Gardenias and My Dad

12814310_10153259647097000_7132381373956898829_nI’m on the cusp of finally wrapping up a story of four little women and their life with the U.S. Navy…. through the eyes of their step-dad. Ironically, I used the gardenia bush that was not fictional, one I grew up with in my childhood and eventually into adulthood.

Even writing the scene of the totem gardenia bush in our backyard, I teared up and tried to suppress the lump in my throat. My writing coach, Shari Stauch, encouraged me to use it to layer each character’s life lesson. So, I did.

Being the fan of symbolism, serendipity or totems… pick your verbage… I decided to Google the gardenia. My step-father purchased a home in my senior year of high school. His green thumb was a gift to our back yard. He turned it into a Utopia for not only Mother Nature but the neighbors. We reaped from his vegetable garden to his infamous banana plants. Many birds bathed in the mists of his irrigation systems. But, among these endeavors— his wisdom to bring a scraggly gardenia bush to a thriving fragrant Spring gift paralleled with his presence in our lives.

He married my mom with four daughters in tow. He saw promise in each of us. He cultivated and groomed the soil of our souls. Looking back, I see the pruning and fertilization of a parent who led all of us into our futures. Resolve, resilience, and resourcefulness were active words. We always celebrated the fragrance of Daddy’s gardenia bush for decades. Now, I look back this New Year’s Day and realize that it was serendipitous… God’s nudge…. that we were blessed to have the wisdom of our step-father’s ability to cultivate the gardens in his life.

I pray we can all find the small messages in our life lessons that say…. stop and smell the gardenias.

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Facing Stage Fright: This Time with a Book Signing!

Authors Millie West and Kat VarnMy friend and author Millie West and I recently shared a table at the lovely McIntosh Book Shoppe for a two-day book signing in downtown Beaufort, SC — two days of talking up our books and meeting new readers during the Beaufort Water Festival.

The annual festival attracts hundreds of people including vendors and entertainers. When Millie invited me to join her July 20-21 for a book signing, I confess I felt the same pressure as my protagonist in Ameera Unveiled. Spotlight and stage fright. Despite being eager to attend, I couldn’t help those old feelings of nervousness and anxiety.

But obviously it was an opportunity not to be missed. I choked down my trepidation and headed 60 miles south from Charleston to Beaufort.

When I arrived, the staff at McIntosh were friendly and encouraging. Millie and I sat in typical southern summer heat with relief from a box fan. I was impressed with the ease Millie had in drawing pedestrians to the table. She promoted her two novels, The Cast Net and Catherine’s Cross, and I shared Ameera Unveiled.

At the end of the day, we had laughed, signed books, and found new connections with dozens of passersby. The stagefright was gone as I remembered that this is one of the wonderful things I love about being an author.

Kat Varn and Lara Forte

With my favorite character, Lara Forte!

As I rolled my suitcase back to the car after the long, but enjoyable event, I reflected on our two days. Just as Ameera emerged from her journey by being pushed into a spotlight, I left Beaufort with the same message as my book: Face those forbidden zones. Enjoy the power of female bonds. And never lose your sense of humor.

My sincere thanks to Millie and the McIntosh Book Shop for two special days of book signing in Beaufort!

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Freedom to Dance!

Kat-Varn-Gypsy-DanceDuring the afterglow of my belly dance troupe’s performance during the North Charleston Performing Arts Festival on April 29, 2016, my husband flashed a mobile picture of me. Normally, photos of me dancing make me a little nervous, but this time, the internal reaction for me? It was a money shot.

For those that know me or have read Ameera Unveiled, the journey to free myself to embrace the spotlight has come with many battles: The Battle of the muffin tops. The Battle of It’s-All-About-Me. The Battle of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood gap. Sound a little like a Civil War? It was and is! In any uprising to find freedom from oppression, sexism, racism or any other ism…. did freedom ever manifest without a rebellion? There is no such thing as free.

