The time between

I sold two books Friday morning. Not a big deal, but I love delivering a book to someone who really wants to read it. So far the feedback has been very favorable. Of course, no one is going to tell me to my face they hated the story, but you can tell if the response is lukewarm.

After dropping off the books, I went to our local library, which has finally opened. Masks are required, and someone is at the door to write down your name (I’m guessing for tracking purposes), and there is a screen between you and the check-out person. I  was told no new books had been ordered during the shut-down, so I donated a copy each of Morven and Bethann to the library. I figured I could at least help them out with a new book or two.

So, the book is written, published, and available. I mailed copies to my beta readers as a thank-you for their help. I submitted a copy for review. I know better than to keep checking the sales records as that leads to thoughts of “why do I bother!”

Yes, I know the next step is marketing. In fact, marketing should have been on the agenda all along. Alas, although I have read all the articles and books on the subject, I just don’t have the energy it requires. But I will keep on dropping hints on Instagram and Facebook. I should Tweet more often but I have never gotten the hang of it.

Instead of tending to business, I have been working outside. Both the front and back decks received a new coat of paint. I had to throw away the shirt I wore during this project as I am a very sloppy painter. But the job is done, checked off my list of home improvements I mean to do this summer.

Miss Daisy waiting for the early bird breakfast. Luckily for the wrens, I chased her inside.

And, I have been relaxing on said back deck, which I have adorned with flowers and plants. The wrens are raising a family in the birdhouse I tacked on the post where I put my hanging baskets. It was supposed to be decorative, but hey … I watched the male wren try to entice his lady love into taking up housekeeping there, but she inspected the premises and refused. Either he got another mate (but someone said they mate for life) or another pair decided to move in. The cats, naturally, are mesmerized by the activity and I have had the dickens of a time keeping them indoors.

And so it goes until that old devil gets in my mind and tells me I have to write another book. I have no plans at present, and could be content just to market the ones I have written, but once that idea gets in your head, writing it down is the only way to get rid of it. I don’t know when or if this will happen, but meanwhile I am content.

If you are curious about my books, please visit my website http://www.sandrazbruney.com for descriptions and excerpts. And if you’d like a signed copy of any book (except the three paranormals, which are ebooks only) just put it in a comment or message me on Facebook.

There. I’ve done my marketing for today, and I can go back to my reading with a clear conscience.

 

 

 

Zooming along

Just when I think I’ve figured out modern technology, something new comes along.

In the past two weeks, I have participated in no less than five Zoom meetings: two club meetings, one county convention, and two family meetings.  My son pointed out that Zoom is not exactly new, for we have had Facetime and Skype, but for some reason, Zoom has caught on. I love seeing everyone, once people catch on to how it works. You know, like how to turn on their mic or camera first. And I don’t mind people seeing me, for we all have bad haircuts. My granddaughter said she has “quarantine bangs” after a DIY with scissors.

I have tried to keep my person-to-person meetings to a minimum, but when I make a necessary trip to the grocery store, I am appalled by the number of people choosing to go maskless, refusing to obey the one-way signs in the aisles, or staying the recommended distance from other shoppers. I value my health and the health of others and it pains me to see how careless people are. If they don’t care about themselves, they should at least care about their older friends and relatives. I guess there isn’t enough technology in the world to cure stupid complacency.

Is it just me, or does this look like a dragon fell from the sky instead of a broken off tree-top?

 

My less rewarding technological effort has been with formatting my book. I have done it before, but somehow I got the page size wrong and from there everything went downhill. My proof copy was not at all what I envisioned, so here I am doing it all over again. I hate being tied to the computer on these nice days! I’d much rather be outside.

And, I need to be outside. In addition to the regular yard work, the high winds lately have contributed to my chores. First, three large limbs came down from the pine tree in the left corner of the yard. I think one limb struck the limb below it, and both then took out the third. Anyway, I managed to saw off the smaller branches and ended up with three logs I can hardly move. In fact, I got the hand truck out of the basement to move two of them to one side. I don’t know how many trips I made from the back of my property to the road with a wheelbarrow full of debris.

Then, just yesterday, high winds snapped a sweet gum in the right side of the yard “half in two” and I now have that mess to clear up. Luckily, neither mishap hurt any overhead lines.

Now that would have messed up my technology — as well as my neighbors’!

 

 

Cover reveal and other accomplishments

During this period of social distancing I have accomplished several things. One is that my kitchen cupboards and drawers are much cleaner and neater.

I could not believe the things I found while organizing. For example, a perfectly good coffee grinder. I purchased one not so long ago after receiving a bag of coffee beans.  I mused that this is what I got for not checking to see if I already had one.

I also found a waffle maker I didn’t know I had. I cleaned it up and bought some waffle mix and syrup. I am looking forward to a Sunday morning treat.

Along with the usual housework (and I am still ignoring that full ironing basket), yard work, and crafts  — why, oh why, did I think it would be fun to do a cross stitch of a black cat? — I finished my book!

Yes, it was written, edited, and critiqued. But then there was the formatting to do, and then uploading the cover. For some reason, KDP kept telling me it didn’t meet their criteria. It seems the cover width was  — picture me pinching my thumb and forefinger together — this much too short.

