Living Reminders

Jay Dell Butler, Army Infantryman, World War II, Germany

“Our two machine guns and the company I was attached to were assigned to walk right straight toward town without shooting back. The other two companies were to go around on the west side and walk through the town shooting from the hip at anything that moved. This was at eleven o’clock at night. So we started toward that town and got pretty close to it. Then the other companies started walking through the town, shooting from the hip. When you get every man shooting, it doesn’t matter what he saw, he just shot.

“You could hear the roar of war. You just can’t imagine that sound.

“I saw the flame of his rifle, and with the rest of them (my company), I jumped in the ditch to get out of the rain of bullets. They were popping over our heads like firecrackers. As we got up to go, I looked to the right and saw another rifleman shooting at us. I saw the flame of his rifle.

“I got the bullet. 

“Turning my head to the right saved me because the bullet touched my jaw, entering through the top of my shoulder. It went through me, but on it’s way– it broke my collar bone and top rib, my rib puncturing my left lung. The bullet split the shoulder blade in my back. So there I was in that ditch full of water. I couldn’t get up. I don’t know why, shock or something. The water was ice cold. Everybody had to leave me.

‘Lieutenant, I’m hit.’ 

‘Ahuh,’ he says.

“But they had to leave me, and I understood that. I didn’t feel bad that they’d go off and leave me out there in the middle of the field, because I knew they had to keep going. So I was left out there alone, in the dark, in that ice water, and I couldn’t see anything.”

.

.

Veteran’s Day.

We gather, singing songs, pledging our allegiance, and professing our gratitude. In our small town, it’s a community event, complete with music, speeches, essay contests. We are grateful.

But time lengthens the gap between the brutality of war, the history of our freedom. Besides those of us that know active military or grew up in a family of service members, most see it only in the pages of a history textbook, the portrayals of Pearl Harbor and the like.

War is ugly, and no matter how it ends– there are always consequences, far reaching ones.

Have you lived with the consequences? Do you think about the horror these boys (and now women) face(d)?

My Grandpa, the man who gave the account above, lived with the consequences everyday. You see, one of his arms was left paralyzed from the war.

He married after, even had six children, without the use of an arm.

He farmed, he worked as a butcher and custodian. Without the use of an arm.

True grit is rare, almost extinct in our day of technology and entitlement. But, I saw it. I saw my grandpa work in his meat shop (that he built with his own hand), heard stories of him lifting 350 lb. carcasses from the truck to his meat hook, all without the use of an arm. You see, he made do to survive. He took care of his family.

Did the war ever leave his mind, his memory? I don’t know, but by the time he was old, confined to a wheelchair, he spoke of the memories, the horror, as if it had happened only yesterday. War took so much more than his arm. Grandpa didn’t play the victim, but it didn’t matter. I knew it took more– possibilities for his future, serenity in sleep, double-armed embraces of his loved ones.

It’s a lot to take in. But we should try. We should try to understand the sacrifices, the purposeful placement in harms way of our veterans, all in pursuit of protecting our freedoms, our America.

Gratitude and debt don’t seem enough. But it will have to do.

We honor those that fought, and continue to fight, for our freedom, for our America. “Thank you” isn’t nearly enough. We love you. We pray for you and yours.

<3 H

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Utah Signing

Hey friends. I’ll be at the Sandy, UT Barnes and Noble this Saturday from 1-4pm signing books. I’d love to see you, signs some books, or just chat! It’s a great chance to get some Christmas shopping done; there should be around 40 other authors at the signing. Come say hi, grab a hot chocolate, and enjoy the weekend!

 

<3 H

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Life Lesson #4,276,869

After straining my calf in a pickup volleyball game last night (yeah, I still think I’m eighteen), Mark gallantly carried me from the car to the house, which involved a flight of stairs. It brought to light two things: 

  1. He isn’t as strong as he once was.
  2. I’m not as skinny as I once was.

There was way too much huffing coming from him when he carried me up the steps, like an offensive amount of huffing… but then he set me up in bed, wrapped my calf with an ace-bandage, and brought me medicine.

Sometimes I wonder what the secret to a happy marriage is. I have one, but why? How? Last night shed some light on this subject. Maybe the secret is life. Life throws nonstop curve balls, and maybe all that matters is that we swing, that we try. Maybe romance is all about swinging, trying to win it for the team. Whether that’s carrying your post-four-children wife up a flight of stairs or smiling through the pain of a silly I’m-not-eighteen-anymore leg injury, we have to swing.

