Sunday, May 16, 2021

Staycation

 Regardless of what CDC says, I'm reluctant to give up my mask or get on a plane, even being fully vaccinated against Covid. So, when a friend invited me to join her at a local B&B I jumped at the opportunity. 


For two days and nights, I let someone else cook breakfast for me. I roamed through the historic district of one of the small towns near my house, entering shops I'd driven by many times but never wandered into. I took care of a few chores that I'd been putting off, since I knew my friend would be busy for a couple hours each day. Best of all, I got to spend some quality time with my friend, who is always rushed when she does come to town and we can barely carve out some time for a quick lunch. Oh, and I found an autographed copy of a new book by my favorite author in the local bookstore. Who could ask for anything more? 

So, if you're starting to stick your toe into the real world again, but want to take baby steps, I highly recommend a staycation. It will do your psyche a world of good. 

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Fine Fiction or Smut?

I recently read on Facebook a conversation one of my writing buddies recently had with an acquaintance. My friend, who I'll call Ramona, is one feisty lady who has had a long career as an author and who is known for her sharp wit. When the woman found out Ramona wrote romance, she rolled her eyes and told Ramona the woman's mother used to read that smut. Then, realizing she may have offended Ramona, the woman tried to walk back her statement. 

Ramona was having none of it. 

After finding out Ramona had over 130 books already in print and more at a publisher, waiting to be released, the woman muttered something about how nice it must be. Ramona replied that most days it was nice, except when she ran across someone who referred to her work as smut. 

Ramona's final comment in the telling of this story was to say she'd forget the woman tomorrow, but had no doubt the woman would always remember her. 



You have to develop a thick skin if you're going to be a writer. I've been to events where the romance writers are placed in the back of the room while "true" fiction writers get center stage. Romance writers are the lifeblood of the publishing world, but industry respect doesn't necessarily follow. 

Yet, we persist. Especially in this age of Covid, hugs are few and far between, and a good romantic story about two people finding love feels much like a hug. The story line wraps you in warmth as you quickly turn the pages and you think about the story long after you've set the book down. 

So, does that qualify as fine fiction? If it makes you stop and think about the characters and how they develop over time? If the story brings to life the setting, so you can smell the freshly cut grass of the suburbs or feel the sand between your toes at the beach? If you cry along with the characters at the loss of a life, or your heart starts pumping wildly during a harrowing scene? 

Is that fine fiction? Or is it merely smut? 

You be the judge. 

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Favorite Time of Year

 For years now, when asked what my favorite time of year is, I always answered Autumn. Especially in the mountains, the display of color when the leaves change takes my breath away and brings a tear to my eye.


 












But now that Spring has finally come, I have to admit, my favorite ritual is about to take place. This weekend, I'm packing away the heavy winter duds and pulling my shorts out of the hope chest. So, I think now that I'm older, I look forward to Spring more than I do Autumn. 

If my recent trip to Ohio taught me anything, it's that I can't stand Winter. The snow might be momentarily pretty as it's falling, but once it's on the ground, not so much. The air is frigid, and once the temperature does warm up enough to melt the snow, mud puddles form and there's nothing pretty about them. Give me the heat of summer any day. 


So, how about you? What season is your favorite? I'm sitting here in my shorts and t-shirt, awaiting your answers.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

A New Vacation Movie Idea?

 If you follow this blog, you know I was planning a road trip for the first time in over a year. I took my new-to-me car in for an oil change, thinking that was the proper thing to do, but the dealer, whose service department is terrible, dislodged some tube in the engine that helps cut down on pollution, and my "Check Engine" light came on the next time I started the car. I took it to my regular mechanic and they said they don't work on Mini Coopers, so I had to scramble to find a reliable mechanic two days before I was to leave. That done, my sister arrived and we left for Ohio. 

Long story short, during our festivities, my sister fell and broke her ankle in two places. She got a temporary cast put on, and we were stuck on how to get her back home. The road trip was nine-hours in duration so I knew she couldn't ride with me. My brother ended up flying with her directly to the city she lives in and then deadheaded back to Ohio. 

Oh, and did I mention I had nightmares my first two nights there? And that the "Check Engine" light came back on? Yes, it was great to see my siblings. In fact, the one sibling who couldn't make it was so unhappy that she couldn't be included that she photoshopped herself into the picture of us. 



Next time I think I'll fly. Alone. But I think it's a perfect start for a Lifetime movie.


Sunday, April 18, 2021

On The Road Again

 For someone who loves to wander, this past year and a half has been most trying. My introverted nature became even more so, and my usual tactics of getting out and exploring in order to stretch myself went by the wayside. But now, fully vaccinated, I'm ready to hit the road again. 