I couldn’t figure it out. I was using their template, so shouldn’t it be the proper width? After several unsuccessful attempts, I took the darn template itself and changed its dimensions by the veriest smidgen.

Yep, that worked. So I ordered a proof copy, and if all looks good, I may have the book for sale by May 15.

I am happy that is something I can check off my list.

Now, let’s see if I can complete that cross stitch cat!

 

 

A little something

Social isolation. Unthinkable when we went into March and very much a reality now. I’m getting used to it, but as a person who had something to do and somewhere to go almost every day of the week, it is hard. I look back to 19 years ago when I was battling breast cancer. I felt too ill to go out, so I curled up with a book and our two dogs.

I’m pretty much doing the same thing now, but with four cats. And cancer-free all this time, so I am grateful for that.

Social isolation or self-quarantine or whatever you want to call it, means staying home.

I am betting that many of you, like me, live alone (with dog, cat, ferret, beta fish, or parakeet). And like me, you are looking for something to fill all these long hours. And  I am grateful there are so many places we can turn to. First, catch up with friends and family via email or texting or even telephone calls.

And there is social media. People said our gadgets kept us from real connections, but now they are the only way we can connect.

I usually limit my time at Facebook but I have to admit I have spent most of the morning watching video posts from such diverse sources as Angela Merkel and John Oliver. Different perspectives, same advice. I have Netflix, Amazon, Brit Box and Acorn TV, so there are many shows I can watch when there is nothing on regular TV.

But, you can watch only so many movies or podcasts. I’m thinking if you are reading this, you most likely read books.

Spoiler alert: The libraries are closed. So physical books that you can hold in your hands are pretty much unavailable. If you haven’t read a book on your Nook, Kindle, or iPad, now is the time to try it.

First, let me suggest you go online and find your library’s lending site. There are Freading, Hoopla, Libby, and probably more I haven’t heard of. Check with your library’s website and it should have the information you are looking for. You will need the number on your library card handy.

And there are many, many sites that offer free or discounted books: Ereader News Today, Book Bub, ArcaMax Ebooks, The Fussy Librarian

And here is the best of all: Smashwords’ authors are deeply discounting or offering their books for free until April 20. Authors Give Back  is an incredible response to helping people get through this crisis. True, we can’t just hide our heads in books and ignore what is going on around us, but they do help when you just need to escape for a few hours.

So go to Smashwords.com and find a list of books you may enjoy. Try reading new authors. Heck, you might even like my books if you go to my Smashwords page. (If you want to look them over first, there are excerpts and descriptions on my website, sandrazbruney.com, but note that they are only FREE at Smashwords.)

We will get through this. Meanwhile, stay calm, stay safe, stay well, and stay home.

 

 

My Life’s Bat Tornado

Last weekend, we sat at my mother-in-law’s table and my husband looked up from his phone bewildered and announced: “A town in Australia is being plagued by a ‘bat tornado’ – and it’s growing!”

©2020 cjgasser

I mean, really –how appropriate –this is our world now, with environmental and cataclysmic activity served up hourly on our handhelds. But, a bat tornado suited me perfectly. With a poet’s frugal love of the perfect word or phrase, Bat Tornado fit the bill. I’d been struggling to find a way to describe the last two years of my life. It’s been tragic, awe-inspiring, stumbling, terrifying and magical in its bits and pieces, with moments of calm creativity.

Two years ago, during January of 2018, I put together ‘the plan’ for the rest of the year, –five years, in fact. I started the editing of my book with forensic delight. Like an autopsy, I cut open my WIP and dissected it’s form and structure -I laid out a path with sticky notes. I outlined and highlighted where I’d gone astray. A few vital stickies alerted me to important fixes and additions, new scenes to add or cut, characters to develop, birth or die. I studied the valuable notes a friend (thank you, Ashantay) shared after reading my rough draft. I struggled over the parts I loved but needed surgical removal. How does one love a WIP tumor? More

Interrupted by nature

The weather forecast said it would be warm Saturday, so I planned on doing yard work. A LOT of yard work. I had bulbs to replant, bushes to trim, limbs to pick up in the back yard …

I wanted to transplant some Easter lily bulbs to a better  location, but not until much later in the year.  To my surprise, they were already popping up, thus they were on my to-do list. I dug new homes for them and only managed to kill half of them. Ugh. those bulbs are deep and the little new growth is fragile. Still, I have enough re-homed to make up for my mass destruction.

Then I found a trespasser in my potted hyacinth that I had taken inside for the winter. I pulled it out and discovered that some squirrel had planted a pecan and it had take root. So I decided to plant it where the pear tree once stood. While doing that, I saw that the Japanese lilies I had planted out back a year ago had suddenly come up — not only where I planted them, but pretty much all over the yard. I had thought they were dead as they did not come up last fall when they were supposed to. Anyway, while planting the pecan seedling, I saw my preferred site was taken over by fire ants, so I had to treat the mound.

On to chore number two. I clipped about a fourth of the growth and was growing an impressive pile of branches. My goal is to be able to reach the privet that has taken root  in the very center of the quince bush. A quince bush is very spiky, so I couldn’t just reach in with the clippers because i would have had my arms torn to pieces even with gloves and a long-sleeved shirt.  It started to rain and I worked on, thinking a little sprinkle wouldn’t hurt me, but then it came down harder and I had to abandon my plans and come inside to change clothes.

