Author Archives: admin

About admin

So many changes! I've recently retired from teaching, returned from living in Germany, and am exploring the many blessings and challenges of early retirement. When not writing this blog, I write mysteries, women's fiction, and dark little stories. Life is good in Tacoma, WA, even though I often feel like a foreigner here. Here's to change, the only constant in life.

On Writing Rules We’d Rather Forget

Can it really be the first Wednesday of the month already? With each passing year, the time seems to fly by more swiftly. That may be good news, considering what the next four years may hold.

In any case, it’s IWSG time again! The Insecure Writers’ Support Group is a place where writers encourage each other, express their doubts, and offer help. According to their website, it’s “a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds.” They also offer oodles of resources for writers. Visit them here:

http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html

January 2017 Question: What writing rule do you wish you’d never heard?

I’m bolder than I was when younger, but I’m still quite conflict-averse. This is not a good trait in a writer. When creating a story, I resent the pressure to inject every scene with conflict. But all the craft books, all the writing teachers, all my critique partners remind me that I must. We’ve all heard the adage: “Put your protagonist up a tree, then throw rocks at her, then get her back down.”

Whether on the page or on the screen, a narrative with too much constant conflict tires me out. All that strife can feel phony, contrived. Must I really throw that many rocks? And then drop my protag over a cliff and leave her clutching at slippery tree roots by her fingernails?

Why can’t I intersperse high-conflict scenes with cozy, funny scenes in which nothing goes wrong for my poor protag? I know I’ve enjoyed books in which there were plenty of low-conflict scenes. Alas, I wasn’t yet writing “for reals” and didn’t take notes on those writers’ technique and structure.

OK, here’s one: J.A. Jance is one of my favorite mystery writers. Her stories include many low-key scenes in which the protag interacts with friends and family. These scenes provide backstory, comic relief, or just a breather. Of course, Jance’s stories never lack for adequate conflict—we’re trying to solve a murder, for goodness’ sake.

I get it—my job as a writer I to show a big change in my character. But I enjoy just spending with my protag, getting to know the colorful characters she meets. I’ve created a fictional town for her which incorporates aspects of my favorite places. Most of us don’t live in coastal artists’ colonies like my protag does—most of us live in overcrowded cities or boring suburbs or out in the country where nothing much happens. Do I really have to chase poor Lola down the streets of this lovely town, threatening her with the loss of all she holds dear?

I know, for a story to sell, the stakes must be high. But I wish that weren’t so; I wish readers, editors, publishers had a little more patience, were more inclined to stop and smell the coastal breeze as it wafts over my protag and her wise, funny friends.

Connecting in the New Year

I got this marvelous idea from Gretchen Rubin’s excellent podcast Happier with Gretchen Rubin. If you haven’t already, you should check it out on iTunes. Rubin and her sister, Elizabeth Craft, discuss ideas from her book Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits–to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life. Rather than create the usual list of (ignored by February) new year’s resolutions, Rubin suggests picking a one-word theme to focus on in the coming year.

Choosing my theme for 2017 was surprisingly easy: CONNECT.

Both my vocation and my avocation require lots of solitary office time, and that suits my mostly-introverted nature. I could easily spend a whole day writing and reading—until I find myself feeling lonely and itchy for actual human contact, an itch that social media doesn’t quite scratch. And yet, when I’m with others, I sometimes find it hard to give them my full attention. I could do much better here, and would be happier for it.

And then there’s the news. Oh my, how recent events tug on my worry strings. How they stretch their tendrils of gloom through my dreams. I sit at my desk, picking at the virtual scabs and retweeting dismay, which only magnifies the miasma of impending doom. I don’t want to waste four years huddled under a rain cloud like Eeyore.

And so, in 2017 I’ll focus on connecting—with other writers, with my students and colleagues, with activists who are doing something other than moan, with not-so-likeminded people, to remind them of our shared humanity, with loved ones I see too seldom, and with the fascinating people who cross my path each day. Keeping this one-word mantra in mind will help focus my efforts: connect. There’s no warmer comfort than knowing, deep down in your bones, that you’re not alone.

What’s your focus for the coming year? Can you boil it down to just one word?

Book Review: Exit Signs, by Patrice Locke

Patrice Locke’s charming new romance

It’s always a delight to read a book after having met the author. I met Patrice Locke at this year’s Women Fiction Writers’ Association retreat in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which is also the setting of this delightful tale. In fact, we met just a few days before her book’s release, and she was a bit nervous about the whole business. She needn’t have been—this story is a delight.

