Smart Girls Read Romance

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

THE SECRET DOOR

By Ashley Kath-Bilsky

If you could go back in time and revisit a specific day or moment in your life, when would it be, and why? Would you try to change something you did, or a path you chose that led you to your present place and time? Perhaps you’d like to go back to have just one more conversation with someone you love – a mother, father, grandparent, spouse, or friend –someone who has passed on leaving you with so many unspoken words or unanswered questions?

There is no denying that I love history and the concept of time travel, or that both have played an important role in my desire to write historical fiction. Whether or not there is time travel in each of my novels, the period in which the story is set always provides me with that imaginary time travel experience, and I hope that the reader feels the same way.

But with Thanksgiving around the corner, and as the vibrant colors of autumn will soon fade and make way for winter, my thoughts turn not to a historical setting of a book, but to my lifetime.

Like many others, I reflect and count my blessings. I ponder the lessons I have learned, the stumbles I have made, and the dreams I still want to achieve. And, invariably, like a rising mist from a distant memory, I also think about loved ones, neighbors, teachers, and so many other people (most of whom died a long time ago), yet who continue to impact my life.

There was my pediatrician, Dr. Edwin Toddy, who cared for me since my birth and would come to our home with his black doctor’s bag whenever I was sick…which was often. I remember his concerned expression as he listened to my breathing, and the curious thump, thump, thump sound as he tapped my back to check for congestion. For every illness, big or small, this dear man treated me, and I’m sure all his patients, as if they were members of his family.

There was Mr. Sturgess, the retired policeman turned crossing guard who, whenever he saw me bundled up in a snowsuit and hardly able to walk, would smile, lift me up and carry me across the snowy streets safely to the schoolyard. He knew all the children by name, and he loved my mom’s fruitcake every Christmas. I see his smile now, as well as his somber expression when he told me I could not walk home on the opposite side of the street with a school friend because he knew I would eventually have to cross the street without his supervision to reach my home.

There was the school custodian whose kind face I remember, but whose name I cannot recall. Each Halloween he would open the school up and have apple cider and plain cake donuts for all the children out trick or treating.

There was an elderly couple who lived on our street. Like the custodian, their faces are imprinted in my heart but I don’t remember their names. They sat in rocking chairs and had two adorable cocker spaniels. With my mother’s permission, each afternoon when I was four years old, I would walk a few houses down to visit with them. I would sit and pet their dogs and wait for my older brother and sister to walk home from school. I can still remember the smell of yarn as the lady knitted and talked to me, while her husband read the paper and would chuckle softly at our conversation.

You might be asking yourself why I’m talking about these people now. Well, it’s because as a writer I recognize we are each products of our life experiences – good and bad. As a writer, I recognize the influence that people and events had not only on my growth as a person and my perception of the world, but in my approach to writing. Even the painful experiences, the mean girls who bullied you or pulled your hair as a child, the heartaches you suffered, the times you may have felt alone or as if you’ve been knocked down by life one time too many to ever stand upright again – all of these moments can not only help make you a stronger and more empathetic human being, but help a writer in their work, and in relating that work to a reader.

Years ago, as a student I first attempted to write a work of fiction. I doubted my ability or even what to write about. My professor said, “Write what you know.”

It is surprising how often life experiences inspire a writer. It may be a subtle nuance, help create a specific character, or even influence the plotline of the book.

Whether or not you write fiction or non-fiction, as a writer you want to connect with the reader on an emotional level. In romance novels, it is especially important that the characters resonate with a reader emotionally. The humanity of a novel’s characters, their flaws, strengths, fears and dreams, their struggles and hope for love, and the challenges or obstacles they face, will all combine to touch the heart of a reader, as well as entertain them.

“Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving.”~ W.T. Purkiser

Each of us has walked through many doors in our lives, doors that brought us home, into the local library, or the many classrooms where teachers worked diligently to teach us how to read, write, and learn about history, science, and the world around us. Doors of churches, synagogues, museums, concert halls. Doors that brought us to the bedside of a loved one in a hospital, or the room where our child was born.

We may not be able to actually go back in time and revisit moments and people from our lives, but the secret door I talked about above is inside each of us, in our hearts and memories. All you have to do is picture the moment in your mind, turn the key, open the door…and remember.

Thank you so much for stopping by today, and I hope each of us draws strength and comfort from the moments in our past that perhaps tested us, and the people who helped to guide our footsteps, our understanding, and ultimately contributed to the person we are today. May each of us continue to grow as caring human beings, to believe in love and happy endings, and appreciate the blessings in our lives today. In ways we may not even realize, we are all connected and we have the potential to help others find comfort and even hope from our actions each and every day.

