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Monday, December 26, 2011

End of 2011


Since I started writing this blog, I've hit my self-imposed deadline of Monday morning every week. Well, it wouldn't be titled "Monday Morning Musings" if I posted on Tuesday, would it? This week, I missed the morning part. Instead, today was a day to celebrate Christmas with my grandchildren. Oh, sure, husband, daughter, and son-in-law were there, too. It's just such a delight in celebrating with young children. Consequently, my priorities shifted today and the blog took second place.

There is something about the week after Christmas that makes us look back on the year. Newspapers do a year in review, television news reports do entire segments on it. Perhaps it's that sense of ending that causes us to reflect on the immediate past.

Like many people, my husband and I put together a letter summarizing the past year for our far-flung friends and family. To do that, we start with the same old question "where did the year go?" We try to put a positive spin on the events—nobody wants to read doom and gloom during the holiday season. There have been years that weren't so good. The three years in a row when we lost a close family member or when the job market took a nose dive carrying one of us with it. Despite those events, there were good times like the birth of a grandchild or milestone birthdays. We figure it's a plus when we're still alive and kicking.

In 2011, the world took some weird turns. The aforementioned news programs will be sure to concentrate on war, revolutions, natural disasters, and so many other tragedies that it feels as if the only thing to be grateful for is that the year is over. Gee, what would happen if they only reported the good? Maybe nobody would believe it.

Besides celebrating that my children and grandchildren are happy, that we're all fairly healthy, that we have extended family and good friends who care about us, I'm happy that this year my writing career got back on track. Thanks to advice from other writers, I found a way to give new life to a book that I thought was over. That encouraged me to finish the sequel and renewed my enthusiasm for other stories that were languishing in my computer. Consequently, I'm looking forward to the new year and new opportunities.

I hope as you look back on 2011 you will find good things to celebrate.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Christmas Gift

      After two weeks of “chatting” with writer friends, it’s back to our "regularly scheduled program". In the bustle of gift buying, parties—the ones we give or attend—decorating the house, sending out cards, there doesn’t seem to be time to do all that we want or to sit back and just enjoy the holiday season.

     Like most people, I’m usually rushing around trying to find that last gift or stocking stuffer or being gently harassed by my husband to finish our annual letter (he writes it; I add, correct, tweak...). This year is different. On December 1st, our son came from Phoenix so we celebrated Christmas early. The house was clean, decorations were up, gifts were wrapped, food stocked—all by the time he walked in the door. You could even see the top of my desk—a miracle that only happens when I can’t find something. Did we do all this for our son? Heavens, no. Well, not all because of him. He’s used to the chaos of our house. He knows when he visits there will be clean sheets on the bed and the bathroom will be cleaned. The rest...let’s just say House Beautiful won’t be setting up a photo shoot. This visit was different. He brought his girlfriend with him. We met her in October and spent a lovely week on vacation with her and our son. On future visits, she can see the “real” thing. Just not the first time.

     With almost everything done early, I’ve had time to muse about Christmases past. Many come to mind as an adult. Not so many as a child. Except for the Christmas I was ten. That was the year I was convinced Santa would bring a puppy. While I didn’t believe in Santa anymore, I had to pretend because of younger siblings. And “Santa” knew I wanted a puppy. My parents repeatedly said “no pets”, but I just knew they were pretending. During the night, I was sure I heard a puppy whining. On Christmas morning, I looked and looked for a box big enough for that puppy. There wasn’t one. When I opened my gift, I found a Brownie Hawkeye camera.

     A camera, not a puppy. Ten-year-olds don’t mask disappointment well. I’m sure my mom was hurt by my reaction, though I don’t remember her ever saying anything. But then, ten-year-olds are oblivious to how they affect adults. What I didn’t realize until much later was what a truly wonderful gift that camera was. I got over my disappointment in not getting that puppy. I took pictures of many, many things. Siblings, giggling girlfriends, vacations. Since then, I’ve always had a camera. From that Brownie Hawkeye to an Instamatic to a Canon SLR to the digital camera I have now. I’ve had movie cameras from a Super 8 to a camcorder and movie capability on that digital camera. I’ve recorded memories from the mundane to the momentous. I’ve taken enough slides and home movies to cure everyone of insomnia. The wonder of what that first camera started was brought to mind as I watched our son show his girlfriend the photo albums that captured his past.

     As my brain reaches overload and kicks out old memories to make room for new, I’ll see a photo from long ago and the whole event comes right back. Not just what happened at the instant the shutter snapped but everything before and after. Trips with friends then with husband, our newborn children, their first Christmases/birthdays/schooldays/graduations, daughter’s wedding, grandchildren. Treasures.

     Maybe Mom just thought a camera was a nice gift for a ten-year-old. Or maybe she knew it would lead to a lifelong fascination with capturing memories.

     As I wish you and your families happy memories of this holiday season, I’m curious. What was your most memorable gift?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Chat with Margo Hoornstra

Today, I’m visiting with Margo Hoornstra. She’s a talented writer and a good friend. Here’s her bio:

Personal: Wife to one, mother to four--seven if you count in-law children, which I do--and grandmother to three so far with one more on the way. Resident of the upper Midwest.

