Thursday, December 30, 2021

The Last of 2021 . . . almost!

Outside, it's 14F with snow flurries expected throughout the day. We're taking our granddaughter to see Encanto, a lovely way to almost end the year. And what a year it's been. Don't ask her about Covid. When she says Covid, it sounds like she's swearing! 

So, I'm sending Happy New Year wishes to you! 

Despite all, we have much to be thankful for. We're warm, safe in our little aparto, dinner is already made, and we're sharing stories from long ago, bundled up with good memories. Allen and I have been married nearly 47 years! What a miracle it seems now that we actually met. All because a friend I worked with needed a ride to the airport -- on a Friday night. At midnight. 

His roommate said whoever was nice enough to give Cap a ride, he'd treat that person to dinner. I guess he was expecting a guy because when I knocked on the door of their apartment, Allen nearly closed it in my face. We did have a lovely dinner at a small French restaurant. 

After we dropped Cap off at the airport, a moment came when we both tried to speak. Allen said, "You go first." I screwed up my courage and said, "Would you like to stop for a drink?" He laughed. "I was going to ask you the very same thing." The rest is history. When Cap came home, we were there to pick him up, and we were already a couple. And I'm thankful for so much, our daughter, and now son-in-law, and those grandkids!

Do you look back to a special day? I  hope so. 

May you be blessed with good family memories from the past, with  more to come in 2022!  

And, oops! I almost forgot. If you haven't picked up a copy of The Seventh Tapestry: An Art Crimes Mystery, why not do it before January 3rd? Wouldn't you like to be distracted just a little by a budding romance, a mysterious medieval tapestry that carries secrets, and a series of deaths no one seems to solve? Click HERE to take advantage of this free offer! 

Happy 2022 and happy reading!

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

IWSG: Of Stress and Delights . . .

How did it get to be December so fast? This first Wednesday of the month (and every month) is Insecure Writer's Support Group day! Our group shares thoughts about struggles and concerns, offering support to writers everywhere by reading each others' posts and connecting. 

This month's IWSG question: In your writing, what stresses you the most, what delights you?

Ah, the IWSG gods gave us an easy question this month. Straight out, I get stressed when 1) I stop writing -- as if I believe the words will not ever leap from my keyboard again, and 2) when I can't see the next step -- whether its drafting or revising. Usually scaffolding helps me climb up out of that sense of emptiness. Usually.

And what delights me about my writing? How about that moment of insight, when something new appears. This can be something a character does, or when an unexpected scene develops. Or when I set a writing goal (yes, number of words), and make that goal every day. As I'm deep in revision just now, I'm feeling so grateful for revision tips and strategies from Annette and several others, including the famous Donald Maass (via his nicely structured, focused, and positive exercises for revision in his Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook). 

So, last month, your comments helped me center on a new title for my current story. Did I need a cover to inspire me? Yep. Again, thanks to Pixabay, I happened on the perfect image, and thanks also to Book Brush, here's the cover. For now.

These last two years have been challenging for us all. Maybe you find writing (or reading) to be one of several anchors, to keep us connected to what truly matters. Covid-related issues are not going away quite yet. 

For a time this last month, my foot problems escalated to the point where surgery (and 2-3 months of non-weight-bearing life) appeared certain. Even Maass says that for our characters, life can (and truly must) get worse -- to add conflict to the story. But I don't need worse -- none of us do just now. A second opinion led to a new diagnosis, the fact that surgery would likely not be successful (saved from bed rest), and the long-term outlook not so good. But I have today -- to write and to cherish what is possible. Truly, that's enough.

May the coming month be good to you and those you love. May your writing go well.

Thanks go to Alex Cavannaugh, the inspiration for IWSG and to this month's co-hosts: PJ Colando, Diane Burton, Louise – Fundy Blue, Natalie Aguirre, and Jacqui Murray   Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!  Share, if you like. Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG. 

And why not visit at least 12 new writers to see what's happening in the IWSG world!

Friday, November 19, 2021

Just Today? Frank Zafiro's Crime Mystery for you!

Just thought you'd like to know that Frank Zafiro is running a freebie today (I don't know for how long) on Amazon for his Beneath a Weeping Sky

If you like an engrossing story with characters who immediately engage you in their lives as they face down gritty challenges, prepare for immersion into River City!

Frank is an amazing and prolific writer -- with diverse interests. His stories are shaped by his police experience, and, as he says, his stories reflect "both sides of the badge." His love of writing translates into many forms -- novels, short stories, blogging, and podcasts. Did I say he loves hockey? 

Just this last Wednesday, I "sat down" with Frank at a Zoom presentation on websites for the Inland Northwest Writers Guild here in Spokane. He is a wonderfully supportive and generous writer, a gifted speaker. 

I hope you check out Frank's website: Frank Zafiro: The River City Author.

Snow is predicted for this afternoon. I can't wait to get started on Beneath a Weeping Sky, a lovely distraction from holiday prep.

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Beneath a Weeping Sky (River City Crime Novel Book 3)

Wednesday, November 03, 2021

IWSG: What Could Be Easier?

The first Wednesday of each month is Insecure Writer's Support Group. This online community of writers is another way to celebrate the writing life -- by sharing our challenges and goals, accomplishments and doubts through posts on our blogs. At times, what can be uncertain becomes more clear. In sharing, we may strengthen our resolve on our own writing path -- and encourage other writers.

We don't have a word requirement. And there's always some sort of writing question to answer, if we like. November's questionWhat's harder to do, coming up with your book title or writing the blurb?