Happy Thanksgiving. ~ AKB

18 comments:

  1. It's like the Secret Garden--places that give you strength and resurrection. Lovely post!

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  2. I might like to talk with my mother one more time. The last two decades of her life were not good, and although she had a memory problem, I'd ask her a few questions and hope I'd get a truthful answer. The reason I write so many childhood anecdotal tales that include my mother, is it's a kind of catharsis. She was two different people--the good mother when I was growing up, and the mother who changed into someone I barely recognized. Long story.
    Thanks for your thoughts and reminisces.

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    1. Celia, It is so difficult to see a parent lose so much of who they were to dementia. My mom had Alzheimers and it broke my heart, so I can understand your feelings. ((Hugs))

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  3. What a wonderful post. Because I believe you are a result of all the things, good an bad that happened to you, and I'm happy with my life, there is nothing I would change, other than spending more time with my Mother before she died. Unfortunately I was living in Germany at the time, and couldn't get back before she died. Tweeted.

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    1. Hi Ella - Thanks for your comment, and tweeting about the post. I'm like you, I would love the opportunity to spend more tine with my mom, or my grandparents who died when I was little. Just to ask questions about them and their thoughts. ((Hugs))

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  4. Ashley, what a lovely and moving post. There are many people I'd like to have more time with, and I often wonder if that's why I dream of them still belong alive and I've not know it all these years. My grandmother, mother and an aunt were the most influential women in my life. I'd like to have a weekend with each.

    I also love history and write time travels in historical settings. My favorite seems to be the old west. I guess one reason I like time travel so much is I can bend the outcome to meet my needs/demands.

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    1. Hi Linda - Thank you. I am so glad you like the post. When we were little, we don't understand how fast time goes by, or that the people in our lives won't always be there. Even as a young parent, time races on. Life can be so stressful, and hurried. I always tell parents of babies and young children to embrace every moment, and spend as much time as possible with your children. Sit down as a family and talk, and laugh. They grow up so fast, and there are no rewinds in life.

      I also do geneology and even dream about ancestors - which I guess sounds weird. I suppose it is all part of my love of history, family history, a longing to have known them, and interest in times long past. ((Hugs))

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  5. Another wonderful post, Ashley. There are many people with whom I'd like to speak again. I too love genealogy, as you know, and believe that meshes well with my love of history.

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    1. Thank you, Caroline. It is interesting how our love of history, of geneology, and the impression people in our childhood made on us all, in some way, inspire us as writers. ((Hugs))

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  6. What a warm and thought provoking post, Ashley. Scientists are sceptical about our ability to travel back in time, but I still have hope. If I could go back in time, I would just want to enjoy a family dinner one more time. Nothing special would have to happen, just the chatter and conversation of my parents and sister talking about ordinary things like what we would plant in the garden next year, how we spent our day or any topic that came about. I so miss those dinners and that quiet, comfortable conversation that usually followed.
    Terrific blog.

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    1. Thanks, Sarah. Oh, I would love to go back in time and (as you said) spend an evening with loved ones -- see their faces, hear their voices and laughter, and tell them how much I love them, especially my grandparents. :)

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  7. Very touching post, Ashley. As you say, there are times in my life I would like to relive and, in some cases, change. But none of us can really go back, not yet anyway. I think that's why we love to live vicariously in other times and places through the books we read and write. That's certainly true for me.

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    1. Hi Lyn - Thank you for your comment. It's true about living vicariously through our characters. They are very real to us, and having the control to deal with their demons and help them is a great bonus as a writer. In our lives we can only do so much, but as a writer we have no limits. Everyone gets what they deserve, especially happy endings:)

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  8. Wonderful post, Ashley! I do miss talking to my mother, who died four years ago, so it would be nice to go back and visit with her again. You are so right about the many people who shaped us as writers. I think all of our characters reflect a little bit of people we knew along the way

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    1. Thanks so much, Susan. I love giving certain characters traits from some dear people I have known along the way. And here is a secret. A character in Whisper in the Wind is modeled after two mean girls who bullied me and many others in school. Sort of an ode to karma ((hugs)).

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  9. Lovely post, Ashley. I would love to talk to my grand-father again. He passed when I was 13 and his death was the event that changed my life.

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  10. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting, Carole. ((Hugs)) I know what you mean. My grandfather died when I was 8, and my memories of him are so precious but few. My grandmother, too. It's strange though because I do feel their presence in my life quite strongly, so I think they watch over me.

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