Friday, December 27, 2013

Tis the Season to Tally Up

Regardless of your religious or non-religious beliefs, these last days of December offer all of us an opportunity to tally our debits and credits not only financially, but also emotionally and spiritually. As we literally count down the days until January 1, 2014, it makes sense to tally all the good in your life.
  • List the events that have made you happy.
  • Note the new things you have learned. 
  • Focus on what you have achieved. 
  • Think about the small things that give you great pleasure.
  •  Remember a friend or family member you have lost. 
  • Add that new person you have met to your plus column. 
  • Calculate all of your small achievements.
  • Include any big accomplishments or upgrades.
Write down three things you would like to aspire to accomplish in 2014. Careful, make it simple, do-able, and something that you would enjoy doing.  Think about a small activity you can do in 2014 that can change some one's life.

I hope for now that you are catching my drift. We sometimes spend time and energy focusing on what we can't do or what we don't have in our lives.  We need to stand still and realize the bounty existing in front of us.  To simply say it: practice the art of being present. To quietly and thoughtfully be in the moment without judgment, observing where you are, experiencing the place you are at, and finding the best in each person you are with at that moment.

Thanks for reading my blog, please come back again. Don't forget, you can suggest topics you would like me to tackle. Send me a comment or an email.

Happy New Year!

Pat W Coffey

Monday, December 16, 2013

Holiday Survival Tip - Punt When Plans Go Astray

Twas a bit more than a week before Christmas and all through the house boxes, lists, and ornaments were strewn...
       Now I don't know the condition of your home, but this weekend was disrupted when I torn a ligament in my leg on Friday and have been lying in bed with my leg above my heart.  The doctor's instructions: "If you want to be walking by Christmas you must keep off your leg for four to six days."  I obediently took the shot for pain. (The pain was so great I could hardly speak.) He adjusted a pair of crutches for me so I could hobble about the house. It is maddening to sit in your home, drugged, knowing that there are cookie doughs to make, gifts to wrap, cards to write, and of course a blog to write. The safest task was to write my blog.
      I use to get upset when things were disrupted, when my plans didn't go smoothly.  I learned soon enough that there are things in life you can control and things you can't control. When an out of control event happens, don't blame yourself, take it for what it is: a moment in time to reflect, regroup, or recharge. I've been spending my time in bed reading Dear Life, a series of short stories by Alice Munro. I have been listening to some new Christmas albums on iTunes. I have been restructuring my menus for the eight days my family will be here for the holidays. I have done the last of my shopping online. I had a great talk with a friend and my sisters. So, would all of this happen if I didn't hurt my leg? Probably, but it won't necessarily be as relaxing or enjoyable as it is propped up in my bed.

      Today, is the second full day of my confinement. The pain is subsiding. I am trying to have a profitable day. I did a bit of editing on one of my projects. Napped. Ate lunch, and thought that every Christmas has a snag. Each year you try to plan, organize, make sure you're on schedule with shopping, cleaning, and baking. Then out of the blue, a weird thing comes along and stalls or disrupts your strategy or momentum.  Take it from me. Don't get angry. Don't whine. Find a way to make the best of it. You will be a far better patient and your family will love you more.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Holiday Survival Tip - Pamper Thyself

Okay, if you look at the calendar, you have two weekends before Christmas arrives. Now I'm not talking about any pre-parties. I mean Christmas Eve and the big day-Christmas.

If you have young children, you probably have all the gifts wrapped and hidden. If your family is grown and participates in a Secret Santa, then you may still be scurrying for that gift within in the designated price range for your Uncle Max.

But, these matters are not the big worry for me. I am concerned about making it to Christmas Eve. Each year someone takes a picture of me as I am opening gifts on Christmas morning with dark circles under my eyes and my hair not combed. I am sure that my progeny will view years of video and wonder what I was doing to look so unkempt. Well, for the record, that is how women who don't pamper themselves through holiday preparations look at the big moment - tired, listless, and sometimes a little out of it.