Work Experience: magazine editor, television producer, script writer, speech writer and public relations specialist.

Additional: Founding member, Mid-Michigan Romance Writers of America.

Diane:  Welcome, Margo. I’m excited to hear about the Three-in-One Virtual Blog Tour you just completed. How did it go?

Margo:  Beyond my wildest dreams. No really! The presentations on the blogs were nicely done. I was very proud of them. The commenters were positive, thoughtful and encouraging. Not to mention the books I was promoting Glad Tidings; Next Tuesday at Two; and To Be, Or Not each received some fabulous reviews—read FIVE STARS. Those were very, very nice, and heartening to read. I’d like to put in a plug here for Marianne of Goddess Fish Promotions, who made it all happen.

Diane:  Tell me about your latest book.

Margo:  Do you mean my three for the Class of ’85 reunion series or my current WIP? Just kidding. Discussing my WIP would probably turn into a massive critique session, so I’ll tell you about my books that are currently out.

They all end in happily ever after. But, that’s part of the deal, right? Glad Tidings has a line I and my editor are particularly fond of. My heroine contemplates her current relationship with the hero and thinks - What kind of woman buries her husband in the afternoon and sleeps with his best friend that night? Although the book starts out a bit steamy, it is really about second chances and hanging in there to get what you want to out of life.

In Next Tuesday at Two, Blane Weston knows exactly where she’s headed in life and how she’s going to get there. Matt Durand has other ideas for her. The fun part for me of writing this story was creating what I call an anti-hero, Aaron Goodwin, who pursues Blane to no avail. I enjoyed writing so called ‘love scenes’ between Aaron and Blane which she, of course, wanted no part of.

In To Be, Or Not I was able to use a fellow Class of ’85 author’s character, Bison County Sheriff Rory McElroy. It turned out the sheriff was the only male character who could make the hero, Barry Carlson, sweat.

Diane:  Your books are about second chances. How do you relate to that?

Margo:  How much time and space do we have? Second chances seem to be what I’m about. As I wrote for one of the blogs on my Three In One Virtual Tour: My life has late bloomer written all over it. (If you don’t count that I was married at 18 and had my first child at 19.) I earned an English Degree in 1997, thirty years after my original entry into college right out of high school. At 32, I gave birth to twins who joined their brother and sister, thirteen and nine. And, after several years of seeking publication and ultimately giving up for a time, I’m now enjoying the achievement of being multi published in romantic fiction.

Diane:  How difficult was it for you to start over with your writing career?

Margo:  Not difficult at all, because I never really left it. I was constantly thinking about stories and kept my hand in, if you will, by writing short stories that eventually sold to Woman’s World and Country Woman. Also, my day job required me to do a lot of writing, but other people’s words, not mine.

Diane:  Love your short bio (at the top of this post). Care to expand on it?

Margo:  To begin with, the one on the way grandchild arrived on December 2nd at 4:16 AM.  For the rest of the expansion, I will revert again to my blog tour. One host asked if my careers in the entertainment world helped me become a better writer. Full disclosure here, I don’t want to mislead anyone about my stints as a television producer, script writer and magazine editor. Those jobs weren’t as glamorous as they sound and took place during my twenty some year career in public relations. The television shows were more educational than entertainment, they were what’s referred to as the ‘talking heads’ format, one host asking questions on a specific topic with two guests who were experts on said topic. The script writing was to fill viewers in about the subject being discussed and to give them some background into the credentials of the experts. Think newscast information. And the magazine editor was a monthly of the educational slash scientific variety, which was, I will say, a nice looking glossy with pictures. And, I would have to say, yes, those jobs helped me become a better writer because I had to produce under pressure, no matter what. And, as far as listing myself as a founding member of the Mid-Michigan Romance Writers of America, I’m very proud of having done that.

Diane:  Those of us who are members of MMRWA are very glad you did. What question was never asked on your tour that you’d like to answer?
Margo:  That’s a tough one, being that I feel I was brutally honest, maybe too honest, with the tour interviews and essays. I’m stumped.
Okay, not so stumped having thought about this. First and foremost, I appreciate you having me as a guest on your blog today, Diane. But, beyond that, I want to thank you for what you are doing for your fellow RWA members, specifically, and the romantic fiction profession in general. One of your early posts talked about exploring the Final Frontier, ala the Star Trek phenomenon. You, my dear, are a living example of that. When it would have been so easy for you to ‘fold your tents as it were and give up on your writing, you sought out new ways to succeed and share your work. What you have done in taking the initiative to put Switched and soon to be Switched Too on to Amazon and Smashwords is an inspiration to all of us. The social media avenue is the way of the future, and from those of us who are still cautiously navigating our way, thank you for stepping out to be a leader on our trip. Best of luck with your ‘new and improved’ writing career.
Diane:  Wow. Thank you so much. Now, I’m the one who is stumped for something to say—a rare phenomenon. It’s been great chatting with you, Margo. Thanks for stopping by.
Readers can find Margo on line at her blog and on FaceBook

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Chat with Nancy Gideon

Instead of my usual musing on Monday morning, I'd like you to meet a fabulous author who has been my friend and mentor since I started writing, Nancy Gideon. She's a prolific writer who turned me onto vampire romances years ago and with her new series she’s making me a fan of shape-shifters.