The fallen limbs remain in place, as well as the hundreds of sweet gum balls that the last wind tossed down. I could almost hear the trees snickering.

I can see how this year is shaping up. I will be outside more than inside, raking and weeding and pruning more than I am reading or writing.

The good news is, I am this far from completing my third historical novel. I need to write a bridge scene, then go over it and make any changes and go over it again and again until I feel ready to send it to my favorite editor and beg a few people to be beta readers.

I know I need to balance my time. Sunny days for yard work, rainy days for writing.

Housework? Forget about it. That is for the day before company is expected.

What positively, necessary chore keeps you from tackling your work in progress? What can you safely ignore while listening to your muse?

I’m just wondering if I am a “normal” writer — if there is such a  person.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When it happens to you

When I saw the message in my inbox, I was excited. I had been waiting for this issue of a well-known magazine that caters to indie writers. Three months earlier, I had submitted “Morven” for a review and now, here it was.

I was devastated when I read it.

Yes, I had expected better. “A Question of Time” received 4.5 stars; “Riverbend,” 5.0.”  But “Morven” received a mediocre 3.0.

I had never received any  review less than a 4.0.  How had this happened? All my readers had told me this was my best book ever. I suppose the praise went to my head, making this review that much more of a bitter pill. How could the reviewer have so misinterpreted the scene she damned with faint praise?

I have blithely written before in this and other places that a writer should not take a bad review to heart. The reviewer may have had a bad day. She may not really like the genre she was critiquing.  And so on.

Yet I know this reviewer had plenty of time to read the story, so one bad day would not have influenced her. And the magazine carefully pairs the story to reviewers in that genre. So those excuses were empty.

Is it a poorly-constructed story? Were my readers and friends attempting to spare my feelings? Should I send it out for another impartial review? Should I even care?

I am nearly finished with the sequel and the first thought I had after reading the review was, “I should just quit now.”

But after two days of moping, I decided I would not stop so near the finish line. I will complete the novel and then go over it to make it the best writing possible. Beta readers will be asked to give their honest opinion. I will make changes even if they hurt.

Looking back, it wasn’t a bad review. It just wasn’t a good one. I can take it in stride and let it encourage me to do better.

And I will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What rules do you follow?

Here are four things writers should do:

  • Read outside your genre
  • Study your craft
  • Write every day
  • Set goals

There are many more you can add, but these are what popped into my head. Do I do them?

Surely, you jest (makes frowny face).

But I do read every day, and I enjoy many different genres: historical, biography, science fiction, fantasy (no, they are not the same), thrillers , and mystery.  I read books from the library and books on my Kindle app. I read magazines and newspapers and cereal boxes and directions on detergent bottles. I am one of those people who panic when there isn’t a book in the house I haven’t read and the library is closed.

I subscribe to Writer’s Digest and study the articles, even if they don’t apply to me. Last weekend, I attended a workshop on writing narrative poetry with former NC Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti. I don’t intend to write a narrative poem, but there was so much more I learned that I can use.

Do I write every day? I know this is the rule that sets professionals apart from wannabes, but truthfully, it just isn’t possible. Life gets in the way. This week, I had meetings six of seven days. But I did manage to write most of those days. I believe setting up a goal to write every single day without fail is  setting yourself up to fail. Sometimes we need a breather.

Conversely, writing every day is like going to church. You miss one Sunday, then another, and pretty soon you aren’t going at all.

You see where I am heading with this.

Goals are good, though. I made my goal of writing 30 pages before our next writers’ club meeting. Then, since we don’t meet in December, I vowed I would finish my first draft before the January 26 meeting.

I think I will make it. I am near enough the end that I am eager to get it all put together. Today I wrote a crucial scene. It needs tweaking, but the bones are there.

I also did something I have never done before. I am a straight-line writer. I start at point A and end at point Z. But the ending of the story was so strong in my head that I went bravely forward and wrote it down before the impetus and excitement faded. Yes, excitement. I feel exhilarated when I can literally feel the story come alive.

So I guess thing number five would be, don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone.

Happy Thanksgiving all, and don’t forget to skip that second helping of candied yams to leave room for the pumpkin pie.

 

 

 

 

 

Pratfalls and pitfalls

For the past two Friday mornings, I have joined a group of like-minded crafters in a local coffee shop to work on pine needle baskets. I had the idea of extending my skill by adding beads to my basket. I thought I had it all figured out.

When I finished the round, I discovered that my beads were on in inside of the basket, not the outside where they belonged.

My companions assured me that they thought it looked fine. I did not agree.

When I got home, I ripped out three rounds of weaving. This was not easy, as I had to pick out every loop. The whole, knotty business reminded me of the Gordian Knot. I wished I could just cut all the threads, but I was just mad enough and determined enough that I sought to save the thread and pine needles and re-use them. (That’s a Great Depression lesson learned at my mother’s knee.)

I then re-did the whole thing. This time the pesky beads stayed where I meant them to stay.

