Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What's On Your Shelf?

It's nearly 2014. The clock is ticking and tomorrow we'll be in a brand new year. Many writers will begin the year with a new goal--finishing the rough draft (that's me), or revising their novel, sending out queries, or some other goal related to their stories.

What about picking a craft book to read? Have you ever made that a resolution?

I am. Besides finally finishing FRIENDLY FIRE (I promise I will! Honest!), I'm going to try to use the books sitting on my shelf to learn more about making my book better.

I have books of inspiration and craft. My inspiration list are well read.
  • The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron
  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  • The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
I've talked about these before and I still refer to them and their message often. When I'm stuck I remind myself that it's all resistance (Pressfield), and to keep writing every day (Lamott) or any of several truths I learned from King and Cameron.

But when it comes to craft books, I don't have such a good track record. The shelf is full of them, but I haven't finished many. In fact, I haven't started quite a few of them. ;-)

Here's a sampling of what I have on my shelf:
  •   The Fire in Fiction and Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass--I know all the reasons to read these two, but tried to before I was a third of the way into FF. I think these will click when I finish goal one (see above).
  • The Writer's Little Helper by James V. Smith--This is my first craft book. It's more of a checklist than anything else. It'll be good to click through after goal one is accomplished.
  • Write in Style by Bobbie  Christmas and Don't Sabotage Your Submissions by Chris Roerden are much like the Smith with added expertise from the authors--both have professional editing experience. I'll be back for them later.
  • Make a Scene by Jordan E. Rosenfeld--This is another early buy. I floundered on the descriptions of scene types. Now I have a clue about them from experience writing and critiquing and I'll be back to read this one later.
  • The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler--This is another well-regarded craft book, but it doesn't fit my genre. I'll give it another look if and when I ever get back to my long-worked-on and long-delayed SF trilogy.
  • Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell--This is a recent acquisition. I'm over halfway through it. It's hitting the spot as a helpful book probably because I was already 85% done with FF when I got it.
Two new books on my shelf are Writing Subtext by Elizabeth Lyon and Wired for Story by Lisa Cron. Both come highly recommended. I'll get into them when goal one is done. And I have one on order--Nail Your Novel by Roz Morris.This is recommended for its info on emotional beats.

There's a pattern here--Either I tried to read the book way early in my novel, or I've just haven't had time to read them. I foresee more time when goal one is done and FF is out with my beta readers.

Now it's your turn. What's your favorite craft book? Any I don't have yet? ;-)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Babies--Finale

And in conclusion...
All Decked Out!
     The roar of the vacuum stopped. Samantha trundled it to the closet and then stood at my elbow. “Can we talk before you take me home?”
    “May we? Of course.” I scanned her face. Worry tucked her fair brows together and my heart clenched.
    Her eyes were starting to fill. “How do you do Christmas without your husband? I mean…I miss Mom…”
    Tears rolled down her cheeks as my throat tightened. The fact was, I didn’t do Christmas very well since Tom’s death. Reaching out, I gathered Samantha in. The small shoulders shook with sobs as my own tears overflowed and dropped into her curls.
    Her whispered words said it all. “This is my third Christmas since—It’s not getting easier.”
    My heart clenched around my own grief. “It’s my second and I know what you mean, but you kids helped me this time.” I wiped at a tear that had dripped to the end of my nose. “Listening to the boys fuss over crayons and snuggling with the twins helped."
    “I’m sorry your Christmas bell got broken.”
    My hand rose before I thought and wiped her tears, too. “It’s okay. I’m glad none of the kids got hurt.”
    Samantha hunched her shoulders then let them fall. “I want to get Miss Cherie something. I saved a little bit from my allowance. It’s not much.” She tried to keep her tear-streaked face from blooming with hope, but it was a lost cause. “Mom never bought any presents, so I don’t know how.”
    I bit my lip. What mother didn’t buy her child presents? A drug addled one.
   “I think I can help with that because there will be presents this year.” I smiled. “I know just the place. Why don’t we shop a little on the way home. The dollar store had a lot of coloring books. That’ll take care of the boys. How about a big piece puzzle for the girls. They had them too.” And I’d make sure some of the presents had her name on them.
    “Oh! Miss Laura Grace! Thank you.” Her reddened eyes were beginning to twinkle. “Could we get a hat and scarf for Miss Cherie? She doesn’t have any.”
    “Sounds good. Let’s go shopping.”
Sipping hot tea as I lay back in the recliner, I smiled. Samantha’s shopping trip had taken the edge off the bittersweet feeling Christmas had folded about me. Dollar stores were underrated. Five gifts for five dollars and tax had to be a record. The creamy white scarf and hat had included a pair of gloves. The fleece was soft and would look good with any coat Cherie wore them with. And it had been half price.
A fuzzy, yellow head nosed its way into the living room. I chuckled as Sunshine stopped with one foot inside. The deep sniffing breaths were audible at my chair. “They’re gone, little boy. It’s safe.” Golden eyes took in the room then the cat crept along the carpet sniffing every inch where the boys had colored. Standing on his hind legs, Sunshine inspected the sofa.
I laughed as the inspector began on my recliner. “See. All gone.”
                          He blinked at me and jumped onto the arm of the chair. Settling into his usual place with his feet tucked and his tail curled in front, the big cat let out a satisfied sigh.
                         “Get used to it, little lion.” I fluffed Sunshine’s fur. “They’ll be back.”

