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Glad you stopped by. I hope you'll stop by again for Monday Morning Musings, Meet the Author Thursday, Who's For Dinner Fridays, and Saturday Sampler.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Tastes of Summer



Yesterday, I had my first real taste of summer. A cucumber. Not just any cucumber. We can get cucumbers year round at the grocery store. This was the first-of-the-summer, just-picked cucumber from our garden. Its crisp taste immediately brings up memories of summers as a child. That first bite always says "summer" is here.

Hang on, you say. Summer has been here in Michigan since May. Actually, we had a "taste" of summer in March with unusual eighty degree temperatures. This year has been exceptionally hot, for long periods of time. Not just here but all over the country. With all that heat and little rain, I wondered how it would affect our garden.

I say "our" garden as if I had anything to do with it. It's my husband's garden. He buys the tender, young plants as soon as they're available then impatiently waits until danger of frost is past (sometimes, sooner) before he puts them in his carefully-prepared strip of ground. That's right, a strip of ground. Three years ago, he rid an area between the lawn and the neighbor's privacy fence of decorative stone for his garden. With the drought, he's out there watering that two by thirty foot strip every morning and praying for rain—just like farmers all over the country. Ironic that City Boy wanted to plant a garden when Country Girl here grew up on acreage with a huge garden. Been there, done that, don't need to do it again. Retirement does strange things to men.

The tomatoes are getting bigger and soon another taste of home-grown, fresh-picked summer will be here. As kids, we would eat tomatoes right off the vine like an apple. No need to wash off pesticides or whatever they put on tomatoes for transport to stores. We didn't use pesticides so our tomatoes came au naturel. Just brush it off and sink our teeth into the ripe flesh of warm, juicy sweet-tart tomato. Can't wait until ours are ripe. I say that now but by next month the tomatoes will be lined up along the kitchen window ledge and he'll bring in a dozen more—from three plants! Two people can only eat so many tomatoes. Since I don't can (been there...) our neighbors, relatives, strangers even will enjoy our bounty. Tomatoes are like zucchini, always more than you can eat.

Sweet watermelon and corn-on-the-cob slathered with butter are treats we only indulge in during the summer. Hubs hasn't tried growing them, thank goodness. We live in the city. But, corn picked that morning by a local farmer is so sweet, tender and juicy. Another taste that reminds me of summers past.

How-to articles tell writers to ground the reader by using the five senses—hearing, touch, sight, smell and taste. Hearing, touch and sight are fairly easy. Taste is more difficult to describe. Smell plays a large part in what we perceive as taste—proper name, gustation. I learned something new, thanks to Wikipedia. I always thought there were only four basic types: sweet, bitter, sour and salty. Apparently, there's a fifth called "umami" that means meaty or savory. I can definitely see that when I think of tasting a tomato. By bringing taste into our stories, we bring the reader in, make the reader experience what the character is experiencing. In Switched, when Veronese (from an alien world) first tastes Diet Vernors Ginger Ale, the bold, sweet-tart beverage bubbles on her tongue and tickles her nose. In Switched, Too, when Scott (from Earth) tastes alien starship veggies for the first time, the flavors explode in his mouth and are so intense he feels as if his esophagus is glowing radioactive. Unfortunately, those stories do not take place in July or August when they could experience the true tastes of summer. Maybe in the next book. Ah ha, that gives me an idea.

What are your favorite tastes that you associate with different seasons?

Starting this Thursday, August 2nd, I'll be bringing in authors for you to meet. I hope you'll stop by this week to meet and greet Michigan author Nancy Gideon.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Two-Faced Writer


Did I get your attention with the title? This post is probably not what you think. It's not about writers who are kind to your face then stab you in the back later. And it's not a reference to the Roman god Janus who has two faces, one looking to the past and the other to the future. It's about the two faces a writer must wear.

Writers are Introverts. We work in solitude, in our caves with no distractions. Well, we wish we could work without distractions. Our characters live in our heads and "force" us to tell their stories. It's difficult for non-writers to understand that, but remember how cool it was having imaginary friends? Writers still do. Only we call them characters in our stories. I'm glad the writers of TV's "Castle" show him actually writing occasionally. I guess it wouldn't be much of an action show if they only showed a writer writing. Still, most writers can identify when his mother bursts into his office and he says something like "give me a couple of minutes, I'm at a critical juncture" and she ignores him.

Writers have to be Extroverts. Although we write in solitude, we have to surface once in a while—at least, to connect with family (what's for dinner, hon?) and friends (you have a new grandbaby? Oh, he's a year old already?). We like to gather in groups with other writers. I've written before about the marvelous writing group I belong to, the Mid-Michigan chapter of Romance Writers of America. Many of my writer friends will be in Anaheim this week at RWA's national conference. When we get together, either in person or online, we "talk shop" as people in other industries do. For many of us, getting out of our caves is hard. Hard to get out of our comfort zone. Hard to talk to strangers. Hard to get "dressed up" in business attire, make-up, stockings (pantyhose is a dirty word) and heels (oh, my aching feet) when we're used to writing in shorts and Tees or pajamas.