What we do ask participating writers to do is very simple: Write on your blog, somehow related to the writing life, this month's question, or whatever takes your fancy. Visit about 12 new writers' blogs and post a comment. Delight in the variety of the writers in our community as we write. And remember to thank (and perhaps visit) those writer/bloggers who cohost this month: Kim Lajevardi, Victoria Marie Lees, Joylene Nowell Butler, Erika Beebe, and Lee Lowery!

If your skills take you to Twitterland, here's our Twitter handle @TheIWSG and the hashtag is #IWSG. Now for the goodies!

November's questionWhat's harder to do, coming up with your book title or writing the blurb? As long as it takes me to write a story (typically 2-3 years), the blurb feels like the easier process, for I'm writing/editing about something I know very well.

Usually, the book title swims up as I write the first draft. Except, not this time.

Readers of my 'Stones' historical fiction series (Standing Stones, Years of Stone, and Rivers of Stone) have let me know they want to find out what happened to Moira and Dylan. After all, as did happen in mid 18th Century, Dylan left his wife behind on a small Scottish island -- and never returned. So, what did happen? Will they be reunited? This last year, I've been working on Island Wife, a kind of working title, for that's where Moira was left behind. Maybe the new title will be Scattered Stones, for that fits the series. With about another year on revision, that title just might stick.

Does it help you to know that titles don't necessarily come easily? Or, they may. I do believe a title should resonate with the theme of the book. Maybe Island Wife focuses too much on the character who's been abandoned, while Scattered Stones hints that what once was apart can now come together!

Update on NaNoWriMo: So far, on target with 1,700 words a day. True, we're only at Day Two, but I do appreciate the challenge and focus on drafting and revising (so far, only new words). I haven't tried 'sprints' . . . yet, but I feel a part of the NaNo community sprinting ahead just by posting daily word counts!

Update on marketing: Aargh! I'm one with all those writers who would rather eat asparagus than market. Well, broiled asparagus with butter could be better than marketing! This month, I took the plunge and joined 18 other writers to promote a book giveaway (actually short stories, novels, AND samples) through Book Funnel!

Why not zip over to see what free reading awaits you? 

Here's the LINK.

Isn't November the month you really would like to curl up on a comfy chair,    avoid the snow outside, and read a delightful new author?

Meanwhile, stay safe, and may November be a good month for you!

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

IWSG: Where do we draw the line?

Amazing October! For the last month, we've been staying in an adobe-style house just outside Santa Fe. The leaves are beginning to turn, the temperature at night is starting to drop, and it's far too soon to be heading north to home.

Santa Fe has been a delight with its emphasis on art, museums, pueblo culture, and the sheer beauty of its landscape (rolling hills, purple mountains, and incredibly blue skies), lots of ravens, and green chile-infused New Mexican cuisine. I should have had plenty of time to write, yes? Not when we're traveling with four other people who want to go in different directions at the same time.

But I can answer the Insecure Writer's Support Group question for October: Where do I draw the line -- with either topics or language. 


Revelation #1: Some of my character cuss. 

Revelation #2: Nearly all of my characters' bedroom scenes take place behind a closed door. 

Revelation #3: I hope that I follow my characters wherever they wish to go. That means I haven't yet met a topic for a story that intrigues me that I'm willing to put aside because of some inner censorship or social expectation. Isn't the goal of a writer, regardless of the story, to seek 'truth' as we know it, perhaps to challenge what we think we know about ourselves and our culture? 

One squishy issue remains: What is my story and what belongs to others? At first, when a male character took over the story line, I doubted. Could I understand the male psyche? Be true to who this character was? 

If my characters and/or story 'live' well outside my experience, does research give me enough insight? What line do I cross when I explore cultures far outside my experience? Even if I write in good faith, how do I respect what truly belongs to others? 

Now back to real life: We leave this paradise in 3 days for maybe 10 days of driving on our way home by way of various national parks, to explore, hike, take pictures, and dream just a little longer of once faraway places -- and our place in this world.

To celebrate the writing lives of those who follow the Insecure Writer's Support Group, you may take advantage of a freebie, starting October 6 through October 10th! The Seventh Tapestry: An Art Crime Mystery has a new cover, and the Kindle version will be available free. 

I'm offering this as a thank you to everyone who writes and reads with hopes you'll continue to find pleasure each day . . . Stay safe and well!

And try to visit our October 6 IWSG hosts to say thank you: Jemima Pett, J Lenni Dorner, Cathrina Constantine, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, and Mary Aalgaard.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Revision and re-vision . . .

Henry James (1843-1915), that influential writer and philosopher, distilled thinking about revision into one compelling statement that has echoed over and over again for writers. His words, "the act of revision, the act of seeing it again," take us down the rabbit path that mixes logic with intuition.

So many words have been written about how to revise. And yet, here I am, this early September morning, surrounded by printouts from my beta readers, ready to jump into my story once again -- to begin reading, with hopes to revise, and with no certain path ahead. My only hope and goal remains this month, while we're in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to perhaps finish this story and move to the next. 

The clearest guidelines I've found are with Reedsy's "How to Revise a Novel: 6 Steps to a Smooth Revision." And I have next to me my favorite books on writing and revision. 

This early morning is quiet. Truly, the time to begin is now.

"Morning" by Kim Dae Jung on Pixabay

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

September IWSG: Finding Success . . .

Welcome to September and the Insecure Writer's Support Group! Here's this month's writerly question:

September 1 question:  How do you define success as a writer? Is it holding your book in your hand? Having a short story published? Making a certain amount of income from your writing?

