Monthly Archives: February 2015

Family Wednesday: Snow Day

Unknown-2A picture to tantalize you of the wonderful seasons to come: spring and summer.

There’s a new four-letter word in the continental United States: snow. Many parts of the United States haven’t just been affected by snow; they’ve been deluged. To paraphrase a scene from Forrest Gump, we’ve had fried snow, snow jumbo, snow fricassee, snow scampi, and baked snow. In other words, there’s been so much snow and ice around the continental forty-eight that no one wants to hear about it anymore. So what am I doing? I’m writing about my family’s snow day. That is quickly becoming a snow week.

Four kids, one roof. There are some general truths about adulthood. Once you graduate college, people tend to look at the ring finger of your left hand. Is there someone special in your life? Are you engaged? If so, who is that special someone? If not, why not? Is there something wrong with you?

Then you meet that special someone and the two of you announce your engagement. The questions change. When are you getting married? The stories change. Once an engagement ring is slipped on your finger, everyone starts regaling you with stories of his or her wedding. Oh, I remember the time. It goes by so quickly. It goes by so slowly. You hear joyful stories, but you also hear the horror stories. His cousin twice removed got plastered. The dog ate my cake. I got jilted.

You get married, and you think you’re in the clear. The questions change yet again. When are you going to have children? Once again, the stories change. Maybe you’ll be in the break room when you get assaulted with the question followed by anecdotal stories. When I was married for a year, we had our first child. Oh yeah, we had twins. Oh yeah, we had quintuplets.

Then you have your first sweet child. That sigh of relief is almost palpable. Everyone will now get off your back. You’ll be in the clear. Soon you’ll be the person asking the questions instead of being on the receiving end. Nope. The questions only change again. When’s the darling little baby going to have a baby brother or sister?

It’s only after the second child, the questions stop coming. There are those of us, though, who didn’t stop at two. In case of my WH and myself, we went for a third and lo and behold, we had twins. The questions started all over again, but this time there were preceding snips. You have a boy and a girl. Why’d you go from man-to-man to zone defense?

Usually I shrug the questions off with a grin. I love all of them. Even with lots of love in my heart, I know snow days are hard and sometimes try my patience. So what to do?

Movie night. I’ve told them all that tonight I’m introducing them to one of the greatest joys in life: Bringing Up Baby. Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Asta as George and a leopard. It’s age appropriate for all of them, and it’s one of the best movies ever made. This morning, I bought extra popcorn specifically for this purpose. Tonight there’s no Scout meeting, late practices, or any other excuse for us not to sit together and watch a movie (unless the power goes out and in which case, I have my laptop).

Books. I have a great slate of books. I just finished Jill Shalvis’ Forever and a Day and Tanya Michaels’ Mistletoe Mommy. Those are two romance novels that will definitely steam up your winter days with some fun and sassy characters. I recommend anything by either of those excellent romance authors. I’ve just started Debby Giusti’s The Officer’s Secret. After two chapters, I’m enjoying this romantic inspirational thriller. I can’t wait to read more of it.

Food. One good thing about six people under one roof is that each of us has different favorite foods. On the way home from picking up the twins at preschool yesterday, I stopped at the grocery store with the four of them, telling them they could each pick out a snack. I’m a chocoholic and I knew I had enough chocolate at home. My WH told me today he picked up queso dip after work yesterday because he wanted that. At the store, Kath asked if we had popcorn. MJ picked out his favorite type of yogurt. Chunk picked out a cantaloupe. And, believe it or not, Cupcake wanted celery. So we have enough food to last a while. Plus the good news for Cupcake is I don’t think we’ll all be running to the refrigerator for an extra stalk of celery when our snack cravings take over.

How have you made it through winter in your neck of the woods? Let me know.

