Posted in Gardening, On Writing, organization

My backyard revisions meet a drought

The 2021 garden season was the culmination of a three year project to transform the damaged deck and perpetually soggy backyard into a functional space where kids could hang with friends, the cats could enjoy the outside from the safety of a screened in porch, my native pollinator garden, needing no extra water, would be in full bloom, and the abundance of pollinators would guarantee a good tomato yield.

That dream is not fully realized this year. Between Covid-19, smoke from wildfires, high heat, and drought, the plot twists did not work in my favor. (BTW – neither did technology – this is take two on this post. The first one poofed when I tried to fix a typo.) Even though the garden photos are not as lush and in bloom as I would have liked, I’m happy to share some photos.

Before: A deck that heaved every winter, stairs that ended in a hill.
After construction, before landscaping. And yes, there are mud puddles.
Year Two in progress. The retaining wall redirects the water away from the flat part of the yard.
Phase Two complete. The sump pump empties into the rock river bed under the stairs.
Year Three! The plants are a little droopy. In a wetter year, it would be easier to see the yellow and pink blooms along the rock river bed. The pollinator garden is on the left side, and the right has prairie grasses. The lawn has a mix of grass and clover, and is a great place for soccer or bocce.

The process of revising the back yard is a lot like revising a book. It takes time to plan, build, fix what is not working, and at some point you have to accept that while it may not be quite what you first envisioned, the end result is satisfying.

Posted in art, Books, childhood, For Writers, On Writing

A very hungry bookworm

We lost a literary giant yesterday, Eric Carle passed away at age 91. His life, art, and gift for words inspired many a youngster, including me.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar was one of my absolute favorite books to get from the library. The holes in the page were the icing on the (chocolate) cake. I spent a lot of time putting my pinky finger in the hole on one page and very carefully turning to the next to solve the important mystery of how everything lined up. Eric Carle taught me that books were magical.

Another sort of magic from The Very Hungry Caterpillar? I was inspired to try new foods. I liked strawberries, apples, lollipops, and chocolate cake. So did the caterpillar. I distinctly remember being excited to try swiss cheese because the caterpillar ate it. I also learned the valuable lesson to have some salad if I’ve overindulged.

My kids adored Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and the companion Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See? Carle did the illustrations, and Bill Martin Jr. did the words. They preferred these books to The Very Hungry Caterpillar. We had board book versions of both and the corners were well chewed as if the kids were trying to eat through the pages, but the board book lacked the intriguing finger holes of paper version I got from the library.

My youngest liked to play a game inspired by Brown Bear. He would ask “Mommy, Mommy what do you see?” and I had to answer with something I saw in the room “looking at me.” We played this in the car, in waiting rooms, at home, pretty much anywhere and he would bust my chops if he thought I picked something (say a potato or a painting) out of the sightline of the last object named. At some point, one or the other of us would have to recall all of the items mentioned previously. It was a good mental exercise for both of us.

My oldest liked to look at the art and try to figure out how it was made, noticing little details like how the collage parts lined up. Carle was a truly talented artist, mixing media, color, and form to make the world anew. I was not surprised when I learned one of Carle’s artistic influences was Marc Chagall. I see a similarity in how they blend multiple tones and hues to create a color. Because of copywrite concerns, I won’t plunk the images here, but click on names to see what I mean. In both cases, I linked to images featuring the color blue.

Eric Carle reminds us to find the joy and beauty in the world. Take a moment today to honor him by seeking out wonder and beauty.

Links to books on Amazon contain affiliate links.

Posted in On Writing, organization

GDPR makes my brain hurt

I’m neither a lawyer nor a web developer and legalese gives me a headache. I’ve been wading through a sea of information for nearly two weeks and I still can’t figure out if this blog is GDPR compliant. I’ve been in what feels like an endless loop of developers, font providers, hosts and big fancy words to try and avoid getting in trouble with my European followers.

I haven’t figured it out, yet, but I will tell you this. If you want to sign up for my newsletter, I’ll need your email address and your permission. If you want to comment on my site, I’m asking for a name and email because it cuts down on the amount of spam comments unrelated to the reason you came to this site. Plus, if you decide to follow the thread, it will send you an email if there are changes in the response. If you sign up to follow this blog, you will get an email when I post.

The only thing I personally do with the data on this site, is get excited when I see a map of my visitors. Thank you for letting me do that. I love maps.

Sometimes ads appear at the bottom of this site, so I suppose cookies are collected somewhere and used by someone. I’ll keep digging through the GDPR words until I find answers that satisfy me.

Posted in For Writers, On Writing, Writing

Romance is necessary

I’m currently serving as president of Midwest Fiction Writers, a chapter of Romance Writers of America. The time I spend in service to my chapter comes at the expense of time spent updating my blog, but maybe I can double dip from time to time.