We can’t ever stop, or we’ll strike out. 

Enough deep thoughts for your Friday night. Let’s get down to the point of this post: I’ll be down a lot this next week writing, I mean recovering. Enjoy your weekend!

-H

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The Old Country

My great-grandmother and grandfather referred to their respective origins (Poland and Croatia) as ‘the old country’. They didn’t like to talk about it, and they didn’t like people asking questions. Some of it was privacy, and part of it was wanting to forget, wanting to leave it behind.  Before she died, Stella shared a few things of the old country. Those stories touched my heart, and from an early age, I wanted to share them. It feels surreal that I get to do so in a beautiful novel in 5 months from now. I can’t wait for you to read it and fall in love with their courage and strength.

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Friday, Friday…

Excitement is overflowing around here for my new book, The Forgotten Girl. It won’t be available until February, but preorders will be happening soon, and to kick it off, I’ll be releasing some beautiful photos with quotes from the book. Along with that, will be another book trailer. And I promise, it’s so awesome! Amanda Conley Photography did INCREDIBLE!

Stay tuned!

<3 H

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Top 10 Whole Wheat Romances

I’ve been down for the past week recovering from jaw surgery. What a doozy, I tell you.

Someone texted me last week, “Was it as bad as you thought it would be?”

It wasn’t the right moment for such a question. I was on strong meds, barely able to squeeze a condiment bottle of tomato soup between my numb and dysfunctional lips. My jaw bone throbbed, resulting in an excruciating headache, and my neck and lower back were aching from the anesthetic and surgery. It might sound like I’m being a tad bit dramatic. But I’m not.

It took every ounce of restraint to respond rationally. It was a concerned family member, for goodness sake. But I couldn’t help add a touch of snarky. “Well, the doctor cut off half my face and screwed it back together, and it feels like it.”

Anyways…back to what this post is about. NETFLIX.

Netflix has really come through for me during this time. It’s been my shoulder to cry on, so to speak. I have spent more hours than I could count binging on series and such. And I’ve come to understand a fundamental truth– Romance movies, or rather romance stories, are not created equally.

Romance stories (at least the ones I’m going to discuss) fall in 1 of 2 categories:

  1. Whole Wheat Romance- these are the stories that uplift, leave you thinking. These stories have realistic characters, ones you become invested in. These romantic tales leave you feeling satisfied. Real romance stories are like a homemade chocolate chip cookie (the good kind, like my friend Becca makes). They are perfectly delicious, made of the real stuff… and no matter how many I eat, I NEVER regret it. I just want more. (Becca… if you are reading this… I can eat milk-soaked chocolate chip cookies in my current state… just saying).
  2. White Bread Romance- these are the stories made for binging, made for an occasional viewing– the type that usually leave viewers feeling indulged… and slightly disappointed with themselves. The iconic example is any movie made by Hallmark.  Like cheap Little Debbie snacks or a cheap Chinese-American buffet, these stories seem like a good choice in the moment. So many trans fats and sugars, so much oil… five bites and the choice is regretted… 

So, in an ode to all that is good in the Real Romances, I’ve compiled a list of my TOP 10 WHOLE WHEAT ROMANCES, accompanied by their less worthy, less effort-watching partner, the WHITE BREAD ROMANCES… Let me know if you agree, and heaven forbid, I hope I don’t misplace one of your beloved stories….But remember, we all have weaknesses (one Little Debbie type snack). I’m only telling you what is and what is NOT good for your romantic souls. Remember, I’m an expert now, thanks to my broken jaw and countless hours of binging.

DRUM ROLL… in no particular order…and with clips for your enjoyment…Whole Wheat vs. White Bread…

Far and Away vs. P.S. I love you

Like most girls, Ireland holds a piece of my heart… and so it would seem any romance with Ireland would be the real deal. Not the case, not the case. While P.S. I Love You brings the waterworks, it isn’t in a good hormonal-cleanse sort of way. Nope, it’s in a cry ‘til your sick way. And nobody needs to do that. Watch a real love story– not the heartbreak of one. Also, it’s one of the actually good Tom Cruise films.