So, this is a reminder to all planners of the joys, surprises, meals, and marvels of the Christmas season. Pace yourself for the last leg of the race.

1. Schedule multiple breaks for yourself everyday. This is a must.  Even if it is only a five minute break in the farthest room in the house that has a lock on the door.

2. Start your day with breakfast. Make sure you are fueling your body for the demands of the holiday.  Protein is great for a starter. Remember peanut butter is a protein.

3. Keep yourself hydrated.  Heated rooms not only dry out your skin, but inside your body. Drink water.  Avoid carbonated drinks, high sugar beverages, and imbibe in alcoholic drinks sparingly. Remember water is a woman's friend.

4. Tell your children to have short "quiet time." Turn off the noise. This temporarily calms the level of intensity. Play a game to see who can lay perfectly still for a minute. You can set a timer and have the children be quiet for 5 minutes.  If they talk, the timer is reset.

5. Allow yourself to take an item or two off you list. Each year we plan to bake cookies for the entire neighborhood, write a family Christmas letter, mail all packages out on time, and make a hostess gift for every holiday party we are attending. Look at the items on your list.  Decide if these are things that are necessities or "nice to do." Place the necessities first, if you have time add a few "nice to dos."  Want to pamper yourself?  Take one "to do" off.  Want really to treat yourself? Take two items off your list this year.

What do you really consider makes your Christmas special?  What represent the tradition and beauty of the season for your family? Focus on that concept the next two weeks. Learn to take 'quiet time outs' and allow yourself the luxury of taking things off your list. Be good to yourself, so you can be a
good elf to everyone else.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

2014 Holiday Survival Tip - "Google" It

December 1 is the first day that Christmas becomes a topic in our home. Now readers, I realize some of you may have already hung your Christmas lights on the outside your homes. You may have your Christmas tree up and decorated. You may even have your Christmas shopping done, wrapped, and hidden.

Don't think us late starters are nonchalant about this entire Christmas event. Personally, I have learned organization is my friend during these 24 frantic days preceding the Christmas day.

My husband and I have planning meetings about Christmas. After years of juggling the holiday demands of three children, we still plan holidays.We take out the folder from last year and write a plan.

Originally I was going to share my Christmas checklists with you.  Until I started researching for this blog.  You see I found this website  You may want to take a look at some of the great ideas on it. I thought that I was an original with my planning ideas, but It seems someone else has managed to design multiple articles and printable downloads to help you through this busy season. It also includes ideas for organizing for next year.

There are several downloads I thought were great. I am going to  replace my old list with Cynthis Ewer's premade lists in my Christmas organization folder this year. Check out the links below and see if any of them suit your style of organization:

The Christmas Countdown Binder You have all the elements to begin to create an annual Christmas binder or file to help make Christmas easier.

The 'Beta Testing Site of Download Sheets"  This link provides actual sheets you can download and print.  If you are lucky enough to own Adobe, you can type directly on the sheet and print.

I looked through several of the sheets. The cleaning checklist is blank leaving room for details. I particularly like this feature. Deep cleaning for the holidays should be done early (one cleaning checklist) and a second checklist for "pick up and maintaining the cleaning." The blank documents for cleaning helps you personalize your cleaning plan.

The best download of all and the most important one is this preseason planner sheet:
This sheet is great. Print it for yourself. Fill it out for yourself. Remember you may think you can plan a fail safe Holiday Seaso, but it is still about the interactions and feelings of family and friends. These are based on individual emotions. No matter how great  of a planner you may be, you can't control this aspect of the holiday.

Also, you must make a checklist to take care of yourself.
Next week's blog addresses "Pampering for Sanity."

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

First of all, drum roll please. I am thankful for making a grand total of 51,066 words five days before deadline. NaNoWriMo is said and done. No, the novel is not done yet. No, it will not be published next month. Remember there is six levels of editing yet to be done. A few reviews by alpha readers and then the beta readers have their turn to review.

