Wednesday, December 05, 2018

IWSG: December end-of-year musings . . .

Each month, the Insecure Writer's Support Group asks us to share where we are right now, our celebrations and our doubts.

Tomorrow is my birthday, a good time for looking forward and looking back. Tomorrow I will be 75. Who ever thought I would live this long? I always believed tall people lived short lives.

I'm grateful for each day, recognizing I have a little less stamina, but knowing I'm still stubborn enough to work toward my goals (I blame Viking blood). And I'm always grateful that some 45 years ago, I met the man who brightens each day, and who is the reason I have a daughter close to my heart, an amazing son-in-law, and two granddaughters nearby.

Since retiring a decade ago, I've become an indie author, written 3 historical fiction novels, and am knee-deep in a new genre, contemporary romantic suspense with a historical back story (15th Century). Maybe The Seventh Tapestry will take us back to France and Scotland. But, how many more stories can I write? Should I write that family history/memoir that will tell stories I don't want to share?

Celebrations? No chocolate cake, please! Last month, I did take the plunge and forked out $$$ for a BookBub ad for Standing Stones, sweating until sales covered the cost. Did I say I'm a frugal indie writer? Gained possibly 25K new readers, and thankfully added +30 new reviews. Got wonderful comments on Rivers of Stone from Writer's Digest's  25th Annual Self-Published Book Awards. Rejoined The Internet Writer's Support Group and am slowly critting other's wips and subbing that first draft of  The Seventh Tapestry.

So if you critique other drafts, know that your efforts to consider quality of writing, storyline arcs, conflict, authentic and empathetic characters, underlying theme, setting, reader involvement, etc., etc., are ALL appreciated. Truly. So, today, I celebrate the act of writing, the community that writing creates between writers, and between writers and readers. And I wish you many more stories to tell.

IWSG's December question asks: "What are five objects we'd find in your writing space?"  Even in this new apartment, with boxes not entirely unpacked, I can celebrate:
1. A peaceful view out the window, currently of sun-splashed pine trees tipped with frost at about 25 F.
2. A pot of African violets blooming next to the printer, despite the cold.
3. Always my computer/work station, ready to go.
4. Books mostly tidy in bookshelves, ready to be read and reread, organized by topic and interest, books I can't quite part with despite my efforts to downsize or reliance on Kindle for bigger print.
5. Quilting projects ready to pick up when inspiration stalls, for the sewing itself, by hand or machine, leads me to reflection.

Snowman with hat and granddaughters

Thank you to co-hosts for this December 5 posting of the IWSG:  J.H. Moncrieff, Tonja Drecker , Patsy Collins, and Chrys Fey  Go to Insecure Writer's Support Group for more inspiration! If you have any advice for me, please leave a comment!

Thursday, November 08, 2018

IWSG: A Moving Tale

We almost counted the boxes that surrounded us on moving day. What took five strong men two-and-a-half hours to carry down three flights of stairs led to a veritable mountain of recycling. And reflection. Four days without internet.

As an OTA (older than average) writer, I truly appreciate now living in a first floor, disability access apartment. My challenge? Recreating order out of chaos as I ask: 'What is essential?'

My office has a new configuration, so now I ask which books go where, which books do I need most? How do I keep writing when all around me needs attention? Distractions abound with election drama, the morass of scathing political attacks, and, now, this morning, another shooting. This month, two funerals and friends facing serious illness.

Maybe some IWSG writers are already thousands of words towards their NaNoWriMo goal. I've barely begun. I'm thinking 3x5 card scaffolding on that blank corkboard over my computer. My characters are still talking to me in dreams and dialogue.

And I shall cherish each day.

Maybe as we all move to the end of the year, it's time to be thankful for the many blessings we do have and to consider what good we can yet do to bring about, yes, world peace.

Thank you, co-hosts for November 7's post for the Insecure Writer's Support GroupEllen @ The Cynical SailorAnn V. FriendJQ Rose and Elizabeth Seckman.

This month's IWSG optional question is: How has your creativity in life evolved since you began writing? Why not see what others have written over at the Insecure Writer's Support Group!

Even in the snow (Camp 2017)

Friday, October 12, 2018

Friday: A Hint of Winter to Come

First frost this morning, and I’m busy scaffolding Section 2 of The Seventh Tapestry, my first romantic suspense. 

With Section 01 behind me, I'm currently at about 8K words towards my goal of 30K for this section. I’m building those scenes that heighten romantic tension between Sandra and Neil, while the plot thickens with mystery over stolen museum artifacts. This section is the notorious middle, where if all is not carefully plotted out, we writers dread a slump.

Here in eastern Washington, the weather already has that nip of winter, and I know snow is coming. Now I realize that I haven’t set the time of year for any part of my story. Ouch! For Edinburgh has a long, cold, and rainy winter, with occasional snow in January and February.

Is it too much of a cliché for Sandra and Neil to meet in the fall, face their darkest threats in winter, and reconcile for that happy-ever-after by spring, the season of hope?

Winter in Edinburgh (source: This is Edinburgh)

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

IWSG: October Thoughts

Each month begins with an invitation to share our reflections with other writers who are a part of the Insecure Writer's Support Group. We post our musings and read what others have written. Sometimes we are challenged and sometimes we find encouragement by what we find.

Each month IWSG posts an optional question. This month, the questions are: How do major life events affect your writing? Has writing ever helped you through something?

I keep thinking about national events that hover, not always in the background, as I write. The Kavanaugh/Ford hearings, waiting for the FBI report, that sense the vote will move ahead regardless of what is discovered, the news about the children, illegal immigrants, some 4,000 shunted to tent cities in southern Texas, global warming, tsunamis, the gradual rise of the oceans, the 'tribalism' that shapes our politics -- all these are not quite background.

I write historical fiction, stuck somehow in mid-19th Century, and through research and intuition, try to re-create what life was like then for those who don't make the headlines. My writing keeps me focused. More observant. Maybe even hopeful about the future, for don't we survive somehow?

