What If?

cropped-img_01491.jpgWhat if? We ask ourselves that all the time, and so often it’s rhetorical, but seriously, what if?

What if you hadn’t met your spouse where and when you did? What if you hadn’t taken the leap and changed careers? What if you had been on that plane?  What if you hadn’t decided to move into a house across the street from your great-grandparents and given them and your children the best years of their lives?  What if you hadn’t told someone you loved them before it was too late?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the little decisions that we make every day that end up having a real impact on our lives. Sometimes we don’t see it right away; it might take years to realize how that one choice made all the difference. Sometimes, we never know the importance of our choices and how they affect our lives and others.

One advantage of being a writer is that I get to explore the “what ifs” and try out all of the possibilities.  I get to make all of the decisions and even change the outcome if I want to.  It’s easy to make a decision when writing a book that creates that opportunity for two people to meet and bond, or for a character to move to another country and start over, or for a person with a broken soul to find a way to mend.  But what about in real life? 

How often do you take a chance? Are you open to all life’s possibilities? What are you waiting for right now? Call that person you haven’t spoken to in years. Take the trip you’ve always dreamed of. Write the novel you’ve always wanted to write. Life is too short to look back and wonder, “what if?

Come join me in celebrating the release of Summer’s Squall!

Amy-FullPgAd

What I was writing about one year ago this week: Fiddling on the Roof.

Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me and Whispering Vines, are recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top three inspirational fiction books of 2015 and 2016. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Amy followed up her success with, Island of Miracles, which has outsold all of her other books worldwide and ranked as high 600 on Amazon. Her next children’s book, The Greatest Gift, is now available. Amy’s novel, Summer’s Squall, is on pre-sale and will be released on December 1, 2017.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor, Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschislerand at http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017)

Food Memories

I love food. I love eating food. Staying on Weight Watchers for the past eighteen months has been a Herculean effort because I don’t want to count my portions and limit my intake. I want to eat it all. I must say, I’ve become very good at the art of restraint–most of the time. But here we are, about to celebrate Thanksgiving, and I plan to throw caution to the wind and eat everything I love without guilt. I may have to work extra hard over the weekend, but how can I resist? After all, food holds such wonderful memories for me. 

crab cake
What a crab cake should look like

My grandfather was a waterman, which meant that fish, crabs, and oysters were a staple at every important family gathering. Crabs not in season? No problem; there were always soft crabs and crab cakes in the freezer. There isn’t a time, when I sit down to eat crabs, that I don’t think of my grandfather. And though my father was never a waterman, I think of him every time I eat my all-time favorite food, oysters. Absolutely nobody makes them as good as he does, though I’m trying to perfect his recipe. One recipe I perfected years ago was for my grandmother’s crab cakes. Never in my life have I ordered them in a restaurant. For those of you who have tasted only restaurant crab cakes, you have no idea what a bite of Heaven a real, no-filler, all-crab-meat crab cake is. Once you taste one, you’ll be spoiled for life.

Oh… baked pineapple. I can never eat this sweet side dish (who waits for dessert?) without thinking of my Godmother and how I wish we still lived close enough to see each other several times a year. I shared her recipe on here a few years back, and it’s worth checking out. It’s one of the foods that I can never get enough of, and I think it’s because it reminds me that not everyone who is family is related to you. Some are family out of love.

And that reminds me of my two best friends. Debbie makes the most mouth-watering bacon-wrapped chicken you’ve ever tasted, and Anne’s baked goods are so life-changing that I can’t choose one to highlight. Maybe the Texas Sheet Cake that she makes like nobody else does. Or the fudge puddles with creamy chocolate inside a peanut butter cookie creation. Or the brookies, Morgan and Jacob’s favorite, that none of us has been able to replicate. I’m getting hungry (and packing on the pounds) just thinking about them!

I guess the bottom line is that food isn’t just sustenance for our bodies. In some ways, it’s nourishment for our souls. It creates a connection, a memory, a return to a cherished place in time long ago. I can’t taste hot chocolate without remembering how my mother always, so lovingly, had it ready and waiting for us when we walked into the house on a bitterly cold day. My father remarked recently that bread pudding reminds him of his mother and the wonderful dessert she made, using day-old bread, when he was a boy. The smell of Southern Maryland stuffed ham takes me back to holidays with my extended family in St. Mary’s County and to my wedding. My father and grandmother spent days in the kitchen making the unique entree for our 300 guests. I really thought we had a picture of the two of them making it, but I guess that’s a photo that only exists in my mind, along with all of my other food memories.

