About Me

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I'm a published author of short fiction for kids and adults. I have an MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University. I'm a former content writer for Spirit and Truth publishing on their Living the Word series. I've also worked as a paid book reviewer and as a student editor for The Louisville Review literary magazine. I'm a wife and mom to two great kids, three dogs, and a cat. I love books, movies, gardening, kids, and animals.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Keep Calm and Remember to Breath

Do you ever have days when it's impossible to focus? As someone who writes for a living, it is really hard on days like that to actually work. But if I want to sleep at night, most days I have to put my butt in the chair as the saying goes and do it.

However, there are exceptions to that rule. Sometimes you have so many things to remember and think about you get overwhelmed. This could be my problem right now, since I'll be leaving in a couple of days to attend my second 10 day residency at Spalding University.

Whenever things get this hectic, and I have to make lists, and then lists for my lists, I've learned that the best policy, for me anyway, is to give myself a few days off. I need that time to breath and try to keep focused on what most needs to get done so I can leave my family for a week and a half and feel okay about it. My kids aren't little, but they are still very busy. I'll have to write stuff on the calendar for my husband so he'll remember who has to be where and when. I also have to remind myself that this is good for all of us. It gives them a few days with just Dad. Something that my son especially, needs. He tends to rely on me the most of the two of us and he needs to remember that his dad is just as capable as me at helping him with stuff. It also helps them appreciate me more when I get home.

And even though conventional wisdom says it is important to write every single day, I feel rejuvenated when I give myself a little time off before going to an event that is going to fill me up and help me learn more about my creative process. I will be writing some there and reading too. With that in mind I worked hard last week and yesterday to catch up on my writing enough to feel okay letting it sit and percolate for a while. Instead of worrying about trying to get words on the page for the sake of doing it, I've caught up on my assigned reading. Gone through the work of others in my workshop group and commented on it, and I've given myself permission to play some by goofing off with my dogs, and catching up on some of my favorite TV shows. I've also kept to my daily exercise routine. As an individual it is important to remember we have to give ourselves time every once and a while. This is really hard when you are a working mom, which every mom I know is. It's also hard when you're an artist, to separate your life from your work. The two often are intertwined. But unless you want to exist as a human robot going through the motions you have to give yourself permission to rest.

I feel like this has really helped me keep my calm, my focus and my sanity. My mind doesn't feel all awhirl with too many thoughts all at once. So, I should be able to sleep tonight. Tomorrow it will be time to dust off the old backpack and start lining up what clothes to bring for my next big adventure with my Creative Writing Program.


I'm excited to see some old friends from last semester and to make new ones this semester. Huzzah! Let the residency commence!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Mothering the Teen/Pre-teen Animal

Photo snapped by my paparazzi child

My parents warned me numerous times when my children were younger that once they reached the teen years my IQ would suddenly drop dramatically.

I was prepared for this. I even experienced it to a milder degree before my daughter officially became a teenager. What I didn't realize until recently was that once you become the parent of a teen and or pre-teen you unknowingly join the ranks of the criminal element.

It dawned on me just this morning as I was watching a youtube video of a symphony orchestra singing about being the parent of a baby or toddler. I longed to hear a composition about parenting a pre-teen and teen child. I thought it could be entitled "Why are You Mad at Me Now?"

Not only am I less intelligent in the eyes of my children. I'm also a criminal against decent society. I think I even outrank my husband in this felony.

Unlike my husband I ask them questions about stuff. Not just any questions, but really hard ones like, "How was your day?" or "Do you have homework?" Most of these questions elicit brusque one word responses like, "Good" or "Yes." Apparently in decent society these short answers are supposed to suffice and make me want to stop asking such invasive questions. But due to my severely lowered mental capacity now, I foolishly continue to question them about stuff in the hopes I might get a full sentence answer. This doesn't usually happen. Instead, the answers continue to be as short as possible and they get more and more brusque. Until finally I ask the worst question of all, "Why are you acting like you're mad at me?" The answer I ultimately receive to this is a very irritated, "I'm not!" But if you're going to join the ranks of the completely stupid I figure you might as well go big or go home. So I very maturely react to this by saying, "Yes you are. You're using you mad voice. I'm going to record you talking to me and play it back for you to prove it." I'm not a very good criminal. I broadcast my intentions too much and then they stop speaking to me altogether.

Other examples of my criminal activity. I constantly insist that they liked something before that they claim to think is boring now. For instance, last year my son, who is now a pre-teen, loved the idea of going to the pumpkin patch near my parent's home to get pumpkins. My dad has a contact (a commercial grower) who allows him to pick pumpkins for free in fields that have already been picked over numerous times. Both kids loved searching for pumpkins each October up there, during their fall break. This year my son informed me that this was boring and all of us but him would spend hours looking for pumpkins and waste an entire day. I was saddened to hear this and was adamant that he didn't always feel this way about pumpkin hunting. But lately he seems to think every idea we come up with is boring. Family vacation to see new places and things, boring. Picking out a costume for Halloween, boring. For someone who is only eleven I am flummoxed by his attitude. Now that I am a criminal against decent society with diminished intelligence I just don't get it.