Each month, I write a “From the President” letter for our newsletter. Some are more chapter oriented, but others are not. All require me to think about what it means to be part of Romancelandia and the world of publishing.  I know a number of authors who are frustrated with the business and the world at the moment. Please don’t quit. This one is for you.

Between the #metoo movement, children dying at school, and all the other forces at work highlighting the chaos and cruelty in the world, writing romance can be a real challenge. Whether in social media or in conversations, I’ve heard a lot of writers question how they can continue to write romance in this climate. I myself have days where the news of the world both far-flung and close to home overwhelm my senses. Combine this with the struggle I’ve had to find a publishing home for my last two manuscripts, and giving up seems like a rational solution. Except, it isn’t.

To paraphrase Damon Suede, Romance is the literature of hope. Our happily ever afters (or nows) come only after the characters have struggled and sunk to their lowest points. Only by finding inner strength can our characters overcome obstacles and find themselves in better places by the end of the story. We can much learn from our fictional creations.

Our stories can help readers find hope. We provide a valuable service to our readers and the community at large. We don’t know exactly what word or plot line will resonate with any given reader. Maybe our words bring a smile to someone’s face. Maybe that person shares the smile with the next person they see. Maybe our stories offer aspirational relationships and help someone leave a toxic relationship, or maybe our stories help deepen already strong bonds by reminding a reader of what made them love their partner in the first place. Maybe our stories make someone feel less alone and that is enough to help that person reconnect with the world. That was certainly the case for me.

For those days writing hope does not come easy, please find ways to take care of yourself. Turn off the news and meet up with a friend or fellow writer for coffee. Take a walk in nature—sans earbuds—and tune into the sensory experience around you. Go to a concert or a party and leave your phone at home. Try something new or rediscover an old passion. We need you. We need your stories. We need your hope.

Posted in Conference, For Writers, On Writing, Writing

Murdering Darlings: Revisions

When we writers struggle with edits, inevitably someone will mention the phrase often (but questionably) attributed to William Faulkner, or Stephen King, or Colette, or F. Scott Fitzgerald, or… You get the idea.

Whether the chosen word is murder or kill, for a slow writer such as myself, this concept can bring tears, especially when entire scenes (and the precious words that change a novel to a novella) are lost.

I’m almost ready to submit a new manuscript, but only because this week, I sacrificed my darlings.

Teddy bear knife block found on pinterest
sadly not available

My first page has been a years long education. I first conceived of this work as a short story.  I was ready to contribute my 8,000 polished words to an anthology or anywhere else looking for short work. And then, at a conference, the acquiring agent revealed the most overused cliché in her rejection pile – the opening in a rainy cemetery. Guess where my story started. Oops. I set the manuscript aside.

I next picked up the manuscript with the “brilliant” idea of the heroine driving into town after a long absence, I layered in plot and new depth. The short story grew to novella proportions of 22,000 words. My beta readers loved the idea but one thought it started slow. Nevermind. I was ready to pitch until I was an a conference and an acquiring editor called the car ride open her instant “no.” Oops. I set the manuscript aside.

Still, I couldn’t let the story go. All through my broken arm induced writing hiatus, these characters sat with me. I expanded the story, adding subplots and conflict. I reached 56,000 words. A Novel! Almost. I still didn’t have a good opening.

I spent a week recrafting the opening chapter, and an entire day hand writing various opening sentences and more time tweaking and revising and finally, I had it.

“C.E disliked sticky mud, but grass alone didn’t give the grave the necessary freshness.”

Victory! You are intrigued and I get a cemetery. Win! Win! Win!  Except the first chapter was totally wrong for the book. I scrapped it. I murdered that sentence I worked so hard on. The one that absorbed days of my time, where every word had been carefully considered and my beta readers swooned – at least until they reached the end of the second paragraph and then slogged through to the 10th page where the story actually began.

This week, I murdered some words. I have no guilt. Killing them made my heart lighter and my story better. I have a new opening sentence, one that I love and will share wide and far when the time comes.

Until then, if you are wondering what is in that grave, I’ll tell you. It’s murdered darlings.

Posted in For Writers, On Writing, Writing

Blogging and Creativity

I’ve been a lousy blogger lately. My infrequent post have become a source of personal anxiety lately – the kind that keeps me awake during the hours my brain and body should be at rest. Because I don’t like being tired, I dug deeper to figure out why this blog has given me fits lately. Two reasons emerged.

Career-wise, I’m in a bit of a lull. I’ve been writing, but my finished manuscripts are on submission. For the last 18 months, I’ve been honing my pitch and query letter, writing new versions in hopes that one will capture the interest of an editor or agent. Since last July, I’ve spent about ten hours each week researching agents and publishing houses, with the occasional foray into self-publishing options. That is more time than I spent on weekly blog posts back when I posted more regularly. Each new project that arises competes for time with my other responsibilities. Until I have a good reason to blog more, such as more interaction on my posts, I have found blogging less worthy of my time than other aspects of my career.

