Wednesday, July 1, 2020

IWSG July 2020

Happy (almost) 4th of July! Do you have any plans? I don't know if our local fireworks are happening or not. I'm guessing not. Our biggest plan: to watch Hamilton on Disney+. 

Thank you to Alex Cavanaugh for hosting this here shindig along with his rockin' band of cohosts: Jenni Enzor, Beth Camp, Liesbet, Tyrean Martinson, and Sandra Cox!

This month's optional question: There have been many industry changes in the last decade, so what are some changes you would like to see happen in the next decade?

A good question, but I got nothing.

So, I will substitute my own question: Is there anything more fun than a pallet of flat rock?

Let me explain. Like the past two summers, I've dropped writing like a hot potato in order to exhaust myself physically on outdoor projects. This spring my husband dismantled the kids' old swing set in the backyard.

Much of the wood and plastic pieces were chewed to bits by squirrels. That and its advanced age made me realize it was not something anyone else would want in their yard, even if they were inclined to transfer the thing and not concerned about catching Covid from used items. Time to recycle, reuse, and re-imagine.

My husband got his tools shined up and built some stunning flower boxes.

My project is something else: transforming the now-empty space of weeds and decaying mulch into something awesome.

Step One: Dig up the old garden cloth underneath. Do not use this junk. Ever. It keeps weeds down for a year or two and then they'll grow right through it in an impenetrable weave any shovel or trowel will simply bounce off of. It's from the devil. 

Step Two: Make a big dirt pile. Any self-respecting ornamental landscape garden should not be flat. (My apologies to Kansas. (However, trivia fun-fact: Florida is the flattest of all the US states.))

Step Three: Wrestle, hog-tie, dig deep ditches, and get a hernia bringing in some weathered limestone boulders--all 1262 pounds of the five of them. 

Step Four: Arrange a pallet of flat stone to suggest waterfalls, natural bridges, and what-not. Keep rearranging them until your fingernails turn black and you can't feel your forearms. Realize your super-cool stream bed is tilted at least 15 degrees in the wrong direction. Undo two days work trying to fix. Bring in level to avoid this mistake again. Consider taking up arm-wrestling with all your new-found strength. 

Pictures? Well, not yet. It's still a Gehenna of dry dirt, rock, and three new wilting rhododendron plants that are getting way, way too much sun. But here are my dual inspirations: 

Un lugar que invita a volar. — at Zhangjiajie National Forest Park.

Image: Zhangjiajie National Forest Park by Carlos Adampol Galindo

Watkins Glen

Image: Watkins Glen Gorge by h_wang_02

In a real sense, creating this landscape, even in miniature, is a lot like writing a novel. It's a lot harder than it looks, takes forever, is exhausting, needs a crap-ton of editing, and will probably not live up to my expectations. But there is a silver lining: no marketing needed.


Any projects for you this summer? 

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

IWSG June 2020

Happy June! I don't know what happened to May. It crossed my mind to write my blog four days before it was due (so I procrastinated) and it crossed my mind to write it four days after it was due (so I gave up.) Oh well. That's what happens when every day seems the same.

A big thanks to our host, Alex J. Cavanaugh, and his wonderful co-hosts: Pat Garcia, J.Q. Rose, and Natalie Aguirre!

Today's IWSG optional question: Writers have secrets! What are one or two of yours, something readers would never know from your work?

Come to the Nerd Side ... We have Pi #PiDay #Pi #314 #nerd #geek #dork #math #mathjoke #starwars #HappyPiDay #Teachers #PiDay2015

I'm a math nerd. In 2001, I graduated from the University of South Carolina with a Ph.D. in mathematics. I taught super fun stuff like calculus and linear algebra at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, GA followed by two years at RIT in Rochester, NY. 

I've never written a story in which math plays a major role. However, this background is a bonus when stuck at home homeschooling teens.

African Penguins at "The Boulders"

Before that, I had a way cooler job: penguin keeper at Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, SC. There I did the public penguin feedings twice a day and raised six baby penguins from their eggs. I learned to fillet fish like a boss to make penguin soup for the little 'uns. Cod, milk, and vitamins in a high speed blender. It was grey. Sound tempting?

I should write a story about working at the zoo someday. Every day was an adventure.

What a fun question! Can't wait to blog around and learn everyone else's secrets. Hope everyone is doing okay in spite of Covid/Riots/Madness&Mayhem2020.


Wednesday, April 1, 2020

IWSG April 2020

Well, that was a month, wasn't it? Strangest month ever. Can you keep writing fiction when your life turns into a dystopian novel? Not me. And I'm okay about that. The focus now is on keeping the household as healthy and as happy as possible while we stay at home, day after day after day after ...
Queensway Hwy - Groundhog

Image: Robbie

You get the picture. We even watched the movie Groundhog Day so our 13-year-old could better appreciate her lament that every day seems the same now.

Let's get on with the show!

