Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Cherry Tree in Snow
copyright Zan Marie Steadham 2010
Christmas Promise
Lit by a star's glory,
The promise of Christmas
Starts with a baby's cry.
Its light is a beginning
And with Easter's dawn,
The promise is complete.
from A Christmas Walk
Zan Marie Steadham copyright 2010

Merry Christmas! I pray your holidays are bright, peaceful, and joyous. See you next week.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Fifth Cherry Hill Story?

Truly, I had no clue that my subconscious brain was working on another Cherry Hill story, but this last week during my mother's pacemaker surgery and recovery (she's doing very well), another story popped up. In my last post, A Sentence A Day, I shared the sentences I've written for an exercise at the Forum. Hidden in those sentences was the kernel for a whole new story. ; )

I had thought about and worked on four possible Cherry Hill stories before that:
  • FRIENDLY FIRE--about Laura Grace Chandler meeting Samantha Smith, an abused foster child
  • CONSUMING FIRE--about the prosecution of Samantha's abusers and a growing relationship between Laura Grace and Mack Singer
  • LINE OF FIRE--about Laura Grace's new family and the discovery of Mack's unknown son, a young Marine
  • HEART FIRE--about Samantha's children and the aging of her mother
Well, now I know there's a prequel to FRIENDLY FIRE. The working title is CAMP FIRE and it's about Laura Grace's first husband, Tom Chandler. The following sentences are the genesis of the story:
  • "Well, she’s pretty enough and has the Chandler coloring,” her silver hair didn’t shift as she turned back to me, “but you know she’s not a real Chandler, Laura Grace.”
  • The embossed ivory invitation was from the one address I'd hoped never to see again, and the initials on the flap--HCC--made my stomach clench.
  • Over the years her eyes had faded to ice blue and now they looked on my child with chilling disapproval.
  • Her perfume was the same--a mix of rose and gardenia--but with a subtle addition I could only identify as old lady skin.
  • I had never faced her without Tom at my side, but now that my knight was gone, I was on my own, and I was Samantha's only shield.
All of them describe Laura Grace's first mother-in-law, Hazel Cherry Chandler. I'm working on a scene for FRIENDLY FIRE in which Hazel meets Samantha. That's when I realized I had a story brewing about Hazel and her son Tom.

Here's a taste of what I've discovered:
  • "While the extravagant charity of the Cherry and Chandler families is well known, Thomas, we do not practice it with our marriage vows."
  • "My vows are charity only if you use the Biblical definition of the word—love. But that wasn't what you were referring to, was it, Mother?"
  • The warmth of the flame consuming the pine limbs spread up his arms and the tension wiring his shoulders taut eased, a sharp contrast to the cold tone Mother had used to voice her displeasure of him and his plans.
  • She was still spare and elegant, and so was the room.
FRIENDLY FIRE is still on the front burner and is 85% complete, but it's gratifying to know I'll never run out of something to say about my favorite family in Cherry Hill. ; )

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Sentence A Day

If you ever wondered how writers keep themselves inspired after the intensive work of NaNoWriMo, here's one way. Carol Krenz, a wonderful writer and all around great person, came up with a humdinger of an exercise for us at the Books and Writers Forum. After we wrote a lot of words for NaNo in November, she took inspiration from this quote form Ernest Hemingway:

"All you have to do is write one true sentence. The truest sentence you know."

And so the December inspiration--A Sentence A Day--was born. Many of the writers who frequent the Forum are posting a sentence a day for the last twenty-nine days of December.

Here are a few of the ones I've posted so far.

Dec. 3--Sharp pain flashed up my neck and wound around my jaw, curling behind my ear.

Dec. 4--I stared at Mack; even his boots were camouflaged and not just with mud.

Dec. 5--Blowing out my arteries would be the best option because snapping at Mack and Samantha—or heaven forbid—Alex would only add to my stress load.

Dec. 6--“Well, she’s pretty enough and has the Chandler coloring,” her silver hair didn’t shift as she turned back to me, “but you know she’s not a real Chandler, Laura Grace.”

Dec. 7--The sandwich shop’s AC chilled my sun-warmed skin; that was only fair for now it matched my heart.

Dec. 8--The embossed ivory invitation was from the one address I'd hoped never to see again, and the intitials on the flap--HCC--made my stomach clench.

Dec. 9--Over the years her eyes had faded to ice blue and now they looked on my child with chilling disapproval.

Dec. 10- Her perfume was the same--a mix of rose and gardenia--but with a subtle addition I could only identify as old lady skin.

Dec. 11- I had never faced her without Tom at my side, but now that my knight was gone, I was on my own, and I was Samantha's only shield.

And one to grow on while my mother has pacemaker surgery on Wednesday. Keep us in your prayers.

Dec. 12- Momma had faded; her skin a thin, old ivory marked by fine dark lines of veins detailed as a roadmap, and if only I'd known what care to insist on, Samantha could meet her Grandmother Grace to counteract meeting her Grandmother Hazel.