I've had a "new to me" car since last October and the longest trip I've made in it so far has been the twelve mile round trip to the nearest grocery store. It's time we both stretched our wings a bit.


So, shortly, I'm hitting the road with one of my sisters, heading to Ohio for a few days to see everyone that I can cram into four days' time. It'll be a quick up and back, but will give me enough time to feel like things are slowly returning to a new normal. We're packing food so we will be limiting our exposure on the road, and will wear our masks as much as possible. But we'll at least be taking the first steps to what used to be routine. Maybe I'll even encounter my next story idea while on the road. 

Wish me happy trails!


Sunday, April 11, 2021

And The Winner Is!

Last week, I wrote about how my one of my entries into a local contest made the final cut of fifteen great opening lines from over 500 entries. I had entered three options, and this is the one that became a finalist: 

She needed some legal advice, or a husband, and fast.  

My entry didn't win, or even come in the silver or bronze position. Rather, it was one of the twelve others who were judged the cream of the crop. I'm thrilled to have made it to the final cut, because the competition was heady and fierce. And I agreed with the judges on the winning entry, submitted by a gentleman from Columbus, OH. Here it is: 

The kindergarten teacher told us that one baby in four was born Chinese, and being the fourth child in the family I naturally figured I was Chinese and needed to learn the language.


Very tongue-in-cheeky and made me laugh. You can't ask for more than that from an opening line. 

How about you? Do you agree with the judges?


 



Sunday, April 4, 2021

Pick Your Poison

 Last week, I talked about great beginnings to stories. The reason for the topic stemmed from a fellow author here in the Sandhills who publishes an amusing blog each week, mixing a dash of history, a side order of applicable famous quotes, and a sprinkling of insight. I look forward to reading it every Sunday afternoon. 



A few weeks ago, he decided to run a contest. He assembled a guest panel of judges and told his readers he'd accept up to three entries from each person. The only rule was the entries couldn't be from already published works, but rather, works in progress. I was beyond excited to get the news earlier this week that, of the over 500 entries received, one of mine made it into the top fifteen finalists! He said there was no clear winner among the fifteen, so he was sending the small list back to his judges for a consensus. There will be three winners and twelve runner-ups, but all the finalists will be featured in his blog this afternoon. 

I don't know yet which of the three I submitted made the cut, so until the official announcement, you all can choose your favorite. Here they are: 

1) Johanna Taylor stopped crying when she hit the Virginia state line. 

2) Wisteria Campbell felt the weight of the necklace as if it were an albatross around her neck. 

3) She needed some legal advice, or a husband, and fast. 

Pick your poison. I'll let you know the one that finaled next week. 




Sunday, March 28, 2021

New Beginnings

Does your favorite book have a great opening line?

There's a gentleman here in the Sandhills region of North Carolina who is a collector of quotes from famous and not-so-famous people. Each Sunday, he shares with his followers a sampling of quotes that correspond to events of the day. He recently asked his readers to send in their favorite opening lines from various published works. I perused my stash of favorite books, and my own published works, searching for a killer opening line or two. Other than one from Jayne Ann Krentz about the screams in the insane asylum, I came up empty. Which made me realize a good opening line is hard to find. 


Opening lines can make or break a story. Stephen King has confessed he often spends months crafting his opening lines. They must entice the reader, make that person want to know more about this world you're creating. Here's how King defines opening lines: 

"An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this." 

Snoopy gets the credit for popularizing the often ridiculed opening line from the book "Paul Clifford" by Edward Bulwer-Lytton: 



This exercise is making me take another look at my WIP. Here's the opening line at present: Wisteria Campbell felt the weight of the necklace as if it were an albatross around her neck.

Any suggestions to improve upon it will be gratefully accepted. And Stephen, if you're reading this, get back to me in a couple months with your take, okay? 

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Questioning Behavior

 I've noticed recently, on Facebook, in passing conversation, and within my own family, that often, the first question asked, even before the "How are you?" is "Have you gotten your shot yet?" 

I'm planning a road trip next month, and I'm already obsessing over how many masks to take, if I should pack water and snacks to lessen our interactions with others, how much disinfectant is needed in the public bathrooms along the way. Since this is a family get-together and we've all been vaccinated, our chances of coming into contact with the deadly disease is decreased, but there are people we'll run into along the way who don't have the benefit of the vaccine. 

Someone recently told me she'd put her trust in the Lord rather than in science, and he'd take her when it was time. To me, that was a very narrow-minded point of view. She can feel the way she wants, but what about all the people she's in contact with each day? Such reckless behavior...

