A Day in the Life of an Author

Yesterday, two days after Easter, I rose at 6 a.m. with hubby. Sunny day. Felt perky. Great day for writing. He went to doctor apt; me, grocery shopping for food, also bought some Easter candy 50% off, for company coming in two months.

Celebration waffle breakfast for hubby’s good report from doc. Besides, a hearty breakfast is good for getting your brain going and doing some creative writing.

Hubby off to work. Remembered my Sunday singing obligation, so went to basement, got my guitar, and set it out on the living room couch. Went to find the music.

Hubby returned home because the power went off at work; expected to be off all day. He needed to work from home, on our den computer, where I would write. His work this day entailed watching several video clips to choose the best one to use, and pacing the house as he thought, as well as writing away on the computer.

I hid in a corner and checked my email on the laptop. Replied to an email about a school visit next month. Yay.

Thought about writing again but the sun begged me to come out to play. Plus, my hubby was in too close proximity for me to write-think. And, well, it was sunny.

Trimmed and pruned two apple trees I planted after the storm of 2011. Hoping for apples this year instead of feeding the neighborhood bugs apple blossoms and leaves as in previous years.

Sat on the chair on the patio resting from my labors. Opened a bag of tiny jelly beans and nibbled on a handful. Thought about my writing WIP (work in progress).

Refreshed, I needed to complete my job. I gathered the cut branches and set up a deer fence to block the herd’s present route through our yard.

Went into house to make my second pot of green tea. Grabbed another handful of jelly beans (they’re so tiny) and looked at my guitar lounging on the couch.

Scrolled down FaceBook, replying to or liking several posts. Checked my email again, with the open bag of jelly beans next to me. Replied to my friend in Texas about her upcoming heart surgery, and sent a note of encouragement to a writing friend about her change in direction from writing novels to scripts for her church. And, replied to a prospective agent, requesting my first 50 pages of a new novel. Yay.

Thought more about writing. Checked a Goodreads writing contest. Last month I won first place. Yay.

Hubby passed by and asked if I wanted some healthy soup, but my tummy was full of beans. Drank more healthy green tea.

Still sunny out. Hubby still working in.

I opened a jar of super sticky gunk to put on pieces of cardboard to hang in my apple trees, intending to trap those tricky hungry insects. I am determined not let them get the better of my trees this year!

Carefully opened doors with my pinky fingers to get into house. Rubbed soap over my hands, but only succeeded in spreading the gunk. Rubbing alcohol? Didn’t work. Rags? Sort of got the bulk off. Then went about house rubbing gunk off from door and cabinet handles, faucets and containers, hoping I’d removed enough so hubby wouldn’t stick to the handles as he passed through.

Finished off the bag of tiny jelly beans.

Thought more about writing, but sticky gunk on keyboard = not such a good plan. Playing guitar not such a good idea, either.

Made healthy hamburger helper from scratch. Gunk wearing off my hands as I spread it around.

Went to an informative 2-hour meeting on the Food Bank serving an 8 county area.

Home to watch a few minutes of a K drama with Korean speech and English subtitles. It’s a very, very, very addicting show. It has great character and plot. Good writing research. Found some more half price Easter candy I was hiding. Hubby found me to watch a crime show together – where the good guys win! Yay. We like that.

Walked the house for 17 minutes before bed, thinking of all I did today…and knowing that the following day, with the forecast of cloudy and rain, and with power back at hubby’s work, it would be a great day for me to write.

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Premonitions or Worry-Warts

I just read the true story of a Great Lakes crew member who walked off the docked Charles F. Price ore carrier in 1913 because of a feeling of dread. Five days later he was called on to identify the bodies of his shipmates who had drown when the ship sank.

My father-in-law was a Merchant Marine during WWII. He, too, had a premonition not to reboard his ship while serving in England. When he reported “late,” he was reassigned to another ship. His former ship got torpedoed.

Once in Yellowstone a fellow employee and I decided to take a hike when I suddenly froze at the trail head, refusing to step further. It was a “funny feeling” I had. An argument ensued because of my illogic…and then a landslide, right at the spot of the trail where we would have been had I not refused to go on.

Premonitions give me chills, but they’re feel-good chills, like that all creation is connected and that all is right in the world.

Then again, I tend to be a worry-wart. Therefore, I cling to the fact that 80% (or is it higher?) of what we worry about never comes to pass. And nobody, I mean, nobody, likes to listen to a worrywart. So is it only in hindsight that a worry which comes true becomes a premonition?

Fictional Star Wars (the original) repeated the phrase, “I have a bad feeling about this.” And getting characters into (and out of) trouble is what interesting reading is all about.