Not to digress, as I stared at my money shot on hubby’s phone, I couldn’t help but revisit my dance journey. The journey to find the Freedom to Dance. Part of my seasoning was mastering choreography, accepting my rank within Palmetto Oasis and stepping onto the battle field (the dreaded dance stage). In 2008, Private Ameera was drafted and participated in Operation Jamaica. She was assigned to gypsy duty under the leadership of Lt. Nasreen and Lt. Parvaneh. Eventually, the Jamaican performance looked tightly put together and sassy. But, I knew my part was rote and my joy was still stifled under the pressure to get it right.

Freedom-to-DanceHere I was, eight years later performing the same dance as a duo. Nasreen and Ameera were good friends and had served in the trenches. On April 29 as we dueled as sassy gypsy girls, I finally was able to surrender and abandon perfect choreography for the joy of dancing with my friend. After two and half minutes, we did our final pose and pranced off stage. To my surprise, my dance partner hugged me and planted a big kiss on my cheek in front of the audience.

Still staring at the shot, I realized that standing up to a life’s footprint that denied the Freedom to Dance, I’d finally won a battle. My performance was not relative to the term perfection. I surrendered perfection and embraced being an achiever of excellence—baby step by baby step. I could look at my hubby’s photo and realize that for the moment, I’d won the freedom to dance. His picture painted a thousand words to support my 400 word blog…

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Wind of Change – Staying True to You

I’ve started my parenting tale with two US Navy fathers raising four girls… just like a modern tale of Little Women. Although, Louisa May Alcott’s father was kept away because of Civil war injury, my tale is more complex.

Products of the mixed signals between Russia and America who economically survived the Great Wars, Korean and Cold Wars…. we dependents were at the mercy of little disclosure or access to our fathers’ duty stations. They defended treaties with allies and defended the right to use international waters without acts of violence. They were crowded on ships that shared and operated as one under pressure. Obedience to an oath to serve country… or among those who wanted to get out of subscription.

Little did I know how intricate this simple fact was for not only my parents… but those who blazed the trail behind them. Life’s one constant was change, some closer to global evidence of genocides, religious division and political agendas than we’d know as small children.

I was never raised to think color, race, or creed. I lived through and embraced the desegregation during my childhood in the South. I didn’t know how to make sense of assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther or Robert Kennedy. I lived between the fantasy of Disney and ignorance of political corruption. I was not aware of the egotistical agenda of the Berlin Wall. Vietnam was just a place my fathers went to work.

My innocence was cocooned by parents who were far from perfect. They just kept the lines of the messiness of adult life issues from us. Playing Cowboys and Indians in the woods was not offensive. As I used a stethoscope or pretended to give prescriptions to my siblings, no one worried I was headed to substance abuse. Being on the losing team at recess did not crush my self esteem. Sometimes you lose, sometimes you win. Pen pals used stationery and postal stamps. I waited and learned patience because there was no instant gratification.

I don’t think there is anything surrounding my five decades of life that is new to mankind. But, I still want to follow in my fathers’ footsteps. Never think the smallest kindness is futile. I don’t want to be discouraged by the magnitude of the descent of a country’s moral compass. I will not be afraid to face mindful weigh ins or challenging offensive lines. I aspire to respect someone’s opinion, hopefully being reciprocated the right to mine.

Change was more subtle during my lifetime. I guess I heard my dad’s Wind of Change subliminally and dreamed away. Looking back, I realize the enormous gift of these great adults. Do we leave that ability to dare to dream?

I can’t. I want to look behind and see my footprint carrying on the torch of hope given to me by a great legacy of ancestors.

Bride’s School: Yes, That was a Thing!

Some of you know, some of you don’t—I’m working on another story. A story inspired from my book coach (Shari Stauch of Where Writers Win) as I plowed through my first novel, Ameera Unveiled. She suggested I consider writing a modern Little Women tale on growing up as baby boomer Navy dependent.postcard (1)
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I Love Time Travel with a Tin Can Sailor

imagesAs an avid reader since my tiny hands could carry a book, the adventures created by authors such as Eleanor Cameron kept me turning pages and living in alternate realities. Building rocket ships in hidden caves off the beach, taking on the challenge of Gandolff and Frodo or just wanting to find and perfect The Secret Garden…

Now, as an aspiring storyteller, I look back in my mind and realize I’m constantly in a Time Machine… my life line. The memories have been created through the journey of being a Hall girl, finding stories in the souls of those that crossed paths, either through the pages of books or my family’s journeys.

