Friday, July 31, 2009

For the Love of History

I love history. Well, you already knew that. But I also love reading historical fiction. Done right, it can completely transport you to a different time.

I recently read an incredible historical novel set during the American Revolution. The Tory Widow, written by Christine Blevins, is filled with details about colonial life, but it doesn't distract from the story. It enhances it to such a degree that I felt like I intimately knew the characters and how they lived. It felt like Ms. Blevins time traveled back to New York in the 1770's and wrote down everything she saw. Absolutely wonderful for a history buff like me. (Click here for my review).

Historical fiction has seen a surge in the past few years, and I, for one, am quite glad. As such, Rene and I have started up our historical fiction blog again to celebrate these great novels. Come and visit us at Ainsley Park if you get the chance.

Do you like to read historical fiction or do you prefer contemporary?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Confessions of an Old Soul

I am an old soul.

I collect old magazines. Old photographs adorn my walls. Old music plays from my old-looking stereo. I like old movie stars and old books, old houses and old cars. I like browsing in antique shops for old lamps and old knick knacks and old tea cups. I like old statues weathered by time.
I like old buildings and roaming around old villages and towns and taking pictures of old things.
I listen to old radio shows.
I like old letters and old diaries.
I like old people. One of my favorite persons to talk to is my grandmother.When I was in England, I enjoyed talking to old people the most. They actually wanted to talk and didn't have a set of ear buds in their ears, tuning out the world, or a cell phone glued to their fingers.

I like listening to old stories from my old relatives. I like thinking about old times and how the people lived.

But even more than that, I am "old" down to my soul. I like old-fashioned values. Family. Church. God. Loyalty. Hard work. I keep my eyes open to the modern world, but eschew its influence in many ways. I do not have cable. I often sit in my living room and listen to music while I embroider or read a book. My daughter does the same - though it's usually art or tiger research that she's working on. She plays with her toys and uses her imagination, creating these fantastical worlds where she loses herself for hours.

I take joy in the simple things of life - a cup of tea, a conversation with a friend, a nature walk, a bird's call, playing UNO with my daughter, watching my cat chase a bug or watching my daughter feed the ducks.

I don't text. I don't use my cell phone for anything other than phone calls. I don't have an iPod and when I take a walk downtown for lunch, I open myself to the world around me - all the noise and beauty and wonderment - instead of lifting myself above it and drowning it out with music.

Sometimes, I feel out of place in this constantly evolving world, one where modern technology has often taken the place of a simple conversation using complete words and voices.

I cringe when I see a young kid showing no respect for his elders or when I witness simple manners being replaced by a misplaced sense of entitlement. (I've been cringing a lot lately).

I've come to embrace this about myself. This is who I am - a mixture of old and new. After all, I love the Internet (oh, the old things I have found using it!). I love email. I love modern medicine. I love indoor plumbing!

But at my heart, I am old-fashioned. And that's ok.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Almost Writing Time!

I have used this particular photo lots of times in my blog posts. Why? Because it just signifies peace and tranquility for me. I would love to be sitting near a pond or river, notebook in hand, dog by my side. Well, I have the pond and the notebook, but no dog. Think my cat would tag along? ;-)

I haven't wrote anything fiction-wise for a few months now. Instead, I've been deep into my research and character sketches. The last three days have been quite fun - I am actually reading a book and taking notes, just like I did in high school and college. The information has been fascinating. That's the geeky historian coming out in me. I've found some amazing primary documents that have added an entirely new dimension to things. Finding them on the internet and being able to print them out is sheer heaven! (Sorry, I really geeked out there).

Now, though, I finally feel that I have a good grasp of the historical background for the next novel. I simply couldn't start writing until I had this information in hand. Now that I do, I'm hopeful that the official "start date" of the novel will be quite soon.

I can't wait.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

One Year

One year ago today, I lost my dog, Charlie Brown.
Last night I had a dream about him. He was right by my side, right where he always used to be. He even used to wait outside the bathroom door for me and I remember I nearly tripped over him more than once when I opened the door. :-)

He was a Border Collie/Retriever mix and so incredibly smart. I used to call him my wonder dog. As a pup, he had parvo and survived. When he got older, he had a bad habit of chasing really loud vehicles - and the UPS man. One time, the UPS man won and I had to rush him to the vet - and I was 7 months pregnant. That time, he made it through fine.

The next time he nearly lost his life.