How are you keeping your writing going during this hectic holiday season?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Mini-Reviews II, NaNo Round-Up, and Breaking News

This week I wanted to share some mini-reviews, so you can create your Christmas wishlist with some books I know you'll love. ; )

Memoir that the PBS series is based on. The heartbreaking truth about the life in East End London in the 1950's is told with wit, feeling, and care.

HAND ME DOWN Melanie Thorne
Intense story of an abused child. You won't forget this story and if you care for children, it will be a wake-up call. Must Read

The mystery at the heart of Kate Morton's book unfolds into multiple layers. You'll be guessing until the end. Must Read

THE RIVER WITCH Kimberly Brock
Complex story full of wonderful symbolism and beautiful imagery that weaves mysticism and reality with a great story. Must Read.

THE UNDERSIDE OF JOY Sere Prince Halverson
Intense story about mothers and stepmothers. Good read. (Warning: You'll need a box of tissue. ; )
The main character Ella Beane is wonderfully complex and Halverson has a sure hand with back story. The plot rips along.

Christian women's fiction--good story that takes on how faith can become twisted by ego. Good read

NaNo Round-Up
My final NaNo total was 15,013. I'm thrilled, happy, and can't wait to dig into these words for a bit of editing.

Breaking News
If you haven't heard yet, Prince William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting! For those of us who enjoy watching Britain's Royal Family, it's great news.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Chugging Along...

I started today with only 11,338 words in my mini-NaNo quest. Reality says that I won't even make the 30,000 goal we set in out Mini-NaNo thread on the Forum. Add the fact that I've not been writing very much for the last week--only 388 words--and didn't write at all on four days of the last 9 and you can't expect much.

This morning I had a reality check and counted how many I could conceivably write in the last four days. A thousand isn't too big and if I can power through for the days remaining in the week, I can hit what I'm calling a "micro-mini-NaNo" total of 15,000.

Happily I can report that I've already added 1050 to the total today, so I'm on my way.

12,338 and counting.

How are you doing?
Are you going to reach the magic number of 50K or will you join me with a lower, but achievable goal?

Keep Writing...the month isn't over yet! ; )

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Occupational Hazards

Do you ever think of something you need to jot down for your writing in bed...in the dark? I do. And I'm proud of my ability to write legible notes on the notepad from the bedside table without turning the light on.

Until the writing isn't legible. ; ) Occasionally there is one that trails off into a series of unreadable squiggles and an ink blotch. Sometimes the blotch isn't just on the notepad. ; )

On a more serious note, there are true occupational hazards to writing.
  • Repetitive motion stress injuries in hands and wrists--the dreaded Carpel Tunnel Syndrome
  • Chronic pain in neck and shoulders
  • Lack of sleep
Of course, family and friends always claim that we "daydream" about our stories instead of participating in real life. (As if our stories aren't real! ; )

How do you combat writing's occupational hazards?
What other occupational hazards can you identify?

NaNo update: 10,984. I'm slowing down, but that's okay. That's still a lot of new words to work with.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all in the US and have a wonderful Thursday to the rest of you. ; )

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

WIP Blog Hop and a NaNo Check Up

I'm excited to participate in this WIP Blog Hop! Thanks again to my fellow Forum and Muse buddy Lara Lacombe for tagging me.

Here are the questions:
What is your working title of your book?

Where did the idea come from for the book?
From a dream—really ; ) I saw the first scene during a nap and as the day went on, I’d figured out the basic story.

What genre does your book fall under?
Women’s Fiction/Family Saga

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Kathy Bates and a young Dakota Fanning

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Laura Grace Chandler is a retired teacher who is recently widowed and thinks her life is over until she meets an abused foster child who turns Laura Grace’s life upside down.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I hope I can go the agency route. Keep your fingers crossed.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I’m still working on it :)

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS and some of Jodi Picoult’s books

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
All the my students from 25 years of teaching—and the caseworkers and foster parents who try to help the abused heal.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
There’s an interesting potential love interest who shows up at the end of the book and FRIENDLY FIRE is the first of four stories set in Cherry Hill, Georgia.

I'd like to pass this Hop on to S. P. Bowers.

NaNo Check-In:
As of November 11, I have written 8594 new words for FRIENDLY FIRE. Guess what my doggies said about the bit I read to them--"Ruff! Ruff! Ruff!" ; )

How is NaNo going for you?


Monday, November 5, 2012

What's the Genre?

What genre do you write?

I'm guessing you've heard that question more than a few times. Is there clear cut definition for the genre you prefer? If so, you're blessed. ; )

Of the three genres I write--one is very clear cut (devotional), one has several sub-categories (Science Fiction), and one is all over the place (women's fiction).

It's the definitions of Women's Fiction that give me a headache. Many start with, "written by women for women readers." Do you know of any genres that are defined as "written by men for men readers?" This definition frustrates a lot of women's fiction writers.