Whoa! This shoe doesn't fit. Yes, I'm thrilled when I spot my books anywhere, a bookstore, a friend's house, or a library. And I'm thrilled if I have something published -- a poem, a story, or a novel. And I'm relieved when the monthly book sales reach a certain point. I always feel a little embarrassed when someone compliments me on the writing.

Because, for me, being successful as a writer tags to something else entirely: Immersing myself in the craft of writing. Nearly every morning. When the story unfolds as fast as I can type. When I laugh with my characters or cry. When the words zing on the page. When the scene 'feels' finished, and the next story emerges.

Like right now, this moment, as I balance between final revisions on one project and the first draft of another. Yes, I can be insecure (and, in case you hadn't guessed, introverted). Success as a writer means bringing my stories to life in a way that reaches out and moves readers, perhaps enriching their lives -- even for a moment. Which means leaping out of my comfort zone to face down that other challenge -- reaching out to readers!

My question in return is: Given the pandemic and all that has changed, when was the last time you reached out to your readers? What did you do? What tips can you share? How does your relationship with your readers strengthen your writing?

What's next? Why not join this wonderful community of over 160 writers who care about the craft and who, like me, tackle each day with a weird mixture of doubt and courage. All you need to do is post your own thoughts about writing on your blog and then go to the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Read posts from 10-12 participating writers. Maybe even start with this month's awesome co-hosts: Rebecca Douglass, T. Powell Coltrin @Journaling Woman, Natalie Aguirre, Karen Lynn, and C. Lee McKenzie!

Above all, know that your words are appreciated, and, especially these days, your writerly gift is needed to comfort, heal, and sustain the rest of us.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Almost on the Road . . . Again!

We're just home from a trial run, a relatively short trip up to the Wallowas in eastern Oregon. Here's the view from a picnic bench along the way, near Hat Point, an overlook near Hell's Canyon. Despite all the challenges and calamities, these trips remind me what a beautiful world's around us. OK I won't tell you about the 20 mile one-way gravel road, with sheer drop offs, but gorgeous views. 

Update on the writing: Yes, I always bring the laptop on any trip. A little HP netbook that had nearly no memory. When I opened my file and began to type, the cursor didn't move! So no writing other than scribbling in my journal. Oofta! Now home again, hubby surprised me with a new computer. Argh! This Lenovo has so much stuff going on (and memory), I probably need to take a class. 

No writing at all for about a week on the road. So, after unpacking and cleaning the fridge, I thought maybe a little nap would help because I want to get back to my writing. 

Five minutes later, I wake up with a scene floating in my head. Sort of. A woman’s driving a car, and a guy is seated next to her. I don’t know who they are. I don’t know their names. They begin talking.

“So, are you going to take that job?”
“No, I’m not going to take that job. It’s a paid hit. I’m not doing that.”
“How much were they going to pay?”
“Doesn’t matter. I’m not taking the job.”
“You want to tell me about that black SUV that’s been following us?”
“What black SUV? Oh, shit.”

I'm left wondering what happens next! And who these people are! That's how another story starts. 

Meanwhile, we're getting ready for that longer trip. Writing projects with me? 

  • Island Wife, that fourth (last?) story in the 'stones' series, now a tetralogy or quadrilogy (from the Greek). Hoping for feedback from my beta readers so I can begin the next round of revision.
  •  And the next art crime novel, The Last Sarcophagus, set in Egypt (draft stage), so that means a few research books come along too.
  • Maybe the family history. Just finished the working draft about my grandfather, Frank Henry, one of the first forest rangers back in the 1920s, and will begin next with my grandmother, Sigrid Torgny, a woman I always thought was born in Sweden (since that was so important to her). Turns out, she was born in Chicago. Anyone else like 
  • Oh, yes, that dream? I might just find a few more scenes along the way.
Meanwhile, may the end of the summer be good to you. May this crazy world calm down a bit. May Delta stay far away from you and those you love. And if you write (or read), I hope you enjoy every moment!

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

August IWSG: On Writing and Curiosity

August begins with hot days and here in the Pacific Northwest, a lot of smoke. Yesterday, our Air Quality Index was 181, pretty much unhealthy for everyone. That means more staying inside, wearing those masks everywhere, and doing the daily walk at a nearby mall or Rite-Aid!

The Insecure Writer's Support Group challenges writers to participate with a blog post on the first Wednesday of every month. IWSG's purpose? To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Why not join in? Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting!

August 4 question: What is your favorite writing craft book? Think of a book that every time you read it, you learn something or you are inspired to write or try the new technique. And why?

Consider taking a look at Elizabeth Lyon's Manuscript Makeover. Her comprehensive, analytical discussion of style, craft, and characterization consistently invites me to improve my editing skills. I especially admire her ability to teach WITHOUT using 'should' and 'don't'. Instead, clear writing goals and specific examples lead my way deeper into revision. Yes, I have a shelf of other how-to-improve-your-writing books, but Lyon is truly my first choice.

Writer's Digest, though obviously not a book, is my other favorite resource that sparks my thinking about writing. For example, the May/June 2021 issue focuses on curiosity. 

Which led me to ask: How does curiosity shape my writing?