I still remember that day quite clearly. We couldn't find him. It was a cold, dreary day, patches of snow covering the ground, and after we looked everywhere, we finally found him curled up beside the house. My husband carried him back to the yard, but somehow, he got out and went into the alley, almost as if he was wandering off to die. We rushed him to the vet and found that he had a broken pelvis. He couldn't go to the bathroom on his own. He had several wounds on his side from being hit (we think by the UPS truck) and we weren't sure if he would recover. The vet said if he didn't heal and couldn't go to the bathroom by himself, his quality of life wouldn't be good and we'd have to think of putting him down. I vowed that wouldn't happen.

It was touch and go for awhile. Since Charlie was an outdoors dog, we put him on an inflatable chair, the kind you use at the beach (the name escapes me right now), and I would drag every morning from the warm garage into the warm sunshine of the backyard. I gave him his meds, cleaned his wounds, and cleaned his backside. Flies would swarm around him, trying to get to the wounds, and despite everything I did, they did their deed. I discovered maggots in his wounds one day (sorry if this is too gross!) and immediately called the vet. He told me how to get them out. Of course, my husband was at work at the time, so I knew I'd have to handle this one myself. And I did. I got those little buggers out and Charlie laid there, so peaceful and calm, never once trying to bite me, never once yelping in pain, but stoic through it all.

I still remember my mom calling me and telling me that if Charlie didn't improve, I might want to think about putting him down. I was so vehemently against this idea that I cried, loudly protested that Charlie would make it through this, and then hung up on her. (Sorry, Mom!).

Charlie continued to improve. His wounds healed. But he still couldn't go to the bathroom on his own. I would watch him through the kitchen window and just pray and pray. And then one day, I saw him struggle to his feet, lift his leg in a corner of the yard, and then I knew that he would be ok.

I've lost pets before,
but the grief I experienced with Charlie was unparalleled. I literally felt as though part of my heart was gone. I blogged about this grief and I know it helped me get through it.

That dog was as devoted to me as I was to him. His loyalty never faltered. It was unconditional love on both our parts. I still miss him. I still cry occasionally and today, I've shed more tears. That's ok.

I just hope I get to see him someday. I hope that there is a doggie heaven.

I miss you, Charlie!
Love and hugs from Mama.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Low Motivation

Boy. My motivation is shot. I get involved in a project and do ok for a bit, but then my attention span wanders. I'd like to blame it on the massive heat wave we're experiencing except...we're NOT experiencing a massive heat wave. Instead, the July temperatures have been unusually mild. The other morning, it felt like autumn outside.

Maybe it's because my mom is visiting for the week and we're usually chatting or I'm listening to my daughter play the piano (she just started taking lessons from my mom) or we're watching my cat stalk yet another bug. Basically, I'm doing anything but focusing on the writing. Oh, I went to our university library yesterday and picked up some incredible books that will be invaluble in my research, but I haven't dived into them yet.

I suppose that's ok.

Summer has never been a very motivating time for me. Heat zaps my energy. The long, lazy days make me want to just sit and read a book and do little else.

But when fall rolls around...ah. Bliss! I love that season and that's when I think I am my most motivated - especially when it's too cold to go outside.

Does summer motivate you or are you like me - enjoying the lazy aspect of it?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I Wish...

I'm in a bit of a pensive mood today, so thought I'd do something fun.

Fill in the blank below. It can be as long or as short as you want.

"I wish I was________________________________."

Here's mine.

"I wish I was sitting in my grandmother's kitchen, sipping tea, eating Oreos, and discussing movie stars of the 1940s."

And another one:

"I wish I was in Italy with my family, meeting my long-lost relatives, and eating divine Italian food."

Care to play?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Weekend Pics

Beautiful flower...


Babies!

Feeding the ducks...

Lady Catherine
How was your weekend?




Thursday, July 16, 2009

Write What You Want to Know


For the past few months, I've been working on research and preparing the "ground work" for my next novel. This includes brief character sketches and a plot outline - nothing too detailed, but I need to know where my main plot points are, otherwise I get mired in a sea of perilous plot quicksand. I've also been doing lots and lots of research - and that is what is taking the most time. I have all my other details pretty much ironed out.

There's
an old writing saying that my friend Diane recently rephrased. Instead of, "Write what you know", she changed it to "Write what you want to know." This fits me much more accurately. And oh boy, do I want to know lots and lots of things, and it's usually things that happened years and years and years ago! That history fascination, y'know...