Nancy’s writing encompasses romance genres from historicals and regencies to contemporary suspense and the paranormal. Under her own name, she’s a bestseller for Silhouette Romantic Suspense, has written an award-winning vampire romance series, and has a six book shape-shifter series with Pocket Books. Also listed on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), she collaborated on Indie horror films In the Woods and Savage with screenwriting and ADR script credits, and even played a small role. She attributes her creative output, which once peaked at seven novels in one year, to her love of history and a gift for storytelling. She also credits the discipline learned through a background in journalism and OCD. The due date for her third book and her second son were on the same day . . . and both were early! When on deadline, she turns on the laptop between 4:30 and 5:00 a.m. to get a chapter in before work.

Diane: Nancy, your energy puts me to shame! I am so pleased you’ve taken time out of your busy schedule to chat about your latest release, Hunter of Shadows. Let’s get right to it. I just downloaded Hunter onto my Kindle and am halfway through already. Without giving away any spoilers (which I know you won’t) tell me about this book.

Nancy:  Hunter of Shadows is the fifth book of my dark paranormal By Moonlight shape-shifter series. The first four By Moonlight books followed the same couple; shape-shifting mob enforcer Max Savoie and NOPD detective Charlotte Caissie. Subsequent books, beginning with Hunter of Shadows, will expand that preternatural world with new main couples. Hunter of Shadows features Silas MacCreedy, an undercover NOPD detective with his own agenda to restore his family’s place in the Shifter hierarchy, and assassin Nica Fraser who is determined to get in his way both professionally and intimately. “Sparks fly immediately. Vivid writing, intriguing plot twists, and a satisfying ending will have readers coming back to Gideon’s magical NOLA,” says Publishers Weekly in their review. Hunter of Shadows will continue the underlying storylines and contain the regular characters that inhabit the By Moonlight world.

Diane:  Great review! I’m curious. What is the appeal of shape-shifters?

Nancy:  They are the ultimate Alpha Male:  Powerful, aggressive, protective, dangerous, yet loyal and, well, sexy! Not to be confused with werewolves, in my By Moonlight world, Shifters control the degree of their transformation and are completely aware of their actions.

Diane:  You’ve written over 50 books. How did you get started writing?

Nancy:  Back when dinosaurs roamed . . . well, back before computers, anyway, I always had a story begging me to find pencil and notepaper. I’ve always written, because I couldn’t NOT write. I was a stay-at-home mom who’d finished four romance novels and finally got up the courage to submit one to publishers I’d found in an old copy of Fiction Writers Market. I was so ignorant of the entire process (remember, this was before online writers groups!) and so isolated from everything but the local bookstore and library, it’s amazing I sold. But I did, on the second submission, and have continued to, in areas from historicals and contemporary suspense to paranormal and horror screenplays, right up to my latest negotiation which is currently in the works.

Diane:  How do you keep coming up with new ideas?

Nancy:  Ideas aren’t the problem—time is. I’ve always got several book plots, or even entire series, cooking on the back burner (I’m a compulsive plotter!), but working full time for going on 12 years limits the number of hours I can devote to developing them. Ideas are everywhere—in music, in TV shows, walking down the street, on Twitter and Facebook—you just have to know where to look and how to see them.

Diane:  I totally understand that. Too many stories, too little time. With that in mind, what inspired you to write Hunter of Shadows?

Nancy:  When I was contracting for books 4-6, Pocket wanted to expand beyond the initial concept with Max and Cee Cee, so I reworked the already written book four, Bound By Moonlight, to wrap a lot of their story arc. Then I needed a strong hero and heroine to move the plot lines forward. I needed characters that were involved in the NOLA world, and could interact easily with the characters already established there, but none of my existing secondaries were quite right. So, I brought in outsiders, two new characters briefly introduced in Book 4, and then built upon their mysterious ties to the Shifter clan in New Orleans. And I really enjoyed them!

Diane:  Speaking of characters, which of your characters is most like you?

Nancy:  I think we always tend to write characters than embody traits we admire or would like to have (if we don’t already). I could never have a TSTL (To Stupid To Life) main character, though they do serve a purpose in minor roles. All my characters are strong willed, smart, self-sufficient, but not without quirks and insecurities. Sound like anyone you know?

Diane:  Yes, indeedy. On that note, which of your characters do you wish you were more like?

Nancy:  The ones who are secure in their happily-ever-after. And the rich ones . . . with long legs who can wear stilettos!

Diane: LOL. Don’t we all wish. Why have you set so many novels in New Orleans?

Nancy:  It’s my favorite city, and the perfect setting for everything paranormal. So many facets of the culture, the mythos, the architecture, and even the atmosphere lend themselves to an eerie and sultry backdrop. Doing research there was not what I’d call a chore.

Diane:  Of all the cities in which your books take place where would you like to live?

Nancy:  I’d like a house at Lake Tahoe and a condo in the French Quarter, then I’d never have to leave home to research either my westerns or my paranormals. And I’d never be lacking for company. Both are breathtakingly unique.

Diane:  You’re right about company. I’ll be first in line for an invite. You have a non-fiction series out, also. I’ve read the first two installments of Getting It Out There: PR and Social Media for Writers and found them very helpful. How did the concept come about?