Immediately, I'm kicked back in time to that moment about ten years ago when DH and I visited historic Fort Vancouver near the Columbia River. We passed a sign in an empty field: "Native Americans and Hawaiians once worked here." The small, out-of-the-way sign inspired me to write about the McDonnell family in the mid-19th Century, and led to now four books in the series! Well, three and one at beta reader stage. And that need for research led us to meandering trips through Canada, Scotland, and Egypt. With a still untold story about Jamie McDonnell at ten, who signed onto a clipper trading ship headed for China, again in the 1840s. Maybe another trip, post-pandemic?

Writing Update: For those who are drawn into writing challenges and like to track word counts, yes, I did complete July's Camp Nanowrimo at 14,000 new words, just a thousand short of my goal. Along the way, my latest project, a second art crime mystery, The Missing Sarcophagus, set in Egypt, is taking shape.  

Can I really work on drafting one project while finishing edits on another? I'm not sure, but I'm having fun along the way.

Now, why not visit the hard-working and generous co-hosts for IWSG's August post: PK Hrezo, Cathrina Constantine, PJ Colando, Kim Lajevardi, and Sandra Cox!  And leave an encouraging comment!

Happy writing ahead!

Saturday, July 17, 2021

July Heat and a Gondola!

 Hasn't July been full of a lot of hot days and a few challenges?

Update on the writing: Yep, I signed up for the Camp Nanowrimo Challenge with a goal to write 15,000 words this month. I'm on track with 8,350 words just half-way through the month. 

One project I'm working on is a family history of my grandfather -- a cowboy, logger, and forest ranger before he worked for the Bureau of Reclamation in the 1950s . I found a goldmine with lots of neat pictures. Here's Frank Henry working for the Yosemite Lumber Company at Anderson Flat about 1928. This is the man who taught me how to fish and hunt and survive in the woods. He grew up gritty! 

I also shelved the draft of The Island Wife for a month and courageously sent it off to brave and deeply appreciated beta readers. Hopefully by late August, I'll be deep in revision once again. 

Thank you, readers, for keeping me motivated. Should I do another freebie in August? Which book would you like to see as a special offer?

What is summer if not time for a getaway? We did leave town for a one-night stay in Kellogg, ID at the Silverton Waterpark Resort. The highlight, other than getting truly away for a bit, was taking this wonderful gondola ride up (and then down) three mountains, roughly an hour ride. I was a little terrified going up, but nearly hanging out of the gondola on the way down to take pictures. This is my favorite, but it doesn't really show how STEEP that way down was. The smoky skies didn't stop us from enjoying that mountain view.

View from Gondola, Kellogg, ID

Still beautiful, despite the smoke and heat haze!

May summer bring you good memories, time for family and friends -- and for those other creative endeavors that nurture you! 

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

July IWSG: On Writing and Rainbows

Truly, we begin summer now with July temperatures soaring everywhere. The first Wednesday of each month marks a day of sharing thoughts and reading each others' posts as we all pursue our unique writing dreams and goals. Please consider joining in and reading what others have posted by going HERE, the Insecure Writer's Support Group.

Special thanks go to the co-hosts for this July 7 posting for IWSG: Pat Garcia, Victoria Marie Lees, Chemist Ken, and Louise – Fundy Blue! All have encouraged so many of us along the way. Now for this month's question!

July 7 question: What would make you quit writing?

Before the pandemic, I would have thought not much would push me away from writing. As with many others, though, this last year and a half has been one of reflection and perseverance. Challenges from IWSG and National Novel Writing Month (and Camp Nanowrimo) have kept me relatively focused. Writing to a challenge somehow enhances my own commitment to writing. 

I'm working on two projects just now, Island Wife, the fourth historical fiction novel in the Standing Stones series, and The Missing Sarcophagus, the next novel in my art crime series that began with The Seventh Tapestry. Through some combination of due diligence and hope, I'm able to write most days, though worries about friends and family who are struggling with illness make me sad. 

Connections with friends and family mean more each day. Yesterday, my hubby took me to a movie, for the very first time in over a year and a half. The movie was truly horrible. Won't say which one. But we ate a lovely yakisoba in the Food Court with chopsticks and reveled in having a date. 

Another friend recommended Hawaiian singer Israel Kamakawiwo╩╗ole (1959-1997). Wikipedia says his name means 'the fearless eye, the bold face'. I listen to his "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" with awe. This is why we write, sing, dance, draw, and paint! 

For even on those days that challenge us, we need hope for our future. May the coming month bring you moments to cherish.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Morning Musings

Today I begin by musing about my book covers, especially as I am going to add that fourth book to the Standing Stones series later this year.

Here are the current covers for my historical fiction series set in Scotland, Australia, and Canada: 

And the working cover for Island Wife, out sometime this year.

Do the covers really match my audience? 

I write gritty historical fiction and try to wind up with a happy ending, rather happy for now, for my characters always seem to come up out of the working class. Faced with tough circumstances, how do these characters survive? Make a better life? Do they give in to internal demons or do they fight on? I believe they deserve that happy ending -- even if only for now.

Given the experiences we've all faced over the last year and a half, isolation, loss, grief, and a feeling of helplessness, I feel less certain about my stories. My personal reading has become more escapist. I want that happy ending, the hero or heroine who rushes to the rescue. Maybe because I feel worn down, I want to write stories that focus more on light and hope. 

When I first began thinking about book covers, I wanted to be inspired by those greatest historical fiction writers, those who wrote serious stories. Writers like Hilary Montel, Ken Follett, or Edward Rutherfurd. Their more traditional covers promise a particular setting or time and rarely feature faces of the characters. 