Indian Springs Condo View
Now, I am grateful that I can focus on the break Tim and I are taking in Sun Valley, Idaho. The weather has been lovely. The area has changed dramatically since we last visited one of our favorite places.

We decided we needed to retreat and regroup.  Our entire family is coming home for Christmas. We are so excited it has been a year since that has happened. We are using this time to relax and plan. (Okay, I wanted to get NaNoWriMo completed, also.) There is merit to going some place that is different from your regular routine.

It took us three days to learn our way around an area we thought we use to know. It was amazing to see what overbuilt really looks like. We sat down today and congratulated ourselves for coming to visit at this in between season, after the summer rush,  and before the skiers arrive.

Swans at Sun Valley Lodge
I love Thanksgiving. I love the preparation of the meal, setting of the table, conversation, and of course being with family and friends who share common experiences. It is strange not to be in checklist mode:
  • menu
  • shopping
  • cleaning
  •  meal preparation
  • cooking time lines
These days of leisurely breakfast anytime we want in our condo. Eating and drinking where and whenever we want is intoxicating when I think of what the alternative could have been for us.

I know it will be a new experience eating a Thanksgiving Dinner in a restaurant, but I'll have a year to think about it and report about it.

Till then have a wonderful holiday, enjoy the day with somebody you care about, and remember you
don't have to eat turkey to be thankful.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Week 2-NaNoWriMo 2014-Pushing Through

This second week has been tough. Many outside distractions and personal hits attacking my focus. Family issues: a sweet person who had experienced some terrible demons died this week. I still see her big smile, hear her laugh, and I'll never forget her big brown eyes that twinkled when she talked to me. I've known for more than forty years. She is at peace. I pray her family is at peace also.

Last week I had workmen finishing up on the updating of our furnace, air conditioner, and hot water heater. This week the painter has arrived. There have been color decisions, lighting decisions, the elimination of more "stuff," and the moving about of furniture in two small rooms to get this paint job  done.

Then there is the writing, oh what a story is being woven.  I think I like being a "pantser." I find it is a process that suits me for NaNoWriMo. I like rereading what I wrote the day before and then just picking up the story.

Yes, my novel has characters, conflict, and a conclusion. There are surprises and "pithy" dialogue, but the best part is that I am really having a great time. Hey! if you aren't having fun, why are you doing it in the first place?

Write on "WriMos!"

Friday, November 8, 2013

NaNoWriMo-Week 1:Characters Takeover Story

This is my second year participating in the worldwide writing event known as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). This event dares participants to write 50,000 words in 30 days. This year I vowed I would be prepared. I would have an outline, storyline, and characters flushed out. I diligently read all the advice leading up to November 1 on the website.

When the clock struck 12:00 a.m. Mountain Standard Time on November 1, my computer was opened on a "new blank page."  I took a minute to visualize the story: the beginning, middle, and the end. I began typing.

Three sentences into the story and three new characters showed up. Yes, you heard me. They appeared on the page. By the time I had keyed more than 250 words two more new characters showed up. Once again, my original idea was hijacked my story.

This is a relatively new phenomenon for a veteran non-fiction writer like me.  I like organization when I write. I like to know where  my writing is going, who is the expert, and why am I writing about it.

Each November an alter ego of myself appears when I take on the NaNoWriMo Challenge. I've become a "pantser" ( a term used by writers who claim to write by the seat of their pants).  I begin the story and before I know it what I thought I was going to write becomes something else, something much better.

This feeling of characters appearing out of nowhere is the combination of spending time really thinking about what you are going to write and the act of writing without stopping to correct spelling, typos, punctuation, etc. Writing until you can't write any longer is the genius of the NaNoWriMo challenge. Writing for the sheer bliss of getting your ideas down on paper.