Reading Wednesday: Something for Everyone

My daughter is back, safe and sound from her trip to Boston. We talked this morning, and she said that only herself and another girl brought books on the trip. On the way back from Boston, they talked on the plane about their favorite books. As a writer, I sat back in the easy chair and blinked. Kath is on the debate team. Not to promote stereotypes, but most of the time two groups of high school students are particularly stereotyped as studious: the debate team and the robotics team. I delved deeper into the conversation, asking why aren’t these kids reading? Some occupy their minds with other things (i.e., texting, talking, etc.). But some don’t find reading interesting. I had to bite back my tongue. There’s something out there for everyone. If you like Game of Thrones on television, read the books. Like Outlander on television? Read the books. Like Orange is the New Black on television? Read the book. (Please note I have only read the first three in the Outlander series and have not read any of these other books, but my husband loves the George R.R. Martin series). If you prefer movies to television, let’s explore some recent movies. Like The Fault in Our Stars? Read the book. Like Mockingjay? Read the book. Like 50 Shades of Gray? I’m sorry. But seriously, if you’re in high school, ask your parents if you can read the book (I don’t believe in censorship, but I do believe you should respect your parents’ decision about a book with mature themes until you are out of the house and can make an informed decision on your own, but that’s a different blog). There are books out there for all different age levels and all different interests. I will call on stereotypes for a minute. Like role-playing? Try science fiction, try fantasy, try alternate history. Like manicures and pedicures? Try young adult, new adult or romance. Like running marathons? Try thrillers, try mysteries, try something with an intricate plot that’ll give you something to think about between mile markers ten and twenty. In other words, no matter what you like to do, there’s a book out there for you. There are so many good books out there that it hurts my head to think there are high school students who don’t read with the mere explanation there’s nothing out there to suit them. Now, unlike any time in history, there are so many alternatives for devices that enable a book to be read: tablets, e-readers, smartphones, iPods, laptops, computers, and more. Not to mention the oldest device for reading that I know of: a plain old book in either hardcover or paperback. When I click on my Kindle to a major retailer, up pop a number of categories from humor to romance to biography. On Facebook right now, there’s a funny story making the rounds of one guy making his own categories in a bookstore. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. I laughed really hard. It’s on boredpanda.com, and the first picture reclassifies romance novels (I’m a romance writer and I think his characterization is hilarious), followed by cookbooks and other books. What I particularly love about these classifications is how he’s using humor to showcase books and showing how different books can appeal to a wide range of interests.

I’ll end with this true story. For those of you who don’t know, I have four children: Kath, MJ, Cupcake, and Chunk. MJ and Chunk both taught themselves to read at an early age. MJ was three and, believe it or not, Chunk was two. Before Chunk turned five last October, someone came up to me and asked me how I taught Chunk to read. I was taken aback and said he had taught himself to read. True, I have read books over and over to him and Cupcake. When MJ was in kindergarten, his homework assignment was to read to me every night and at the time I was pregnant with Cupcake and Chunk. Every day at five o’clock, MJ would read to me. Every day at 5:01, Cupcake would kick in response, presumably hearing MJ’s voice as he read aloud. Cupcake and Chunk have been exposed to reading before they were even born. When I was telling WH (wonderful hubby) the story of someone asking me how I taught Chunk to read, I paused and said, “I only wish I had told her I truthfully don’t care what age each of them starts reading, I care that they have a lifelong love of reading and continue to read even after they leave home.”

I meant it then and I mean it now. I want my kids to have the same joy of settling down with a book, opening the cover or touching a screen, and getting lost in a great story. There really is a book out there for everyone. I hope more high school students find books that capture their interest. Next time, I hope more than two students take some books with them on a trip.

What about you? Are you the type of person who suggests a book to someone if they tell you there’s nothing out there to pique their interest? What have you done to instill the love of reading for others? Let me know.

Writing Friday: Real Life Strikes Again

Unknown-1A long time ago, I remarked to my father how difficult calculus was. He remarked real life wasn’t a cakewalk and wait until I had to face life complete with a mortgage, a teenaged daughter and bills to pay. I looked at him like he was crazy. What could be more difficult than calculus unless it was trying to stay awake while reading my biology textbook?

Fast forward a number of years. Here I am, ensconced in that real life my father was talking about, complete with my very own teenaged daughter. At the monthly writers’ meeting I attend, I joke that I often feel like a character in a YA novel, the beleaguered mother of the heroine. While I know better than to base any of my characters on real people, real life sometimes has a way of sneaking up and teaching me about the concepts I’m trying to grasp as an author. This week my teenaged daughter Kath is hitting home some of the messages craft authors diligently write about. Since Kath doesn’t read my blog, I’ll go ahead and use her as my guinea pig example.

Kath is on her high school debate team. Yesterday she left to attend a debate tournament in another city, in another state. So far this illustrates the point so many craft authors try to make to us newer writers. You can write about a character but without urgency, immediacy, and the ability to relate, there’s not going to be an emotional connection with the reader. My first two sentences prove that. There’s no chord struck with the first two sentences. A teenager is part of her debate team and is attending a debate tournament. So what?

Urgency. Writers are urged to add a dimension to their character’s goals, motivations, and conflicts to up the urgency aspect. If something strikes home in a way to promote urgency, it can add to the tension and suspense in the book.