23795327_10215685603399477_6724863610161699011_n
My dad’s stuffed ham, ready for Thanksgiving dinner.

They say you are what you eat, but I think it’s more like, we become who we are partly through the foods we eat and love. They help form attachments, create cherished memories, and serve as a reminder of the people we love and those we’ve lost. That’s why food and meal times often play an important role in my books. My novel, Whispering Vines, contains many recipes, some of them given to me by my friend, actress Bianca Roses, which her Italian immigrant grandmother was more than happy to share (thank you Nonna Nina).

So, on this Thanksgiving, I wish you all bon appétit. Enjoy every bite you take, and remember with fondness those loved ones whose recipes have been passed down through your family. Let this meal and this time together create memories that will last a lifetime. And have another helping of pumpkin pie for me. I’ll be limiting myself. Maybe.

IMG_2577.JPG
From our house to yours, Happy Thanksgiving!

What I was writing about one year ago this week: Putting the THANKS back in Thanksgiving.

Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me and Whispering Vines, are recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top three inspirational fiction books of 2015 and 2016. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Amy followed up her success with, Island of Miracles, which has outsold all of her other books worldwide and ranked as high 600 on Amazon. Her next children’s book, The Greatest Gift, is now available. Amy’s novel, Summer’s Squall, is on pre-sale and will be released on December 1, 2017.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor, Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschislerand at http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017)

Breaking The Rules

For anybody not involved in the world of publishing, you might be surprised to know just how many rules there are when it comes to writing and publishing books.

There are rules about the length of a book:

  • Historical novels must contain around 100,000 words.
  • Fantasy novels must contain more words than the Bible.
  • A cozy mystery can be short, but a regular mystery must be long.

There are rules about plotlines:

  • Particular publishers don’t allow time machines to be used for time travel. Obviously standing stones are permitted.
  • Mysteries should not contain the supernatural – those are two different genres. Hmmm. Wouldn’t the X Files qualify as mystery and supernatural?
  • Romance novels absolutely, positively, without question, must have a HEA – or for those not in the business, a “Happily ever after.” Never mind that Casablanca and Gone With the Wind are classified as romance….

There are rules about what writers are allowed to write:

  • Romance writers can write in any subgenre—mystery, suspense, paranormal, historical, etc., but general fiction writers in any of those categories aren’t supposed to have a lot of romance.
  • Authors should not bounce between genres. I guess nobody ever told that to mega-bestselling author, James Patterson.
  • Children’s writers should write for children only, and adult writers should write for adults only. Again, James is breaking the rules.

There are even rules about the specifics of writing.

  • Fiction writing can contain phrases or even single words as whole sentences. Wow. Interesting. Got it? And fiction writers can begin sentences with conjunctions. And end them with adverbs, usually. Or with prepositions.
  • The POV (point of view) must be held by only one person at a time. You’re either reading the book from the POV of the antagonist, the protagonist, or the narrator. And switching between more than three POVs is a death knell. Sorry, Maeve Binchey – all those awards you’ve won should be taken away.
  • And never, ever, switch back and forth between POVs. Did you get that, Nora Roberts?

And the rules go on and on and on. In fact, there are so many rules that it’s nearly impossible for an author to keep track of them all. Some authors live by and insist on following all rules. Others bend the rules, and others, like the ones mentioned above, just throw the rules out the window. Which is fine with me. Just fine. Because I hate rules. I hate rules as much as I hate labels

When I sit down to write, I just write. My characters dictate the action, and the actions dictate the genre. I don’t want to follow rules. I just want to tell a story, and if that story doesn’t quite fit in with whatever the rules are, who cares? As long as the story is good, isn’t that all that matters?

Unfortunately, it’s not. Every time I publish a book, I must choose a specific genre, and for romance, a subgenre. In order to belong to many writing associations, a writer must declare that she write books only tailored to a particular audience. I recently spoke with a blogger who was shocked that men actually read my books. “Aren’t you a romance writer?” he asked. Ugh! Why the label? Why can’t I just be a writer? Why can’t I just write fiction? I get that readers have propensities toward certain types of books, but more and more I’m hearing from people who simply like to read good books, regardless of the genre.