Once your ideas know they can trumble out on paper unincumbered, they flow. So, for all who write, this is a challenge that unleashes the creative muses within you. It's not too late to dive in. Join me and the more than 250,000 people worldwide "writing with wild abandonment."

Sunday, October 27, 2013

NaNoWriMo is Dawning

Are you ready?  Have you cleared your November calendar? Have you registered for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)?  If you have you can officially call yourself a "WriMo."  If you want to know how I really feel about this great event click on the link below:!

Happy writing to all WriMos!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

"You Can't Go Home Again" or Can you?

Each time I arrive in Chicago I recall Thomas Wolfe's book You Can't Go Home Again. The Chicago I visit today is not the city I  once knew. The landscape in some ways is the same and in so many ways it has changed. Significant buildings have had their names changed. The people, though still friendly, look tried and worn down.

"The Chicago Public Library" was located on 78 E Washington St.  Its construction lasted from 1893-1897 under the designing hand of Robert C. Spencer and J.L. Holzer. It was renovated and updated in the 1970's. Today it is known as the Chicago Cultural Center.  
Harold Washington Public Library
The Harold Washington Public Library (now the main branch of the Chicago Public Library System) is located at State/VanBuren. It is ablaze in metal, lights, and technology. As it should be, hey, everyone knows the card catalogue drawers are all but gone. 

 The train station I use to sell donuts at on Veterans Day as a young Camp Fire Girl is no longer in existence. My son recently bought a 20 year old town house on the spot.  "Bar Louie" seems to be occupying one of its entrances.

View of Chicago Skyline
From West Loop
While striving for economic security in my twenties, I  wanted to live in the downtown area or along "the Lake Shore. " To me downtown was the pulse of Chicago. Great museums, world-class art, theatre, sporting events, and five star dining.  I loved the architecture and the outdoor art that seem to open spaces in the tight city.  I love the trees. Chicago plants trees. Merchants have flowers: begonias, coleus, hydrangeas. The dry desert climate where I currently live makes it very difficult for those species to thrive.

Well, I still feel that pulse. I see families shopping, eating, walking, folks on bikes, lovers, neighborhood bars, and non-franchised restaurants. I see renewal. Wolfe was right "You can't go home  again" to experience your childhood or past memories. Your city changed and grew up like you.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Where do I write?

My ideal setting for writing is a room full of inspiration. It is clutter free, equipped with a pot of fresh coffee or tea  (depending on the time of day). There is large dry eraser board for me to write notes to myself as inspiration strikes. Of course large sheets of paper sticking to the walls, so I can write story lines, avail myself to spontaneous character development, or left my muses spark new ideas on the papered walls while I am writing.

In reality, the room I call my office,  the room I seek calm and serenity to write is smack in the middle of the family photo storage (as in pre-digital photos). My grown children's mementos that "someday" I am going to place in a scrapbook fill a cupboard/bookcase. It has novels that I have read and kept because I like them. (I donate my books at the end of the year if I don't think I will use again).

My writing reference books occupy an entire book shelf. Another bookcase is filled with cookbooks (that's another blog) and supplies. I have an ancient PC and a large printer. Why? It's my back up. My laptop and I have had a contentious relationship (that's another blog).  Besides my sons built that "Hummer of a PC"  more than six years ago for me.

My desk under the window is suppose to be a writing space. Realistically 85% of the time it is the catch all for papers, bills, and stuff when we quickly clean up the upstairs for "company." The writers in the audience truly will understand that concept.   No, if this writing place feels crowded, it is! It is only an  8 x8 room with a wonderful window.

My goal is to eliminate the clutter, organize the work flow, and get ready for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November. Right now, the progress is slow. Other projects are calling me, but I am not discouraged. I have been known to be a clutch player.

So, when someone ask me where do I write?
Right now it is anywhere that is quiet, bright, and supports my "muses."  In other words, have laptop will write. In the meantime, have office, will clean by November.