My biggest crime against decent society is my humiliating habit of following them around everywhere they go, especially after school. I can't just let them go to their cross country meets without showing up there to cheer them on and take pictures. Having your picture taken is another bore my son is forced to endure. His sister doesn't seem to mind it as much. But she tries to pretend I'm not there when she is hanging out with her other teammates. As long as I remain with the other parent felons it is okay. But I'm not satisfied to stay with others of my kind. I actually talk to her and her teammates and walk around the field with her while she's cheering for the runners on the other teams. Worse, I ask her questions about why this or that person isn't racing. I'm sure this equals total embarrassment in her eyes. To be fair she doesn't actually say this. She simply walks faster to discourage me from wanting to walk with her. I guess it could be worse.

I'm hoping my status as a criminal against decent society is just a phase. In a few years with any luck I'll grow out of it and reclaim normal intelligence levels again. Until then I might as well embrace being a part of the criminal element. That being said, I better get going. I have another after school activity to get to with my camera.





Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Character Through Dialogue

My son a few summers back  with his fave transformer

Whether you write novels, screenplays, or plays, you have to use dialogue to help tell a story. Dialogue helps capture the essence of a character and is a handy tool to use to build tension and conflict into a scene no matter what the medium of story.

I usually feel pretty good about my dialogue and character interaction in my novels and short stories. Sure, I know that its never perfect. But when I'm on a roll and immersed in that fictional world, dialogue isn't usually one of the stumbling blocks that leaves me stuck. It isn't one of the parts of writing that I'm left wondering how to fix, either. Most of the time when someone critiques it they are very specific about why it didn't work for them. This doesn't mean I don't spend large chunks of time working through a scene of dialogue, fine tuning it and reworking it to convey what I want it to, because I do. Usually afterwards I'm emotionally drained from living out the scene through my characters.

Recently, however someone challenged me to do something I hadn't really thought about before. They asked me to show the reader that one of my characters spoke with a Spanish accent using dialogue. This made me sit up straighter. How do you write dialogue that makes the reader hear your character's accent? For the first time I was at a real loss. But I knew the answers were out there for me to find if I went looking for them. I started by searching the internet. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn't. There is so much information out there about writing and about half of it is less than helpful. So much so that I actually get sleepy at times slogging through it. This time the first article that came up was on a website, PenUltimate Editorial Services, put together by freelance editor Arlene Prunkl. Ms. Prunkl offers excellent advice on how to write dialects and foreign accents into your dialogue in an authentic and conscientious way. Doing my characters justice and not turning them into caricatures of people who speak English as a second language was one of my chief concerns.

Arlene Prunkl gave some terrific examples of contemporary authors who got this sort of thing right. One was an author I enjoy reading very much who writes about characters who live in the past in the Scottish highlands, Diana Gabaldon. Ms. Gabaldon is not from Scotland or the 18th century highlands. She is a native of Arizona and is probably younger than my parents. But she writes dialogue for her character Jamie Fraser that allows me as a reader to hear Jamie's highland accent clearly without ever realizing she's doing this primarily through her dialogue. I've read all the books in this series, starting with Outlander, and never once noticed it. How did she did she do this? By using a mixture of diction (word choice), syntax (word order), and idiom (native expression) in her dialogue. Ms. Prunkle pasted in an excerpt from the novel Outlander as an example, check out the article link to see it. She also lists past authors who've written dialect into their dialogue that doesn't work.

After reading her article on writing in dialects and accents for characters I realized there are numerous books that I've read that do this very thing. Not only that, there are movies that I've watched that do this well, too. The first Transformers, movie being a prime example. Think about it, Bumblebee has a very specific way of communicating that isn't necessarily a form of English we're familiar with. The screenplay for this movie helped convince us as viewers that Bumblebee using radio waves to communicate was a very believable thing for a sentient robot to do.

Arlene Prunkle went on to list nine key tips to follow when you are trying to convey accents or dialect into your character dialogue. The most helpful of which was to write out exactly what you want your character to say in dialogue first, then go back in and try to rearrange it in a way that sounds like something they would say in their particular dialect. Look at your verb choice and arrangement, use idioms sparingly, and concentrate on getting their diction and syntax correct. You can't do any of this, though until you know what you truly want them to say first.

So, I as I've been rewriting chapters and scenes in my book I haven't been worrying about the dialect of my character, yet. I want to get their dialogue down and the scene right before I tackle their dialect or conveying their accents. I also want to read some juvenile fiction by contemporary authors who've written the particular dialect I want to capture into their books. Learn from the masters that have been successfully published and established themselves as solid authors. I'm glad whoever suggested this to me, gave me this challenge. It has forced me to look at dialogue in way that I think will make me better at writing it. It's also made me aware of what others have done with dialogue to convey character. All good things.

What books have you read that have written dialect or accents into their character's dialogue and done it well? Have you read any books that have done this poorly? Please comment and list them here for anyone out there interested in tackling this type of dialogue writing. I highly recommend reading the article by Arlene Prunkle, too. Just click on the link for her website above.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Big Sigh of Relief

Back in School-1st Residency for my MFA at Spalding Univ.

This week it happened. I sent off my first packet for my independent study course for my MFA degree. Each semester we send out five packets to a mentor and get feedback on them. For three weeks I worried and argued with myself over the creative writing piece I was submitting.

