Tuesday, December 27, 2011

In the Flow

I had the day off yesterday thanks to Christmas falling on the weekend, and I made the most of it. No, I didn't take a nap, though I was sorely tempted. No, I didn't exercise, although I really should have considering the amount of cookies I shoved down my throat over the weekend.

What I did do, however, was write.

Over the course of the afternoon and into the evening (with periodic breaks, some of them lasting an hour or more), I managed to write over 3,000 words. I even had an editor helping me out (see proof below), so I know they were good words. LOL

Kathryn wearing her editor's cap.
At one point in the evening, I was about ready to stop for the night since it was after 10 p.m. But something urged me on and I kept going. When I finally looked at the clock, 40 minutes had passed. I was in the flow. I love it when that happens!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Finding Your Process

I ran across a blog post the other day that made me pause. This published writer has refined her process so that she normally writes 10,000 words a day. Yes, 10,000.

On my best day, I've never written that much. But I was intrigured by the concept, so I read how she did it. Here's her post.

Basically, she discovered that she needed three things to be able to go from writing 2,000 words a day to 10k. Here they are:

1) Knowledge: know what you're writing before you write it.
2) Time: track productivity and evaluate. Find the time that works best for you.
3) Enthusiasm: get excited about what you're writing

After I read it, I thought maybe I should give it a shot. After all, who doesn't want to write more, quality words? Her theory made sense to me. If you are excited about what you write, know what is going to come next (no staring at the blank page wondering) and have blocked out the time to do it, why wouldn't it work?

So this weekend, I blocked out some time, took a few notes on the next scene I was going to write, and got to work.

Here's what I discovered.

This may be a method that will work for you, and if it does, that is wonderful. Heck, I wish it worked for me. But it doesn't.

Why? Because I like the thrill of discovery while I'm writing. I don't like to block everything out that I write beforehand because it takes that discovery process away from me. I've had some of my best ideas while in the midst of writing that just pop up. They weren't planned. The writing process revealed them.

That probably means I will never get up to 10,000 words a day and that's just fine. I am in awe of those who can. But that is their process and it works for them.

My process is slower. This doesn't mean it is better. It is just the way I write.

Like our writing itself, the writing process is subjective and unique to each individual. Bottom line: we have to do what works for us.

I would have been this little girl!
What do you think? Would this author's process work for you? Give it a try! You never know!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Dreams Don't Work...

I found this picture on Pinterest and I had to share.

Are you working for your dreams?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Weak vs. Strong Heroines

I had an interesting discussion on Facebook the other day over a photo. Here it is:
So yes, this is a pro-Hermione photo. Now since I have not read Harry Potter and have not seen the movies, I'll have to trust that the caption on the photo is what happens in the book. Having watched the Twilight movies, I know this is what happens with Bella. I do not think that one movie is better than the other, and I'm not going to argue that point. They both have a place.

So. One heroine is strong - Hermione - and one is weak - Bella. They deal with the loss of their loves in different ways. One sinks into depression, one decides to keep going. Both are realistic. But some argue that Bella is dangerous because she teaches our girls that it's ok to retreat into yourself, and potentially harm yourself over a boy.

I'm not going to go into the myriad characteristics of each character. Instead, I want to ask this question: 

Does this mean that we should never portray weak heroines?

That is the idea one person posited to me. In fact, they went so far as to say that weak heroines were the villains and do not belong in fiction at all.

I disagree. I see value in both heroines. Why? Because for one, we're not all like Hermione. We don't all have the inner strength to go out and get the bad guy. Two, Bella's character is a wonderful way to open a dialogue with your own daughters. I have had great discussions with my daughter over the Twilight movies. She sees Bella's choices and knows that they're the wrong ones. They have consequences. But she also realizes that it is just a story. (And yes, we could get into a deep discussion on how fictional character can influence us, but that is for another day).

The way I explained it was that we need both strong and weak heroines to see the complete picture. It's kind of like not knowing joy without first knowing sorrow. There are lessons to be learned from both.

So. What say you? Is it important to have both weak and strong female lead characters in our stories? I say yes. You?

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Are You An Introvert?

When I was in high school, I tended to be an introvert. Staying at home on a Friday night and working on my latest novel didn't bother me a bit.

That changed in college. I became quite the extrovert, and I have to say I really enjoyed it. I met a lot of people, had some great experiences - I traveled to New Orleans with a group of people I didn't know and I also went to England on a literary tour - and soaked up life.

In the last few years, however, I have returned to my introverted self and at this point, I don't see myself changing. And you know what? That's ok.

As a writer, it's almost a given that you're going to be an introvert (though I know there are exceptions). I started thinking about this particular phenomena when I read this terrific blog post, 10 Myths About Introverts which then led me to this terrific site that's a home for introverts!

What are the traits of an introvert? According to Marti Laney, introverts have these characteristics:

  • Enjoy time alone
  • Consider only deep relationships as friends
  • Feel drained after outside activities, even if they were fun
  • Are good listeners
  • Appear calm and self-contained
  • Think then speak or act
Extroverts have these characteristics:

  • Like to be in the thick of things
  • Relish variety
  • Know lots of people, considers lots of people friends
  • Enjoy chit-chatting, even to strangers
  • Feel stoked after activity
  • Speak or act then think OR think while speaking
Based on these lists, I can definitely say I'm an introvert. The older I get, the more I loathe crowds. I can't stand to be in crowded malls, department stores, grocery stores, bars, or resteraunts. My instinct is to flee. Immediately. This is a switch from my college days when I adored being in the thick of things.

