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Excuses: What’s in your Wallet?

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Excuses. Most of us make them at one time or another. I myself make more than my fair share. It’s been easy for me to think that I’ll put off writing a blog because it’s summer. Time for vacation. Time for family. Time to check Facebook one more time rather than write my blog. It’s not that I don’t like to blog. I actually love blogging. But the excuses piled up, and with one life event after another, it was easier to blame something else rather than myself for taking time to blog.

My excuses have run dry. My family vacation and writing conference vacation are over. My children are back in school. And Facebook and Twitter, while wonderful, can do without me for an hour. They’ll be fine. So it’s time for me to reconnect with the part of me that likes to ramble on about subjects I love.

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Writing. For years, I made excuses about not writing. I can’t write a book because I don’t know how. I can’t write a book because it’s too hard. I thought of all these characters and stories, but I also thought of all my excuses and used them as crutches. One by one I began to confront my excuses. One by one I knocked them down like bowling pins. I don’t know how? Join a writing organization. Learn from the best in the field. Read craft books. It’s too hard? Life can be hard. I graduated from law school. Once you’ve had Professor S., anything else is a breeze as long as you go into it with your head held up high. I ran out of excuses. I began to write and finished a book. Later I learned about the advantages of RWA and my local chapter. My first critique was an eye opener in that I learned I had a lot to learn, but to my amazement, the published author laughed at something I wrote and put a smiley face next to the words. Encouragement at its best.

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Reading. I can’t remember ever not being able to read. When I was a kid, my Aunt Julie and Uncle Ziggy visited from Pennsylvania. Instead of a T-shirt or some souvenir from Pittsburgh, they brought me the latest Trixie Belden book. Was I a lucky kid to have such great relatives or what? All my life I’ve always had a book at my side. Even now, I usually carry my Kindle in my purse so I have a backup book with me. My excuses for not reading don’t involve not having anything to read but time. Oh, I need to check Facebook. Oh, I need to respond to this e-mail. Oh, oh, and more “oh”s. One of my wonderful GRW chapter mates delivered a workshop to us in which she detailed why we shouldn’t look at a computer for a certain amount of time before falling asleep. The color saturation and vibrancy hinder falling asleep. And I thought about it. Sure enough, instead of reading before bed, I’m checking Facebook or tweeting when what I really want to do is simply read my book. I’m still bad about not quitting the computer at a reasonable hour, but I’m trying to read more because I love it: the stories, the characters, the settings. No more excuses about not reading. I read night-night stories to my kids. It’s important to read stories to myself.

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Family. Big sigh. I remember when I was six or seven asking my mom to color with me, and she said she had to clean the house. I thought I’d never be that type of mom, but lo and behold, I make excuses here also. I have to fold one more basket of laundry. After I take MJ to Scouts. I’ll be home as soon as I finish editing my chapter. Today they have just all left for school. My oldest is a senior in high school. The twins are entering kindergarten. I know the time flies way too fast. I know there comes a time when Cupcake and Chunk won’t want me to read them bedtime stories. So yes. I’ll be the neighbor with the messy house. So I can watch Curious George with the twins. So I can read them night-night stories. So I can take all of them out for an ice cream cone.

They are all back in school, and it’s time for me to stop making excuses and start writing full time, start reading more, and color with the twins.

Have any excuses held you back from doing something you love? Let me know.

“What are you reading” Wednesdays: Why I love book series

In the past couple of months, I’ve discovered how passionate people are about reading. It’s suddenly cool to read. There are memes on Facebook that talk about people’s obsession with reading. I’ve discovered I’m not alone in my feeling of abibliophobia (the fear of running out of books to read) although I admit that right now my “to read” shelf is quite large. This weekend, I attended a wonderful workshop that proved something I’ve always known to be true in my personal life, but now someone has done much research to prove it: people love series.

Growing up, I latched onto book series. I loved the continuity of the characters’ lives and the returning to the same setting. From Trixie Belden to the Happy Hollisters, if it was a book series, I loved it. I was rather envious of a fifth grade classmate whose mother had kept all of her Cherry Ames’ books as our school library only stocked one of them. If there was more than one book in a series, I read it. I loved The Borrowers. I liked Nancy Drew but always returned to her much cooler counterpart, Trixie.

Guess what? I still love book series. If I find a series I love, I devour every book I can find (which now thanks to ebooks and the such is pretty easy). If it’s at the library, I especially love it.