Did I mention the tournament is taking place in Massachusetts on Saturday and Sunday? Have you heard the weather forecast for New England? Another blizzard is expected with snowfall accumulations of up to a foot. Here is Kath, excited and nervous to go on her first national tournament, a tournament that will be her gauge about her skill as a novice debater who has co-championed in her last two events, and depending on when the weather system hits, the tournament may or may not go on as planned. Even if Logan’s backlog is cleared by Tuesday, her home state may be or may not be in for a significant weather event of its own. Her hometown airport may or may not be closed the day she’s coming back.

I’ll grant that Kath’s urgency isn’t on par with a grade A thriller, but it’s hitting home the need for a sense of urgency in my own works in progress.

The ability to relate. Another level that is often stressed in craft books is the need for the hero or heroine to be written in such a way as to strike a chord in the reader. The reader has to find something in the hero or heroine that’s likeable, that’s relatable.

Let’s return to Kath’s debate tournament. Teenagers aren’t always the easiest characters to find a bond with. While we adults all went through that stage, some teenagers are as prickly as cactus. How do I add details to the story that will make readers like Kath and relate to her somehow (knowing all the while with my example that Kath is a real person whose name and identifiers are being changed)? I go into her backstory to add that detail but notice it’s a little later in the blog. Kath has recently been diagnosed with VHL, a rare genetic condition. Without going into too much detail, it’s enough to say her eyesight in her left eye isn’t what it was before she was diagnosed with VHL. If this were a book and not a blog, there’d be more detail about the extent and severity of the disease, but for now, it’s enough to say this trip has been a major incentive for her. The details of why the trip is important for her (recent life changing diagnosis) add enough for us to like her more and relate to her more. Who hasn’t looked forward to something in a tough time?

Urgency and the ability to relate. These are two traits that can go a long way in adding depth to your main character. Is the conflict lodged between the character and their goal such as to promote a sense of urgency? Is the character likable so that the reader can relate to them and root for them to overcome the conflict?

As a writer, I’m trying to incorporate these details in my work in progress. As a mother, I’m on the edge of my seat for news about the blizzard in New England, knowing that will impact whether the tournament is able to continue.

Have any recent events in your life helped you delve into the craft of writing? Let me know.

Writing Thursday: The Dog Did It

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A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about our family adopting a dog named Vera, or more accurately, how Vera adopted our family. My family and I didn’t enter into this with blinders on. We knew there would be adjustments on both sides, and we hoped for a good fit. Vera’s been a joy (most of the time), but I didn’t expect for her to hammer home some important writing skills. So, without further ado, here’s what my new dog has taught me about writing.

Show, don’t tell. The three favorite words of the beginning writer. Believe it or not, Vera’s taught me a thing or two about showing rather than telling. When you first bring a dog into your home, you don’t know much about the dog. You have to observe the dog and read her signals to get to know her or him.

For example, I could tell you that Vera doesn’t like vets.

Or I could write a story to show you.

At the pet store during the adoption event, Vera ran over to our family and rolled on her back. She didn’t wander away as four kids descended on her and gave her tummy rubs and told her what a good dog she was. She stood up, gave them huge doggie kisses before rolling over again for another belly rub.

When we arrived home, she wouldn’t stay still as she showed us her best behavior and darted to each of us, waiting for a small sign of affection. It didn’t matter whether it was a tummy rub or a scratch behind the ears. She wanted to know she was being accepted into our family.

At night, she’ll jump into a chair with one of us, her long body stretched across the person. None of us have the will to tell her she’s not a lap dog. She’ll wait a couple of second for us to pet her and if we don’t, she starts whooping to let us know she’s next to us waiting for attention. Like we didn’t notice the thirty-eight pound dog on our lap.

In the morning, she’ll come up to each of us as we wake up and sit in front of us and roll over, waiting for more affection.

One day, I took Vera to the vet for a checkup and to purchase heartworm medication. When they showed us into the examination room, she burrowed her nose between the sliding door and the frame, trying to open the door to escape. The vet arrived and examined her ears. My sweet girl growled at the doctor who, with my permission, put a temporary muzzle on her to examine her ears, one of which had a raging ear infection.

Even without benefit of editing and with some point of view and verb usage errors, which did you prefer reading to find out Vera doesn’t like vets: the first sentence which told you that or the paragraphs that showed her previous behavior around us to establish her sweet disposition contrasted by her dislike of the vet?

Backstory. We adopted Vera from a rescue organization. I’m a big believer in supporting animal shelters and animal rescues. Her foster family had information about her past four months she had spent with them. They also conveyed that “a change of lifestyle” was the reason her former family surrendered her to the humane society. Other than that, we don’t know about her first eight years and Vera doesn’t know about my first (well, more than eight) years. She knows what I tell her, but it’s not like I go around thinking about everything that has happened in my life up until the moment we brought her into my home.