What's even more interesting to me is the science involved in studying introverts and extroverts. From Laney's book, The Introvert Advantage, blogger and writer Carl King says,

"A section of Laney’s book maps out the human brain and explains how neuro-transmitters follow different dominant paths in the nervous systems of Introverts and Extroverts. If the science behind the book is correct, it turns out that Introverts are people who are over-sensitive to Dopamine, so too much external stimulation overdoses and exhausts them. Conversely, Extroverts can’t get enough Dopamine, and they require Adrenaline for their brains to create it. Extroverts also have a shorter pathway and less blood-flow to the brain. The messages of an Extrovert’s nervous system mostly bypass the Broca’s area in the frontal lobe, which is where a large portion of contemplation takes place."
Now that's just plain fascinating.

At this time in my life, there's nothing I like more than to stay home, write, read, play games with my daughter, hang out with my husband, cuddle with my kitties, work on my art projects, and enjoy my home. That, to me, is bliss.

What about you? Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Remember Pearl Harbor - 70 Year Anniversary

Today is the 70th Anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor - December 7, 1941. That act sent us to war and became a rallying cry for our soldiers and our nation - Remember Pearl Harbor!

People wore pins.
This battle cry was also used in posters.

Stickers were put on cars.
In fact, the country was determined never to forget the men who lost their lives that day as they fought the long, grueling war ahead.

Seventy years later, we still remember.

Friday, December 02, 2011

A Good Kind of Busy - And Some Good News!

On Being Busy

My deepest apologies if I haven't been by your blog lately. I have said that a lot in the past few months, haven't I! But I am sorry. I tend to get caught up in the whirlwind of life a lot more these days and unfortunately, the blog is the thing that gets neglected.

I don't know if that will get any better in the coming month. I've got a house to decorate, cookies to bake, presents to wrap, and a cat to keep out of my Christmas tree. But I know we're all busy during December, so I can't really use that excuse. The excuse I will use, though, is my plethora of writing activities.

My freelance keeps me really hopping, so much so that I haven't had a chance to start on my next novel. This simply will not do, however, as being a novelist is my number one writing priority. So I've cut back a bit on the freelance and have finished doing all my research, plotting, and characterization for my novel. I am so excited by this next story and my characters...this anticipation is one of the best parts of writing!

The Good News

I am also thrilled to announce that I will have an article published in the magazine, America in WWII in their April edition, which should hit shelves sometime in February. This article is about the delightful Mary Lou! I am quite excited by this all, but I am even more excited to share Mary Lou's story. She is such an inspiration. I have kept in touch with her ever since the interview and am proud to call her a friend. And because I love this picture so much, I'm going to share it with you. This is Mary Lou when she lived in Washington D.C.

When she showed me this picture, I said, "You were gorgeous!" And she still is - inside and out!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Christmas Is Coming!

As you can see by my new blog background, I'm quite excited for Christmas this year. Now that Thanksgiving is over, I can officially start decorating, listening to Christmas music, and start anticipating my favorite holiday!

Our tree last year
Since we're in a new house this year, I am uber excited to decorate it. We have a cute little brick Cape Cod with a small yard. I plan to put up lights and decorations galore! I admit, I will miss my fireplace that we had in our apartment. Nowhere to hang our stockings! But I'll figure something out.

Of course, our kitty, Slick, will probably make things interesting, but hopefully he'll learn to leave everything alone - especially the tree!

I also can't wait to pick out some yummy Christmas cookie recipes and make up some cookie plates for our neighbors. We've never lived in a close-knit neighborhood before, so I'm quite excited to hand them out. My daughter and I are ready to get baking!

We're staying home this Christmas. Usually, we head to western Nebraska, but my daughter requested we stay put this year. I don't blame her. The holiday is such a whirlwind of travel, going to different places, hauling our luggage around, and being just plain exhausted by the end of the trip that once in awhile, it's ok to stay home. I will miss our traditional Christmas Eve at my grandmother's house and the other time spent with family, but we plan to have a nice, quiet Christmas.

Are you looking forward to Christmas this year?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving Update

What a wonderful Thanksgiving I've had this year. Even though I don't get home very often, the time I do spend with my family is incredibly special.

Thursday, my daughter, my brother, and I headed to my mom's house for a wonderful feast. She fixed an amazing meal and we all had quite the food coma. A walk along the river and two games of Clue later, we declared the day to be a success.

Yesterday, I ended up in Denver with my grandmother and my father and his girlfriend. We went to a traditional Italian restaurant, Bella Bistro, then went to see The 1940s Radio Hour play at the Arvada Center in Arvada, Colorado. What a show! It was so neat to have my grandmother sitting beside me, too, since it's hard for her to travel. But she enjoyed it so much.

Tonight, we're making our family's homemade Italian salami. This is a recipe from my great-grandparents and every few years, we get together and make it. It takes quite the crew to grind all the meat and put it in casings, etc., so we're also fixing bagna cauda (pronounced "bunya cow-da") to feed everyone. This is a traditional Italian dish and comes from northern Italy near Turin where our family is from. It literally means "hot bath" and consists of butter, garlic, and anchovies heated up in a skillet. You then dip raw vegetables, bread, meat, and anything else your heart desires (though I wouldn't dip chocolate in it!). With this, you either love it or you hate it! But if you do go to northern Italy, you'll find this hot dip in many restaurants.

My Grandpa Shorty with his nephew, 1940s
I love being part of a family that still celebrates its ethnic heritage, and I hope this next generation can keep it going. It is truly something special.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My New Buddy

If you've been reading my blog for awhile now, you'll know that I once had an incredible dog named Charlie Brown. I tragically lost him a few years ago and just thinking about him still brings tears to my eyes.

I am a Facebook fan of the HUA, Hearts United for Animals, a "national no-kill shelter, sanctuary, and animal welfare organization dedicated to the relief of suffering." They are located not far from me in eastern Nebraska. Today, they posted a picture of Banderas, a handsome black dog that instantly reminded me of my beloved Charlie Brown. Banderas needed a "buddy" - i.e., a financial supporter who could make monthly donations to take care of him until he is adopted into his forever home.