So, what does this all have to do with writing, you ask? As one who is known for finding analogies where there is none, I relate this reckless behavior with writing a book before you study how to write. Regardless of your genre, you need to study your craft. Many fine books on the subject of writing exist, most  of which are created by industry leaders like Stephen King and Janet Evanovich. A nuts and bolts book, relied on by many, is Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder. A more recent entry, Save the Cat Writes a Novel, by Jessica Brody, more narrowly defines how to craft a novel. 







Add in a dose of study of the English language, and you are prepared to write a book that has a good plot, is free of typos, and is not a waste of the reader's time. If not, you'll end up with a book that few will want to read. You may be able to say you're a published author, but your reckless behavior will make for a very small audience. 

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Ghosting

I've been hearing the term "ghosting" a lot lately. According to Wikipedia, here's the definition:

Ghosting is a colloquial term used to describe the practice of ceasing all communication and contact with a partner, friend, or similar individual without any apparent warning or justification and subsequently ignoring any attempts to reach out or communication made by said partner, friend, or individual.



For me, ghosting means something entirely different. For the past several years, I've been ghostwriting novels that will never have my name on them. I've just finished book number ten for one of my favorite clients, and he's ordered eight more. I'll be busy for the rest of the year at this rate. I still get to perform the part of writing I enjoy–the creative part–and I can ignore the parts I don't like–marketing, design, promotion, etc. Not to mention I don't have to wait for royalty payments to come in months down the road and pray that I can maybe eke out enough money to cover the costs of the promotion I had done. 

Of course, all this ghostwriting cuts into the time I have to work on my own stories. I may not publish any books this year that carry my own name on them. I've got a couple of ideas kicking around in my head, so I never say never. But for right now, I'm content to write for someone else. 

So, in a way I am ceasing communication and contact without warning. Because I'm ghostwriting, I'm practicing ghosting. Who knew? 

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Spring Chore List

 If you're like most people, there are some household chores that you don't mind doing, and there are others you hate to do. We are coming into the season where my chore list is filled with things I look forward to each year. My condo has only six units and each of us maintains our little plot of ground out front and out back as we see fit. There is a landscaping service we use for the heavy lifting, but we each can put our own stamp of individuality on our units. Most of the lawns here use pine straw for mulch, but since I grew up in the midwest, I like bark mulch. Black mulch. It makes such a difference, and I can't wait to lay down a new layer of it. Here are the before and after pictures from last spring: 




The Spring chore I'm least looking forward to? Replacing the spline in my screen door. I didn't even know what a "spline" was until I visited the hardware store with a piece of my broken little band of rubber that held the screen in place. The tool, and the new coil of spline are staring at me, coaxing me to get to work. 

Maybe I'll just go buy some mulch instead. 

How about you? What Spring chores do you like? Which do you despise? 

And to my Ohio friends and family–do not despair. Spring is coming.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Some Color, Please!

 I have this herb garden window in my kitchen, which you would think would be a great way to keep fresh herbs for my cooking. But, the North Carolina sun tends to bake everything, especially in summer, so all the herbs I've tried to cultivate have shriveled up and died within days of being put in the window. Not wanting to throw my money away on a lost cause, I've let the window languish for months. The only thing I could think of that would handle the harsh rays would be cacti, and I'm firmly of the opinion that, if a plant doesn't produce blossoms, it's not something I want to spend time with. That eliminated cacti, for the most part. 


So, it was with some trepidation that I picked up a bag of crocus bulbs a month ago. I planted some of them in the herb garden planter and then threw the rest of them into the ground–no mean feat, since the ground was fairly frozen. When the bulbs in the window began to sprout, I was thrilled. I finally had found something that would give me some color in my kitchen. 



A few days ago, it hit the mid-60s here, and I was delighted to see the bulbs I had tossed outside had bloomed as well. A little color is a good thing, whether it's in my window, my yard, or my books. 

Sunday, February 21, 2021

A Shot of Good News

The past couple of weeks have been even harder than normal. It seemed every day brought another dose of bad news from a family member or a friend. It's been hard to focus and I found myself wishing for one day where the only news was good. 


It didn't happen all in one day, but this past week did bring a glimmer of light in the midst of all this darkness. First, the refinance I'd been working on since December finally came to a conclusion and I signed the final paperwork which would give me the lowest interest rate on my mortgage that I've ever had on any home I've owned. And then, a few days later, I got my first Covid shot. In three short weeks, I'll get the second dose, and then, I'll be free to hit the road and see how my Mini-Cooper handles on a long trip. And, I'm no longer living in Texas, so there's that. 

