Chance Meeting Brings Friendship…and More!

Often you meet a person and don’t realize the impact they can have on your life.

I wrote the opening to this interview on May 6, the day after our Writers At The Bistro event at Horizon Bistro in Sparta. It was a short review of “From Lemons to Lemonade,” presented by NYTimes and USA Today best selling author, SE ‘Susan’ Smith.
As it states in the interview, the circumstances surrounding our first meeting make a great opening introduction. The audience got a good laugh at the telling. As I look back on the impact and potential for Alleghany Writers and our local writing scene, it is a prime example of “fate plays a hand.
Spending time with Susan since the event has been personally inspiring. This woman loves, loves, loves writing stories, and she has a keen sense for marketing that has taken her to the top of her category in the publishing world. Hearing her share the journey has me taking a closer look at how I spend my time. It has prompted me to refocus on the things I really love to do. I really love to write!  And it’s time to get out those notebooks with all the story ideas and get to writing. With the Alleghany Writers creative writing group up and running, I can shift more time from the organizing.  Or, as Susan put it, focus on “be-ing” instead of “do-ing.” Writing is hard work, but it’s joyful work, and I’m in need of some joy. Look for a more regular posting schedule in the future!

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May 6, 2018

It was through a cosmic set of occurrences that I came to know author S.E. ‘Susan’ Smith and became immersed in conversation at her home on an afternoon in March. She shared the story of how she became an author and rose in popularity to become a multiple New York Times and USA TODAY best selling author. It was an inspiration…as a writer with a goal to be published, but also as a woman who has been at that place, the moment you make the decision to take control of your success and become the mistress of your own destiny.

A prolific writer with a mind for marketing. Susan has developed new markets with stories for teens and children, expanding the brand with plush animals, coloring books, tote bags, and other items.

Susan appeared May 5, on the Horizon Bistro stage in downtown Sparta to an enthusiastic crowd of readers and writers.  She brought her story of turning life “From Lemons to Lemonade.” She talked of the challenges, her inspirations, and gave us a look at the many ways readers help build the characters and story lines. As an example of her faithful fan base, there were readers who drove from northern Virginia, West Virginia, Texas, and Oklahoma to see their favorite author and hear about the new stories she has coming in the next few months.

Thanks to Chef Garrison Wagoner, owner of the Horizon Bistro, for giving Alleghany Writers a spot on the Bistro stage. Susan’s appearance premiered First Saturday performances of Writers On The Bistro Stage. Check the Alleghany Writers Facebook page for our upcoming schedule.

While Susan takes time to speak with attendees, a group of her faithful fans distribute books and other cool “swag.” Susan admits to loving the goodies and makes sure there are lots of fun items to hand out at book signings.

Here is my interview with Susan, printed in the Alleghany News on April 25.

My adventure started with Cynthia Grant. Since she was home recuperating after foot surgery, I delivered promotional posters and handouts to her house for an upcoming Alleghany Writers event at the Library. As people came by to visit, Cynthia handed out the information. Surprisingly effective!
Cynthia gave handouts to Julia Simmons. Julia went for coffee at Sparky’s and heard two women talk about their recent move to Alleghany. She heard one woman say she was a writer. Julia approached, introduced herself as a friend of the Alleghany Writers creative writing group, and offered one of the handouts she picked up from Cynthia.
That person was SE ‘Susan’ Smith. Julia got her card, dropped it off with me on the way home, and I sent Susan an email that evening as an introduction to our group and to Alleghany County in general. There was a reply in my inbox the next morning, and by the afternoon I was sitting with Susan, her sister Linda, and Sirah the pup, overlooking a scenic view of Low Gap, and talking about writing. I doubt that a character from the worlds of S.E. Smith could have orchestrated a more serendipitous event!
As a fellow writer I understood her enthusiasm about getting stories out of her imagination and down on paper. Susan is immersed in her characters and their stories.… so are her readers!  The sheer number of published books and their popularity show her ability to engage readers in the worlds she creates. But, as I sit next to this very pleasant woman, dressed down for an afternoon of writing, and not appearing anything like someone who has been named multiple times to the New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author lists, my first question begins with the word “how.”  How did it all happen?
About her start in writing, Susan says, “The school district I worked for was reorganizing. I had been with them for 15 years as both a teacher and as tech support staff. One day they tell us ‘everyone is gone, you have to reapply.’