Well, it took me about two seconds to click on the link and become Banderas's buddy. If I could, I would bring him home, but our landlady has a firm policy: NO DOGS.

So I'll do my small part for Banderas, who has not had the happiest life. From his bio on the website:

This gorgeous, gigantic lug of fluff is the just about the sweetest thing in the world. Banderas was found abandoned on a farm, tied up with a heavy, rusted choke chain. When his rescuers got to him, the chain had become twisted and Banderas was slowly dying from strangulation. We can not fathom what agony he would have endured, what fear he was battling. Banderas is eternally grateful for the help given to him. He is a kind, gentle giant who asks for nothing. Well, OK, he's a bit of a sucker for belly rubs and does every now and then request some good scratching. We are more than happy to oblige. We think Banderas deserves a life time of them.

This tells me that Banderas is a fighter, just like my Charlie Brown was.

My Charlie Brown
This is for you, Charlie Brown! I will keep you forever in my heart. 

Take a minute, if you're so inclined, to visit the HUA. They are a truly remarkable organization. They even do long-distance adoptions!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Character Collages

I've recently been delving into the world of mixed media art. I've always loved to collage, so this is the perfect medium for me. I can combine lots of different objects to create a truly unique form of art.
A sample of a collage - I love this piece!
Over the weekend, I made a few items for pure enjoyment, but I also incorporated my next novel into my artistic endeavors by making character collages. This has been a fascinating way to get to know my characters.

What is a character collage? Simple. It's an art piece that represents, describes, or otherwise shows who and what your fictional character is all about.

For me, it's important to find a picture that most closely fits what my character looks like in my mind. Since my novels are set during the 1940s, browsing film stars from that era is a favorite way for me to find a look-alike for my characters. Once that is done, I print out a few photos, then start looking through magazines, newspapers, and using other materials to find things - whether they be objects, beliefs, sayings, etc. - that describe my character.

As I put together my collage, I discover lots of different aspects to my character I never knew before. These are often sparked by a picture or a phrase that jumps out at me as representative of my character.

I love the artistic challenge of putting together my collage, of creating my own vision of who my character is. It's also a great way for me to tap into a different type of creativity apart from my writing.

So yes. My writing office is now strewn with bits of paper, magazines, paint, stickers, assorted odds and ends, glue, beads, and just about anything else you can think of. My cat is having a field day.

But I'm enjoying it, and have now found a new tool to enhance my writing process.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

This Says It All

When I saw this picture, I immediately posted it on Facebook. Our new cat, Slick, who is the most ornery, curious, downright infuriating cat I've ever known, will be introduced to the wonder of Christmas trees in a few weeks. His obsession with anything that moves, anything that's shiny, and anything he can play with (are you sensing a pattern here?) is going to be put to the test when we get out the Christmas tree.

I have a feeling we are in for a major battle. And this is why:
Does he really look like he cares what his humans do in trying to keep him from mischief?


Christmas is going to be interesting at our place this year...

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day 2011

These are pictures of my husband, who served in the army during the first Gulf War in the early 1990s. As you can tell, he has quite the sense of humor - and still does.
Today is Veterans Day. It's a day to remember those who served, and to thank them for that service. So to my husband, "thank you" and to all the other veterans, past, present, and future, thank you for your service. You will never be forgotten!

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

What's Your Escape?

Reality can be so inconvenient.

 But let's face it. We all have to live in reality in order to, well, live. But there are plenty of times I want and need to mentally escape from reality for a few minutes or a few hours. 

So what's my favorite way to escape?
I have a few:
  • Watch a classic movie from the 1940s or 1950s - State Fair and Laura are two of my favorites for leaving the modern world and all its problems behind.
  • Read a wonderful novel that completely sucks me into its world.
  • Listen to old-time radio shows. This is so much fun, and is often a lot better than anything on t.v.
  • Peruse through my magazine collection of the 1940s. There is nothing like immersing yourself in a different time period.

What about you? How do you escape from reality?

Monday, November 07, 2011

If You Have Your Health...

The old adage is true: if you have your health, you have everything.

Yesterday I took a drink of soda and nearly choked on it for some unknown reason, leading to a full-blown coughing fit. I'm fine, but incongruously, my chest muscles started hurting and it made my normally bearable chronic tension-headache pain even worse.

Suffice to say, I was in a lot of pain yesterday afternoon and had to abandon working on my next novel. I took a nap instead.

My husband shook his head at me last night after I woke up and he said, "All it took was one thing to throw your day completely off."


And that's just plain frustrating. I try to eat right and my goal to exercise three times a week at Curves remains a solid, do-able one that I reach most of the time. So it's not like I'm sitting on my bum, eating junk food and doing nothing but being a slug. I am trying to get healthy. I've even started going to a massage therapist to see he if he can help with the tension headaches. As you know, I've been to an acupuncturist for my "female" problems and I can't even begin to tell you how many doctors I've been to over the last ten years.
Maybe I could train my cat to type for me when I have an "unwell" day...

But it all boils down to this: I'm not a healthy person. Hardly one day goes by that I feel good - whether it's a bad headache, a sick tummy, aching muscles, menstrual problems, fatigue, etc. My poor daughter doesn't understand and has asked me why I am always sick. It's hard to tell her why because even I don't know why.

Accepting that I am not a healthy person is hard. My husband said yesterday that I really was a "frail" person and I had to agree with him. I am frail physically in a lot of ways. It doesn't take much to make me feel miserable and detour me from my intended goals for the day, whether that means reading a book or doing housework or spending time with my daughter or whatever. It plain stinks.