Have a wonderful Christmas Day and may your New Year be blessed!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas Babies--continued

As I promised in the comments last week, here's more of "Christmas Babies" from FRIENDLY FIRE. Enjoy!


     All good things come to an end though, and as the credits rolled Mia slid off the sofa and bounced on the rug. “Beep! Beep!” Her high pitched squeal made me wince.
    Raina’s piping voice joined her sister’s raising the level of cacophony. Samantha reached for Raina to quiet her.
    Mia’s smile widened and her hops took on a frightening forward motion.
    “No!” Samantha grabbed for the little arm, but Mia giggled just out of reach and brushed my Christmas tree.
    Terry’s grab overshot her and he crashed into the branches. Bells and crystal tinkled then an ornament shattered on the hearth.
    Everyone froze. Terry’s eyes were round, brimming with tears as he turned to me. “I…I’m…” His chin trembled.
    Our first Christmas ornament, a paper-thin porcelain bell, lay in glinting shards across the ceramic tile.
    “It’s okay.” I swallowed a lump. If one of the tiny crystal angels, each unique had fallen, I’d just sweep it up, but the bell… How Tom’s face had lit up when we found it… My eyes were threatening to rival Terry’s as my tears welled.
    Then I saw Samantha. She had rolled herself up as small as she could and was tucked back into the narrow gap between the sofa and my recliner.
    Letting my vision of Tom go, I pasted on a smile. “Nothing the broom and dustpan won’t fix.”
    Mia leaned over the wreckage, one chubby hand stretched toward the razor-sharp slivers.
    “Mia.” My back groaned as I leaned over, tucking her into my arms. “Don’t touch. That’s an ouchie.”
    I handed Mia off to Terry. “Let’s clean this up.” The broom made short work of the mess and as I tossed the bits of thirty-four year old memories into the trash can, Samantha slowly unwound. But her eyes were wary, watching my every move, calculating when I’d get angry.
    I swallowed hard once more to clear my throat. The child needed me at my best.
    “Why don’t we color now?” I grabbed the pile of coloring books I’d bought for them, and knelt down on creaking knees in the middle of the rug—well away from the tree. “Pick out a book. I’ve got enough for everyone.” And enough crayons, too. The three little boys settled in.
    Mia and Raina’s eyes began to sink. Maybe a nap was in order for them.
    I finally settled back into the recliner, pinned to my seat by the twins as their sleeping warmth weighed me down. Samantha picked up the bowls and I nodded at her. She stepped over Terry’s legs where he and the other boys sprawled on their tummies peacefully coloring away.
    My eyes were as heavy as the girls’. The soft Christmas music wove its magic through the room. I’d be ready for a silent night when Cherie came to collect this crew.
    I jerked awake. The doorbell had roused me, but it didn’t ring a second time. Samantha had opened the door to a blast of chill, damp air and Cherie’s smiling face.
    “What a peaceful scene!” She lifted Mia off my lap as Samantha grabbed Raina.
    “Won’t you take your coat off and warm up?”
    “No. It’s high time I take this menagerie home for the day. Besides, you helped me finish up in record time by keeping them occupied. Nothing like Christmas shopping with the little grasping hands everywhere.” Cherie’s smile deepened. “You’re a good friend for helping out this way.”
    Jo-Jo tugged at his mother’s jacket. “Terry broke a ormanent!”
    Cherie’s eyes narrowed as she pinned the culprit in her focus.
    “I was catching Mia! She nearly climbed the tree.” His deep brown eyes were welling again. “Honest, Miss Cherie.”
    “Really, Miss Laura Grace?” Cherie’s eyes demanded truth. “Is that the way it went down?”
    Cherie’s focus shifted to Samantha’s white face as she nodded over Raina’s head.    “Samantha and Terry are great toddler wranglers.” I smiled at the two older children. “I couldn’t have managed without them.” I patted Mia’s back as she blinked sleepily from Cherie’s arms. “Think nothing of it.” My heart twinged a bit at my word’s reassurance, but it was better. Not the heartsick ache I’d expected.
    Cherie nodded, satisfied. “Okay then. Time to head ‘em up and move ‘em out.”
    “I’m not done yet.” Jamie grabbed for the box of crayons Samantha was filling.
    Jo-Jo fumbled at his pocket trying to hide a couple of crayons, but Samantha pried them loose.
    “Take the coloring books and crayons with you, boys.” I rose stiffly.
    “Can I stay and help Miss Laura Grace clean up?” Samantha looked from me to Cherie. “Please.”
    “It’s okay with me.” I smiled at her. “I could use the help. Tom did most of the cleaning. What do you say, Cherie?”
    She shrugged. “It’s okay with me if you want to. I’ll come—”
    “No, I’ll bring her home when we’re done.”
    “Okay, Laura Grace. If you say so. Let’s get this crew into their coats.”
Have a happy week among all the preparations. I'll finish this scene all the way out next Tuesday. ;-)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Christmas Babies