Gordian Knot

Why I’m telling you this is because I ran across the same thing in my story. For reasons I can’t (or won’t) disclose, one of my characters has to have her baby due in July. I counted on my fingers, the time-honored way to check the length of a pregnancy, and discovered that she would in fact be due sometime in March. That wouldn’t work.

I back-tracked and moved the scene where she announces her pregnancy further long in the book. This had the domino effect of making every previous and subsequent scene out of kilter.

I was so upset when I discovered this that I quit and spent way too much time tracking long-dead relatives on ancestry.com.

So now I have to cut each scene, place it in a separate file, and then replace it in the correct order in my timeline.

Even the thought makes my head ache. But it has to be done before I can move forward.

Sorta like my basket. I could ignore the mistake, continue on, and make an even worse muddle, or grit my teeth and do the unraveling called for.

This is what it’s like to be a writer. No one in their right mind would choose such a frustrating career. Frankly, it chooses them.

On the other hand, you don’t see a lot of people deciding to make baskets of pine needles and raffia, either.

 

 

My Secret Garden

Lawn maintenance has become a problem as I get older. I have not yet finished raking the winter accumulation of pine straw, pine cones, sweet gum balls,  and fallen twigs and branches from the periphery of the back yard. One reason is that I have been gone a lot this spring, and the other is that every time I think I have some part of it cleaned up, a heavy rain or wind gusts bring more debris down and I have to do it all over again.

One day I decided that I needed something less labor intensive. I decided to take out some of the ancient bushes along the front of the house that seem to need trimming about every other week. This wasn’t something I could do  by myself, so I called on Number Three Son to come up with his chainsaw.

Three of the five bushes gave up easily, but  remaining two had apparently petrified into stone. The chainsaw motor burned out before the job could be done. leaving two unsightly stumps.

“Never mind,” I said. We replaced the two shrubs that flanked the steps to the den with cypress that won’t need to be trimmed. Then, in the space between the ramp and the house where the other three were, I sprayed weedkiller. A week later, I raked  out the dead weeds and laid crushed brick. My palette was ready

I drilled a hole in the smaller stump to hold my bottle tree, and then cut the bottom off a planter and fitted it around the bigger stump. I filled it with some white pebbles Jim had bought years ago for an  ill-fated rock garden in the back yard (ill-fated because I had to  lug a watering can down there to keep the plants happy and I kept forgetting or going away for a week, and the plants always died).

Then I put in some yard art. Some I already had out back and moved to the front, and some I bought on a whim. I may add more, but I have to be aware of the hose because I do have some  live plants in the little patch between the brick and the steps. I have plans for this later, like moving the lily bulbs to the back because they are too tall. Which they weren’t when that bush was behind them. Such is perspective. I call new area my secret garden because it can’t be seen from the road. Only someone coming up the walk can see it.

But right now, a certain amount of work has been eliminated, leaving me time to concentrate on other things. I am looking forward to a picnic with my writers’ club friends today, and then on Tuesday, a trip to Fearrington Village in Pittsboro to hear Louise Penny talk about her newest book in the Three Pines series.

All much more fun than raking and mowing.

 

Avoiding distractions — or not

I promised myself I would sit dutifully at my computer and play catch-up. First on my list was reading three contest entries and then filling out the score sheet. I don’t take this duty lightly, reading each at least three times and then trying to leave thoughtful, encouraging remarks. I know too well what just one disparaging comment can do to a writer’s soul. I’ve been on that end, too.

But distractions happen, and this time the distraction was not the telephone, doorbell, or a sudden emergency with my computer. It was the constant chirping from a small birdhouse filled with baby wrens.

I knew they were there. I’d seen the parents busily building their nest, heard the first feeble chirps. Maybe if I’d kept the deck door shut, I wouldn’t have heard them, but the cooler weather was too enticing.

One evening earlier this week I sat out on the deck with my book and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.  The hummingbirds didn’t seem to mind, nor the the finches eagerly prising seeds from a cylindrical mesh sock. But the mother and father wren kept up a constant chatter. I looked up to see one parent scolding away with a bug in his or her beak.

I wondered how they could make a noise with their beak filled with supper for their little ones. Just as the thought crossed my mind, the bird gulped the tidbit down and flew away.  Then the other parent appeared, this time with a grub, and repeated the same scenario. Meanwhile, having been cheated out of their supper, the little ones cheeped pathetically.

It dawned on me that the parents would eat the food themselves before daring to cross in front of me to enter the birdhouse. Feeling like a schoolyard bully, I took my book and wineglass indoors. Peering out of sight through the screen door, I was relieved to see the parents resume their feeding ritual.

But this day, a day when I needed no distractions, the baby chorus had definitely increased in decibels. Even shutting the sliding glass door didn’t mute it. To add to the din, both parents kept up a loud, irritated cheeping of their own. I thought perhaps they were coaxing the youngsters from their nest, so I put my work aside and went to look. This event was something I’d long wanted to observe.

But no, the birds were scolding a cat, or another bird, or some other object of their ire. In between, they’d swoop in and temporarily silence their offspring with another morsel.

I eventually managed to put the outdoor racket from my mind, completed the score sheet, and sent it on its way to the judging coordinator.

I sometimes think I would be a more prolific, or at least a faster writer, if I didn’t succumb to such distractions.

But then, look what I’d miss!