However, despite having a fragile body, I like to think my mind isn't fragile. In fact, after what I've been through in my life, I'd say I'm a strong person, but only because God made me strong by putting me through situations where I needed Him and His strength.

I'm becoming more and more aware that each day is unique. Some days I may feel great while others I may feel lousy. The key is not to chastise myself for the days I feel awful. Again, it goes back to self-love. Why should I get angry at myself if my stomach starts to hurt? Or if my headache becomes so unbearable I need to take a pain pill and go to sleep? That only exacerbates it all.

Acceptance is a beautiful thing, but it is incredibly hard to achieve sometimes, especially when there are so many things I want to do.

As a writer, probably one of the best things I can do is write about my experiences. I firmly believe that writers were meant to share their words with the world and in so doing, help others. That being said, I hope you don't mind if some of my blog posts center on how I deal with living with chronic illness and pain. Because really, I am a writer, and unfortunately, chronic illness/pain is part of my life.

And that means the other adage is true, too: Live life one day at a time.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Blog Hopping

Sometimes, we can get stagnant in our blog following. We read the same blogs and don't bother to venture into new territory. While we continue to support our loyal blog readers (and this is a good thing!), we aren't opening ourselves up to new perspectives, i.e. new blogs!

So! In the spirit of giving that November brings, share a blog or two or four that you really enjoy that we might not have heard of before, and we can all reap the rewards!

Here's a few of mine:

Non-Fiction Chronicles of a Fiction-Filled Life - Anna Scott Graham is a writing machine! She's always got a wonderful post on the writing process or life in general.

Grandma's Letters from Africa - Along with her husband, Linda went to Africa as a missionary several years ago and this blog documents her journey. It is so eye-opening to see how the western culture differs from the African culture.

The Artist's Road - Patrick gave up his position as a CEO of a non-profit company to dedicate his life to the creative process. He's now in an MFA program and has wonderful posts on creativity and writing.

Your turn!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Monday Musings

Random thoughts for today...

1) I had to laugh when I checked out my Google stats today. The most popular searched words for this blog are "Bugs Bunny," which refers to this post.
The World Wide Web never ceases to amaze me...

2) We went bowling yesterday. I love to bowl. Hubby won a game and I won one. I'd say that satisfies both of our competitive spirits.

3) Tonight is undoubtedly the last true trick or treating Halloween for my daughter, who is now 11. I hope I don't cry. She is going as a Twilight vampire which, if you're going to be a vampire, a sparkly one is better than a bloody one, right?

4) I've decided to work on two books at once. We shall see how this progresses. The first is the next book in my trilogy. The other is one that needs to be reworked. I'm excited for both!

5)  Autumn has embraced my city. The trees are so unbelievably gorgeous, it literally brings tears to my eyes. God's beauty is amazing.

What's your random thought for the day?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Following Your Passion

So I have this friend. He's talented. Very talented. His ability to draw, to sketch, to paint, just blows me away.

Yet like most of us, he has a busy home life. Kids. Responsibilties. The day job.

But he's still pursuing his passion. To that end, he recently began a new blog focused not only on his art, but on the creative process itself.

If you get a chance, stop by RandyMadeIt. Check out his incredible pictures of Louis Armstrong that he painted on wood - yes, wood! Take a look at the sock monkey pictures on the Illustrations page. And read about this wonderfully creative, talented guy in one of the best "About Me" pages I've ever run across.

I always get a little giddy when I see fellow artists following their passions, and have to spread the word.

Are you following your passions?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Querying agents is an exercise in patience.

That's where I'm at right now.

It's hard.

But to be published, it's something we have to endure.

Must. Think. Positive!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Take Care of You

As artists, we have the ability to be incredibly self-critical. We insult ourselves ("You're a horrible writer!"), reprimend ourselves for not writing, and have a knack for feeling lower than dirt when we don't think we'll ever be published/get the plot right/find the right words.

Those are the bad days.

I've been experiencing those bad days lately, and last night, I finally realized something. If I were to say the things I've been thinking about myself to anyone else, it would be emotional abuse.

So why on earth am I doing it to myself?

It needs to stop.

Writer and creative coach Julia Cameron says, "When you feel yourself to be in critical condition, you must treat yourself as gently as you would a sick friend.”

If you're in a critical place, if the writing isn't flowing, if you can't get started on the next novel or can't for the life of you imagine how you'll finish your current work, then treat yourself gently. Don't criticize. Don't berate. Don't threaten. You wouldn't do that to a sick person, would you? No. So don't do it to yourself.

Be kind to you. Take care of you.

And most important, keep believing in you.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Death To the Pumpkin!

I imagine this must be the squirrels' battle cry in my neighborhood: Death to the pumpkin!

I managed to salvage two pumpkins from our garden that hadn't been eaten by the squirrels and the rabbits. I proudly displayed them on my front step.

Then yesterday afternoon, I found this:

Poor little pumpkin! *sob*

I should have known something was up when I saw one of the squirrels get nose to nose - literally - with my cat through the front door window.

They're very brave little buggers, but if I wasn't worried about my cat running away, I might be tempted to open the door and let her loose on those bushy-tailed fiends...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


I'm in between projects right now. I just finished my fourth novel and now I'm trying to decide which novel to write next. A lot of that depends on the kind of response I receive to the fourth one.

So, I've had to develop some patience. But it hasn't been easy.

Because I can't focus on the next novel just yet, I feel listless. I've been reading - I just finished Daniel Silva's latest thriller, Portrait of a Spy - meandering around the house a lot, writing down notes and ideas, watching a lot of classic movies, spending time with my hubby and my daughter, and generally being a slug.

A week of this is fine. I'm going on two weeks, though, and I must say, I'm tired of it. I need a writing goal to work toward, to motivate me, and since I don't have it yet, it's affecting the rest of my life.