  • I am saddened by the women who have confided in me their own stories of sexual harassment and rape. For women who grew up in the 1950s when, yes, that Ozzie and Harriet Nelson household was the ideal we aspired to, perhaps we were particularly vulnerable.
  • Social change occurs slowly, very slowly. In that mid-19th Century, women and children were routinely sent into the mines to dig coal, for they could reach places men could not. Literacy was a dream and, for many, not a reality.
  • We have the 40-hour week now, at least for hourly workers, though if you are a 'professional,' the week is as long as it takes to get the work done. Before I retired, I routinely worked 60-70 hours a week to read my students' papers and prep for classes. I'm not complaining, for I loved working with my students. Just maybe that's why I never began to truly write until I retired.
My thoughts are darker this month. All I can offer is an affirmation that writing on large or small projects keeps us connected to our own creativity, to the unique promise of each day, even as the seasons shift to fall, and, perhaps, through groups like the Insecure Writer's Support Group, we gain that precious sense of community.

Dahlias at Manito Park (Sept 2018)
Thank you, co-hosts for the October 3 posting: Dolorah, Tanya Miranda, Chemist Ken, and Christopher D. Votey. Now, go check out what others have written over at the Insecure Writer's Support Group!

Monday, October 01, 2018

About roots, DNA, and bears . . .

This morning at water aerobics, a classmate asked me about my latest book, Rivers of Stone. He was intrigued by its setting in 1840's Canada. He didn't know when his family came to Canada or how they moved to the United States. I immediately thought perhaps he might be part Métis and asked if he had taken a DNA test to determine his family heritage. He told me yes, and that he was strictly a mix of European and Croatian. The mystery of his family's movement from Europe to Canada remains.

My own family told tales of Cheyenne ancestry from that time my grandmother was born in Oklahoma Territory at Fort Reno, in the late 1800's. Sad to say, a DNA test revealed my roots are Swedish, English, and Irish (49%), with a mish-mash of European (18%), and a smidge (4%) of Neanderthal to keep the results interesting.

Walter Johnson in Army uniform,
his wife, Clara Mary Linthicum,
and my grandmother, Carolyn Mabel Johnson,
Fort Scott, Oklahoma, about 1900.
But I have always been drawn to Native American cultures. Their history is one of upheaval and displacement. Yet the people remain rooted in their beliefs, not the least being we are stewards of the earth and should strive to live in balance with all creatures, including nature itself.

What does this have to do with writing? When we write outside our own experience, intuition and research guide us. My hope is that when I do write about Native Americans, my characters are drawn with respect. Here's a snippet from Rivers of Stone. Machk, a Cree, takes Catriona to see the polar bears hunt on Hudson's Bay in November, 1842. 

     Before them, about one hundred yards out on the ice-packed bay, a ring-necked seal rested next to a small patch of open water. Some fifty yards past the seal, an older, male polar bear, its fur golden in the morning sun, watched the seal with intensity.
     "You watch. You learn," said Machk.
     The polar bear slunk forward until his whole body was flat on the ice. He slid a little closer, slowly moving behind a chunk of ice. He raised his head for just a moment and then lowered it, as if he were testing the wind to smell if the seal had noticed him. The seal cast his head about, sniffing the air, but it didn't move.
     Cat almost laughed as the polar bear slunk around the chunk of ice and entered the water without making a sound.
     Machk pointed at the little space of open water between them and the seal.

Polar Bear (

The rest of this scene plays out in Rivers of Stone. I'm not sure I would or even could follow Machk out onto the ice of Hudson's Bay in November where temperatures hover around 20F, but Catriona did, and she listened to Machk's teachings.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Part 2: Tana Lovett Talks About Writing

Today, Tana Lovett continues talking with us about what she’s learned as an indie writer and from writing As Long as There Is Chocolate. She concludes her visit with us by giving advice for writers. Again, welcome, Tana!

When you develop characters, do you already know who they are before you begin writing? I would love to be the writer who has the whole story mapped out ahead of time. I've tried so many methods of plotting, but it all comes down to not knowing what will happen until the characters start talking. My style is very dialogue-heavy. When the characters speak, they surprise even me, and I begin to know who they are, why they are who they are, and what would motivate them to do the next thing.

Why do you write and what do you write? I write because putting my thoughts on paper keeps me sane, or some facsimile thereof. I write funny mainstream fiction with strong romantic elements and, apparently, a few friendly ghosts. I thought As Long as There Is Chocolate was a romance novel. It was a publisher I queried who told me it was "Women's Fiction." As I learned what that meant, I realized why my story felt like a square peg in the romance world's round hole. I write the kind of story I enjoy reading. My kind of story doesn't usually have sexy couples on the cover. It's longer than most romances. It has more segues to the story, a larger cast of characters, more backstory. The focus is on the growth of the main character(s) rather than the relationship itself, although Kate & Gio's romance is fun to watch develop.

How did you come up with the idea for As Long as There is Chocolate? I entered an assigned-title short story contest. What a great title! I wish I could take credit for it. For me, the title meant a funny, romantic story. I won first place in the contest and decided to expand it into a novel. I love Kate's snarky sense of humor and kind soul. I love that Gio can be pretty near perfect and still be relatable. I love what Kate loves about Castle Springs and the Castaldi clan. Strong bonds. Permanence. Stability.