Researcher and ghost writer Tracy Price is hired to help dreamy rock star Jesse Elliot with his memoir. Sparks fly, naturally, but her cautious nature and his cockiness lead to misunderstandings and doubts. Meanwhile, Tracy and her partner are digging up intriguing clues about a long-dead poet from the 1930s, whose story may be the key that unlocks their success, as well as freedom from the odious boss, AKA “the dragon.”

Locke knits these two plot lines together in a clever and touching way. The on-again, off-again romance between Tracy and Jesse delivers humor and heartache. I read this novel during the very busy run-up to the holidays, and made sure to carve out a precious hour each day to escape to Albuquerque and see what new adventure or screw-up Tracy would deliver. Tracy’s the sort of heroine who shoots herself in the foot so often that she’s going to need a much smaller shoe, but Locke makes her an extremely sympathetic, well-rounded character all the same. Her quirky snack concoctions, awkwardness around achingly-handsome Jesse, her dogged independence, and her warm heart make her a character to fall in love with. The same holds true for her circle of friends, all well-rounded characters I enjoyed spending time with. This book delivers a satisfying resolution and plenty of warm fuzzies—sweet but not cloying, and great fun.

IWSG Question o’ the Month: What’s Your Five-Year Plan?

It’s time once again for our monthly question from the Insecure Writers’ Support Group. IWSG is a great resource for all us scribblers, and I’ve really enjoyed meeting other writers via this blog exchange. Give them a look here and join the conversation:

http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html

December 7 Question: In terms of your writing career, where do you see yourself five years from now, and what’s your plan to get there?

Ah, the five-year plan. I’ve heard of these. Having worked so long in an institution that doesn’t offer much “career advancement” (I was a high school teacher), this sort of planning is new to me. Here goes:

Five years from now, I will have published a book, probably more than one. I’ve spent the two plus years since I’ve left teaching learning my craft and learning about the publishing world. I have two complete manuscripts to show for all that effort, a cozy mystery and a women’s fiction novel. The former would be a good candidate for self-publishing, as it takes place in the community where I used to work. I’m betting that at least some of my fellow teachers and former teachers would enjoy reading about a fictional murder in their midst.

My hope is still to be published in the traditional sense, but I’m also working on a story that will be my first foray into self-publishing. It’s a steamy romance, which is great fun to write. And FUN is my guiding star. I prefer to read, and write, light-hearted stories with plenty of humor. When I open a book, I’m not looking for a cathartic sob-fest, nor a fog of ennui, nor a shiver of impending doom. Life hands me plenty of sorrow, weariness and fear—I want to offer my readers some fun. And I want the time I spend in my fictional worlds to be fun as well.

So—my plan is to have fun learning the process of self-publishing, to have fun finishing my next two novel projects, and to have fun connecting with other writers via workshops and forums (fora?) like IWSG. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that fun and hard work are mutually exclusive. I just want to enjoy the process and the journey to published authorship.

Five years from now, this blog will contain links to my published books, one way or the other. And you? Do you have a five-year goal for your writing or for another endeavor? Do you find such goals helpful?

What’s on Your Thanksgiving Table?

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Thanks to Ronna Benjamin of the Better After 50 blog for this writing prompt. Visit her here: http://betterafter50.com/

In 2016, I bring to my Thanksgiving table:

  • Our decidedly un-Thanksgiving-ish Provençal tablecloth, which we bought in Spain, because why not? It’s mostly orange, and that feels like Thanksgiving to me.
  • Memories of the twenty-seven Thanksgivings I celebrated in in Europe, mostly in Germany. Frohes Fest, ihr lieben, und guten Appetit!
  • A relaxed attitude. I’m not trying any ambitious new recipes this year. I don’t have a bin full of November decorations—that’s just not my style, and that’s OK. Our home is welcoming, comfortable, and clean, and that’s good enough.
  • Stretchy pants. It has not been a good year for my waistline, but Thanksgiving is not the time to worry about that.
  • Joy at being able to spend Thanksgiving with my husband’s side of the family and Christmas with mine. No more melancholy Christmases for two, missing our loved ones across the ocean.
  • A spiny knot of worry about the state of our dear country, which I will try to soothe with pie and laughter.
  • A new song for our family guitar circle: John Lennon’s Imagine.
  • Gratitude for our good fortune, comfortable circumstances, and opportunities.
  • Freshly-sharpened determination to make new connections in my community, to do my part to hold back the wave of hate that threatens to drown our democracy. I only have my one little bucket to bail out the ship of state, but if we all bail together, we can stay afloat.