Working on my second novel, I have had the privilege of riding in a Time Machine as I meet and listen to the tales of Tin Can Sailors. This is the happy result of researching for a new book based on fathers serving in the US Navy. This weekend was a particularly special one for me. I spent the weekend with a shipmate and his wife who served with my late step-father in the Vietnam War, aboard the USS L. F Mason. Continue reading

Up Close and Personal With a Few Favorite Authors

We all like to get “up close and personal” with our favorite authors, learning more about them and why they do what they do. This blog is a part of a virtual blog tour that is giving us the opportunity to do just that with people we know, and introducing us to people we might want to know. I was invited to participate in this tour by author and publishing CEO Terri Ann Leidich.

Terri Ann Leidich

Terri Ann Leidich

I met Terri through Shari Stauch of Where Writers Win and was thrilled when her publishing company, BQB Publishing, accepted my manuscript for Ameera Unveiled. We’ve shared our love of words ever since.

Terri isn’t just a publisher, though. She’s the author of three books: From a Grieving Mother’s Heart, For a Grieving Heart, and her debut novel, Family Inheritance, which will release in October, 2014. Terri lives in Christiansburg, Virginia with her husband and foodie, Glenn. I enjoyed sharing a bbq lunch with them after the Pubsmart Conference. I not only count Terri as a highly skilled and talented publisher, but someone that rejoices in my writing triumphs and helps me over speed bumps.

So here are the questions I’m required to answer as part of this unique blog tour, and then I’m going to introduce you to some amazing authors I think you’ll want to read…

a) What am I working on?
Ameera Unveiled
is launched and marketing takes a piece of my time. However, I’m now working to write a novel based on the lives of the adorable men of the Old Navy. My childhood was guided and molded by the global struggles, starting with the Cold War, in which my father(s) were Tin Can Sailors. Beside my own lifetime experiences as a Navy dependent, I’ve been embraced by many military veterans and entrusted with their memories. The confessions of Tin Can Sailors fill note cards scattered around my writing room. Hopefully, I can weave a tale that preserves a period of time with less technology but a complicated simplicity.

But, like Terri said in her post, I need to focus on capturing a second story. I’ll continue to absorb their stories, educate myself on historical facts as I attempt to create characters. Characters that hopefully represent a National Treasure– our Tin Can Sailors.

b) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I don’t feel worthy to compare myself to veteran authors of women’s fiction. My writing perspective tends to remain on challenging my writing style. I love to use humor in the face of personal growth. But, at the same time, I like to untangle facing the unknown with all the complications of being human. And that’s not limited to the genre of women’s fiction. Of course, my voice tends to reflect being part of the Baby Boomer era and personal spirituality. Each phase of my childhood did have a dose of innocence and naivete that is not as common for the past few generations. I tend to promote a moral compass and leave some subjects sacred. So, I guess I may be a bit of a dying romantic?

c) Why do I write what I do?
I love to observe people and the serendipity aspects to reaching one’s destiny. I am a fan of revealing the internal depths of my characters. I grew up surrounded by adults that were resilient in the face of hardships. Hardships that spanned disruptions in our economy to global aggression. I’d like to preserve the pride of generations to work and aspire to accomplish dreams. My childhood was filled with a freedom to roam neighborhoods, play kick ball in the street and explore undeveloped woodlands. I want to preserve the memory and experience from a less technically advanced world. Let’s still talk on the front porch, not from a text on a cell phone!

d) How does my writing process work?
I am blessed to have a writing coach, Shari Stauch, who never lets me get away with being too soft or frozen. However, my personality tends to love spontaneity rather than rigid outlines and schedules. I have a strong sixth sense for personal movement. So, if I’m pushed to research, interview and observe– I know it is going to pay off.

