Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A thought for the new year...

Although I gave up making resolutions years ago, I still look forward to the new year. I can't help wondering what it will bring.

When I was very young, it was the hope that this year I would meet the man of my dreams.

After the wedding, when our family failed to grow, it was the hope that this year the pregnancy test would turn out positive.

When the children arrived, my hopes were for their health and safety, and to meet the milestones of walking,  talking, and finally the first day of school.

When the children were older, I told myself that this year I would get the job/promotion/career path I wanted.

When the children (now adults) left home for jobs and families of their own, I wondered if this was the year we would be given a grandchild.

And even later, I hoped I would find in retirement the time to do all the things I didn't have time for when I was working and raising a family.

You see the trend. I hope for the good things, the positive, even when I know the coming year will be littered with the inevitable setbacks, failures and disappointments, and illnesses.

But I put this thought aside, shove it out of sight, refuse to consider any but the rosiest of futures. I think I am hardwired this way, or it's something in my DNA. This is going to be a good year.

I wait with eager anticipation for whatever is going to happen, to happen. It is like an unopened gift, the contents of which will be only gradually revealed, to be known fully only at the end.

I hope it is the same for you, and that the coming year will be filled with blessings and wonder.

Happy New Year!

 







Monday, December 23, 2013



                                      Wishing all of you

                              A very merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Little Pitchers and Christmas Traditions

I was reading a magazine article that suggested Christmas is a good time for families to sit around the table and share stories as a way of bringing generations together.

I was immediately catapulted into Christmas Past when our family did that very thing.

With caveats.

One Christmas (or more likely, a composite of Christmases, the details of each having merged into one memory), after dinner had been eaten, and the food and dishes cleared away, the adults sat around the table and talked. I say the adults, because children then were seen and not heard. The children were me, my sister and baby brother, and our cousins.

We had traveled by train to Mom's parents' house in upstate New York.  After breakfast on Christmas Eve morning we walked to our aunt and uncle's house, across town. It was so cold the snow squeaked when we trod on it and our breath froze in a mist in front of our faces.

We went to my aunt's because Grandma's house was too small to host the entire family and although I don't know for sure, she probably had to work. Grandma was a waitress and proud that she had a job in the Depression. I can see her now in her white uniform with a hankie peeking  out of the breast pocket. The hankie would be edged in pink or purple or yellow lace that she crocheted in what spare time she had.

But we did all get together that afternoon and evening. Grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles and cousins crowded around a table and shared a meal, after which the children were told to "go in the other room and play."

We pretended to obey, but our ears were cocked toward the kitchen where, after many cups of coffee and a few bottles of beer, the laughter grew louder and occasionally turned into guffaws as one tale after another was told: Do you remember when...?

This was how our family history was passed down -- unguarded stories and little pitchers with big ears.

Someone finally noticed it was getting late and the children needed to go to bed. We were once again bundled up to face the icy cold starting with leggings and adding jacket, galoshes, muffler, cap and mittens. We were so well padded we could have rolled down the hill to Grandma's, but we rode back  in someone's car (I have a fuzzy memory of riding with my sister in the rumble seat, but that was probably another occasion). The sky was clear with the glittering stars reflected in the ice crystals caught in the tree branches.

Once inside Grandma's kitchen, our outdoor clothing was removed in reverse order, by which time we were wide awake again. A bedtime snack of cocoa and cookies appeared. The goodies were not home made. Although our mother began her baking a month before Christmas, neither of my grandmothers had, to my knowledge, ever baked a cookie in her life. These were store-bought cookies from a tin, which were a treat to us because we didn't have store-bought at home.

Tucked in bed at last, we were given the conflicting orders to go right to sleep and to listen for Santa's sleigh.

I don't know if we'll sit around the table and tell family stories this holiday. I am pretty sure, however, that if we do the younger members will stay at the table and add their own.

Traditions aren't meant to be carved in stone.



 












Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Good advice

Writers get lots of advice. They get advice from other writers, from readers, from friends and family, from critique partners, beta readers, and sometimes from editors and agents (sent with rejection letters). We get advice from writers' magazines and blogs. We get advice from guest authors and agents at writing conferences and writers clubs. We get advice from countless books.

When I first started writing, I bought books by the score. At first they were craft books: how to write dialog,  plotting, and scene setting. Then I bought books that were focused on weaponry (in case I wrote a mystery) or the history of vehicles (what kind of carriage did an nineteenth century woman ride in?) or period fashion.

When I got nearer to my goal, I bought books that listed agents and publishers. These books also contained advice: how to write a query letter, how to write a synopsis,  how to format the manuscript.

Knowing the mechanics is good. If you can't spell and don't know when to start a new paragraph you are not going to attract anyone's attention except in a bad way. Knowing your facts is good. Readers pick up on mistakes and love to let you know about it.

I hope I have internalized all the advice I have read or heard over the years. After awhile it begins to blend together. That said, there are two pieces of advice I do try to follow.

One is to write every day. I do this, but not always on my work in progress.  I write two blogs every week. I write letters to family. I actually put them in an envelope and attach a stamp, because not everyone in my family owns or wants to own a computer. There are days when all I write is a grocery list. But I write something.

The other advice I heed is to be persistent. To keep writing even when I see no tangible results. To sit down and resume writing immediately after getting a rejection. To write when people ask when my next book will be out and I can't give them an answer because I haven't finished the current one yet and my others are either languishing on some editor's desk or have been filed away for future work and revision.

There are days when it is hard to follow either bit of wisdom. Days when my own best advice to myself is to give up and find a real job or a more fulfilling hobby.

Do other writers have days like this? And if so, how do you get over them?

Yeah, I know.

Sit down and write.







                                    


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

This year the phrase "Christmas will be here before you know it" has a special urgency. We just finished the leftover turkey for gosh sakes, and I need to be thinking about another holiday already?

I bought stamps today and thought it strange when the clerk asked me if I wanted Christmas stamps. I laughed, thinking he was jumping the season.

He wasn't.

I think the timing took everyone by surprise. The grandkids haven't a clue what they want. I needed to get their wish list yesterday, as the Amazon drone isn't ready to swoop down with my order  just yet.  So it will take the usual five days, not a half hour from order to delivery.

You'd think the rapidity in which the stores removed the turkeys and pumpkins from their decorations and put up tinsel and garland would have given me a clue. My argument is that they are always weeks early and one needn't pay any attention until closer to the actual date.

The problem is, we are closer to the actual date.

I don't know if I can do it. I'm used to having a week or so to ease into Christmas preparations. My mental clock isn't set for this.

I know I can't be the only one. Maybe we of the slow-reaction type can band together and declare Christmas will be observed January 1 this year. That way, since the kids will all have been up late the night before to welcome the New Year, they won't be waking us up at the crack of dawn to open their gifts.

Sounds good to me.
                                  

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Happiness is...

Here it is, two days before thanksgiving, it's raining and the temperature is in the 30's and I have to go grocery shopping.

Yes, we went two days ago and got the turkey and most of the other things we need, but since then I have made an additional list--twice as long--of the things I forgot the first time.

I'm not complaining. Well, maybe about the weather, but as Mark Twain (or Charles Dudley Warner, depending on your source) aptly observed, "Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it."

I'm happy because the stores are filled with food.

I'm happy because I can afford to buy it.

I'm happy because my family is going to share it.

Not everyone has access to well-stocked stores, and not everyone has enough money to buy what they need if they do. And some have no family to share it with, even if they met the first two criteria.

What makes this country great is how those who have reach out to those who have not.

One story that made me happy recently is the one about Coca Cola suspending its ad campaign in the Philippines this year, instead donating the money for typhoon relief.

I'm also selfishly happy they aren't suspending ads here. Sure would miss those Polar bears.

But if they did, I'd be okay with it.

I'm hoping in the midst of holiday preparations, shopping, visiting, and all the rest that goes along with it, we all take time to remember those for whom the holidays aren't quite
so happy. And maybe buy a few extra groceries and drop them off at the local food pantry.

Everyone should have a Happy Thanksgiving.

I hope you do.

.




Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Thanksgiving story

Have  you been enjoying these perfect fall days? I don't mean the cold and rainy ones, but the ones we've had recently with warm air, deep blue skies and the fading colors of the autumn trees.