Nancy:  Getting It Out There started as a serialized e-book series with a different social media focus coming out each month. It sounded soooo fun and timely. But I quickly realized how much time it consumed. What I’d planned to do in a couple of weekends sucked up the entire month for research and outlining and extra content. Then buyers balked at the short page length even when we lowered the price. The first two installments on Branding and Budgeting Time and Money are available on Amazon and all other e-outlets and, I think, are well worth the investment. Currently Wise Words and I are reconceptualizing the project for a new type of release.

Diane:  What’s up next for Nancy Gideon?

Nancy:  I’m in the middle of contract negotiations with Pocket for two more books. I’m also aggressively pursuing the rights to my backlist. So hopefully, 2012 will be a busy, busy year. Seeker of Shadows, By Moonlight Book 6, is slated for release on June 26, 2012.

Diane:  I’ll be sure to look for it. How can readers learn more about you and your books?

Nancy:  For information, check out my website at: http://nancygideon.com. For fun, go to my blog at: http://nancygideon.blogspot.com/

Diane:  Thanks so much for stopping by. I’d best let you get back to your writing. And I’ll get back to Hunter of Shadows. Trust me, folks, like all of Nancy’s stories, this one is hot.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Why I Write Space Adventure

On Saturday, NASA launched a super-size rover to Mars. This mobile nuclear-powered laboratory will search for evidence of life on the Red Planet in the past and whether it's conducive to life now. Wow. A giant step into space beyond our own planet and its moon. As I've mentioned in previous posts, I'm wild about space exploration. 

While that rover tries to discover if there was once microbial life on Mars, don't you wonder what else is "out there"? What about intelligent beings? Why not? Aren't we rather arrogant to think we're the only creatures capable of thought in this vast universe? To paraphrase a line from the movie Contact, wouldn't that be an awful waste of space?

Like Jessie, the heroine in Switched, I do not like creepy aliens. In my imagination, they could look like us. Okay, some have to be different if only for variety. What they look like and the science involved in interstellar transportation take second place in my stories to the adventure. I love a good adventure. Yes, we can have adventures in the here and now and I write them, too. But, it's so much fun to think about adventure in space. Call it escapism, if you will. Who doesn't need an escape—from dirty dishes, weeds in the flowerbeds, a nasty coworker, homework, loss of a job (or the fear of losing one), a dying relative. I can let my imagination run wild as I did in Switched and continue with the adventures in Switched, Too.

Creating a world that is different from our own yet similar enough for the reader to relate to is a challenge. A fun challenge. Gene Roddenberry, when pitching the concept of his TV series Star Trek, referred to it as "wagon train to the stars". At the time, the most popular TV programs were Westerns so that should have been an analogy the network producers could relate to. I like the concept of space being a new frontier. Like the explorers of long ago, we can set off into the unknown—if only in our imagination. Like those old Westerns, good always triumphs over evil. How escapist is that?

But, isn't that what we have to believe in? That good will triumph? That the bad guys will "get what's coming to them"? It would be very depressing otherwise. There's enough to be depressed about in real life. So, let's set off for the stars. We don't know where we're going, we don't know what we'll find when we get there, we don't know who or what we'll encounter along the way. All we know is that an adventure awaits.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Traditions

At this time of year, it's common to write about what we're thankful for. Instead, I'd like to tell you about a tradition in my family. It didn't start out that way. Like most traditions, this one happened once because of circumstances. The second time, circumstances again. The third and fourth times, it was a deliberate choice. I'm talking about weddings.

When my grandmother planned her wedding, she chose Thanksgiving Day because it was the only time my grandfather could leave his job. He was a milkman. For those of you too young to remember, bottles of milk used to be delivered to your doorstep every morning. I remember the Twin Pines milkman coming to our house when I was a child in his white truck with two green trees on its side. Grandpa drove a horse-drawn truck for a dairy in Cairo, Illinois.

My parents met at a roller rink in St. Louis. He was stationed at a near-by Army Air Force base and she was a teenager out with her girlfriends. Mom chose Thanksgiving Day for her wedding because my dad could get a four-day pass. It was wartime and those passes were difficult to come by. Even a one-day pass could be revoked, as happened with one of the groomsmen who was shipped out the day before the wedding. My mom's childhood friend (their mothers were best friends) happened to be home on leave and took the missing man's place. My folks' wedding picture looks a little odd with a sailor in the midst of all the Army guys. An interesting sidenote to this story is that the sailor married the bridesmaid he was paired with, my dad's sister.

Through the conniving of two dear friends, I went on a blind date and found the love of my life. After becoming engaged, talk turned to when we would get married. I mentioned that my mom and  her mother were married on Thanksgiving. He didn't mind. He said that would make it easy to remember our anniversary. (Such a kidder.) He worked in a steel mill and getting vacation time wasn't difficult. I was a teacher so I had the four-day weekend. Since our wedding was at noon, one of my students said he'd think about me at kickoff time of the Lions football game.