One of the best places to get a feel for this is at Amy Sue Nathan's Women's Fiction Writers. Juliette Fay has a great take on this problems in her interview at Women's Fiction Writers. Juliette's latest book, THE SHORTEST WAY HOME has a man as the main character and is still classified as women's fiction.
"But maybe there’s a different question you’re asking: how does the gender of the writer affect the way a book is labeled, regardless of the gender of the main character. If that’s what your wondering, and if I’m being completely honest … I think that if someone in possession of a set of testicles had written this book, it would be called general fiction. After all, it’s not just about a man—it’s about a single man with no children. But since it’s ultimately a family drama, and I have ovaries, it’s called women’s fiction."

Her definition of the genre is "I think of women’s fiction as family drama, and I wish they’d use that label instead. But the women’s fiction label doesn’t really bother me, because a rose is a rose. Happily, there are a lot of people who want to read family drama/women’s fiction—and, hey, I’m here to help."

One of the issues with a gender based definition of a genre is the assumptions that books in the genre won't seriously written or about deep topics. That's a shame. I've read a lot women's fiction that deal with abuse, family disruption, life-threatening illness, and relationships among family members, both male and female.

What's you opinion on genre definitions that take into account the gender of the writer? Is is fair?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

To NaNo or Not to NaNo...

...that is the question. (With apologies to the Bard. ; )

All writers have heard of the National Novel Writing Month and either plan to jump in with both feet, grateful for the camaraderie, or shake in a cold sweat at the very idea of attempting to draft 50,000 words in a month.

Me? I'm in the latter group. ; ) But that admission doesn't mean that I don't love to play along on the outside of the "official" NaNo. My beloved Forum provides just such a way to play. Check out the Mini-NaNo thread.

Thinking about attempting even the Mini-NaNo made me think about journeys and what it takes to accomplish one. In the past, our ancestors packed up and moved great distances over rugged terrain in wagons. Planning for a trip, even for a few days, requires planning, so to plan to write for a month does, too. Listing what will be needed for the "trip" is important. Some writers work from extensive outlines. As I'm a bit allergic to formal outlines, I find a list of possible scenes to be enough. But the fact that I list them out, means my brain is already primed to work...at least I hope so. ; )

A ready access to research, paper, pens, and computer is necessary. Some writers even cook ahead and freeze soups, stews, and chilies. Others do a major cleaning before starting so that they don't feel pulled from writing to dust the blinds. (I'm not in that category, but I have gotten the unpacking done from the renovations...or will before Thursday gets here. ; )

What about you? Are you planning on doing NaNo in any form?
What preparations do you make before starting?

Here are some bonus notes from the Surrey  Conference Live:
My thoughts and prayers to all affected by Hurricane Sandy. Have a safe Halloween and get your pens and computers ready.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Just When You Need a Pep Talk...

Just when I think I can't love the Books & Writers Forum any more, something comes along and make it ever better. Last weekend, when a lot of the Forumites were attending (some as presenters) the Surrey International Writers Conference in Canada, Forum member Deniz hosted a Virtual Surrey Conference at good, old B&W. I feel like I got to attend the real thing only I got to sleep in my own bed. ; )

We checked in on Friday and had all sorts of workshops to participate in. If you don't have time to sample all of these, you owe it to yourself to check out Technical Topics with Jo Bourne.

I hope you get time to try them all. By the way, it's easy to join the Forum. We love new writers and readers of all types. ; )

There's a lot more there, but I thought this would be plenty to whet your appetite for all the goodness of the Books & Writer's Forum. And as a bonus, Dee-Ann, the lucky, who got to go to the real thing posted some of her notes. Enjoy!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Musical Chairs

First, it was moving the living room and study furniture into the spare bedroom, dining room, solarium, and back bathroom so the new carpet could be laid. Once that was done, we moved some furniture back in its rightful places and rehung the doors. Then we moved the dining room chairs from the back bathroom and into the spare bedroom where the doors had been stacked. That makes getting to the toilet a bit easier. ; ) Now, we've moved the dining room furniture into the study so that floor can be tiled.

Someday, we'll be done with this wave of renovation, but don't hold your breath. It's going to take awhile yet.

Until then, the analogies of house renovation to writing will just be too easy to ignore.

Think about our musical chairs game with the furniture. It's a lot like rewriting.We shift scenes around to make the story flow and juggle sentences to make a paragraph smooth out. And even continue on down to word and comma level. Getting finished takes a lot of shifting, fitting, cutting, and moving. Then we still worry that we are not done. At least until that glorious day when we decide there's nothing else we can do and we send our 'babies' into the world for others to read.

Come to think about it, it's kind of like hosting an open house to show off a new renovation, isn't it?

Monday, October 8, 2012


After a long drought--some of which is not my fault, but that I've made worse and more prolonged--I've found some truths to motivation that I think will help me get going again.

I’m going to try. It’s the least and the most I can do.

Something is better than nothing.

My journey is my journey. My progress is my progress.

Motivation is one of those nebulous concepts. It's something we know when we see it, but can't quite figure out how to manufacture. One truth that really hits me, is that it can't come from outside. Long lists of what must be done, or looking at others' progress and comparing what you're doing, or thinking you can recreate the wheel and skip over craft lessons can all be causes of decreased creativity. I know them all well.

At least now I have a few truths to turn to and measure the current stoppage against. I can ask, what is it this time, and with the answer, I plan to get going again without doubling down on the doubt.