I was fighting with the pacing of my novel. After submitting it out to agents and editors, working on it with my online critique group, even sending out excerpts to some of my book club friends, I was getting back the same response. The story had a great premise, the characters were believable, but the pace of the story was too slow and all of it needed dimension and more complexity to keep the readers wanting more.

I'd gotten as far as I could go on it. I needed help. So, I took the advice of another writer I met at a conference and looked into Spalding University's Low Residency MFA in Creative Writing program. After thinking about it for another year I took the plunge and applied. I've mentioned my excitement at getting in. Going off to residency made me nervous and excited. But the other people I met there were great and as committed to becoming better writers as me. My workshop group was the best! I loved getting to know all of them. 

Then after 10 days of being immersed in an environment of other writers and creative people we were sent home to do our independent study. I was assigned my mentor at residency and met with her to create a plan on what I would submit of my writing and what books to read and analyze by writing short critical essays about them. Reading and writing everyday was pretty much what I'd been doing on my own. But now I would be letting someone new see my work. Always a bit frightening, even when you know they have your best interests at heart. 

I wrote and rewrote several chapters of my novel. Most of it I did longhand and a huge portion of it was drivel. I considered taking out one of my secondary characters completely. In the end, I left her in the story. But looking at it with fresher eyes after months of leaving it dormant and getting advice from my workshop group helped. In all of that rewritten drivel I managed to glean a few gems. I also cut out some stuff that wasn't important to my plot. I revised the chapters that lead up to the midpoint of my story and will see what happens. After all, this is why I came to Spalding in the first place. I am capable of fixing this story but need guidance to do it. The mentor I have is purported to be tough, but also terrific at helping writers learn the tools of they need for hard revision work. She may have to teach me to kill some of my darlings or at least cut them out of the story. In a day or two I will know for sure what she suggests. Either way, I will have a wealth of knowledge that I might have taken years to discover on my own and let's face it, I'm not getting any younger.

I will say that even if my submission comes back bleeding purple ink--sending it off felt like a huge accomplishment. I did give a big sigh of relief. And I rewarded myself by watching old episodes of the Wonder Woman TV series that I got on DVD for my birthday last week. :) It will be important research for another novel in the future I'm sure... I do write for children and young adults after all.

Finally! This is the same symbol I envisioned that, Josh the
character in my novel, has on the door of his house. Found it
at Spalding. Coincidence? I think not.


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Creating Bits of Magic with Flowers




I've been enjoying the longer, warmer days of late spring and early summer. I managed to get my flowers and plants potted and planted in my garden before I had to leave for my residency. Now they are blooming out and creating little scenes of magic and wonder around my house. I love the growing season for just this reason. Here are a few pictures of one of the ways I keep myself inspired to work by finding a concrete creative outlet beyond writing and reading...


Honest to goodness glass slipper with snapdragons in it that I found at a garden show =)

Fairy garden my daughter and I planted together


The irises were exceptionally pretty this year



Flowers in a teacup sitting in a chair

Couldn't resist this bicolored dahlia






 I also like to plant flowers in with my veggies to help with pollination and attract beneficial bugs to my garden and repel the pests.







Going to have some fresh yellow squash to eat soon. Yum!


What are some ways you add color and creativity to your life? Take some time to enjoy things you love and add a little fun to even the most practical of things you do this growing season.



Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Short Hiatus

For the next  couple of weeks I will be taking a short hiatus from posting to my blog. I will be doing my residency for the MFA in Creative Writing I'll be starting this Friday. Once I've gotten through this 10 day residency I hope to resume my normal Tuesday blog posts. Until then, take care and for those fellow writers out there, happy writing!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Space Op - er - a - Da-da-da-da...Da-da-da-da


Apologies for being a day later on my weekly post. I've been doing tons of reading for my upcoming residency and a lot of it has involved some in depth critiquing as well. Plus I had to do some research on my topic. Space opera...

Yes, you read right, I'm going to attempt to explain this popular phenomenon in fiction, film, and TV. I've heard of it before, probably even watched some. But I still wasn't really clear on what it was specifically and who had written this kind of work. Hopefully, this post will help clear up some of the mystery for those of you who were curious about this subgenre of science fiction.

Why, you may be wondering am I suddenly interested in space opera? I'll tell you. Tor is doing a open submission for novella length fiction all throughout the month of May. For those of you interested in writing this type of fiction here is the link to the submission guidelines:


If you submit, best of luck with your submission piece. For the rest of you who are just curious as to what space opera is, here is the definition that popped up when I searched for it on the internet.

space op·er·a
noun
NORTH AMERICANinformal
  1. a novel, movie, or television program set in outer space, typically of a simplistic and melodramatic nature. (definition courtesy of Google)

I'm sure that makes everything clear as mud, right? Well...maybe not. Here is a little more info on what space opera is. It is a subgenre of sci-fi that has actually been around quite a while. It began to gain a following in the 1920's and 30's when science fiction magazines began publishing these space dramas and billing them as "super science epics" (Wikpedia, original sited wiki source, Gary Westfahl, Space and Beyond: The Frontier Theme in Science Fiction, 1 January, 2000). The term space opera is believed to be coined from the term soap opera, which were popular series radio dramas during the 20's and 30's and sponsored mainly by soap manufacturing companies. The main difference initially between space operas and soap operas being that space operas take place entirely in outer space.