As mentioned above, this didn't start out to be a tradition. Without any encouragement from me, my daughter chose to carry on the tradition. Now, she's the most organized woman I know. She had everything in place—the church, the hall for the reception, cake, flowers—all well in advance. She had to. They wanted to get married in Kalamazoo where they met and fell in love. Her fiancé had just started medical school in Detroit and she was teaching there. To complicate things a little, her father and I were living in Chicago. With her superb planning, though, everything should have gone off without a hitch. That September, she got a letter from the owner of the reception hall saying he had retired and the hall was going to be torn down—before the wedding. After some long-distance panic and a little scrambling, her wedding was wonderful. It even made the eleven o'clock news as a unique way of celebrating Thanksgiving. (Too bad they didn't know she was the fourth woman in our family to do so.)

Will my granddaughter carry this into the fifth generation? In a way, I hope not. I don't want to even imagine the pressure. Not pressure from her mother or me but pressure she might put on herself to carry on what has become a family tradition. (Can you imagine the press that would get, though?) Since she is only four, she has a long time before planning her wedding—although, she does play "getting married" with her imaginary friend. Now for the reception, she could have turkey and dressing and... (Just kidding!)

When our family gets together on Thursday, we have a lot to be thankful for. Each other, good health, jobs, freedom. And one more thing. We'll thank God we found the wonderful men we married. Men who were willing to give up Lions football to walk down the aisle.
 

PS  I'm thankful, too, for wonderful friends who are helping celebrate the re-launch of my novel, Switched, in its revised and electronic form. If you haven't already, check out Nancy Gideon's blog  Last Friday, she showcased me and my book. Thanks, Nancy.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Resurrecting an Old Book

It's alive!

Okay, I'm being a silly. I watched the Science Channel last Wednesday night about Mary Shelly and her book Frankenstein and thought the movie quote accurately describes my feelings about my own novel. A decade after its first publication (and several years after it went out of print), Switched has new life as an ebook.

Switched was my first published book. And, shh, don't tell my others works in progress but it's my favorite. Switched is the story of twins who were separated before birth. That's right, before birth. If you didn't guess that it's a futuristic by that description, I'm sure the cover confirms it. As you read in last week's blog post (about Pioneers), I'm fascinated by space exploration and love space opera movies (like, Star Wars and Star Trek). It seems natural to write my own space adventures. If you click on the Books tab above, you can read a longer description of Switched.

So, what happens when a book goes out of print? I thought that was the end of its life. Not so. Last April, fellow writers talked about self-publishing books where the author's rights had been returned. I was assured that it was easy. My first step was to dust off the old manuscript—actually, finding the digital file. As I read, I tweaked. I couldn't stop myself. (Those of you readers who are writers know exactly what I mean.) Then, ideas kept popping up on how to make good scenes better. You know what comes next. I edited some more.

In the meantime, I contacted the artist who designed the first cover for Switched, the marvelously talented Trish Lazarus. She outdid herself with the new cover. Then, I found a free book Smashwords' Style Guide: How to Format, Publish, and Distribute an Ebook which gave step-by-step directions. It scared me half to death. Holy cow. What if I make a mistake? It's going to spit back my manuscript and, maybe, I'll never figure out what I did wrong. I painstakingly followed each direction, reformatting the manuscript, hoping I didn't miss anything. I reread the revised manuscript until my eyes got bleary. Then, I reread the guide. This was so complicated. (I can see why some people will pay for a service to convert the manuscript.) But, I'm a do-it-yourselfer from way back so I plunged on.

I checked out how to publish on Amazon and thought "piece of cake". Better to concentrate on Smashwords. When I was finally ready—or as ready as I was ever going to be—I bit the bullet. Usually, I do the easy thing first to get it out of the way. Not this time. I entered all the information on the Smashwords site and uploaded the file. While the little circle-thingy went round and round indicating it was loading, I sat there and waited. Not really. I threw in a load of laundry. Checked the site. Not done yet. I checked email. Still not done. Lunch. Stomach in knots so that wasn't a good idea. Checked the site again and it was done loading. Wow. So far, so good. I didn't get a message saying "You idiot, why didn't you read our directions?" Then, they said it was up and it was! No errors. I did the follow-up checking and still no errors. Maybe this wasn't so bad.

So, I went to Amazon. If Smashwords was so easy, this ought to be easier. I have to say I was wrong. I made it through, though, and a day later Switched was up there, too. I breathed such a sigh of relief. So did my husband. After biting off his head for interrupting my concentration, he tiptoed around me most of that day. His only comment after I was done was "when do the checks start coming?" Is that a guy thing or what?

If you've gotten this far in this long post, you probably wonder why I even bothered jumping through all those hoops. I love that book. Would I do it again? You betcha. Switched has a sequel.

If you're interested in reading a free sample of Switched, go to:

Smashwords  For all ebook readers

Amazon  For the Kindle


Monday, November 7, 2011

Pioneers

This week, I'm continuing my observations gleaned during our road trip to Arizona. As we drove along superhighways in a comfortable, air-conditioned car, I thought about the pioneers who went that way back in the 19th century. Wow. What courage it must have taken to pack up a few of one's belongings, leave everything and everybody behind, and set off for a new life.

Why would anyone wrestle with horses or oxen pulling a flimsy wagon—covered with canvas, if they were lucky—on a barely recognizable track through harsh weather, getting stuck in mud, fording rivers, going long stretches without water across mountains and deserts?