Did you come across any specific challenges in writing As Long as There is Chocolate?
  • Feeling like I didn't know what I was doing. I'm not sure I'll ever get over the imposter syndrome, but I did learn to trust my gut more throughout the process.
  • Perfectionism. It's the enemy of being done. So many writer friends kept nudging me to let my little bird fly, but I couldn't stand the thought of someone judging my lack of skill. It had to be better. As perfect as I knew how to make it. I'm trying to change that with my current projects. Keep moving forward, warts and all, and let an editor help figure it out later. That's so hard.
  • Believing that there's a RIGHT way to write a book. Everyone's creative process is different. I thought that if I bought all the books, went to all the classes and conferences, got all the software and equipment, I'd become a writer. I learned that you become a writer by writing, and your way is likely to be different than the writing book writers and conference presenters. They're only sharing what works for them. Each one of those books says something different, because every writer is different.
What strategies do you use to interact with your fans? Attract new readers? I'm active on Facebook. I do have a newsletter, but I am anything but regular about sending it out. I was an avid blogger before I began writing books. I deactivated that blog because I felt it was unfair to talk so much about my family if I was going to try to become a public figure. My blog is severely neglected. Don't be Tana, writers. Don't be Tana.

How did you become an indie author? I made a goal of getting a minimum of 50 rejections before allowing myself to be discouraged. I think I sent out 27 queries, and got a lot of kind and encouraging rejections, before I got a contract offer. That company changed my title, created a cover, put the book up for preorder, pushed my publication date back twice, then dropped me before publishing the book. 

At that point, I was done with traditional publishing – for now. I hired a professional editor, redid the cover (I was a graphic designer in a former life), took back my awesome title, and RAN to the finish line on January 15, 2018.

What marketing strategies do you find most helpful? How do you reach your readers? What advice do you have for other writers? I have found some marketing success for limited periods by doing a free day on Amazon and setting up promotions to go along with it on sites like Freebooksy, RobinReads, and EReaderNewsToday. I've been told that doing 3 of the smaller sites at once is easier and about as effective as getting that coveted BookBub ad--and less expensive. (I certainly had results the first time I tried it.) I also do AMS ads, targeting the most popular books that are similar to mine in the keywords. I know the ads are effective because, when I decided to turn them all off, my sales disappeared like evil magic. All marketing gives a better return on investment if you have multiple books out. I'm working on that.

And, what’s next? I’m working on a romance novel, first in a series, called Bambi & The Billionaire. Three romance writers from Idaho--who have no love and adventure of their own--go on a European holiday of a lifetime.

What advice do you have for others who dream of writing? My advice to someone who has a book in them waiting to be written? Believe in yourself.

My grown daughter, mother-of-many, once congratulated me on getting my first book contract, saying, “Mom, I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t know you wanted to be a writer.” And it hit me. That’s a lot of years to want to be something. I hadn’t realized I wanted it so much, for so long, that my children were aware of it. I know I hadn’t been doing what I should to make it happen.

It made me think about others who might face the same situation. If I had one thing to tell them, it would be this:  Do not wait until you are the mother-of-a-mother-of-many to go after your dream. Trust your gut. Believe in yourself. Put your seat in the chair and write.

About Tana Lovett. Tana spent a nomadic childhood, routinely relocating with her mother and two brothers. When she was eleven, they spent the school year in a rural Colorado town, homesteaded, in part, by Italian immigrants. This was potent fuel for her vivid, pre-teen imagination, and the memory grew over time into her first novel. 

Tana now lives in the inland Pacific Northwest with her husband, Captain Awesome Man, surrounded by their great big family.

NOTE: If you missed Part 1 of Tana Lovett’s guest post, here’s the link

If you are in the Spokane area, Tana will be a featured reader  at Stephen Pitter’s Poetry Rising on September 19 at Barnes & Noble, Northtown.


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Part 1: As Long as There is Chocolate by Tana Lovett

I first met Tana Lovett at a local meeting of the Idaho Writers' League. I was charmed by her humor, her love of chocolate, her storytelling, and her hard work for writers at all levels. 

Her first novel, As Long as There Is Chocolate, tells the story of a young woman who starts her own business (a gourmet chocolate shop). Despite herself, Kate falls in love with the ‘deli man’ across the street. Along the way, we readers sympathize with Kate’s hard work to start her business, and hope, with the help of a few family ghosts, that all will end ‘happily ever after.’  Today, Tana tells us how she became a writer. Welcome, Tana.

What inspires you to write? People and their personal stories. One of the oft-repeated responses I remember receiving from my parents was, "nunya." (Short for "none of your business.") I learned to not ask too many personal questions, but I always kept my ears wide open. I remember interesting bits and pieces about people, and I'm sure I embellish them liberally in my brain. (Those parents, by the way, had some pretty fascinating details in their own lives.) I think I was born to tell stories. Another word I often heard from my parents was, "hush." Rather than speaking my stories continually, I learned to write them down.

Do you remember the first story you wrote? I do remember being told in early grade school that I had a gift for it. I didn't believe becoming a writer was something I could achieve. Only special people became writers.

One thing that stands out is an experience in my high school freshman English class. We were assigned To Kill A Mockingbird, and I fell in love with Atticus Finch as a father. We were assigned to write our own two-page test, and the teacher would compile a test from the best questions turned in. My test went something like this (mind you, the test was supposed to be two pages).

Page 1: Write a page about Atticus Finch and his relationship with Scout. What do you think about his parenting style? How is it different from that of your own parents?

Page 2: Write a page from the viewpoint of Mayella Ewell [the white accuser in a rape trial against Tom Robinson, an African American male in the Depression-era South]. What was her life like? Why might she falsely accuse Tom Robinson?

My reasons for my version of the test? I knew everyone else would be working on multiple choice questions or something, and I, as always, had to be different. I was done with the assignment in about 5 minutes. I thought I'd pulled off the most brilliant underachiever sleight of hand EVER. I knew that in the unlikely event my test was chosen, I'd slay it!

As it turned out, my test was chosen, and my anonymity preserved. The teacher only required that students respond to one of the writing assignments. The moans and groans from the other students were deafening when they realized they'd have to write a whole page. I chose the Mayella question for my response because I knew everyone else was more likely to choose the other.

Before the graded tests were returned, the teacher read my response (again anonymous) to the class. Several students commented that it sounded like it came from a professional writer.