So, I’m just going to say it. I’m going to admit something that will cause many of my colleagues to cringe. I am a writer. Period. I write the way I want to write. My stories unfold in the way they are meant to unfold. I don’t set out to write romance, or mystery, or suspense. I set out to entertain. I’ve spoken with other writers who balk at this notion. “You can’t bounce around like James Patterson unless you are James Patterson,” I’ve been told. To which I ask, why not? I’m often told that readers simply won’t continue to read my books if I don’t stick to one genre and follow all the rules. I beg to differ. Perhaps I’m wrong about that. Perhaps I am driving the nails in my own coffin, but I don’t think so. My readers seem happy with my books, no matter what genre I am forced into, so I don’t plan on changing my attitude or my style. I just wish it was easier to get my books out there without having to tow the line.

If you are a writer, I’d like to hear your thoughts. How do you feel about genres and labels?

If you are a reader, I’d love to know what you think as well. What draws you toward a particular book or author?

As for me, I must be going. I have work to do on my next novel. I’m not sure yet what the final genre will be or what rules I might break, and I really don’t care. I think I’m in pretty good company on that. James, Nora, don’t you agree?

douglasmacarthur1-2x.jpg

What I was writing about one year ago this week: Finding Joy in the Most Unlikely Places.

Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me and Whispering Vines, are recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top three inspirational fiction books of 2015 and 2016. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Amy followed up her success with, Island of Miracles, which has outsold all of her other books worldwide and ranked as high 600 on Amazon. Her next children’s book, The Greatest Gift, is now available. Amy’s novel, Summer’s Squall, is on pre-sale and will be released on December 1, 2017.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor, Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschislerand at http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017)

There are no Strangers Here

“Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” 

Romans 15:7

Visiting Granny (23)Last spring, as we prepared for Katie’s graduation, reality started to sink in that Morgan soon would be the only child left at home. People began asking Morgan, “What will you do without Katie?” Morgan didn’t have an answer. She had never been without Katie, and theirs is a bond that I can’t imagine ever being broken. They have been best friends since the first time Katie held Morgan in her arms. Nobody can make each other laugh the way they can (and nobody can make each other cry or get angry the way they can either). So much time and thought was going into the many changes that were about to occur for Katie, and part of me worried about how Morgan would handle the changes in store for her.

Around Easter of last year, Morgan came home from school looking like a girl on a mission. “I’ve been thinking,” she began. Never a good opener in the mind of a parent. “Since I won’t have any sisters anymore after Katie leaves, can I get an exchange student?” After the initial shock of her words settled in, Ken and I laughed. “You will always have sisters,” I said, unsure whether I was happy she was secure in Katie’s leaving or sad that she could move on so easily. “Of course, I will,” Morgan said. “But I’m going to be lonely, and our school announced today that we’re hosting exchange students in the fall, and I was the first one to put my name down as being interested.”

Ken and I didn’t know quite how to answer. What would it be like to have a stranger living in our home, participating in our family time, experiencing the ups and downs we might go through during those months? Would we be able to communicate with and understand each other? What would her family be like? Would she complain about going to Mass every weekend? Would she protest our early-to-bed habits? Would she like my cooking, our dogs, their school? Would she get homesick and be inconsolable? Suffice it to say that, after some lengthy discussions with each other, Morgan, and the school, we decided to open our home and our hearts to a stranger. 

52994559510__9A63356C-201A-42B7-A66F-AB7F81E5EABF.jpeg
Morgan and Astrid meet for the first time.

In May, we received our packet with details about the young woman who would be living with us. Her name was Astrid, she was from Guatemala City, a Roman Catholic, and shared many of Morgan’s interests – tennis, music, books, school, shopping, etc. They were close in age, in the same grade, and had similar long-term goals. The one question left was, would the girls like each other and get along? We were given the date when they would be allowed to communicate, and Morgan set her phone to a countdown that rivaled in anticipation the New Year’s Eve ball in Time’s Square. “45 days until we can email Astrid,” “27 days until we can email Astrid,” “18 days until we can email Astrid.” The mantra continued all summer. Finally, the day came. As I sent an email to Astrid’s parents, Morgan sent one to Astrid. We heard back almost immediately, and a new friendship was born. Emails turned into texts and texts into SnapChats and SnapChatting into FaceTiming. The sound of laughter and squeals of delight could be heard emanating from Morgan’s room late into the night for the next month. A new countdown had begun, and we all anxiously awaited Astrid’s mid-October arrival.