Each pioneer must have had strong reasons for leaving their current life behind for the unknown. Freedom of open spaces as opposed to crowded cities? The opportunity to own land? Escape from something or someone pursuing them? The thrill of adventure? The reasons are probably as varied as the individuals who ventured forth into the frontier.

Today, there is no frontier, no new place to explore. On Earth. As each Star Trek episode began, we were told space is the final frontier. Fifty years ago, we were in a race to explore space. The U.S. had to beat the Soviets. That is rather ironic considering now if we want to send astronauts into space we will be using Russian ships. Anyway, back in the 60s, we marveled at each baby step the U.S. took to reach the ultimate goal—putting a man on the moon. We sat in front of our television sets riveted by the spectacle of a rocket carrying a man, and later more, as it blasted off, leaving behind a fiery trail. Then, it actually happened. We reached that goal set forth by a visionary president. Men walked on our moon.

Once upon a time, I knew the names of the original astronauts. They were heroes. They were given ticker-tape parades. All too soon, we grew complacent. Does anyone even know what a ticker-tape parade is these days? Another space mission? Big whoop. Oh, sure, we paid attention when disaster struck. Better call it off. It's too dangerous. I'm sure there were people back in the 1800s who said going west was too dangerous. People might die. And they did. Yet, that didn't stop others.

So, what about the new "frontier"? Space. How did we fall down on the job? We reached the moon over 40 years ago and then went nowhere else. Yes, we built reusable space vehicles (the shuttles). We built space stations—jumping off points for further exploration, yet we went nowhere. As a nation, we had no goals, nothing more to reach for. Nobody fired our imagination, gave us dreams. The benefits of space exploration were not touted—especially those inventions designed for our astronauts that save lives, things we use daily. (FMI, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASA_spin-off )

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. What would necessitate space exploration? Will it take our planet's dying to give us the kick in the butt to explore? Or, better yet, will private enterprise take over? Amazingly, while we were driving through New Mexico, we heard about the dedication of Virgin Galactic's Spaceport America in Las Cruces the day before. We were so close and missed it. That would have been exciting to see. They even plan space flights for next year. Of course, it would take a small fortune to go. But, imagine the thrill. Just like the pioneers of long ago. Maybe we'll get farther than our own moon this time.

I get a little carried away. After all these years, I'm still enthralled by what's "up there". That's probably why I write space adventures.

Monday, October 31, 2011

This Magnificent Country


I'm not usually a rah-rah "my country is the best" person, but having returned from a 6,000 mile road trip to Arizona and Utah I have to say the U.S. is pretty spectacular. The scenery, at times, was beyond words. Awe-inspiring is not good enough to describe Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado has always been my favorite—not that I've been to all the parks to compare, mind you. The majesty of the Rockies has always left me breathless, and not just from the altitude. Bryce is now a close second. In that canyon, you can see the power of nature as, over millennia, wind and water swept away sand and softer rock and left behind pinnacles and towers reaching skyward.

In Zion National Park, I felt insignificant as I looked up at towering rock projections. I've felt the same way each time I visited the Grand Canyon. How little we humans are. Yet, we are capable of even greater destruction than wind and water. We saw evidence of forest fires on our trip. In the wild, fire can bring renewal—destroying the old, bringing new life. Not so when fire destroys people's homes, their very lives.

Through carelessness or deliberately, we humans can be more destructive than fire or nature. When there are cutbacks in school budgets, the first to go are art and music—as if beauty has no value. As I looked upon the grandeur preserved in our national parks, I thanked our forefathers and foremothers who had the wisdom to protect such beauty so that our children, grandchildren, and their children can enjoy the wonders of our great country. I hope future generations can say the same about us.



Monday, October 24, 2011

The Days of October

October is my favorite month. October means the cool nights and warm days of Indian Summer. It's the time we in the Midwest pull up the annuals, cut back perennials, mow the grass one more time, and make sure the snowblower is ready. My birthday begins the month.

But, those aren't the reasons for my preferring October over other months. It's baseball. The World Series. I really thought the Tigers had a chance this year. If not them, then my next favorite team is the Cardinals. You see, my mom was from St. Louis and Mom loved baseball. As a girl, she played first base because she was always the tallest on the team. As a teen, she parked cars in their tiny city backyard for games at Sportsman's Park (the predecessor of Busch Stadium). During the match-ups between the Cards and the Tigers, Mom had divided loyalties. She would claim she lived longer in Detroit than in St. Louis so she was for the Tigers, but I think she secretly rooted for her "home" team.

Baseball has been my favorite sport since I was a girl. I remember hot, summer days lying on a blanket in the shade listening to Ernie Harwell do the play-by-play on my little transistor radio. My grandmother (Mom's mom) took me to my first baseball game at the "new" Busch Stadium which has since been torn down and replaced with the new "new" stadium. Gram taught me how to keep score. That came in handy when my kids played Little League and I got drafted into being scorekeeper.

Some people, my husband included, think watching baseball on television is like watching paint dry. So, Saturday night presented somewhat of a dilemma. I'm sure I got "carpal finger" from the remote as I switched back and forth between the World Series and the Michigan State football game which my husband insisted on watching. Sure, we have more than one TV. Due to recent redecorating, not one was connected to cable, forcing me to hope I didn't miss anything while irritating my honey to no end. And wouldn't you know, often commercials were playing on both channels. Thank goodness for replays.