There are series I’ve read for a long time. I love mysteries, romances, and nonfiction books. Carolyn Hart is one of my favorite mystery writers, hands down, no question. This woman is an absolute genius. I had the privilege of attending one of her book signings many years ago, and she was gracious and warm. She spent time with the small crowd, answering questions truthfully and diligently. That only added points in my book to want to read even more of her books. If there is a new Death on Demand book, I’m reserving it at my local library. I’ve read all of her Henrie O. series and I’ve read her Bailey Ruth series. There’s something, though, about the Death on Demand series that I always love. Annie and Max are a great combination, and her supporting characters are wonderfully alive, from the kooky and loving Laurel to the imperious and sharp Emma.

Last year at RWA, I had the privilege of receiving an autographed book from Jill Shalvis. I had never read any of her books before. I came home and devoured the first three Lucky Harbor series books. Maddie and Jax’s story is my favorite although I can relate to the Southern belle Tara and like her story with Ford. Any author who includes a reference to Ingrid Bergman is an author I want to read. I can’t wait to read more of the series.

The number of books that I have read that are part of series far outweigh the stand alone books I’ve read lately. If I see a Mrs. Murphy book by Rita Mae Brown, I’m at the checkout desk with it. If J. B. Stanley has a new James Henry/Supper Club book, it’s on my Kindle. I’m also at the checkout desk with the latest Fools Gold book by Susan Mallery. Just to name a few.

But why? Why do I keep returning to series? I think it’s like reconnecting with an old friend on Facebook. It’s finding out that the character is still vibrant and still is interesting enough to have another story to tell. It’s finding out that the author creates a persona that I want to read and in whom I invest time and energy getting to know. It’s also why television filled a niche that movies valiantly tried to fill with such classics as The Thin Man series (those wonderful movies with William Powell and Myrna Loy) but couldn’t because it takes so long to film a motion picture. People love their favorite characters in television shows and readers love their favorite characters to return either as a main character again or even a supporting one.

So this year I look forward to returning to some favorite places in books, but I’m also appreciative of authors who spin good stories without series as well. What about you? Do you love series? What series do you read and love? Let me know.

“What am I reading” Wednesdays: Children’s books

Everywhere I go, I make sure I have my Kindle or a paper book with me. I love to read. When I was waiting for my husband for our date night, I had my Kindle with me and read part of a novella while I waited for him. The minutes went by like seconds as I waited because I made the acquaintance of the characters in the story.

Reading is an intrinsic part of my life. While I was writing this blog, four-year-old Cupcake walked into my room, carrying her night-night story. I stopped writing to read her the story of “Five Little Monkeys Wash the Car.” Eileen Christelow’s poem evokes images of childhood with rhyming stories and colorful pictures. The story itself tells of determination and elbow grease to reach one’s goals and aspirations with a little bit of ingenuity to throw off the bad guys. It also teaches about single parenthood as the five little monkeys exhaust their mother who is trying to take an afternoon nap.

But I digress from what I’m reading to what I’m reading my children although my children play a role in what I read this week. While I’m reading some wonderful romance novels (I am after all, a pre-published, aspiring romance writer), I also took some time this week to venture into some children’s novels. I finished What Happens in Scotland by Jennifer McQuiston (I stayed up late one night last week, reading until shortly after midnight to find out what happened to Georgette and James. I’m reading a spicy romance contemporary right now by Bella Andre who is scheduled to be one of the main speakers at the 2014 Moonlight and Magnolias Conference. I wanted to read some of her works before hearing her speak next October. Those books are both paper copies.

Sometimes I carry my Kindle as it is lightweight and can carry a virtual library. This past weekend I ventured forty miles away from home to chauffeur Kath on a band audition. In the noisy gymnasium where all the students were warming up, I found myself surrounded by high school students blaring scales and audition pieces. I needed something very easy to read on my Kindle. I had never read Pollyanna which I downloaded over a year ago. I figured some kid lit would get me through the loud time and then I could return to the romantic beach setting of the other Kindle book I am reading. To my surprise, I enjoyed Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter. I saw the movie with Hayley Mills and Jane Wyman years ago, but I had never read the book until this weekend. Although Pollyanna has come to be synonymous with an overly sweet, syrupy young female heroine, she wasn’t as saccharine as I expected. The girl was trying to find her way in a world without her beloved parents while living with an aunt who refused to allow her to discuss anything about her father. Yes, it was a bit dated and Pollyanna was a little bit cloying at times, but the book was different from what I expected. Pollyanna leaped off the pages as the author used setting and stories to develop her characters. Pollyanna discussed her life out West by describing the women of the Ladies’ Aid in detail. One had a sense of knowing women like those in the Ladies’ Aid even now a hundred years later. Her Aunt Polly adopted her out of a sense of duty, and that sentiment still applies today. So many times people perform tasks out of a sense of duty rather than of genuine commitment and dedication. So even though Pollyanna gets a bad rap today and is a bit dated, some of the book still rings true: the maid who has to get a job because her family has no money, the girl who wants to talk to people to get to know them, the aunt who doesn’t want to let go of her pride rather than let people get close to her.