 

 

 

 

Travelin’ shoes

You’d think after the trip to England and Scotland I took  last April, I’d put up my suitcase for awhile. But no, I went to Wilmington NC to see my granddaughter graduate  from community college. Then I drove to Pennsylvania for a week to see my sister. After one day at home to mow the front yard and wash some clothes, I headed out for Decatur, GA, to see my youngest grandson graduate from high school. Proud to say he made honor roll all four years and is now headed for Georgia Tech.

Going away for a weekend is one thing, but a week or more is another. Luckily I have friends willing to check on the cats to make sure they have food and water, (and clean the litter boxes) while I am gone. And, with this heat wave and no rain, to water the shrubs and flowers I have added to the front yard.

I have one more trip planned for this summer to Louisville KY and maybe a jaunt to the beach. My motto is: Go while you have the chance and the stamina!

And need I mention the friends who make it possible? Of course I return the favor or show my appreciation in some way. We support each other.

That’s why I like to write books about women and their circle of friends. “Angels

For the past three years I have planted the Easter lily I got from church … look how they have multiplied!

Unaware” and “The Lunch Club” are my favorites in this genre. My work in progress is also about friends…the ones you don’t recognize until almost too late.

So in between travels and visits, I am slowly getting the pages written. It’s another way to travel, back in time and entering a world long gone, meeting people who become real to me as I learn their hopes and dreams and share their disappointments.

Whether you travel in “real time” or through the pages of a book you re reading (or writing), I wish you a happy journey.

 

 

Is it Summer yet?

Where I live in North Carolina, it feels like August. It has been unseasonably hot (or if you believe in global warming, as I do) maybe it is seasonably hot. Just a new normal. Honestly, it feels like late August and it isn’t even June yet!

I’ve been putting many, many hard hours doing yard work. I wish I could say I have been weeding pretty flower beds, but mostly it has been just keeping up. And I am not even doing that as I am behind with my raking up the winter’s accumulation of pine straw, pine cones, sweet gum balls, and general sticks and twigs along the creek edge of my property. Don’t get me started on mowing the yard! What with the rain and sun, the grass seems to grow an inch overnight.

In the interest of making the yard less labor-intensive, I took out six bushes along the front of the house, cutting my pruning chore in half. (Actually, I didn’t take them out. My son did, bless him.) Then we planted some dwarf hydrangeas and vintage gold cypress that won’t need so much care and will add color to the front.

I still have to pressure wash both decks and repaint them. Hopefully, my kids will organize a work party and come up to help me with that.

Along with that, I’ve been traveling. May is graduation month, so there is that. My granddaughter graduated from community college and my grandson will graduate from high school May 31, so there were trips to Wilmington and one coming up to Atlanta. In between, I am going to visit my sister in Pennsylvania! Lots of driving, but my motto is go while you can.

So as for writing … not so much. I am diligently trying to get in at least 1,000 words every day, but some days I just don’t have the time or the energy. I’ve been sending out queries but nothing to report there yet.I continue to be hopeful that some day someone will read my first 10 pages and be blown away and beg for the rest of the manuscript. However, I am realistic and know that the chance of that happening is slim.

And, this weekend I will be attending an author event which is always fun. I love to meet new readers and other authors! Maybe I will even sell a book or two, who knows.

So between writing, gadding about, and yard work, the summer is flying by before it even gets here. I do find time to sit on the deck evenings and watch the birds. A pair of wrens has nested in the birdhouse on the deck rail, and a cardinal mama is guarding her eggs in the gardenia bush. The hummingbirds are on their nests now, but soon will be coming back to fiercely guard “their” feeder. The purple finches and sparrows are at the finch feeder, and a mockingbird is enjoying the suet ball. All of which proves entertaining not only to me, but the cats, who chatter their teeth every time they see a bird. I keep them strictly inside as I do not want to encourage murder.

I hope everyone had an enjoyable Mother’s Day and that you are making Memorial Day plans. Before we know it, it will be Fourth of July!

Yep, summer isn’t even here and  it’s nearly over already.

 

 

 

 

 

What century is it?

I had a phone call this morning. It took me a minute to understand what the caller wanted.

“I’m sorry,” I said contritely. “I had to get my head out of the 19th century.” I’m not sure she knew what I meant, but if you’ve ever been reading an engrossing story, only to jerked back to the real world by an interruption such as a phone call or a child crying, you will understand the disconnect. It’s the same with writing.

I had been working on my novel, which takes place in 1820, and at the moment the phone rang I was wondering just what a person back then would put on a bruise and a nasty gash. After I answered the caller’s question, I went back to work.

Unfortunately, Google could not solve my problem. I’m sure people without access to the Mayo Clinic or its 200-year-old equivalent had plenty of home remedies, but it will take more research to find out.

I think some writers do all the research they will need before beginning their novel. Others may do research when and as they need it. I like to finish the story and then go back and fill in the gaps if I can’t find what I need right away. Stopping to look up a cure or a fashion detail can lead to hours spent musing over different websites, each one leading me down another path until I realize I’ve wasted hours reading information that, while fascinating, will never find a place in my story.