As I watch this year's World Series, I think about my mom and grandmother. Saturday night, they would have been very proud of their Cardinals. After last night's game, I'm still hoping the Cardinals do better than skunk the Rangers  only once.

The days of October are coming to an end and with it the end of baseball. Until next year.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Right way to Write

What is the right way to write? The simple answer is: it depends. That really clarifies things, doesn't it?

There are basically two methods and then variations on them. The first is the logical method. Plot first, then write. The "plotter" does all the research, character studies, and outlines the entire story before ever beginning the actual writing.

Then, there is the "pantser"—the writer who writes by the seat of her (or his) pants. Another description of this method is "writing into the mist". Think about driving a car in the fog where you can only see as far as the reach of your headlights. You know the destination but can't quite see how to get there. This writer gets an idea and starts writing.

I'm a pantser. For me, the fun is in the journey, the discovery of unknown places. A story often presents itself as the first scene. I "see" it in my mind much like a movie. Characters reveal themselves as I write instead of me inventing them first. I do research on the fly. When I need to know something—a detail—I look it up. Most of the time, I'll jot a note to check a fact so as not to interrupt the flow. That is not to say I don't ever do research first. I'm always on the lookout for bits of information. I cut articles out of the newspaper or magazines that I might use someday. (You wouldn't believe how thick that file folder is.) Sometimes, an article itself will spark the story.

The plotter thinks pantsers waste time because often we write ourselves into a corner or hit a dead end and have to backtrack. Very true. I do a lot of back-and-forth writing—write a while, discover something new, go back and fix what I've written before. I try hard not to do that too much. It stops the forward momentum of the story. I'm trying to train myself to write a note on what needs fixing. Sometimes, I can't help myself and I have to go back.

I'm not saying pantsers don't plot. We just don't plot first, or the plot is sketchy at the beginning. My plotting comes as the story develops. Usually around chapter eight, I find myself floundering. I need to stop and figure out where I'm going and how to get there. I've either run into a dead end or the characters aren't cooperating and I need to know them better. The plotter would say "if you plotted first, you wouldn't hit that dead end." Probably true. To me, once I've plotted the whole story I've told it. I don't need to write it. Same with writing the dreaded synopsis. Okay, I've told the story. I'm done.

I've often wondered if you add up the time a plotter spends from the beginning of the outline, research, character study, or however s/he starts a story to the finished product and did the same for the pantser, the time would be about the same. We just go about writing our stories in different ways.

I know writers who write scenes out of sequence. Then, they figure out the order of scenes and write transitions. We linear thinkers have to begin at the beginning and write through to the end. There have been times, though, when a scene has popped into my mind that needs to go later in the story. When inspiration strikes, I figure I'd better take advantage of it. The muse may not return when I need that scene. So, I have—on occasion—written scenes out of order.

As you can see, there is no one right way to write. It's what works for the writer. You just need to start writing.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Change

What is it about change that is so scary? We get very comfortable doing the same thing in the same place. Change takes us out of that comfort zone. Yet without change, we grow complacent and stagnate.

I read an inspirational quote on the bottom of a calendar once that pretty much summed up the attitude I should take. Roughly paraphrased, it said: Change is all around us. It's how we deal with change that matters.

You would think I'd be used to change. During my husband's career, we moved five times. Only five? Geez, I thought it was more. Felt like more. Each time, in a flurry of getting a house ready for sale, finding a new house, saying good-by to friends and family, I worried about what my new life would be like.

At our first move, I met a woman who said she cried for the first six months she was in this new place. Whoa. I couldn't imagine that. Yes, change is hard. Our first move was exciting. A great opportunity for my husband, a new adventure. The second move was "back home". That was so great. Close to family and long-time friends again. That didn't last. Off again to a new place. The bloom on the rose was fading. The next time was the hardest. I was not just leaving the life I'd established in that community, the kids weren’t coming with us. They were either in college or had just graduated and had the choice. Their choice was they weren’t moving there. Leaving without my children was the worst. I was obnoxious to my husband about moving again. But, when he said I could stay and he would come home on weekends (like a lot of men his age did), my attitude changed. I had a choice. So, I pasted on a "happy" face, found us a new home, and moved. Only to do it all over again two years later.

I read one of those allegorical stories about a couple who were entering a town to which they were considering moving. They met a couple leaving and asked them about the town. "You'll hate it here. It's the worst place we've ever lived. Glad to be leaving." The first couple continued on and came upon another couple leaving. When asked about the town, this couple said, "You'll love it here. It's a wonderful place to live. We hate leaving." It's all about attitude.

The best part of our moves was how many new opportunities I had. But, I had to look for them. I had to go out of my comfort zone, find interests, go to meetings, make myself part of the community. Easy, no. Necessary, absolutely, if I wanted to make the best of a new situation.

Willingness to make a change is key. Not a spur of the moment, regret later change. Rather, it's weighing the pros and cons before making that change. Then, a willingness to try something new.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Missed Opportunities

        Have you ever looked back and realized the opportunities that slipped away? Was it inattention? Ignorance? Stupidity? Inflexibility? All of the above?