Jim has been mulching the fallen leaves with his riding mower. I gathered enough of them before he started to mulch the hydrangea. The directions I got with the plant said to trim it down before cold weather and protect it. It's supposed to come up again in the spring. I hope so, because I darn near killed it this summer by putting it out in direct sunlight. Plants get sunburned, too.

The humming bird feeders need to come inside and get a thorough cleaning, and be put away until next year. I haven't seen the little birds in several weeks now, so I imagine they have gone to their winter home in Central America.

Luckily, we have Thanksgiving to look forward to before the chill of winter sets in. I'm hoping it will still be warm enough to take a walk after dinner. We'll have the grandkids (and parents) this year, which is always a treat -- especially when they offer to do the dishes!

Here's a link to a chapter from "The Lunch Club." Jane Ann has her entire family coming for Thanksgiving, and wonders if she can cope with Larry's increasing forgetfulness. More important, can she keep his memory lapses from their children?

If you enjoy the chapter, I am putting the Kindle version of the book out for just 99 cents November 28-30.
Happy Turkey Day!


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Percolating

A comment on my last blog said, "So you're percolating..."

That about sums it up. But now it's time to get to work.

I'm doing something different this time around. A devout "pantser*" I have converted to "plotter."

I am going to write my character sketches, outline my plot, set up conflicts, before I start writing. I even started a chapter-by-chapter outline.

This way, I can see where I'm going before I get too far off the path. Even if the pantser in me comes forward and teases me onto a side road, I can look at my outline and find my way back.

Another thing I need to do is set goals. I am a slow writer, as witness my books being some two years apart. People tend to forget you in two years.  A writer has to keep her name out there, building up a following.

So I need to write not only better, but faster. Maybe I'll take a page from the nanowrimo writers and try to churn out so many words a day.  In case you are unfamiliar with nanowrimo, it stands for National Novel Writing Month, which happens to be November. Across the country, writers are turning off their cell phones, hiding their iPads or Kindles (or Nooks), telling friends and family they are not available, and writing. Their goal is a 50,000-word competed manuscript by November 31.

I didn't enter, because I know my limitations. But I can also stretch myself. Limitations are meant to be exceeded, right?



*Someone who writes by the seat of her pants, like airplane pilots did before planes came with instruments.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

I'm back!

My "Fall Fever" left me this past week. I blame the drop in temperature and the gray skies. At any rate, I've gotten back to business.

The business at hand now is...deciding what to do next. Maybe my previous inertia had more to do with the fact that I finished "Riverbend" than the nice weather. I have sent it out to see what happens, which is a waiting game all writers are familiar with. No joke, some writers get a rejection slip years after they submitted a manuscript. The lucky ones can write back with the cheerful news that their book has been in print for some now, thank you very much.

No writer I know sits back and waits. The kind of inertia I experienced last week can wreck a career before it starts. Kristen Lamb blogged today that success comes only with hard work (which we know, or should know). She likens it to planting an orchard. No one plants a seed and expects a tree full of fruit the next day.

A writer is planting seeds every time she blogs, Tweets or leaves a post on Facebook. But, like the farmer, she should not expect her work to yield an instant crop...of readers, not peaches.

Until I read that, I was getting discouraged. The agent I pitched "Riverbend" to told me gently that historicals just aren't selling now.  The new big thing is erotica, which I won't touch. I'm not against it if that is what people enjoy, but I don't enjoy reading it and I don't think I would enjoy writing it. Or maybe I would, because I would be laughing at myself as I wrote.

I'm toying with an idea now, running it around in my brain, trying visualize the characters, wondering what kinds of stumbling blocks I put in their way as they journey toward their goals. And what are those goals? Do they even know, or do they think they want one thing when deep inside they really want another?

Yeah, I may look like I'm napping, but inside my head the wheels are turning, folks.

And, I'm still cultivating my orchard ( 3 trees full now!) I need only two more reviews for "Angels Unaware" before I can submit it to a newsletter that suggests titles to its readership. It's just another way to get it noticed, which is the hardest thing for a new writer to do. Unless she changes her name to Nora Roberts.

But I think that's unethical, if not illegal.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Fall Fever

Some people get spring fever. My dictionary defines this condition as "a listless, lazy, or restless feeling commonly associated with the beginning of spring."


I don't feel that way in the spring. Spring is for cleaning out closets and washing windows. Spring is for planting flowers.

I get that lazy, restless feeling in the fall.

I want to do something, but I don't know quite what. i start a book and put it down. I begin a letter, but I don't know what to day. I watch a TV show and switch channels halfway through, not caring how it ends.


I  admit that my writing has suffered. Plots swirl in my mind, but they don't make it to my fingers.  I daydream of making the NY Times best-seller list, but I can't force myself to Tweet and Blog and do all the other things I should be doing to promote my books. 

Maybe it's the weather: warm, with just a hint of chill in the air. Or the leaves turning scarlet, gold and purple, changing the landscape, telling me that summer is over and winter is on its way. 

This might well be the last nice day. Enjoy it. There will be time for work when it is cold and sleeting and the outdoors doesn't beckon. 

Maybe I'll go for a walk. 

Maybe I'll take a nap.

To paraphrase Mark Twain: "It's fall fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you've got it  you want--oh, you don't quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!"



Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A picture is worth an afternoon

I'm in between projects right now and taking a break. In a week or so, I will most likely be immersed in another book. But for the present, I am so not at my keyboard.

The other day I printed out a photo from my son's wedding (the wedding was beautiful, thank you, as was the bride). I needed a frame and began sorting through the hodge-podge that had accumulated on the bottom shelf of our bookcase.

I found plenty of frames, some with pictures in them and some empty. As it turned out, none were exactly what I wanted, but that's another story. What I did was spend a few hours sorting through the pictures and putting them in various albums. I have one (or two) for each grandchild, and several labeled simply "Family."

There were wedding albums, the small 4x6 ones that you used to get when the drug store developed a roll of film. (Remember rolls of film?) I smiled at the young couples looking so confidently at the future.

There were pictures of family members who are no longer with us. Those pictures also made me smile as I recalled their presence in my life.

I added the grandchildren's photos to their respective albums, noting how they had grown from gap-toothed first graders to teenagers. Yes, it has been awhile since I did more than look at the pictures and add them to the pile on the shelf.

I re-framed a few, finding the perfect frame for a picture of Mom standing among her prize peonies. And I selected some that had been face-down for years and gave them their deserved place on the now-cleared shelf.

But what to do with several years' worth of Christmas photo cards? I hate to throw them away, and they don't fit neatly in the sleeves of an album. Still, those happy smiling families are too precious to toss. I guess I am a sentimental fool, but I kept them.

I ended up with more than an organized bookcase. I had a lovely afternoon filled with memories.









Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Why I write

Why do you write?

I hear this question a lot, and so do many other writers. If not addressed to me personally, it comes up in forums, blogs, Tweets and other means of communication.


I don't think the question is so much as why I write, but why I create. Writing is the medium; I could as easily (if I had the talent) express myself in music or art.

I believe everyone is born with a creative gene or impulse or trait--whatever you want to call it. Sadly, that creativity is mostly squashed by the time we reach puberty. But that's a rant for another day.

Some of us persevere, much to the amazement and puzzlement of our friends and relations. Unless we achieve the success of a J.K. Rowling, our efforts seem meaningless. Why put so much time and energy into a project that at most becomes an expensive hobby?

My reply is that I don't believe anyone, even Ms. Rowling, starts out with the idea that they will make millions of dollars and retire early. If it happens, it is a side benefit received gratefully and humbly. We start out because that story, that vision, that haunting thread of melody, must be freed.

Why do I write?

I answered the question once by  saying, "To get the story out of my head."

I guess that's as good an answer as any.









Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Moving On

It is official. I have successfully converted my novel, "Angels Unaware," for CreateSpace and Kindle.

It is a leap of faith to self-publish a story that has been "out there" for two years, but with the demise of Draumr Publishing, I had the choice of undergoing the submission process again, which would make it unavailable until such time as I was accepted by a new publisher and the new book was ready (which could take up to to two years or more), or to get it back on the lists as soon as possible.

My oldest son, who is an accomplished desktop publisher, did my new cover. I think it is beautiful!

Now all I have to do is replace the old cover on my web site, Facebook, and anywhere else it is shown. I'm not sure what is going on with Amazon, as it is showing both covers, but I assume the old one will disappear in time.

