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Inspirational People: Meet Michelle Thompson

Copyrighted Image by Michelle Thompson

 

In my novel-in-progress, Sycamore Dawn, three characters find themselves at turning points in their lives. Michelle Thompson was at such a turning point when I first met her. She describes herself as "broken after her divorce," but the person I met was already actively regrouping and creating a new life after what had been a particularly difficult experience. Her handling of a difficult transition so inspired me that I often tell acquaintances about some of the tactics she employed. Now she has an opportunity to tell how she built a life in which she strives to create art and encourage others through her photography.

 

Michelle Thompson, in Her Own Words

 

I have to smile to myself a little when someone comments on one of my photos or cards and says how creative I am.  Growing up the youngest of three sisters, I admired my sisters' creativity. My oldest sister, Cristi, was talented with hair and makeup. She could make anyone look good.  She could have been an interior designer.  She could go to a thrift store, buy a few things, and make a simple home look beautiful. My other sister, Lisa, could draw anything.  Our dad, a minister, would sometimes ask her to draw something to illustrate one of his sermons. Her drawings were filled with great detail.  In addition to their other talents, they could both sing.

 

And then there was me… I could play any sport and ride my bike for miles and miles.  But as far as being creative, I was not blessed with one shred of creativity.

 

I always had an interest in photography.  However, we grew up without extra money for frivolous items, so I did not spend a lot of time dreaming of having a nice camera and learning to take pictures.

 

Michelle Strives to Realize Her Dream

 

Thankfully, my current husband, Ed, saw the value in capturing moments with our kids and from our trips. Ed purchased my first digital camera shortly after we were married. My son, Gene, was eight when Ed and I got married in December of 2002. Gene and I had lived in a rural farm community in Kansas, where we knew everyone, and everyone knew us. Marrying Ed meant moving ninety miles away to a larger community where neither of us knew a single soul.

 

I signed Gene up to play on a football team that was in its first year of existence. The coach asked for a volunteer to take pictures of the games and post the pictures on the team site. I volunteered. At the time, I had no experience of taking action shots. Thank goodness for the sport setting on digital cameras. From then on, whatever team Gene played on, I was out there taking pictures and sharing them on the team or school site. It was a great way to interact with the boys on Gene's team and to connect with the parents and coaches.

 

For a long time, I kept my digital camera set to auto. Sports mode was the only creative setting I would use. There were times when these two settings would fail me, and I didn't know why or what to do.  If the sun went down, and I was still on the football field trying to take pictures they would come out blurry, so I would just put my camera away. 

 

After we moved to Colorado in 2010, I began to take photography more seriously. We purchased a new digital camera that came with two lenses.  I was hungry to learn more and take more pleasing pictures. I had read good things about a correspondence photography course called The New York Institute of Photography. Ed and I decided it would be a good investment, so I signed up to take the course in the spring of 2012. It was a great experience, and I learned a great deal.  Eighteen months later I completed the course, received a diploma and was no longer only using two settings on my camera.

 

I still have much to learn. Every day, I read articles or watch videos on ways to sharpen my skills. I have a passion for capturing the beauty that is in this world. I have always wanted to do more than just take pictures. 

 

Taking First Steps to Build a Business

 

Through the years, I have bought and sent cards for all kinds of occasions or no occasion at all.  I decided to make homemade cards using my photos. I purchased cardstock at Staples actually meant for being printed to make invitations. I taped my photos on the front with double-stick tape and folded them over to make a card. I used the computer to print the appropriate message of Happy Birthday or Happy Anniversary. Thankfully, I finally discovered a company, Photographer's Edge, that specializes in beautiful cardstock specially made for inserting pictures.  I have made and sent hundreds of my own cards that I am proud to send. 

 

Finding a Purpose

 

I found an avenue for my photography to have a purpose. Creating cards is a way to share the beauty I see in this world. My goal is to inspire through uplifting words and pictures. There is so much heartache and darkness in this world that I want to be a point of light. 

 

While I love to take pictures of my kids, grandkids and my dog, my main focus is on taking pleasing photos of landscapes and wildlife. I get excited when I spot a moose, buck, bald eagle or a fox den. Going out before dawn and moving quietly is key to being able to spot wildlife.  I have come home empty handed, and I have made discoveries that I did not expect to find.

