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?

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

IWSG October

Happy Fall! How's the weather in your neck of the woods? We're supposed to have record highs (almost 90)  on Oct. 1 followed by cool, cool 50s and 60s. Sounds perfect to me. The only thing better would be to live in Browning, Montana! 


What's better than 4 feet of snow in September? Maybe four awesome co-hosts for this month's IWSG bloghopRonel Janse van Vuuren, Mary Aalgaard, Madeline Mora-Summonte, and Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor.

And a big thanks, of course, to our host, Alex J. Cavanaugh.

October's Optional Question: It's been said that the benefits of becoming a writer who does not read is that all your ideas are new and original. Everything you do is an extension of yourself, instead of a mixture of you and another author. On the other hand, how can you expect other people to want your writing, if you don't enjoy reading? What are your thoughts?

Image: Amazon

I went to an author talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the author of Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, The Thing Around Your Neck, Americanah, and We Should All Be Feminists. She told the audience that she didn't read fiction while she was trying to write fiction, because she didn't want another author's voice in her head. 

I was both impressed and horrified. It takes me months, if not years, to complete a book. (I am a tortoise). 


Hmm, now what? 

I can't imagine giving up fiction. I need to read like I need to breathe. I'd sooner give up toilet paper. Now, I don't fault any writer who does stay away from reading to focus on their own work. Their writing could very well be amazing. Adichie's books certainly are. I just couldn't live that way.

Speaking of tortoises, I've been slowly working on a new manuscript and am approaching the end of the first draft. I'll be super happy to reach that milestone, because I love to edit and expand. Right now, I've got a plot and a ton of dialogue, but almost no scenery or reflections/feelings from the characters. My first draft is an empty house waiting to be furnished and decorated. Oh, the possibilities. 

And yes, I've been reading constantly, including Stephen King's The Institute and Margaret Atwood's The Testaments. Just following my bliss.



Have you read any of Adichie's books? Did you know Half a Yellow Sun was made into a movie? (I didn't.) Read or write anything awesome lately? How do you find your bliss?

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

IWSG September 2019

Okay, what happened? Didn't school end last week or so? And now the kiddos are going back? Really? I should be jumping up and down because school = quiet writing time, but I'm not. Because school = getting up at 6:00 a.m. or 5:20 a.m. NOOOOO!

Breathe, breathe. 

A-hem. I'd like to thank Alex Cavanaugh for hosting this blog-hop and this wonderful online community along with the co-hosts Gwen Gardner, Doreen McGettigan, Tyrean Martinson, Chemist Ken, and Cathrina Constantiner!

Optional Question: If you could pick one place in the world to sit and write your next story, where would it be and why?

My husband was just telling me yesterday that Barack Obama's mom rented him a house on the coast of Bali so he could finish his book, Dreams From My Father. For five months. 

Wow. I can't believe it didn't take longer. If I was there, I don't think I'd do any writing. I'd just stare at the water, walk the beach, and swim.

Image: Jack

So, if I really wanted to focus on my writing with absolutely no distractions whatsoever, perhaps I should go here:


With a high speed internet connection and three meals a day, who knows what I could accomplish? Then again, a cell would destroy my sanity creativity. 

I'd much rather be somewhere scenic, in the mountains, with snow in the winter months.

Image: Carl Mueller

I might pick Banff. Lake Louise is gorgeous. There are beautiful hiking trails and the hotel we stayed at years ago had a great pool and hot tub--just the thing for relaxing after a long hike. 

Then there's the Blue Ridge Mountains. My folks live right beside them in Asheville, NC, so I'd know where to get a good meal.

Crabtree Falls, 2009 03 HDR
Image: Jim Dollar

But with the responsibility of family, house, and pets, my next book will be written at home, of course.


Have you ever written outside of your home on a vacation, business trip, or retreat?

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

August IWSG

Good Morning (Afternoon, or Evening) Insecure Writers! What's up? Well, it had to happen sooner or later. I missed a IWSG post last month. We left town for a family reunion (husband's side), the day after that post at 3:30 a.m. to catch a flight. In the rush and chaos to get ready, my IWSG post didn't get on the to-do list. Oops. (I feel bad.)

"It's bright in here...", variant

But this month will be different. Because our flight leaving to see my folks is...oh, no. Really?

Yep. I did it again. Scheduled a flight the day after an IWSG post. But I'm writing this sucker over a week in advance! So HA, forgetful brain! Take that!