The hardest job a writer has, though, is promoting our own work. Writing the book is easy. Once it's published, that should be the end, right? Two words. No. Way. With thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of books published annually (monthly?), how will readers ever find ours? We have to tell them about it. A writer has to go where the readers are. When Switched was first published in 2001, I called bookstores to set up signings. As awkward as that was, the actual signings were almost painful. It is so much fun sitting at a table with a stack of your books in front of you and people dart a glance at you then hurriedly walk by. Remember the scene from National Treasure: Book of Secrets where Riley's at a booksigning? Perfect.

As I've learned with Switched as an ebook and now with Switched, Too, a writer has to have a website, a blog, an Author page on Facebook, even a Pinterest page and be on Twitter. Once I got over my initial trepidation of doing something new, I enjoyed setting them up. So, we blog, we tweet, we go on blog tours. We join reader groups like Goodreads. And when we guest on someone else's blog, we have to interact with those who stop by. For me, that is the fun stuff. Talking to others. When they take time to leave a comment, I'm thrilled. Interacting online doesn't have the awkwardness of a live booksigning where they want to talk to the author but aren't sure if they want to actually buy the book so they don't even make eye contact, let alone pick up the book. The Internet makes it much easier, comfort-wise.

Still, promoting oneself is . . . uncomfortable. Maybe it's a woman thing. We're taught to be modest and humble, not to toot our own horns. Writers have to get over that. We're not all Rick Castles with lavish launch parties. Even though he's a fictional character, I'll bet when his first book came out, he went through the same thing newbies do—generating his own buzz, sitting at a table while people walked by. I'd like to think that, anyway.

As I posted last week, cosmic forces or sheer dumb luck combined so that I was a guest on three blogs. What fun! I met new people and friends stopped by. I didn't have to drive anywhere. I could "chat" from my living room. Did that generated any sales? I guess I'll find out.

Meanwhile, it's back to the cave. Switched 3 (no title yet) is on the downhill slide toward the end and I have to find out what happens next. *grin*

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Impromtu Blog Tour

Either through cosmic timing--or sheer dumb luck--I got invitations to guest on different blogs. And three of them are happening within a week.

     Yesterday, July 14th, Switched, Too was featured on Kindle Romance Novels The link is still good so you still have a chance to check it out.
     
     All this week, starting today July 15th, you can check out my interview at Romancing the Heart Interviews 
     
     Then, on Friday, July 20th, I'll share a favorite recipe (and one I'm sure my heroines in both books found easy-peasy) at Romance Recipes 

If you get a chance, please stop by.

I'll be back to regular programming next Monday.


Monday, July 9, 2012

Family Histories


Do you tell stories? Family stories?

In ancient days, people sat around campfires telling stories. They tried to explain their universe—why the sun and rose and set, how the earth was made, why it rained and why it didn't. Consider the myths of the Greeks, Romans, Norse, Aztecs, the biblical stories. The ancient ones told stories of their ancestors, not just where they came from but their great feats. Each generation built on the stories they had heard.

How many of our children, grandchildren know our family history?

In 1977, a television miniseries captivated Americans and spurred many to discover their own "Roots". Genealogy became a popular pastime. After years of trying to be like everybody else—think, America the Melting Pot—people reveled in their distinctiveness. Even today, the popularity of shows like "Who Do You Think You Are?" and PBS's "Faces of America" demonstrate our need to discover where we came from.

Through the Internet and sites like Ancestry.com, it has become much easier to trace our lineage. From census records, city directories, military records, we can learn facts about where our ancestors lived and worked. While all that is good, it doesn't give a complete picture.

As I mentioned in last week's post, while de-cluttering I found letters my mother had written while we lived apart and discovered not just "facts" about family doings I also discovered a sense of "her"—what she chose to write about and how she described events. Same with my father-in-law's letters where his droll sense of humor shone forth.

Back in the late seventies, my husband and I decided to learn more about our own families. We went to libraries and scrolled through reels of microfilm, visited courthouses and sifted through land and probate records, sent away for military service records. But the best thing we did was ask our parents questions about their childhood, the early years of their marriage, etc. Even better, I wrote down their stories.
Like a lot of hobbies, my interest in genealogical research waned as I hit dead end after dead end. Oh, sure, I traced certain lines back many generations while others ended after two. My husband continued his search on and off, more "on" now that he is retired. An unexpected by-product of researching our families was an interest in history. Questions like why did they leave their home land, why then? what drove them to start a new life in a strange land? And that led to more questions, which led to more research.