As Terri Leidich says, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Once I leave the starting gate, it seems to flow and develop page by page! Attempting to create Ameera Unveiled, I was encouraged to turn off my editor and just write. So, I did. Little did I know that we would cut and paste so many times when it was accepted by BQB Publishing. I loved my main character for a while– until I had edited with the whole crew that gets you to the finishing line. I was about to ask for a divorce! Or smack her around a bit and demand that she quit whining! But, the joy for me to share the deep and strong bonds of healthy women was worth it.

Thanks for the visit– feel free to ring the door bell and visit on the porch next time! Now, here are my blogger/author, recommendations – Enjoy!

Catherine Underhill Fitzpatrick

going on nine2I had the privilege to meet Catherine at an intimate book reading at a mutual friend’s home in Charleston, SC. She took us behind the scenes of her newest novel, Going on Nine. I resonated with so many of her memories. I purchased and devoured her book.

Catherine Underhill Fitzpatrick grew up in suburban St. Louis, the second of six children who ― like the heroine of Going on Nine― meandered through sultry summers unscheduled and unfettered. After graduating from the University Of Missouri School Of Journalism, she worked as a staff feature writer in Hannibal, St. Louis, and Milwaukee.

In September of 2001, Catherine was in Manhattan to cover New York Fashion Week for Wisconsin’s largest newspaper. At first word of the terrorist attacks, she rushed to Ground Zero and filed award-winning eyewitness reports. An account of her reportage that day is included with accounts of other reporters and photographers in Running Toward Danger (2002, Rowman & Littlefield). A front page of the newspaper edition containing one of her 9/11 dispatches is among those memorialized in Washington D.C.’s Newseum. Her book-length account of her harrowing experiences that week has been accessioned into the State Historical Society of Missouri archives.

going on nineGoing on Nine (Familius, 2014), a coming-of-age story set in 1956, is Catherine’s second novel set in St. Louis. A Matter of Happenstance (Plain View Press, 2010), her debut novel, is a four-generation family saga that explores the power of personal character over coincidence.

Catherine is a board member of the Chicago-area TallGrass Writers Guild. She and her husband, Dennis, have two grown daughters in Chicago. She and her husband live in Glenview, IL, and Bonita Springs, FL.

Deb Mangolt:

deb photoI was introduced to Deb at her book signing at a Charleston Barnes & Noble. Later, we bumped into each other and forged a deeper personal connection at the Pubsmart Writing Conference in Charleston, SC this past spring. She is a delightful and witty woman I look forward to running into or intentionally spending time with. She co-authored a girlfriend oriented platform book called Drink Wine and Giggle. I’m all about wine-ing!

As an Event Planner and Certified Professional Coach, Deb brings her positive attitude and bubbly personality to turn family reunions, corporate team-building drink wine coverevents and women’s retreats into memorable and intoxicating experiences that demonstrate the power of true compassion.

Deb’s former career in corporate finance has taken her across North America from Ohio to Tennessee to Toronto and finally to Charleston, South Carolina where she resides with her husband. A devoted hospice volunteer, member of the Charleston Center for Women, and an avid golfer and runner, Deb completed the Kiawah Island Marathon in less than five hours.

 Jackie Madden Haugh

jackieI met Jackie attending the Faulkner Words and Music Festival in New Orleans, LA in 2010. While in the infant stages of writing Ameera Unveiled, I was extremely moved by a situation while on vacation in Florence, Italy. I felt driven to preserve it and forwarded it to Shari Stauch. She pushed me to polish it and submit in the essay competition– it short listed. Needless to say, she pushed me to attend the conference that Fall… and I met Jackie. What a beautiful and resilient woman! I don’t get as much personal contact with her as I would like, but was thrilled to hug her at the Pubsmart Conference this past Spring.