Distractions such as phone calls or enticing detours are the pitfalls of writing from home. I could take the phone off the hook (at least my landline, which most of my friends use). But then they would simply call my cell phone. If I managed to ignore that, they would worry and come knocking on the door to see if I was all right, so that wouldn’t work.

As for getting lost in research, that is my own fault and I know I need to be more disciplined. It’s too easy to type in a few words and see the wealth of information that pops up.  Back when the world and I were younger, finding out an elusive fact meant getting into the car and going to the library, filling out a slip of paper to hand to the librarian, waiting for her to bring you a book, taking the volume to a table, and then copying what you needed into a notebook.

There are days when I think I need to rent a cabin for a week and take with me only a couple of pens and some paper. No phone, no Internet, no books or television. I’d be forced to write without interruption.

But honestly, I don’t think I’d last a day.  There are only so many hours you can spend in a book whether you are reading it or writing it.  You have to come back to the real world eventually.

We just want our return to be on our terms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading, Writing and … Arithmetic?

All morning I have been going over figures, adding and subtracting, and being surprised when they all balanced at the end of the column.

No, not my checkbook, but the accounts of our writers’ club, for which I, in a mad moment, took responsibility for when the former treasurer resigned. We have two, a savings account and a checking account. Savings is easy: I just add in the few cents interest earned each month and it is done.

Checking is harder in that I am prone to make deposits and forget what they were for … dues, book sales, donations? Ditto with checks. Luckily for me our bank sends a copy of each cancelled check with the monthly statement or I’d be really lost.

It isn’t that difficult if you keep up with it. Alas, I sat down to do a report for an upcoming meeting and realized I hadn’t done one for almost a year! I had made a monthly report highlighting any notable expenses, but as for a typed-up, official report — nada.Image result for adding machine clipart

When I finally got all the figures neatly typed up and exported to a .pdf that I put on our website, I vowed never to let it slide so far again. But I probably will, simply because I hate figures. So why do I do it? Because year after year, when we hold elections, I beg someone else to take over the job. And no one does. I realize that if I were to be hit by a bus tomorrow, someone would have to take over, but knowing my fellow club members no one will be over-the-moon happy about it. I expect plenty of grumbling.

Until that day comes, I will do it not because I like being a martyr, but because I know if a club is to survive, every member has to do his or her part. Even writers clubs, where you would think all we do is sit around and listen to each other read at Open Mic or hold critique sessions. Our club does a little more than this. In the past we have written and presented an outdoor drama, held a two-state-wide writers conference, and hosted story-telling events and workshops on writing. To do all these things, money has to flow in and out.

And someone has to keep track of it.

So I’m not complaining. I’m just explaining why I haven’t written a word on my WIP today.

We writers just love excuses!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The (He)art of Journaling

Some years ago, my daughter-in-law presented me with a blank journal. I was pleased with the gift and vowed to use it to record only happy thoughts and experiences. I realized I had been a little negative lately (had she picked up on this?) and that I needed to change my perspective. Focusing on at least one good thing that happened each day would, I thought, condition me to look for the good rather than the bad.

It wasn’t as easy as it sounds. There were days where nothing good seemed to happen at all. I learned that if I  wanted to write something positive, I had to look for it.

Then the unthinkable happened. Jim died unexpectedly and my world was torn apart. For weeks, months, I howled my grief and despair on the pages. I blamed the doctors who didn’t think his infection was important enough to follow up  on. I blamed myself for not making an issue of it. I blamed everyone and everything until I realized that blame was worthless and not helping me heal.

Then I started writing about all the little things I had to do, a check list of sorts. Insurance, deeds, titles, credit accounts, all had to be sorted and reassigned. Every time I accomplished something on my list, I made a note of it. Sometimes it was easy, and more often it was hard and complicated and frustrating. The more difficult it was, the more satisfaction I took in recording the task’s completion.

When everything was sorted out, I began recording the little (and big) jumps I made out of my safety zone. There was the first time I ate in a restaurant alone. I was on my way home from an appointment. It was noon, and I was hungry. I said, “Why not?”

Afterward, I wondered what had taken me so long.

I learned to drive the riding mower, something Jim had never wanted me to do. I guess he was afraid I’d turn it over or something. Now I use it all the time.

I learned to pump my own gas. Can you believe that?

There were many little and big things I had to do for the first time, and I managed to do them all. Not that I’m asking for a pat on the back, but it is surprising how we let our partners take sole responsibility for certain chores. I know of husbands who couldn’t for the life of them figure out the checking account or which bills are paid when when their wives died. Or who couldn’t cook a simple meal or figure out the washing machine. So don’t you men shake your heads at me!

I think all marriages should do a little cross-training, like companies do with their employees.

Now when I journal, I write down things I have done for the simple reason that I like reading back over the entries and remembering the visit, the trip, or the fun luncheon with friends. I also write down when I’m feeling blue or lonely, because those days still come. Not as often, but still … And writing about my feelings helps me understand them and accept them.

Many people journal for many different reasons. I think those reasons can change with life circumstances, as mine did. No reason is better or worse than another.

If you are a writer, you might want to try keeping a journal. You can start with writing down one good thing that happened today.