Or not. The old cover of "I'd Rather Go to California" is still up with the notation that the book is no longer available. I don't know why they don't just delete it.

Now to do the same with "The Lunch Club." I'm about halfway through formatting it. I have an idea for the new cover, but with this rain, the picture I have in mind will have to wait for a sunnier day.

I'm sitting here drinking a cup of vanilla chai tea as I contemplate all that still needs to be done before I can move on to a new project.

Whew. maybe I'll just take a break and read awhile!




Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A universe at my feet

I don't have to go far to find wildlife. It's on my deck.

I went out to sit and enjoy my morning coffee and the newspaper the other day and saw a skink on my deck chair. These little lizards live around the house and one has taken up abode in the chairs stacked against the brick wall.

I chose another chair, only to find a tiny, green frog on the armrest. He clung to his perch with splayed toes and never moved as I slowly opened it. What he did do was change from bright green to a grayish-olive as he shut his eyes to a slit. I think he hoped I'd think he was dead, but the quick rise and fall of his belly betrayed him.

I turned my back and he disappeared.

These creatures are in addition to the family of sparrows that line up on the deck rail each morning and evening, awaiting their turn at the feeder; and the humming birds that dart around our heads, fearless and demanding. We have witnessed many a  "dog fight" from these tiny aerialists.

It reminded me that our yard is host to hundreds, if not thousands of tiny lives, going about their business as unaware of me as I am of them. I know they are there when I stop to listen, especially in the late afternoon or at night. The chorus of chirps, tweets, whirrs, chuffs, croaks, and whistles fills the air.

They don't know they are minute inhabitants of a world that is spinning around at tremendous speed while careening through an ever-expanding universe. And in that universe, I am as minute a figure as the denizens of my back yard.

It makes me both humble and exhilarated.

Humble at my small place in the world, and exhilarated to be a part of it.



 



Thursday, September 26, 2013

Marketing Pro

So I was mowing the front yard when a man in a pickup stopped and came up to me and offered to pressure-wash the house.

I directed him to my husband, who makes the upkeep decisions (left to me, the house would not have been painted in the 36 years we've lived in it).

Jim agreed the house needed it (he confided later he'd been dreading having to wash all the windows, which involves getting up on a ladder, which I DO NOT want him doing).

The house looks great, as the guy not only removed all the spider webs hanging off the shutters, but the dried ivy clinging to the bricks, and the green mold on the deck. And the price was right.

"I can cut that limb hanging down from that tree," he offered.

The limb, a souvenir of a wind storm, had been hanging like a widow-maker for a couple of years. We agreed on a price.

I went back to mowing. When I took a break, Jim had hired the guy to remove another tree, which was in a serious state of decay and threatening to fall on the house. He not only cut the tree down, he cut all the wood in fireplace lengths and stacked it neatly on the side of the yard.

After hacking off some other dead limbs and hauling them to the curb, he had one more offer to make. He had seen me struggling to start our lawnmower and sold us a new one.

When he finally left, after we promised to call him when we were ready to paint the trim, I turned to Jim and said, "Now THERE is a real pro! He saw a need, convinced us he was the one to fill it, and did a great job at a reasonable price."

I think I will hire him to market my books.




Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Why waste September on work?

These cooler September days are beguiling me away from my computer...

I just want to be outside on the deck intermittently reading and watching the birds and squirrels, and the leaves drifting down from the persimmon tree, which is always the first to shed them. It also sheds fruit, which lies fermenting on the grass, attracting butterflies and bees. Intoxicated butterflies and bees.

But no. I have too much to do these days. First and foremost on my list is preparing for the 6th annual Carolinas Writers Conference, coming in  April.

But, you may say, that's so far away! Why worry about it now?

A good question. The answer is, so we won't have a dozen pesky details popping up at the last minute that could have been taken care of ahead of time--because it's guaranteed there will be a dozen pesky details rearing their ugly heads at the last minute that we didn't think about ahead of time.

So lots of correspondence with presenters, drawing up contracts, etc.

Then there is the matter of the final edits on "Riverbend" before I begin submitting it to publishers, editors or agents. I am excited that this project is so near completion and I am already thinking about a sequel.

And, since getting my rights to "Angels Unaware" and "The Lunch Club" back from the now-defunct Draumr Publishing, I have decided to self-publish the books. So I am reformatting the pages to upload to CreateSpace. The books don't need editing, since they have already been edited, but I do need to look carefully at the formatting so that the paragraphs don't all run together. Thank  you, Ashantay Peters, for the tip on reading the ms. from back to front. You really do see errors better that way!

I am not trying to do all this at once. Multi-tasking means only that nothing gets the full attention it needs. I try to focus on one thing at a time...making sure there is enough time left to go out on the deck and sip a glass of wine while I read Ashantay's novel, "Death Stretch."

Aah, September.



Wednesday, September 11, 2013

From the ashes, grace

I have seen this question posted today on many sites: what were you doing September 11, 2001?

I was at work when  my husband called to tell me about the first airplane hitting the World Trade Center.

My boss and I turned on the radio. We couldn't believe what we were hearing. Later on, no one could believe what they were seeing as the television stations showed the dramatic scenes, over and over again. My mind became numb. I couldn't take in the horror, the sheer loss of life.

Time passes, and the too-vivid memories begin to fade, just a little. My question is, what stands out in your memory of that day?

For me, it is the telephone calls people in the towers or from the hijacked airplanes made when they realized they weren't coming home that day or any other.

What do you say to your loved ones when you know you are facing certain death? Knowing these are the last words they will ever hear from your lips?

Here is what some of them said:

“There’s a fire. I love you ... I don’t know if I’m going to be OK. I love you so much.”


“I just wanted to let you know I love you and I’m stuck in this building in New York. There’s lots of smoke and I just wanted you to know I love you always.”
"Please tell my children that I love them very much. I'm sorry, baby. I wish I could see your face again."
"Hopefully I'll talk to you again, but if not, have a good life. I know I'll see you again some day."
The only word I can think of is "grace." Incredible grace. Life-affirming grace in the midst of unbelievable horror.
I try not to remember the horror. I try to remember the people who, when facing death, thought first of their families and used their last moments to tell them one more time, that they were loved.








Tuesday, September 3, 2013

From Ridiculous to Sublime

We made it back from Atlanta safely, although I have to admit  my back is a little sore today. I tend to hunch over the steering wheel and grip it as though  I'm afraid someone is going to wrest it away from me. Six hours in that position tend to make for sore muscles.

But definitely worth the trip, if only to see how much more handsome and intelligent my grandsons have become since our last get-together.

I did get to see the Dragoncon parade, which was definitely --  different. People love to dress up, don't they! Some costumes were imaginative, some weird and some beautiful. I took pix, but mostly got backs of people's heads as we were about four or five rows back from the street. LOTS of people there!

On Sunday we went to the Martin Luther King Memorial (I posted some photos on Facebook if you want to see). Which explains the title of this post. It was very moving.

But in between! Saturday afternoon we went to the Decatur Book Festival, which was wall-to-wall authors. I particularly wanted to hear Robert Morgan, who launched his sequel to "Gap Creek" that weekend.

In his author talk and reading, he told us about thinking that Gap Creek's first print run would be it, never imagining the success it would become. He described getting a phone call from a fan who asked him if he would talk to her book club. First, he thought it might be a book club in North Carolina, where he is from.

"I'm up north," he started (he teaches at Cornell) when the caller said, "Oh, I'm up north, too. Chicago."

After a little more conversation, Morgan realized it was Oprah Winfrey. When he hung up and told his wife she'd never guess who he had been talking to, she said it was probably a friend, pulling a prank. But when the producer called to make travel arrangements, they became believers.

Morgan told his publisher about the upcoming appearance and thought maybe they ought to print a few more books.

"We need to have 600,000 copies in the stores the day after the program airs," he was told.

I wish him similar success for "The Road from Gap Creek." Yes, I stood in line to get a copy and have him autograph it. "I'm so thrilled to be here," I gushed.

He looked up and grinned. "I'm thrilled to be here, too," he said.

The book picks up Julie and Hank's story, narrated by their daughter, Annie. It covers Annie's growing up in the Great Depression and World War II. I heartily recommend it.

So that's what we did Labor Day Weekend. Lots of laughs, lots of love, and a real thrill to meet an author I admire.







Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Things I do I never let my kids do

I am sitting in front of my computer eating orange sherbet out of the carton.