Unfortunately, it took many, many . . . many years before I began to believe that praise was sincere and that constructive criticism did not mean my writing was bad. When I enrolled in a community college in my mid-thirties, a bulb lit in my head! Not everyone found writing enjoyable -- or easy. There is something special about that. I began to believe I could be a writer.

Thank you, Tana! Come back tomorrow, September 13, for Part 2: Tana Lovett Talks About Writing. 

A Little About Tana Lovett. Tana spent a nomadic childhood, routinely relocating with her mother and two brothers. When she was eleven, they spent the school year in a rural Colorado town, homesteaded, in part, by Italian immigrants. This was potent fuel for her vivid, pre-teen imagination, and the memory grew over time into her first novel. Tana lives in the inland Pacific Northwest with her husband, Captain Awesome Man, surrounded by their great big family.

Learn more about Tana at
Audible link:
Amazon Author Page

If you are in the Spokane area, Tana will be a featured reader September 19 at Stephen Pitter’s Poetry Rising on September 19 at Northtown's Barnes & Noble.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

IWSG: What does cheesecake have to do with writing?

Tuesday night, I had a lovely visit with a local book club. Just 16 women and me, nattering away about writing and Standing Stones. Plus, we enjoyed a very good cheesecake.

These lovers of historical fiction wanted to know how I wrote and why I wrote this particular story. I tried to explain that we writers mine our experiences. A glimmer of an idea from what we experience from a trip, or a book we've read, and we're writing scenes.

For example, while doing research for Standing Stones, I read that during the Industrial Revolution, many suffered from starvation. At times, some thrown out of their homes were reduced to eating grass. An awful realization that historically and today, sweeping economic times can bring shifts in population and great privation. I wasn't sure how this could be used in my story, but the next morning, I awoke with a scene playing out like a movie: Moira discovers two women, dead on a path, grass stains on their lips.

Which brings me to IWSG's question for September: What publishing path did you take, and why?

Two incidents shaped why I'm a frugal and happy indie writer.

As an older than average writer (OTA), I began truly writing just after retiring. I went the traditional route with my first book. One top agent I still respect replied immediately with very specific reasons as to why my book was not marketable. I groaned but persevered. Responses from the next 50 or so potential agents ranged from form letters to no response at all.

Then an independent publishing company (forever nameless) asked me to submit a 10-page, single-spaced proposal and marketing plan. I dutifully completed all their questions and submitted the document. The response? A form e-mail that said I should hear within 2-3 months IF they were interested. Otherwise, I would hear nothing at all.

I popped that novel in the drawer and decided I could learn what I needed and do it myself. In the last decade, I've written 3 historical novels set in the 1840's in Scotland, Australia, and Canada, following the adventures of the McDonnell family. My writing since retirement has shaped travel and research, and I've had a blast writing for my readers.

Along the way, I've connected with (and learned much from) online writing challenges (NaNoWriMo and OctPoWriMo) and writing groups -- The Internet Writing Workshop, A Round of Words in 80 Days, and the weekly challenge to post a snippet from a work in progress, WIPpet Wednesday.

What's next? I'm playing around with a new genre: Contemporary romantic suspense. The story begins in Paris and is inspired by a lost medieval tapestry. I'm learning about art crime, museums, James V of Scotland, and story arcs for this new genre.

Calgary Zoo, Canada (Camp, August 2018)
For the coming month, cherish each day, and may your own writing go well! 

Thank you, Alex Cavannagh and co-hosts Toi Thomas, T. Powell Coltrin, M.J. Fifield, and Tara Tyler for IWSG's September 5 post. Click on over to the Insecure Writer's Support Group to read what others have written.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

IWSG: Oh, the Suspense!

Write what you know, the pundits suggest. This will add a sense of reality to your stories.

Even as an older than average writer, I love a challenge, and there's so much that I don't know. I rather dislike conflict, and for most of my writing, those torrid love scenes stay behind a closed door.

When I finished my three-novel series set in the 1840's in Scotland, Australia, and Canada, each book taking roughly three years to write, I wanted to try something new.

How about romantic suspense?

I began work this February, researching, planning, plotting, and drafting. The Seventh Tapestry is set in the 21st Century with roots in the 1500's. My heroine, an art curator with an interest in database management and criminal justice, accepts a job at the (fictitious) Museum of Medieval Art in Edinburgh. At first, she's charged with updating the Museum's inventory system. She's sent to visit a potential donor at roughly the same time she discovers artifacts are missing from the museum. And the plot thickens, as the Art Crimes Unit is brought in.

I still have to figure out who the 'bad guys' are in my story, though art theft from museums and collectors runs several billion dollars each year. My 'bad guys' might be greedy, but they won't be the 'smash and grab' kind of criminal.

My writing challenge remains how to add suspense AND romance. Luckily, I enjoy reading romantic suspense, and other writers generously offer their tips and encouragement. And the story keeps unfolding with new twists -- already at over 20K.

IWSG's question for August is: What pitfalls would you warn other writers to avoid on their publication journey?

I've probably muddled through enough pitfalls to warn other writers about, but I'd rather give advice: Stay current with changes in the publishing industry! And that means both traditional publishing and self-publishing platforms.

Do your diligence. If you've finished your wonderful story, celebrate. Then, work hard to identify the best 'next step' for you, considering what really fits what kind of a writer you are, where you are in your writing career, and your long-term goals. You know what you really want, don't you?

We probably don't expect shortcuts anymore. Use those research and writing skills to connect with other writers, share your experiences, and avoid those looming pitfalls. And, for heaven's sake, don't spend thousands of dollars on any writing-related 'services' without double-checking the details. I have too many writing friends who have gotten stung, recognizing their vulnerability to a smooth sales talk AFTER they signed that check.

So that's my advice: Read those professional writing magazines like Writer's Digest or The Writer. Sign up to follow newsletters or podcasts from credible writers, like Joanna Penn at The Creative Penn.

And keep writing with joy!