 

 

Pride and Prejudice vs. Lost in Austen

Not all Austen adaptations are created equal, but I’m wise enough to avoid that debate. *cough, cough* That aside, there are numerous spinoffs of Austen’s work. Don’t fall for it, don’t go for the lazy attempts. Go for the real thing, the real stories with real characters and real lessons vs. the fantasies of a fourteen year old girl who RUINS everything about this beloved tale. Darcy was made for Elizabeth.

While You were Sleeping vs. ANYTHING on Hallmark during the Holidays

If you need to go for a lighthearted romance, that’s fine. There can still be merit in romcoms. But at least spare yourself the Hallmark channel during the holidays. I know… I know… I KNOW. I do it, too. Every holiday I find myself fall prey to the promise of lighthearted Christmas miracles and romance heroes (usually some retired baseball player or beyond handsome small town homeboy). But it always ends up the same. At the end of the show, I feel like I just binged on a cheap Chinese buffet. It was delicious, but I never quite feel well afterward. Opt for a more substantial romcom– perhaps While You were Sleeping. It even has Christmas. And it has REAL characters.

 

Anne of Green Gables vs. When Calls the Heart series

Historical series have my heart. I, too, have watched When Calls the Heart. It felt so harmless at first… but then the series kept going on and on and on and on… until the plot got forced and the real romance was lost. It only took one watch of Anne of Green Gables to remind me of why it trumps all others… hopefully this clip will convince you, too.

 

Age of Adaline vs. The Lake House

Age of Adaline surprised me. It shouldn’t have. I adore Blake Lively. But anyways… if you happen to be in a mood for time-defying romance, please, I’m asking you to choose Age of Adaline over The Lake House. Please.

 

You’ve Got Mail vs. She’s All That

Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks are classic. Their on-screen chemistry is so real, and I can’t help but love them. Any of the 90s romcoms– She’s All That, Never Been Kissed, etc, they have NOTHING on the classic Ryan-Hanks stories. They resembled fast food. Don’t do it. There’s a better choice.

 

Tangled vs. Snow White

I had to put a Disney in here, because I love Disney. If you want your children to think love is about a chance meeting at a wishing well, followed by true love’s kiss… be my guest. But, I’d opt for the real kind of love– the type Flynn Rider offers Rapunzel by sacrificing himself to free her. Mmmmhmm.

 

Sweet Home Alabama vs. Twilight

If you are craving a love triangle, there are a plethora of options. If you need something that transcends reality also, you’ve still got options (Just Like Heaven). Reese Witherspoon brings a realness to her characters that’s absent from any character of Twilight. And, you won’t have an indulgent hangover the next morning.

 

How to lose a guy in 10 days vs. Anything Nicholas Sparks

I know this one is controversial. But with the exception of The Notebook (and even that one is debatable…I’m not a huge fan), Sparks’ stories are indulgent, weak love stories. They almost all seem to deal with infidelity or affairs and infatuation. It’s rarely worth your time. If you’re looking for contemporary, opt for a Kate Hudson or, dare I say it, Matthew McConaughey flick. My husband would die of he heard that (he can’t stand these type of rom coms). But it’s true. You’ll get more of the real thing than you will with Sparks.

 

Under The Greenwood Tree vs. Titanic

A privileged lady with different options… will she choose the rich one or the poor one? It’s a classic quandary. But, if you want one that is based on real love and in real life time, choose this period piece Under the Greenwood Tree. You won’t regret it, and you won’t be covering your youngen’s eyes.

 

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Fact and Fiction

“I’m writing books. They’re still a work of fact and fiction and will continue to be. I think it’s an interesting place to work.” -James Frey 

“A play is fiction- and fiction is fact distilled into truth.”

-Edward Albee

In the near future, I’ll be teasing more about The Forgotten Girl. It’s not set to release until February, but I’ve been working with a talented photographer (and dear friend) to create a book trailer and still photos. The main character, Stella, was based off my great grandmother, and consequently, much of what happened to her in her life.

But it’s fiction.

It’s important to remember that as a writer, my book becomes my canvas, and the story I tell often becomes different than the one I set out to paint. I believe most authors– at least the really good ones– use personal experiences and emotions to tell their stories. That doesn’t mean they have experienced all that their character has. It just means that good writing has to come from a place of authenticity. I never immigrated to the United States to escape servitude like Stella. But I have felt trapped in situations, places so dark that I felt I would suffocate. That’s the place I found when I wrote this book. And, I’d venture to say that most authors try to do the same. They find a place in their heart, perhaps a spot of shared emotions or lessons as their MC, and they stay there. They pull from there, and they try their hardest to write truth into every bit of fiction. I know I try.