Monday, September 30, 2013

October: Show Your Colors

It's October and officially one month before National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Now is the time for all writers to prepare for the challenge: 50,000 words, 30 days with no excuses.

Mimic Mother Nature. Use October to prepare for the NaNoWriMo challenge. Generate your ideas, devise your plot, develop your characters, loosely plan the setting, stock your refrigerator with your favorite beverages, store snacks in your cabinets and pantry. Warn your family and your friends that you are accepting the gauntlet and will be writing throughout the month of November.

Check out Join the millions of writers around the world who participate annually. Sign up "to write with wild abandonment." This event is a "significant emotional event"(Maslow) for any writer.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Observation: Springboard of Inspiration

 Observation is the springboard for all INSPIRATION.  The simple act of watching the trees move, a cat stretched in the sunlight, children playing, a couple holding hands, a headline, or a date on the calendar commemorating an event can catapult me to place pen to paper.  Observation allows one to look for the soul or the spirit of an action which transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary. It sounds simplistic, but stop, watch, listen, and take in the ordinary. You will experience the more by just being present in the moment. You may become inspired.

"Rain isn't just water in the desert, it is a religious experience. 
It is life's nourishment." (Coffey).

 When a clerk asks, "How's your day?" and you answer back "Great, how's yours?" Be open to observe the richness of that person's life unfolding before you. Even the crowded streets are more than the impersonal masses in a hurry to a destination. Close scrutiny of the crowd reveals individuals: each with a story, and each with a mission, each driven by a deadline.
         Observation is the springboard to inspiration, experience it. Use it. Make it the first step in the outline of a blog, story, poem, or journal.  Take what you see to another level. Transform what seems mundane to the magical or mystical.  Write about how you felt when you were observing. Sing about the music you heard. Snap the moment that brought inspiration to you, print it, and pass it on.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Recharge:Attend a Writers Conference

My "Inspirations"from the 2013
League of Utah Writers Conference
Thanks Amryn, Brittany, Les, Cheree, and Ron

Writing is a solitary activity. Writers need to get out and talk to other writers struggling with time lines, outlines, characterizations, plots, point of views, editing, publishers, queries, marketing, etc.
Conferences are the place where writers get this type of support. Yes, critique groups, small writing chapters are supportive, but the synergy of a conference cannot be measured by dollars and cents. A unique aspect of a conference is its energ. The exchanges of conversations between fledgling writers and published authors, presenters and struggling wordcrafters, the one on one exchanges fuel the gathering.

It doesn't matter if you attend a conference of 65 attendees or  500, it is those intimate exchanges which make a writer take stock. It is in one of those moments an ideas arrives, a timeline is adjusts, the "knotty" problem with your character or villain unravels.

Like all learning, which I personally believe is continuous, one needs to be open to it. Sophie Littefield, author and presenter, (League of Utah Writers Conferences, 2013), spoke about ways to strengthen a writer's determination. One of her talking points was "Know your Community." She spoke about knowing other writers, publishing trends, existing agencies, current genres and rising trends. She insisted writing was more than pen to paper. She told us to go out and learn from one another.

Yes, you may run into a presenter you find to be dull and whose material is not as interesting as you thought. Yet, you could leave and enter another session or stay and see if the information has merit for another use. You could ask a table mate at lunch or a break, if they every thought about using the presenter's techniques, allowing you to learn something from someone else. New knowledge doesn't have to come from a presenter, but from a friendly, collegial writer who buoys your spirits and sends you home with new resolve. You are recharged and ready to take on the blank page.

If you are just venturing into the world of writing or are a battle weary veteran of the craft, you should always consider attending a Writers' Conference. Yes, I know they can be pricey. Sometimes it requires airfare or a long distance drive and a hotel room for a day or two. Plus, you have to juggle your schedule and your family life to manage it. Then again it maybe you might have to get out of your sweats or whatever you wear when you write, find someone to feel the cat or walk the dog, get into semi-business like clothes and go out in public. Believe me it is worth it. As, the picture at top demonstrates, writers need writers to recharge.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Word Choice: Demographics or Competition

As part of my prep work for my next book, I am reading classic and contemporary romances and short stories.  One of the most glaring observations is the vocabulary used in the books I have read. Perhaps it is my choice of books, but the more contemporary the writer the few syllables their words contain. It seems at some point either the writing schools or the demographics have changed how writers chose words.