Can't wait. 


Sunday, February 14, 2021

Eulogy for Mary

 This has been a sad week for me. My little dog and faithful companion, Mary, had to be put down at the beginning of the week. It's been lonely in this house without her. In the past year, with the pandemic keeping us all quarantined, she was the only one I had daily contact with. And the only one I could hug and kiss on. 


She was not always the easiest to get along with, but that was because she had not had a normal childhood. Every author knows backstory is what makes an individual who she is, and Mary's was unique. Her first five years were spent in a 3 x 3 foot cage, where she was bred time and again. Fortunately for her, the horrible puppy mill decided she was past her prime and put her up for auction, where she was rescued by a faith-based organization who christened her Mary and spent five months getting her adjusted to normal doggie behavior. Even with all their good training, I still had to keep her on a lead for over a year, in order to get close enough to her to pick her up. She didn't understand stairs, or grass, or someone wanting to pick her up just to cuddle. If she'd been my first-ever dog, I would have given up. But Mary had a big heart in that little body and I knew I could get to it somehow.



I had a big enclosed backyard, into which I put Mary when she first arrived. Rather than relish the open spaces, she moved around the yard in 3 foot circles. The circles gradually got larger, but she didn't learn to run until I took her to my sister's home, where her dog, Harry, showed Mary how to dash across the yard. Seeing her run full-out with Harry brought tears to my eyes. They were a good team, Harry and Mary, and she missed her buddy when he passed. She's with him now, and running free again, I'm sure. 



Mary started slowing down this past year, and took to camping out at my feet, on my blanket. She didn't necessarily want to be held, since she still had trouble with people grabbing her even after nine years with me, but she wanted to be close. Her greatest enjoyment this past summer was being able to sit on the porch swing with me and make fun of the golfers as they zipped by in their tiny carts. 



I'm grateful she's no longer in pain, but I already miss her so much it hurts. I'll pack away her toys and beds a little at a time, and maybe next summer, I'll give them to the Humane Society. Right now, though, they're little reminders of her. I'll bury her ashes near the porch swing, so she can still enjoy that with me. 

RIP, Sweet Mary

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Close Enough to Nature

 I'm about to celebrate my third anniversary in my North Carolina home. I enjoy watching to golfers whiz by my back door in their golf carts as they chase little white balls (or pink ones, if it's Monday morning when the ladies have their outing). And, occasionally, I get a chance to see more than golfers from my window, as witnessed here, when a young buck came calling. 



The other morning, though, I was startled to see an animal run by my back door. From the corner of my eye, I only saw a leg as it scarred by my back door. I jumped up, writing forgotten, to see what kind of critter had come so close. Loping across the field was a beautiful red fox! Since the community I live in is called Foxfire, it should not have come as a surprise, but this was the first one I'd encountered. And having a door between us was just fine by me. 



Now, I just have to figure out how to use the fox encounter, such as it was, in my writing. A good friend of mine lives in the mountains and has black bear visitors to her breezeway all the time in the spring and summer. I'll be content with the occasional fox, I think. 

So, what inspires you?

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Peace, Love, and Rock n' Roll

 It's been a very chilling and divisive time in our country, and try as I might not to be political, it does splash over into my writing and my blogs. Especially since I've spent the last year or so researching and writing about the Revolutionary War, which started America on its current path. Our forefathers had great insight, but even they could not conceive what our 21st century would look like. with its instantaneous news cycle and multiple outlets with talking heads sharing multiple opinions and skewing the facts to serve their purposes and their audiences. Makes me yearn for the days when life was more simple–the 1960s. 



I was a typical hippie child, with my tie-dyed shirt and peace symbol earrings. Back during this era, all I had to worry about was whether the cops were going to bust me for scoring some weed. I was a member of SDS, the Students for a Democratic Society, but we were hardly the radical extremists that are overrunning our way of life now. Everything was groovy. 

How naive and childish that seems now. But I do still have a peace symbol at my back door, and hope at my front door. When we are all vaccinated and can hug each other again, it's my hope we can get back to simpler times. To peace, love, and rock n' roll. 



Sunday, January 24, 2021

It's Cookie Time!

 This is my favorite time of year. The Girl Scouts have begun selling their cookies. This year, I decided to forego the in-person interaction and order my cookies from a friend's daughter back in Ohio. I've been tracking my order ever since and, with any luck, they should arrive in a day or two. 