So, my original covers, do they seem flat to you -- or do these covers that focus on setting invite you into the story? More than what I'm currently using? Which cover would you tend to pick up -- if you were browsing for a new read in your favorite bookstore or online?

As summer heats up, each day brings new challenges and, I hope for you, the beauty of the season. With temperatures pushing into the 100's already, those fragile blooms of spring seem far away. But, they will return.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Planning ahead . . .

Somehow, we made it. As early spring flowers blossomed into summer, every view is now colored green. a time of promise, and warmer weather. 

Vaccines now complete, we are venturing into what almost looks and feels like the 'real' world. Hubby is slowly, slowly recovering from back surgery, and each day brings something new (sometimes expected, like a granddaughter's ninth birthday, and sometimes not expected, like new quilting projects).

I can report progress on final revisions for The Island Wife, that long-awaited Book 4 to my trilogy that tells the story of Moira and Dylan in 1840's northern Scotland. Between editing and proofing, though, another story wants my attention. 

This leads me to ask: Can I truly work on TWO projects at the same time???

And to stir the pot, NaNoWriMo just announced a writing challenge for July. Writers set their own goals for this month-long 'summer camp' and track their progress. I'm already signed up! More than ready to get back to work on that art crime mystery I started earlier in the year. My goal? Add another 15,000 words in July. 

Today, I started putting together my journal for The Missing Sarcophagus. Take one inexpensive composition book. Print out images for characters, settings, and conflicts. Paste into the notebook. Start writing notes, impressions, memories, questions, and key dates and/or a timeline. Voila! This little notebook travels more easily than my laptop!

Here's the working blurb:

When art crime experts Sandra and Neil McDonnell fly to Cairo for a month-long honeymoon, they don’t expect to discover a fake sarcophagus at the Egyptian Museum. Pulled into a tangled web of thefts, they encounter smugglers and uncover a plot to steal artifacts from GEM at Giza, the site of Egypt’s newest museum. 

When threats escalate against Sandra and Neil, and dead bodies begin to appear, can they solve the mystery and find their happy ever after?

The Seventh Tapestry introduced Sandra and Neil, so The Missing Sarcophagus will continue their adventures. I'm more than ready to research, draft, and write their story. Much more fun than copy editing!

What do you think? Have you ever worked on two big projects at the same time? How did that work out for you? I could say yes, more than once, when I was teaching, but now, as a retired writer, I'm less sure. I only know this story set in Egypt is calling my name.

With hopes your summer brings you peace, lots of words, good progress (if you are a writer), and adventures to cherish.  Beth

The Seventh Tapestry is available on Amazon


Wednesday, June 02, 2021

IWSG June: Stuck in a three-year loop?

The first Wednesday of the month, brings the IWSG blog challenge: To share our thoughts with other bloggers about writing, to encourage, to reveal our own struggles, and to support each other -- each of us with our own writing goals and progress (or lack of). 
Some months, we dive into IWSG's question. Other months, we wrestle.

June 2 question: For how long do you shelve your first draft, before reading it and re-drafting? Is this dependent on your writing experience and the number of stories/books under your belt?

Aargh! I'm wrestling, for I don't shelve that first draft, unless some calamity has taken over my life. Instead, I read, reread, ponder, make notes, print out and make notes, talk with my writing partner, make more notes, reread . . . and write and rewrite. 

Alas, I'm a slow writer. I can sprint through drafting; my typing speed is up there enough to jam a typewriter's keys (back in the day). Typically, three years mark the beginning and end of a writing project, despite my best efforts to study and apply different strategies to become more prolific.

For example, on today's walk up to the pond, I found myself wondering if my heroine, Moira, has really revealed how much she misses her absent husband. What would she tell herself? What does she regret most? What are her fondest memories -- and why? That will preoccupy me for the next several days of revision.

Maybe the 'shelving' period occurs when I send that 'draft' off to a beta reader. But, by then, I'm feeling finished with the story and ready to start planning the next.

How many novels I've written (so far five) doesn't seem to affect when I stop revising. Can you tell I'm more of a recursive writer, returning again and again to see what works, what's missing, what could be better?  At some point, the ending seems to resonate with the whole story, and I'm finished -- and ready to let go.

I'm looking forward to what others say in response to this month's questions. Even as pandemic restrictions ease up, and spring rushes into summer (in the mid-60's last week; today the 90's), we still need courage and tenacity and a clear vision to achieve our goals. 

May your writing go well and each day bring you something to cherish!

Thank you goes to the co-hosts for the Insecure Writers Support Group's June 2 posting. These generous writers read nearly all of this month's posts. Why not visit and see what they're thinking about? J Lenni Dorner, Sarah Foster, Natalie Aguirre, Lee Lowery, and Rachna Chhabria!

Grandkids at an Oregon Beach (May 2021)

Monday, May 31, 2021

Memorial Day . . . More than Memories

When my husband came home from Viet Nam, the first thing he did on debarking the plane was to stoop down and kiss the ground. He was that grateful to be home. Yes, protestors spit on him. And when he finally made it all the way to Philadelphia and fell asleep on his mom's couch, it was not a restful sleep. His mom came to wake him up by tapping his shoulder, and he decked her. He was still in combat mode.

When I met him in 1974, I could tell he was a vet. He always knew where all the exits were, and any loud noise caused him to go on the alert. Like the time a kid threw cherry bombs under our park bench on a Fourth of July celebration.