In addition to Pollyanna, I recently read another children’s classic that I had never read before: Mary Poppins. To my surprise, Mary Poppins is more sardonic than her movie character. She’s not quite as perfect but she gets involved in the family’s life all the same. Both of these books were immortalized as Disney movies, but each stands alone as interesting reads because of the perceptions of the heroines versus the way the writers develop them in the books.

Now I’m back to my romance novella and the romance novel I’m reading. I’m still finishing Meg and Caleb’s story in Beach House No. 9 and will finish Chloe and Chase’s story in a couple of days.

Have there been any books that you read because of a movie adaptation which surprised you because the characters were different from the movie characters? Have there been any books that you’ve read as an adult because you didn’t read them as a child? Let me know. Happy holidays.

Writing Tuesday: Write-at-home mom

Writing. It’s a job that can consume many of your waking thoughts as you sift through characters, research questions, plotting, and editing in the confines of your mind. For some writers, it’s a job that fortunately has yielded monetary renumeration. For others of us, we’re still waiting for the call that our book will be published (for those writers going the traditional publishing route). 

I’m in the latter category. I wrote my first book five years ago, then took a maternity leave when I found out I was pregnant with twins. My joke is that my maternity leave ended in August of 2012 when I returned to writing, making a serious effort to learn this amazing craft, more intricate than I ever imagined. I’ve joined a national group, dedicated to helping writers of my genre. I’ve joined a local group, also dedicated to helping writers learn their craft and ways to either go through the traditional publishing route or the self-publication indie route. I’ve written, rewritten and edited one complete manuscript and am now almost finished with my second. I’m trying to learn more about ways to improve my writing: tighter pacing, no head hopping, deeper POV, stronger GMCs. 

So far I haven’t earned a penny, but I’m loving every minute (well, almost every minute-it hurt to cut my best line out of my first book because the whole conversation and scene was deleted). So why this post, you might ask. You have a clear goal: to become a better writer who hopes to one day become published. You have a clear motivation: to get your book published. That leaves my conflict. With my oldest two kids, I was your typical stay-at-home mom. I went to every class outing possible, I kept the house clutter at a relative minimum and we spent weekends together as a family, especially if my wonderful hubby wasn’t at work. When Cupcake and Chunk entered dayschool, I made the decision that my maternity leave was over. Writing wasn’t something I could ignore. It’s an integral part of me that needs to be expressed. I love writing and it’s part of me. But that realization came at a price. I’m no longer able to go to every class outing. I’m telling people no, people who don’t always understand that since I’ve never received a paycheck for this that I need to commit time to this. I’m going to libraries on weekends to write because trying to write at my house is like pulling teeth with each of my four kids barging into my room/office to discuss a pressingly urgent topic (like the injustice of one of their siblings getting the last cookie when they wanted it). My oldest two had mommy at home for their first years. Cupcake and Chunk hug Mommy goodbye before she goes off to write. 

I’m hoping they all understand someday that I didn’t go out and party, but that I’m taking this write-at-home job of mine seriously and that I’m giving it my all. 

So what about you? If you’re a mom, do you work at an office or are you a stay-at-home mom? If you write, how do you balance writing with your personal life? I’d love to hear from you.

Family Friday: Wide Age Gap Kids

1336055815v0RGG0In my neck of the woods, there is a farm less than two miles down the road that offers u-pick blueberries and u-pick pumpkins. In late spring, there are u-pick strawberry farms relatively nearby. In the fall, several orchards feature u-pick apple days.

This year all six of us went blueberry picking. That’s right: six of us. You’d be surprised at how many looks I get when I tell people I have four children. I get the “what a big family” look, the “you’re ruining the environment” look, the “Oh, poor you” look and so on. That’s nothing compared to the looks that I get when I tell people I have twins. In addition to looks, I hear so many comments: “Lucky it’s you and not me,” “I’d never have the patience to handle twins,” “My cousin’s best friend’s veterinarian’s second cousin twice removed has twins.”