More than time, the bigger reason for my decreased blogging is the creative suck it generates. A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Windy City RWA conference featuring Barbara Samuel. She spoke at length about nurturing creativity and replenishing the “creative well.” Minnesota had a mild winter, so I only had one opportunity to refill the well through snow-shoeing. At the same time, I encountered more drains. Tweaking my query causes a few words to trickle out of the well. Each change costs me at least one drop of creativity. But there is another larger drain.

I’m currently serving as chapter president for Midwest Fiction, my local chapter of Romance Writers of America. I am a true believer in giving back to the community through service and I am grateful and honored that my fellow MFW members found me fit to guide the group. But oh that monthly “Letter from the President” for the chapter newsletter. The roughly 500 word column on something both relevant and clever drains considerably more creativity than a drop per word. It’s more like an open fire-hydrant.

I know my creative well will be refilled. Every day, I notice something that adds to the sense of wonder and beauty necessary for my creative world view. (You can see pictures of some of them on my Instagram feed). Until I have a chance to repair the well’s mortar or get a book contract that takes me off the query-go-round for a while, I suspect my blog will suffer a bit.

Or maybe you, dear reader, can help an author out. What are some of the ways you refill the joy in your life?

Posted in Bad Traveler, Blog Hop, Books, For Writers, On Writing, Winter Fairy, Writing

My Writing Process.

The lovely Lynn Crandell

invited me to discuss my writing process. You can find her at http://thewritewaycafe.blogspot.com/.

1) What am I working on? I’ve been doing some rewrites on a first person New Adult before sending it to the agent who expressed an interest. No names or details yet, but I’m excited for this manuscript to emerge from its chrysalis. I’m plotting a follow-up to my forthcoming release. And Bad Traveler will be available soon from Decadent Publishing. I’ve gone through several rounds of edits, but am pleased with the final product.

Winterfairycover2. How does my work differ from others of its genre? A fellow writer once described my work as “sophisticated.” The word applies to my first release, Winter Fairy, but I also try to blend highbrow and lowbrow culture and humor. Also, I’m inclined to give at least one if not both of my main characters an unusual job or hobby. I have so much fun doing research. Did you know there are professional pet food tasters?

3. Why do I write what I write? People are fascinating, especially when they interact. When I sat down to write my first book, I knew relationships would be at the core. In my first two published works, the romantic relationship takes the lead, but I’m still experimenting with genre. I love an optimistic ending. I hope my readers do too. When life seems overwhelming (the cat’s sick, the toilet flooded and the hubs has to work late again), laughter and hope between the pages of a book can be a lifeline to sanity.

4. How does my writing process work? Slowly. My process evolves with every IMG_0477book. In my first manuscript, I struggled with character consistency. I’ve tried fill-in-the-blank sheets for characterization, but this last time I tried using a bubble-idea chart. I love the organic nature of it. I identify the GMC for major plot points before I begin writing, but I allow fluidity in how I get there. I also tend to hand write my first drafts. The motion of the pen on paper helps me focus. It probably slows me down because of the duplicate writing time, but I find I don’t obsess over the little squiggly lines on the computer screen.

Want to read the results?  Winter Fairy is available now at Amazon, iTunes, Barnes and Noble , Google Books and more.

Sign up for my newsletter or follow this blog to find out the release date for Bad Traveler.

I have tagged three wonderful writers, Jenna Jaxon, Karen Y. Bynum and Tamara Hughes to continue the fun. Since Tamara does not have a blog (yet), I’m hosting her answers next Monday. See you then!

Posted in Decadent, Food, Guests, On Writing, Talking with

Talking with Jane Ainslie

Today I’m welcoming fellow Decadent author Jane Ainslie. In a show of hospitality, I didn’t insist she come visit me in the frozen Tundra.  Sadly, I couldn’t shovel the snow off the car and hop a flight to heat of Australia, so we’re meeting in the always climatically comfortable realm of cyberspace.

Her Sister's Wedding SmallJane Ainslie is a fellow foodie and author.  With a delicious new romance, Her Sister’s Wedding, I had to find out more.

What inspired you to write Her Sister’s Wedding?

My love of food, watching celebrity chefs on television, and wondering what it would be like to date a man who could really cook, when you are a gal who loves food?

Sounds like a dream come true! Tell me about your favorite place to write.  What makes it special?

I have a lovely room in our house where I write. I’m surrounded by all my favorite things, and my husband knows he’s not allowed to set foot in to my space (he has his own messy man cave). It’s really important to carve out a place for yourself to write.

 I agree. But I suffer invaders in my office. How do you make time to write?