Thank you, Alex Cavannagh and co-hosts Erika Beebe, Sandra Hoover, Susan Gourley, and Lee Lowery for IWSG's August 1 post. Click on over to the Insecure Writer's Support Group to read what others have written.

Friday, July 13, 2018

World-building: More important than story?

My current work-in-progress, The Seventh Tapestry, has historical roots that reach back to France and Scotland in the 16th Century. But the main story is set in contemporary times. I thought maybe I could write this story a little faster than my usual three-year turnaround. Ha!

Did I pick easy settings, located just around the block? Nope. My story is set in Scotland and Paris. So, I'm re-exploring neighborhoods near the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, with a side trip to Stirling Castle about an hour's drive away. Although we stayed in Edinburgh for a month several years ago, I'm wishing we could go back for at least another month.

Luckily the internet is the mother of all resources. This afternoon's jaunt led me to Deacon Brodie's Tavern in Lawnmarket. They have a scrumptious menu, and a quiet dining area upstairs, a little removed from the bustle of the bar below, and a fascinating back story. Apparently Deacon Brodie was an upstanding merchant who made cabinets and repaired locks during the day, but at night, he became a thief and broke into the wealthiest houses. He was hanged for his crimes in 1788.

Here's a view of the bar at Deacon Brodie's. Now, notice that slogan on the front of the bar that begins "A pledge to Scots . . ." It took a little bit to search out the rest of what is etched just below the bar. I finally found the rest of the quote on Twitter, of all places! Here's the full quote:

"A pledge to Scots: In love and life I hath no fear as I was born of Scottish blood."

Here's where the link to storytelling comes in. My heroine and hero will have a delicious lunch at Deacon Brodie's, most likely upstairs in that quiet dining room. And they'll talk about the original Deacon Brodie as they hunt down the thieves plaguing their museum, who might well be hiding in plain sight, just as Deacon did so long ago.

If you've read my previous historical fiction, you'll remember how Mac McDonnell used to say, "Bend, don't break," a rather useful Scottish proverb when all seems lost, when the only way to get through is to simply be stubborn and persevere.

In this new story, my characters will face down danger, various villains, and  their own doubts as they fall in love. So that statement carved into the front of the bar resonates. Suddenly, I knew what my character would say:

“In love and life, I have no fear,” Sandra whispered.

Meanwhile, more research is needed. For now, I'll remember our apartment overlooking the Writers' Museum at Lady Stair's Close just off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. And, there's always Paris.
View of Writers' Museum, Lady Stair's Close, Edinburgh (Camp 2009)

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

IWSG: Waffling and Decluttering

This month's post for the Insecure Writer's Support Group asks us to consider how we're doing with our ultimate writing goals and to ask if they have they changed?

As I'm in the midst of waffling my way through a first draft and decluttering my office (3 boxes of books are simply gone, not an easy challenge), I'm not sure where to start. Perhaps the purpose of decluttering is clear -- I want more space to focus on my writing and fewer distractions. But the process of organizing and 'deleting' extraneous or nonessential projects, books-to-read, and evaluating whether some unfinished projects are worthy, can be a distraction in itself.

My books, finally decluttered!
I'll return to beginnings. I knew I wanted to write when I was 8 or 9 years old and struck by the injustice of birth. Why were some children in some families (mine, blue collar gritty), and others lived in that mythical cottage on the hill? I sporadically wrote and worked my way through college, but writing always came second to paying the rent, buying food, then building a career. I lamented the reality that writing came between those other commitments, until finally, at retirement, I dove into writing as if I had unlimited time and stamina and heart to do what I'd always dreamed.

What a blast this last decade has been. Three books complete and published. My historical fiction draws on the dark side of history (underlying themes of displacement, abandonment, and that age-old struggle for survival), as my characters work toward that happy-for-now ending. Along the way, I've learned much, but my writing goals are unchanged: To write stories that celebrate our dreams and our struggle to achieve them, despite historical realities. Perhaps that's not such a bad goal in today's climate.

Thank you to Alex Cavannagh for inspiring IWSG. This month's co-hosts for the July 3 posting of the IWSG are Nicki Elson, Juneta Key, Tamara Narayan, and Patricia Lynne! Why not visit other IWSG writers to see what's up? 

And my question to you: Has the underlying theme that resonates through your writing changed? How would you describe that theme?

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Tenacity

Weds is senior movie night at the Magic Lantern here in Spokane, so we motored down the hill, found parking, and settled in at the theater to enjoy a bio-pic (Magnolia Pictures documentary), about U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

The film rolled, a beautiful blend of photos, videos and interviews, mixed between the present and the past. I did not expect to be taken back to the 1970's.

For Ruth Bader Ginsberg's legal advocacy for rights for women was shaped by the values of the times, post World War II, the civil rights and women's liberation movements, and an environment of deeply embedded prejudice against women.

At my high school in 1961, all graduates were required to have an exit interview with a counselor to discuss our future path. My greatest and most impossible ambition was to attend college. The counselor greeted me: "So, when are you getting married."

I simply got a job and began working my way through college, sometimes full time and sometimes part time. At Chico State, in California, one class intrigued me: "The Economic History of Great Britain." In a class of 70 students, I was the only woman.  As the professor glanced around the class on the first day, he went on a rant -- directed at me. "How dare you take the space of a man who will need to support his family. Why are you here?"

I kept my head down. I knew how to survive bullies. At the end of the class, the professor announced an oral final -- in his office. After a grueling 2-hour final, face-to-face with my nemesis, he grudgingly commented, "I guess you know the material." I earned an A.

But then I ran into two buddies from that class. "How did the final go?" I asked.

"Easy," replied one. "In and out in 5 minutes."

Generally speaking, when someone said I couldn't do something, I quietly got to work. And that's why this powerful movie, RBG, is well worth seeing.

For RBG reminds us of a time when perseverance made a real difference in our culture, our expectations, and our dreams. Ruth Bader Ginsburg's role in redefining "equal protection under the law" to all citizens changed the lives of women and many, many others.