My wonderful hubby gets a lot of looks when he tells people the ages of our four children. Kath is 15. MJ is 10. Cupcake and Chunk are 4. Most people ask him if he’s divorced and has started a second family with his second wife (kid you not, real story).

Sometimes it’s hard to find places to take all of our kids for a day of family enjoyment away from the house. Blueberry picking is a fun activity that all ages can enjoy. Recently we went to Tennessee to visit Dollywood. We were rained out. I took Kath, Cupcake and Chunk to a nearby children’s museum while my wonderful hubby took MJ to a science museum as he’s outgrown most of the activities at the children’s museum (Kath was stuck in a quandary but chose the children’s museum over the science museum).

The important thing is that each of them feels loved and part of the family. They may not get to choose what family they have, but they have unique personalities that bring something different to the table.

If you have children, do you have one or more than one? How close in age are they? What have been your favorite looks from strangers regarding your family?

“What are you reading” Wednesdays

ImageI’ll let you in on a not-so-big secret: I love books. There are books in practically every room of my house. Even the bathrooms in my house have some type of reading material. While I’m not a hoarder, there are books in my bedroom, books in my basement and books in my foyer. This is a house where there are bookshelves in most of the rooms. 

From the time they were little, I’ve tried to read to each of my four kids. When my eldest was an only child, we would go to the library. There were times we were there for hours as I read the stack she collected before we took them home to read them again. When MJ was little and Kath was in school, we’d go to the library and he would pick out one book which I would have to read over and over again. Now MJ and Kath are in school and there are two new little ones: Cupcake and Chunk who are now four. I love reading them the same books that I read Kath and MJ. I still love Hairy MacLary from Donaldson’s Dairy, Henry and Mudge, Dr. Seuss, Poppleton, and way more. 

Even though I love to read to them, I also love stealing away with a book of my own to read. This afternoon, I found some time to pick up the book I’m reading now: What Happens in Scotland by Jennifer McQuiston. I’m around page one hundred and it’s starting to get really good. I especially love reading about Patrick’s three legged dog, Gemmy. It’s the story of a man and woman who wake up one morning to find they are married to each other, but neither can remember all of the events that led up to their marriage the night before. Now the heroine has run out of the room while the hero believes she stole all of his money. I’m enjoying it and looking forward to reading more of it when the kids are asleep and I’m not writing. I absolutely recommend it (even though I’m not even a third of the way done with it).

What book are you reading right now? 

P.S. Stay tuned to my blog as I talk about different things on different days. Mondays are devoted to something about writing, Wednesdays to what I’m reading or watching, Fridays to family and weekends are a mixed bag of all of the above.

Writing Monday: Favorite Places to Write

ImageOne of my favorite TV shows of all time is Ellery Queen. This one season show aired in the mid-1970s and centered around a mystery writer who solved mysteries. (Yes, this preceded Murder, She Wrote.) Last night I was watching one of the episodes on my laptop that featured Ellery working furiously to finish a book before a deadline. He only had a couple of days to finish forty pages and he had hurt his finger which was wrapped up and unable to be used to write or type. (One other aside: the show is set in 1947 before word processors and computers.) With a busted finger, he hired a secretary, one Miss Margie Coopersmith with a “C,” to write down his dictation. At eleven thirty at night, Miss Coopersmith asked Ellery if he would like to continue writing at the automat. Ellery looked at her as if she were crazy. “Writing? At the automat? It’s too noisy.” He told her he wouldn’t be able to get any work done in the noisy confines of the automat, instead preferring the interior confines of his New York City apartment.

This morning I was writing at Panera Bread since my two youngest are still at home with me and my husband didn’t have to go to leave for work until noon. Being a write-at-home mom is great because I set my own hours and work as often as I can. One problem, however, is that my children think my office, which is in my bedroom, has a rotating door which can be opened whenever they want. As a result, I tend to write elsewhere if they are at home: libraries, restaurants, anywhere where I can sit and write in relative peace and quiet.

The good thing about writing at someplace other than my house is that it gives me a couple of minutes beforehand to think about my writing for the day: where I’m at in my outline, dialogue, setting, POV, and so on. The bad thing is that it eats up time as I travel to different places. 

The important thing is that I’m trying to work on consistency: writing almost every day, writing deliberately and writing for the character’s story to get onto the written page.

Where do you like to write?