belongs to Gabe."
A blue vein throbbed in his temple as my Beta husband turned into an Alpha right before my eyes. "WHO is Gabe?" he growled.
"Good grief, Gabe has been living here for six months, remember? He's the hero in my latest novel."
With a sigh, he reached toward the back and yanked out a blue and red plaid kilt. "I thought the skirt was Gabe's."
"No, that belongs to Rowan, my Scottish warrior."
His lips curled in something that looked very much like disdain as he waved the next garment under my nose. "This?"
I grinned as fond memories warmed my heart. "Ah yes, the white mesh muscle shirt would be Rory's."
"And the black leather jacket?"
"Dallas. He's a bad boy."
Muttering something about Prozac, he grabbed his golf clubs and sidled out the door.
My mind wandered back to the beginning. My obsession started innocently enough, pounding away here and there on our family computer. Next thing you know, hubby brought home a laptop. "Wow, is that for me? I thought we couldn't afford one."
"I can't get to the computer without pole-vaulting over the stacks of papers, books and disks piled around it. Besides," he whined. "I never get to play Tomb Raider anymore."
Delighted with my new toy, I hunkered down for some serious research.
"Where were you all day?" my husband muttered as he dragged in at eight p.m..
"I was here, why?"
"I tried to call you at nine this morning to let you know I had a meeting after work, but the line was busy."
"Oh, I was on the Internet."
"I tried again at eleven, two, four, five-thirty and seven."
"Uh...well, I had a ton of research." Can I help it if there are 1,264,435 Adrian Paul sites? A novelist must obtain accurate facts. It's a grueling job, but somebody has to do it. "By the way, I need a new pair of contacts...these are worn out. And another economy size box of floppy disks."
As time went on, I grew secretive. I hid the grocery receipts in shoeboxes under my bed. I didn't want anyone to know my chocolate consumption had escalated to a case of Junior Mints and four pounds of M&M's a week, or that I'd bought fourteen soap opera magazines to cut out pictures for what I lovingly refer to as my "head collection. Hey, it's better than "borrowing" all the hunky pictures out of the magazines in the beauty salon. Not that I've ever done such a thing, mind you.
I made sure the drapes were drawn and the doors locked when my teen-aged daughter and I spent all of Memorial Day choreographing a male strip routine for my hero while "Bad to the Bone" blasted from the CD player. "Danielle? When you go back to school...don't share what you and I did over the holiday, okay? And it's probably best not to mention it to Grandma, either."
She nodded her head in complete understanding. You see, she's a writer too.
Surely though, kindness prompted me to remain mum about a close call with a speeding ticket. After all, the only reason I drove fifty-five in a thirty-five mile an hour zone was because I had get to a parking lot to scribble down my latest brainstorm before I "lost" it. Why add to my dear man's stress level?
Then odd habits started creeping in. I made so many trips to the bathroom to write down the brilliant ideas that only manifest themselves between midnight and four a.m., my panicked spouse wondered if there was something I hadn't told him about his vasectomy results. Upon explanation, he gifted me with a pen that lights up. Now I lean over the mattress in the middle of the night and scribble like mad by a neon green glow. I think my sweetheart regrets his generosity.
Sleeplessness seems to come with the territory. I finished my very first manuscript at one-thirty a.m.. Both laughing and crying, I shook him awake to announce the good news.
"Tha's nice, honey," he mumbled, immediately rolling over and falling back to sleep.
The cat and I had a lovely celebration that lasted into the wee hours of the morning.
It all finally came to a head a few months ago when he found me prostrate on the bed, sobbing my heart out.
"My word, what happened? Did somebody die?"
"Poor Rowan," I wept. "He's hurting so bad, and I can't help him. Wahhhh!"
Hubby pinched the bridge of his nose. "But...dear," he said in that reasonable, rational tone of voice husbands sometimes adopt, "he's not real. You made him up!" At that point, I think he accepted the fact he was living with a crazy woman and decided to adapt accordingly.
Nowadays, he takes most things in stride. Research projects don't faze him...to a point. Although he does get a tad irritated when I pause in the middle of lovemaking to take notes.
"Can you just hold on for one second? I need to write that down..."
However, the night I brought out the handcuffs, he balked. "Uh-uh...!" Shaking his head, he edged off the bed.