 Cheeky wildcat

Enough preliminaries. Let's get this thing going. Thank you to our wonderful host, Alex Cavanaugh and nimble co-hosts: Renee Scattergood, Sadira Stone, Jacqui Murray, Tamara Narayan, and LG Keltner! (Good thing I didn't forget to post this month, huh?)

August's optional question: Has your writing ever taken you by surprise? For example, a positive and belated response to a submission you'd forgotten about or an ending you never saw coming?

Well, yes. Yes, it has. When I started to query my historical novel, I sent a letter to Al Zuckerman of Writer's House, who has represented Ken Follett of Pillar's of the Earth fame, along with many, many super, well-known authors. If you're going to dream, dream big, right? 

Image: Leonardo Barichello (Pillars of the Earth involves the building of a cathedral.)

I never expected to hear anything back. Then ten months later, I got a request for a 50-page partial. Crazytown! 

That's as far as things went, but I did receive a comment that my pages were well-written along with specific feedback from his office, which was helpful, unexpected, and made me

Image: Andy Miccone



Have you ever forgotten to post for a blog hop? Read Pillar's of the Earth or seen the mini-series? I highly recommend them if you haven't. Plus, there are sequels!

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

June 2019 IWSG

Ah, June. Time for shorts and T-shirts, beach visits, and tall glasses of lemonade, right? Well here along the shore of Lake Ontario, we're still wearing our jeans and fleece. It's 59 degrees! But I love it, actually. Perfect weather for gardening and bike-riding. 

Great weather for blogging as well. It's time for another IWSG post. Thanks to our host, Alex Cavanaugh and his incredible band of cohosts: Diane Burton, Kim Lajevardi, Sylvia Ney, Sarah Foster, Jennifer Hawes, and Madeline Mora-Summonte!

Today's optional question: Of all the genres you read and write, which is your favorite to write in and why?

Book Store Cat
Image: Daniel STL

I like to read literary fiction, women's fiction, commercial fiction, historical fiction, speculative fiction, horror, dystopian, paranormal and suspense/thrillers. For writing, the list is a bit shorter. I've written a paranormal thriller, slave/historical fiction, contemporary fiction, speculative, suspense, and horror. I don't have a favorite, per se, because I haven't written in all of them yet. So how could I possibly pick? 

The aspects of writing that I try to incorporate no matter what genre are: 

1. Compelling characters. 

Image: Amazon

Stephen King is my favorite author and at first, I thought it was because I loved spooky stories. But now, I think it's because his characters are so unique/amazing/well-rounded/alive and his voice comes shining through each story. It's simply magical. I love it.

2. Buried themes/symbolism

Male Great Horned Owl keeps close watch
Image: Tony's Takes

My favorite book, Shadowland by Peter Straub, is haunted by birds. They're all over this story. 

3. Twists and Curveballs

Sometimes a twist is major plot point. Spoiler Alert! For example, in Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, you discover the wife wasn't murdered by her husband. Nope. She sets him up as a form of revenge. Genius.

Other times, curveballs are like sweet pieces of candy that liven up the plot. I'm rereading George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones and John Snow is expecting to be assigned ranger as he joins the Night's Watch because of his skills in fighting and horsemanship. Unbeknownst to him, he's actually going to be assigned steward to the Commander instead, which seems like a big step down. (But it will help train him to become commander some day.)

My problem with twists and curveballs is that I like them so much, I tend to overload my novels with them until the plot gets too complicated. Then I have to have a serious talk with myself, and figure out which ones can stay and which can go. Setting up a major twist also takes a lot of thought and planning. A great twist needs plenty of hints without giving the whole game away. 

US Sea World 1211 (245) 
Image: Diego Tirira

Curveballs in real life are not as much fun as we found out on our trip to Florida during Spring Break. Our first morning, my daughter woke with a high fever and our first stop was the local doc-in-a-box instead of Sea World. 

Luckily, we were early, got through the sign-in, waiting room, strep and flu tests (both negative) very quickly, and even scored her scrip for antibiotics right there at the office. She insisted on carrying on with our plans and we were able to do everything (and then some). Even feeling ill, Sedona outlasted me in energy and enthusiasm. (I must be getting old.) 


Has life thrown you any curveballs? 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019


May. Wait a minute?! Wasn't it February about five minutes ago? Where does the time go? Who is stealing it? While I try to orient myself to the fact that it's spring, let's take a moment to thank the host of the IWSG, Alex J. Cavanaugh, and his dedicated band of co-hosts: Lee Lowery, Juneta Key,Yvonne Ventresca, and T. Powell Coltrin!