 

The summer of 2015, we experienced a rare phenomenon of wild yellow daises creating a carpet of yellow in the pastures in Colorado Springs. One evening my husband and I took a drive down the back roads just to take in the beauty. I took pictures of the flowers but unexpectedly came across five bucks relaxing in a field. I was sure when I got out of the car to get a better angle, they would run. To my great delight, they stayed put and let me take their picture with the sun setting behind them. It has become one of my favorite pictures. I even entered it into a contest for a calendar, and it was selected for the month of August.  

 

I love that in different seasons I can focus on different kinds of animals. In the winter is the best time to photograph bald eagles. In spring and through summer is the best time to photograph hummingbirds and look for the young of foxes, deer and elk.

 

I prepare for each season by studying the habits of the species that I would like to photograph in their natural habitat.  I find it interesting to learn which animals both parents participate in the raising of their young. As a photographer, it is a benefit to know that certain species of birds, such as barn owls, mate for life and return year after year to the same nesting place. 

 

I am thankful that the websites I use to create calendars are very user friendly. In the beginning, I made calendars as Christmas gifts to give to family and friends. After a couple of years, people started to request my calendars. I just needed to know if they want a desk calendar or what size wall calendar.  

 

Promoting my own work is the hardest thing for me to do. I love sharing my photos with people. My motivation for taking pictures is not to make money.  I give away more cards and enlarged pictures than I sell. It is not that I wouldn't like to go further with marketing; it is just uncomfortable and not something that I am good at.

 

I submit photos to contests and magazines from time to time. I have had some success, which is always fun. Some online contests post some of the contest submissions while the contest is still open for submissions. Sometimes I make the mistake of viewing the other photographers' submissions and judge that mine are not as good. I end up feeling discouraged. I'm learning it is best to look at the competing photos after I submit my photos.

 

I always regretted not going to college. I had this idea that if I had a degree, somehow that degree would give me amore meaningful identity. I used to feel bad that I did not have a career and was just a waitress. I like being known as a photographer. In the process of identifying as a photographer, I have learned a greater lesson. It is what I do with my photography that is important, not being known as a photographer. Photography is a tool in making the world a brighter and better place. In life, there are many tools to make the world a better place. If I were still a waitress, I could lift the spirits of people I come into contact with on a daily basis.

 

******

 

I met Michelle while she was still waitressing. She recently revealed that she now keeps encouraging cards with her at all times. When she and Ed go out to eat, she leaves a tip, but she leaves much more. She leaves an affirming card, personalizing it by writing the name of the person who waited on them on the envelope. That's the kind of person she is.

 

More inspirational images can be found on Michelle's Facebook Page. Cards and calendars can be ordered by messaging her or by contacting her at Michelle's Email Address.

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Inspirational People: Meet Jane Fox

When Jane Fox and I first knew each other, we were two new grandmothers who spent an inordinate amount of time discussing technical trading indicators and market theory. I was the one who loved the mathematically based market indicators. Jane loved the theory behind trading success. That love of market theory would remake Jane's life in a way that neither of us then suspected.

 

I worked with Jane at least a decade. We've never met person-to-person, but she is one of the most inspirational women in my life.

 

We worked remotely, writing and providing live market analysis for a website, me from my home in Texas and her from her home in another state. Between posting commentary, we fed our golden retrievers, coaxed visiting grandchildren to take naps, and put a load or two of clothing in the washing machine.

 

Jane sometimes admitted to being in the doldrums. She was dreaming of a bigger life, and she was about to make it happen.

 

Scaling New Heights

 

Jane wanted to conquer mountains. Literally. I remember her first comments that she was looking for other people who might be interested. She joined a hiking group and was soon posting photos of hikes to Mt. Adams, Camp Muir, Colchuk Lake, and Mt. St. Helens. One recent photo shows Jane perched on a massive rock high along a gorge at Oceanside, Oregon, her blonde hair pulled back and the sun full on her smiling face.

 

Jane was no longer stuck in the house, but she still felt stuck financially and in her career.

 

Facing New Challenges

 

Climbing actual mountains must have given Jane courage to climb another. Jane had long believed that emotions should be taken out of trading decisions. When you're an individual trading from home and putting tens of thousands of dollars on the line in a complex options trade, that's hard to do.