Originally space operas were very optimistic in nature with larger than life super heroes fighting evil doers in some other galaxy or on another planet in outer space and trying to save humanity. The subgenre has involved over time, however, growing darker and moving away from "triumph of mankind" template and also becoming more scientifically rigorous in their world building and the technology used. Without bogging you down in too much information about this subgenre, this is a very short summary of what space opera is and some info on how it evolved.

Here are some examples of space opera in both literature and film/tv for your reading or viewing pleasure:

Literature:

The Skylark series (1928-1965) by E.E. "Doc" Smith
The Foundation series (1942-1999) by Isaac Asimov
The Ender's Game series (1985-present) Orson Scott Card
Hyperion Cantos (1989-1996) by Dan Simmons
Saga of Seven Suns (2002-2008) and The Saga of Shadows (2014-present) by Kevin J. Anderson
Legend of the Galactic Heroes (1982-present) by Yoshiki Tanaka
Imperial Radch (2013-present) by Anne Leckie

Film/TV:

Star Wars franchise created by George Lucas (1977-present)
Battle Star Galactica created by Glen A. Larson and Ronald D. Moore (1978-1979 and 2004-2009)
Babylon 5 franchise created by J. Michael Straczynski (1993-present)
Guardians of the Galaxy franchise created by James Gunn (2014-present)

(Both lit. and film/tv lists found via wikipedia.com)

Also, the popular video game Halo (2001-present) created by Bungie is considered a type of space opera (source, wikipedia.com)

So, there you have it. Space opera is a popular subgenre of science fiction that many of you might be familiar with and didn't even realize it. This is also what Tor is most looking for in their open novella submissions for this month. If this is right up your alley, then I hope this helps if you plan to take advantage of Tor's open submissions period. If not, well now you can sound smart and ultra informed about space operas. Maybe you can tackle this interesting subgenre yourself and be the next big thing in fiction or film.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Wizards, Princesses, and Time Travelers




Over the winter and early spring I did a pretty good job of staying away from the library. It helped me make a small dent in my to-be-read pile of books which had grown again over Christmas. I managed to read Persuasion, finally by Jane Austen. I also read a fun new fantasy by J.C. Nelson called Free Agent.

Photo of owned copy of this book




Things were progressing rather well. I even managed to read a few books at the same time. Sometimes I have to do this in order to keep up with the books I'm supposed to be reading for book club or research purposes for one of my novels. Then I hit a book slump. Maybe you're familiar with these. You start reading a book that you thought sounded really good. When you received it as a present you were excited and couldn't wait to crack the cover and get started. Only to find that even though the prose was nice and the character seemed likable enough, the pace was too slow and you just found other things to read as you waded through it. I hate to give up on a book like this, especially when someone has given it to me as a gift. So, I read some of my assigned reading for my writing class. While I was traveling I checked out an audiobook from the library to listen to, and I continued to slog through the book from my pile. I eventually finished it, but this book slump resulted in me visiting the library more than I should have and discovering a few graphic novels as well as checking out the hard cover version of the audiobook I was still listening to, the latest in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, Written in My Own Heart's Blood.


I can't say I'm sorry for veering away from my to-be-read pile again. I absolutely love Diana Gabaldon's books. And reading up on Harry Dresden (from Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series) in graphic novel form was entertaining. Especially, since Mr. Butcher mentioned in the introduction that the illustrator was "spot on" at capturing what Harry looks like. I also discovered another graphic novel series called Fables by Bill Willingham. In these novels the characters from fairy tales, folklore, and classic fantasy stories are forced to leave their magical homes to live in disguise as ordinary humans in New York City. Of course, things don't proceed happily ever after from there. Murders and infighting ensue and it is up to assistant mayor, Snow White, and a reformed Big Bad Wolf, now Bigby Wolf, the in house detective to solve the crime and catch the perpetrators. The stories are entertaining for anyone who might like a noir version of fairy tales told in graphic novel form. Though, I wouldn't recommend these to younger kids, maybe older young adults instead. Once I get through these books I fully intend to get back to my to-be-read pile again, starting with a mystery about novel characters dislocated from their stories called the Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. I'll let you know what I thought of it. In the meantime, I'd better get back to reading if I ever hope to catch up...



Pic of my personal copy of this book



Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Spring Busyness



Okay, I have a  confession to make. I'm totally embarrassed to admit this...but April is almost over and aside from my blog I have done next to no writing. Part of this is because I've been away from home a lot and it has just been a very busy season for my family.

Me holding my new baby nephew






My middle sister had her second baby, little Daniel. I spent a whole week at her house with the kids doting on this little guy. Babies don't keep as my grandmother used to say, so we had to enjoy this time with Daniel as much as we could.











My daughter with her Papa


My daughter had her 8th grade formal. Several days of planning and helping to decorate went into that event. I also helped chaperone. I was glad I did. She had a good time but she enjoyed having me around to hang out with some. I think she cleaned up pretty good.