You see, to me, writing is life. That is who I am. Yes, I'm also a mother and a wife and a lot of other things. But writing is my essence. It drives me. If I'm not working on the next project, I'm not a very happy gal.

I'm trying to enjoy this time off. Really, I am. But enough is enough.

It's time to get to work! Only...which project? Ah. This is the question with no answer. So until I do have an answer, I must be patient. 

Patience is a virtue.

I just wish it wasn't such a hard virtue to attain.

Contest Winner!

I'm pleased to announce that Shirley Wells has won a free copy of Elisabeth Foley's The Ranch Next Door. Congratulations, Shirley!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Guest Post: Elisabeth Foley

Today, I'm pleased to welcome fellow blogger and writer, Elisabeth Foley. She's just published her first book of short stories and they're all westerns. How cool is that? Even cooler? You have a chance to win a copy! Just leave a comment and we'll randomly draw a winner!

My favorite singing group, past or present, is the Sons of the Pioneers. One of the most famous Western singing groups of all time, they were pioneers in nature as well as name, with their unique harmony singing and an array of fine original songs by group members Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer. Nolan, who is best known as the composer of their biggest hits “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and “Cool Water,” was an especially gifted and versatile songwriter—who never learned to read or write music, although he composed hundreds of songs in his lifetime. Many of these songs are considered lost, because some were never written down or recorded, and in addition Nolan lost a large amount of his work in a 1948 fire.

Early last year, I was reading a list of these lost songs. At some point they were registered for copyright, so only the titles remain—the music and lyrics were never found. One of these titles caught my eye in passing: “The Ranch Next Door.” I remember thinking that it sounded like a good title for a story.

And my incorrigible imagination started saying, “I wonder what it would be about…?”

For some reason that title stuck in my head. I couldn’t help thinking about it over the next few days, and mechanically started to put the story together in my mind. I envisioned two ranches side by side, but with something that separated them so effectively that their near neighbors might as well not have existed. A feud, of course! From there it was an easy step to the classic cattleman vs. sheep rancher conflict, and then to the romance that threatens to break the long silence.

In the end, I just gave in and wrote the story.

Having done so, I still needed to reassure myself about “borrowing” the title before pursuing publication. So I contacted archivist Elizabeth Drake McDonald, who has researched and collected all of Bob Nolan’s surviving music, and asked her if it was all right to use the song title. She shared my request with Nolan’s grandson, Calin Coburn, and they both encouraged me to go ahead with it.

That was back when I was still thinking along the lines of submitting my short stories to magazines. But I used to daydream sometimes about what it would be like to publish a collection of stories. I always pictured “The Ranch Next Door” as the title story of the collection, whether because I had written it first, or because the title had so captured my imagination, or maybe because the barbed-wire fence dividing the feuding families seemed the strongest metaphorical and visual image to emerge from the seven stories. And here I am, a year and a half after putting the first words of the story on paper, and that old daydream has actually come true!

If you’d like to read more about Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers, you can visit this website, which has a wealth of pictures, music, biographies and much more.

Thanks, Elisabeth! Visit her blog at The Second Sentence.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Suffering for Art

There's the common understanding that artists suffer for their art. Usually, this means we suffer emotionally. Creative types are at a higher risk for depression and other mental disorders, including OCD. Some of the most famous creative artists throughout history suffered emotionally.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I was diagnosed with depression back in high school, and I've fought it on and off over the years. I've even blogged about it before. Yes, I'm on antidepressants. Yes, I tried going off of them. No, I couldn't do it and yes, I have accepted the fact that I will be on them probably the rest of my life.

But the suffering I'm talking about for today's post is the physical suffering. Granted, as I have been in deep depressions, I would rather take the physical suffering any day. But that doesn't mean it's not painful. Quite the opposite.

I worked on my novel all weekend. I rarely left the couch. I did get up and take periodic stretches and move around, but then I forced myself to get back to work. Unfortunately, I don't think I was sitting correctly, and as I normally use an ergonomic keyboard for my desktop computer, I knew that working that long on my laptop (which does not have an ergonomic keyboard) might cause some problems.

By Monday, this was confirmed. I have tension headaches that have their root in an old volleyball neck injury from high school. I've been to several chiropractors over the years, have tried several pain medications, and now, I just live with the fact that I have pain in my head almost every day. There comes a point when you get tired of going to the doctor all the time and just learn to deal. I'm at that point.

As Monday stretched into Tuesday and then Wednesday, the pain kept getting worse. I had no one to blame but myself. I, after all, was the one who had sat in that same position and worked my tail off. I had a finished novel, yes, but at what cost to my body?

Wednesday night the headache got so bad, I was in tears. My husband was on alert, knowing he might have to take me to the ER. Thankfully, two prescription pain pills took the edge off and knocked me out so I could get some sleep. But I was a zombie yesterday and had to miss work.

To tell you the truth, I'm a little angry with myself. I should have known better. I should have known that I needed to change my sitting position, done more stretching, done something to prevent it. While I was writing, I knew I might have to deal with a tension headache, but I thought the few stretching sessions I had was enough to keep it at bay.


It's Friday and I still am feeling this headache. Not good. I may have to visit the chiropractor (which means more money and time). I simply can't afford to lose days like this. It's not worth it, in time or in money. And why should I put myself through pain?

Thus, I'm pledging to myself that I will do better next time. Despite being within the throes of creativity, I have to take care that my body doesn't suffer for my art. In the end, it only hurts me as an artist. AND, I can actually prevent a lot of the physical pain whereas the emotional suffering is a slightly bigger beast to slay.

If you're like me and need a few lessons in good posture and ergonomics, here's some helpful links:

Here's to staying healthy emotionally and physically!