Unfortunately, this "wanting to know" involves a great deal of research. While I enjoy it, right now, my mindset is more of "Enough already! Let me write!" But I can't yet. The research is going to give my bare-bones characters the flesh they need to fully come alive.

But oh...the blank page beckons. I am fascinated by
this story, and even though another fully-formed story idea popped into my head the other day, that one doesn't hold the same appeal for me as the current one I'm researching.

Therein lies the rub. While I could work on the other novel "for fun", it doesn't grip me like my main WIP does. Strange how a few days can make such a difference. But that's what the ol' mind is telling me.

Now, I usually keep researching while I'm writing the novel, but I don't feel like I have quite enough research done yet to actually start writing. It's a bit of a rock and a hard spot to be in. So I must keep trudging onward.

Do you write what you want to know?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

If You're In Your Jammies By 7:30 p.m....

I was quite prepared to have a good evening last night. I had a lot of research I needed to do and couldn't wait to dive in. But good intentions and all that...

My dishwasher wasn't filling with water like it was supposed to, so after fiddling with it for a bit, it started to do its thing. I went back to my bedroom with my bowl of cereal and started looking up things on the Internet. After about five minutes, I realized that the dishwasher was still filling with water - not a good sign.

When I went out to the kitchen to investigate, I realized that there was water on my floor. Of course, in my hurry to get there, I took a step on the linoleum floor at the very same moment I realized there was an inch of water spread across the entire floor.

Down I went. And I landed on my arm and I think my entire body weight fell on it, too. After a few shocked seconds, I realized I was completely soaked, the dishwasher was still running, and I needed to get up before I flooded my entire apartment.

It took me quite awhile to clean up all the water and I used all my towels, so I had to run a load of laundry. By this time, I figured I was wet anyway, so I might as well take a shower and put on my jammies. I also started laughing hysterically at the thought of my fall. I probably jolted my neighbor downstairs!

By the time I got out, my arm started to ache. And it hasn't stopped since.

I don't know if it's broken- all I know is that I can't straighten it out or I get hit with shooting pain. I suppose a trip to the doctor is in order. If it IS broken, it will be my first broken bone. I've had deep bruises and light sprains, but never a broken bone.

The good news? I can still type... *grin*

Edit: The streak continues! It's not broken (though it still hurts!). X-rays showed a perfectly intact bone. Guess it's just a deep bruise on the bone.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The "Heart" vs. the "Head" Novel

When you're trying to break into the publishing world and be a successful author, your novel ideas generally tend to veer toward whether or not it will fit with your platform, if it will be marketable, or if it will become part of your brand. Published authors do this, after all, and usually if they want to write something different, it's after they've been established for awhile and have a solid fan base.

But what about those ideas that creep up on you that do not necessarily follow what you normally write?

That happened to me Saturday. I'd just gotten home from the horse races with my brother (my first time going and it was so much fun) and I'd stopped by Barnes & Noble to grab a few things before coming home. I hit the shower and when I got out, I had a fully-formed novel idea in my head. Lines were jumping out at me and I raced to my computer, got frustrated when the Microsoft Word took forever to load, and then I finally sat down and started typing.

I don't know how long I sat there - it couldn't have been more than 15-20 minutes, but by the time I was done, I had a solid outline, vibrant characters, GMC's, absolutely everything I needed. I couldn't believe it. All those weeks I'd struggled to come up with a story idea and one had dropped into my head with no effort on my part whatsoever.

I toyed with the marketability of the idea, realized it was pretty sound, but then also realized that it is not what I normally write. Since I'm well into the prep phase for my next novel and I'm in the querying stage for another novel, this new novel wouldn't help me build my platform as a debut novelist.

Then I realized that I simply didn't care.

This book will be solely for fun. It requires minimum research and the characters are all right there, so the normal preparations I make before starting a novel really aren't needed. Everything has already been done in that one fifteen-minute brain dump I had the other day.

And if I decide that I want to pursue publication of it someday, well, that's fine by me. But it's not going to be my main focus. Instead, I plan to forget the whole publishing world while I'm writing this story and just focus on my characters and their world.

Which brings up another point. When you move to the stage of your writing where you are actively seeking publication, have an agent, or even a publisher, you necessarily think of platform, brand, marketability, publicity, promotion, etc., for your novel. It has to come into your brain at some point. That is the business side of this crazy roller coaster ride and to brush that aspect of the publishing world aside is a bit dangerous.

Wouldn't it be wonderful, though, if we didn't have to think of that side? If we didn't have to worry about platform and marketing and all the rest of it, but could just write our story? I suppose this is where my old belief of "write the first draft with your heart, the second with your head" comes into being.

