Distinguished Alumni Award…

Tomorrow The Ghost and the Medium (Book 30 in the Haunting Danielle series) eBook hits the digital shelves—it’s also Lake Havasu High School’s graduation night. That’s where I graduated from high school, fifty years ago.

During tomorrow’s graduation ceremony they will be handing out the awards for this year’s recipients of LHHS Distinguished Alumni awards. There are two recipients this year, and I happen to be one of them.

This is the first time in over thirty years that I won’t be in Havasu during May. So, the speech I am supposed to give at tomorrow’s ceremony will have to be delivered by someone else. These days, I can’t travel without first arranging for someone to take care of my mother. At the moment, the only person I have to do that is my sister, who would have to fly up from California, and she is already doing that in July, so we can attend a family reunion for my husband’s side of the family. 

When deciding what photo to include with this post, I chose the photo that will be on the plaque for the award, along with one of my high school mementos—my letterman’s sweater. (Or is it letterperson????)

I attended Lake Havasu High School the first year it opened, when I was a sophomore. During my senior year I was a song leader aka pom. That was the year the London Bridge officially opened in Lake Havasu City. Our pom squad marched in the opening parade, which is why I have that patch on my sweater.

But what I was most involved in during high school was journalism. I was on the Knight Life (the school newspaper) staff for all three years, serving as Art Editor, and then Co-Editor during my senior year. It’s where my heart was—which explains the two pins from my membership in Quill and Scroll..

Yet looking back, I probably won’t be remembered by classmates as a pom or journalism geek. I suspect I will be remembered as the girl who drove a boat to school.

Since I can’t be there to deliver the speech personally, I thought I’d go ahead and post it here:

To the 2022 Graduating Class of Lake Havasu High School, the staff, students, fellow alumni, family, and friends here tonight…

This is probably the first time in the last thirty plus years that I haven’t been in Havasu during the month of May. Please do not interpret my absence as a sign I take this award lightly. I am both humbled and honored to be one of this year’s recipients of the Lake Havasu High School’s Distinguished Alumni Award. Thank you to the Alumni Selection Committee for this recognition.

Lake Havasu High School holds a special place in my heart. I was a member of its first sophomore class, and its third graduating class, in 1972.

To the graduating class of 2022, you are all standing where I was—fifty years ago. What advice might I pass on after a half century after high school graduation?

First, never let another person’s success make you feel like a failure. In fact, it should be just the opposite. See it as inspiration and validation of what is possible. And when you have a failure, learn from it. As an author, I see my failures as story fodder. For me, I often weave those back into a plot for one of my books. Even if you are not an author, your failures are valuable experiences. Spend them wisely to build a better future for yourself.

Whatever your dreams are in this moment, don’t be discouraged if you don’t obtain them in your designated timeframe. Life often gets in the way of what we have planned. Looking back over these last fifty years, I see my own life has taken numerous unexpected turns, sending me off course and down roads I had never anticipated traveling. 

Before I entered Lake Havasu High School in 1969, I knew what I wanted to be—an author. In fact, I had already written my first book. And while writing was always part of my life, it was forty years after high school graduation that I became a full-time author, and six years after that when I became a USA Today Bestselling Author.

It doesn’t matter how long you take to obtain your dream, what truly matters is that you enjoy your life along the way and keep mindful of what is most important—family and friends—and taking care of your health. That’s something many of us learn too late.

While it might sound like forty years is a long time to reach my dream—the sad part—those forty years went very fast. Too fast.

I imagine you would like this speech to go fast too, so I will leave you with my last suggestion. Whatever you choose to do in life, it is more fulfilling to enrich or bring something positive into another person’s life, as opposed to bringing them sadness or tears. I suspect the only career one should feel good about making another person cry is mine.

Congratulations to the 2022 Graduating class of Lake Havasu High School. Enjoy your next adventure and treat yourself with kindness, patience, and respect. 

How did I get here?

At the end of this year I go on Medicare—and the next year I start collecting Social Security. While I have my share of aches and pains, I don’t feel “elderly” or like a senior citizen. But I imagine if I went out and did something crazy and they wrote about me in the newspaper, they would probably toss in some adjective to let the readers know I was old—in their estimation.

I suppose in years I am considered old. But that’s not always a bad thing; age does have some perks. It gives us the experience to look back on life and reassess how we view things. One thing I have been reassessing—how did I get here?

Before I go on, I want to tell a story my husband tells. Before entering high school his school counselor asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up. Being just thirteen, he told her he had no idea. She did not receive the answer well and berated Don for not knowing what he wanted to do when he grew up.

We often laugh at that counselor’s naïve belief that people choose careers by thirteen—especially when we found ourselves—me in my late forties and him in his early fifties—trying to figure out (once again) what we wanted to do when we grew up.

Careers people settle in are often not about an early plan—it’s often about a deck of card they are handed and how they choose to play the deck. Some people follow their passions—while others seize opportunities they find along the way. And sometimes, it is a combination.

Early on I wanted to write fiction. As a child I loved making up stories. In sixth grade I wrote the class play. The summer of my freshman year in high school I wrote my first novel. And as a senior in high school, I was co-editor of our school newspaper. During college I wrote a screenplay, which I later adapted to a novel. 

My major in college was Communications, and before enrolling I decided to change my career path and tell stories through a camera instead of words. My emphasis was photography—a career I never seriously pursued after graduation.