Monday, October 03, 2011

At Last

I often like to leave my weekends free to write. This may make me a fuddy duddy, but I've discovered that in this stage of my life, I'm a homebody. I don't want to go anywhere. And after my recent traveling experience, I'm quite content with that decision.

So this weekend, I had a goal in mind: to finish editing the novel. Sunday night at approximately 11:30 p.m., I met my goal.

The entire weekend, all I did was write and edit. Ok, I took a few breaks: watched a football game on Friday for a few hours and got groceries on Sunday. But really, that was it. Otherwise, my tush was planted on the couch, laptop in hand.

Of course, it wasn't without its ups and downs. On Saturday, I was in love with my story. On Sunday, I wanted to trash the whole thing. Now I'm feeling in-between about the whole thing.

But the novel, my fourth one, is done.

My body is feeling the effects today, though, and it only reminds me of the importance of exercise. I'm still going to Curves three times a week and that helps tremendously. In fact, I'm betting my body will thank me when I hit the gym today and work out the kinks from all that sitting.

The good news? The plot for the fifth novel is already spinning in my head.

How's your writing coming?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Happiness Is...

  • A crisp fall day
  • Gorgeous autumn leaves
  • My husband's kiss
  • My daughter's beautiful smile
  • Pleasant dreams
  • Dark chocolate
  • My kitties' soft fur
  • Friday
  • Writing the perfect phrase

What's on your list today?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Don't Edit Out Your Voice

I'm deep in the editing zone and lovin' it. Yes, I'm one of those crazy writers who would rather edit than write. Why? Because I get to play! I love coming up with new imagery, or using symbols in a particular passage, or adding just the right sentence that makes the whole scene work.

But I've also had to remind myself not to edit so much that I get rid of my unique voice. I blogged about this a few years ago and here's what I had to say:

You can over-analyze and try and spit-polish every.single.word until you edit the very life and breath right out of your story. Your voice fades into the background and your characters have been wrestled into doing what you think they need to do to make the story work instead of letting them decide their direction. But in the end, it doesn't work. At all.

Lesson learned. This time around, I'm not going to be so ruthless. I'm not going to edit my voice out of the story. I'm not going to agonize over every single word despite what some other writers might advise.

I tried it that way once, and in the end, I realized that my story wasn't mine anymore. I'd edited the heart out of it.

Solution? When the head (editor) gets too zealous, the heart must gently whisper in its ear. And the editor must listen and consider, then proceed to the best of its ability.

Only then will the true story be told.

Another lesson I've learned in this writing life: you have to constantly remind yourself of certain lessons learned in the past. Thank goodness for blog archives! ;-)

Monday, September 26, 2011

To Coin a New Phrase...

After working on the synopsis and resisting the urge to throw my laptop across the room more than once, I have coined a new phrase that accurately describes this frustrating experience.

"Writing a synopsis is like trying to herd cats."

'Nuff said.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

This Is Not Logical

Since we don't have cable, we watch DVDs for entertainment. We're fortunate that our excellent library system has plenty of titles available.

We have a thing for '60s television shoes, apparently, as all three of us - me, hubby, and our 11-year-old daughter really enjoy Hogan's Heroes. And naturally, as I'm a World War II historian and novelist, that works nicely with my interests.

But how is it that now I like Star Trek? I did terrible in science classes at school, and I don't ever read science fiction. Ever. So why do I now look forward to relaxing in front of the t.v. to watch Spock say, "Fascinating" or see Captain Kirk seduce a green woman or hear Scotty's cool accent or watch Bones (aka Dr. McCoy) use his little analyzer thingamabob to see if the creature is a humanoid or not?

And it's not just me. My daughter loves it, too. We're currently in the second season. Of course, one of my favorite episodes of all time, "A Piece of the Action", set on a planet whose people live like the gangsters of the 1920s, is included in this set. Hilarious.

It's interesting to note that not all the episodes were written by the same person. This gives the series quite a range of diversity. Some episodes are downright funny ("The Trouble with Tribbles") while others are quite serious in nature ("Obsession.)

As a writer, I've also noticed how they continually raise the stakes. For the majority of the episodes, the problem keeps getting worse and worse, and no matter what they try, it doesn't work. That keeps you glued to the screen.

Unfortunately, this is also a flaw, as it feels like in the last five minutes, they come up with a rather convenient solution. I saw this most noticeably in the episode "The Deadly Years" where the crew is exposed to radiation sickness that rapidly ages them. With literally hours left to live, they figure out that the only reason one of the crew members was immune from the radiation was because he had an adrenaline reaction - i.e. he was scared at the time of infection. So they came up with some kind of antidote based on this theory. I really wanted to roll my eyes at that one.

Fortunately, the good usually outweighs the bad in this series, and I really enjoy the banter between Spock and McCoy, Scotty's affection for scotch (naturally), and Captain Kirk's dedication to duty. The characters are well-rounded and fun to watch as they react to different situations.

And ok, ok, I have to admit it - I also enjoy watching William Shatner's acting abilities. According to IMDB:  "His clipped, dramatic narration, peppered with dramatic pauses, is often referred to as "Shatnerian."" Imagine, coming up with your own style of acting!

I don't think I'm anywhere close to being a Trekkie (I don't even know if that's spelled right!), but I admit it:  I'm hooked.

And that's just not logical.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Digging Into Character

I attended Robin Perini's Layering and Complexity workshop at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer's Conference last weekend. She gave lots of great advice about flaws, villains, characters, themes, subplots, and more.

Here's one of the exercises we had to do, and if you're feeling spry this Friday morning, you might want to try it, too. Choose the most powerful single event in your life and write it from your perspective (first-person). Then, choose a popular villain - I chose the Wicked Witch of the West - and write the same event from their point-of-view.

For fun, I'm going to share what I wrote. Keep in mind, this is unedited and raw.