"But I NEED to know," I patiently explained.
Sigh. Sometimes, the man is just totally unreasonable.
He's always been a good sport about conferences. When I departed for the first one, he cheerfully waved goodbye, one hand clutching a fistful of McDonald's coupons and in the other, eighty pages of typed instructions "just in case." But when I arrived home after three days, exhausted yet giddy, with mottled chocolate stains everywhere and sporting a mysterious smile, he seemed a bit nonplused.
Wise and seasoned by now, he and the kids rejoice as I depart, looking forward to the good life -- sleeping in until eleven, twenty-four hour movie marathons, and fast food for every meal.
With years of experience under his belt, he nonchalantly hurtles mountains of reading and research to reach the bed and no longer blanches when the barnesandnoble.com delivery arrives and it takes three UPS men to carry the box. Especially once he found out they were tax deductible. Not one complaint passed his lips about picking up a few extra hours of overtime to support my book habit. He doesn't even blink when I accidentally call him by one of my hero's names, although, luckily, it's only happened in the kitchen...so far.
When I spent a year speaking with a Scots burr, then reverted to the language of five year-old twins, and after that, a Texas drawl, he simply smiled and whispered to our guests something about "not taking her medication again."
I have noticed that his communication skills seem to be slipping, though. "I had a long IM with my CP today about our WIP's. Even though she's unpubbed, she gives such great crits. My heroine's motivation isn't clear. A multi-pub in her RWA chapter read a revision letter from her ed at the last meeting mentioning the importance of strong GMC. That reminds me, that author has a new single title coming out this spring, it won a RITA. I'd better get the ISBN so I can order it, even though my TBR pile is already huge. Oh, and my CP finaled in the GH! She was afraid the font size in her header would DQ her, but she worried for nothing. Isn't that exciting?"
He simply looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. It must be all the overtime.
A color-coded poster board list of editors and agents who have possession of my submissions is displayed above the phone, and the family receives weekly briefings on the "red alert" procedure to follow if one should call. My youngest is to phone my pager from our house, while the oldest has been instructed to utilize the neighbor to reach my cell number, which is permanently set up to forward to my current location. Hubby is required to get in the car and track me down in person. Anyone who fails to write down a proper name and phone number will be executed by firing squad at dawn.
On that elusive someday, when "the call" comes and my caterpillars finally emerge as butterflies, all the struggles will be worthwhile. I'm going to buy my husband something very special as a reward for his loving tolerance. Hopefully, the extra money will be wisely spent on college for our two daughters, and ease the financial burden of our one-income family.
Oh yeah. And I have my eye on an authentic ivory wool knit fisherman's sweater that would be perfect for Alastair.
Copyright 1999 Diana Duncan
no use w/o written permission of author
A Day In the Life Of A Romance Writer or
My Cup Runneth Over...With Cat Vomit
by Diana Duncan
Ah, the idyllic life of a romance writer. At 9:00 a.m., the sun peeks through the curtains, gently nudging me awake to the cheerful twitter of birds outside. Eager to greet the new day, I leap out of bed. After a brisk morning walk, I enjoy a heart-healthy, energizing breakfast of oatmeal with skim milk and fresh fruit. I luxuriate in a leisurely shower, fix my hair and makeup and dress in a flattering, but comfortable silk pantsuit. I then stroll to my organized, creatively inspiring home office to spend the next few hours in writing bliss.
At 6:00 a.m., the clanging alarm assaults my eardrums, jerking me out of a fitful five-hour sleep. I pry open my swollen eyelids to peer at the clock. Ugh. There ought to be a law against getting up this early. Howling wind pounds raindrops the size of beach balls against the windows as I grope for my glasses in the total darkness and stagger to the bathroom. I perfunctorily swipe a toothbrush across my teeth, and run a hairbrush through my tangled mop in a futile attempt to tame my Don King-sized bedhead. A quick grope through the Mt. Everest of dirty clothes in the hallway turns up a wrinkled gray sweatshirt and fuchsia sweatpants with raveled cuffs and white paint smears across the butt from my time-before-last decorating spree. Mom's Taxi ferries Daughter #1 to her school in the predawn gloom and pouring rain.