For me in my writing career, it was the last choice—all of the above. Times I didn't pick up on the things editors didn't say. The hints were there. In my ignorance, I didn't recognize them. I never thought I'd be one of those wanna-be authors who would never change a thing in my manuscript because “it's perfect the way it is". Yet, I can see now I subconsciously did that. There were times, too, when "life" consumed my attention and I didn't have the energy or time to follow up on hints or carefully-worded suggestions.

So, what do you do when the parade has passed you by? We can't change the past. Opportunities missed are opportunities gone. We can wallow in regrets, forever looking back and thinking “I should have…” Or, we can start anew.

I've started over, hopefully more alert, more savvy, taking chances on new ventures.

Look at what the world is like today, how different from when I graduated from high school and college. Back then (the Stone Age) we thought the career/job we chose would be what we'd do for the rest of our lives. What we didn't take into consideration was how fast everything changes. Flexibility is the key. Not being afraid of change. (That's a topic for another post.) How many times did opportunities pass me by because I was afraid to change, to try something new?

Going forward, I'm writing again with the old enthusiasm I had when I first started. It's exciting again. This time around, I'm going to pay closer attention, keep my ear to the ground and my nose to the grindstone. And if I do all that simultaneously, I'll probably need frequent visits to a chiropractor.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Heroes

What is a hero? (I’m using the term to mean men and women.) In movies or books, heroes are larger than life characters. Heroes rise to the challenge. They rescue those in distress. They save the day. In school, we’re taught about great people who did wondrous things. They explored continents, fought for freedom, founded nations.

In the aftermath and recent anniversary of 9/11, we heard a lot about heroes. Everyday people who helped others with no regard for their own safety. More recently, we heard about those who rushed to help people trapped under a collapsed stage at the Indiana State Fair. The consistent refrain when the media called these people heroes was “I was just doing my job” or “It was the right thing to do”.

Who are the everyday heroes? Police and fire rescue seem the most obvious. Their job is to serve and protect. They put their lives on the line every time they put on their uniforms. Thank goodness, they do. We’ve seen evidence of what happens without them in the chaos of the Middle East. Where individuals live in constant fear and/or have to arm themselves for protection.

What about the unsung heroes? The teachers who put up with lack of respect and often hazardous conditions yet have a tremendous influence on our children. Nurses who start out wanting to care for people and get bogged down in paperwork and given too many patients to oversee. The dad going to work each day, often giving up his own dreams to provide for his family. The mom who would rather stay home and raise her children but must leave them with others in order to provide. Everyday people just doing their jobs.

Skeptics will point out there are corrupt cops, bad teachers, lazy nurses. Sure. They are in the minority yet get the majority of the attention. Still, heroes are real people. They aren’t perfect. Even the founders of our country—supposedly, the heroes of our nation—had faults. In books, the flawed hero is often the most interesting.

Two of my heroes are teachers I had in high school. I wish I’d told those women how much they influenced my life before they died. In my bio, I write that I married my own hero. Maybe that sounds clichéd or hokey. I’m a fiction writer. I write about heroes. But, I truly mean it. He’s not perfect. He just does what a hero does, his job. Every day. I don’t thank him enough for being a good provider, a terrific father, and a loving and supportive husband. Maybe his greatest feat has been putting up with me all these years. Thanks, sweetie.

So, who are the heroes in your life? Say thanks to them today.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Imagination

 
What a wonderful gift we humans have that we can imagine things different from reality. Reality is what we face each day, what we must do. Imagination opens all kind of possibilities. Where would our entertainment business be without imagination? Books, movies. They transport us to another world. My favorite books let me experience vicariously a different life in another place, a different time, sometimes, another universe. My favorite movies let me immerse myself in someone else's life. For a few hours, I can forget house cleaning, waiting laundry, household bookkeeping, weeds overtaking the garden. I can put on hold worries about the economy, the job situation, whether our retirement savings will sustain us, our health issues. Reality is all around us, grounding us in the here and now.
When we use our imagination we envision a world of what might be. Imagine (yes, I'm using that word on purpose) if you will a life without modern conveniences. What if Alexander Graham Bell had no imagination? What? No phones? And what if Robert Goddard hadn't read H.G. Wells? Where would our rocket technology be today? What if Charles Babbage, way back in the early 19th century, hadn't envisioned a computer?
I can only say "Thank you, Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas" for giving my imagination a jump start. Adventures in space. Wow. I love Star Trek (especially the newest one) and Star Wars (the original three). That's what led me to write about adventures in another universe.
Remember the joy of playing make-believe when you were a kid? The imaginary friend. Cowboys and Indians. Space adventure and aliens. When we were little, my sister and I played "church" taking turns being the priest. My son and his best friend fought Cat Creatures. What fun they had hiding behind rocks (the basement couch) or building a fort using a sheet thrown over a cardtable. My granddaughter plays out her version of what happens in The Little Mermaid after the story ends. How easily children play make-believe. What creative minds they have.
Have we given up on our own imagination? Do we let ourselves get bogged down in reality? As writers, sometimes we have to dig deep to free up that imagination. Other times, the fun times, our imaginations take us on adventures that we never, well, imagined.