My powerful event: giving birth to my daughter

The labor pains began early in the morning, intense and cramping. I realized the time I'd both dreaded and wanted was here now. In the delivery room, I drifted between delirious pain and increments of sleep. My husband held my hand, told me the pain would be over when the baby came. The mauve paint and pastoral picture on the opposite wall were not calming, but enemies. There was peace depicted, yet I didn't feel it, and it wasn't fair. I cycled through intense pain, then brief hiatuses, until finally, I pushed and she was born. A girl, the doctor announced. Thank the Lord for a girl, an ally in my testosterone-filled household. I didn't hold her, the cord wrapped around her neck. But the relief at having the pain gone overshadowed my fears of being a new parent, of caring for a new life when I felt ill-equipped. Yet when I held her, finally, the peace I had so craved earlier flooded through me and filled the lingering pockets of fear. I was now a mother and my life would never be the same.

Now, this is what I wrote from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West:

I hated this thing inside me and the unbearable pain it caused. I wanted to reach inside and rip it out, but I couldn't. So I conjured up spells to make the pain stop, but nothing worked. Finally, when the thing emerged, I felt such relief. But the moment it cried, my heart denied it. How dare it cry when I was the one who had undergone torment to bring it into this cruel world. Blackness flooded through every single pore, wiping out any small vestiges of light that might have survived my wickedness.

I have to admit, writing the villain's perspective was challenging, but it was also a lot of fun. Climbing into their skin, trying to figure out how they would view the same event that held so much meaning for me, made me stretch my writing muscle and think differently. I admit, I never thought of the Wicked Witch as being a mother, but doing this exercise offered some interesting possibilities on how she would react. I loved diving into her pscyhe, and I ultimately saw her selfishness and wickedness emerge.

This is a great tool for creating well-rounded characters and will add another layer of complexity to your story.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Not-So-Fun Tradition

I used to like to travel.

Did you notice I said "used to"?

Let me 'splain.

My trip out to Denver to the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer's Conference was fine. No problems. In fact, on my flight, I had four search and rescue dogs (two golden retrievers and two black labs) en route to some part of the country to help out (I never did learn where they were going), and their presence seemed to relax everyone on the flight.

I made it to my hotel without incident. The conference was good. My room was fantastic. The food was superb.

And then I woke up on Sunday morning and thought I was going to die.

No! I thought. This cannot be happening again!

Dear readers, if you've been following my blog for awhile, you'll know that I was the victim of food poisoning when I was in London in October of 2008.

I think the same thing happened to me on Sunday, though not as bad as London, and I cannot be sure if it was food poisoning or a virus. Either way, I was sick, could not attend the last day of the conference, and had to wait until 9:30 p.m. to go home.

Yes, you read that right. My flight was at 9:30 p.m.

Originally, I had planned to spend the afternoon hanging out with my dad and his girlfriend, who came to Denver to spend time with me. Since I am originally from the western part of Nebraska, Denver is only a few hours from home. So I was looking forward to doing some shopping, visiting the Tattered Cover Bookstore in downtown Denver, and enjoying the sights.

But Sunday morning changed that.

I have to give kudos to the hotel. They treated me with the utmost kindness, sending up toast and tea (and not charging me for it) and making sure I was ok. By early afternoon, I was feeling somewhat better, and since I had to check out of the hotel, my dad picked me up and we spent the afternoon together. But I still didn't feel good.

I got to the airport around 7:30, figuring I would only have to kill a few hours before my flight at 9:30. But as soon as I got through security and made it to my gate, I saw that my flight had been delayed until 11:30 p.m.

My head throbbed, my stomach ached, and I had to sit in an uncomfortable airport seat for FOUR HOURS.

I just wanted to go home.

By the time the plane arrived and we boarded, I was never so relieved. (Though I admit the steward's message of, "Sorry we were late, but our plane was having mechanical trouble. But we fixed it and she's been flying fine ever since!" did NOT make me feel better...)

I arrived home at 2:30 a.m. on Monday. I clung to my husband when he picked me up, and when we got to our cozy Cape Cod house, I almost cried in relief. I spent most of Monday sleeping, and was still recuperating yesterday.

I've decided I'm done traveling for awhile. This getting-sick-at-the-end-of-vacation tradition is NOT a good one!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

How to Give a Successful Agent Pitch in 20 Easy Steps

You, too, can give a successful agent pitch by following these twenty easy steps!

1) Watch tension-filled U.S. Open tennis match between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.

2) Eat two Dark Dove Chocolates.

3) Continue watching tension-filled tennis match, scream, "Yes!" when Federer makes a good shot, fall back on bed in jubilation, and almost choke on piece of Dove Dark Chocolate.

4) Realize death by chocolate is not as becoming as it sounds.

5) Floss teeth to make sure there is nothing to distract agent from billiance of your book.

6) Clutch your stomach when it starts rolling one hour before agent appointment.

7) Walk around hotel room "pitching" to thin air and realize you will never remember it all.

8) Decide to wing it.

9) Arrive ten minutes before appointment and wait with group of other agent-pitching writers.

10) Smell fear in air and determine to overcome by rocking back in chair and hoping it doesn't tip

11) Walk into room with agent, shake hand, introduce self

12) Realize with horror that agent is not asking any questions, but expects polished pitch

13) Mind goes blank

14) Frantically search for something to say, babble

15) Relieved when agent asks me a question

16) Spirits lift when agent is very interested in my writing-related freelance work

17) Forget about terrible novel pitch

18) Shocked when agent requests first two chapters of forgotten novel and wonders if it is out of pity

19) Stumble out of room, realize have done it

20) Buy diet Pepsi and pack of trail mix to celebrate

See? Easy!