The same is true for characters. The reader doesn’t know the characters’ backstory. But just as I haven’t told Vera everything about my life before her, so too does the reader not need to know everything about the main character in the first ten pages of the book.

There have been a couple of times I’ve called Vera “Leia.” When that’s happened, I’ve told Vera about our previous pet, a corgi mix named Leia whom I love/d very much. I’m sprinkling in information about my past life, but I’m not spending hours/pages elaborating on every detail about Leia.

At the same time, every morning, Vera tries to snatch the socks out of my hand (in a sweet and funny way) when I attempt to put them on the feet of my preschoolers. While I know dogs can’t talk, it still has shown me that in the course of the story, it’s not always necessary to know why a certain behavior happens. Chunk (one of my five-year-old twins) thinks it’s a great game and that’s enough for me.

Read, read, read. So far, one of my favorite times with Vera has been a quiet half hour. I had my book in one hand and with my other hand, I petted her in the comfort of my big chair-and-a-half. I loved spending that time with her and losing myself in my book. Judging from how still she was, I’d say she was pretty happy as well. That short time together helped us bond a little bit more.

One craft tip writers often share with other writers is to read. Read about your craft, read your genre, and read outside your genre. It’s important to see how other writers use words to convey their stories and sometimes it’s relaxing to lose yourself in a book. No matter why, the important thing is to read.

In a little over three weeks, Vera’s helped me understand some of those writing hints I’ve heard so much about. She’s becoming part of our family, and her family includes a writer.

Have any of your pets ever helped bring home a craft tip about writing or helped your career in some other way? Let me know.

Reading Sunday: This Time It’s Personal

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Have you ever attended a book signing? If so, was it an individual book signing or a group one? I’ve had the pleasure of attending both types of autograph events. What a thrill it was for me to meet Ginger Rogers when she signed her autobiography at a Borders bookstore. As of now, I’ve only participated in these events from a reader’s standpoint. I’ve listened to stories from authors about signings. One story has remained with me (but apologies for being unable to attribute the source-I can only remember the story, not the author). There was once a group signing with many authors signing their books. A lady approached the author and told her she had heard about her from a number of her friends and would like to buy one of her books. Which one would the author recommend? And, by the way, the reader’ll be reading the book in a corner of a hospital room because her husband has cancer. The author closed her book cover. She reached for the woman’s hands and told her to wait for another time to buy her book because one of her characters had just received a cancer diagnosis. The author graciously told her to head to the author three seats over because that writer’s book would be perfect for her at this time in her life. That story lodged into my head, and I’ve thought of it several times over the past year. But this week this story hit home. This time it was personal.

We’ve all read books that have a character we recognize from our lives: a cancer survivor, a rambunctious toddler, a tough boss. We’ve all read books that might have a storyline similar to something we’ve faced at one point or another in our life: a job upheaval, a sudden move, the first kiss. Some books set in other realms or universes have themes to which we can relate: helping a friend, fighting an inner battle, searching for truth. But usually these characters or themes relate to someone we’ve known in our past or something that might have occurred a while back. Rarely does a sentence hit us in the gut because it relates to a battle we are currently facing. As I was reading The Rancher’s Reunion, I read this exact type of sentence.

In the book The Rancher’s Reunion by Tina Radcliffe, the hero thinks about a genetic disease that ravaged his father. Then he considers his choice not to undergo genetic testing. I froze because I am currently awaiting results of a genetic test. The character thinks about the battle within himself about why he won’t get tested: if his test comes back positive, he doesn’t want to worry about every twitch or ailment being a symptom that the disease has become full blown. He believes this factor outweighs the relief he might feel if the test comes back negative. So early on in the book, his decision has been to not receive genetic testing or counseling.

In my life, this is a reality as I write this. My daughter Kath has been diagnosed with a rare genetic disease called VHL (Von Hippel Lindau disease). Outside of doctors and people who know someone with this disease, not many people know about it. But I’ve received a crash course about it since September of 2014. This is a disease where time counts. Genetic testing cannot be postponed as scans and monitoring are crucial to this condition. My other three children have tested negative, but my husband and I are waiting for our results.

So this time a book is personal. And I’m the one who is reading it knowing something in my life parallels one of the subplots. And I’ll still finish the book because the characters are compelling and strong.

(And as an aside, I’m still reading Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass and I recommend this for writers in all stages of their career. It’s readable and it has some good information. I just hope in later editions the publisher will fix the typo on page 184).

Have you ever attended a book signing? If so, which author did you love meeting? Let me know.