What blocks you?
What helps you get started writing gain?

Monday, October 1, 2012

When It's All Said And Done...

No, I'm not done with a rough draft, but the study is nearly back together and I'm back at the computer. And it struck me how like writing house renovation is.

We have the first big project completed--new sub flooring, new carpet, and the trim painted--but we aren't done.There's still a door or two to paint, nicks to be touched up, and putting all the clothes and furniture back in place. But you can tell what we aimed to do this go around is done. Not to mention the fact that we want to continue with new flooring in the dining room. Ultimately we want to paint the bedrooms and gut the kitchen.

Writing is a lot like that. Once we have a rough draft completed, we aren't completely done. There's reading for holes in the story, word choice, consistency, and grammar. Then there's the query, synopsis, and more editing to do.

And even then, when we get a contract, there will be even more edits as our agents and editors speak up.

So, I'm celebrating a partial completion today. The study is usable again and that means I'll be able to get back to writing....At least until my hubby calls on me to hold a door, go get a tool, buy supplies, etc., etc., etc.  ; )

What about you? What interim points do you like to celebrate on this journey of writing?

And now a comic that says the same thing--only better.
Check out Writer Unboxed

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Inspiration for Stories

I'm still in house renovation chaos. So, I thought I'd share this like with you. Enjoy these real life story starters.

15 Real Life Inspirations for Great Stories

What has inspired your stories?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Read Any Good Books Lately?

When we had to push all our furniture into less than half of our floorspace, I find I don't get much writing done. Guess what I'm doing? Yep, READ! ; ) So, here are some mini-reviews for you.

A Sound Among the Trees Susan Meissner
Must Read for honest, detailed characterization, pitch prefect dialog, and setting that lives and breaths.

Rowing in Eden Barbara Rogan
Must Read for how a professional weaves plot, 3-D characters, internals, and dialog into a wonderful story.

Paladin of Souls Lois McMaster Bujold
Must Read for the 3-D characters who portray what heroic really means and a universe that is as multidimensional as the people in it. This is a fantasy and the sequel to The Curse of Chalion. Read Curse first.

Matters of Faith Kristy Kiernan
An good read that provides an intricate story that investigates faith from many angles during a life and death health crisis.

The Scarlet Thread Francine Rivers
Good story in an older style. A CBA classic.

Now I'm reading Anne Tyler's Searching for Caleb.

What are you reading?
Do you have any suggestions for my massive TBR list?

Monday, September 10, 2012

What Can You Do About That?

What do you do if your computer is off limits most of the time and your workspace is disrupted? Can you shift to longhand for awhile? or will all your forward progress die?

I've had to answer these questions for the next couple of weeks.

The Situation:
We live in an "Old Lady House" that needs regular TLC. Check out this old blogpost for some more on the housework.  As you can see, it is always a work in progress.

And the time has come that we must refloor. We don't have a choice. We have to put down new sub flooring, carpet, and tile. The study is one of the rooms on the to do list.

The Solution:
I'm happy to say, I've figured out how to keep working. ; )
The writing desk I use to draft longhand has been moved to the solarium. I have a backlog of writing magazines I need to read and a book on parenting that I need to read for research for FRIENDLY FIRE. Add several other projects I've been putting off, and I'm being very productive while John paints, hammers, and works in the study, living room, dining room, etc.

So, what about you?
Do you have contingency plans for a "rainy day" of writing?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Writer's Block: Scientific Proof

We've all had a bout of Writer's Block--that dangerous time when no words come to mind and the page remains blank. Some prolific writers like Diana Gabaldon claim that there is no such thing. Her method for avoiding the problem is to have multiple projects open at all times. When one slows down, she just switches to the other and keeps on writing.

While I'll admit to having multiple projects--a devotional and 5 novels at last count--I do find that some days none of them seem to be open for business in my front brain. I do write down any idea that comes out of my back brain into the light of day no matter which project it belongs to, but still some days, the door between to two parts of my brain is closed, locked up tight. No amount of effort allows me to find the key.

Now there's scientific proof that Writer's Block exists in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. Check out the following article:
"The Unsuccessful Self-Treatment of a Case of  'Writer's Block' "
If you've every struggled with writer's block, you owe it to yourself to read this article.

Enjoy! ; )

ETA: For more fun with Writer's Block, try this A Word A Day entry. ; )

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Head Lights for Dark Roads

A couple of years ago I met an amazing woman at a meeting of the Carrollton Creative Writers Club. Diane Quimby is a survivor of a traumatic brain injury and she had an astounding story to tell. Her perseverance served her well during therapy and during the writing of her memoir. It's been my honor to help her by editing Head Lights for Dark Roads. Now her story is available HERE. You won't be sorry if you read Diane's book. You'll be inspired! All proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to TBI organizations.

Diane Quimby’s inspiring personal narrative details life with a traumatic brain injury, and invites the reader along on her challenging journey. Along the way, the reader meets fellow patients and shares in Diane’s unexpected life changing spiritual lessons learned on the road to recovery. This is one road trip the reader won’t soon forget.