 

However, the big financial firms design programs to take all emotion out of trading. Why shouldn't she be able to do it, Jane thought, and do it for others, too? The fact that those big firms had big funds to develop those programs didn't seem to daunt her. At least, that didn't daunt her enough to stop her.

 

Jane had a whole new language to learn, and it was as complex as any language could be. Words such as "algorithm" and "quantifiable trading" soon peppered her conversations.

 

Jane was testing her theories. She educated herself well enough in quantitative analysis to know what questions to ask. She hired a quant to code the trading strategies she wanted and started to run the backtests. That required money. Sometimes paying for that help required breath-holding kind of money for a single woman not of independent means. She also would need a website. A business. A marketing plan.

 

Financial struggles, steep learning curves, and frustration had to be overcome. The process was a long one. Jane steeled herself to approach business people, risking being turned down. She bartered for services, offering percentages of the company she was forming for those willing to take a risk. She forced herself to produce podcasts and promotional videos, although she at first doubted her ability to do so. At some points in that journey, the difficulties proved almost insurmountable, as tough as an approach to a mountain summit that was too difficult for a new climber's skills. On her website, Jane notes if she had known how rigorous the process was going to be, she would probably "have abandoned the idea immediately."

 

I don't entirely believe that. In the years since Jane and I became friends, I saw a woman who had raised her children and had her first career, and who was determined to define what was next for her.

 

What's Next?

 

Jane wanted a bigger life, and she went out and grabbed it. Jane acknowledges that she may come to other turning points in her life. I'm sure she will draw from her perseverance and determination to make whatever decisions are required.

 

Not all of us would want the life Jane did. I didn't. While she was moving toward forming her own business, I was choosing a return to novel writing. I'm facing many hurdles and trying to educate myself on the changes in the publishing field since my 1990s books were published. I keep Jane in mind when that seems too high a mountain to climb.

 

Jane's business is QuantiTrader.  

Jane can be reached at her business email.

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And the Winner Is . . .

It's June 2! That means it's the day to draw the name of the winner of Keziah Frost's Getting Rid of Mabel. The winner was chosen at random from among those who left a comment under my blog post about Keziah Frost's first book, The Reluctant Fortune-Teller

 

With one exception, the entries were all from friends, neighbors, or relatives. That necessitated extra care that the choice was random. Visiting granddaughters helped to ensure the choice was a random one.

 

And the winner is Tricia! Tricia, let me know whether you'd prefer an e-book or a paperback copy!

 

Thank you for all who entered!

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Interview with Author Keziah Frost

On a recent Saturday morning in May, members of the Bastrop book club gathered at the Tough Cookie Bakery for our monthly meeting. We ordered cinnamon rolls, scones, and oatmeal before settling at a table. We would be discussing The Reluctant Fortune-Teller by Keziah Frost.

 

From the Good Fortune Café in the fictional town of Gibbons Corner, NY, author Keziah Frost graciously supplied answers to the questions we posed to her.

 

Frost holds Master's degrees in English and counseling, but has longed to write novels ever since her fifth-grade teacher told her she would. Mrs. Kean told her not to worry about her failing grades in math, because when she grew up, she would write books that would make people happy. She shares her life with five little dogs, one audacious cat, and her encouraging human family. The Reluctant Fortune-Teller is her first novel, and Getting Rid of Mabel is her second novel. 

 

Our book club members loved The Reluctant Fortune-Teller. Addressing Frost in a later Facebook comment, member Cheryl Cato said, "I'm always pleased when the characters are of a certain age . . . my age . . . and it's a real plus when I totally enjoy the book.  The Reluctant Fortune-Teller was a fun read, but it also addressed issues of people over the age of 65. It is difficult finding a new purpose in life, and your characters strive to do that as they support one another."

 

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:

 

Here's what book club members Yvonne Yeoman and I asked Keziah Frost about the novel and her writing process, along with her answers:

 

Question from Linda: Seventy-three-year-old Norbert Zelenka believes he's hiding his poverty from the members of "Carlotta's Club" with whom he takes art classes. He's wrong. We probably all know men and women over sixty who quietly live with food insecurity, forced to choose between paying for medications or buying food. This issue provides depth to a novel that can be read as a fun story or a deeper narrative, depending on the reader. What prompted you to choose this as Norbert's motivation?