Almost a month into Astrid’s all-too short eight-week stay, we’ve had our ups and downs. Morgan has gotten use to having a sister in the house all over again, both the good and the bad aspects, and Astrid has gotten used to a new room, new food, new school, and a whole new family. Sometimes they need their space, but they’ve learned that that’s okay. They’ve also learned new words and phrases (in both English and Spanish), new food preferences, and new cultural norms. The biggest thing they’ve learned is that none of us are very different. Astrid often remarks that something I do or say is just like something her mother does or says. The girls often talk about the “drama” of high school and how it is the same everywhere. And they both love my chicken and rice casserole.

IMG_0464.JPG
Strangers no more

With Astrid’s time here almost halfway over already, the girls have started talking about future visits. Morgan plans to spend at least two weeks, if not three, with Astrid’s family next summer. She would like to attend Astrid’s graduation next fall, and Astrid would like to come back here for Morgan’s graduation the following spring. We’ve talked about making plans for our families to get together and even about Astrid’s future plans to get her Master’s in the US, preferably somewhere close to us or to wherever Morgan is.

IMG_0492.JPG
Before the Homecoming dance

It seems strange now when we hear talk about “foreigners.” Americans seem to assume that everyone else in the world is so different from us, that we are somehow better, more cultured, smarter, more industrious, etc. Welcoming a stranger into our home only affirmed what Ken and I have taught our girls all along. We are all the same. We all have the same worries, fears, hopes, and joys. Teenage girls love to shop, paint their nails, and get dressed up for special occasions. And they worry about their futures, getting into universities, finding jobs, living on their own, meeting a spouse. Our world becomes smaller every day through invention, innovation, and determination.  Let us all open our hearts and homes to others and remember that we are all living similar lives and have the same needs and desires. Let us all believe that there are no strangers among us, only those who have yet to become our friends.

williambutleryeats1-2x

What I was writing about one year ago this week:  Saying Goodbye to Worry and Regret.

Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me and Whispering Vines, are recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top three inspirational fiction books of 2015 and 2016. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Amy followed up her success with, Island of Miracles, which has outsold all of her other books worldwide and ranked as high 600 on Amazon. Her next children’s book, The Greatest Gift, is now available. Amy’s novel, Summer’s Squall, is on pre-sale and will be released on December 1, 2017.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor, Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschislerand at http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017)

Saint Buck, Patron of Granddaughters

Granddad1It’s the beginning of November, which means that one thing will be constantly on my mind all week. Actually, one person – my grandfather. You see, November 1st is All Saints’ Day, the day we celebrate all the saints in Heaven. November 2nd is All Souls’ Day, the day we pray for all the souls not yet in Heaven. And November 3rd is what I like to think of as Saint Buck’s Day, that day when our family celebrates the birth of a man dedicated to his faith, his family, and his community.

In my book, Crabbing With Granddad, I describe my grandfather like this:

“He was a large man, tall and muscular. His skin was the color of an old copper penny from spending so much time outdoors – mornings in the boat and afternoons tending his field. He always wore a baseball cap to shield his bright blue eyes from the sun. The hat did little to keep his head cool from the blazing sun for he had thick, curly white hair that stood up a full inch above his rough face. His hands were hard and calloused, covered with the lines of a man who had worked hard all of his life. To me, they were the gentlest hands in the world.”

10-pics 5

I was eighteen when the world lost this great man. I was a freshman at a very prestigious private college a couple hours from my home where the drug culture was in full swing, and I was the only girl I knew who wasn’t the daughter of a prominent attorney, famous actor, or member of Congress. I was lost and lonely, living in a world I wanted no part of, and, though I graduated from one of the best public schools in the state, was woefully unprepared for college. To say I was struggling doesn’t begin to describe my life. By the middle of October, I was counting down to Thanksgiving and trying to figure out how to tell my parents that I wanted to give up my full scholarship and transfer schools.