May's optional question:

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

Globe Theatre

I'll pick 10th grade English class and our Shakespeare project. I decided to build a model of the Globe Theater circa 1600. It took forever to construct, was incredibly fiddly and awkward, and a real pain-in-the-butt to get to school. (But it did have a working trap door on stage.) Even though I got an A on the project, it wasn't the class favorite.

Instead, another student took Marc Antony's speech beginning "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears," from Julius Caesar, and reinterpreted it with a modern rap/hip-hop style. His delivery blew us (and the teacher) away. Afterwards we all cheered and clapped. I wish I could remember some of it.

This guy, named of Lin-Manuel...something would later grow up to

Image: Wikipedia

Just kidding. It wasn't him. 

But I did have the incredible privilege to see the touring version of the musical Hamilton last Saturday and, wow. Talk about the power of language! (Not to mention song.) The hype is true; this is a masterpiece of story-telling. 

There are many things to love about this production, but a few things stand out to the writer in me. There is a scene in which George Washington, dressed in black, is admonishing Alexander for defending Washington's honor. Washington is interested in winning the Revolutionary War; he doesn't care what people are saying behind his back. During their argument, Hamilton warns Washington numerous times not to call him "son".

Later, in the second act, the table turns. (Which is fitting as there's an actual turn-table covering most of the stage floor.) Hamilton finds himself in Washington's role. Dressed in black, he admonishes his actual son not to defend his name against detractors. It's a great moment of symmetry. 


Another pivotal role reversal occurs in Hamilton's relationship to his wife, Eliza, that is especially poignant. Early in the marriage, Eliza is put in the role of begging for Hamilton's attention, just hoping to "be enough", while he focusses on his work. Later, after their marriage falls apart, he is the one left begging her for forgiveness, echoing the words "be enough". It's heart-breaking.

My favorite song was Dear Theodosia because it is beautiful, and I was lucky enough to see the original cast member, Leslie Odom, Jr. (who played Aaron Burr, sir) sing it in concert back in January.


Have you seen Hamilton? Have a favorite character and/or song? 

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

April IWSG

Happy April! Were you fooled on Monday? My twelve-year-old got me good. She ran into the kitchen right before bedtime--or rather, an hour past--looking for her backpack and muttering about a homework assignment she forgot to do. Instantly livid, I was about to yell emphasize that I don't feel like doing homework at 10-freaking-o'-clock she should be more mindful of these things, when she stopped, smiled, and said, "April Fools'". 

Good one, kid. 

Of course, as writers, we fool people all the time, or at least, we try. So, it's time for another post for the IWSG,  led by Ninja Captain Alex J. Cavanaugh and his merry crew of co-hosts: J.H. Moncrieff, Natalie Aguirre, Patsy Collins, and Chemist Ken! 

First, the IWSG optional question:

If you could use a wish to help you write just ONE scene/chapter of your book, which one would it be?

Once Upon A Time

I'd pick the first five pages and have some magical super-fairy sprinkle writerly intoxication powder all over that sucker to make it irresistible to agents and publishers. Ooooo, they'd think, I've got to represent/publish this one, for sure! A 110K word count? No problem.

College of Charleston grounds
Image: denisbin

The first draft of my current work-in-slomo-progress is still clunking along. It's set at a college campus, and is it just me, or are there a lot more novels and movies about high school than ones set at college. Why is that, you think? 

Besides wanting help on those all-important first five pages, I'd also take some pointers on the parts of the novel between big scenes. Writing about specific things like fights, kisses, chases, or death are the fun parts. It's the lulls in between that can be tricky. You don't want to think of those parts as "filler" or else, chop-chop, they need to go. But you can't have things going full blast, 100 mph all the time, either. Or can you? 

speed 1
Image: Hsiung/d6487coke

Being able to write the lower intensity scenes so that they are just as interesting and as important story-drivers as the high intensity scenes is a skill. In fact, I often find myself enjoying those parts the most when rewatching/rereading things.

I mean, face it. Most of us went to our first viewing of Titanic to see the boat go down. But fess up. Who here kept going back to enjoy the evolution of Rose and Jack's love story, hmm? And whenever I reread Stephen King's IT, it's the characters and their backstories that I linger over much more than the final destruction of the monster. 

Can you name a book or movie that took place at college besides Animal House? Any book or movie you love for the development more than or as much as the climax?