Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Orphan

Warner Bros. new horror movie Orphan proclaims that it must be hard to love an adopted child as much as your own. Let me tell you about how an orphan changed my life...

My "fourth child" is not an orphan, exactly. Her biological parents -- who warred against their own personal demons -- could not take care of her the way this child -- any child -- deserved to be.

My husband and I started "sitting" for her when she was 2, when her mother wasn't getting child support, and was working long hours to put a roof over her head. Over the years, "Miss Priss" spent more and more time with us, becoming more a grandchild than just a little one we "took care of."

She calls us "MrsEya" (Miss E-ya ... For Miss Eva) and "Dennis-Daddy." She always has, mainly because that's what her mother calls us.

In 2005, realizing that her mother's demons had reared their ugly heads in such a way that they demanded to be reckoned with, we attempted to get "Mom" some help. We made a definitive ultimatum. In the process, the courts got involved and -- shock of all shocks -- awarded us temporary custody of this beautiful (then) 8-year-old.

For the next 2.5 years we fought an unsual court battle. I say we "fought." Actually God fought it. We just ran behind him waving our banners. At one point I organized over 100 people who volunteered to pray daily for our little girl, for those who worked within the courts, for the biological parents, for the family members. The mother's family worked diligently beside us to continue raising this precious vessel. We felt and feel as much a part of that family as if we were born of their blood.

Eventually the parents signed off on their rights and we were awarded permanent guardianship. Many of our friends -- who, like us, are now grandparents, enjoying all that comes with it-- thought we'd lost our minds. "What?" they said. "Why would you want to raise a child again? DON'T YOU REMEMBER THE TEEN YEARS???"

But nothing could change our minds. We knew -- in our hearts and spirits -- that God had brought us into this world, brought us together, brought us our own biological children, just so we could rear this child. This beautiful, wonderful, funny, adorable, loving child.

She is now nearly 12. She is the bright spot in our day. She is the "sister" to our children and the "daughter" of our home. She fills this house with love and laughter. And, sure, there are times when we have to discipline, speak firmly, guide and direct. But, I have to tell ya ... she takes it all in stride. She grows from it.

And she loves Jesus with her whole heart.

"When I talk about my parents," she told me recently, "I'm not talking about the two that brought me into the world. I'm talking about you and Dennis-Daddy." Then she paused. "They gave me life," she said. "But you gave me A life."

For us, she just makes life so much more FUN! So much more rewarding. Enriched.

Sometimes I think about what life would be like -- what freedoms I might have -- were Jordynn not our daughter. But then I think, "Are you kidding me??? I'd rather NOT get to do something and rear Jordynn than to GET to do something and NOT rear Jordynn." She's worth everything we've sacrificed. Every day. Every hour. Every minute.

Rearing her is one of the top 7 honors of my life:

1. Being a vessel chosen by God to relay his message.
2. Being the daughter of my parents, the sister of my brother.
3. Being the wife of my husband.
4. Being the stepmother to my two wonderful stepchildren.
5. Being the mother to my biological daughter.
6. Being a grandmother to my grandchildren.
7. (Oh, yes ... Lucky 7!) Being "MrsEya" to my "Punkin."

If you have the opportunity to bless the life of a child, do it! It won't cost you anything at all, believe me. Because, in the end, you'll get back SO much more. No horror story here!

Eva Marie Everson
Jordynn's MrsEya

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Going Home

Last week I "went back home."

My hometown of Sylvania, Georgia -- about an hour outside of the coastal sprawl of Savannah -- has managed to maintain or recapture so much charm from its earlier history. Many of the old stores remain, while a few of them have been renovated to become something entirely different.

The old pool hall is now an antique store, its main room -- narrow and long -- filled with mementos of bygone eras. The old appliance store, where my neighbor made his living, is now a gift shop/drug store. The old soda shop, where I ventured with my buddies in the afternoons after school for a BLT and Coke, is now an artist's gallery.