 

Frost's Answer: Thank you for saying that The Reluctant Fortune-Teller "can be read as either a fun story or a deeper narrative." That's what I was going for! 

 

I am a therapist in my "day job." This means I think a lot about people's problems in general. I knew that in my story, I needed to see my protagonist act in a way he normally wouldn't. I needed to give him motivation to do something totally out of character. It would be no fun if he'd always dabbled in card reading and then made a second career out of it. For drama, I needed him to take a path that would be unnatural for him, and to see how he would handle it.

 

Question from Linda: At a pivotal moment early in the novel, Norbert believed "he was stepping away from one kind of life and into another."  That statement can apply equally to high-school students about to walk across the stage or a seventy-year-old sitting in a waiting room, waiting for results of his MRI. What audience did you envision for your book?

 

Frost's Answer: Rather than envision a typical reader (and I am still not sure who my typical reader is!), I followed the injunction to "write the book you would wish to find on the shelf." 

 

Question from the Yvonne Yeoman: What research did you do for this book?

 

Frost's Answer: Norbert has a life-threatening incident. I had to research how someone would attempt to save himself in such a harrowing situation!

 

Question from Yvonne Yeoman: How do you stay motivated to write?

 

Frost's Answer: Writing is my joy--the inventive, first-draft part of the writing. I don't need motivation. I hurry to my desk first thing in the morning. My characters talk to me in my head as I write and they surprise me. It's the best feeling. I will say that I find revisions hard work, though.

 

Keziah Frost is so motivated that she's written a second book, Getting Rid of Mabel. Cheryl Cato mentioned in her review that she's looking forward to reading Getting Rid of Mabel. She won't have long to wait, as its release is set for June 3. 

 

BOOK GIVEAWAY

 

I'm offering blog readers the opportunity win a copy of Getting Rid of Mabel in either e-book or paperback format. I'll choose one winner at random from among those readers leaving comments on this blog post.  Comments are moderated to filter out spam. Your comment won't appear immediately, but I'll be checking them at least once a day.  I'll choose the winner on June 2.

 

If you were having your fortune told, what question would you have for the fortune teller? 

 

Find Keziah Frost on the Internet:

 

Click on Frost's photo to be taken to her website or find it here.

 

She's on Facebook, too, as well as Instagram!

 

Keziah Frost invites you to subscribe to her newsletter so she can stay in touch with fans. 

 

The Reluctant Fortune-Teller and Getting Rid of Mabel can be ordered by your local bookstore!  Or, order one or both of them at Anderson's Bookshop.

 

After you've ordered a copy of one of Frost's books, or perhaps been the lucky winner of this giveaway, perhaps you'd like to visit the Tough Cookie Bakery to sit and read.  They're on Facebook, too. 

 

MOST OF ALL, REMEMBER TO LEAVE A COMMENT TO BE INCLUDED IN A DRAWING FOR A FREE COPY OF GETTING RID OF MABEL!

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Mother's Day Tribute

Engagement Photo

My mother died March 7, 1975, on her 45th birthday. She died a month before the arrival of my oldest daughter. 

 

Mother's death and my daughter's birth created a sharp before-and-after demarcation in my life. Before was when Mother was still alive. After, I had my baby to take up all my thoughts and provide motivation to move forward.  I loved to imagine what Mother would have thought of her, but I had no sad images in my mind of my declining mother holding my baby, connecting that before life with the after one.

 

In an odd way, that demarcation eased my grief. At least, I thought it did. 

 

I smiled when I remembered the way Mother would get the giggles at the most inappropriate times. One of those times was sitting in our accustomed pew at Seventh Street Baptist Church during the only communion service I could remember us celebrating. All of us were agog at the ceremony of it, a little unsure of what we were supposed to do. Just as the communion tray of purple grape juice was passed down our pew, a child in a nearby pew burped.

 

That burp in the midst of the solemn ceremony startled Mother into a fit of giggling. The harder she tried to stop, the more she giggled. We filled an entire pew with giggling people, with the possible exception of my brother Mike, who was the epitome of decorous behavior.  Mother was laughing about the burp just as the grape juice arrived. The rest of us were laughing at her helpless laughter.