Not only do I look forward to eating my treats, but I always reflect on all the Girl Scouts did for me when I was growing up. Wilderness Camp on the back forty of Mrs. Serfass's farm taught me an appreciation of the outdoors. I still remember that horrendous lighting storm that was so dangerous we had to shelter in the barn for the night. It made me wonder how the folks on the wagon trains heading west took shelter during such storms. I'm sure they didn't have a dry, safe barn to hunker down in. 

Obtaining as many badges as possible was always a competition with the others in my troop, but, in addition to honing my competitive spirit, I learned a lot of things along the way without realizing it at the time. The knowledge from the cooking and sewing badges have come in quite handy in an adult world, as have many of the others I collected. The design of the badges had come a long way over the years, but the intent is still the same. As nice as it was to complete a challenge and get a badge, it was always the Cookie sales that I looked forward to. Talk about a competition! 


In my adult life, I made my living selling things. I went through a lot of variations on this theme–selling ads, subscriptions, handmade quilts, exhibit booths, and finally, my own books. To think, it all started by selling Girl Scout cookies. 


Happy munching. And in the words of the cookie monster–COOKIES!


Friday, January 15, 2021

Back To Normal?

As anyone who follows this blog knows, I've spent the last few years involved in the Revolutionary War. I feel like I've been part of the band of rebels, the Sons of Liberty, as I've written these books. I developed a great admiration for these brave souls, who led a revolution against a giant force and had the foresight to craft a body politic that has lasted for hundreds of years, with minor tweaks. 

Recent events have brought our Constitution into sharp focus once again. Perhaps it's time to tweak the document again, because, clearly, something's not working. We have half of America's population disenfranchised and thinking another revolution is what's needed to get our country back on course. 



Having lived in DC for a number of years, it breaks my heart to see the fortress it has become since January 6. This is not the country I grew up in, nor is it the country I want to live in now. Not only am I feeling unmoored because my series is at an end, I have a sense of dread that the country I love is at a crossroads. 

Will we ever get back to normal? What is normal anymore? Will enough of us get vaccinated so we can once again hug each other? Will I ever feel safe in the grocery again? 

I want that. I want to hug my friends. I want to visit the Mall in DC again and go to the new museums that have been erected in the last ten years. I want to see my family. I want to select my own bananas. 

I want normal. 

To see what 'normal' was like during the Revolution, read one of my Revolutionary Women books.











 



Sunday, January 10, 2021

Time For a Change

 Even though I've been embroiled in the Revolutionary War the past couple of years with my writing and my Revolutionary Women series, I try to avoid writing about America's current political situation here on this blog. However, I just read something which compared the events of the past week with the Revolutionary War, and I must comment. 

The most basic difference is probably the easiest to understand. The Americans in the 1770s were waging war against a despot who was demanding money and resources be taken from America while imposing a tax on goods and merchandise needed for the colonists' survival. The followers of Mr. Trump are waging war for a despot who is demanding their loyalty until they are no longer needed, and who is lining his pockets with money from the government and from his loyal followers on his way out the door. 

I have a great deal of admiration for our founding fathers. I have no admiration for the loyalists who attacked our Capitol building and killed people. Our founding fathers had a vision for this new country while the mob last week had nothing other than vengeance on their agenda. 



I lived in DC for years after college. I sat on the Capitol steps each year to watch the fireworks on July 4th. To see them filled with a mob of misfits who have no love for our country turned my stomach, as it did many others. The woman who lost her life in the battle told reporters she'd willingly give her life for the cause. I have no pity for her, only for her family. As for the Capitol Hill policeman who was killed, I'm sure death was not on his mind Wednesday morning. His killers need to be held to account. They were not involved in a Revolution, they were involved in a riot. 

I agree with them on one thing, though. It's time for a change. I want normalcy in my life again. Not people with painted faces, Confederate flags, and crazed looks on their faces. I want to take off my face mask, hug my friends again, and be able to see my family. I want to be able to depend on my retirement income lasting for my retirement years. I want to sleep through the night. Am I asking too much? I hope not, for our country's sake. 

Sunday, January 3, 2021

The Blank Page

A few years ago, Brad Paisley penned a tweet about the start of a new year, which I think is appropriate for anyone who puts pen to paper, regardless of whether it's for a journal entry, a manuscript, or a song. Here's what he had to say: 

"Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one." 


Since we've all just come through one of the most trying years of our lives, I find Brad's words truly inspiring. With a new president, and the promise of vaccines for all, I'm hopeful we can get back to something close to normal in this coming year. One of my goals for the year is to travel back to my old stomping grounds and visit with my brother, who is spending a year in the eastern half of the country before heading west again. 

And, following Brad's advice, to write something every day. 

How about you? What are your goals for the year?