Here are some examples of words used in early twentieth century writing (left side) and (on the right side) the words used today.

  • voluminous – big
  • languorous –  slow
  • luminous – bright
  • unwholesome- nasty
  • immeasurable – vast
  • unilluminated – dark (today unilluminated is not considered a verb)
  • ludicrous- ridiculous
  • ruinous – harmful
  • momentarily –shortly
  • coquette – tease
  • proposition – plan
  • abjure – avoid
What caused the change in word choice? Is it brevity? Is a faster paced world? Is the demographic of readership changing? Is it competition with technology? I would be very interested in learning what you think has happened to change the vocabulary used in leisure reading. Why did we as a civilization evolve into tight writing void of the rhythmic syllables that sometimes drew the reader deeper into the story?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Research:The Thrill of the Hunt

Once the story and characters start bubbling up, I begin the hunt known as research. Why? Because you never know where your research is going to take you. The initial research can authenticate locations, eras, maps, and buildings.  Focusing on places real to help create the imaginary is helpful. Even fiction or fantasy bursts from the page when a bit of truth is sprinkled among the make believe.

I use my computer, history books, and actual descriptions from individuals who lived or experienced the time period. I love to go to the location itself, if it is possible, to experience the sights, sounds, and smells. Sometimes I have to use my imagination. Sometimes a chair, a storefront, or a building sets the stage for a scene or perhaps the climax of the story. I like location trips because they give me a view from my characters' eyes.

If my story isn't contemporary, I try to find someone who lived during the time period. The current series I am writing calls for a description of a city in the West between 1962 and to the present time.
I have many neighbors and friends who have been great contributors. They fill in gaps. Give a perspective of the changing times and help me show them to my readers. The interviews are enjoyable.

Set up an interview in a restaurant or coffee shop where you can sit uninterrupted. I send the interviewee a list of questions specific to location, dress code, rules, morales and conduct, etc. This helps keep the interview focused.  My experience with interviews has been very profitable. My resources have given more information then I originally thought I needed while helping me scope my story and characters.

While shooting some pictures for another novel, a local teenager came upon my husband and I, she asked us what we were doing. I explained I was taking pictures of the area as I continued to write my novel. She enthusiastically responded, "My name is Dotty. Do you think you could make me a character in your book?"

Research doesn't have to be dull. It can be a bit adventurous and fun.  It is part of my planning and thinking sessions. It helps me when I hit a wall in scene or character development. When the plot begins to slog a bit, I look at my research notes and get new juice for my story. Research: It is multiple hunting expeditions that gives back in trophies.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Evolving School Supply List

As I purged my Sunday newspaper of all the advertising, I was amazed by the "Back To School" inserts. It is so hard to believe that this information is no longer pertinent to my survival. Backpacks, lunchboxes, No. 2 pencils, loose leaf  packs, pens, construction paper, scissors, notebooks, and composition books (never confuse the two) are not part of my annual budget.  The fulfillment of  "Back to School" supply list was interpreted by children as the ultimate measurement of success on the first day of school.  No, it wasn't the clothes, we were lucky. They wore uniforms for 12 years. The supply list was the determining factor of a good impression on the first day.

This ritual  took up 26 years of my life. (It's possible if you have a child born in three decade like I did.) School supply shopping changed dramatically on several levels from the late 1970's into the mid-1980's. Some items dropped off the list and were replaced with fees (art supply fees, science lab fees, computer lab fees, etc.)