The town square boasts a fountain for sitting around, chatting, relaxing, contemplating. Just beyond it is a patch of grass where teens used to park on Friday and Saturday nights (just to hang out). Now crepe myrtles bloom and an American flag stands proudly guarding two Napoleon cannons from the Civil War (AKA The War of Northern Aggression). Just beyond the cannons stands the church I walked into week after week, Sunday after Sunday, Wednesday night after Wednesday night.

Of course, while visiting back home I went to church on Sunday. I parked the car on the far right side of the building, under the shade of some old trees. We climbed out -- my mother, brother, daughter, and I -- and walked toward the front of the Sunday school building. I looked at my feet, thinking about the number of times I'd stepped on this sidewalk, inching my way toward the House of the Lord. My eyes cut to the main parking lot and had a vague memory of jumping rope "right here" during VBS one summer and realizing I was pretty good at it.

My mother now stepped ahead of me. I focused on the 1/2 inch heels of her shoes and recalled the 3-inch spikes of her pumps "back in the day." For a moment she and my father were walking just in front of my little brother and me -- Daddy dressed in a dark suit and Mother in spikey shoes, a sleek dress, white gloves, and a small hat. I thought about the fact that it was these heart pictures taken in my childhood that formed my opinions about adulthood. And what proper Southern ladies wear to church.

Of course not too many women wear all that to church these days. I missed the boat by about 20 years.


The familiarity of "home" rushes back at the oddest times. Walking along the cracked sidewalk in front of some of the storefronts and remembering this person or that moment. Even in my mother's home -- the home of my childhood -- waking in the warmth of the summer's morning and having that "sense" of the same time of day during summer vacations from school. Lazy mornings. Stretching beneath yellow and green floral sheets, wiping the sleep from my eyes as I planned the whole live-long day. Watching "Concentration" or "Captain Kangeroo" on television while eating cereal swimming in whole milk. Getting dressed and then calling my best friend to see if she wanted to meet between our homes and, by that afternoon, going to the recreation department's olympic-size pool where we'd glide like eels under water for hours on end.

Not that I get to do that anymore, of course. None of it.

They say you can't go home again and maybe a part of that is true. But in some ways you can ... you really can. You just have to close your eyes and inhale a little. Breathe in a memory. Bask in the glow of what was and what could have been. Think, "You know, it really was a good life..." and mean it.

And it's nice if someone comes along and restores that which was beginning to crumble, the way the Downtown Development Authority of Sylvania has done.

Which leads me to another point ... about a cook book and some book signings.

But I'll write about those later.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Research, Research, Research/Location, Location, Location

There is an old saying in the world of real estate. It goes like this:

Location, location, location.

But what does it mean? Primarily, that the LOCATION of a property is vitally important to the buyer, therefore to the seller. It is repeated three times so as to be remembered.

We, those of us who call ourselves writers, use that same line. "Location, location, location."

Without location we know little about our characters. A girl growing up in the 1950s rural South will have a different characterization than one growing up in the new millenium, New York City. Or, New York State for that matter.

Location also becomes a character. People who have read Things Left Unspoken
and who have emailed me about the book's setting (Cottonwood, GA), have declared Cottonwood a character unto itself. This is because I worked hard as a writer to make it come to life through word pictures and through the characters who live there.

The same sentiment goes for Summit View, Colorado, which is where the Potluck Club books are set.

I am currently working on a new series, which has a working title of "Return to Cedar Key." Unlike most of my "locations," this one is real. The others are
based on real places, but are, in fact, fictious.

Cedar Key is located on the west coast of Florida, near the panhandle. I found it a few years ago, more or less by accident. A friend of mine, Janice Elsheimer, and I were looking for a place to "get away" and write. I lamented my problem to my hairdresser, who told me about Cedar Key. When I shared the idea with my friend, she said, "Let's load up!"

And so we did.

I fell in love with Cedar Key almost instantly. For one thing, in those days, once my car drove off the mainland and onto the island, cell service was nonexistent. If an emergency occurred, my family would have to call the hotel and ask for my room number. Otherwise, I was O U T. Don't call me, I'll call you. Maybe.