 

 

 

Distractions and how to use them

I “wasted” too much time on ancestry.com this morning. I meant to finish up one line and ended up tracking another … it’s so easy to get ensnared in following the elusive clues, combing through records and family histories. The further back you go, the more things get disoriented — dates don’t match, wives seem interchangeable with mothers, children have the same names, especially if one died young and a subsequent child was given the deceased sibling’s name.

I haven’t found out anything terribly interesting. There are a lot of Ladies and Sir Knights and Barons, but I don’t put too much stock in it. I believe other ancestor-hunters love titles and appropriate them whenever expedient. I have one ancestor who is

said to have been godfather to William Shakespeare. I’m going to visit Stratford-upon-Avon in a few weeks and  maybe I will have the opportunity to check that out. And I had a boatload (pun intended) of dissenters who came to America in the Great Migration. A few even came over on the Mayflower. (My Mom would have loved that!) One pastor who left the Church of England was told to immigrate or face prison. He made the wise choice.

So I guess it’s no wonder that my characters in my latest story are searching for their own families. Orphaned at a young  age, Bethann runs off to seek her mother’s family when the one she was adopted into morphs through death and marriage. Sounds easy, but this is in the early 1800’s and there is no ancestry.com to help her. The best she can do is hop on a stagecoach and visit the town mentioned in her mother’s Bible, and begin asking questions.

Henry thinks he has found his family, after discovering that he, too, was adopted. But he is tragically misled and the consequences will be deadly if others learn who he really is before he does.

The theme running through the story is what family is and why it matters. I know people who were adopted and don’t give a fig about finding their birth parents, content with the family they were given. Others sought desperately for answers, trying to fill a need that ate at them until it was satisfied.

I’m not desperate, just curious. I started looking because we don’t know a lot bout my father’s family. The paternal line ends in a few generations, but I researched my grandmother’s side and found a rich history that I might have been unaware of if I’d stayed with the paternal side and gave up after finding the dead end … or “EOL”.

I think I know now why my father tended to preach at us kids. He had it in his DNA on his mother’s side.

 

 

Progress of sorts

As I said last week, I am participating in a program for Black History Month that recognizes  the contributions of all people regardless of ethnicity toward the cause of equality.

I pulled together a costume that might be worn by a rather fierce mid-19th century abolitionist lady: long skirt, high-necked, long-sleeved pleated blouse, high black boots. I tried on a shawl, but it didn’t look right. Nor could I find a hat that looked right, so I opted to believe the lady was speaking indoors and wouldn’t necessarily be wearing a hat. With totally opposite reasoning, I tried to find a pair of gloves. I did find a pair in the back of one of my dresser drawers. I used to have many women’s gloves, but had donated all but this pretty pair to costumes for our outdoor drama. Alas, these are stained and I have been trying every remedy I can think of to remove the blotches.

Elizabeth B. Chace

The hardest part was my hair. I wear it short, so I parted it in the middle and combed the sides straight back. It makes a severe look, which I thought appropriate. I’m sure my character, Mrs. Chace, was kind to her charges, but I imagine her strong in her beliefs.

We had dress rehearsal and although I’d been practicing my little piece, it flew out of my mind when I realized there would be actual people there. I recovered quickly and spoke my lines with only a few minor lapses.

My friend Beverley and I decided to get a quick supper after rehearsal and went to a local pizzeria in our costumes. We raised nary an eyebrow. I may be getting a local reputation for eccentricity. As Eleanor Roosevelt, Beverley simply looked stylish.

I  haven’t been neglecting my writing. I sent out another query, and have written more pages.  Whether or not they are any good remains to be seen. Here is where I will rely on beta readers.

All this takes time. Time is something you squander when you are young, and try to hang onto when you are old. Alas, it slips through your fingers either way. I am beginning to feel a sense of urgency, which may be why I am sticking to my writing schedule more rigidly than I have previously.

So I am working and having fun in equal parts, which is not to say having fun isn’t work at times (memorizing lines) and working isn’t having fun (looking up from writing to discover an hour has flown by).

The program will be behind me in a few days. Hopefully, I can say the same about this book in a few months!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding balance

I have been writing a little every day. The story is taking shape, although I realize that I don’t like my leading character all that much. She is turning out to be willful, spoiled, and lacking in grace.

In other words, she’s a teenager.

I raised three sons, but never a daughter, so I’m having to pull out some of my own youthful actions and thoughts to build on. Looking back, I wasn’t all that pleasant to live with, either. Luckily, my parents had patience. Lots and lots of patience.

Writers form a kind of attachment to their characters that other people can’t understand. (I wish there was a word for “non-writers” such as muggles for non-magic folks. Oh, wait, they’re called readers.)

Anyway, I see Bethann as a work in progress as much as my book is. I’m tossing a lot of problems in her path, but also giving her the intelligence and courage to solve them. She seems to blocking me at very turn, though. She says things I didn’t plan on writing and does things I didn’t foresee. I had thought her relationship with her guardian’s new husband would be a happy one, but Bethann doesn’t see it that way. She resents having a man in her life after living seventeen years with two older women. He laughs too much, takes up too much space in the house, and worse, tries to act as her father.

You can’t really enjoy a book without a cat on your lap

Wouldn’t you rebel, too?

I’m enjoying getting to know this young lady and finding out what she plans to do next. Yes, I had a outline and thought I  knew exactly how the story would take shape. So much for that.