Making time to write means putting yourself before the housework, the pets, the shopping, your family, babysitting, the garden, your work schedule and even your husband. It’s a hard balance, but I grab the hours in between all that to do what I can. I often feel guilty. I guess if I were making mega dollars from writing, I would feel like it was my job, but because I am starting out, I’ve realized you need to take that leap of faith in yourself, commit the time to your dream, and go for it.

Our weather may be at opposite ends of the temperature spectrum, but mentally we’re in the same space. What is your favorite part about being an author?

Using my imagination to wander off down the laneways of Paris, dreaming about romantic stories and happy endings, and using everyday situations for inspiration for that next book.

Let’s play “Dump the purse” – what’s in yours?

Probably one of my pet ferrets, trying to find a treasure. I’m missing my favourite change purse at the moment and I know they have hidden it somewhere in the house, because I forget to zip up my bag the other day. If they managed to get into my purse, then they ferret around, and I’m likely to find my keys, lip gloss, tissue packet etc. missing.

What mischief makers! We’re at a bar with your hero and heroine, what are they drinking?

Mandy and Jake are drinking gin martinis, because that’s my favorite drink so I wrote it as their drink in ‘Her Sister’s Wedding’. It’s not too sweet, so you can take your time. It’s a pure drink – there is only one additive to the gin – it’s old school, which I find romantic.

 I can picture them now. Dessert time!  Give me your “either—or” answers

•    Chocolate, fruit or other? Oh God, NEVER fruit. I can’t stand it. My idea of hell is a health retreat where you detox on fruit. Chocolate only.

•    Warm or cold? Warm, sticky date pudding with toffee sauce (yes, I know dates are a fruit but that’s the only exception…)

•    Buttercream or fondant? Being an Aussie, I don’t know what this means! I’m assuming it means creamy icing or hard icing. Creamy icing. Icing you whip up yourself in a bowl with plenty of butter, so you can lick that knife after you’ve iced the cake.

Be happy you don’t know fondant and yes, always real butter.

•    Cookies or brownies? We call cookies biscuits in Australia, and brownies here are squishy chocolate kind of cake things. Yum. Brownies.

•    With nuts or without? Pile those nuts on top of the chocolate cream, on top of the ice cream, on top of the sticky date pudding. You are talking to a foodie romance author!

Oh yum.  I can’t wait to share a meal in person. Until then, I’ll have to settle for your mouthwatering book.  Jane, tell me more about Her Sister’s Wedding.

What happens when you meet the right person at the wrong time?

 Melbourne-based food journalist Mandy Evans has Paris firmly in her sights. She’s got a chance at her life-long dream of studying art in the City of Love, but not before she has to be a ring-in bridesmaid at her sister’s wedding.

 After setting up his latest restaurant in Melbourne, renowned American chef Jake Pearson is leaving for his next project in Miami. He’s the hottest ticket in anyone’s town, with a burning ambition to conquer the world, but not before he’s best man at his friend’s wedding.

 When Mandy and Jake meet, the attraction is instant. He loves her sassy, natural style, and her appetite for great food. She thinks he’s the best thing since sliced bread, or even martinis. Fate gives them a chance at love when they are partners at the same wedding, but can either of them compromise their ambitions to let love grow?

This is going on my To Be Read shelf right away.

You can get a copy of Her Sister’s Wedding at Amazon or through Decadent.

Author Jane Ainslie adores martinis, is a keen but hopeless gardener, and an avid reader of cookbooks. She currently resides in Adelaide, Australia, with her beloved husband and her four unruly pet ferrets.

Her blog can be found at www.janeainslie.com and she can be found on Facebook at Jane Ainslie Books.

Thanks for visiting.  Her Sister's Wedding Small

Posted in Books, On Writing, Writing

Another year

Another year has come and gone. I reached one of my writing goals–to have another book in contract–but missed another–polishing a work in progress.  That’s okay.  I have a new year ahead of me full of opportunity.

I no longer make New Year’s Resolutions. Not only did they tend to be way too lofty (lose 10 pounds, write a best seller) but also lacked concrete steps.  By February, I failed to make good on the promise of a year.

The arrival of a new wall calendar still offers me opportunities for a fresh start.  A few years ago, I committed to having a smaller environmental footprint. Although that phrase smacks of over ambition, I found ways to make it work by looking for small shifts in my behavior.  I committed to composting coffee grounds and banana peels. Now, composting is routine and throw out less garbage.  When I learned the plastic beads in cosmetics and soaps end up in the ocean, I stopped purchasing polluting products.  This year, my goal is to learn more about my local eco-system since I know little about Minnesota and how my life choices influence the land of 10,000 lakes.

Professionally, I’m challenging myself to write a short story and have it ready for publication by the end of the year.  A slow writer like me is at a disadvantage in the current market which favors frequent publication.  Since it is year-long process, I have broken it down into small steps, but I’m not ready to share those.

Do you make resolutions or is January first just another day?