Head Lights for Dark Roads is a deeply personal account of recovery with a traumatic brain injury. Be prepared to be deeply moved to laugh, cry, or wince…I know I did! This book is perfect for brain injured person, family members of the injured, or for health providers working in the field of brain injury. It provides a necessary context and poignant understanding of the pathway to recovery. Absolutely phenomenal!
Damond Logsdon, PhD

Join Diane on her person journey of survival of a horrific car wreck, injuring both her body and brain, as told in her amazing book, Head Lights for Dark Roads. You will enter the mind of a brain injured survivor through her vivid words of humor and sadness. Her journey will guide you to a brighter future of recovery and an understanding of God’s plan for your new life post traumatic brain injury.
Ann Boriskie, Director & Founder, Brain Injury Peer Visitor Association®

Check out Diane Quimby's blog at Head Lights for Dark Roads.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Three Little Words

source- Amazon.com

Research is a necessity of writing no matter what genre you WIP is. Historicals demand research into the era they are set in. Mysteries and suspense usually need police or detective procedure. SF is based on science in some way and fantasy has myth as its underpinning. It's the little truths that make stories and characters breath.

My WIP is no different. For example, my main character is a retired history teacher and I didn't have to go far to research her background and life since I'm a retired history teacher. ; ) But the character who changes my MC's life is an abused foster child. I've researched the foster care system and interviewed foster and adoptive parents and the case workers who work with them. That left the main research I needed to be from a foster child's POV and that interview would require an entirely different level of sensitivity.

Thankfully, the foster child came to me. The Department of Family and Children Services case worker I've interviewed suggested I read Ashley Rhodes Courter's Three Little Words. Courter is an amazing young woman who spent ten years in the foster care system of Florida. Her memoir is harrowing and revealing. With a foster child's first person testimony to refer to, my plot has deepened. Samantha's reactions have become based in reality. My story's layers have grown in complexity. I'm grateful for the help to make Samantha a more three dimensional character.

Research can take so many different forms.

Where do you get your little truths to layer into your story?
What is your dream research source that you need to make your story real?

I can only wish that you find as good a source as I have. Happy digging!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Dream a Little Dream with Me

Zan Marie Steadham copyright 2010

To write is to dream....

That is how my morning pages started off this morning and what followed was an outpouring of understanding of how my stories are all connected. Cherry Hill is a lovely town, but hiding in it's streets and houses are all flavors of nightmare, abuse, and wounds unhealed. And all of this comes from a simple dream of a retired teacher meeting an abused child during a church-hosted party for foster children. There's so much fertile ground for my books. All the Cherry Hill stories come from that dream. When Laura Grace met Samantha in that dream, I found a town full of hidden stories. Stories that had been hidden for various reasons.

Laura Grace tries to hide how much pain she has lived due to grief for her husband and childlessness. Samantha hides from a life of abuse. To feel would be beyond painful, but to hide means the wound isn't open and subject to further damage. But it isn't open to healing either.

Rosemary hides abuse because if she admits it's happening, she will have to say that the appearance of domestic bliss is all a lie. If she can hide the pain behind the perfect family facade, she thinks she will be able to control it. Her son Dean hides his abuse because to show fear invites a heavier load of it from his father and older brothers.

Mack hides long ago abuse among the memories of combat and his grief for Sandra. It's another pain that can't heal until opened to sunshine and new love.

I could go on with several more of my characters' hidden hurts.

What about you? Have dreams influenced your stories?
Do your characters have a few dreams or nightmares that need exploring?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Beware! Image Copyrights

There's been a flurry of interest in blogging circles about copyright of images used from the internet. Check out Roni Loren's post about her law suit over use of images on her blog. Another great summation of the problem and some creative methods of using images can be found at Denise Covey's L'Aussie Writer.  I know I don't have the expertise to add to their wonderful info. Both suggests using Creative Commons or other photo sharing sources.

You may have noticed some changes on In the Shade of the Cherry Tree. Gone is the main image of sunlit cherries on a tree. I've replaced it with my photo of leaves from my own tree with some store-bought cherries. This version is on my mahogany dining table. I've took several different versions and some that are just a plate full of cherries to use in various ways. I've also taken down the pics I've used throughout my blog. I think the one I hated losing the most was the Marines in their dress blue uniforms. There is some question about badges for awards and blog contests, too. I don't know the answer to that yet. If I hear a definitive word, I'll let you know.

That said, I wholeheartedly believe in copyrights. I depend on them for my words and I can't fault photographers and other artists for wanting the same for their creative output. So from now on, unless I can take the picture myself, I'll forgo using an image.