When I retired from teaching about ten years ago and seriously began writing, my first book, Standing Stones, was set in the time of the Industrial Revolution and its impact on one struggling family of fishermen in northern Scotland.

Where did I learn about the Industrial Revolution? That long ago history class I took at Chico State.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

June IWSG: Characters or Titles?

This month, the Insecure Writer's Study Group asks which is easier: coming up with the title for your current book or naming those characters?

For me, titles seem to well up like a line of poetry. Even a temporary title will ultimately morph into something that resonates with the sub-theme. For example, readers have begun to refer to my trilogy as that 'stones' trilogy. That was entirely accidental, though I did want a key word to hold the linked (but OK to read alone) stories together.

Standing Stones is set in the Orkney Islands, Scotland (1840's). We visited the Neolithic Stones of Stenness on the Mainland of Orkney, and I could actually touch those cold stones and imagine long-ago lovers who plighted their troth there. My characters found solace in a similar imaginary circle of stones as they struggled with evictions brought about by the Industrial Revolution.

Stones of Stenness, Mainland, Orkney (Camp)
In Years of Stone, Mac McDonnell is transported to a penal colony in the 1840's, Van Diemen's Land, now Tasmania, Australia. As many were, Mac was assigned to break up stones, as he struggled to survive. Today, that convict legacy is respected rather than hidden.

In Rivers of Stone, Cat McDonnell, disguised as a boy, crosses Canada in the 1840's to the Great Nor'West in search of her husband. Living in the Northwest with family on the east coast, I've often traveled and hiked across Canada and have great respect for the wilderness Cat encountered during the fur trade era.

Johnston Canyon, Banff, Canada (Camp)
These titles didn't emerge linked together in the beginning, but each one fits together, perhaps like a carved stone. Hopefully these stories will endure and tell how we struggle to achieve our dreams, despite sometimes overwhelming obstacles.

Naming characters is somewhat different. If I'm really stuck, street names and lists of baby names online are helpful sources. Otherwise, those darn names shift around until one sticks. For example, my current hero in The Seventh Tapestry has gone through four name changes -- and I'm not happy yet. Thank goodness for that search and replace feature!

Luckily, IWSG didn't ask about gender changes.

Many thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh and the team at the Insecure Writer's Support Group. This month's co-hosts are: Beverly Stowe McClure, Tyrean Martinson, and Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor!  Check out what others have written HERE and may your reading, writing, revising, and editing go well!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Quiet Morning for Writing -- or Not?

There I was, pounding the keyboard, having fun translating summary into dialogue, description, and conflict. Now, normally, I prefer absolute quiet for my writing.

In The Seventh Tapestry. my heroine, Sandra Robertson, specializes in medieval art and artifacts, especially tapestries. I recalled a lovely Baroque concert we happened to find at the Museum of Medieval Art (Cluny), a locale at the heart of this story.

As I tried to remember the correct spelling of Machaut, my fingertips led me online to "Medieval Music: Guillame Machaut" on YouTube recording (and the correct spelling).

I spent the rest of the morning, writing and listening to Machaut and other medieval composers. Of course, Sandra now has medieval music in her office at work -- and she might take Thomas to a concert, just before their world falls apart!

May Spring bring you many adventures!

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

IWSG: Just in Time Writing

Back when I was an international banker studying economics, spreadsheets, and productivity, a new way of managing inventory developed in Japan. Sometime in the 1960s, Toyota began experimenting with 'just in time' purchases as a way of using 'lean' inventories to reduce budget stress AND keep that manufacturing line moving.

This week, as I was browsing through advice from other writers, this strategy leaped off the page:

Balance PLANNING with WRITING (30 minutes a day)

I was immediately excited because this advice was JUST IN TIME!

For the last several months, I've been knee-deep in planning, so much so, that even as the plot summary and those character sketches came into focus, I lost sight of the story itself. My writer's inner voice started doubting and complaining as I worked to perfect the plot summary. My story lay on the page, abstract and unfinished.

Today's advice resonated. A green light flashed before my eyes, and I began to write those scenes that bring my characters together, in conflict, in danger, and, just maybe, in love.

I don't care so much about the 'perfect' plot summary any more, though I haven't given up on the planning side. That plot summary and those character sketches still need work.

But my characters are beginning to breathe as I work on writing each section. I'm excited to begin each day with THEIR story, balancing now between writing and planning.

And that's my May post for the Insecure Writer's Support Group. I hope you found my confessions helpful. May your reading, writing, revising, and editing go well!

Special thanks to  E.M.A. Timar, J. Q. Rose, C.Lee McKenzie, and Raimey Gallant for hosting May's posts. Check out what others have written HERE.

Blue Heron, Celestun, Yucatan, Mexico
(Camp, Feb 2018)

Monday, April 30, 2018

"Z" is for Ze End and Ze Beginning!

Ah, 'tis ze end of April
and poetry for now,
and zat means tomorrow brings
ze beginning. Zounds!
What are you zinking?
All ze music gone?
Zut! Nevair.
Zend me a zinger!

Flaming "Z" (fanpop)

Today's post is the very last entry for this year's April A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. Thank you for writing, reading, and making this Challenge possible. We made it! 

What's next in May will bring spring closer to all of us. Future posts here will update you on my current writing project, with stops along the way for an occasional poem, research highlights, and a few photos. May you cherish each day!

Saturday, April 28, 2018

"Y" is for Yesterday

I'm just thinking of yesterday:
we all begin innocent and yearning
for what sweet future
may be possible.
Some of us are quiet fighters,
unwilling to give in,
some of us learn to slide between
those inevitable challenges.
Maybe a very few
go on to have seamless lives.
I grew up blue-collar gritty,
sympathetic to the underdog,
now all too aware of how spring
festoons an old tree with blossoms.