“I was rehired, but developed this rebellious mood of wanting to escape the ‘real’ world for a while. So I started to read. I soon found there were few stories with females who were strong, fragile, brave, scared, namely a woman who was real to me. And, I wanted to read about an alpha guy who was strong, vulnerable, willing to learn, and who wasn’t afraid to admit he was in love, even if he wasn’t sure what to do about it!”

Susan found the heroes and heroines in books couldn’t match the ones she created in her own imagination. “I thought about all the stories in my head and decided I could always write them down for my own pleasure.”

Her sister Linda encouraged Susan to send her stories to a publisher. She did, but received the, “thanks, but no thanks” response that often nips the budding novelist. Not Susan. She kept writing, just to see where the characters would go. The stories collected into a growing pile.

Eventually her sister encouraged Susan to publish so she could share the stories with friends. She was still working her full-time job, a job which now included eight schools, not just one.

“I took my courage and started researching. I found out about Kindle Direct Publishing, learned to do the covers, and late on a Sunday night, I hit the SEND button to publish the books I had written.”

Along with positive feedback came sales, and the book sales grew to the award-winning popularity she has today. It confirmed what Susan knew in her heart. There were people out there who wanted the same reading experience. Now the publishing world of S. E. Smith spans the genres of science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, and contemporary stories. They combine action, adventure, and romance with the themes of family, friendship and true love.  Her audience is world-wide, including adults, young, adults, and children.
How did Susan Smith get to Sparta? It’s another version of the story we know well. Looking for a mountain home to get away from Florida summers. Went from county to county. Nothing fit the bill. Their realtor told them about a home in Alleghany County. That home didn’t suit, but when they followed a “by owner” sign up the road, there it was. The home, the property, the view. Everything they wanted. Now Susan and her family are Alleghany homeowners and look forward to being part of our community.

 

Mustang Sally

 My father bought the Mustang off the showroom floor. It was a 1964 1/2, red convertible, white interior, automatic. He said it was mine.

My dad, Oliver Rains, on one of his Sunday morning rides. It was never too early in the season to put the top down!

I was sixteen years old and not yet aware of the warning to, “read the fine print.” This particular fine print made it my car…except for Saturday and Sunday mornings when Daddy would be up at sunrise and gone until noon. So, the car wasn’t really mine. It was a time-share. But I soon discovered the benefit.  He always brought the car back spotless and with a full tank of gas.

Not until years later did I understand how my father had been enticed by Detroit’s answer to boredom. He fell under the spell of Lee Iacocca’s Mustang. Daddy was a white collar, middle class man in his 50’s. His mid-life crisis was as predictable as my mother’s menopause.  Ford was offering a remedy. In the mind of Oliver Rains, buying the Mustang was more than merely the cure for his middle-age malaise. To him it was almost practical.

Corvettes, Porches, and the like were out of the question. Too expensive. Too flashy. But how could you argue with a man who wanted to indulge his teenage daughter with a red convertible? She could drive herself to school. Run errands for her mother.  Genius! All he asked in return was weekend mornings to escape the humdrum life and hassles of the work week with a long drive in the fresh air and time to hang out with his buddies at the B&B Market or the little airport across the bridge in Chesapeake, Ohio.

I’ll never know what memories my father accumulated during his share of time in that car. Maybe it was the exhilaration of a top-down ride on the open highway.  Possibly it was just the free time away from four walls.  I do know that my share of Mustang memories from 1965 through 1969 includes rides to ball games and dances, drives to Myrtle Beach, and on one occasion a bit of small town thrill riding that included a bloody leg.

THE BLOODY LEG – a teenage adventure

My father lost his left leg to diabetes in 1965. He struggled with prosthetic limbs until he found one with the comfort and stability he needed. After he settled in with his new leg, the old leg was tucked away behind the door in the bedroom. One night, along with an accomplice who shall remain nameless, this spare leg made its way to the open trunk of the Mustang. We secured the thigh portion under the spare tire, and tied down the lid, leaving the calf of the leg, fully dressed in shoe and sock, hanging out in plain sight. Then we doused it with ketchup and drove around town to see how long it would take for the police to stop us.

We were pulled over on Fifth Avenue around 18th Street in front of Marshall University. The policeman said he, “wasn’t amused” by our little prank and gave us a stern talk about distracting other drivers and scaring children who might see a bloody leg dangling from the trunk of a car. There was no ticket. We went home feeling very successful. We had some laughs, a brush with authority, no one got hurt, and we made a clean getaway. For a weekend night in Huntington, West Virginia in 1965, that was pretty exciting!