Fifteen minutes later, after battling morning rush hour, I return home and fend off both cats who fight over the honor of who gets to sit in my lap while I hurriedly inhale a microwaved cup of lukewarm tea. I have fifteen minutes to shower and find clothes - a clean sweatshirt and ratty jeans with a hole in the knee and blue paint streaks across the butt from my last decorating spree. No time for makeup. My hair dries on the vine as I throw a load of dishes in the dishwasher and a load of towels in the washing machine. Daughter #2 stumbles out of bed and the daily pre-departure hysteria ensues.
"Where's my science book?"
"Where are my shoes?"
"I need a note excusing me from PE."
"Sign this field trip permission slip."
"Where's my backpack?"
"Where's my coat? AHHHH! We're going to be late!!"
I chew three Ibuprofen dry, and Mom's Taxi ferries Daughter #2 and two neighbor kids to their school (which begins and ends at a completely different time from D1's school) in the early morning gloom and pouring rain.
Twenty-five minutes later, after again battling morning rush hour, I return to the cats, who express their extreme need for nourishment by climbing my pants legs. I fling food into their dish, transfer the wet towels from the washer to the dryer and toss in a load of jeans. The living room rug gets a fast vacuum as I simultaneously wolf a nutritious breakfast consisting of stale Cheez-Its and a "tall" Mountain Dew. Not bad. Three out of the four food groups ... salt, fat, and caffeine.
Time to work! I head to my "office" (a rickety computer desk wedged into one corner of my bedroom), where I remove a pile of clean laundry, D2's science book and both snoozing cats from the chair. Booting up my out-dated computer takes a mere thirty minutes today, and I fold towels while I wait.
Email check - can't start the day without email. Begin work. Uh oh. I can't locate my saved manuscript. A heart-pounding hour and one frantic phone call to hubby later, I find it in an obscure data file titled WINX4567.29Z. Okay, to work. Re-read my output of the day before, consisting of two pages. Decide they are total crap and delete.
Just as the most brilliant sentence I've ever composed forms in my brain, the phone rings, forever erasing it from my consciousness. Maybe it's the editor who has had my manuscript for fourteen months, calling to buy! I snatch up the receiver.
"Good morning!" a perky female voice chirps. "How are you today? This is Nuisance Telemarketing Company, and we're taking a survey about whether you want the governor to raise your taxes, or whether you'd rather have the state legislature raise your taxes."
I stare at the blank screen and blinking cursor and can't think of a single word. I must need a snack. Might as well check email while devouring a prescription strength Hershey bar with almonds. The fourth and most important food group...chocolate.
All righty. Time to get serious about working. Did I mention how much I hate that blankety-blank blank screen and blinking cursor? Two hours later, I've typed one page of less-than-sparkling prose, but at least it filled up the **&^%$ white space. I'm making progress, finally! Now, for the most intimidating, challenging part of the entire book. The love scene. Two pair of wide, inquisitive cats' eyes watch from the window sill as I insert a Dido CD into the player and attempt to dredge up an amorous mood.
Gabe smiled wickedly as he slowly began to unbutton Tessa's blouse...
The phone rings. Again. Maybe this time it's the editor!
"Hello, this is the principal of D2's school. D2's teacher was ecstatic that she finally did her oral book report, but felt that Why Men are from Mars and Woman are from Venus was inappropriate for seventh graders."
Humph. I don't see the problem. There's no species more akin to Martians than thirteen year-old boys. The principal doesn't appreciate my enlightened viewpoint. Click.
Dido croons in the background. Gabe smiled wickedly as he slowly...
The front door slams. "Moooom! I'm hoooome!" D2 hollers out. Not only do I know she's home, but so does the entire block.
"What are you doing here? It's only 12:30."
"Teacher planning day this afternoon, we only had to go half a day. Awesome, huh?"
Yeah, awesome. I'm thrilled. "Keep yourself entertained for a while, I'm writing."
The aroma of microwave popcorn drifts down the hallway, as enticing as a $2.00 hooker to a sailor on shore leave. No. Stay strong. As Sponge Bob Square Pants' teeth-grating screech blares from the living room, I wrench my focus to my computer. The cats leap from the windowsill, following the lure of a forbidden snack.
Where was I? Fifteen minutes later, my brain finally shifts back into sexy seduction mode. Oh yeah. Gabe smiled wickedly...