My sister is the short blond in the blue dress walking offstage


My second trip away from home involved my youngest sister. She's finishing up her third year in pharmacy school. This past weekend I traveled to Birmingham, AL to celebrate her pinning ceremony. It is a tradition at Samford University and marks the end of her class work and the beginning of her pharmacy rotations.





I've also been trying to get most of my assigned reading done in preparation for my residency for school. In a couple of days, I will be reading a workbook's worth of writing excerpts for the other writers in my residency workshop. Still, it has been hard not having the time to concentrate on my writing. When life gets in the way of your writing life its good to remember that if we didn't take the time to live we wouldn't have anything to write about. That being said when things interrupt your normal work schedule here are few tips for things you can do to get back into the daily routine of writing.

1. Write in short increments of time. Even if you only work on one scene or one paragraph of a scene for 15 minutes it helps you stick with a daily pattern. And as things get less busy you can build on that time to work longer.

2. If for some reason a longer project is giving you grief consider writing a short story or an article for a magazine or writing contest. Sometimes when you've had a long stretch of time away from your notepad or computer working on a shorter project with a set deadline helps you focus. Plus if you win prize money or get paid for the project it bolsters your self confidence.

3. If writing everyday isn't possible, then spend some days doing market research on viable places you can submit your work. By looking at who agencies, publishers, and magazines or journals have published or represented in the past you can get a feel for where you own work might be well received. It also helps you improve as a writer by reading the published work of others.

4. If these don't work and you are determined to stick with a longer piece of writing or a novel, but you're stuck, maybe you need to do some research. One fun way to accomplish this is to pretend you are that character and visit a location from your story. Observe the sights, sounds, and scents of the place. Look at what other people there are doing. Listen to the dialects and tones of their conversations. Think about how your character or subject would react to this setting. Let what you see and hear play out in the scene you've created or are trying to create in that place. If possible take a pocket notebook and even a camera with you to record what you observe.

5. Finally, if life continues to interrupt you then it might be time to reassess your time commitments and decide if there is a way to cut back on some of them. If your writing is really important to you then you need to make that clear to your family and friends. Demand time for yourself to be creative and just write.

Even if you aren't a writer but still work from home and feel you're losing focus some of these tips can apply to get you back on schedule. Work for short increments of time and build on that. Focus on projects that have set deadlines first. Take time to update yourself on current trends or demands in your area of expertise. And if all else fails get out of the house and go for a walk or meet with contacts in your area of interest to talk shop. Remember we are all our own best advocates no matter what we do. So don't panic or beat yourself up when spring busyness like I've been facing arrives. Instead, consider trying out some of these tips and hopefully you can get back on schedule and your work back in focus.





Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Going to School

Beloved Backpack that I didn't throw out
Today I dug out my old backpack. I'd gone to bed a couple of nights ago worrying that I'd thrown it away. This brought a pang of sadness as I've had this backpack since the end of high school and all through college for both undergraduate and graduate school. My daughter used it as her backpack for a while. And they just don't make bags like this anymore. At least not at prices I can afford. This one actually has a leather suede bottom.

Why, you may wonder, did this concern come up at all? My kids have their own packs to carry around. Why would I need this old thing? Because I am officially going back to school again at the end of May. I'm getting a MFA degree in Creative Writing from Spalding University. In a few short weeks I will be doing my first 10 day residency followed by a semester's worth of independent study.

New College T-shirt

Spalding is a top 10 rated school for brief-residency MFA programs like this in Writing. They have been listed in magazines such as Poets and Writers and Writer's Digest, as well as, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators journal The Bulletin. I first found out about the program three years ago. Then I wasn't ready to consider the idea of entering a writing program like this. I was still working at honing my skills and narrowing my focus on what I wanted to do as a writer. Even before that I considered going back to school once my youngest child was in school full time. But the cost of doing so was prohibitive and I didn't want to go back and get another degree in anything unless I was sure I would really use it. If I went back I wanted to be sure I'd be going into an area I truly loved. This fall I decided to research Spalding University's program and take the plunge. I'm really glad I did. Not only has their faculty and staff been enthusiastic and welcoming to me. I feel that this program is one that helps writers in multiple genres of writing from various backgrounds become better and more professional in their approach to their craft. I've already met some of the other new students and feel like I will fit in great at residency. All the new students coming in this spring and summer for their first residencies are from all over the country, are at different age levels in their lives, and all are serious about pursuing writing as a calling and profession.

I'm still nervous about starting back to school again after so many years. But I think after considering many different graduate programs to pursue, from going back for a Ph.D. in Reproductive Physiology (or something similar) to applying for a Physicians Assistant program, this MFA in Writing degree is the right fit at just the right time for me. I'll be able to finish it and hopefully secure a teaching position at the college level with some time to spare before I have to send my oldest child off to college.