Steak and Potato Soup in the Slow Cooker

slow-cooker

In an alternate universe, I’m a food blogger. Today I’m zipping through the wormhole to share a recipe I tried that worked out well. No photo—we ate it all before it occurred to me to write down the recipe. But this turned out well, so I’ll share in hopes that someone might enjoy this hearty soup—and perhaps share his/her favorite slow-cooker recipe with me.

We recently visited the Newport Hills neighborhood of Bellevue, Washington, where my husband lived many moons ago. Of course, much has changed, and one new addition is the Mustard Seed Grill and Pub, a casual sports tavern where I had their delicious Pepper Pot Soup, tender cubes of beef and velvety potatoes in a creamy white base–perfect dish for a soggy, chilly fall day.

To lure our vegetable-phobic friend in for a weekday jam session—R and D on guitar and me on uke—I did my best to recreate this soup. Haute cuisine it ain’t; nevertheless, it’s delicious.

I diced up a big yellow onion, about a cup and half of celery, including the leaves, and three big carrots. Into the slow cooker that went, along with three diced cloves of garlic, two bay leaves, a generous grinding of black pepper, and about 2 teaspoons of Herbes de Provence.

I trimmed the biggest chunks of fat from a big ol’ beef chuck steak, a bit more than a pound. I diced the meat up small, about ½ inch cubes, peppered it generously and dredged it in flour. I browned that in olive oil in two batches, adding each to the slow cooker atop the vegetables. I peeled and diced up a monster russet potato—again, about ½ cubes. Then I filled the pot with four cups of beef broth and one can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup—the kind with roasted garlic. More pepper, a generous dash of Worcestershire sauce, and on goes the lid.

I intended to cook it on high for a few hours and then turn it down to low. Well, I forgot to switch to low, so I ended up leaving it on high for a good six hours. The result was perfect: tender meat, velvety potatoes, and a nice peppery bite. This made enough for at least six main-course bowlfuls. Our meat-loving friends were pleased. I’ll make this one again.

What’s your favorite slow-cooker recipe for a drizzly winter day?

Book giveaway: Piper Morgan to the Rescue!

piper-morgan-to-the-rescue-jpegheadshotsf

Because we’re all deeply mired in serious matters these days, a little levity is badly needed. How about an adorable little redhead with a heart for puppies? Here’s the latest release in Stephanie Faris’s Piper Morgan series, a perfect holiday gift for the little readers on your list. She’s giving away copies here!

https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/share-code/YmE3MjA1ZmE3NmM3MjJlOTUyMzIyZjViYzk5OWQ3Ojc=/?

Piper helps some four-legged friends find the perfect home in the third book of the brand-new Piper Morgan series.

Piper is super excited to help out at Bark Street, a local animal shelter in town. Who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by adorable puppies and dogs all day? And when Piper sees Taffy, the cutest dog she has ever seen, Piper is determined to find a way to bring Taffy home. But it won’t be easy—especially when she finds out someone else wants to make Taffy a part of their family, too!

Stephanie Faris knew she wanted to be an author from a very young age. In fact, her mother often told her to stop reading so much and go outside and play with the other kids. After graduating from Middle Tennessee State University with a Bachelor of Science in broadcast journalism, she somehow found herself working in information technology. But she never stopped writing.

Stephanie is the Simon & Schuster author of 30 Days of No Gossip and 25 Roses, as well as the upcoming Piper Morgan series. When she isn’t crafting fiction, she writes for a variety of online websites on the topics of business, technology, and her favorite subject of all—fashion. She lives in Nashville with her husband, a sales executive.

https://stephaniefaris.com/

http://stephie5741.blogspot.com/

https://www.facebook.com/stephfaris

https://twitter.com/stephfaris

https://www.instagram.com/stephfaris/

 

Dystopia Now

I’m in shock. I woke this morning up to find my familiar home adrift in an alligator-filled swamp. Where do I go from here?

Those of you who’ve been divorced will understand this feeling, that hollow thunk as the heavy realization lands on your guts. Someone I trusted, felt safe with, has just done something so out of character, so unforgiveable, that the marriage is irreparably rent.

Only it’s not my spouse, it’s my country. People I believed were smart, sturdy, good-hearted—they’ve voted like a pack of jeering twelve-year-olds, and they’ve elected the playground bully. My country is not what I thought it was. It no longer feels like home.

And the clown they’ve elected is abominably unqualified for the job. I pray that he gathers around him advisors with experience, education, and good will. So far, it’s not looking good.

When the smoke clears and we sweep up the debris, I’ll probably be OK. Even though the resultant stock market plunge will chew up large chunks of our safety net, my family won’t be out on the street. But I fear for my country.