"Moooom! One of the cats just barfed on the rug."
Oh good grief. "You know you're not supposed to give them popcorn, no matter how much they beg. I'm busy. You deal with it."
Gagging noises. "Ewww! It's like totally gross! If I haveta wipe it up, I'll barf too."
That's all I need. I reluctantly desert Gabe in his hour of need for cleanup detail.
Nothing like a little kitty vomit to throw cold water on a sexy seduction. When I trudge back to my computer, I decide I might as well check email again. Afterward, it takes thirty minutes to properly reorient myself. I punch the button to start Dido on her second round. Gabe...
"Moooom. What's for dinner?"
Teacher planning day? What, the teachers planned to gift me with a nervous breakdown? Gabe and his wicked smile are almost as frustrated as I am. "Dinner is too far in the future to worry about. Please be quiet. I'm writing."
Back to my screen. Gabe, take my advice. Remain a bachelor. You'll get a lot more accomplished. Especially if you want to succeed at sexy seductions.
Another hour and two pages later, Gabe manages to get Tessa undressed before the front door slams again.
"Moooom, I'm home," D1 announces, though not nearly as loudly as her sister. "What's for dinner?"
Argh! "I have no idea. Why don't you cook tonight?"
"I can't. I have play practice. I'll need a ride there and back."
D2 chimes in. "Yeah, and tonight's my youth group bowling trip, remember? I need a ride there and back, too, and $5.00 admission fee and snack money."
Mom's Taxi, on duty. There goes any possibility of working this evening. "Fine, fine, whatever. Start looking under the couch cushions and check in the dirty clothes pile pockets for spare change. I'm writing in here."
Gabe and Tessa, I don't know about you, but I am so not in the mood anymore. Maybe you should just bag it and go take a cold shower. They vehemently protest, so I proceed. After two hours of wrenching words from my soul with pliers, three measly paragraphs come together. Unfortunately, Gabe and Tessa don't.
The front door slams for the third time. "Honey, I'm home. What's for dinner?"
Snarling, I stab the power down button, realizing too late that I forgot to hit save first.
"Hey everybody," I yell. "Guess what's for dinner?"
"What?" three voices chorus in unison.
My smile is more wicked than Gabe's.
Copyright 1999 Diana Duncan
no use w/o written permission of author
TOP TEN WAYS TO TELL YOU'RE REALLY A WRITER:
by Diana Duncan
10. You're in the bathroom when a scathingly brilliant idea hits. Rather than risk losing it,
you scribble notes on a sheet of toilet paper with your best lip liner pencil.
9. You see a tragedy on the news and after your heart breaks for the people involved,
you think, "Wow! What a great plot for a book!"
8. You get stopped for speeding and as the cop is writing your ticket, you grill him on
police procedures for your manuscript.
7. After sobbing over a three-hanky movie, you re-write the script in your head with a
6. When a new catalog arrives, you ignore the clothes and eagerly scrutinize the models for
heroes and heroines.
5. While your child is receiving stitches in the ER you carefully write down all the details,
just in case you ever need them for a story.
4. You rattle on for thirty minutes about Jane and Frank's relationship problems, only to
be met with stony silence from your spouse. Finally he asks, "Are these real people
or your characters?"
3. You know the members of your on-line critique group ~ whom you've never actually
met ~ better than your next-door neighbors.
2. Your bookshelf holds titles like: World's Deadliest Poisons, Underwear Through the
Ages, and Drive Your Man Wild in Bed.
1. You look like you're watching your son's soccer game...but you're actually
plotting a murder.
Copyright 2001 Diana Duncan
no use w/o written permission of author
By Diana Duncan
My daughter had begged for a dog since she was five. I held out for ten years before I caved.
It was all a romance hero’s fault.
A cat devotee, I couldn't’ understand my mom’s adoration of her dogs. Dogs were messy, smelly, and let’s not even discuss co-dependency issues. Been there, done that with toddlers – a decade later, still had mystery stains on the furniture. I didn’t want the furry equivalent.
Then Officer Liam O’Rourke sauntered into my first 24 hour book with his K-9 partner, Murphy. I’ve done crazy things for research,
(I once had a cop handcuff me in the back of his patrol car), but as I started writing Heat Of The Moment, my September Intimate Moments, little did I know how my life was about to change.