Manito Park (April 2018)
We're very nearly at the very last entry for this year's April A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. I've enjoyed so much writing, yes, at the last moment, these poems and snippets all month long. Thank you for writing, reading, and making this Challenge possible!

Friday, April 27, 2018

"X" is for X-chaser

Back in the day when hand-held calculators
were new, and you were a kid, your father 
put you in the center of the living room
to perform math tricks
for friends. That stopped
after you purposefully made errors.
But your quick mind still does
calculations, relationships, and ratios,
as if solving x were some 
profound problem that
creates order out of chaos.

I never chased x and, I could say,
x never chased me. At first,
math enchanted me, the neat way 
a formula could lie on the page,
suggesting mysteries only I could solve.
And then we moved
and moved again,
and moved again. I was either ahead
or behind, and then forever behind.
Later, in a college required math class,
the instructor's mouth moved, 
spouting words I'd never heard.

Yet somehow, you forgive me this lack,
and I find value with
my hand in yours, 
your hand in mine, 
a very basic formula,
a perfect understanding.

I really wasn't sure what to write about today, for 'x' seems an unforgiving word, for me, rather like math. Then, I found this term, X-chaser in Paul Anthony Jones article, "40 Words That Start With X". Jones writes: "In old naval slang, an X-catcher or X-chaser was someone who was good at math—literally someone good at working out the value of x." And I thought of my husband.

I did enjoy accounting, though, and can't resist sharing this meme to honor a substitute teacher who pretty much responded in shock when she viewed my worksheets -- written in ink!

More about April's A-Z Blogging Challenge here:

Thursday, April 26, 2018

"W" is for Windfall

Today began at 5 am. Yep, I'm drafting finally. Well, almost drafting. Mapping out scenes got me up early, ready to write. This morning felt like a windfall. All that extra time.

I finished today's writing about 8 am, still very early. So early that the two boxes of family momentos I've been meaning to look at, sort through, organize, and identify came into sharp focus.

What a windfall. Pictures ready to be scanned, some I'd never seen before. That's my grandmother, a delicate flower from the east coast (and Sweden). She fell in love with a cowboy back in 1918, just about the time of WWII. He taught her to ride, and she loved it!

Sigrid Henry c. 1920 (Wyoming)

In this next picture, notice the gun holster on her hip -- not just for snakes.

Frank and Sigrid Henry
Elk Mountain, Wyoming (c. 1920)
Once when my grandfather was working out on the range, a big black bear tried to come into their house. My grandmother shot the bear. This scene greeted my grandfather when he came home from work. That's my mother crawling around to play with 'the big doggie.'

Marion Louise Henry with the 'Big Doggie' (c. 1923)
A very few photos I can't identify at all. No notes on the back of the photo to guide me, but I'm scanning, writing notes and sharing, happy to find this windfall of family memories.

Allen on the Pacific Crest Trail (c. 1971)
I fanned through a set of Phillies' Score Cards from 1966, almost ready to throw these old game score cards away to find a picture of my dear husband I had never seen before.

He said the picture must have been taken post-Vietnam, while he was hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail. He looks pretty ornery with long hair and a big smile on his face.

Guess I have another project!

Catch up on what others are writing about for April's A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. We're almost through the month, with only 3 letters to go!

More about April's A-Z Blogging Challenge here:

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

"V" is for Veracity

After all these years, let us not
begin in a vacuum, with veiled venom,
your vocal verbs a volcanic venting. 
How very vexing. 
I want to veer back in your arms 
like a vandal, well-versed
in ways to vanquish your vast resistance,
luring you close with sweet revision,
perfumed with vanilla and violets,
until you truly view me, valiant,
without a veil, and together,
we hear once again those verses
played out by violin and viola,
as we venture once again
to renew our vows.

Corpus Christi, Spring 2016

This year, we honor forty-three years of marriage, not always an easy path, but one of adventure, celebration, mutual respect, and a commitment to talk through those times when we disagree. This last decade, I've wondered if this next set of years will be our last. For now, each day, each month, and each year, I will take joyously as a gift.

More about April's A-Z Blogging Challenge here:

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

"U" is for Underline

What parts of my life shall I underline, 
to unpack the past, memory by memory, each
unique moment caught, uncorked
for your pleasure,
perhaps unexpected or even unusual. I understand
you may be uneasy, but I am an unselfish woman.
Don't take umbrage at this uneven unveiling
of images under that metaphoric umbrella
that unites us. I offer distraction,
like Scheherazade, I have untold stories yet
to utter, my ultimate secrets,
unmistakably unique, at least until
my days are used up.

Masaai Women Ululating with Song, Tanzania (Camp 2012)

                                 Giraffes, Long Necks Undulating, Tanzania (Camp 2012)

This month-long challenge is nearly at an end. What a pleasure it's been to wake each morning and write whatever I can, inspired by the 'letter' of the day. Only a few letters left. I hope you enjoy what others have written as well.

More about April's A-Z Blogging Challenge here:

Monday, April 23, 2018

"T" is for Tenacity

Today is World Book Day, perhaps begun to honor Shakespeare who died on April 23, 1616, and to promote the love of reading books. 

I don't remember when I first started reading, but I have always loved books. When I was a teen, I used to browse through the library, picking the books that were the biggest to take home (they'd last longer). All the classics. Hemingway's For Whom the Bells Toll was the first book that made me cry in public. Celebrating and exploring books hasn't changed much. DH and I still spend far too long at libraries and in used book stores. Our five-year-old granddaughter is beginning to read, and the three-and-a-half-year-old studies books as if she could translate pictures and words into stories.

Thinking about becoming a writer has been a life-long aspiration that truly began when I retired. Intimidated, yet excited, unable to say quite yet that 'I'm a writer,' I persevered through short stories, rough drafts to that first novel. Gunter Grass said he made a mistake in writing his first novel. "All the characters I had introduced were dead at the end of the first chapter. I couldn’t go on! This was my first lesson in writing: be careful with your characters."
As I begin my 4th or 7th book (depending on whether I count nonfiction, poetry, or travel books), I'm remembering advice from many writers (and writing magazines like The Writer and The Writer's Digest):

Write every day.
Study the craft of writing.
Study other writers.
Keep learning.
Write what you fear to write.