Workshop textbook

So today I happily dug out my old backpack, relieved that I didn't throw it away. I gathered together my textbooks, notebooks and folders and stuffed them safely together inside my dusty pack and made a list of back to school supplies for me. It is a happy experience. One that I don't think anyone is ever too old for. I'm more excited about going back to school this year than I think I've ever been before. Here's hoping I can keep up and excel in my chosen field. :)

Textbooks/Reading Assignments for Residency

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Battling the CrossCurrents

A few days ago, I went for a walk. Earlier in the week I'd received yet another rejection on a novel I've been submitting. This time I got lots of personal feedback from the agent. I wasn't surprised at the rejection. I'd been struggling with the middle of my story for months--certain there was a problem, after feedback from both my critique group, and a couple of volunteer readers. When I'd work-shopped it in the fall at a SCBWI conference it had gotten some very positive comments and interest. However, even the guest author I'd gotten a one-on-one critique with warned that with my novel's strong beginning, I needed to be sure I followed through for my readers and gave them the payoff they'd expect. The agent I got a personal rejection from questioned whether I was writing my right story. This came at a time when I've been questioning how I can fix this novel or even if I'm capable of doing so.

When I came home from my walk I wasn't feeling a whole lot better about myself. But my walk had done something positive. It had motivated my family to go outside and fly some kites. As I watched them, all three of their kites were aloft on the wind soaring. But then my daughter's kite hit an unexpected cross current of air grounding it. She struggled and struggled to get it aloft again without success. Asking my husband for help she left and came back only to watch him experience the same problem. Each time it seemed like the wind was beneath it ready to send it soaring another gust of wind would hit it from a different direction and send it crashing to ground again.

I realized that the struggle with this kite, which looks like a beautiful owl, reflected my current emotional state. At the conference I'd come away hopeful and confident that this novel, this story, was ready to be seen by others. Only to find that perhaps it was close but still not where it needed to be to soar. Self doubt, and not a little self loathing followed as I fought with myself to take my story in a different direction than I'd originally set it on. These doubts and defeatist ideas had me effectively grounded. Worse they'd shut me off emotionally from my characters making it impossible for me to guide them or more importantly be guided by them.

My husband continued for several minutes to struggle with the kite. My daughter had given up after just a few attempts. But he knew the winds were right it was just a matter of finding the right current to get the owl up in the sky again. Doggedly he made attempt after attempt to send it flying. String got tangled and had to be untangled, trees got in the way, random air currents viciously slammed it to earth over and over. It was a monumental battle to get it in the right place at the right time. He didn't give up. And I realized I could be like him and continue to fight for my characters or I could be like my daughter, give up and move on to something new. Neither course was obvious as being the right one. The most worthwhile things in life rarely come with road signs offering you directions that say, "this way stupid." Or "this path offers lessons in futility, turn back now." I'm not certain as a writer how you can know you've reached the end of the line with a project. This is the first time I've ever gotten so much strong interest in one of my novels. It isn't my first book, its just my first near success. I haven't decided to shelve it. But I have decided to give it some space and stop trying to force something to happen when I'm obviously not ready to do the kind of writing it requires to fix. The cross currents out there are still very strong. When I'm ready, I'll go back to it with the determination my husband showed with my daughter's kite. And when that moment arrives I will find the right breeze to catch that will send the wings of my novel soaring.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

How Spring Pruning and Cleaning Applies to Everyday Life

It is finally officially spring according to the calendar, and signs of it are shooting up all over. At the beginning of March I attended a pruning class with my local extension office. I learned that early spring before trees, shrubs or vines start blossoming is the ideal time to prune back deadwood, and open the plants up to optimum sunlight.

I'm often amazed at how applications for gardening or even just maintaining a yard can also reflect practices for everyday life. For instance, as a writer when I'm revising my work I'm pruning out redundancies, unnecesary backstory, and sometimes whole characters that don't help drive the plot forward. I'm doing this to open up the plot in order to prepare it for being seen by others in the same way you prune to open up the branches to your fruit tree or shrub to the sun for optimum fruit production. Both things bear fruit just in different ways. Everyday life can also be more productive if we resolve to prune out some bad habits we've developed and open ourselves up to a healthier, sunnier, future.

Spring cleaning often serves the same purpose. You open up your house to warmer and milder breezes and clean windows, curtains and floors. You're airing out your home and cleaning out the detritus that always accumulates during the winter. Both cleaning and pruning whether it's your house or garden, are all renewal processes. And spring, before the weather gets too warm to want to have windows and doors open, is the ideal time to carry out these tasks.

Even though we often set goals in January at the first of the year, winter to me has always been the planning and preparation stage of the year. Spring is when we finally welcome longer warmer days and are finally ready to carry out the goals and actions we set or planned for in winter. So, if you feel like you've veered off course from where you wanted to be, or what direction you planned to head in at the beginning of the year, fear not. It is still early. Maybe, you just needed a change in season to spring into action.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Proudly Sportin the Green

Every March 17 people around the world celebrate the patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick. Both Irish and non-Irish alike participate in parades, eat special food, and proudly wear the color green. Originally, this holiday commemorated the saint as a religious feast day. What few people know is that St. Patrick wasn't even Irish. He was captured as a youth and forced to work as a slave in Ireland for several years before gaining his freedom and returning to Great Britain where he was originally from. Later, after becoming a priest he returned to Ireland to convert the people to Christianity. Many people might also think that the idea of parties, parades, and such began in Ireland. But the first parades commemorating the day began in the United States. For this and many other fun facts with video clips go to this link to learn more about this unique holiday: 
http://www.history.com/topics/st-patricks-day.