It's the Christmas season and I wanted to gift you with a bit of FRIENDLY FIRE. This scene is from early in the story and Laura Grace has her hands full. There's more to this, but I didn't want to overload you. I know you have gifts to buy, cooking to do, and cleaning for the holidays. ;-)

Baby-eye view of a Christmas tree

          A cold steady rain had finally lifted the fog, but Cherry Hill was still swaddled in a gray cocoon of winter. I could only hope that the waterlogged flowerbeds wouldn’t drown my mother’s iris. The painstaking digging I had done at her home place after her passing would have been in vain if it did. Maybe the rain would help them grow fat and healthy to bloom forth in all their deep purple glory next spring. I hoped so.
        Though the gray weather muted the Christmas lights on the other houses, inside my home, life bloomed, giggling and wiggling, on the sofa. I had successfully settled Cherie’s five smaller children—all seven or younger—in a line like museum statues. If the statues were alive, and all the children were. And loud. Now why had I volunteered to babysit this crew? On the surface it was to allow Cherie to Christmas shop in peace, but I knew that wasn’t the reason I had agreed. No. I was doing it to have more time with Samantha. The girl had rooted into my heart and I had to be with her. Even if it meant dealing with diapers. Cherie had assured me that it wouldn’t be a problem. Samantha would to the dirty work. We’d see. So far, no untoward odors had clashed with the cinnamon pine cones on the mantle.
        Peals of laughter rang off the vaulted ceiling as Jo-Jo, Cherie’s four year old, removed his finger from his nose and contemplated it cross-eyed. Samantha drew herself up, hands on hips. “Jo-Jo, that’s gross. Get a tissue.” The girl had her foster mother’s tone and stance down perfectly.
        The boy just grinned as plunged the offending booger into his mouth.
       “Eew!” Samantha squealed. “Don’t eat boogers!
        I had to grin. I’d seen worse in high school classrooms, but Samantha’s reaction was priceless.
        Terry and Jamie joined Jo-Jo on the booger hunt, causing Samantha to sputter.
        Time to stop this. I placed the tissue box on Jamie’s lap and raised an eyebrow. He obediently pulled a tissue out and wiped his finger then passed the box down the line of offending little boys.
        Mia and Raina, the two-year-old twins, pulled a tissue for each hand and began to toss them, landing one on Jo-Jo’s head. He brushed it off and began to tickle his nearest little sister.
        “Enough of that.” I collected the tissues as Samantha smirked at the little boys.
         “Miss Cherie said we had to be careful not to mess up Miss Laura Grace’s clean house.”
          Terry grinned. “Is that why the sofa is covered?” He grabbed a handful of the afghan covering the seat. “To keep the leaky girls from soaking it?”
           The twins just grinned back with their tiny baby teeth and dimples. Cherie had dressed them in matching tops. Their black hair was drawn up in two identical curly puffs. I had to grin back. Diapers or not, the girls were too cute to resist and as sweet as the tiny angels on my Christmas tree.
          “No, I keep the sofa covered to keep Sunshine from scratching it when he jumps up.”
           Terry looked around the room. “What’s a sunshine?”
           “He’s my little boy.”
           “I didn’t think you had any kids.” Wariness deepened Samantha’s eyes to navy.
           “I don’t. No grandkids either. Sunshine is my fat old cat. He doesn’t jump much anymore—just sort of scrambles up. His back claws would scratch the leather if I didn’t cover it.”
           Jamie’s eyes were round. “Where is he?”
            I knew where Sunshine was. “He’s hiding because he doesn’t like to meet strangers.”
           Raina’s squeal of “kitty, kitty” ricocheted off the ceiling and Mia joined in.
           “Not today. Let’s let him hide. He’ll get used to you and come out later. Anyway, it’s movie time.” I hit play on the remote and Disney’s latest began to play.
            The kids settled in to watch and I nodded. That took care of the next ninety minutes or so.
           “Samantha, would you like to help me with the popcorn?”
           She followed me around the breakfast bar into the kitchen where it was relatively calm. I could see the little ones on the sofa as the warm, saturated colors of the cartoon glowed from the TV. That had settled them down.
          “Get us some bowls.” I pointed to the cabinet. “While I start the microwave.”
           Samantha’s bright blue eyes followed me as she handed me the bowls. “Why don’t you have kids? Don’t you like them?” The wariness had entered her voice now.
           I closed my eyes for a moment. How many students had asked me that question over the years? I didn’t want to know. The answer hadn’t changed though. Honesty was required here just as it had been all those other times I had answered the question. I looked into her eyes. “God doesn’t always give you what you want, but He does always give you what you need.” My mouth tightened around my self-consciousness. “Tom and I wanted children and we got a lot of them by teaching—hundreds of them.”
           Her eyes widened. “Didn’t you need kids?”
           I looked at the timer as the homey, mouth-watering smell scented the air. “I thought so, but it didn’t happen. I guess I wouldn’t have been a good mother.”
          “Oh, no! You would have been a great mother!”
           “Some of my students thought so too and even called me ‘Momma Chandler’” I smiled, thankful Kerry Jones had reminded me of that sweet memory. “Let’s go share out the popcorn.”
           As much as I loved hearing Paul Newman’s voice—hearing it come out of a cartoon car just wasn’t the same. But I couldn’t show “Cool Hand Luke” or Butch Cassidy to little kids.
           Though for a couple of hours of relative quiet, I could stand it. Of course it helped if your definition of ‘relative quiet’ could stretch to include a stinky diaper, a little boy kneading his crotch because he needed to pee, two squirming toddlers, and a spilled bowl of popcorn. The children for the most part had been giggling and engrossed in the story with their hands traveling to the popcorn bowls on remote control.
           Only Samantha wasn’t watching the movie. Tension thrummed through her as she sat at my feet trying to catch every falling kernel before it hit the floor.
           I laid my hand on her shoulder. “Don’t worry, Samantha.”
           Fear shadowed her blue eyes.
           “I’ll vacuum later. It’s not a problem.”
            She sat back, but the tension didn’t go completely. The child was still reacting to everything, trying to decide how she was supposed to act.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Mini Book Reviews: On the Romantic Side