In 2004, we spent some time in Paris and spotted a peace march passing by as we finished our lunch at McDonald's. We walked with them. As the crowds dwindled, an old woman, bent with age and wrapped in a black shawl, asked Allen if he was American. She got down on her knees and kissed his hand. "Thank you," she said. "This is to remember all the soldiers who came to save us during World War II."

Later, I worried about my community college students who had served in Afghanistan. One dropped out after receiving reports his brain had multiple small tumors. Others confided they suffered from severe headaches and sleeplessness.

Service. Honor. Sacrifice. 

So it's no surprise that last week on PBS, John Yang and Dan Sagalyn reported that soldiers who served in Afghanistan and Iraq are now suffering from brain cancers or lung disorders caused by smoke. Once diagnosed with cancer, these vets do not have long to live. Their families are struggling to get coverage.

The surprise is these vets have to fight to get the VA to recognize their illness as service-related. According to PBS, tens of thousands of soldiers need VA approval to get medical benefits or disability payments for these burn-pit related illnesses. Families have struggled to get that crucial VA approval. What about the vets who don't have anyone to advocate for them?

ACTION NEEDED: Two Senators (Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat, and Marco Rubio, Republican) have introduced a bill dubbed 'Burn Pit Legislation' that would set new eligibility requirements for these vets with cancer or lung disease. 

I hope you read the two links provided above.

With the current divide between Democrats and Republicans, do we have any hope such a bill could pass the House and the Senate? 

Is it time to write our Congressional representatives?

Friday, May 28, 2021

As May winds down . . . a book recommendation!

Sometimes I wonder if people realize what gifts they give passersby when they plant their gardens. 

As we slowly emerge from the isolation that pandemic brought, even ordinary life events can seem more challenging. At least, I've found it so as my husband recovers from surgery. So that daily walk has led me to discover some favorite spots along the way. That early blooming cherry tree has now given way to a climbing clematis, and the robins have returned, hopping their way across finally green lawns.

I'd like to tell you about a wonderful writer I know, Sandra Mason. She recently released her inspirational tale, Into the Fire! about what Big Ed Pulaski's life was like when he left home at age 15, and how he became that heroic forest ranger who saved 40 lives during the Great Fire of 1910. 

I would have enjoyed reading this fictional biography when I was a teen, dreaming of far horizons and adventure. I loved reading it now. Sandra has a unique gift of describing what life was truly like, and Ed Pulaski's generous spirit and work ethic comes through beautifully.

Sandra graciously answered a few questions to share with you. 

1. What inspired you to write Into the Fire!? I have always loved to tell stories, and to write. Actually I’ve done more poetry writing than longer stories. Into the Fire! is my first historical novel. And my first real book. I was researching the Pulaski tool for another project, and investigated the U.S. Forest Service Website.. I happened on an essay written by Edward Pulaski titled “My Most Exciting Adventure as a Forest Ranger.” It was very short, only about a page. I was captured by his adventure and thought “We have a real hero in our own back yard.” I was so inspired that I had to tell his story!

2. What kind of research went into writing this book? First, I explored the U.S. Forest Service website for anything I could find about the 1910 fire and Edward Pulaski. Then I made an appointment to visit the Forest Service Idaho Panhandle National Forests Headquarters in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho. They kindly allowed me access to their archives. Shawn Gibson, Forest Archaelogist, patiently walked me through the mountains of material they had on the 1910 fire. Then she turned me loose to explore on my own. I also did quite extensive reading about the 1910 fire, particularly Fire in America, by Stephen Pyne and The Big Burn, by Timothy Egan. 

I also visited Wallace, Idaho, particularly the Wallace Mining Museum. My husband and I hiked the interactive trail to the War Eagle Mine Tunnel where Ranger Pulaski and his men sheltered from the fire. It was an educational, inspiring, and beautiful hike. I researched railroad firemen, steam engines, horse shoeing, mule trains, mining, Buffalo Soldiers, Senators Heyburn and Clark, Joseph Gurney Cannon, Speaker of the House, President Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, first head of the U.S. Forest Service and others. The whole process was fascinating.

3. Any surprises along the way? I was surprised and delighted with how helpful the keepers of Idaho history were. They were generous with stories and ideas. I hope to introduce many others to the brave men of the U.S. Forest Service and firefighters in general. Now both men and women do that work.

4. What advice do you have for aspiring writers? Believe in your story, do your research, listen to other writers. And NEVER give up!


Sandra's shown here holding a firefighting axe that Ed Pulaski invented.

Find out more about Into the Fire on Amazon!

Thank you, Sandra! 

May June bring us all comfort, healing, and new adventures outside -- nearly mask free!

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

IWSG May 5: Surprises and Ripples . . .

You probably already guessed that the first Wednesday of the month belongs to the Insecure Writer's Support Group (IWSG), a lovely online community of writers who at least once a month share hopes and concerns. Our mission to support each other as we pursue our dreams! 

This month's question: Have any of your readers responded to your writing in a way that surprised you?

Yes! I was surprised when readers wanted to find out what happened to certain characters AFTER the story ended! For example, at the end of  Standing Stones (which introduced the McDonnell family), one couple, Dylan and Moira, are separated. Now, in 'real' life, sometimes such separations, regardless of intention, become permanent. For a long time, I thought that's what happened to Dylan and Moira. Book 2 in this series, Years of Stone, follows Mac and Deidre to 1840's Australia. Book 3, Rivers of Stone, tells what happened to Dougal and Catriona in 1840's Canada. Mind you, writing each story takes me about three years. 