Thursday, September 08, 2011


I've got Carly Simon's "Anticipation" song going through my head (and now you do, too!). Why? Because I have a pitch appointment with an agent at the writing conference this weekend. It will be my first ever, and I admit, I'm feeling a bit intimidated.

I've been AWOL from Blogland for awhile. I have a good excuse - promise. :-) I'm preparing for my conference, editing, trying to wrap up freelance projects before I leave tomorrow, and...being nervous. In fact, I've felt out of sorts for the past three days with too much going on in my brain.

I think I need to stop by Lucy's booth and pay five cents to get some pointers. Or a swift kick in the tush. She's good at that, too.

Did you know there is a ton of advice out there about how to pitch an agent? Of course, there is a ton of advice about everything nowadays with the mighty Internet. There's lots of do's and don'ts for the agent pitch, and weeding through it all and finding what is best for me has been the tough part.

But I've also realized something. This is one agent, one conference, one pitch. If it doesn't work out, all is not lost.

In the end, I figure I have to do three things: be professional, communicate to the agent how much I love my novel, and be myself.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Three, Glorious Days

Here in the U.S., we're having a three-day weekend thanks to Labor Day on Monday.

That's three, glorious days of editing.

Oh, and shopping.

Because you can't go to a writing conference without a new outfit, right?

Have a terrific weekend!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

How's the Writing Life?

How's your writing going? I'm still editing - and enjoying it, though at times, I feel like this novel is sucking my soul out of me. I suppose that's good - right? That means I'm digging deep and not just skimming the surface of my emotions.

The edits are slow - but this is how I work. I refuse to speed up and therefore, have shoddy results.

How about you? Where are you at with your latest work? Are you going great guns, or is the pace slower than an afternoon sitting in a cubicle at work? ;-)

Friday, August 26, 2011

You're Not Alone

My kitty, curled up with a stuffed animal
Sometimes, we need someone to understand us, to say, "Yeah, I get it," to reassure us, "No, you're not crazy" and to encourage us on this writing journey.

That's why I loved Sophy Burnham's For Writers Only.

It's a quick and wonderful read. In addition to her own thoughts, she includes quotes from well-known writers and even some artists on the creative life. And after the week I've had with my novel, I desperately needed some commiseration.

I found myself nodding along several times throughout the book and saying, She gets it.

One of my favorite sayings was included in the section on "Making Time." Sophy writes, "I have a lion inside me, and I have to feed it words every few days; when I don't, it begins to eat me instead."

How true!

But it is this story that really got me to thinking. Sophy says, "I fret with impatience. Hurrying. I punish myself for working so slowly, for not going faster, doing more."

See me nodding my head over here? This is me!!! But then Sophy relates the story of how Michelangelo spent eight months, along with his horse and two other men, building the road up to the marble quarry so that he could go there and cut out a marble slab to use for Pope Julian II's tomb.

Wow. Just...wow. That is dedication to the art right there. To think - I can simply turn on my computer and start typing away, or grab a piece of paper and a pen and start writing. I am truly blessed.

I picked up this book on a whim while I was at the library the other day, and I'm so glad I did. I just ordered it and it will now be a permanent part of my writing book collection. I highly recommended it!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Nothing. Nada. Zip.

I got nothing.

I've started a blog post, then deleted it. Came up with another one, then deleted it. This has been the pattern all morning.

My brain is a fog.

I blame my novel edits.

Or the heat.

Take your pick.

This ever happen to you?

Monday, August 22, 2011


Isn't it nice when you can look back over the weekend and say, "Wow, I got a lot done."

And I did.

I tackled housecleaning, laundry, baking, and even yardwork in the last two days. We've had quite a few storms lately and they've left a nice mess of leaves and branches on our lawn and driveway. So I decided to get my exercise on Saturday by sweeping and picking them up. (And I used muscles I obviously haven't used for awhile if my aching body was any indication...).

I picked some more zucchini (why do zucchini plants expand so darn much???) and made another batch of zucchini bread. I also brought a ton of zucchini to work to share with everyone. Hubby and I have taken to walking around the neighborhood with a big basket of zucchini and tomatoes and cucumbers to share with the neighbors. We simply can't eat it all.

Writing? Why, yes. I was productive with that, too. Though I must say one thing: I am a slow editor. I love to edit, but that also means I really choose my words with care. Whether this is a good thing or bad, I'm not sure.

Now mind you, I'm not productive like this every weekend. It's been too hot to go outside and do any yardwork, but we got a break in the weather and it was actually decent outside. And baking? Pffft. I barely do any. Hubby usually takes care of the laundry, so I don't do that, either. (Yes, I am a very blessed gal!).

So I have to celebrate the one weekend out of the last, er...several, where I was actually productive on more than one front!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Still deep in editing land, but thought I'd share a few photos with you of our short vacation (and some gratuitous cat photos!). We went to Worlds of Fun in Kansas City and had a blast! As a Snoopy collector, Planet Snoopy was the best possible place to be, especially the Snoopy Boutique, a store FILLED with Snoopy and Peanuts merchandise!


Hubby and my daughter just before our first ride.

We won the tiger!

Me, hot and sweaty, but happy!

The Mamba roller coaster - hubby went on this. Daughter and I elected to keep our feet on the ground!

The Mecca for Snoopy lovers!

Oh my gosh...a whole store dedicated to Snoopy and the gang!

By this time, she was getting tired...

I could barely walk through here without snatching everything off the shelves!


Love this dog!

We did not attempt this ride. We were all too chicken!

Cheesey tourist photo.
Look at the concentration!

Yet another ride we did not attempt...

Slick, the ever-growing kitten, loves to cuddle.

Exhibit B - loves to cuddle!

Ack! This may be going too far...

New Digs

I've got a new home on the web - stop by if you get a chance! www.melissamarsh.net