What have you heard about this issue?
Do you have any ideas about sources of images that are okay for use?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Awards Season

I saw the Prime Time Emmy Nominations last Thursday morning little knowing that I was in Award Season myself. ; ) Both Deniz at The Girdle of Melian and Lara at Romance with an Edge have awarded me lately. Thanks to both of them for thinking of me. ; )

First up is the The Booker Award for blogs that talk about books, reading, or writing at least 50% of the time. The recipient must share their five favorite books, and pass the award along to five other awesome blogs!
  • The Outlander series (Yes, all of them) by Diana Gabaldon
  • The Vorkosigan series (Yes, again, all of them) by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • The Challion series (You know the drill by now) by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • On Folly Beach by Karen White
  • The Skolian Empire series by Catherine Asaro
So sue me, there's more than five books in the list. ; )

Next, is the Be Inspired award. This award comes with 10 questions

1. What is the name of your book? FRIENDLY FIRE
2. Where did the idea for your book come from? A dream--I'm not kidding! I woke from a nap with the first scene fully laid out in my mind.
3. In what genre would you classify your book? That's a hard one. It's either mainstream or women's fiction. I'll have to fine tune it later.
4. If you had to pick actors to play your characters in a movie rendition, who would you choose? Laura Grace is Kathy Bates and her romantic interest at the end of the book is Paulo Szot.
5. Give us a one-sentence synopsis of your book. Those closest to us inflict our deepest wounds, and none are so obvious as the ones of Samantha Smith, an abused foster child, or so hidden as those of Laura Grace Chandler, the retired widow, who will help her adopted daughter heal, finding healing for her own wounds as well. (I've been told that the first clause should get lost!)
6. Is your book already published or represented? No, I've got to finish it first--that and the three other books that follow it in the Cherry Hill series.
7. How long did it take you to write your book? Can I get back to you on that one? So far, four years and counting.
8. What other books in your genre do you compare it to? Or, readers of which books would enjoy reading yours? Some of Jodi Picoult's books or The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
9. Which authors inspired you to write this book? That's hard to narrow down. For the short list, I have to include Diana Gabaldon.
10. Tell us anything that might pique our interest in your book. FRIENDLY FIRE is set in a small Georgia town, but the problems its citizens face are universal--abuse in all it's many forms. That healing is available is the real lesson.

Last, but not least is the Fabulous Blog Ribbon. There are 3 sets of 5 questions for this one: 5 of your most fabulous moments, 5 things you love, and 5 things you hate.
5 most fabulous moments:
-my wedding day 35 years ago
-meeting one my all-time favorite author
-holding my two devotional books in my hands for the first time
-snuggling with kitties and puppies
-retiring so I could write

5 things I love:
-my husband
-my mother

5 things I hate:
-weak wrists
-that there are only 24 hours in a day

Finally, here are the blogs I'm tagging for all these awards:

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Setting--Finding Cherry Hill (And a new blog to check out)

Not matter how great a character is, he or she has to be somewhere. That's where setting comes in. Much of the time, the setting isn't a real place. So, how do you describe a town that isn't there? I got the chance to hear Patricia Sprinkle talk about this very craft point on Saturday at the Turner Cassity Literary Festival. Here's a summary of her points:
  • Novels need to be about a small community even if set in a large city--the apartment building, or a work place, etc.
  • Be sure to include all the senses in the description
  • What's unique about the setting?
  • What contemporary issues impinge on the characters?
  • What universal themes are the characters facing?
All of these help define the setting.

I've been working on Cherry Hill, the small town in which my WIPs are set for some time now. It's a combination of three towns in my area--Carrollton, Temple, and Villa Rica--with a pinch of Cartersville thrown in for good measure. If you know Georgia, you have a good idea where Cherry Hill is located. ; )

Two years ago, I was the facilitator for a house party at Books and Writers Forum. In the Writers Exercises, we regularly spend time in a setting created by one of us and have a mad ad lib writing session. Sometimes we discover deep motive in our characters. In the Cherry Hill House Party, I hosted other writers in my setting. After a bit over a week we created 180,000 + words set in my little town and I learned a ton about Cherry Hill. If you want to read a bit of that story, take the link above, but I warn you, you'll be drawn into a wild and wonderful ride.

Lately, I've been using the settings I created for the house party and repurposing them for my WIP. I thought a taste of Cherry Hill on the Fourth of July might be a good way to show "describing a town that isn't there." You might notice a certain Master Gunnery Sergeant in the crowd. ; )

What's unique about your setting?
Do you have any suggestions or resources on setting?
Also, I'd love to announce a new blogger--Joann Dunn at Dispatches After Midnight. Go by and check her out. You'll love her humor.
           The antique bell clanged as I let the door shut behind me. Sweet vanilla, cinnamon, and all the aromas of fresh baked cakes, cookies, and pastry welcomed me.

“Momma, it smells just like home!” Samantha’s voice rose on the heavenly scented air, but her eyes clouded just a minute.

I couldn’t blame her. I hadn’t baked since May. That was one of the doctor’s orders. I didn’t have to like them, but I had to abide by them. My daughter needed me. Joy rose as the thought hugged me along with the scents of the bakery. “The bakery hasn’t changed in the fifty years.” The dark wood paneled walls enclosed over two dozen wrought-iron tables and chairs with curling heart-shaped backs. The wood seats were worn shiny by use.

I stepped up to the counter with its old curved-glass fronts that displayed dozens of choices—six different kinds fudge, thumb cookies with pastel spots of icing in their centers, cream horns, brownies, and petit fours.