I met a real K-9 officer and his dog, and we began to email. As I read about K-9s, my heart wrenched at their incredible loyalty and selfless sacrifices. I perused hundreds of dog photos.
I called my mom. “Hell has frozen over at our house.”
She knew immediately. “You got a puppy!”
Cyrus was supposed to be my daughter’s. She promised responsibly for feeding, walking and pottying. You know what’s next. She lasted four nights, one more than I expected, before she came crying at 2:00 a.m. “I can’t stand another sleepless night!” I snatched the opportunity for a, “so not ready for a baby lecture” (she was fifteen…perfect timing).
Then I let little, whimpering Cyrus sleep in my bed. And he climbed into my heart.
I vowed not to get attached. But he had other ideas. He adopted me.
He’s so smart, it’s scary. He wakes up happy every day. He’s always thrilled to see me, even if I’ve only been “gone” in the bathroom five minutes. He snuggles beside me every day as I write. When I’m upset, he's instantly aware of it, and tries his best to comfort me.
My world would be a bleaker place without him.
Writing romances brought me a true love story of my own…with a fuzzy bundle of unconditional love.
Copyright 2005 Diana Duncan
no use w/o written permission of author
A Cup of Time
by Diana Duncan
I never knew my great-grandmother. The few remaining pictures show a small, fair woman with a gentle smile and a halo of gray hair. Confined to a wheelchair for most of her life, she appeared fragile, yet she managed to raise nine girls and four boys. Great-Grandma triumphed over the Depression with grace and optimism she possessed to the end of her days.
Her pink depression glass cup and saucer set, handed down to me, personifies her spirit. The surviving pieces of an entire table setting purchased by her children for her 25th wedding anniversary appear as delicate as spun sugar. Yet their frail appearance disguises their innate strength and durability. They too survived the Great Depression and the loving hands of many children with grace and beauty unmarred by the ravages of time.
The blue willow stoneware that belonged to my grandmother puzzled me. While pretty, the heavy, practical crockery didn’t fit her personality. My “Nana” was a tiny, lively woman with bright red hair and laughing brown eyes. She hummed or sang while going about her day, and often broke into a spontaneous jig while doing housework. Nana loved flowers. During lazy summer days helping her tend her yard, I learned the fragrance of sweet peas, the velvet majesty of roses and the cool, ruffled beauty of gladioli.
The puzzle was solved while cleaning out Nana’s cupboards after she had gone to tend Heaven’s garden. Tucked in the back, I found a set of pale blue, sheer porcelain teacups with delicate curved feet. The pink roses painted around the rim remind me of Nana every time I pick one up.
My mother kept her collection in a maple corner cabinet in the dining room. The colorful, eclectic collection drew me like a bee to a blossom from the tender age of six. I would stand and gaze longingly through the glass doors at the treasures within. When my fascination failed to wane, my mother bravely and unselfishly allowed me access. I cradled each fragile, featherweight cup carefully in my palm, caressing the cool, smooth porcelain with a fingertip.
I was at my mother’s home for my birthday last year, a rare treat, given the geographical distance. Mom announced a special gift. She’d planned to send me five cup and saucer sets from her collection, but since I was present, she opened her cabinet doors and invited me to choose.
Overwhelmed by her generosity, my hands trembled as I lifted out each set and placed it gently on the dining table. Skipping over the majority, I went unerringly to my childhood favorites. Eight that somehow had to be narrowed to five. I considered each set, returning some, only to pluck them back out, sure I didn’t want to leave that one behind. Finally, my final five dotted the lace tablecloth like colorful waterlilies, and I called Mom in to see.
She appeared startled for a moment, then smiled. “Those were the exact sets I’d planned to send to you.” Mom knows my heart so well, she knew which ones would bring me the most pleasure.
I have favorites among my own collection, like the coral rose set purchased on my honeymoon, and the one with Victorian mice having a tea party that commemorates an anniversary.
My young daughters are already interested in my collection. They love to hold them and hear the stories. I tell them of their great-great grandmother’s optimism, their great-grandmother’s sparkling joy, their grandmother’s generous heart and their mother’s girlhood dreams. Four generations of women embodied in these porcelain vessels that not only nourish the body, but also the soul.
Someday, I will open the doors of my cabinet and invite each daughter to help themselves to a cup of time.