Until about ten years ago, I might have considered myself one of those people who seized opportunities along the way, without some grand masterplan. My first job, beginning at age 13, was working for the Havasu Palms store, at my parents’ resort, something I did every summer throughout high school and college. 

I also did other side jobs during this time—canvasing for Westinghouse and selling Avon. After I got married I worked for a while at the water company my husband worked at—he basically got me the job. After that I substitute taught, before becoming a mother.

I opened a gift shop for a while when we moved to Wrightwood—big mistake. And then I went back to my first love—writing. But instead of fiction, something I didn’t think I could earn a living with, I started a community paper and wrote non-fiction—local articles on history and current events. 

I had the paper for over five years and then that deck of cards dealt me a hand I felt obligated to play. My husband and I moved with our children to Havasu to take over my parent’s resort when my father became ill. 

We managed Havasu Palms for over ten years, and when the lease was about to expire we opened our own restaurant. Like my gift shop years before, a mistake.

This takes us to the time my husband and I had to reinvent ourselves, me being in my late forties and him in his early fifties. While we both had college degrees, well-paying jobs were scarce in Havasu. And who wanted to hire us? Already that age thing was working against us.

To get by, we briefly substitute taught, but then got our real estate licenses and started a new chapter in our lives. It was a lot of fun, and we did relatively well, but had you asked me in college if I wanted to sell real estate, I would have laughed at the thought.

With the economy downturn of 2008 I left real estate—my husband remained—and I returned to my first love, writing.

I realize now, I have come full circle. I am exactly where I am meant to be.  Looking back, I understand the gift shop and the restaurant were things I was supposed to do—but not succeed at. They were life lessons, my story fodder for the career I had been training for all my life.

You see, during all those years, I still wrote. When my children were small and I was a stay at home mom I wrote short stories, a recipe book, and then a book of poems which I published years later—with the help of my daughter who illustrated the book for her senior project in art school (Motherhood).

I never stopped writing stories. When I had the gift shop I wrote a (never to be published) romance novel. When I managed Havasu Palms I wrote another romance novel (Coulson’s Lessons) and my first Havasu Palms book (Where the Road Ends, Havasu Palms Recipes and Remembrances.) 

Today I feel extremely blessed. I’m actually making a living doing something I sincerely love—something I have wanted to do since I was a small child. It took me a number of years to get here, but I have enjoyed the ride—even those times of extreme hardship and sorrow. As one of my writer friends, Suzie O’Connell, says, it’s all story fodder.

(Photo: Late 1980s Bobbi Holmes editor/publisher of Mountain/Hi-Desert Guide.)

Real Life Character Development

I suspect authors who write successful stories involving relationships tend to be people watchers or amateur phycologists—the kind of person who tries to figure out what factors shape people or as the cliché says, what makes them tick. Or what makes them tick in a certain way.

Our relationships with others shape who we are.  Take marriage for example. Two people get together and marry, and it’s a good bet that ten years later each person from that marriage will be a different person from who they were before they met their spouse—even if the marriage dissolves before the ten-year mark—different from how they might have been had they married someone else.

I can see it in my own children. I see ways my daughter is a slightly different person because of her relationship with our son-in-law, and the same is true of our son and his wife. I am sure their spouses have also changed, yet from my viewpoint it’s impossible to say how.

What we hope for is that the spouses complement each other—or bring out the best traits in their mate. Unfortunately, some couple combinations are toxic, and they bring out the worse in each other—like Bonnie and Clyde.

When young and in-love we don’t always see the potential for a toxic relationship—such as one that might turn abusive down the road—yet those signs are probably there.

When I dated one of my first boyfriends I remember him saying, “A girlfriend of my will never own her own car.”  I was about 14 at the time and remember thinking to myself, “Well, I guess we won’t be dating in two years when I get my license.” I didn’t argue with him or debate the subject. I simply kept quiet and figured when that time came, we would not be together anyway.

However, an older and wiser me realizes that was a major red flag. This was a person who wanted to control his girlfriend. Had I foolishly fallen hopelessly in love with him (or imagined I had as girls do at that age) could I have allowed him to shape me into a submissive version of myself?

There was another red flag in that relationship. I remember once he overheard a conversation I’d had with one of my parent’s friends. The friend had asked me about my plans for the future. I went on to tell how I was going to college and spoke of all the things I wanted to do—none of which included this boyfriend or any relationship for that matter.

Later, my boyfriend scolded me for what I had said, telling me I was too boastful—over confident. I will admit I felt embarrassed and asked myself, “Had I spoken out of turn? Spoken too freely of my dreams?”

Fortunately, we broke up by the end of that school year, and the next year I changed high schools.

Had I married someone like that, I suspect I would be a very different person today. Although, I would like to think I wouldn’t have stayed with a controlling man. Yet, can I really say that? Can anyone?  Other circumstances surrounding us at the time we come to that road might have more to say about the outcome or how we respond than what’s in our hearts.

I never thought about it when I was a young girl, but I do believe we should be diligent in our close relationships. We need to look for those red flags and avoid going down a road we may later regret.

The man I married is worlds apart from my first boyfriend.  I married a man whose ego does not require me to be less so he can feel like more. And for that, I am every day grateful.

The writer in me probably thinks about these things a little more than the non-writer, because I am always mindful of what shapes those characters chattering away in my head. But, it might be a good idea for teenagers to be more aware of those red flags in potential relationships. It might save them a world of heartache. Of course, that probably won’t happen, because teenagers—and adults alike—like to imagine they can change someone. Yet they forget, in the process they too change.