Thursday, July 24, 2014

In Celebration of Vacation

Mom raccoon checking out lunch leftovers.

It’s summer and I’m on vacation. To celebrate I've found thirteen quotes about taking some time off.

  1. In matters of healing the body or the mind, vacation is a true genius!~ Mehmet Murat ildan
  2. Every man who possibly can should force himself to a holiday of a full month in a year, whether he feels like taking it or not. ~William James
  3. A vacation is like love — anticipated with pleasure, experienced with discomfort, and remembered with nostalgia. ~Author Unknown
  4. We hit the sunny beaches where we occupy ourselves keeping the sun off our skin, the saltwater off our bodies, and the sand out of our belongings. ~Erma Bombeck
  5. A vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you've been taking. ~Earl Wilson
  6. I do not really like vacations. I much prefer an occasional day off when I do not feel like working. When I am confronted with a whole week in which I have nothing to do but enjoy myself I do not know where to begin. To me, enjoyment comes fleetingly and unheralded; I cannot determinedly enjoy myself for a whole week at a time. ~Robertson Davies
  7. Holidays are enticing only for the first week or so. After that, it is no longer such a novelty to rise late and have little to do. ~Margaret Laurence
  8. No man needs a vacation so much as the man who has just had one. ~Elbert Hubbard
  9. When all else fails, take a vacation. ~Betty Williams
  10. The alternative to a vacation is to stay home and tip every third person you see. ~Author Unknown
  11. A good vacation is over when you begin to yearn for your work. ~Morris Fishbein
  12. I think people need hope when times are tough. I think they also need escape and adventure and fantasy. Books are like cheap mini vacations. ~ Michelle M. Pillow 
  13. To work for the sheer joy of it, to wake up and be really excited on a Monday, to love what you do so much that the idea of a long vacation looks boring - that's living. ~ Manoj Arora

What are you doing this summer? Do you have anything fun planned? Please share.

Raccoon babies waiting for Mom 


Monday, July 21, 2014

Getting My Writer's Groove Back

Sorry I haven't been around lately. The last time I posted on this blog was back in October. Shameful, I know. I wish I could blame it on plain old writer's block, but it's not so simple as that. A lot has been going on in my life in the past year and I found myself in a deep, dark hole, trying to claw my way out. I won't go into detail, but I lost two people I loved within months of each other (my dad and one of my best friends). Needless to say, I found it hard to write about love and happily-ever-afters. I think I'm finally getting back to a place where I can focus on my writing again, but it's been a struggle. I miss the ease of writing when my characters would not shut up, elbowing each other out of the way so that I could tell their stories. The characters in my current WIP (the sequel to my last book) won't tell me a thing. I'm actually re-reading the first book in my series in an effort to get myself back in the 'zone'. Hopefully that'll bring my muse back from wherever she's been hiding.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Changing Twilight of Summer

By Eilis Flynn

Light is an ever-changing thing during the spring and summer and autumn (not so much during winter, when there’s precious little of it, and around here, it’s mostly in shades of light gray and dark gray, probably more than 50, even), and that’s so clear in the days leading up to June 21, the official start of the summer season and what’s confusingly referred to as midsummer.

I’ve noticed this year, more than previous ones, that I’m more sensitive to the earlier lightening of the day (as opposed to lightning, very different). And it’s not just me: my hub has noticed it too. It’s weird to wake up at something like four o’clock in the morning and be able to see because it’s light out already. He’s sensible in that he rolls over and goes back to sleep when that happens to him, but I tend to be an early riser and I have to fight not getting up. Because, you know, if it’s light I should get up. But no! It’s too early! It’s not as if I have to get up, because right now I work at home. I could sleep in. By the time I do get back to sleep after this internal argument, I doze for a while and finally wake up for real by six o’clock, because, you know, the hub has to go to work.

Biorhythms are tricky things, and your internal clock is your own. Mornings are tough for me, because I have to work at not waking up too early. Night is another challenge because I get tired while it’s still light out, because in this area and at this time of year not only does the light present itself early in the morning, it goes away late in the evening. It’s light until almost ten o’clock, and by then, I’m ready to doze off. It’s embarrassing, I tell you.

And the summer twilight is a fascinating thing. Seeing it (when it’s not overcast around here) makes me appreciate the rich imaginations of composers who wrote music about it in earlier times, playwrights who used it as fodder for their work, and novelists who let it inspire them to reach into a magical otherworld (hey, like here!). It’s the time of day when the eye plays tricks on you, making you wonder if you indeed see what you thought you saw. Or did you? If you’ve ever seen Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, you know what that’s about.

But summer light ends quickly enough, and before too long (unfortunately, so, so soon), the twilight of magic is done. Autumn light is very different, and I don’t know about you, but I’ve never glimpsed a magical otherworld where autumn is the norm. Come to think of it, why not? I guess I’ll have to keep an eye out for it as I watch the summer light shift and change!