During this time I saw the tin lunch boxes with favorite cartoon or television characters go out of style and come back in style as plastic boxes. I saw No.2 pencils replaced by mechanical pencils. Gum art erasers disappear in the elementary schools only to reappear in high school art classes. White paste was laid to rest by Elmer's glue only to be usurped by glue sticks. Remember those be chunky crayons used by preschoolers and primary grade children. Well, I haven't seen a box in years. My granddaughter started drawing with colored pencils and markers.

Yes, I mourn the loss of those pre-calculator days when kids used Popsicle sticks to add, subtract, and learn place value. Are there Popsicles around anymore?

Hey! I still mourn the loss of the small milk bottles that came in wooden cases. This was before we packaged our milk for school children in cardboard  containers covered with a waxy substance. Ah, progress!

But, what do I know, I suspect the school supply list of 2020 will include ipads or tablets.  Allowing  students to download text books and assignments. Pencils will be replace by stylists and the keyboard will drop out of sight.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Writers Among Us

Writers pass themselve off as ordinary folks. If you are standing in line with a writer in the grocery store, you won't be able to identify him or her. They sit next to you in church. They teach your children or serve our country. They come from all walks of life.

With today's technology, you don't even have to hold a pencil or know how to type to write. There is software that allows the writer to speak his or her words aloud.

All writers have a voice. Whether they plan on having their work read or not, once the words are placed in an medium it permits another pair of eyes to read it. The writer becomes vulnerable to the reader. Writers are artists who reflect the sum of their creative processes to fulfill a driving passion within themselves, to entertain an audience, to meet a deadline, to pay the bills, or all of the above.

Writers generally work in isolation. Although research, observations, interviews, and editing can be a communal effort.

We talk about writing. We talk about concepts, processes, genres, and trends. The essence of writing, the core of what takes a string of words and makes sense of them, is an idea. It is rare when we fully disclose an idea. They are like our chidren. They need to be nurtured, tended, and allowed to grow into new stories or poems.
Yes, on the surface we may look like your neighbors, but somewhere beneath the third or fourth layer of skin lurks a plot waiting to bubble to the surface.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Fruit of the Garden Produced with Love

Today, I munched on my very first garden grown tomato.  The taste of this freshly picked, firm, fleshy fruit is a great addition to any culinary dish.  As I prepared my lunch, I teased my palate with the bottom slice of the tomato. Oh, the cool watery texture was sweet.  

Placing thin slices upon cream cheese, hummus, and avocado made my sandwich a gourmet treat.  The rich red color made my lunch a visual portrait. Yummy! This summer delight almost didn't happen.

My husband and I decided not to plant our annual large vegetable garden. The rationale for this decision was driven by the following forces:
  •  First, we live in the Intermountain West. We have to wait until after Memorial Day to even think about anything more than beets, carrots, or any tuber that might survive the Spring frost.
  •   Secondly, June mysteriously was over-scheduled with workshops, reunions, and other travels. 
  •   And of course, we had new projects requiring more time from our lives.
Sometime during June, I planted four tiny tomato plants in my small raised
flowerbed in front of my living room window.  My DNA made me to do it. It wouldn’t be summer without my own tomatoes.

My rationale was to protect the plants and keep them warm using the heat that radiates from the bricks. Warm my tomatoes, um...this summer we are experiencing record-breaking heat! I thought I was going to eat "fried green tomatoes" instead of those beautiful fully ripened red tomatoes with a fragrance that defies all perfume experts. 

These little plants survived by the tender attention of my husband. Each morning before the sun and its scorching heat would prevail, my husband waters my tomatoes. When we were traveling, he gave our son, who was tending our cat, strict instruction on the watering of our plants. 