Each day, I start with the computer and new files. This week, I'm working on character sketches, keeping the words of Gunter Grass, Natalie Goldberg, and Stephen King close.

And so we writers persevere. Maybe our progress today is not quite what we'd like, but we are inspired by the very act of writing to see more clearly, to dig deeper into meaning, and, hopefully, to tell stories that connect with readers.

May you have a good week -- reading, writing, and celebrating World Book Day!

Some folks are sharing photos of bookshelves in honor of World Book Day. Here's one of my books in the English Library in Merida, Mexico. I wonder if someone is reading it now!

More about World Book Day: 

And more about April's A-Z Blogging Challenge 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

"S" is for Save the Planet!

Just today, you can find a lovely and inspirational maybe one-minute interview with Jane Goodall on Google's main page about Earth Day.

Jane asks, "What can we do to preserve our beautiful planet?"

I immediately think, being less mobile than usual, a lazy person's approach to Earth Day might add these strategies:

___ Put cloth shopping bags in the car trunk and use them.

___ Hang up a cloth bag in your coat closet to store (and reuse) those plastic bags you do come home with.

___Take an empty Kleenix box into the kitchen to store (and reuse) those vegetable plastic bags. Turn these bags inside out and wash/dry them before storing.

___ Donate unwanted stuff by taking it to a charity rather than dumping it in the trash.

___ Clump errands together so car use is less. Ride share when possible. Try not to drive that car every day.

___ Turn water off and on when brushing teeth (Some people leave the water run the entire time!).

___ Recycle all paper/plastic possible.

Yes, all of the above are tried techniques for our family. Still, Jane Goodall makes me wonder, "How could we do more?" Your suggestions?

Originally, I was going to write about "Signs and Symbols" and do a little research on the Mayan language. We saw a beautiful facsimile of a very rare fan-fold Mayan book at a museum in Merida, Mexico. I'd still like to know how much progress has been made on translating this very difficult language. This set of pages shows Chaac, the water god of life and destruction, thus, the color blue and various water symbols.

Facsimile of Mayan Codice at the
Mayan World Museum, Merida, Mexico (Camp 2018)
But I got sidetracked by Jane Goodall. Here are a few more sites with suggestions.

--Inhabitat: "6 Fun and Meaningful Ways to Celebrate Earth Day." Talks about a portable solar panel for cell phones!

--Feeling more practical? Conserve Energy Future presents "25 Different Ways to Celebrate Earth Day." Two of their suggestions: Switch to e-bills. Stop drinking plastic bottled water.

My favorite hint: Get out there and enjoy some natural place. Maybe your ordinary walk through the neighborhood, or bike over to a nearby park, or even your back yard. Celebrate those finally budding trees and flowers. The return of the birds. It's truly almost spring!

Want to read more? Check out April's A-Z Blogging Challenge

Friday, April 20, 2018

"R" is for the Romance of Revision

Here's a cute story about writing.

     A cheeky 2nd grader started bouncing in his seat when his teacher asked the class to write a short story.
     "Now, students," she said. "Your story needs to include four key elements -- religion, romance, royalty, and the big M, mystery."
     Little Johnny got right to work. After just a few minutes, he waved his hands, "Teacher, teacher, I finished my story."
     "Are you sure? Do you have those four key elements -- religion, romance, royalty, and the big M, mystery?"
     Little Johnny shook his head yes. "I got it, teacher."
     "Very well, Johnny. You may read your story to the class."
     Little Johnny stood proudly at the front of the class. Taking a deep breath, he began. "Holy Moses, said the Princess. Pregnant again. I wonder who did it?"

This is a terrible story and a wonderful story. I hope it made you smile. Poor Johnny has yet to learn about the romance of revision.

Writing a novel or story is both an intellectual and intuitive process. As we fall deeper into our stories, don't we fall in love with our characters? Even plotters (whom I admire) say that stories can change unexpectedly as they come to know their characters more thoroughly. As we write, sometimes new ideas, new plot twists, or insights into character, theme, or story arc, shake up what once seemed quite concrete in outline form.

Some writers won't begin writing their stories unless they know exactly how that final scene plays out. Others write lengthy tomes without knowing the ending (an act of courage).

Once that first 'real' draft is complete, however, we begin to revise -- and not just one revision. I think my pea brain can only focus on one idea at a time, so I revise many, many times. I do try to distinguish between two kinds of revision -- one at the CONCEPT level as it appears in chapters and the whole story (think story and character arcs, plot lines, and theme), and the other, more commonly called EDITING, at the word, sentence, and paragraph level. In reality, I bounce between these two types of revision in a quest to 'get the story right'.

Some writers and editors say we 'should' do concept revision first, as in "What's the point of editing a story when it will most likely change?" For me, honing at the chapter and paragraph level (once that first draft is done) takes me deeper into the story. Then, I'll return again to the whole-story level to double-check. That's what I call the 'romance of revision' -- that dream that I can polish my story and 'get it right.' This process takes stamina, tenacity, and time. Most likely, that's why it takes me three darn years to finish most stories.

Even now, as I write the plot summary and character sketches for my new story more deeply than I ever have done before, I'm honing the words, tweaking them, and finding new insights about my story and characters along the way -- from the mundane (she loves to hike) to possibly the more serious (she doesn't trust easily). Ah, I might as well prepare myself for another three years, despite my efforts to improve writing productivity!

Originally, I was going to write about the reality of romance, how little acts of kindness and love hold relationships together. Even writers who join writing groups hope for kindness from their colleagues along with critiques that will help them strengthen their work. 

For we know, again, most of the time, when our story strikes that note, rather like a bell, within us and our readers, we can type 'the end.'