I recently finished another rough draft. It’s historical fiction (Yep…I can’t seem to stray from that). It’s yet to find a name (or a contract, for that matter), and it is raw and jumbled. However, between the lines and messiness, lies truth beneath the fiction. I put so much of me into the pages– in the same way I did with Stella’s story. The plot, the characters, the actual things that happened– total fiction. But the feelings and growth that happens to the main character Elle (and the growing pains she experiences) are as real as could be. So much of them are what I experienced. I know I’m not alone, and I hope to connect with younger readers (high school girls), as well as those like me (the ones that survived the whole growing-into-yourself thing).

Fiction isn’t really fiction, when you see it for what it is: a way for writers to share their truths they’ve found along the way.

 

 

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Trips to the City

About once a month (sometimes more), we pack up the kids and head to the city. We love our small town, but there are some things it lacks… namely a Costco, Winco, Panera Bread, Chipotle, Ross, tj maxx, Hobby Lobby, Joanns… I could go on.  These city trips, though necessary and fun, can sometimes drag on and on, and on and on.

Mark starts to go crazy after the fifth store… rightly so. Dragging four kids around stores all day has its own set of challenges, like peed pants and screaming children… and maybe a frazzled hair, screaming lady. 

I can always tell when Mark is DONE. The DVD player comes on, Costco spoils are dispersed, and Mark sends me into the stores alone, while he tries to keep it together with kids. This was the case last time. My oldest needed new shoes. I popped into Ross, found some shoes (only adding a couple impulse buys), and headed back to the car. I was proud of how fast I was in and out. 

The car was parked near the front. Ain’t no car like ours– a maroon suburban, named by my second child (who was three years old at the time) “Little Sis”.  

I pulled the door open, and my eyes instantly fell to the cream colored interior. 

Wait. 

My eyes flashed to the man in the driving seat. He had a mouthful of food and a surprised expression.  His thinning hair was light, his skin color a far cry from my swarthy Mediterranean husband…

“Hello,” he said, half nervous and half mocking. 

That’s when I saw “Little Sis” charging down the parking isle, my knight in shining armor behind the wheel. 

I promptly screamed, slammed the door, and ran to our car. I think I said, “sorry”, “oops” or something… but I’ll never know. It was a blur. I opened our car door, the familiar black interior, along with my husband’s choked laughter, my only welcome. 

That’s true love. He laughed the whole way home… as did I.

What kind of freak am I?! 

I’m sure that other guy laughed about the crazy, screaming lady, too. …at least that’s what I tell myself at night. And what mark tells me. Lest you think mark planned such an embarrassing mishap, he likes to remind me what happened on his end…

It was the BABY’s fault… or so he claims. He couldn’t stay stationary without tears. So he circled the parking lot, trying to keep everyone happy. He had his route, watching and waiting as he circumnavigated. About the fifth lap, he saw me bee lining it. He had seen the burb’s twin… it was only a split second… he knows me too well… and he knew what was coming. He stepped on the gas to save me from imminent disaster.

He reached me just as I slammed the door. He recalls my “girly, flailing arms” as I ran (his words, not mine), and the way my every look screamed utter embarrassment. 

… but instead of asking me what happened, or if I was okay… he only laughed… and laughed…because he knew EXACTLY what had happened. 

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Crafting the Weird.

Dwight Schrute.

Esqueleto.

Esqueleto from nacho libre! Haha. Funny guy

Phil Dunphy.

Mary Bennet.

Mr. Collins.

Kip.

Uncle Rico.

I could go on and on. There are so many perfectly ridiculous characters. I believe in humor, and sometimes when the story is too serious, or the pacing is too fast, we writers have the chance to create a character that makes an audience smile. So, this post is dedicated to all those weird characters that make stories more interesting, bring a smile to our face, or make us inwardly cringe (sometimes because we recognize a little bit of our awkward selves in them).

For those of you that are rolling your eyes, you should probably stop reading this post. Now. For the rest of you, enjoy.

Here’s to our favorite weirdos.

 

 

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