I never let my kids do that. I do a lot to things now I didn't let them do. Like let the bed go unmade until bedtime, and why bother at that point? I leave my shoes under my chair in the living room and stumble around looking for them the next morning.

 Way back in the Dark Ages a woman went to college to earn her Mrs. Over half my class was engaged or married before we graduated. Unfortunately (for me), during those four years there was a paradigm shift, and women were now expected to Get a Job.

So I got married and got a job, both during the summer after graduation. But, I tried to keep a foot in both worlds. I bore and raised three sons, worked, and insisted that my house reflect the standards of a stay-at-home housewife.

My boys were swept into my delusion. They had to keep their rooms neat, were assigned chores (just as my  mother assigned weekend chores to my sister and me), and were regularly screamed at when things got out of place -- which happened often when they were teenagers.

My apologies to them here. And to my daughters-in-law, you are welcome. Some of it rubbed off and the boys turned out to be pretty decent partners, cooking meals and doing the laundry without beings asked. Even changing diapers.
  
 As for me, my interests have expanded beyond housekeeping and I don't have the time or inclination to have my floor so spotless you can eat off it. Who wants to eat off a floor, anyway?

I just hope the next time one of my sons visits, he won't say, "Mom, you can write your name  in the dust on this coffee table."






Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Books and wine and dragons, oh my!

I  know summer isn't over until mid-September, but it feels like autumn to me. The trees are dropping their leaves, the flowers looked more bedraggled than riotous, the cicadas are in chorus, and the hummingbirds are in a feeding frenzy, stoking up for their annual migration.

For many of us, fall is the start of the new year, not January 1. I think it's because of school starting then. For 12 years (or 16, or more) we consider each September a fresh start. New clothes, new books, new beginnings.

I'm looking forward to September after a long, lazy stay-at-home summer. I'm going to the AJC Decatur Book Festival. This is the biggest independent book sellers' festival in the country. I will have a really difficult time going over the schedule and selecting the presentations and workshops I want to attend.

That same weekend is the annual Dragon Con. My grandson has gone the last two years (that's him above as Dr. Who) and since his Dad has to sign him in, I will tag along and we will stay for the parade. It will be noisy, crowded and fun -- an experience for sure.

Later in September my sister and I plan to do another tour through North Carolina wine country. We did this last year and had such a great time we decided to repeat it, visiting old favorites and some new sites. A side tour to Seagrove to check out the pottery is also on the schedule.

So, my goal is to finish the Riverbend revision before September so I can gallivant with a free conscience.

Have any of you been to Dragon Con or the book festival? I'd love to hear what you think. Comments are always welcome.
  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Summer Bounty

Summer is not the best time to write. There are too many distractions, most of them out of doors. If you are a gardener, you know what I mean.

We didn't put in a garden this year. We planted flowers instead. But that doesn't mean we don't have a harvest. I've been picking and freezing blueberries for two weeks now. The freezer is full; I'm sick of picking. I surrendered yesterday and called some friends to come get the rest.

You can eat only so many blueberries. However, I have discovered they make wonderful smoothies. I mix the juice with some plain yogurt, a little sweetener and a dash of orange juice. I have a lot of blueberry juice as we canned it last year.

Now I'm working on the figs. For some reason, our tree has decided this is the year to produce. There are so many I am able to keep ahead of the rascals who grab them as soon as they're ripe. The rascals are wasps, birds, maybe opossums, maybe raccoons, maybe deer, I don't know. Never caught 'em in the act. I have been eating figs like candy and this morning I made some fake strawberry jam using mashed figs and strawberry gelatin.

I also have a recipe for fig preserves. I tried making them one year, turned my back on the pot for one second (I swear!) and they burned. Had to throw the whole mess out, including the pot. The trick is to stir while boiling. Have you ever noticed how long ten minutes is when you are standing over a hot stove stirring a spoon through hot, sticky fruit?

And the crab apple tree is loaded, also. I have made crab apple jelly before and plan to again. It's the best jelly for toast or biscuits, and also makes a darn good glaze for ham or pork chops.

So right now, I am gathering my harvest and preserving it for winter.

At which time, I will stay indoors and write.






Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A big thank you and you know who you are!

I am facing a pile of work, now that my allergy-induced hiatus is over. My editor friend, after painstakingly going over Riverbend sentence by sentence, has sent me his edits.

I appreciate his efforts more than he knows.

Now to take his comments, questions, and notes and apply them to the manuscript. This will be my fourth re-write or maybe the sixth or seventh. I've lost count.

Why is editing important, and why is it important to ask a professional to do it? I mean, I have published two books (five if you count the self-published ones), so I ought to know what I'm doing, right?

Wrong. For one thing, a writer doesn't always see her own errors. I look at the edited copy and wonder , "How in the world did I miss that? It's so obvious." But it wasn't to me. My eye skimmed right over the typo or misspelling or whatever.

And the story has been lingering in my mind for so long that I am positive I explained how the heroine got from A to B, or what happened here while this was going on there, or the little detail in her background that explains her reaction.

A good editor points out that no, the scene may be in your mind, but you failed to put it in the book.

My beta readers are also sending feedback. So far it has been positive, with few questions or comments. When they do mention a doubt, I take them seriously. One thing they like is for a character to act -- well, in character. The most frequent comment I get is, "I don't think he would do that." Or, "say that."

I don't know about you, but when I contemplate downloading a book (even if it's free) I check the reviews. If more than one person writes that the story was good, but she was turned off by the poor grammar, the typos or the formatting, I take a pass.

I don't want that to happen to me. If I send it to a publisher, I don't want to be rejected because of errors. And if I decide to self-publish, I need to be doubly certain that the book contains as few problem areas as possible.

So thanks to my editor friend and to my readers.

And now, to work.  






Thursday, August 1, 2013

Not on vacation

I know it's a rule (although I don't know who proposed it or who voted it into existence) that you need to blog a minimum of once a week.

I am two weeks and two days behind, and it isn't because I was on vacation.

Nope. I suffer from pride. I boasted a few weeks ago on Facebook that I had taken over mowing the front yard. For one thing, it helps Jim out -- we have BIG yard! -- and secondly, I discovered that mowing burns many calories.

What I forgot was a long-ago diagnosis that I am allergic to grass and mold.

The first time didn't bother me. the second time, I felt a little stuffy. The third time (and isn't that always the charm?) I was in full-blown allergic reaction.

After two weeks of sniffling, coughing sneezing and feeling generally miserable, I finally called the doctor and made an appointment. Her opinion was that with all the rain, mold was growing like -- a weed? -- and she had seen a number of patients with my symptoms.

Double whammy. Grass and mold. Who knew?

So that's why I haven't been doing any writing. Whatsoever.

It's my excuse and I'm sticking with it.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Detour!

I've been going through "Riverbend" looking for typos and such and guess what? I found a huge, glaring error that if let slide would have had hundreds of readers contacting me to let me know how wrong I was.

Ahem. That's if I get the book published and it actually garners hundreds of readers. However, I am optimistic. You have to be in this business or no one would ever write anything.

In the novel, I write about an attempted murder and a trial. The murder weapon is a saddle girth that the villain has cut so that it tears apart and throws the rider. I tell that there might have been a mistake when the villain mistook the son's saddle for the father's.

As I re-read it, I said to myself, "A nine-year-old boy would not be using an adult saddle on his pony."

For one thing, I doubt the pony would put up with it.

So I'm going through the story again to remove all references to the doubt about the intended victim.

Because I really don't want to get angry fan mail. (In which case, can it be called "fan" mail?)

Have you ever come across a glaring error in a book and been tempted to write the author and correct her? Or did you decide never to read another of her books?

Either way, I'm glad I caught this error. And if I have any more, I hope my beta readers will catch them before I begin sending the manuscript out. If an editor catches it, the chances are "Riverbend" will never see print.

Even optimism can't overcome carelessness.















Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Almost there

I wrote awhile back that I was considering shortening my novel, "Riverbend," to make it more commercial.

Didn't work.

As I got into it, I  realized what I needed to do was dig deeper into the characters, their hopes and dreams, their failures and hard-won victories.

As a result, I added several thousand words. And I'm not finished.

But oh, so close. It's taking awhile because it is emotionally exhausting getting into a character's head. Seriously. I write a scene and when it is done I have to leave the story and think about something else for awhile.