Eilis Flynn can be found to argue with at Facebook, Twitter, or at her website at If you’re looking for an editor, you can find her at as Elizabeth Flynn. Either way, you’ll find her online somewhere!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Fireworks: Thirteen Facts I Bet You Didn't Know

Hope you have a happy Fourth of July. If you’re like me, you will probably  see a ton of fireworks. There’s something fascinating about those splatters of light in the sky --something that tugs at the emotions and captures the imagination.

Everyone in my family has a favorite. A nephew especially enjoys the salutes. My aunt likes the ones that twinkle as they fall.

Ever wonder how these displays came about? Here’s what my research turned up:

1. Most people trace the invention of fireworks/gunpowder to an unfortunate Chinese alchemist who unintentionally heated sulfur and salt peter (potassium nitrate). It was an explosive discovery.

2. The Chinese call gunpowder "huo yao," which means fire chemical.

3. Early fireworks gave off more bang than light. As they exploded, people saw only a brief golden light.

4. Apparently the Chinese made the first fireworks by shoving gunpowder into bamboo reeds. They exploded them during their New Year’s celebration in hopes of frightening away evil spirits.

5. It’s believed that Marco Polo introduced gunpowder to Europe.

6. Around 1830, Italians began to add trace amounts of metal into the gunpowder, which “colored the explosions.”

7. Copper, for example, creates blue tinted light.

8. Aluminum and magnesium make a golden light.

9. Not surprisingly, other metals make other effects. Zinc creates clouds of smoke and titanium causes sparks.

10. Although onlookers have always enjoyed fireworks, they continue to be dangerous. May 16, 1770, is the date of one of the biggest fireworks tragedies. A fireworks display celebrating the marriage of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette went awry and caused a stampede, which killed some 800 people. Not eight or eighty but 800!

11. Even in recent years, the danger element hasn't disappeared. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that “fireworks devices were involved in an estimated 8,800 injuries treated in the U.S. hospital emergency departments during the calendar year 2002.”
12. Here’s an interesting statistic. Three times as many males are hurt in fireworks-related incidents than females, according to data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

13. Although I enjoy watching fireworks, I don’t encourage people to set off their own. My suggestion: Consider attending fireworks displays put on by professionals in local parks or on lakefronts.

Correctly handled, fireworks can be a stunning way to celebrate special events. In the United States, we've used fireworks to celebrate Independence Day since 1776. 

That’s when John Adams declared, "The day (Independence Day) will be the most memorable in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. … It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade...bonfires and illuminations (fireworks) from one end of this continent to the other, from this day forward forevermore."

But I’d like to hear about your holiday. Are you planning to see the fireworks? Which ones impress you most?


Thursday, June 19, 2014

The 2014 Write Touch Conference

Have you ever been to conference?  I went to the Wisconsin Romance Writers’ Write Touch Conference this weekend and I’m still thinking about what a good time I had. Here are thirteen of my favorite moments.
Kate MacEachern
  1. I got to catch up with one of my long distance critique partners.
Liz Pelletier
Liz Pelletier took us to school. She used the Save the Cat screen writing structure to help us improve our plots. 
Jade Lee
  1. Jade Lee helped us develop our characters and clarify their goals, motivations and conflicts.
Carrie Lofty
  1. Carrie Lofty showed us how the Myers-Briggs personality classifications can help us understand ourselves and also create great characters.
Cheryl Yeko
  1. Cheryl Yeko let me practice my pitches with her.
Leah Hultenschmidt and Rebecca Sherer

  1. I finally got to thank Leah Hultenschmidt for the encouragement she gave me on a one of my first contest finals when I was a newbie writer and wondering if I should continue writing or switch to basket weaving or something.
Eric Ruben
  1. I got to pitch my latest manuscript to Eric Ruben,
Michelle Grajkowski
  1. Michelle Grajkowski, and
Rebecca Sherer and Adam Wilson
  1. Rebecca Sherer. Even though I stumbled through my log lines, they listened and nodded at the right moments. Maybe they were just being polite, but I enjoyed talking with each agent and I think they’d all be great to work with.
Kat and Lee de Falla
  1.  I got to talk with my friends and make new discoveries about them like: Kat’s husband Lee can really play the guitar,
Jody Allen
  1. not only is Jody Allen into history, she likes Steampunk, and
Gina Maxwell and Jade Lee
  1. in addition to writing the romances I love reading, Jade Lee has a fun sense of humor.
Kristin Bayer, Barb Britton, Liz Lincoln and Liz Czukas
  1. There were other awesome workshops, a book sale and all kinds of food I could also mention, but number goes to how seamlessly the weekend--the award luncheon, the pitch sessions, the activities, the discussions, and everything came together. Many thanks to Liz Lincoln and Liz Czukas and their conference team.