But there was more than just the being able to get away from it all. There were the sunrises on the east side of the island and the sunsets on the west. There was the incredible cuisine. The people -- easy going, laid back, good folk. There was the history. The boat rides through the Gulf and the marshlands, dolphins dancing behind us in the wake of water. There were the birds -- scores and scores of varieties of birds -- and the local artists with their crafts for sale. There was sitting out on the baloncy with Janice in the cool of the evening, watching the moon's reflection as it dipped and swayed on the ripples of the inky water.

And so I returned. Time and again, we returned. It was during one of these trips that I was flipping through a magazine. I stopped, drawn by an ad that featured five young women sitting together in a beach house, all wearing white. Four of them looked alike. One was markedly different.

I ripped the page from the magazine and showed it to Janice. "There's a story here," I said. And I went on to explain what I saw as a novelist.

In June 2009, Janice and I returned so that I could begin the research and development of my next novel series, currently called Return to Cedar Key.

It's about five women ... four who look alike and one who is markedly different.

I am going to ask you to join me on an exciting adventure. I am going to take you through the next six months of my journey as I write Book One of the Return to Cedar Key series. Join me, won't you? Invite your friends, too. I look forward to sharing this most marvelous gift with you ... of creating a world within a world and people who live within our imaginations.

What Inspired Things Left Unspoken

I've been asked a lot lately what inspired my new novel, Things Left Unspoken.

Rather than repeat myself (because, really, who has time for that?), I thought I'd direct you to the answer I gave to author Denise Hildreth when she asked that very same question for her blog/website: DeniseHildreth.com

It reads:

Well Eva, you know I love your new book. But I also loved your Potluck Club books too. You just make me laugh. But your new book, though it still has your charming wit, is a little more serious I think. Can you tell us how the story of “Things Left Unspoken” came to you?

I’d be happy to … when my great-uncle died, he left my great-aunt (they had no children) in the house she’d grown up in. She was unable to live alone so she came to live with my mother. My mother sold the house — now in a dying town — to a land developer who was going to restore not only the house, but the town. (It didn’t happen … ) Anyway, it snowed the day we buried Uncle Jimmy. Fleeting snow. Years later (about 10 years!) I was sitting on my back porch, rocking in one of the front porch rockers given to me from my great-grandparent’s estate. It was cold. February. Very gray. And I thought, “It snowed the day we buried Uncle Jimmy.”

I knew immediately I had written the first line of a novel. So, I ran inside and typed one sentence, then saved it. It snowed the day we buried Uncle Jim.

A few weeks later I wrote some more, then more, and then — as I thought about the restoration of the town that didn’t happen — a story formed. I wrote about five chapters and put it away. Some time later I was talking to my editor at Baker/Revell (Vicki Crumpton) and shared with her three ideas I had for a new line of Southern fiction. The story we now know as Things Left Unspoken was one of them …

The main character is on a search for herself in so many levels. You’re in those middle years of living, (can I say that without you writing me into the next book) do you find that you went through a season of self-discovery as well? And if so, when did that happen for you and what did it look like?

In part, this book had everything to do with my self-discovery, so to speak. I had been writing The Potluck Club books with Linda Evans Shepherd. These are great books, full of things that Christian women deal with. Though the subjects were deep, sometimes the approach to them was light. I’d been reading some deep fiction on my own and really wondering “what I wanted to be when I grew up” as a writer. I knew I was searching for deeper things. I wanted to write things that made a difference (not that TPC doesn’t!) and were more literary. Things Left Unspoken is my first stab at that.

There seem to be a lot of secrets that have been clung to with your characters. Any thoughts on why we can hold so tight to our stuff and cling to our secrets?

Because we are lied to. Call it the devil or your own self esteem issues … we hear the lies and we believe them. We think we are the only ones. Or that we are protecting someone, even putting ourselves at risk to do so. One of the characters — Stella — is holding on to more than one family secret. One, she thinks she is protecting someone she loves more than life itself. The other, the same … For Stella, it’s not about her, but about them. Then there’s the main character — JoLynn. Her secrets are so deeply engrained, even she doesn’t know what they are. She’s missed out on something she wants so desperately … so many things … but her silence will harm her spiritually and … in the end … maybe even physically!