 

I remember Mother singing. She sang "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess. I remember her laughing with her six siblings, especially her beloved younger sister. 

 

We had no money for entertainment, but she and Dad found entertainment on their own. Dad would put "Little Brown Jug" on the stereo and entice her into jitterbugging. Dad and Mom packed all four of us into the back seat and drove to Dryden's in downtown Groves to people watch. They gossiped about the people walking past the car, which infuriated me. Laughing at other people, even in the privacy of our car, scandalized me. 

 

Mother baked chocolate cake in the middle of the night, when she was guaranteed that she could eat in peace, drinking her coffee and perhaps reading. I learned to wake to the smell of chocolate baking. She sometimes let me, the oldest and probably the quietest, join her.  I'm still a chocoholic.

 

No, Mother was not always the sick and solemn version of herself, dealing with her impending death with as much faith and grace as she could muster. I remembered those earlier times, glad that I could recall for my younger siblings the real person she was before her cancer diagnosis, a person with quirks and foibles.

 

However, I sometimes wondered why I wasn't grieving as much as I thought I ought to be. Was I deficient in feeling somehow, too quick to relegate Mother to funny or wistful stories? I always consoled myself that it was just that clean demarcation that had made my adjustment easier. 

 

A second daughter followed our first. Two decades passed. My daughters grew into young women. I finally got my degree and started writing books.

 

It was about my third book, I think, when I made a startling realization. My female protagonists almost always had absent mothers, mothers not there mentally or physically. Sometimes, their mothers were depressed and unavailable.

 

Most often, their mothers had died.

 

Yes, Mother, I did feel your absence in my life. I kept writing your absence into my books. I'm still doing it. In the book I've just finished writing, both the protagonist and her stepdaughter have lost their mothers. I can't seem to write a present mother into my books.

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Family Secrets and Family History

Image of sycamore leaves by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay. 

 

In my novel-in-progress, Sycamore Dawn, Gloria Rodgers confronts family secrets. Those family secrets undo everything she thought she knew about her family and challenge the premise that has governed her writing life. 

 

In addition to writing, I study genetic genealogy.  Through DNA tests, many people uncover family secrets that also upend their lives.  Happily, family history sometimes reinforces our dreams for ourselves rather than tears them apart.  

 

In 1992, Aunt Laverne died in Louisiana. She was my mother's older sister. The funeral was the first family funeral I'd attended since my mother's, after she died on her 45th birthday.  I dreaded the emotional toll. Uncle Alton, a former band member turned pastor, was to preach her funeral. I imagined much weeping and gnashing of teeth. I should have known better. I'd listened to my uncles tell stories for my entire childhood, and they always ended in one of two manners.  Either the crowd erupted into uproarious laughter or my uncles leaped up to chase shrieking children around my grandparents' house.  

 

That funeral turned out to be vastly different from my mother's service. My uncle told hilarious stories about his older sister, stories that humanized my rather forbidding aunt of the elegant clothing, upright posture, and immaculate house. I understood more about my family history. I saw Aunt Laverne as the harried oldest daughter in a household of seven living children, a second mother to the youngest siblings.  As I listened to aunts, uncles, and many cousins laughing along with me, I realized something that I had always known but never formally acknowledged: my family history included a long list of storytellers.  I was surrounded by men, women and children who innately understood how to pace stories.  They knew when to pause for dramatic effect and when to lower their voices so that everyone leaned in, only to be surprised by something so funny or scary that they burst into simultaneous laughter or frightened shrieks.  I don't think I'd ever felt so at home with my mother's family or grateful to them for all I'd gained from listening to their stories.   

 

I'd just sold my first two young-adult thrillers at that time, but I was still struggling with the feeling that selling those books to publishers in the U.S. and Germany might somehow have been a fluke.  Sitting among those people at my aunt's funeral in Louisiana where generations of my family had settled, I decided that my having sold books wasn't a fluke and that I was on the right track.  The ability to tell scary stories was part of my anatomy and my family history.  Being the introvert I am, I transformed that oral storytelling family history into writing thrillers. I hope the ability to pace stories helps in my current book, too. It's a scary book, but there's nothing supernatural about it.  The story it tells is based on a real event, although the characters in the book are invented.

 

Has the discovery of a family secret or family history changed your life or your understanding of yourself?  

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