I get mad at the characters for their foolish decisions and want to do a happy dance when they finally get it right.

Then there are the literary "rules" I have to follow. What is the plot? The character arc?

Most writers have this sorted out before they write the first word. I'm a "pantser." (The term evolved from early airplane pilots didn't have instruments and had to fly "by the seat of their pants.")

There is a plot, of course, or there wouldn't be a story. Lonely wife, a seducer on the prowl, a deranged and jealous rival, and the rigid rules of society that rule them all.

Or are those the characters? It gets complicated.

Love is the key. Love that ennobles and love that destroys.

A woman discovers her deepest desire is not what she thought.

A man finds redemption in sacrifice. (And he is not the hero.)

I made a pledge to finish the book by the end of this month. It looks like I might make it, but it will be like coming back from a long journey, leaving new friends behind.

Bittersweet.








Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Best camping trip ever

Rain, rain, go away!

The yard is a bog, the creek has risen, the flowers are limp, and spirits are low.

Summer is the time for outdoor fun, not pressing your face to the win
dow and wishing for a rainbow.

All this rain reminds me of the time I took the three boys camping in Delaware. It was a really nice camp, with lots of activities for the children, walking trails, and all the things a good campsite should have.

Unfortunately, it rained all week. My one week of vacation, which I  had paid good money for, and all it did was rain.

Was the trip a washout? Heck, no.

The counselors carried on with their games. The kids made ponchos from garbage bags, shucked their shoes off, and played along.

I rigged up an awning from a sheet of plastic and some clothes line so we could sit outside. We had a very small, Swedish camper that barely had room for me and the boys to stretch out at night, so we had to cook, eat and sit outside. Which we did, to the pleasant accompaniment of rain hitting our makeshift "roof."

My sister and her family had the site next to mine. We got together and made endless cups of hot tea and read our books around the campfire. Her husband napped. I was a single mom at the time, so entertaining another adult was nor something I had to worry about.

It was a great trip and we had a great time. Toward the end of the week the clouds dispersed and the sun came out.

By that time, it really didn't matter. We had learned to work with the weather instead of fighting it or complaining. When I mention it now, the boys (now with children older than they were at the time) tell me they don't remember the rain, just the fun they had.










Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Our crafty animal neighbors



I had been wondering for over a week why the hummingbird feeder is always empty and yet I never saw any hummingbirds around.

I discovered the reason while looking out the deck doors one morning. A squirrel hung upside-down on the feeder and jumped off when I slid open the door. Aha! I knew he was the culprit! But how did he get at the nectar?A teeny-tiny straw?

No, the crafty squirrel  had learned that by tipping the feeder, he could lap up the nectar as fast as his little tongue could lap.

I am not sure how to get around this except lying in wait and jumping out and yelling "Cut that out!" every time he comes near. Who has time for that? So I guess he wins.

I don't know who the thief is that steals my figs every summer. Year after year, the lush harvest disappears just as it gets ripe. Overnight. Every single fig.

We have guessed possums and raccoons. Seeing a deer in our back yard one evening, Jim opined that a deer could stand on its hind feet and reach the figs. Do deer eat figs? We don't know. Besides, he said thoughtfully, some of the figs are too high for even a deer to reach. Unless they used a ladder.

Could be a giraffe, I said. Stranger things have happened.

But I don't think we'll ever know unless we sit up all night waiting for the thief to appear.

Which I might just do, because dang it! it looks like we will have a bumper crop this year. I don't mind sharing, but I would dearly love to have just a few.

Hmmm ... I wonder if squirrels eat figs?










Wednesday, June 19, 2013

'Fraidy Cat

It's time to renew my driver's license.

I don't know why, but every time I get that notice in the mail, I get a panicky feeling. It's ridiculous. I've passed the test in three states and have been driving for -- well, never mind how many years.

And yet I'm terrified I will get there and forget everything I ever knew. The last time I was stuck on identifying the round sign. I sat there until the examiner said softly, "Choo-choo-choo..."

"Railroad crossing!" I yelled.

I passed.

Yesterday I was all ready to go. I drove to the license office and went in. Wall to wall people. I left.

I called this morning for an appointment and couldn't get one until two days before my license expired. The examiner told me to come in next week, suggesting a time when they didn't have as many applicants. So I will have to "gird my loins" (whatever that means) and trek back up there.

Is there a routine blip in your road that makes you frantic? For some, it's the annual mammogram. For others, the annual performance review.

We all have fears. Some are rational, some are not. But we face them anyway, to ensure our health, our careers, or just that we can get to the mall, church, and library.

And when we do face our fears and conquer them, don't we feel good about ourselves! Mental high fives all around.

Until next time.






Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Trippin'

I took a break from writing the past few days to organize the grandkids' photos in an album. What a trip down memory lane! Were those tall, gangly teens once so tiny? It was like watching them grow again, but in fast forward.

I felt more than nostalgia when I looked at the pictures of my mother with her great-grands. She was so proud of them all. She knitted the oldest boy's baptismal robe and cap, a feat at her age and with her arthritis. She also made them all Pooh bears. That woman kitted and sewed up until her passing, even half blind and crippled. She was the poster child for determination and the will to keep going.

I decided to make an album because most of my photos, starting with the advent of digital cameras, are in random digital folders, some on my external hard drive, some on my computer and more on a flash drive.

 It took hours searching through them for a picture I knew I had taken. But, like my mother, I can persevere when I have a goal in mind -- in this case the ability to show a friend a photo without saying, "Wait a minute...maybe it's in this file..." or carrying my computer around with me.

I had a scare yesterday when the power went out just long enough for everything to shut down. Was I going to lose everything at the halfway point? I was so discouraged I walked away. Then, this morning, I went back to the site and lo! they had automatically saved my album for me. I was a happy camper.

Isn't that just like writing? Searching for that scrap of paper on which you scribbled down an idea while waiting for the light to change -- hunting for that chapter you inadvertently filed in the wrong directory -- and. worst of all, losing it altogether because you were so deep into the creative process you forgot to hit "save" before the storm you didn't notice approaching shut down the power?

As Mom would have said, "You knew better!"







Wednesday, June 5, 2013

At a crossroad

I need to make a decision.

What it comes down to is 1) keep working on "Riverbend" and make it a great historical novel or 2) shorten the novel and make it a historical romance.

There is a difference.  If I keep to the longer length (90,000 word or thereabouts) I can add more description, backstory, and character development.

If I shorten it (50,000 words) I have a better chance of getting published. I just have to think like a poet and give my descriptions and backstories with more concise and vivid scenes. Making one sentence draw the picture instead of a paragraph; one word instead of a sentence.

So - is my heart's desire to write an epic that may never be published or write a story I can share with readers?

The cold facts are that I have a chance in a million of getting the longer novel published. I could self-publish, but without a strong following, I don't see it selling more than a few copies to friends and family.

I learned from an editor at a recent workshop that digital publishing is the wave of the future. More and more people have e-readers and want to download books they can read in an evening or on a commute (hence the shorter word length). The good news is that there are millions of readers looking for books. Maybe even mine.

So I now face the chore of chopping whole paragraphs, maybe even chapters. Some of my favorite scenes must go. And I must introduce the hero in the second chapter and not the sixth. (A big "no-no" in romance genre. In fact, he should appear in the first chapter or even the first pages, but I need at least one chapter to set up the plot.)

Thank you all for your continuing input. Writers need support and I am grateful for yours.










Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Woman of Her Time

Last week I talked about villains and how we love to hate them.

Today, my subject is the heroine (ha, I expect you thought it would be the hero).

I like strong heroines, women who know their own minds and aren't afraid to go after what they want. Sounds just like a 21st century gal, doesn't it.

But today's women are shaped by today's society. You can't take at 21st century woman and plunk her down in the 19th century unless you are writing time travel. Women back then were as much the product of their times as a woman of today.

My heroine, Damaris, would no doubt be scandalized by today's women. She was raised to be subservient to men. First, her father, who gives her away in marriage without so much as a by-your-leave.

Today's woman would object loudly and strongly. Damaris is understandably upset, but she goes along with it. Because that's how she was raised. She never expected to marry for love.

When her husband ignores her and treats her like an uninvited guest, openly flaunting his mistress, Damaris doesn't like it. But she has no recourse. No where to go. No other family since her Papa committed the unpardonable sin of suicide, an act that leaves her further ostracized by her former "friends." And divorce, back then, was not an option.