I vividly remember that chilly day, the nineteenth of October. Autumn had arrived, and everyone was finally wearing their jeans, sweaters, and fashion boots. I attended my morning classes, ate lunch with my roommate, and went to my American Lit class, the class I dreaded the most (I won’t digress into what a terrible professor that man was). We were discussing Moby Dick, and it was all I could do to keep my eyes open (I learned early in my college career that I should never take a class right after lunch). As my professor droned on and on about the symbols in the novel, I suddenly had a moment of panic from out of nowhere. My heart began racing, my throat went dry, my hands started shaking. It was all I could do to hold back the tears as this feeling of dread washed over me. Though I had no reason to think anything was wrong, in my heart I knew. I’m not making this up, not exaggerating at all, I truly knew.

I left class in a daze and walked on autopilot to my job at the campus library. I had just started putting away a cart of books when my roommate and a good friend from high school walked into the library. I can still picture the scene in my mind as if it happened this morning. They entered the building, stopped, looked around, and both spotted me at the same time. I looked from one face to the other and began to cry.

“Your dad called,” my roommate said.

I nodded, “I know,” I told her. She looked surprised. After all, this was 1988. There were no cell phones, no laptops in every book bag, nothing but a pay phone at the end of our hall. “He’s gone, isn’t he?” I choked out the words.

“Your grandfather passed away about thirty minutes ago,” my friend, Greg, told me.

With confirmation that my fear was real, the tears began to flow uncontrollably. And that’s the last I remember of most of the next several weeks.

I’ve been told that over 400 people attended Granddad’s funeral, but I couldn’t tell you. I went through those following weeks enshrouded in a fog that would not lift. I rarely got out of bed, barely ate, and almost never went to class. I was drowning in a sea of despair the depths of which my friends and family never knew. I was certain I would never find the strength to break the surface and gasp for air. Between my misery at the school, the homesickness I couldn’t overcome, and the loss of the one person I loved more than any other person on earth, I had no desire to open my eyes and live. Today, everyone around me would have recognized that I had plunged into a deep depression, but that word was almost unheard of at the time, whispered behind closed doors and kept secret from everyone, for fear that it made one less of a person.

But Saint Buck knew just what I needed. He knew the main reason for the sadness that overwhelmed me. It wasn’t just that he was gone. It was that I was the only member of the entire family who wasn’t there to say goodbye. While everyone else was gathered around his bedside, I was three hours away, listening to the destruction of Ahab in his quest for the white whale. It was not just grief that had taken hold of my soul; it was guilt. And only the one person with whom I was most in sync could pull me out of my misery and force me back into the world of the living.

And so it was that, as I lay in my dorm room, about four or five weeks later, my grandfather stood beside my bed and told me to get up. Some may say I was dreaming. After all, I was doing nothing but sleeping twenty or so hours a day. Others might attribute it to a hallucination from lack of food and water. But I maintain that he was there, beside me, talking to me, telling me that I had a life to live. He told me that he knew what was wrong and that he had come to make it right. He told me that he had come so that I could say goodbye. Not so that he could say goodbye, but so that I could. As he always had, Granddad knew exactly what I needed. He never touched me, didn’t give me a hug, or lay his hand gently upon my shoulder as he had done so many times before. But he let me say goodbye, tell him I loved him and missed him, and ask him how I was supposed to go on without him.

“You have a whole life ahead of you,” he said, just as clear as anyone had ever spoken to me. “Now, by gawd, get out of this bed and start living it.”

With that, he was gone, and so was the weight that had been pulling me down. No longer in a daze, I rose from bed, feeling light on my feet but cognizant of everything around me. I walked down the hall and showered, went to the cafeteria for lunch, and even made it to my afternoon class. My grades recovered to the point where I was not embarrassed to show my face in class; and, over Thanksgiving, my parents agreed that I could transfer schools at the end of the year. I made it through the second semester by working hard in my classes, going on daily runs, and remembering the words of Saint Buck, “You have a whole life ahead of you…start living it.”

Granddad

What I was writing about one year ago this week: “In the End, Only Kindness Matters”.

Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me and Whispering Vines, are recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top three inspirational fiction books of 2015 and 2016. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Amy followed up her success with, Island of Miracles, which has outsold all of her other books worldwide and ranked as high 600 on Amazon. Her next children’s book, The Greatest Gift, is now available. Amy’s novel, Summer’s Squall, is on pre-sale and will be released on December 1, 2017.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor, Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschislerand at http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017)