While still in de-cluttering mode, I came across my research into my family's history and that spurred me to organize it better and to utilize the on-line resources now available. It will take time to coordinate what I already know with sources I didn't know existed (or had access to) thirty years ago. But more important than finding the facts are the family stories. In all that research, I found my notes—both the original handwritten notes as well as my typed (yes, on a typewriter) transcriptions. I was so happy to reread letters from distant relatives who related stories about my grandparents. I'm especially glad I saved them because most of those people are no longer with us. From the stories my dad told about losing his job and being unable to find work during the Depression, I got insights into what made him the man he was. How I wish I'd taken the time to ask my grandparents more about their families. By the time I became interested, they were gone.

We all have (or had) relatives who seem to live in the past, retelling stories we've heard a hundred times or more. I wish I'd taken the time to record those stories.

Will our children or grandchildren wish the same after we're gone? Or, will we tell them our stories now? Better yet, will we leave a written history of our lives?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Letters


Does anyone write letters anymore? I don't mean instant messages, electronic mail, texts, tweets, FaceBook posts. I'm talking about long, newsy, handwritten letters. Since I embraced email and then social media (though reluctantly, at first), I don't. In fact, my handwriting has gotten very poor from disuse.

I heard on a news program how the teaching of handwriting is going the way of the Dodo bird. Why do kids need to learn to write cursive? They keyboard (never thought I'd use that word as a verb). While I agree that today's kids need to learn how to type, or keyboard, I think they will come to regret missing out on the skill of reading and writing in cursive.

So, what triggered this topic? Back in January, I blogged that one of my goals this year was to de-clutter my house. Okay, I was more specific—getting rid of books and DVDs, organizing photos, etc. Sadly to say, I haven't touched the photos or DVDs though many books have found new homes and I may just meet somebody at the grocery store wearing my clothes. I haven't given up on my goal just because half the year has gone by.

Last week, I started going through boxes in the basement and came across one with cards and letters from friends and family. Oh yes, as if you didn't already know, I am a packrat. I save much more than I should—though sometimes with good reason, at least from my perspective.  As I went through a very large box that had been in the basement for years, I found letters written by my father-in-law and my mother when we all lived nearly eight hundred miles apart. They wrote because, back in the Dark Ages, long distance phone calls were expensive. We had to pay—yikes—by the minute. Our parents grew up during the Great Depression (and my father-in-law proudly claimed a Scot's penchant for saving money) so phone calls were somewhat short. They wrote letters instead.

Mom wrote about family—who had come over for a visit, what the other grandkids were doing—and about everyday things like her good and bad days at bowling, how her garden was coming along, her exasperation with a retired husband, and what books she was reading. When she mentioned books, a wonderful memory surfaced of how excited she was when she discovered romance novels. Feeding her (our) addiction to Harlequins, Silhouettes and Candlelights, we used to mail books to each other in a Girl Scout cookie box, which we would just relabel, reload and return. Not only did I get news from home, I got slices of life from her perspective. Her worries about my dad's health, her delight in receiving my sister's and my letters, her thrill at having two new grandchildren born in the same week, and the really rotten day when she bowled poorly, got a speeding ticket on the way home, was locked out of the house and had to climb in through a window (at age fifty-eight, mind you).

My father-in-law did not have much of a formal education. He had to leave school after eighth grade to help support his mother and brother. You can't tell that from his letters. What shines through is his droll sense of humor. And in reading his long—usually three or four pages from a yellow legal pad—newsy letters, it's like seeing again that kind, gentle man.

While I am so glad I hung onto his letters, my mother's have even greater import to me. Not just because she's my mom. You see, when my father-in-law died at eighty-nine, his mind was still sharp, his personality the same. Not so with my mother. She had Alzheimer's disease. My last memories of my mother were of a confused woman who didn't recognize her children, who became irrationally angry, who'd lost the ability to reason, who eventually didn't care anymore and whose eyes were most often vacant. Physically, Mom died at eighty-four. In reality, the person she was died much before that. They really aren't kidding when they call Alzheimer's "the long good-by".

When I read her letters, it's like my real mom is still here. I hear her voice in those letters. She wrote like she talked, not in any order but adding details in parentheses or within dashes. And I realized how much like her I am.

Mom's letters pretty much stopped in 1987. We moved close by so there was no need. A few years later, we moved away again but still no letters. We had email then and Mom, though she was always afraid she'd make a mistake and "break" the computer, loved hearing "you've got mail". How many of us print out email posts? I don't. Somehow, they're not the same as handwritten letters. Don't get me wrong. I love email, texting, tweeting. I'm so glad I don't have to wait for the mailman to find out what's happening or try to call when busy people aren't home. Instant news is great. But, in that onslaught of news, in that overwhelming deluge of information, doesn't some—most—of it disappear? What "proof" of our real selves are we leaving behind?

If I hadn't saved those letters, I would never have such wonderful memories to replace the last years of Mom's life. So, despite de-cluttering, I'll save those letters from her and my father-in-law. Maybe someday, my grandchildren will read them and in so doing get to know those wonderful people who are an essential part of their heritage.