I occasionally write scenes in my books with premonitions. That’s fun to do because I know I’m foreshadowing events for my readers. Do your stories also have premonitions, or foreshadowing, or some other way to let the reader know of things to come?

Now…not to worry in real life, and just get on with things.

Plant Truth is Stranger Than Fiction

When I hear the expression “truth is stranger than fiction,” I usually think of either unusual people or events. Not plants. But besides making up flora and fauna for my stories, I’m always open to the unusual, in reality.

While in Arizona last January, I was gifted a group of unusual plants. My first thought upon seeing them was that of European sand snakes.

I encountered European sand snakes at the Buffalo New York Zoo. To me, they are the creepiest of all snakes. Not that I think all snakes are creepy, mind you. These particular European sand snakes blend in perfectly with the sandy-brown soil, and only have their top inch or two rising out of the dirt. Dozens of unblinking, glassy eyes would stare at me from bodiless forms plunged under the same-colored dirt so you couldn’t tell how long they were. Staring, staring, watching my every step past, turning together as though they were all connected under the soil to one body. Harry potter, go away!

I thought of European sand snakes when I saw these unusual plants because they were camouflaged the same color as the soil they were stuck in, and actually nearly the same dull brown color of a certain afore-mentioned reptile.

My second thought of my gift was that they looked like stemless mushrooms. I love the wide variety of shapes and colors of mushrooms found in Michigan woods. These plants are uniformed, rather flat and quite round.

However these plants are neither snakes nor mushrooms, I tell myself as I observe them. They are South African button cacti. Cacti without spikes, mind you, but they  do look a lot like buttons. Well named.

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My gifter told me they would bloom in March. He instructed me to put them in the sunshine “with no awning.” He has never been to Michigan. Awnings are used where there is sunshine. Michigan has very little of that. I placed my new cacti in a south-facing window of my kitchen where they get about four hours of daylight, if not sunlight, a day.

Mid-February I noticed they started splitting down their centers. Or perhaps because of all the sunshine (ahem) they were starting to blossom early?  I’ve seen many cacti flower and they are gorgeous and brightly colored. But my south African button plants merely split their tops right down their centers and then shed the top layer of membrane – just like a snake might do. Like, say, a European sand snake of the same color.

I’m holding out for an actual flower blossom instead of a split-and-shed-the-top-skin bloom. I could do the research and look it up. That’s the easy way out. That way takes away the wonder. I’ll just continue to observe and come to my own conclusions, for truth is stranger than fiction even in the plant world.

Marketing…Again

I have a book getting published in March. I just remembered that today. Oh, silly me. I was just so relieved that the editing and publication process is finally over and done with that I let my mind get all mushy about other things. (Although I have a right to blame some of that mush on being sick with a lingering cold. <cough, sniffle>)

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I have spoken at two conferences about how to market and promote your book. I have pages of suggestions to fellow writers about what they can do in these areas. Now it’s time to remember what I should do and start marketing already. I should have started months before this.

Today I’ve been working on an overall strategy, my target areas,  a press release, and a few more specific ideas.

To add to my complications, I’m in the revision process of another book. I resisted, though, and only spent about 90 minutes this morning on a gotta-do-this-now bit of revision. I need to have an undivided mind. Marketing…marketing…marketing…again.

BTW, my March book is a mid-grade (4th grade) reader, a time travel with a paraplegic boy. It is family oriented with genealogy research tossed in the mix, and takes place on one of Michigan’s island gems. The Powder Horn of Mackinac Island will be available March 3.

On to do some marketing planning.

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Female Heroism on Lake Erie

In my research for stories, I borrow or buy or read many books. A non-fiction Great Lakes book purchased a few years ago, and only read portions of for my TALES OF THE LOST SCHOONER book, is now getting read, not for research, but for personal interest, along with a twist of related books and articles.

I was so impressed with one woman’s heroics that I can’t wait to write about her in a published story or book, although I’m sure there must be many already done.

She lived with her husband, a widower with six children, along a deserted stretch of Long Point, a peninsula reaching out into Lake Erie. The closest neighbors lived fourteen miles away.

On November 23, 1854, while her husband was gone for the day and a winter gale blew wildly across the lake, 6′ tall, 24-year-old Abigail spotted a broken yawl on the beach. Upon investigation, she spotted a schooner beached on the sandbar half a mile out. Seven men clung to the mast riggings in the storm. There had been incidents of sailors frozen solid overnight to the decks and riggings of stranded vessels. She was the only one who could help.

She rushed back to the cabin to tell her children she’d be gone for a while. She grabbed blankets and a tea kettle. She built a large fire on the beach for encouragement and direction to the sailors, and shouted, “Swim! I’ll fetch you to shore. But swim!”