Copyright 1999 Diana Duncan
no use w/o written permission of author
The Good Stuff
by Diana Duncan
Starting out as a newbie writer, I gleaned my most valuable piece of advice from an online “how to” article. I wish I could remember who the author was, but I’ll never forget what she said: “Don’t hoard the good stuff.”
Taking that to heart, I have poured every emotion, every twist, every creative fiber of my being into every single story…as if it were my only book. My final book.
Because you just never know.
When my best friend’s mother-in-law “Mary” died several years ago, it fell to my friend to clean out Mary’s house. What she found was shocking, and horribly sad. Literally hundreds of Christmas, birthday and Mother’s Day gifts – brand new appliances, brightly-colored quilts, beautiful, soft, warm sweaters…all sitting, untouched, in boxes. For decades, Mary had been “making do,” using stained, faded bedding and tablecloths, and half-broken appliances, and wearing ragged clothing marred by holes.
She’d been hoarding the good stuff.
And after Mary died, all her lovely things were given away to others to use.
That was a huge wake-up call for me. Because while I never hesitated to pour my very best into my writing, I’d been short-changing myself in so many other ways. Waiting for “someday.”
My mom’s emergency open-heart surgery the following summer hammered home the point. It was a scary, stressful time and we nearly lost her, but thanks to God’s grace and an amazing surgical team, she pulled through.
And I was totally done waiting for “someday.”
I now use my best dishes, tablecloths and flatware any old time I feel like it, even if we’re just having mac & cheese. I scrunch up “decorative” pillows and toss ‘em on the floor and lay on ‘em to play video games with my daughter. I wear the prettiest outfits from my closet to the grocery store if I want. I try not to worry about how much I weigh, instead focusing on health and a positive mental image. I crank up the music and dance in the middle of the day. Vacuuming can wait another few hours until I finish the new bestseller I’ve been looking forward to reading for months.
But more than that, I now tell my mom that I love her every day. And my step-dad, daughters, son-in-law and husband. I call my sisters more often. I tell my best friend how smart and talented she is and how much I admire her. I stop writing and go out to lunch with my husband on his day off, pause while cooking dinner to give my kids random hugs or kiss my hubby. I strive to be slow to take offense and quick to forgive.
I don’t hold back any of the good stuff, in any area of my life. Not anymore.
Two nights ago, I got the phone call from the Emergency Room that nobody ever wants to receive. The car that my husband and daughter were riding in was slammed – hard – by a drunk driver. Again, thanks be to God, they’re both okay. Even thinking about the horrible realization that I could have lost them both still makes me physically sick.
But I also had the peace of knowing, deep down, that I’d freely given them everything in my heart. I wouldn’t have regrets about love left unsaid, hugs not given, forgiveness not granted.
What’s hidden in the back of your closet, tucked away, carefully wrapped in tissue? What are you saving for “someday?”
What are you depriving yourself of – special things you could be using, wonderful feelings you could be experiencing, right here, right now?
Fling open that door! Liberate your dreams, your hopes, your love, and yeah, even your grudges and your fears. Make today your own personal Independence Day.
Get out your good stuff. Live every moment. And enjoy it to the fullest.
Copyright 2009 Diana Duncan
no use w/o written permission of author
Lipliner, Chocolate Syrup & Sexy Bank Robbers...Oh, my!
by Diana Duncan
The number one question I’m asked as an author is, "Where do you get your ideas?"
Would you believe my Muse – who bears a strong resemblance to Vin Diesel by the way – slips them under my pillow at night when I’m sleeping?
I wish! Diesel Muse is too capricious. The truth is, brainstorms strike at random – anywhere from inside the shower, to driving to an appointment. When an idea hits, I must immediately write it down, or the thought evaporates forever. I’ve jotted notes on napkins in restaurants, on fast food wrappers while driving (sorry, officer), on my own arm in the grocery store (talk about getting strange looks) and
yes, even on toilet paper with lip-liner at a party.
New lip-liner: $7.95. Inspiration: Priceless.
Truly anything can spark a writing binge. An evocative song, a solitary walk on a rainy beach, a compelling photo of a bare-chested hunk with mystery in his eyes, a carton of ice cream and a bottle of chocolate syrup – ahem – see the love scene in my book Heat of the Moment.