April's Optional Question: How are things in your world? 

Well, it's not boring. I guess that's a plus, right? On the morning of Saturday, March 14, the call came in. School was closed for the foreseeable future. 

There was much rejoicing. 

By the following Wednesday, teachers were sending assignments and setting up Google meets for  classes.

By this time, RIT, where my husband is a math professor, had also closed and he was developing online lectures and assignments for his students. I'm extremely grateful his job is one that can be done online.


1. Husband: cancellation of trip to Boca Raton for math conference and to spend time with his parents.

Ariel the little mermaid Ride

Image: Lee

2. 13-year-old daughter: her school play, The Little Mermaid, was postponed from late March to late May. (I'm not holding my breath on that.) This was particularly painful as it is her last year. Her Stringfest concert was cancelled. Her E.L.A. statewide standardized test was cancelled. (Yay!)

3. 15-year-old daughter: Solofest for clarinet was cancelled and she's been taking lessons for almost a year in preparation for it. Private clarinet lessons cancelled. Solofest for voice cancelled.

4. We were supposed to travel to Kiawah Island, S.C., in mid-May for our annual vacation with my parents. This year would have been especially meaningful to my 15-year-old as she was planning to celebrate her sweet sixteen there: her favorite place in all the world. I will be stunned if we are able to make this trip.

Not bummers:

1. Sleeping late every day.

Walk in the woods, Autumn 2018
Image: Claudio

2. Taking long walks, playing yard games or board games with my daughters.

3. Reframing take-out meals and Amazon purchases as our contributions to the economy.

4. Spoiling our two cats rotten with extra playtime, brushings, and belly rubs.

The news is scary and sometimes overwhelming, but there are cool things happening out there. Some of my faves include the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago letting their penguins explore things from the customers' side, and the Georgia Aquarium sending adoptable puppies racing through their exhibits. So you've got to wonder, which aquarium will up the ante? My vote's for emus. Have you seen them run?


What animal would you like to see visit an aquarium? Is your state staying-at-home yet? Any cancellations bumming you out? What "good news" has made you smile recently?


Wednesday, March 4, 2020

IWSG, March 2020

Is this the year March Madness refers to something other than college basketball? How obsessed are you with corona virus updates? You don't have to be a writer to have insecurities these days, but regardless of where your anxieties lay, let's give thanks to our intrepid IWSG host, Alex J. Cavanaugh, and his awesome group of co-hosts: Jacqui Murray, Lisa Buie-Collard, Sarah Foster, Natalie Aguirre, and Shannon Lawrence!

March's Optional Question: Other than the obvious holiday traditions, have you ever included any personal or family traditions/customs in your stories?

Vampire Cat
Image: Dan Dvorscak

Say cheese, y'all!

Yes. For some of my stories, I like to stick myself in the background for fun (under a different name, of course). My current manuscript takes place at a college. I used to be a mathematics professor, and at the start of each semester, I would ask my students to take out a clean sheet of paper and write their name on it in big bold letters. Then I'd take the students' pictures holding their "name sign" and use those to learn everyones' name. My main character, a student, gets to participate in this tradition in an early chapter of the novel.

Now that I have a smart phone, I should bring back this tradition when I meet anyone new. (That wouldn't be weird, right?) I'm terrible at remembering names.


Most bizarre stuffed toys ever? Is one for the corona virus in the works?

So, how are you adapting to the pandemic, if we can call it that yet? Here are some of my questions:

1. Did the authorities wait too long to give this bug its name? Is anyone using "Covid-19" conversationally?  (I'm not.)

US states I've been to
Image: Miles Gehm

Red States: virus-affected or projected political wins?

2. Am I the only one getting political maps for the upcoming election and corona virus spread maps confused? (Probably.)

3. Have you given in to any panic buying? (Yes. Peanut Butter and Chocolate Zone Bars. My whole family is addicted to these things.)

4. How does the idea of isolation/quarantine for two weeks or more hit you? (Advantage: no getting up early for school. Disadvantage: No break from kids if they're home from school.)

Hope everyone stays healthy.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

February IWSG 2020

It's February, which means a Super Bowl, Valentine's, our odd week off from school (which I desperately need to catch up on my sleep) and another IWSG bloghop. Time must be moving faster these days because I somehow managed to miss the January IWSG entirely. Too much going on. So hats off to those who can keep up with their blogging schedules on top of everything else, including our leader, Alex J. Cavanaugh, and his merry band of co-hosts: Lee Lowery, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, Jennifer Hawes, Cathrina Constantine, and Tyrean Martinson!

This month's optional question: Has a single photo or work of art ever inspired a story? What was it and did you finish it?

Hmmm. I don't think so. Although I've toyed with the idea of a story with a setting inspired from one of my favorite poems, Kubla Khan, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Here's a sample to give you an idea of what that might look like, and of course, I couldn't pick just one. 