Progress report: Readers really did surprise me by caring about my characters! And they truly wanted to know what happened to Dylan and Moira. With April being Camp NaNoWriMo (a writing challenge where you set your own goals), I can now report that I wrote an additional 15,000 words in April on Dylan and Moira's story. Hooray! Now for editing and, if all goes well, their story will go live before the year ends.

And Ripples: You may have noticed I haven't been posting so much here this month. Part of that is the Camp NaNoWriMo challenge, and part has been dealing with health issues in my family. Additionally, a family friend of many years died late in April, far too young at 43. Bright, curious, creative, he inspired many. 

As spring has finally come to the Great Inland Northwest, we are surrounded by flowering trees, tulips, daffodils, and green, green trees. I leave you with this: Cherish each day. Celebrate your own creativity, and nurture those you love!

 Flowering Ornamental Cherry Tree taken on one of my daily walks

The awesome co-hosts for the May 5 posting of the IWSG are Erika Beebe, PJ Colando, Tonja Drecker, Sadira Stone, and Cathrina Constantine!  Why not visit the IWSG writers to see what everyone's up to? And join in!

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

IWSG April 7: On Risks and Challenges . . .

 Today is the first Wednesday of April, and it's time to check in with the Insecure Writer's Support Group. This online community of writers 'meets' via a blog hop, so join in to support other writers and to share your thoughts/reactions in response to this month's question.

April 7 IWSG Question: Are you a risk-taker when writing? Do you try something radically different in style/POV/etc. or add controversial topics to your work? Please read on!

Doubts and fears since last month? No one is surprised that the pandemic has affected our writing habits and commitment. Somehow 'normal' challenges that can occur have seemed magnified through March. Usually, I write every day. Not last month. April also marks National Poetry Month, the one time a year I do attempt to write a poem a day. Again, not this year. 

For National Novel Writing Month (November), commonly referred to as NaNoWriMo, has issued a challenge and an invitation to Camp NaNoWriMo. For the month of April, participants set their own goals (writing and/or revising), and measure progress daily. And, I'm in. Happily in. My goal's set for a minimum of 500 words a day for a total of 15,000 for the month on my current project, Island Wife. Seven days in, and I've made/surpassed that goal of 500 words every day so far. 

Before, when the writing slowed down, I stopped.

Now, instead of stopping, I'm blocking out scenes and writing. When I slow down, I use scaffolding (a simple list rather than formal outlining) to map out the scene. This just might be a new skill I needed to learn. I hope my experience will help you!

Which brings us back to the question: What risks do I take when writing? Simply put, I'm pretty concerned with the story, somehow stuck in 1840's Scotland for this project. My characters are working class, so they have plenty of problems. My focus is on bringing my characters, their struggles, their emotions, and their setting to life. So, I don't feel like much of a risk-taker (other than being a writer, ho ho). 

Maybe the risk is in telling the story entwined with two points of view -- Moira and Dylan, separated at the beginning and perhaps reunited by the end of the story. Like following a braid, the reader travels deeper into each character's journey -- at least, that is my intention.

The question of taking risks is an interesting one that I hope to return to when I resume work on my art crime mystery series set in contemporary times (Egypt and Paris). For now, I'm making notes and hope to learn from what others have written for IWSG this month!  

Stop by to thank the co-hosts for IWSG's April 7 posting: PK Hrezo, Pat Garcia, SE White, Lisa Buie Collard, and Diane Burton!  As Ninja Captain Alex Cavanaugh, our fearless leader says, "Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!"

PS: Draft covers for Island Wife. Not sure which one . . . yet!

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Closing down March. Moving to April!

March ended with a few firsts. Our first foray south -- a road trip to Redmond, Oregon, to see dear friends, after a year of staying at home. Fully vaccinated, we drove south through Tri-Cities, down along the Columbia Gorge, and then through the rolling hills to a week away. How good it was to have conversations with our friends, to share memories of trips from long ago, to discover several new restaurants together (all safely masked), and to try new recipes -- see below!

One highlight: a drive out to Smith Rock to admire the view:

Another highlight, watching the deer parade so calmly through the garden out back, as if they were at home.

Maybe I'm like you -- not always ready to cook every single night. Here's an inspiration: Top a simple cheese Freschetta pizza with your own combination of sliced yellow pepper, artichoke hearts, ham slices, chunks of fresh pear, and chevre! Thank you, Jamie.

Now about the writing. March brought slow progress on Island Wife, that story about what's next for Moira and Dylan that's about 60% drafted. But, to borrow a Southern phrase, 'bless its heart,' March is nearly over. Camp NaNoWriMo posted an April writing challenge, and I'm in. Goal? 15,000 words in one month. Are you with me?

I'm hoping the month ahead will be filled with light each day -- for us all!

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

IWSG March: Thinking Ahead . . . to Spring!

The first Wednesday of every month is . . . officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG) day. We may write a post in response to this month's question. Or, we may write about our writing struggles, doubts, or triumphs. We hope to offer encouragement to other writers -- and we visit each other and comment. Why not, join in? Inspired by Alex Cavanaugh, the founder of IWSG, we persevere! 

IWSG's March 3 question - Everyone has a favorite genre or genres to write. But what about your reading preferences? Do you read widely or only within the genre(s) you create stories for? What motivates your reading choice?

A very tough question for me this month. 

Perhaps like some of you, I've been fighting off depression. Some days are harder than others. So, if I'm talking just about my reading, right now, I'm reading purely for escape, roughly 20 books a month. I'll read pretty much anything in historical fiction, romantic suspense, mysteries, adventure, science fiction, or thrillers, whether cozy or erotic (if the story is too erotic, I skip pages!). 