My first published Intimate Moments: Bulletproof Bride stemmed from a real-life incident. For the first eight years of marriage, I worked six days a week at a bank, putting hubby through college and establishing a financial foundation toward buying a home and having children.
I’d been tellering about three years, when one morning I looked up into the twinkling eyes of a very pleasant, extremely handsome young man. Who proceeded to rob me.
He didn’t have a gun, but bank policy dictated full cooperation. Gorgeous Robber Guy said "please," and "thank you," and was polite and funny and entertained me with witty small talk as I filled the bag. I wasn’t scared at all. In fact, I was awfully darned fascinated.
After he left, the bank was closed, per policy, and the FBI arrived to interview everyone. The stern FBI Agents were so not impressed by my description of the robber as "cute and charming."
As far as I know, he was never apprehended.
I’ve wanted to be a storyteller from the first moment I picked up a crayon as a preschooler and drew the adventures of "Perky the Kitten." I’d toyed with different stories my entire life, but never got very far. That night after the robbery, I came home and I scribbled five pages of my thoughts, then stuck them in the overflowing box of wannabe novels beneath my bed.
Many years later, after my daughters were old enough to be somewhat self-sufficient, I embarked on the journey toward publication. As an avid Harlequin fan since age 14, I was born to write romance. I dedicated all my free time to reading, learning and studying my craft. I started to play with "what-if" scenarios…and boom…Bulletproof Bride was born.
Contest judges had purple and green hissy fits over the concept. If I had a nickel for every horrified, "But you can’t have a bank robber hero!" comment I received, I’d be lounging on Maui right now, with pool boys in Speedos fetching me umbrella drinks. After entering 100 contests and only finaling in 3, I thank the Lord for my far-sighted editor (with fabulous taste, I might add) who saw the potential and bought my manuscript.
I honestly cannot remember where the idea came from for my "Forever In A Day" 24 hour series. I’ve never watched even one episode of "24." The concept just exploded into my brain almost fully formed. It whammied me so hard and fast I literally went weak at the knees and had to sit down. Luckily, I was next to my bed. Again, I’ll be forever grateful for my editor, who admitted she was thinking, "What? How on earth will she pull that off?" but instead said, "Go for it." She let me spread my wings and fly!
Book 4 in the series, (Grady’s story) Lethal Attraction, will always hold a special place in my heart. I’d planned from the beginning for it to be a virus plot, but I wanted a twist. Something out of the ordinary. While researching viruses online, I stumbled across Congressional testimony from nurses who worked in foster care, talking about drug experiments on foster children. Those drugs caused horrifying side-effects and even death. I am very sad to say some of the terrible events in Lethal Attraction actually happened. However, the end result was that Congress did appoint medical advocates for foster children so such heinous acts will never again take place.
Along with raising my own two daughters, I fostered two other kids. And I hope that in some small way, my book sparked awareness of the needs of foster children.
Saying goodbye to my fun & sexy O’Rourke boys was, argh, super tough. I blubbered through the entire last half of that story…on every draft. Four boxes of Kleenex later, it’s a huge thrill for me that Lethal Attraction has been nominated for a RITA Award! (Liam’s story, Heat of the Moment was also nominated in 2007.)
To all the readers who’ve been eagerly emailing and writing to ask when I’ll have another book out and wondering about Dalton, Hunter & Alex: thank you bunches! Your continued interest, support and enthusiasm is so uplifting. For the past year, I’ve struggled to find my niche in a changing marketplace. To be honest, discouragement had its fangs sunk pretty deeply into my throat. I actually considered hanging up my keyboard for good.
Then I recently had several intense, vivid dreams…plunging me into the exciting lives of five brand new amazing heroes and their heroines.
Hey! What do you know? Diesel Muse did leave ideas under my pillow! Cool!
I’ve been working really hard developing this new series. I’m holding my breath and keeping my fingers crossed for a sale…because I’m aching to tell these stories.
Where/how do you find inspiration, for whatever creative activities bring you satisfaction, whether it’s scrapbooking, quilting, painting…or maybe just giving you enough of a boost to make it through the day without throttling someone?
When you’re feeling tapped out, what renews, refreshes and engages your imagination?
Discover what inspires you and brings you joy, and take the time to refill your creative well.