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:

coleridgesque (mandalay hill)
Image: pwbaker

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man


Image: John Fowler

Down to a sunless sea.

Waterfall Cavern, Smoo Cave

Image: Nick Bramhall

And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

Mossy Grill

Image: Timo Newton-Syms

Alas, such a project will have to wait. I'm meandering through the second draft of my current story and it's slow going. In my earlier works, cutting and cutting to get under 100K left only dialogue and action. This time around, I've left myself space to explore the character's thoughts, feelings, motivation, and memories, which is great, but challenging.


What setting are you currently working with or would like to work with in the future?

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

December IWSG

It's winter! (At least, in my mind, if not officially.) Happy, happy snow-time! We've had two good snowfalls, each around 5 to 6 inches. Pretty decent. Not enough to cancel school, though. It's also drive-yourself-crazy-getting-ready-for-Christmas time. Yeah. How's that shopping coming along?

Christmas Lights

Time for a break to celebrate being an insecure writer with our fabulous host, Alex J. Cavanaugh, and his merry band of co-hosts (kind of like Santa and his elves, no?): Tonja Drecker, Beverly Stowe McClure, Nicki Elson, Tyrean Martinson!

December's optional question: Let's play a game. Imagine. Role-play. How would you describe your future writer self, your life and what it looks and feels like if you were living the dream? Or if you are already there, what does it look and feel like? Tell the rest of us. What would you change or improve?

Hmmm. Let's see. Well, first, I would have to fast forward at least five years into the future in order to get both kids out of my hair and into college. Or else there would be no time for writing, because right now it's all homework, study, prepare for concerts, recitals, endless meals, and even more endless laundry. Blah. 

Once the kids are off skipping class to sleep in studying to become brain surgeons, I'll be happily typing the final draft of my follow-up to my debut bestseller. My amazing agent emails me that the blurb will be from none other than Stephen King himself(!!!), and that I'll probably have an interview on either The Today Show or The Tonight Show, when it comes out. (I nudge them toward the Tonight Show. I hate getting up early.) My publisher's marketing gurus have sent me brilliantly beautiful cover art possibilities, and just as I type the words, "The End", super agent calls. The movie rights to my first book have been sold. Hot dog!


Okay, that was fun. Back to reality. It's time to go pick up the kids and survive another 6 hours of algebra, causes and effects of global warming, American foreign policy in the late 1800's, and the really hard part: figuring out what's for dinner. 

To those about to parent, we salute you!


*HEXtraordinary* : Cranky Baby Mandrake

How was your Thanksgiving?

As we started our yearly tradition of going around the table to talk about what we were thankful for, there came a high-pitched squealing and screeching from a plastic-wrapped sweet potato in the microwave--a sound eerily similar to the chorus of baby Mandrakes from Harry Potter (2? I think). Needless to say, the dignity of the moment was tossed aside and my daughters and I almost fell on the floor laughing while my husband shook his head.

As a writer, I am thankful for the never-ending insanity delivered daily from family life. 

What are you thankful for?


Wednesday, November 6, 2019

November IWSG

Did you survive the Halloween Storm of 2019? What timing! At least it was great for candy lovers. If you bought for trick-or-treaters, you got to keep 90% of it, and if you had a trick-or-treater, they got tons. Too bad it's hard to write when you're in a constant sugar coma. 

Anyway, it's time to put down the KitKats and thank our host, Alex J. Cavanaugh, and his awesome co-hosts this month: Sadira Stone, Patricia Josephine, Lisa Buie-Collard, Erika Beebe, and C. Lee McKenzie!

This month's optional question: What's the strangest thing you've ever googled in researching a story?

Oooo, what a cool question! I wish I could remember all the crazy stuff I've googled over the years. My first book involved terrorists and a bomb threat, so I was looking up all sorts of things that probably put me on a security watch list somewhere. 

Vintage illustration of Quadrilles published in 1820-1820 by Sidebotham.
Image: Rawpixal Ltd

My second had me delving into all things 19th century. I once watched YouTube videos of people dancing a cotillon in period dress. 

In my current story, the setting is a college campus. I found a Wikipedia page that lists all the hazing deaths experienced by members of fraternities and sororities going back to 1838.

Speaking of the macabre, here are some pictures of our Halloween Pumpkins:

Here is my older daughter's version of Pennywise, from the movie It. All the rain dribbling down this pumpkin's many teeth made it look like it was drooling--how appropriate! Just don't look into the deadlights, folks.

The pumpkin on the right is my younger daughter's--a mummy. And the one on the left is my interpretation of a Japanese bonsai tree, crane, and water flowing under a bridge. 

My husband took me on a walk last Saturday after all the rain, and we have a huge waterfall, not twenty minutes from our house. I couldn't believe it! Rochester's Lower Falls is like a small Niagara Falls.


How was your Halloween? Are there places near your home that you've always meant to visit, but never found the time?