Damaris, lonely and forgotten, is the perfect prey for Simon, who sees her as a pleasant interlude during his tenure at Riverbend. Only when Damaris falls in love for the first time and then is placed in danger of her life does she dare step beyond her boundaries, self-imposed and otherwise.

Her act doesn't necessarily make her any braver. She is still afraid of what "society" will say about her transgression. She is desperately afraid of being caught out in her lies, exposed as the "fallen woman" she has become.

It wasn't easy back then. I'm not saying it is easier now, but if you leave an abusive husband your friends will still talk to you.

In "Riverbend," I have to ask the reader to walk a while in Damaris' shoes. Maybe her choices won't seem so spineless. Maybe they will see her as a heroine of her time.

Who is your favorite heroine? Mine is Scarlett O'Hara, even as I remind myself that her strength was forged in war and loss. If the Civil War had never happened, she might well have married one of Tarlton twins and spent her life raising children.





Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Villains We Love

We had a terrible thunderstorm this morning. Storms don't bother me (unless they knock the electricity out), but it sure scared the cat, who hid under my bed.

So I spent the hours before gettin'-up-time with my iPad, catching up on blogs and Tweets. I read Heather McGovern's blog Bad Girlz Write (May 20) "They're Best when they're Baddest" where she blogs about why we love villains.

And we do. There's something in us that secretly admires their audacity and complete disregard for the rules we "Good Girlz" follow.

Yep, we need a villain to make our characters use their wits to outsmart him, to learn something about themselves, to grow in understanding.

I admit it, I love creating villains more than heroes. They make me stretch my imagination. And it is so much fun when I bring about their demise. This demise, denouement, or comeuppance, depending on your viewpoint, can come about in two ways.

In one, the villain is completely demolished: dead, imprisoned or somehow made impotent.  This ending makes us cheer. Other times he manages to redeem himself at the end of the story--which also makes us cheer.

And, we need a little bit of villain in every hero. Too perfect is too boring. Yes, our heroes have to overcome their weaknesses, but in the long run, those weaknesses (or hint of villainy) make them more real to us.

Do you have a favorite villain?

Mine is Messala (played by Stephen Boyd in the movie "Ben Hur"). Remember the chariot race and those lethal wheels?

Aah, villains. We love and hate them.












Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Coordination

I've always wanted to try Tai-chi, and when our library offered free classes, I showed up -- a week early.

The instructor kindly explained what the class entailed and gave me some literature to study. As I read, I became more convinced that this was for me. What other exercise (or, more correctly, martial art) helps coordinate movement and breathing as well as strengthen the body and mind?

Besides, it looks so graceful. Like a beautifully choreographed dance.

Somewhere along the line, I forgot that I was anything but coordinated. I was the only fifth grader asked to sit out while the rest of the class practiced the Virginia Reel. I never mastered the polka. My dream of roller skating backward never came to fruition.

In other words, I am a klutz.

But, I have persevered. I think I have mastered some of the arm movements. Putting them together with the steps is another story. But the instructor promised the class -- most of whom were groaning along with me -- that by the end of the course, we WILL have learned all 15 movements and will be able to do them just as gracefully as the demo video expert.

I bought the video so I could practice at home. But it's better in class where the instructor can correct my errors before they get too deeply ingrained.

The difference between this class and my aforementioned doomed efforts is this: encouragement. The instructor didn't tell me I was a hopeless case. She didn't suggest I sit and watch, or quit after one lesson, telling me I was hopeless. Maybe if I hadn't listened to my earlier teachers, I would have mastered the dance--or the backward skating. But I was encouraged to give up, not go on.

It's a little like writing. We have to coordinate plot, character and setting. The story must move along without faltering. And, we need editors, proof-readers and beta readers to catch our errors as well as add encouragement and support.

As for "Riverbend," it is nearing the end. I have one more scene to write. Then comes the editing and revising, then getting some beta readers who will read the story and offer constructive criticism, followed by more editing and revising, and finally sending it out to find a home.

It's a long road to publication. Sort of like learning all the steps in Tai Chi.









Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Sneak preview of "Riverbend"

A few weeks ago, I promised that you would meet Damaris, the heroine in my WIP, "Riverbend." I think the best way to do this is to let you read the first chapter, which introduces Damaris and her astonishingly brief courtship. Here's the link: Riverbend

I read the chapter to my writers' club last Sunday. I was nervous because we have some very talented writers. I wanted feedback and especially to know if they thought the chapter -- or the opening paragraphs -- were enough to draw the reader into the story.

I have lived with Damaris in my head for many years now. I tried to make her a secondary character in another novel, but she was too strong. She wanted to tell her own story ... oh, here she is now.

I read the chapter and hated it.

Hated it? Why?

It reminded me of that terrible day I was forced into that loveless marriage with Matthew Pope. I was only sixteen and didn't dare defy my Papa, but I soon wished I had. The only reason I obeyed is because I thought, as Mrs. Pope, I would be the mistress of a big plantation. 

Yes, Riverbend. But that didn't happen, did it.

No, my first discovery was that Riverbend already had a mistress, the slave Zoe. And she became my mortal enemy, although I was no threat to her until... (Shudders)

Was Zoe really a witch?

For awhile, I thought she had cast a spell on me, but I was able to overcome it. The other slaves certainly thought so. They hated her as much as I did.

What a terrible life you had, almost a captive on that farm, with only your son Matty for company.

(Smiles) It wasn't that bad. Both Zoe and Mr. Pope ignored me as worthless so I was free to do as I pleased. And I had Matty, until his father took a sudden interest in his education. That's when Simon came...

Ah, Simon. Wait--don't leave now!

I told you she was shy. There are some things she doesn't like to talk about, such as her elopement--a very dangerous step in that day and time, when a divorce was hard to obtain. She had to love Simon very much to give up her chances of ever seeing her son again.

Again, here's the link to the first chapter: Riverbend  Please let me know what you think. I welcome all comments.




 



Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Our Anson County Writers' Club, along with the Union County Writers'  Club and South Piedmont Community College (and a lot of help from the Anson County Arts Council, local businesses and foundations), held the fifth annual Carolinas Writers Conference last Saturday.

This was the culmination of a full year of contacting authors, selling and preparing ads for our program, and doing a lot of advertising. We had a wonderful full day of author talks and workshops, followed by an evening of story telling.

I got there at 8 a.m. and returned home around 10:30 p.m. Jim  was waiting up and patiently listened to me as I raved about how great it all was.

In two weeks, we will begin preparing for next year. Or not.

The question is: Do we really need to go through all this work and expense to attract so few people?

I was pondering this question when I ran into our pastor at Walmart this afternoon. After talking for a bit, we got on the subject of church attendance. He said that he once got to his small country church to find only one member there.

He held the service for that one devoted parishioner.

My feeling is that if the people who came were satisfied and expressed a desire to co me again, we should do it.

Now, I need your help. What is the best way to get the word out about this event? Here is what we did:

Posters in libraries, high schools and colleges
Newspaper articles
e-mail blasts
Twitter
Asking friends to re-post on their Facebook page
Website
Banner ad on N.C. Writers' Network website

One attendee said we should have a conference Fan page on Facebook. Sounds like a plan.

The local newspaper wrote a great article (check it out! lots of pictures!). I'm going to send the link to all the attendees who shared their e-mail address and ask them to tell their friends if they felt the conference was worthwhile.

Because I think word of mouth is the best advertisement.

If you can think of another way we can advertise this, please leave a comment.

This great opportunity is too good not to share with as many writers as possible.












Tuesday, April 16, 2013

My long love affair

I confess -- I've been having an affair that has lasted over  half a century. Vibrant, passionate, and ongoing.

Yes, I'm  in love with my library.

Always have been. Oh, the cities and the buildings have changed over the years, but the pure essence of library has stayed constant.