Throughout my career as a teacher, I’ve promised kids that education was the key to a life with choices, opportunities, security. But now the reins have been grabbed by the kids who scoffed at school, who sneer at smart people, who think their white skin entitles them to stomp on anyone who doesn’t resemble them or toe their toxic line.

These are not my people.

And I have it easy: I’m white and, if not prosperous, at least in no immediate danger of losing my home or going hungry. Rabid packs of neo-Nazis aren’t likely to burn any crosses on my lawn. I can avoid the high-crime parts of town—I have that luxury. What about the people who are stuck there?

I’m an action-oriented person. I recover best from a dizzying blow when I can do something. It’s not in my nature to hunker down and wait. As disgusted as I am by the Trump voters, I recognize that they have some legitimate outrage. I don’t know how to fix meth-riddled Kansas, reality-TV-addled Louisiana, rusted-out Michigan—but I can reach out a hand in Tacoma. Divorce isn’t the answer here. Connection, dialogue, compassion—that’s our challenge during the next four years.

Right now, as I stare dumfounded at my computer screen, connecting Trump voters is the last thing I want to do. But there must be Republicans out there who still cherish the ideals of democracy, of opportunity, of respect for our fellow humans—even those who don’t look and act just like we do.

Please, God, let there be Republicans like that

IWSG Question of the Month

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/

It’s the first Wednesday of the month, when all the IWSGers post on their blogs about their writing insecurities or offer some encouragement to others.

November’s Question: What is your favorite aspect of being a writer?

I’ve always had a hard time answering questions about favorites. How could someone possibly narrow down all the best songs, books, movies, foods to one shining pinnacle? I’m just not that decisive, I guess. That said, here’s a list of what I love about being a writer.

  • Working in my PJs. After years of jetting out of bed before dawn, I now roll out when I’m good and ready, pull on something comfy, pour the coffee and head straight for my office, located right between the bathroom and the kitchen. The only better location I can imagine is a magical wi-fi equipped treehouse.
  • treehouse
    • Working undisturbed. Few other jobs give one the opportunity to sit for hours at a time in focused concentration. Teaching high school sure didn’t.
    • Putting my imagination to use. All that daydreaming finally has a productive outlet. Though I’m not a fantasy writer, I’ve created a fictional town on the Northern California coast, full of the kinds of people I’d like to surround myself with. And I get to visit every day. Cool.
    • Revenge! Evildoers beware—I shall slay you (symbolically, anyway) in my stories.
    • Discovering the good side of bad people. This is often too difficult in real life, but on the page I must round out my villains.
    • Finally having the last word. In real life, when someone says something insulting or snotty to me, the perfect retort arrives a few hours later. But on the page, my protagonist can rip off the perfect zinger. Zap! (Picture a verbal lightning bolt obliterating the snotty person.)
    • The company of other writers. Even though our stories and preferred genres vary widely, we’re all creatives walking/hiking/slogging/clambering on the same path. We understand each other deep in our bones.
    • Feedback: I trust (most) other writers to point out issues with my writing that merit my attention.
    • More than any work community I’ve belonged to, writers cheer each other on, prop each other up, comfort each other when bad reviews arrive like flaming bags of dog poop on the front stoop, when editors/critique partners call for yet another revision, when a promising plot thread fizzles. And they point me toward craft books, websites and workshops that give me tools to climb out of the whole I’ve dug. Thank you.

    And you, fellow writers? What are your favorite bits?

 

NOMONANOWRIMO

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When an accomplishment addict like me retires, she has to find a way to impose deadlines, milestones, items to check off the to-do list. I sort of feel like I don’t exist if I’m not getting stuff done. Two years into retirement, I still crave those external markers of accomplishment. One such is National Novel Writing Month. Each November, thousands of writers pledge to churn out a 50,000-word novel by month’s end. That’s 1,667 words per day.

After two years of “winning” NANOWRIMO, I’m taking a break. This November will find me at my writing desk every day, of course, but I won’t be churning out a first draft of anything. As a matter of fact, I’m still refining and polishing the story I started back in NANO 2014. The also-promising mystery novel I started in NANO 2015 is marinating in a folder, patiently waiting until I get back to it. This year I’m focusing on Chuck Wendig’s valuable advice: “Finish your shit.”

Just in case you haven’t read this sharp, funny, poke-in-your-writerly-ass essay, here it is: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/11/26/why-its-important-to-finish-your-shit/

NANO has given me good habits, a sense of determination, and some fun writing contacts in my local area. But despite the sparkly appeal of new beginnings, it’s time to plod, chug, crunch, grunt and push my way through this latest revision and then launch another round of queries.

New beginnings are such fun, but it’s the steady plodding forward that gets stuff done.