Maybe this "fun" novel of mine will find a place on the shelf some day. I'm not discounting the possibility, but neither am I making it a priority. I'm going to write this story blissfully and deliberately unaware of that "other" side to the writing business. It's a freeing mindset, one I'm anxious to explore.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Finding My Independence

Last night, I decided to read through the travel journal I kept when I went to England last October. I made the conscious decision to travel by myself on this journey for a few reasons. One, I had a lot of turmoil going on in my personal life and I needed to get away and think. Two, I wanted to have no agenda but my own, and three, I wanted to see if I could do it.

You see, since my marriage in 1999, I had felt that my sense of adventure and my independent spirit had not disappeared, but had definitely retreated. Raising a daughter and two stepsons, and dealing with the "bad" things in my marriage had been difficult. I found my self-esteem starting to drop and I developed a rather craven attitude (to me) of wanting to stay in the house all the time, not meet new people, not do new things. In short, I wanted to be "safe." I could control the world in my house - to an extent. (Or so I thought. I realize now that I wasn't controlling it at all - it was controlling me). I couldn't control the outside world. So I stayed in the safe zone.

After almost ten years of that, my soul craved adventure. It begged me to go somewhere, anywhere, and to see if I could recapture that spirit I held when I was in college, when I piled into a van of college students (that I barely knew) and drove all the way from Chadron, Nebraska, to New Orleans; when I went to England in 1995 with another group of college students and had the absolute time of my life - no panic attacks, no wondering if I could be a worldwide traveler, but just knowing that I could do it.

My journal entries reveal something rather fascinating. At first, I can see my hesitation, my insecurity, my wondering, "Can I do this? Do I still have it in me?" Slowly, the renewal begins to shine through the words. As I navigated the public transportation system in England (which I had no experience with last time I was there as we had a chartered bus take us everywhere) and figured how to get myself around, as I went and saw the things I wanted to see and got myself back home again, as I chatted with the locals, as I tried new foods, my spirit of adventure came to life again.

And so did my independence.

That trip changed me, in more ways than one. It made me realize that I am a woman quite capable of taking care of herself in a foreign country (even when I got food poisoning!), quite capable of figuring things out on my own, and quite capable of taking charge of my own life. It made me more confident, stronger, and gave me more courage.

In fact, here's a line from my blog while I was blogging from England: If you've got the wherewithal to do it, I highly suggest traveling on your own. It will make you dig deep inside yourself for strength and courage that you didn't know you had. You'll go through a myriad of emotions: fear that you're doing this by yourself, panic that you might not figure things out, giddiness when you do figure things out, and pride that you did it.

This trip also gave me the courage and strength to make some tough decisions in my personal life. I'd decided upon a divorce before I left, but this trip gave me the time to really think things through and I realized that I had lost myself in my marriage. Because of my husband's alcoholism and so, so many other things (and believe me, I know I wasn't perfect, either. I became the ultimate co-dependent), I had lost that woman I had been in college and right after college.

But she's back.

England was the turning point I needed to find myself again, to do what was right for me and my daughter, to discover who I am in this crazy world. It's changed who I am today, as a mother, as a daughter, a sister, a coworker and friend - and as a writer. My independent nature is an integral part of me. It was buried for awhile, but now that it's reemerged, it has made me a stronger, more mature, and much more confident woman.

Let freedom ring!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Fireworks, Food, and Fun

Where to begin? It was a glorious weekend full of lots of laughter, yummy food, and good times. And it all started with the drive home.

As you can see below, we took my kitty, Katie, with us to her new home at my mom's farm. Now Miss Katie is used to coming and going as she pleases and she did not relish the idea of being in a cat carrier for five hours. Let's just say that ride was pretty darn eventful and that my car now has cat hair in it. We eventually had to let her out of the carrier because she wouldn't quit meowing. So I held her. And then she'd climb into the back window or sit on my leg and look out the passenger window. We were all relieved when we finally got home and Miss Katie could explore the farm.



My mom remarried this year and she now lives on a gorgeous farm with her husband in western Nebraska. We enjoyed playing badminton and volleyball on her front lawn and my daughter absolutely loved the swing and playing with my mom's two baby kitties. This is the view from my mom's front porch. Beautiful, isn't it?

Here's my brother getting ready to smack the birdie - I thought this was a pretty cool photo.

And you have to have a farm dog! This is Shaggy.