I first recall piling into the car (or taking the bus if Dad wasn't home to drive us) and going into town from our home in the country. Shopping, stopping for a soda at Eckerds Drug Store, all were fun, but the highlight was going to the library and filling our arms with books. I started with picture books and graduated to the Bobbsey Twins (Bert and Nan, Freddie and Flossie), The Wizard of Oz, all the Nancy Drew and Tarzan books, and so on. Sci-Fi kept my interest as a teenager (Asimov and Bradbury), and then I moved on to historical romances (which were pretty tame by today's standards).
                                                                                                                             
There was a small library right next to the elementary school. On Fridays, our fifth grade teacher, Miss Artello, took us there to get a book or books.  Then we either put our heads down while she read to us, or read our own books quietly while Miss Artello read hers. My favorite day of the week. In the summer I rode my bike to the library and took out as many books as the basket would hold. My ambition was to read every book in the tiny building, but as the books kept changing out, I never made it. Oddly that library is still open today although the school has long since closed.

In high school, my friends and I would study in the library on the Kent State campus and pretend we were college students. And when I was doing research for my graduate classes at the University of Buffalo, I enjoyed sitting in the carrel and knowing that not only did books surround me, they were stacked in the floors above and below me. I can't hear the word "stacks" without thinking of those thousands of volumes.

Libraries hold more than books, now. You can check out talking books, music CDs, and movies for free or a nominal fee. There are classes in computer literacy, programs featuring guest authors, even exercise groups. No one shushes you any more and the silence has been replaced by a low murmur of people exchanging computer tips or recommending the latest novel.

I have two e-readers, one for each of the major book sellers. I download books almost every day. But we still go to the library weekly. (The picture above shows part of the garden outside.)

 As I unload my shopping bag of its plethora of books,  Jim makes the same joke, "We  brought back your library." Then we select more books, go home and relax in our favorite chairs, and open our latest find. The library books are first choice, the e-readers are backup in case I run out and the library is closed.

Closed. I can't even imagine it if the library were to close, not just for a holiday or weekend, but permanently. Some say it will happen.

I hope not in my lifetime.

And so I celebrate National Library Week -- and celebrate a love that has lasted a lifetime.



 



Tuesday, April 9, 2013

How important is social media to a writer?

The afternoon is half gone, and I have spent it all on Twitter, Facebook, and now blogging.

Why?

For one thing, I wanted to remind people of the Carolinas Writers Conference, coming fast now--April 20. We had our last planning meeting this morning and we're as ready as we can be. For my readers who say, "Oh, I'm not a writer," let me add that the morning session is author talks, and will be of interest to anyone who likes to read. We have four great authors with four disparate topics.

Also that evening, Back Porch Stories will return to the Ansonia Theatre. Come on down and listen to three story tellers spin their verbal magic.  (Details on BPS and the conference are at www.carolinaswritersconference.org

To get this news out, I posted on my Twitter account, a writing loop, and both Facebook accounts.

Wait--both Facebook accounts?

Yes. I have one that I use to connect with friends and family. I try not to bore them with my writing life, so I seldom  post about my books or writing activities there. I personally don't believe that Facebook is a place to push your business, political beliefs or other agendas. In fact, I'm getting kind of tired of scrolling through posts on getting stuff free, fashion, snarky cartoons (I mean the snarky ones, I love most cartoons and frequently share them on my page) and all the other junk that clutters up the page. I don't mind posts that raise awareness, but those that say "Type 1 in the comment box and see what happens to the picture" really turn me off. Frankly, I've tried and nothing happens. Big waste of time.

So.... that brings me to my second Facebook page, which is a fan page and is strictly used to promote my books and share posts about writing. It's tricky to remember to sign out of one and sign in to the other, so sometimes my fans may see a comment about a restaurant I've visited and my friends may yawn, "OMG, she's pushing her durn book again."

After posting about the conference I posted  (on both FB sites) about the Carolinas Romance Writers meeting I went to on Saturday. Mostly because I was in a picture--way in back, but you can make me out--so I wanted to share that with friends AND fans.

Oops, I forgot to Tweet it. But I did remember to Tweet the conference.

So what is the purpose of all this, you might well ask? And why is it important to me, as a writer?

It's called building a platform. It's letting people know I am a writer, and I am serious about my craft. It's letting readers know about my books and me letting people know about books I love (yes, I am on Goodreads, too).

It's letting people get to know me, and letting me get to know you.

It's all about connections.




Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Everything in its season

I bought this orchid at a post-Easter sale last year. Never having had much luck with potted plants, I thought we would enjoy the blooms, it eventually would die, and I would throw it away -- repeating a pattern that has held true most of my life.

But here it is! Blooming for a second Easter. My African violet is also continuing to produce pretty purple flowers after refusing to bud for over five years.

Can it be I have suddenly developed a green thumb?

It is a little like my writing life. For years I've had stories tossing around in my brain, but never put them down on paper.  Then one day, I decided it was time. Who knows why? The suns and stars were in alignment, the season was right.

The analogy stops here. Plants are predictable. A tulip bulb does not arbitrarily send up a daffodil. But a writer can bloom in any color or design she wants. She can place her story in the past or the future. She can plant it in reality or draw from her imagination and build a whole new world.

My first book (alas, unpublished) was historical fiction. Then I wrote two contemporaries that sold, and self-published a third. But the first book, like a plant struggling to reach the sun, continued to call to me. I took another look and decided its flaw was that it was two stories in one. As carefully as a team of surgeons separating conjoined twins, I divided the book in half. The result is Riverbend. (The other twin is resting comfortably, thank you, and will get my full attention later on.)

I asked for help in naming my male character. Thanks for all the suggestions. I wavered between Julian and Simon, but finally decided Simon was the better fit. A keystroke replaced the temporary name I was using and Simon appeared as if he had always been there.

I have a  name for my female protagonist: Damaris. It's the name of a childhood friend, and when I started writing, it popped into my head and stayed there. Maybe I'll bring her around next week and let you meet her. She's shy, but very sweet. It's such a shame she is married to someone one else--Simon would be perfect for her.

Maybe I can do something about that.

 

                                

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Introducing What's His- Name

I don't have a guest today -- oh, wait, someone is here. Hello? Who are you?

I have no idea, since you seem to be fiddling about with a name. You've been calling me Mark, but now I see you have jotted down Julian, Oliver and Simon.

Yes, all good names for one of the main characters in my story, "Riverbend," as it is set in the early 1800s. Do you have a preference?

(Blinks slowly) Let me think about it.

All right, moving on. Since cameras weren't invented then, can you describe yourself for our readers?

I'm told I resemble my father in build, being tall and broad-shouldered. However, I have my mother's deep blue eyes and light brown hair. And my Aunt Agatha's nose, which looks better on me than it did her, believe me.

A fine figure of a man, eh? I bet you look good in tight pantaloons and Hessian boots, with those long legs.

(smiles slyly) Some of the fairer sex think so.

So - what do you do?

Um -- tutor.

Tutor? As in teaching children?

(Draws himself up indignantly). I prepare young men for university by acquainting them with Latin, Greek, mathematics, with some music and classical poetry. Generally I board at their homes and am treated as part of the family.

(I raise my eyebrow) Homes?

Oh, all right, plantations. 

So why aren't you tutoring now?

(Looks down, embarrassed) I ran off with the mother of one of my students. She was in an unhappy marriage, and then that witch Zoe threatened  Damaris' life. What else were we to do?

Indeed. So how is that working for you?

Not well. We are living a lie, always afraid of discovery.

Hmm. Not a good situation. What are you going to do about it?

Isn't that up to you?

Don't worry. I have an idea, but it involves you making a hard decision. Are you up to it?

(Grins) Won't know until you write it down, will I? 

Wait! Drat, he disappeared. And I still have to decide on a name. I don't know why he couldn't have just told me. I know, I'll you choose. Yes, you, reading this. Which name do you think will work best for a man who trades an intellectual life to become a man of action? Or as some authors prefer, switches from Beta to Alpha male?

I'll be waiting for your answer in the Comments.

















Tuesday, March 12, 2013



Please welcome KJ Montgomery to Dreamland. KJ has achieved her dream by publishing her novel, "Trove" (you get a sneak peek later on).

KJ, tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m a right-brained soul trapped in a left-brained career. What I mean by that is my career deals with numbers and data. Imagine dealing with that five days a week (and some weekends) when my creative side is screaming to get out and take control…some days it’s tough to deal with the left-brain stuff.

I’ve lived in coastal New England all my life. I’m never far from the mountains nor the ocean, it’s the perfect location.

How and why did you start writing?

I’ve always had stories playing in my mind. A few years ago, I was presented with an opportunity with some job flexibility and I decided that now was the time to start “downloading” these stories.