Jackie Madden Haugh is a true native of California. Born in San Francisco, on December 31, 1952, to the son of Irish, Catholic immigrants, who fled the potato famine in the late 1800′s, and the daughter of silent movie actors, circa 1915 in Hollywood. Sandwiched between three boisterous brothers, life for Jackie in her youth was anything but calm and trying to have a voice amidst the rampant testosterone and alpha-male posturing was an impossible feat for her.

MichelleBookCover3-copyWith the gift of a small six-by-six diary on her tenth birthday, Jackie discovered the joy of journaling. Hiding in her room, pouring her heart and soul out on the blank pages not only gave her solace, but a friend who would listen to her thoughts, dreams and desires without any judgment.For the next forty-five years, she continued writing and in April, 2009, she self-published her first memoir, “My Life in a Tutu.” It started as a simple gift for her children, but instead morphed into something much larger. Word got out about this project in her small suburban town of Los Altos, California and to date she has sold several hundred copies there alone.

 Jackie still resides in the loving home where she raised her four adult children. She continues to work in her career as a real estate agent, but devotes her spare time to her writing and her love of teaching dance to children. Currently, she is working on her next project in her series of memoirs, “Tipsy in a Tutu.” It is the hilarious story of friendship between three single woman in a world of married people.

Tin Can Sailors – A National Treasure (Part II)

FatherDaughterDanceClip2It’s easy to live in the past, especially when it so colors the present. But, since I was privileged to be my father’s date at the recent 7th Annual Liberty Call Goose Creek Tin Can Sailor Reunion (April 11-12), I felt compelled to shift my view from that little girl in a military family, to an adult woman with new perceptions. I was blessed to meet and mingle with my father’s peers.

I learned so much by observing. The bond of these tin can sailors was a brotherhood from serving on a destroyer, always together in cramped quarters. I didn’t see the faces of senior men, I saw the boyish twinkle in their eyes as they reminisced about being bachelors, chasing girls and general cruise antics. I joined them touring the USS Laffey at Patriots Point climbing ladders to the Chiefs’ Quarters. I saw the enlisted berths and all the various spaces they were forced to share on rough or calm seas. I heard them relive so many stories that happened in the engine room or conditions when the boilers were cranked.

tin can sailor (2)The smell of grey paint and fuel recalled my childhood memory of Dependent’s Day. On Saturday morning, I even tried to get to the American Legion to partake in breakfast – shit on a shingle.

As a proud daughter of two career Naval fathers (my biological father, and later, my stepfather), I finally have a deeper appreciation of the jobs and duties and of these proud enlisted men. And this was all during a time of no internet, unlimited cell service, microwaves or hundreds of television channels. It seems unimaginable now, doesn’t it? We all relied on snail mail or family grams.

I’m in awe of their pride and passion for standing in the shoes of a Tin Can Sailor. If you know someone that served at that time, gather their stories! They are National Treasures.

Do you have a story about our parents’ generations? Please share it with your comment below!

Tin Can Sailors – A National Treasure (Part I)

Part I – From the eyes of a Tin Can Sailor’s Daughter

l_lzumus-navy-tin-can-sailor-1-inch-pinBeing raised in a Navy career family, I’ve developed a sense of duty and pride to shoulder responsibility. My childhood was a mix of consistent moving to new Naval bases but adorned with innocence and imagination. On weekends and during summers, I and my sisters were ordered outside to find something to do. We’d ask for a sheet and make tents across the clothesline along with our tea sets and play pots and pans and other role playing games. Continue reading

Dear Pen Pal

The Iconic Mailbox

I grew up in the days of pen pals. Looking back, the closest I got to social media were ads in the back of my comic books or Mad magazine. There were little postage stamp size ads with addresses to find a pen pal in another part of the country. I’d use loose leaf paper and start with “Dear Pen Pal… How are you? I am fine.” I probably asked what was their favorite television show, cartoon or share what book I was reading. I’d give them to my mother and she would show me how to address the envelope. I’d lick my stamp before depositing in the classic blue tin mailboxes. I can still hear the clunk of the door when I released it from tip toes. Ahhhh… the days of snail mail have been left behind by the internet energizer bunny! Continue reading