“Do they have the little cakes, the ones with the rose buds?” She leaned on the glass, looking for them.
“Yes, there on the end.”
Samantha traced the etching on the glass of the case. It was old because the name was the original—Cherry Hill Bakery. “Why did they change the name?”
“Well bakery doesn’t quite cover it all any more now that they’ve added gourmet coffee and tea.” The front glass used the same old-style lettering, but the name was now Cherry and Bean Fine Pastries, Coffees, and Teas. “I swear they’ve not changed the recipes,” I said, and placed an order for my favorite treat—a cream horn and Irish breakfast tea.

Mona Crossley’s withered face greeted us on the terrace when we emerged back into the July heat with our treats. “Ready for the parade?” She patted the table beside her. “Best seats in Cherry Hill are right here.”

I should have known that Mona would be here early finding the perfect place under the shade of the old oak. “Did you save that for us?”

“I hoped you’d come, but I know Doc Bryant’s got you on a short leash.” She grimaced. “Bet he won’t let you bake yet.” Her eyebrows arched.

I shook my head and lifted a shoulder in a light shrug. What could I say that Mona didn’t know about cardiologists and their unreasonable rules. “He couldn’t say no to the parade. Not when he’s going to be in marching in it.”
We had the perfect vantage point. The bakery sat on the high side of the square decked out in red, white, and blue for the occasion. American flags fluttered from every wrought-iron lamppost. People had spread blankets and folding chairs out on the grass around the gazebo that served as Cherry Hill’s main stage. Little kids ran up and down the walks with flags and patriotic pinwheels fluttering in their hands.

The red, white, and blue bunting on the iron rail lifted a little as the breeze freshened.
Samantha had settled into the chair beside me, but she wasn’t looking at the patriotic decorations or the flowers rioting in the beds around the square. Her head swiveled as she watched the people gathering, a slight frown puckering her brows. Then she lit up.
Dean eased his way among the crowd on the bakery’s terrace until he stood beside Samantha. “Hi.”

“I thought you’d never get here.”
He shrugged, then winked at her. “The car was blocked in by all these folks at the parade.” He slipped an arm around her waist and planted a light kiss on her lips.

Surprise washed over me. I hadn’t seen them kiss since New Year’s Eve. Proximity was building the fire Rosemary and I had wondered about. Well, I’d wondered; Rosemary worried. And there she was a few steps behind the kids, her brow puckered with twin lines. She looked at me, nodding at the kids leaning against each other. What could I say? I nodded and shrugged. Her brows rose, her month firming and I got the message—we’d talk later. It wasn’t like we hadn’t talked this one to death already.

Samantha looped her arm around Dean. Looking over the square, she smiled. “Isn’t it exciting? I just love the parade. Especially all the men who put on their uniforms.” She pointed across the square at a short uniformed man.
I followed her gesture to a Marine in full dress blues. His coat was dark midnight blue, trimmed in red. Its white web belt had a gold waist plate buckle. The pants were a sky blue with a red stripe down the outer seams. Ribbons and metals on his chest winked in the sun.
“He’s a Marine, right?” She glanced at me. “He’s got to be hot! Aren’t their uniforms are usually wool? Look at that high collar.”
Before I could answer, Dean leaned over the rail. “The parade’s here!”

I bit my lip and watched the man. He stood back straight and chest out. Something in the line of his shoulders told me he had served a long time. His right, white-gloved hand stiffly rose to the bill of his white cap as the color guard of National Guardsmen from the major branches of service flanked the flag that led the parade into the square. Its red and white stripes and blue star-strewn field flapped, and the gold braid and tassels hanging from the pole swayed with the marching steps of the flag bearer. Sunlight glinted off the eagle standard on top, and I squinted in the glare. People quickly removed their hats and caps, laying their right hands over their hearts. Sprinkled throughout the crowd, military veterans of five wars stood at attention, their hands raised to their brows in salute.
The crowd leaned out and looked down the street as the sound of the band grew louder. Cheers broke out and applause echoed in waves along the building fronts with the high school band’s blaring rendition of the National Anthem.
The first float was greeted with a collective sigh from the crowd. The centerpiece was devastatingly simple—empty combat boots held an upended rifle crowned with a combat helmet. It was the classic honor accorded the fallen in battle. “Freedom Isn’t Free” as the sign on the side said. Everyone here owed so much to those who had fought for the country’s freedom and it was only right that the onlookers remember the price paid for this day of celebration.
I looked back at the Marine. His lean face was set. The float wasn’t a symbolic reminder of sacrifice for him. It meant fallen brothers.
Then the rest of the parade came into the square. Every church, civic group and business in Cherry Hill had tried to out-patriotic all the rest. But the first float was the best—as always.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Characters: Finding Mack the Marine

Where do characters come from?

When Mack Singer, retired Marine and high school chorus teacher, popped up, I had no clue where he came from. I still don't, but I know why he's in my Cherry Hill books. His steady, protecting nature gives my ladies--Laura Grace and Rosemary--much needed support as they deal with the realities of the abuse their children have suffered. Besides, who can resist a man in the Marine Dress Blues? ; )

As I worked with Mack Singer, I realized that not only did he have a warm, rich baritone singing voice, he was a Master Gunnery Sergeant with extensive service in both Iraq and Afghanistan. So what does a Master Gunnery Sergeant do? Who better to ask than a Marine? Luckily, I had a Marine available in one of my former students.