On Saturday, it was softball, softball, softball. My brothers were in a softball tournament and we spent most of the day shuttling between my grandmother's house (which is literally right across the street from the softball diamond) and the fields. My brothers both played baseball when they were younger - my younger brother even played college baseball, so I'm quite used to hanging out at the ball diamonds. It was great to watch them again. (And I forgot my camera, but my dad took a ton of photos, so hopefully I can just get some of those).

And oh, the food! Wow. I think I'm still full!

We hit the rodeo Saturday night. Here's my nephew hamming it up with his friend.

I know the top of this photo got cut off, but it'll give you a taste of the bucking broncos! I'm really not a rodeo fan, but it was fun to watch - except the bull riders. Sheesh! I was on pins and needles the whole time!
Of course, you can't have the 4th of July without some fireworks! The local volunteer fire department put on a great show. My camera isn't the best at capturing action shots, but here's a few cool photos.
It was so wonderful to be with my family again. I desperately needed to be around them after everything I've gone through the past few months. Since I had a pretty lonely birthday this year, my mom got me a birthday cake and we celebrated my birthday on Friday. Just about made me cry! I dearly love them all.

Returning to the city after a trip back home is always bittersweet. I need the sweet, peaceful country air to rejuvenate my body and soul, but I thrive on the energy of the city. I guess I have the best of both worlds! My brother and his family live on the farm (he's the 4th generation to farm it), my dad lives out in the country just a few miles from him, and my mom lives on a farm with her husband. I have three places to get my bit of country! And really, it's a bit of heaven when I go home. I feel like it centers me. Though I probably couldn't live there again, I absolutely love going home and visiting.

Family comes first with me. And I am fortunate to have a wonderful, loving, and supportive family. God truly has blessed me!

Monday, July 06, 2009

Whew! What a Weekend...

Had a great weekend with my family. Wow. Wish I could have stayed a couple more days. I'm pretty tired, though, as we didn't get back until 4:30 a.m. Yes, we left extremely late and it's a 5 hour drive, so we drove straight through the night. Not fun, but at least I got to take the morning off of work and sleep in.

Will fill you in on the details after I'm more coherent.

Hope you had a great weekend!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Happy 4th of July!

It's time to celebrate this great country's independence. I'll be with my family for the next few days - a much-needed vacation.

Have a great and safe holiday weekend!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Motivation, Balance, and Discipline

For the last five years, "writer" has been a part of my day-job title. I feel fortunate to be working in a field that I enjoy and my writing has only improved because of it. I've seen tremendous growth in my fiction writing, as well, and in more ways than one. Not only has the writing itself improved, but so has the discipline.

While a paycheck is probably the most powerful motivation to get a project done at the day-job and with freelance work, you don't quite have that same motivation when you're an unpublished writer.

So how do you do it?

For me, it's come down to one thing. I have to want it bad enough. I have to want to succeed, whatever my definition of success may be. And my definition is to be a published author. That means I balance my time. I don't spend hours watching mindless t.v. (I don't have cable anyway). I don't spent gobs of time on the internet when I'm at home. I don't spend hours reading a book (this hurts sometimes, especially if it's a good book!).

During the weekdays, my time is pretty regimented. There's the day job from 8-5, then I go work out three times a week, pick my daughter up from daycare, make supper, and then I have approximately 3 1/2 hours before bedtime. I have to devote at least an hour or two to the writing - and right now, I'm in research/plotting mode for the next novel, so that could include reading a research book, tapping notes on the computer, or doing online research. When it comes time to write, I often will make my schedule accomodate a good two hours of writing time during the weekdays.

Do I stick to this rigid schedule? Not always. I allow myself plenty of flexibility. When you're a mother, you have to. And my daughter is my most important priority. If she wants to play a game of UNO, then by golly, that's what we'll do. If we decide to enjoy the unexpectedly cool summer evening with a walk over to the duck pond, we'll do that, too. A shopping trip to the mall on a Friday night complete with a yummy homemade cookie from the Cookie Company? We're there!

Stay balanced. Keep your discipline. Allow yourself off days. And don't beat yourself up when you get off track. That's not good for the motivation! Just shrug your shoulders, say, "Life happens" and get back to your schedule tomorrow. Or, completely throw my advice out the window and do it whatever way works for you. If you want it bad enough, you'll figure out a way to make it work - your way.

One Day at a Time

I've always tried to live with this mentality: One day at a time. Unfortunately, when I implement it, I fail spectacularly. But for this...