And in the spirit of celebrating all things Irish here are a few movie and book selections for you to consider...




Movies:



Photo of my personal DVD
Photo of my personal DVD



Books:

Irish author Morgan Llywelyn writes fantastic fictional novels that cover folk heroes and historical legends of Ireland such as Finn Mac Cool and Brian Boru. She also has a historical series that covers the struggles of Ireland to gain its independence and later establish itself as an independent nation starting with her novel 1916 which begins before the Easter Uprising of 1916.


 
For lovers of funny and fast paced urban fantasy with terrific characterization and world building consider trying author Kevin Hearne's Druid Chronicles series beginning with Hounded.


pic of owned copy of this book





















For younger readers check out this link that lists several fiction and nonfiction books set in Ireland or that help young readers understand and appreciate the Irish culture. 

http://www.irishcultureandcustoms.com/1Kids/2Lib1.html

And a Happy St. Patty's Day to you all!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Murder on Edisto is 4 Stars All the Way

A couple of weeks ago I emailed C. Hope Clark about reviewing an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of her newest mystery, Murder on Edisto. She had mentioned in her newsletter FundsforWriters that she would be willing to offer copies of her mysteries in exchange for honest reviews.

I was delighted. I hadn't done a book review in close to a year and felt it was time to get back on book reviewing horse. She accepted my offer and sent out the book in the mail first thing the following Monday.

Getting a book to read in the mail also coincided with the biggest snow fall we've gotten here in southeastern Kentucky in the over a decade. The roads were horrible, the kids were out of school for two weeks straight, and there was literally nothing much to do but wait it all out. It was heaven to escape it all and travel to a beach in South Carolina at the peak of the summer season, even if it did involve murder.


I devoured the book in less than a week. From the very first page I was drawn into the life of the main character, sympathizing with her over the loss of her infant daughter exactly one year ago. In the same few pages Callie Jean Morgan, a police detective with the Boston PD, has her life ripped apart after receiving a phone call from her husband telling her not to come home. Of course, Callie ignores this and drives home all the faster to find her home in flames and her husband nowhere to be seen among the bystanders watching it burn. Have I wetted your appetite yet? And that is just the first chapter of the book. Skip three years ahead and we find Callie and her son Jeb moving into her parent's beach house in Edisto, South Carolina. Her father has deeded Callie the house in the hopes it will help her figure out what to do with her life now that her son is getting ready to go to college and she is no longer able to work as a police detective. After her husband's death Callie became convinced the Russian Mob was after her and her son for putting the head of their organization in jail. her paranoia and fragile emotional state forced her to resign from the Boston police force. But life in Edisto proves to be anything but perfect. The first day in her new home Callie goes to visit her neighbor and long time friend only to find his house has been broken into and he's been murdered. From there the game of cat and mouse begins between Callie and the killer, as the manipulative and clever murderer tries to do everything they can to discredit Callie with her new neighbors and drive her over the edge into insanity.

C. Hope Clark delivers a masterful thriller that grips you from the very beginning and doesn't let you go until the very last chapter. Her main character Callie is strong and brave while still being believably damaged and vulnerable from all the tragedy she's endured. Clark doesn't offer her any crutches to lean on. Even Callie's son Jeb is growing weary of bolstering his mother through her panic attacks and fears in their new home. Fears and panic he doesn't fully understand. Not only that but the grandfatherly neighbor she hoped to have long talks with there at the beach to help her put her life back together is stolen from her right as she's moving in. As the reader I was left wondering how Callie would survive the loss of yet another person dear to her. Clark doesn't sugar coat the reality of the situation she's left her main character with and Callie understandably turns to alcohol to cope with her pain. As the story progresses the killer gets bolder and more frightening in their invasion into Callie's personal space and threats against her and her son. But instead of crumbling and continuing to fall into the bottle Callie picks herself up and begins to gradually fight back.

The cast of characters Clark introduces us to in Murder on Edisto are real and fully drawn, and they all leave you wondering if they could be the villain or an accomplice. From the next door neighbor that is a yoga guru who seems to know a lot about everyone, to the itinerant local handy man who makes himself a little too welcome in his client's homes when they aren't there. Not even the local police force seems above suspicion. The reluctant acting chief of police has a dark history of his own, and the deputy of police helping him has a grudge against Callie from the first moment he meets her. Even though I had an idea about who I thought the killer was early on in the story, the motive for their actions eluded me making me second guess myself.

If you can't tell by now, I found this novel to be very engrossing with a fast paced plot and well written very sympathetic characters. The fact that Edisto Beach is a real place that C. Hope Clark is familiar with helped as well. The descriptions of the setting and details of place truly made me feel I was at the beach as I read the book. I truly hope to visit Edisto Beach someday, though I hope to find it much more relaxing than Callie Morgan does. Overall I found Murder on Edisto a very enjoyable read. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys mystery thrillers set in a realistic, contemporary setting. The book is available for purchase on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. C. Hope Clark also publishes a wonderful free newsletter with links to resources for writers called FundsforWriters check it out.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Review How To

Photo courtesy of Jannoon028 at freedigitalphotos.net
Once upon a time reviews of books and movies were things that could be found only in print publications. Most reviewers were people with degrees in literature or film history. Occasionally, those familiar with pop culture would publish short blurbs in the entertainment section of the newspaper grading the most recent movie releases.