I expected to get great info to help me write Mack's back story with accuracy--and I did. But I was floored by the discovery that I had conjured Mack up with amazing accuracy before the interview. Mack is a take charge kind of guy. He deeply cares about young people and their proper education in work ethics and honor. Just the sort of thing a Master Gunnery Sergeant is in charge of in the Corps. I had chilled as Bill C. told me about the job of a Master Gunnery and how important the rank is to the Marine Corps being able to complete its mission.

I didn't expect the other revelation of the interview. When I read the following snip to my friend, he had chills, too. Mack's voice is real to Bill as was his reasons for joining the Marines.

Dean reminded him of those bewildered teens he had trained and led. Boys--no young men--who found themselves under life and death stress; like he had been so many years ago. Fingering the globe and anchor he always carried in his pocket, he felt the solidity of his career. But it would have been just as solid if it had been a stack of Broadway playbills; his name bold in the leading parts. That was the career his profs had predicted even though his degree was music education. He was like Dean, with the same huge road block--a bastard of a father who said, 'Hell no!' to the dreams of a son. He hadn't told the women, but he has made a promise to himself--that boy would never live another day within his father's reach. He would take the boy in. Yes, he knew Rosemary would have to agree, but she would. He'd seen the terror in her eyes. Terror that testified to a vision of that fine boy stretched out on a slab, dead at his father's hand. Like so many of the boys he'd trained, dead of the enemies' hate. Or friendly fire. Yeah, it happened. Dammit! But this was one young man he could protect. The miles clicked over as he sped down the highway chasing the kids. He'd find them. He had no doubt. Dean needed him. There was no doubt of that either. When a small man made his way through the big man's world, it made for a tempering of steel like the finest of swords. Yeah, Dean needed him. And Samantha did too. She was the reason men enlisted in the services and public safety ranks. She and Laura Grace.
Where do you get your characters?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Happy Fourth of July and a great quote!

My sister, the retired English teacher, sent me a quote I just have to share:
"English doesn't borrow from other languages. English follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them over and goes through their pockets for loose grammar."

Don't believe us? Check out this old post with a great video: History of the English Language

Have a safe and happy Fourth of July!

Thursday, June 28, 2012


  • Have you neared the end of your manuscript and wanted to chunk the entire thing?
  • Reread the rough draft for editing and wondered why you spent so much time on that?
  • Get a few agent rejections and cease trying to send the WIP out?
If so, you are not alone.

THE ARTIST'S WAY explains this phenomenon.
  • "An artistic U-turn arrives on a sudden wave of indifference."
  • "Creativity is scary, and in all careers there are U-turns."
  • "Typically, when we take a creative U-turn we are doubly shamed: first by our fear and second by our reaction to it. Again, let me say it helps to remember that all careers have them."
  • "A successful creative career is always built on successful creative failures. The trick is to survive them."
  • "Creative U-turns are always born from fear--fear of success or fear of failure.
I know these U-turns all too well. Nearly two decades ago, I stopped writing altogether. My SF WIP --THE DAWN AND THE LION--was deepening. I needed mountains of research to pull it off. My ability to describe the many fantastic settings was not good enough. The plot seemed to be stagnating. Even though my history students (who knew math and physics far better than I ever will) were enchanted with the story and had helped me create a simple time dilation equation, I  stopped. Even with a rapidly filling four-inch binder. Writing felt too much like work.

I had no clue then that a rough draft isn't the same as finished. All of them take revision and revision and some more revision. I didn't have a clue what craft skills I needed, but I knew I couldn't do the story justice. At that time, I had no clue where to go to find out about craft skills.

That was then and this is now. Besides having two published devotionals, I have not only the SF trilogy on the back burner, but a rapidly growing comtemporary trilogy that I'm calling women's fiction for the moment. That's subject to change. But far more importantly, I know that this isn't a quick job, and I know where to find instruction on craft--both in books and on line.

My U-turn is over...for now. ; ) I know I'll see a more down the road, but I won't stop this time--not now, not ever.

What have your creative U-turns been?
How did you get back on the road?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Yes, You Can!

How many days have you talked yourself out of writing at all? Or only a little bit? Too many? We've all been there. But the truth is, we have no excuse.

My buddy, Diane Quimby, can teach you how to keep going. She is a survivor of Traumatic Brain Injury and has a wonderful story of persistence through pain that can inspire anyone. After working on her memoir--Head Lights for Dark Roads: Packing Humor and Hope for the Unexpected Trip through Traumatic Brain Injury--for seven years, she is nearing the finish line. I'm doing the final edits now. I'll keep you up-to-date on the publication date.

Check out her new blog--Head Lights for Dark Roads at tbi-411.blogspot.com. I promise you'll be inspired to say, "Yes, I can!"
Who inspires you to keep going?