Downloading -- that's a good (and very modern) way to put it. Now for some quick questions:
Who is your favorite author or with whom would you most like to be compared?

I’d have to say Jane Austen is my favorite. The fact that she dared do something that was out of societal norms and that her work is still around and admired today speaks volumes about her “voice.”

As for comparisons, I believe that every writer has a unique story to tell so to compare one with another is difficult to do. Having said that, I wouldn’t mind my “Katie Walsh Mysteries” someday, way down the road, being considered as a different flavor of Jim Butcher’s “The Dresden Files.”

What do you like to do when not writing, working, taking care of house and family? In other words, what feeds your soul?

I love spending time with my two nephews. I watch in amazement as their minds grow and their world expands. I also love to read (LOL who would think that?), gather with friends, and spend time watching the night sky in the mountains of New Hampshire.

What do you wear when writing?

It has to be comfortable. In the Summer it’s t-shirts and jeans and in the Winter it’s fleece. I have to confess, I have a fondness for lilac and pink. Both are very easy colors to find in my wardrobe and yet I have almost nothing in green.

If you play music while writing, what music genre works best for your muse?

It is totally dependent on the scene. If it is a tense scene between my heroine, Katie and my hero, Alec, I’ll listen to something like Adam Lambert’s “What Do You Want From Me?” and I’ll just have it repeat. It helps get me into a zen-like state. If it’s an upbeat scene, I listen to something like Breakout’s “Swing Out Sister.”

Music definitely helps set the scene. Now for some one word answers:
Favorite drink?

Cream soda

Favorite food?
Italian

Favorite vacation spot?
Mountains

Thanks, KJ, for allowing us to know you a little better. Before we get to the excerpt, where can we buy your book?

My book is available on line at Amazon Kindle, Amazon Print and on my website, www.kjmontgomery.com 

Love your website and I can definitely tell you like lilacs and purples. The premise behind your book is intriguing--here's the blurb:



Katie Walsh is an investigative mythologist seeking clues that could lead her into the very distant past and uncover the secrets of the mythic Norland. Alec MacGowan is an archaeologist searching for clues in the recent past in an attempt to bring a murderer to justice.
Anonymous lovers five years before, they’re re-united as their worlds collide when they are thrown together to decipher the murdered man’s notes and identify his killer. As the quest unfolds, they are forced to deal with their simmering attraction and hidden secrets.
Can they uncover the secret hidden in the murdered man’s notes before the killer finds them? And can they open their hearts to each other before it’s too late?



Thanks for visiting, KJ! And now, an excerpt from the book...

______________________________________________

Alec MacGowan, watched the woman and the interplay with the red-haired male, appreciating the genuine warmth he detected in their greeting. The affection between them suggested more than friends. Lovers perhaps? She was exactly as Robert had described her: petite, about five feet tall without the killer heels, chestnut hair, sparkling eyes that were noticeable even behind her glasses or maybe because of them. His appreciation of her grew as he noted that she had curves in all the right places, though Robert neglected to mention that. She had a woman’s figure, something to hold onto, sink his fingers into. He hated the way modern women tried to deny the luscious curves that nature endowed them with.

He noted that she was not a staid academic as most PhDs he’d dealt with seemed to be. She was not one to hide behind the academic uniform of dark man-tailored suits. She was wearing a red dress that accented her figure, hugging and folding against her body suggestively, while the other females were dressed in variations of their unspoken dress code. Most researchers were rather bookish or totally obnoxious and angry at the world, though he had to concede that the research profession was very cutthroat. Competent people were forced to fight each other to grab their piece of a finite amount of financing. But she… she seemed alive. Robert was right, though. She didn’t look like a pushover. She was definitely in charge of the huge man with her, or was it more that he was protective of her, indulging her, but protecting her?
He watched her as she headed toward the bar and him. As she neared, he started towards them and then froze. No, it can’t be her. It couldn’t be KitKat, the woman with whom he spent the night five years ago.

His anonymous lover had a name and her name was Dr. Katie Walsh. Damn, this makes everything more complicated.

He exhaled, steadied himself, and stepped in front of her, effectively and totally blocking her path as she neared the bar with the red-headed male in her wake.

“Excuse me, but aren’t you Dr. Katie Walsh of the Nordstrom Institute?”

She halted, forced to stop abruptly. She teetered in her high heels, grabbing the red-haired man’s arm to avoid ending up in a heap on the floor. She raised her head and scowled. He watched her closely as she scanned his face for recognition. He mused that it may have been difficult since her glasses had slid down from the bridge of her little nose and were now resting on the tip of it, clearly in danger of continuing their downward path.

“Yes, I am. I’m sorry, but do I know you? You look somewhat familiar, but I can’t seem to recall your name.”

“We have a mutual acquaintance, Robert Baines.”

 “Really?” she said, tilting her head slightly, releasing her scowl at the mention of Robert. “How do you know Robert?”

“Actually, he’s my half-brother.” He added, “My older half-brother by three years. I’m Dr. Alec MacGowan, archaeologist.” He reached over, and with his forefinger, he gently pushed her glasses up to the bridge of her nose then nodded his head slightly. “At your service.”

****
Stepping back, Katie studied his face. What incredible grey eyes, she thought before she continued the perusal. Smoky grey eyes, almost black, silky straight hair touched with grey at the temples, high cheekbones, and a body that exuded masculinity… My God, she wanted to scream, it can’t be him. She swallowed, trying to maintain her control as visions of his long body draped over hers flashed before her. Concentrate, Katie, concentrate. He was dressed in a navy suit and a pale blue oxford shirt, his tie loose at the neck. He looked every bit the sexy “love ‘em and leave ‘em type,” straight out of a Hollywood film. Yet that’s exactly what she did five years ago. She’d picked him up, loved him and left him in the pre-dawn light after that wickedly delicious night. Oh my God, it is him, she moaned inwardly as she forced herself to listen to what he was saying while her heart raced and her breath tried to keep time.

She reached up and tucked her hair behind her right ear as she subconsciously licked her lips. “I can see a physical resemblance around the mouth and I think you have the same nose.”
 But Robert didn’t have a brother, did he? He’d never mentioned it in the almost seven years they’d been friends. Surely he would’ve mentioned a brother, even if it was only a half-brother. “So, Dr. MacGowan, how is Bobby?”

“He’s fine. He asked me to remind you that he still owes you a dinner. Oh, and by the way, Dr. Walsh, you know as well as I do that no one, and I mean no one, calls him Bobby. If you want to call him and verify my identity be my guest. Actually…” He reached into his jacket and pulled out his cell phone, giving Katie a glimpse of the muscled chest straining against the confining material, the chest she had explored, caressed, kissed for one night of unbridled, decadent passion. Her fingers itched to wind themselves in the dark hair she knew was hidden under the shirt, to revel in its silkiness. “Allow me.”

The heat spread across her face like wildfire. Was it because he was calling her out for testing him, or was it because she was remembering how his body felt pressed intimately against hers? Hopefully, in the subdued lighting he wouldn’t notice. She reached for his cell phone, the call already connecting. “Hello, Robert?”

“Katie. So he’s found you.”

Her free hand rested on her hip. “Yes. I’m standing here with this guy, and he claims to be your brother. Dark hair, grey eyes, about six-three I’m guessing.”

“Half-brother,” Alec corrected, his elbow propped casually against the high, free-standing cocktail table.

“Excuse me, your half-brother. Who is he?”

“He’s my half-brother Alec MacGowan. He’s an archaeologist.”

“Mm, a digger,” she murmured. “So he’s safe to be around? You know how I feel about diggers. I mean, he’s not a modern day Jack the Ripper-type is he?” Why, oh why, did he have to be a digger?

Robert’s laugh was clearly audible as her eyes swept from Eric to Alec. Eric looked uncomfortable, shifting his weight from his left to his right foot. Alec wore a smug grin.

“No, Katie, he’s safe to be around. You have my word on that.”

She wished she could believe him. She wanted to ask him why he neglected to tell her, his very close friend, that he had a brother. But this wasn’t the time or place. She sighed. “Thanks. I’ll see you when I get back to Boston.” She ended the call and thrust the phone at him, letting her other hand drop from her hip. “Seems like you’re legit.”

He winked. “Yep, got all my papers in order and I’m housebroken too."

_______________________________________________

Mystery, humor and romance--I'm looking forward to a series of Katie Walsh mysteries and I hope you are, too.