I started this post asking if you’d been at a conference. Have you? What was your favorite activity? Please share.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

QueryKombat: Writing Tips

Are you brave? Do you enter contests? I've got one I’d recommend--QueryKombat, an on-line writing contest hosted by bloggers:

I’ve been monitoring the blog posts and the twitter feed. It’s been my obsession for the last week or so.

On Thursday, May 22nd at noon an entry window opened and SC, Michael and Michelle accepted 225 entries, plus some free entries from another blog event. From those, they picked 64 entries. Mine included.

In round one, Kombatants’ entries were paired up to square off one on one, head to head, mano-a-mano in 34 blog posts.  The coordinators tried to match the entries by genre and target audience. Judges visited each pair, made comments and then picked their favorite and many of the judges and Kombatants posted writing advice on twitter.

 Here are thirteen of my favorite writing tips.

  1. One thing I'm learning from QueryKombat. Think about where your story begins. It can make the difference between a "WOW" & a "meh" opening. ~Amy Trueblood
  2. Your query should have your character, conflict (what do they want? What stands in their way?) & stakes (what if they fail?)~ Naomi Hughes
  3. The question isn't if others love or hate your story. The question is, do YOU love your story, and have you told it truthfully? ~Lisa Dunn
  4. Whatever happens, just keep writing!~ Heather Harris-Brady
  5. Voice. Voice. Voice. I don't care what you're selling, if your query has voice, I'll read the hell out of it & want more...~ Ami Allen-Vath ‏
  6. If I don't connect to your CHARACTER, I can't connect to your CONFLICT, rendering your stakes meaningless!~ Lauren Spieller 
  7. All queries need 3 elements, or they cannot succeed. those elements are: conflict, character, and stakes. ~ Lauren Spieller 
  8. Subjectivity plays a huge role in contests (and in publishing in general). Listen carefully to critique, then go with your gut.~ Naomi Hughes
  9. Another QueryKombat observation: The last line of your query shouldn't be a summary, but a tight line leaving your reader begging for more!~ Amy Trueblood
  10. I can tell what the book's about, & what will happen if the character fails...but I have no idea who the character really is!~ Lauren Spieller 
  11. This doesn't mean you should write a query that's full of character development but no conflict. It means you need to IMBUE your conflict with CHARACTER. ~Lauren Spieller
  12. Never give up! ~Ingrid Seymour
  13. Just remember that not all of the light at the end of your quest belongs to a train, your fate and dreams are there somewhere.~ Ramon Ballard

Good advice. My twitter friends have a lot of wise words to share, but I’m guessing you do, too. Want to share some sage counsel? Or share a contest experience you’ve had? I’d love to hear about it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Difference In Perception

By Eilis Flynn

One of my favorite cable shows is Perception, about a crime-solving paranoid schizophrenic neuroscientist college professor (whew!) working as a consultant with the FBI. It’s on TNT, and it stars Eric McCormack and Rachael Leigh Cook. Someone commented that it’s a little bit Beautiful Mind, which is fair, because our hero is by his own admission (and everyone else’s) mentally ill. He even has two sidekicks, one of whom is real (a former student of his, now an FBI agent, played by Rachael Leigh Cook) and the other of whom is not (a former girlfriend, who really wasn’t, but someone our hero created from a barely remembered memory, played by Kelly Rowan). Our hero, whose name is Daniel Pierce, is supposed to be on meds to control the delusions, but often doesn’t take them, and that’s when a lot of the stories take a lot of depth and color. Of course, the delusions that result—from someone wearing an alligator costume to World War II soldiers to old-time baseball players—help Pierce solve the crime of the day.

The episode I was watching recently (okay, I was watching more than one, since the new episodes are starting next month and I was getting caught up) covered the topic of inattentional blindness, making the question of if you’re not paying attention, did you really see it? According to Wikipedia, inattentional blindness is the failure to notice something unexpected in your field of vision when you’re taking care of other tasks that require your attention. It’s not that you couldn’t see it; it’s that you were distracted. Too much to pay attention to, and the mind has to focus somewhere.

There’s a test that researchers use to study this particular phenomenon referred to as the “invisible gorilla” test, in which people are asked to complete a task while something unexpected is sprung on them, and then those people are asked if they noticed anything out of the ordinary during the task. The episode of Perception used a variation of this for a murder that takes place during the period of distraction (and using someone dressed up in an alligator suit instead of a gorilla suit), eventually leading to a serial killer. Anyone who’s ever had to answer the phone while answering the door and fending off a persistent person (child or adult who should be whapped over the head) will tell you that you can’t do it all, not at once, at least. 