What I hope to find is a story that takes me entirely away from our present world -- the news, political or pandemic; disasters, environmental or personal. Immersing myself in the world of that amazing, spunky heroine or hero who really does make a difference gives me a little break and inspires me to tackle another day, to cherish those I love, and to find the courage to write my own stories.

Speaking of writing, I want to ask: What can we do every day to nurture our writing? Some say routine. Yes, I can agree. Discipline and structure help. Sometimes, though, we can be inspired by what others create, whether by song, or a painting, or a poem.  Sometimes we need to just listen or look and recognize that very human desire to share something of beauty. 

A few days ago, a writer friend sent me a link to her son's latest song. I felt like I was sitting in his living room, with Andrew just across from me, singing, reminding me that creativity takes many forms -- and can nurture us and inspire us.  

I hope you have a very good month ahead -- one full of opportunity and good health, strength to face down challenges, and time for writing.

Here's Andrew Mason with his song, Prayer for the Weary Traveler


Consider accepting IWSG's Challenge! Why not post a response to this month's question on your blog and take a moment to visit other IWSG writers, over 160 of us, to find out what we're up to this month. 

Thanks especially go to this month's co-hosts for the March 3 posting of the IWSG are Sarah - The Faux Fountain Pen Jacqui Murray, Chemist Ken, Victoria Marie Lees, Natalie Aguirre, and JQ Rose!

Friday, February 26, 2021

Are we hibernating . . .

I creak and groan as I wake.
Another day of snow, two or three inches more
atop yesterday's gift; winter's ice
glistens on the roadway.
All I want to do is pretend to be a bear,
roll over in my cave,
burrow down under my winter quilt,
hibernate until spring, when I'll emerge,
half-dazed, hungry,
groggy for coffee, maybe news
the pandemic has eased.
Later, I'll hope for an end to February. 
I'll put on my mask,
walk out to the pond to see 
those first visitors: red-winged blackbirds,
here for the season, and Canada geese,
heading north.

Image by Bergadder on Pixabay

This last week almost lost. Few days spent on writing, but I did get that second vaccine shot, one of the lucky few. Symptoms the day after? Yes, a crushing headache soon relieved with Naproxin and a long nap -- where I found this poem. 

May you be well, staying warm as this last (hopefully the last) winter storm moves through, dropping snow on mountains and even in the valleys. As my colleague from long ago used to say, "Seize the day!" Cherish the moment. Not bad advice at all.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Working towards an ending . . .

I've been writing the rest of Moira and Dylan's story (introduced in Standing Stones) for about a year now, using many strategies to draft (freewriting, outlining, scaffolding, hero's journey). I'm happy about the overall progress (about 80% done with the first draft), as both Moira and Dylan face nicely dramatic challenges. 

Yet, I don't yet know how this story ends.

I've got the cover. I know my characters, their conflicts, and the resolution -- at least the inner resolution. 

The historical backstory is relatively clear. Many people left Ireland for Scotland and the rest of Europe in the wake of waves of cholera epidemics, well before the potato famine that led to the Clearances in the 1840s.

When people left Ireland for Scotland, they encountered quite a bit of prejudice. Called 'Irishers,' these people, many of them Catholic, already vulnerable, scrabbled to make a living, even when they had good skills.

Did they have a reason to stay? The first waves of Irish immigrants to the United States tended to settle in the Northeast. Here's a snippet from the Library of Congress:

Between 1820 and 1860, the Irish constituted over one third of all immigrants to the United StatesIn the 1840s, they comprised nearly half of all immigrants to this nation.

These Irish had to pay steerage, so those who immigrated were not the poorest, but they tended to be from rural areas. Where did they settle? As they got off the boats that brought them to this new land, they tended to stay where they landed. Were there jobs? Not so easily found. So they shared housing and resources where they could, living in overcrowded tenements and saving money to bring their families from the homeland to their new home.

This sketchy background doesn't sound like a 'happy ever after' ending for Moira and Dylan. It sounds like 'from the frying pan into the fire.'

Here's where I'm stuck. Does Moira and Dylan's story end with the dream of a new life in America -- or the reality?

Readers and writers, please feel free to give me your opinion! 2021 has been tough enough without me getting stuck on this ending! Thank you!

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Winter morning . . .

So cold this morning
no one wants to go outside.
The very air draws life 
out of my Dusty Miller plant, 
hunkered down for winter on the patio,
its white leaves shriveled up,
tucked in upon itself, 
no hope for spring. 
And yet, on yesterday's walk,
up to the pond and back,
I saw a red-winged blackbird,
its shrill call a reminder: this too
shall pass, the sun will return,
as will all those lost words,
somehow like orphan quilt blocks
finding their place, a balance
stretched between intention and design,
moving me at once to just a sheen of tears,
I shake my head and begin to write;
it's too cold to cry.

Image by nickfish03 on Pixabay

A little hard to be optimistic when the thermometer reads 18F this morning, with more snow coming later this week. Shiver. No wonder we like to go traveling in February. Not this year! Instead, I'm watering a basil plant, hoping to keep it alive long enough to go into a salad a little later (yes, with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and those little mozzarella balls). That is, after the writing is done. 

And a special thank you to Tyrean Martinson for hosting me on her blog for her first Author Highlight  in 2021: Check it out for an INTERVIEW and a sneak peek inside The Seventh Tapestry. Thank you again, Tyrean! What a great way to start the day.