With the advent of the internet, Amazon, and digital media in general the public's desire to find out information about books and movies became an almost instantaneous thing. The need to wait for them in print became smaller and smaller. Now anyone can go on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Goodreads and find a review of a book or movie and decide whether or not to spend the money on them without ever having to leave the comforts of home. Anybody these days can be a reviewer.

This is not a bad thing. It makes it very easy as a consumer to make informed decisions on how to spend our money on entertainment. Without word of mouth some authors would still be unknowns instead of the multimillionaires they've become. But for the reviewer it becomes harder and harder to stand out. You can still get paid to writer reviews on books. I know this for a fact because I've done it. I don't know as much about movie reviews because I've only published those for fun here on my blog. But in order to get publication credit and a paycheck for writing a book review you have to put as much effort into writing that review as you do any freelance article. And it doesn't hurt to begin small and build a following by reviewing books for free on sites like Goodreads, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble when you first start out. You can also become of a fan of some of your favorite authors and keep track of when or if they are offering free giveaways or seeking readers willing to read an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of their work in return for an honest review.

It also helps to research the field and read professional published reviews in such places as the New York Times Book Review or the Washington Post. It's a good way to familiarize yourself with the use of language, etc. of other paid reviewers. Researching the field can also help you find a niche you are passionate about in your book reviews. By developing a writing style and narrowing your focus on what types of books you like to review you can increase your chances of being noticed and taken seriously as a reviewer. This in turn can increase you odds on getting paid, either with money or in free books or ARCs of books to review. It is also important as a reviewer to stay current on upcoming releases in books so you can get those reviews out there BEFORE the book comes out. You are more likely to get paid to publish reviews on pre-released or very recently released work than on books that have been out on shelves a while.

Know the target audience you are writing the review for. If you are writing a review on a nonfiction book that contains pertinent information on child development for a parenting magazine you want to use language that is fresh and appealing to a busy parent and give them information about that book that will help them decide if it is worth their time and money. You won't write in the same style for a parenting magazine as you would for a teen magazine or an online review on Goodreads about the newest mystery thriller by your favorite author. Focusing on your audience will help you determine the length of the review, how technical you can get in language, and whether or not to include a detailed blurb on what the book you're reviewing is about. For instance, when I'm perusing reviews on a book that has caught my eye on Goodreads, I tend to skip over the ones that immediately start out giving me a regurgitation of the book blurb. If I'm interested in a book the book blurb is the first thing I read. On sites like Goodreads I don't need to have you tell me about it again at the beginning of your review. What I want to know is why you gave the book the number of stars you did, and why you loved the book or were disappointed in it.  

Be honest in your opinion but stay professional. The writing community is still a very small one on many levels. If you maliciously slander someone and manage to get that review published you are not only critiquing someone else you are also giving anyone who reads that review an impression of yourself as a writer as well. It is good to inform people about the weaknesses you might have found in a book whether fiction or nonfiction, but you can be honest about that without being nasty or mean-spirited. It is also important to keep in mind that your review is going to be read by people who may or may not have read the book. So you mustn't give away information that might spoil the book for them. Also, if you are doing the review in return for a free copy of the book you are helping that author promote their work and less people will be willing to buy a book you've given away the ending to. So avoid spoilers as much as possible.

Being a paid book reviewer is a good way to hone your skills as a freelance writer doing something you love--reading. You do have to be a voracious reader if you hope to make any appreciable income at it. You also have to be willing to accept rejection. Finding a home for you reviews requires just as much work and tenacity as any other kind of freelance writing. You have to query and query again to get published. But it is a viable market with plenty of opportunity for you to get paid to write in.

Here are some links to articles about writing book reviews and sites willing to pay for reviews with money or in free books:




Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Gallery of What Feels Like Day 392 of Our Captivity

I woke up to find it had snowed again overnight. Lots of people I'm friends with on FB have been complaining and longing for spring and signs of greenery. Despite my post title we have been able to get out and about some since the first snowfall hit. But today marks the 7th day in a row the kids have been out of school and already it's been announced they won't have school tomorrow. Since I'm woefully behind on getting any work done I've decided to just post a gallery of pics on what we've been doing to entertain ourselves while the deep freeze lasts...








My thirteen-year-old practicing the smoky eyed look with make-up on her favorite guinea pig--me.














Lots of baking...of scones...

















...and elven flatbread. This was my daughter's first solo baking venture and the flatbread tastes great even if it isn't really flat. The recipe came out of my husband's DragonLance source book.


















You can't have scones without a nice pot of tea. =)










Legos of course are a perennial
favorite...playing with them...reading
about them...coming up with new
creations.



























And one of my perennial faves--reading. I got this in the mail last week. It's an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of C. Hope Clark's newest release. A new mystery series that takes place on Edisto Beach in South Carolina. I actually have to read it to do some reviews for the author. I love it when work and play can mix like this...














Next week I'll be posting about how to write reviews. The week following I'll be posting my latest one on the book pictured here. For now my daily writing duties and lunch are calling. Take care until next time.