Meanwhile, I’ve gotten involved in more outside activities. I realize that I need to get out of my office once in awhile and talk to real, living breathing people. My book clubs do this for me, and I can’t emphasize enough how these ladies make me laugh and cry and feel part of a community. And I recently joined a service club. Their big fundraiser for the year to raise money for scholarships is the annual soup and sandwich luncheon. So I’ve been helping with that, dumping industrial-size cans of veggies into giant pots. I’ve been amazed at  how organized chaos can be.

So its a balance between a quiet, internal life and an external, sometimes confusing one. I think writers need a little of both. We can be in our own heads so much we wouldn’t know reality if it hit us in the face. On the other hand, we can get so busy with dashing here and there, doing this and that, that there is no time for writing.

Or reading.

Somehow, I always find time to curl up with a good book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading, writing, and weaving

My presentation went well last week. There was good attendance, although a few members were out sick. I tried to stay on course, pretty much laying it all out there and letting people take what was relevant to them (mentally, not physically).

There were some questions and I answered them to the best of my ability. My message was “There ain’t no shortcut to publishing” which sounds  good except one member got picked up by a university press without even querying. He was recommended, so there you are. Submitted, and wham! a published book. Followed by book #2 and if it weren’t for Florence and her shennanagins, book # 3 would be out about now.

So there are exceptions. I even named one: Diana Gabaldon, who was picked up after querying a half-finished novel one time. Which became a huge hit on Starz. Please don’t ask who she is. If you don’t know, you have been living in a cave.

This weekend was a little different. I signed up for another pine-needle basket weaving class. It was another beginner’s class, and I learned some things I didn’t know or hadn’t fully grasped the first time. I really went to have the instructor show me how to add embellishments such as beads or buttons. Success! She made it look so easy.

The first class I took had two participants, including me. This one had eight. It was a lot of fun. Most of us knew each other, so conversation flew from current books being read to politics (quickly shelved as we were all getting depressed), near-drowning experiences (how that came up I don’t know), and how women used to have to make about everything they used from clothing to candles to baskets. I hated when it came time to break up.

I have a busy week coming up three church meetings and one book club meeting. We are reading “Becoming” by Michelle Obama. Meanwhile, I checked out every Louise Penny novel in the library that I hadn’t yet read. I realized I had read a couple, but re-read them anyway. So glad she is writing another Gamache story.

I know–I need to find time for writing my own novel somewhere in there.  I am on chapter four! So it’s coming along. I have it plotted out in my head, but darn, it is taking a lot of research. So most of my time is spent writing a sentence and then thinking, “I need to look that up.”  I’m thinking I need to have some information of 18th newspapers and printing. And publishing.

Why didn’t I start a nice contemporary where I already know how things work? Or at least have an approximate idea.

Sometimes writers are masochists, just sayin’.

 

 

 

Gadgets: necessities or luxuries?

I treated myself to a new iPad for Christmas. My old one would no longer update and I was missing out on some apps I really wanted/needed. This is my third one, and I realized they were piling up. So I thought I would reset the two old ones to factory settings and give them to someone who wouldn’t care how new it was as long as they could play games and get email.

My oldest  one — and the very first one that came out — obligingly reset itself and says Hello! when you open it.

The second one doesn’t seem to recognize my passcode which I have used steadfastly on everything for the past 10 years. Yes, I know I should have different codes for each device, just like I should have different passwords for each account, but I am forgetful and/or lazy, take your pick.

So what to do? I  need a handy grandkid to help me out on this.

In other news, I didn’t keep the pregnant cat. In the end, I was persuaded to let her go to rescue where she and the kittens (unborn when last I saw her) would be fostered and then given good homes in Connecticut, of all places. Seems they are as scarce on cats there as we are suffering an over abundance here. I regretted it almost immediately, but as the shelter director told me, “You already have three cats.”

Well yes, and what does that have to do with anything?

I had to look twice to see that is an armadillo, not a cat. It should be a cat.

And I have been working  on my query. When I say working,  I mean I am trying different approaches in my mind. What best expresses the story? What will catch an agent’s or editor’s eye and prompt them to ask for more?

Why do I feel as if I am back in high school preparing for the final exam in English composition?

I suppose I will eventually stumble on the right combination of words and then I will gather up my courage and send them off, going down a list of agents who have expressed an interest in historical novels.

My goal is to have the first two come together in the third, to create a trilogy. Number one is already published; number two is the one I am trying to sell; and the third is three chapters in and my mind is once again going into overdrive with imagined scenes and plot twists.

To let  you now how distracted I’ve been, when the woman cleaning my teeth asked if I had any trips planned for this year I said maybe a trip to Louisville, and completely forgot that I am going to London this spring! How could I forget that!

Only another writer will understand how completely a new book takes over your mind, to the exclusion of everything else. Luckily, I have learned how to add dates to my iPhone calendar so it can remind me of upcoming events.  What would we do without these convenient toys/tools?

I still haven’t decided if an iPhone or iPad is a luxury or a necessity. I just know I don’t want to do without mine.

Unless I am stranded on a desert island. Then I want books with me. Lots of books.

Because there is no Internet on a desert island.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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