One man listened, the captain, who’d told his mate that if he made it to shore to follow, otherwise to wait out the night for rescue. The captain nearly made it when he went under. Without hesitation, Abigail, who could not swim, waded chin-deep into the freezing water to bring the captain to the fire and blankets. Her own wet dress freezing to her body. She also stood barefoot in the snow, the family unable to afford shoes.

The first mate next attempted the swim, but also floundered in the water. The captain went in after the mate. When they both sunk, Abigail brought them to safety…and saw the other five crew members to shore as well.

The Canadian woman was given a gold lifesaving medal, a gift Bible, as well as 100-acres of farmland by the Canadian parliament, and $1,000 in gold from the Lifesaving Association of New York (because two of the rescued men were American). The owner of the shipwrecked vessel paid her a visit, measured her feet and those of her children, and a few weeks later sent a chest full of shoes for all.

It didn’t stop there, not in her rescues, not in her subsequent rewards and honors, nor even of her children. Besides the six from her husband’s previous marriage, they had an additional five. When her husband died, she remarried and had three more children, raising a total of seventeen.

Abigail Becker is called the Guardian Angel of Long Point Bay. She is called heroine to me.

DOCTORS – Past, Present, Fictional

I love history. I love fantasy. However, I do not have much love for doctors. It all started with my paternal grandmother who, when I was a child, at the end of every visit, gave me and my siblings a shot of something or other. “Who wants to go first?” She also was the one who delivered me, and my siblings, and my father, aunt, and cousins, too. Amazing female doctor back in the day. But scary, too.

My elderly maternal grandmother had trouble proving she was an American citizen because when she was born, her doctor made only monthly horseback trips to the county seat to record births and deaths. We didn’t discover until she was in her 80’s that he never recorded her birth.

In Clara Barton’s day (1800’s), nurses gained their training through experience.

I acknowledge that the medical field has come a long, long way through the centuries, an example being how butchers were surgeons because they knew how to cut meat. With all the advances in medicine, I would rather go to a dentist or doctor in 2017 than one in the 12th century. No contest. But I still don’t have to like it.

Today, when I go to a doctor for an annual visit and feel terrific going in, I end up feeling depressed as the doctor finding unrelated things physically wrong with me.

In my fictional stories, mostly my characters are fit and healthy. Oh, there’s the occasional black eye or broken bone, and a post-battle hospital tent, and even (spoiler alert) characters who perish. But all these are all only briefly touched upon for the adventure, the story, goes far beyond, for health care providers are in every age and every location.

Are your characters perpetually healthy, or do they get injured or ill? What does their response say about their character? What sort of medical care do they receive? By whom? Or what?

Keep on writing.

My Favorite Cemeteries – How and Where Do You Bury Your Characters?

A Facebook friend recently asked what my/our favorite cemetery was. Ooh. Cemeteries. There are too many to narrow down to just one. But here are my top five I’ve been to:

5. An unnamed cemetery on top of a hill in southern Ohio, where there are about twenty graves, all related. I nearly died myself getting to it, as a man in his 20’s agreed to drive my mother and me up there – to the spot near where the old still worried the children when Mom was little. We cleared the fence posts with about an inch on either side of the pickup, going about thirty miles per hour, through the fields and woods where if I’d stuck out my hand just past the side view mirrors, I wouldn’t have a hand as we whipped by. The wooded lot was on top of a hill, twined with poison ivy, “and keep an eye out for rattlers.”

4. Concord Quaker Cemetery near Colrain, Ohio, where numerous relatives and ancestors of mine are buried, including Josiah Fox, designer of the U.S.S. Constitution, and Julia Berry, who was born around the Civil War, but has an unmarked death date on her gravestone. Julia never married and was buried with other Berry relatives, under a very huge now and messy berry tree.

When our boys were young, Jeff and I took them here. Jeff was quiet and respectful, especially of seeing Josiah’s grave. The boys, on the other hand, were a little restless. There’s only so much of interest in a cemetery to little kids, after all. I pointed out that since Julia didn’t have a death date, she might still be alive at well over 100 years old. We then started joking around (not something I’d recommend in a cemetery), saying, “Juu-l-ia? Oh, Juu-l-ia? Where are you, Julia?” When suddenly the cemetery metal gate swung wide open. There was no breeze. Not in the least. The three of us scurried (quite disrespectfully) over the graves of the dead to reach the safety of Daddy-Hubby Jeff.

This cemetery also holds the unmarked graves of many runaway slaves, who had made it to the safety of the Ohio Quakers, only to die of sickness. I always say a prayer over them when I go there.

3. Mount Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood, SD, where sheriff Seth Bullock, Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane are buried. There is also the Chinese section with a stone oven. Not only is this cemetery a historic wild west resting place, but just getting to the cemetery is an adventure – driving up a nearly vertical road, then climbing up and up and up through the cemetery to reach the highest grave, that of Seth Bullock.