I keep thinking about the drivers who insist on using their cellphones as they’re driving (I’ve been known to yell for them to hang up the phone, and none too politely, and sometimes from the bus I’m on)(this is a source of great amusement for many who know me, for some mysterious reason), causing harm to themselves or others. It’s all too common, and even illegal in a number of places, but I can’t help but let my mind wander about the possibilities. What if when your mind wanders during these periods of displaced perception, you actually go somewhere else?

Think about that. What if your mind is truly elsewhere?

Isn’t letting your mind wander a wonderful thing sometimes? The possibilities are endless!

Eilis Flynn can be found to argue with at Facebook, Twitter, or at her website at If you’re looking for an editor, you can find her at as Elizabeth Flynn. Either way, you’ll find her online somewhere!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Hallie Ephron The Writing Life: Are We Having Fun Yet?

Writing is hard. If you’re like me, you have more than a few moments of discouragement. You might need someone to encourage you to press on, keep writing -- it gets better.
Hallie Ephron’s keynote speech at the recent Lakefly Literary Conference did that for me.  Even though she has written and published at least nine novels, she remembers what it was like to be the only non-writer in a family of highly successful authors. Hallie’s parents, Phoebe and Henry Ephron, were playwrights and screen-writers, while sisters Nora, Dalia and Amy were established novelists.

Hallie decided to write in her 40s after a reporter asked if he could do a story about her because she was the only Ephron sister who wasn’t an author. Hallie refused, thinking if anybody was going to write about her not writing it was going to be her.

Although there obviously were writing skills in her genes, she says it took 10 years to get published. She brought a handful of rejection letters to the Wisconsin conference and shared snippets with us.

Most of us in the audience were smiling and nodding, having fielded rejection letters containing similar discouraging messages.

Hallie’s counsel was clear: There’s hope if we, as working-to-get-published authors, keep trying and acquiring wisdom along the way, eventually we're likely to get there. And, she went on to say, in the process, why not enjoy the trip?

I scribbled notes, trying to commit to paper as many of her affirmations as I could. The end result: 13 encouraging comments from Hallie, which I'd like to share.

            1.  "For a long time your taste will outrun your talent."  But if you keep writing, you WILL get better.
            2.  Practice is important -- and writers must realize that first drafts are often less than wonderful. Sometimes you simply have to “hold your nose and write.” In other words, get the words and scenes in your head on paper, even if they’re not perfect.  Each practice session makes you a tiny bit better.
            3.  But remember, on the way to getting better, you’ll have flops and failures. It’s simply a part of learning. We master new skills by making and correcting mistakes. Even when you get your story polished, it might turn out to be not quite right for a particular editor, agent or publishing house. So Hallie cautioned, "Be prepared for rejection."
            4.  "So much in what makes for success is out of your control. Get used to it."  She added: "There might be times when you do everything right and still your book isn’t snapped up."  Unfortunately, this can happen.  
            5.  So you might as well learn to have fun in this journey to develop your craft. Enjoy what you do. "Don’t wait until you sell the book to celebrate. Champagne is meant to be opened."
            6.  Know that you have a very special story to tell. "No one can write exactly what you will write."
            7.  Everything in your life, even the frustrations, can help develop your story and your craft. Learn from your daily experiences. “Everything [in life] is copy. Take notes."
            8.  Never forget:  You can learn from others. And reading is vital.  As she puts it: “You must be a READER if you want to be a successful writer.”
            9.  When you write, spend more time listening to yourself than trying to follow trends or attempting to re-create a recent best-seller. "In your writing, please yourself first."
            10.  The story you’re going to tell likely will require many hours of effort, so the best approach is to choose your topic wisely so you'll be "writing what you love."
            11.  If you want to become more proficient in writing, set aside a specific place and time to practice.  Her advice: Don't be haphazard in "making space and time in your life to write!”
            12.  As you write, remember that it’s an art and know that hard and fast rules won’t always work and that sometimes the writing and selling process doesn’t seem to make sense. That’s OK.  "Trust the chaos."
            13. Don’t consider your status as a pre-published author to be a negative. "Having never published a book might be a "brilliant place" to be. Agents and editors are on the lookout for the next new talent."
            Really? Agents and editors are looking for me? Like most of the Hallie’s Wisconsin audience, I hope so, but even if they aren't, I’m going to take her advice and enjoy my time as I work toward refining my craft.

            Hallie’s latest mystery, There Was an Old Woman, has just been published.  Actually, first, I’m hoping to read her book, "The Everything Guide to Writing Your First Novel: All the tools you need to write and sell your first novel."

            In the meantime, I’m open to hearing encouraging advice. Do you have any tips on starting a new hobby? Or finishing a novel? Please share.