I don't usually read pure Romance. Nothing wrong with it--just not my cup of tea. Then again,sometimes it's just the thing I need for a quick read. Then there's the meatier ones that add in history or are women's fiction with strong romantic elements. Here's a sampling of my more romantic reads.

A SINNER IN PARADISE Deborah Hining--Women's Fiction with a healthy dose of romance
There's nothing not to like in A Sinner in Paradise. Deborah Hining has created a unique, interesting, and feisty main character in Geneva. When she has to return to her West Virginia roots, she learns what's truly important is to love yourself. Everything and everyone else seems to fall in place. This is a truly delightful read. The religious aspects of the story are so deftly handled that it never jars or gets preachy.

THE WEEK BEFORE THE WEDDING Beth Kendrick--Romance with a capital R ;-)
The Week Before the Wedding is a perfect example of what a tasty read can be when handled with characters who are 3-D. No cardboard-cut outs here. Enjoy this one when you need a light fast read.

NEVER TOO LATE Amara Royce--Historical Romance
Never Too Late is a rousing romance with a big heart for the social ills of Victorian England. Add a wonderful flip of the usual older hero/younger heroine and it moves into welcome new territory for romances. The social commentary is so integral to the main female character that it is eye-opening without being preachy. This is one historical romance that will keep you guessing. This is a must read for those who love historical romance.

Check out my interview of Amara from May 14 for more info.

IF THE SHOE FITS Amber T. Smith--Romantic Fantasy
If the Shoe Fits is a hilarious retelling of Cinderella. You'll never guess who is the fairy godmother, I promise. This is a light read that retells the old fairy tale with a mod setting.  Enjoy.

BURNING SKY Lori Benton--Historical Romance
Burning Sky is a must read! The story is deeply personal, rich in history, with captivating characters you won't want to let at the end. This is another book in which the religious beliefs of the characters are integrated with the story with no preaching--just people living their lives based on what they believe. Check out my interview of Lori on August 20 for more info.

Happy Reading!