It wasn’t until the next week that I was confronted by my father. He had been away on business when we pulled off our escapade, but word of the run-in made it back through his friend, the sheriff. First Daddy scolded, then he smiled, and then he reminded me that I was living in a small town. I had forgotten my father’s strong connections around the community and the fact that in their eyes, I was the teenage girl driving “Ollie’s red  Mustang.”

1969 – Holding Laura at our Detroit apartment. My father bought me a Dodge Dart that spring. “I’m not having my granddaughter riding around in a car that isn’t safe for children.”

The Other Mustang – 1997

 

My husband Melvin has many wonderful qualities. One of those qualities is his ability to build, tear down, and rebuild automobiles. He took the shell of a 1965 Mustang he found in an old barn and recreated my first ride. He scoured the internet and sourced everything from the white pony seat covers to the push-button AM radio. It was our runaround sunshine car for ten years.

In 1998. Kathie Grant Catlin riding shotgun, and Sue Scott McKee giving her royal wave from the back seat. We met to capture some of that Mustang fever from our high school days.

Back in the days of the first Mustang, this was my theme song. 

I’m With Ya Sista

I was an only child. The good news….no sharing required. The bad news….no shelter from my mother’s storm, no partner in crime or close confidant. That’s why my high school years were so important. I found my tribe at Saint Joseph Central Catholic High. Our class of 68 students. The girls who would become my best friends and the boys who would taunt, ignore, flatter, and do all those things high school boys do. Never threatening, never menacing, just the best boys ever.

On Monday I will attend the funeral of one of those tribe members, Abby Moran Robinson. I’ll drive to Columbus, Ohio, for the service. But I won’t travel alone. I’ll meet another bestie, Kathie Grant Catlin, half way and we’ll travel together. Because that’s what we do. Share the load, offer support. Be family for one another.

That’s the way it is now with my classmates. Between the phone calls, the emails, Facebook, and the Yahoo group managed by Linda Kemper Daniels, classmate wrangler extraordinaire, we have a network that keeps us in touch. There are big reunions and mini-reunions, all designed to keep the connection strong.

 

Just Push Play was published in the Freckles to Wrinkles Anthology in 2006 . My mother and aunt never assembled a VCR, but I’m guessing if they had, it would have looked and sounded like this.

Aunt Pauline, Aunt Ceil, and mother, Anne. The three amigos.

Just Push Play

Sylvie wasn’t on the porch. It was Helen’s first clue that something was wrong. Half the fun of these weekly outings was whizzing around the corner at the last minute to find Sylvie pacing the length of the porch staring at her watch. Some days she’d be standing in the driveway ready to run to the curb. Sylvie would rather be late for Sunday Mass than late for Bingo.

Helen rolled up to the curb and honked, but there was no response.

“Probably dropped dead from a heart attack,” she muttered.           “Damn fool.”

She swung the big Buick into the driveway, rocking to a halt just short of Sylvie’s garage door.  She threw the strap of the portable oxygen tank over her shoulder and, with an arm stretched out to the fender for support, teetered around the car and up the sidewalk.

A blend of Aqua Net and Shalimar sifted through the front door screen to greet her. Helen looked inside to see Sylvie poised in front of the television, decked out in a lime green polyester pants suit that barely camouflaged her pear shape, and sporting a crisp new updo that showed off her Clairol blonde. She was talking to the TV screen in a heated conversation, making her point with a wagging finger edged with the shiny red of a fresh manicure.

“They’ll put you in the home if they catch you talking to the TV like that,” Helen said walking through the door.

Sylvie waved her sister inside with the other manicured hand, never taking her eyes from the screen. “Look who’s talking,” she shot back. “You hardly get around on those gimpy legs. If anyone’s bound for the home, it’s you.”

“Yeah, but I’d rather be crippled than crazy.”

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Tribal Gathering

10-16-girlfriends-1

It’s so good to be surrounded by my tribe! When we are together I feel a security blanket of friendship that only comes through a history of shared experiences. L to R, Mary Creamer Edeburn, Abby Moran Robinson, Ginger B. Rains Collins, Kathie Grant Caitlin.

Longest-time Friends

These are women I’ve known since we were children, when life washed over our unique spirit and imprinted on our brain, and then rolled around in a bowl of personal environment to form the values, and opinions that have driven our decisions over the years. These are friends who have known me for as long as I have known myself. They know my story down to the bone and never hesitate to call me out when they hear BS.

There is something unique about this kind of friendship. No matter how different you turn out to be as adults, that deep foundation from the 50s and 60s remains the same. It’s the touchstone to understanding.

What about your tribe of besties? I’d love to hear. Post a comment or submit a story. Talk to me!