2. Author’s Row in the Concord, MA, Cemetery, where the likes of well-known authors have been laid to rest, like Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorn and Henry David Thoreau.

1. I realize there are numerous European cemeteries, like within the walls and floors of Westminster Cathedral, or under St. Martin’s on Trafalgar Square in London where you can eat lunch in their basement overtop of tombstones. Both very cool. But I made Jeff take me on a cemetery side trip not far from our hotel: Highgate. There is a wide paved path going through the center, but it’s the off-the-beaten-path ones I *liked* the best. The gravestones in these areas are generally overgrown. But more. You may even happen across statues of stone angels, who, if you blink, you’d swear they moved a step closer to you.  (If you know the answer to this spine-chilling-as-I-write-it reason, please dare to comment below.)

So where is your *favorite* cemetery or cemetery experience? Have you buried any of your characters in a similar place?

New Year’s Writing Goals, 2017, and Critique Groups

Happy Pagan New Year!

The month of January is named for the Roman god Janus, the two-faces on one head keeper of the doors, of transitions, of ends and beginnings, of looking at the  past and the future. Through the years I have come to appreciate this concept more and more. For me, each January first is a day of renewal,  a time to set goals, a time to dream, a time to hope.

Like with diets, I know I can’t accomplish much writing without the encouragement of friends. My biggest encourager is my husband, Jeff, without whom I never would have honestly pursued writing.

One of my critique partners for the past many years is Samantha. Today she sent a Happy New Year’s message to the group. She wrote, “I wanted to start the year by thanking you wonderful ladies for all your support, encouragement and patience (and of course, thoughtful and skillful critiques)! I cannot imagine traveling this writing journey without you! Love you all!” Everyone in the group agrees with her.

Writing may seem like a lonely journey. I mean, individuals must do the sitting down at the keyboard and typing away alone. But I cannot conceive of a time without the support and encouragement of critique groups, people at conferences, listservs, my husband.

My two writing goals this year is to write, and to show my appreciation and encouragement to my fellow writers.

Happy New Year. May this year be full of completed hopes and dreams.

The Trouble with Having No Agent

       There’s the most obvious two troubles of not having an agent: 1) someone to offer revision suggestions to make your story stronger; and 2) someone to negotiate contracts for traditional publication, etc. But the biggest one to me (as least I think it would be, not quite knowing for sure since I don’t have an agent), is the time and focus bit.

       An agent often gives revision suggestions, then expect you to have it cleaned up and back to her in a timely fashion. The getting it back to her is the time factor. The focus part is not wandering off, thinking about or actually working on writing other stories. Once I was given a week to complete editorial revisions, this deadline was emailed to me the night before we left for a week’s vacation. And, yes, I did revised it.

       A couple days ago I spent several hours looking over some of my NaNoWriMo blabber file. I deleted many words, but got tired of the mess on my screen. I finally stopped and sat down with pen and paper to organize the plot, in three acts, with rising and falling tensions nicely placed.

       I hate this part of “writing.” I’d much rather just blabber away in raw writing on a rough draft. Blah, blah, blah. But after seeing the clutter I’ve write as rough drafts, I find myself wanting to start from the first word and rewrite the entire story. Perhaps I shall.

       But with no agent pressing me onward to complete revisions by a certain time, I’ve decided to stop, take a Christmas and family break until January, and then dive back in – with a plan! That is, as long as I don’t have the story of the next book waving flags through my brain cells demanding attention. BTW, I already have a pile of notes on that story, too.

Oh, agent! Where are you, I need someone to give me time constraints and focus.

Blabber File – Raw Writing

From mid-November into the first week of January is the hardest time for me to find time to write. (Exception: visiting family or vacations) Why, oh, why does NaNoWriMo fall in this time? But any time is a good time for fellow writers to give each other a push, even busy times.

Yesterday our company left. Today I’m doing a ton of laundry and also setting up Christmas decorations. YET, this morning, I found time to do some precious raw writing – that is, rough draft blabbering –  on my WIP story. It felt incredibly good! Maybe that’s one of the reasons I write. When I’m thinking about the story, or typing madly away on it, knowing that about 3/4 of the stuff I think or write will be deleted, I get so excited about the story and the characters.

I actually look forward in January to looking over this (unfinished) WIP and chopping away pages and pages. Mind you, I don’t feel those deleted words were a waste of effort. Sometimes going off-track frees my brain to be thinking outside my box (story outline), and often very strange and wonderful things happen.

So I hope you are blabbering away, doing your raw writing, knowing that soon the bad will be tossed and the good, kept.

Keep on writing.