You know in life, it is often the simplest of joys that makes one's heart swell with love.  Thanks to those who kept my tomatoes refreshed.  I am enjoying the fruit of the garden and the love of the men in my life.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Manuscript Submission: QueryLetter Tracking

The process of tracking your query letters requires planning. If you want to build a table or set up a tracking system in EXCEL, you owe it to yourself to check out QueryTracker
( ). It is a free site offering writers the opportunity to learn more about publishers and agents while keeping track queries. QueryTracker™ currently has 1829 literaty agents and 173 publishers on its data base. It is user friendly.  It offers a premium level for a fee. I have not chosen it. I am still learning about the steps involved in submitting my manuscript.

This site will give you the opportunity to explore the submission expectations of agents and publishers. Not all submissions requirements are equal. You need to be prepare to have the following documents ready for each submission situation:
  • "The Query Letter" - If you think you have accomplished a miracle writing your first novel, you haven't made your bread and butter until you master the art of the "Query Letter." There are classes, books, and experts out there extolling their wares on how to write the perfect query letter.  Buyer beware. After attending conferences and doing research, I recommend the examples given in the 2013 Writer's Market (ISBN: 13: 978-1-59963-594) and the 2013 Guide to Literary Agents (ISBN: 13: 978-1-59963-597-2).  
  • "Summary"- This is a two to three page document (depending on the length of your novel). You need to include your ending. 
  • "Synopsis" - There is some discussion about what is a synopsis. Some say the synopsis is a pitch. It is what you want written on you the flap of your book cover. Then there are others who believe it is a summary and you need to add the ending. Caution: if the agent or publisher does not ask for an outline or summary, I would add the ending. 
  • "Outline" - Some agents request an outline. Ask the agent the type of outline they require. It would be advantagous to ask how much detail they would require. Often, they want an abbreviated summary of each chapter.  
WHEW! We haven't even  approached the "how to" of  writing the above documents. How to select an agent or a publisher. All this while you are making sure your manuscript is free of errors and readable. Not to mention the polish you will add after your beta readers' suggestions come back.

Now, I am telling my tale. This is my first time out of the gate. If any of you out there in the "blog" world are working your way through this maze, please give me some tips.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Submission:Step One - Preparing for Submissions

The quest to submit my manuscript is teaching me how to step out the process. Now some of this may seem very basic to many of you. My submissions in the past were products created for someone else. They were assignments to make someone, someplace, or some event look good. The road to creative writing is a different plane from my old writing endeavors. Much of my writing in the past had to be succinct, void of emotion, instructional, and often just plain informative. I wrote in a world of "turn around" deadlines, proofreaders, corporate style guides, and final sign offs.  Working on my own in the creative writing field is like landing on Mars and it's filled with land mines.

First of all, the ideas are mine. They do not attempt to be aligned with any corporate goals. They are the product of my imagination.   My fiction and poetry tries to entertain or evoke emotion. I want to give the reader a place to go that is different from their current space. The process of submission for a contest, a query for an agent or publisher, or even sharing my work with a critic group is a lot scarier.

I've been told editors and proofreaders can be hired, but if you are a beginner like me your budget is limited. So I thought I'd share my process with you, my readers.  So perhaps those of you who are more experienced could share your tips. 

Preparing for your submissions: No it is not a typo you will have multiple submissions and multiple rejections. Your document has to go through some rigorous edits before you can even send a submission out.

Step 1 - After you have written the entire submission. Print it out.
Step 2 -  Read it aloud. Fix the obvious.
Step 3 - Walk away. Give the document time to cool.
Step 4 -  Make a list of what to edit: consistent tense, locations, and make sure the characters' names are spelled correctly throughout the work. Check the point of view. What voice are you using?
Step 5 - Start second edit. Some writers start from the last line and work their way up the document. Each writer has their own method. The operative word is method. Create a process that works for you.
Step 6 - Progress slowly though your of second edit. During this process think about a 30 second elevator speech you would use to describe the story consisting of no more than three or four sentences.
Step 7 - Send  your manuscript to someone you don't know very well.  You want someone who loves to read. You don't want a proof reader. You want a book lover who will be honest with you. Here are some questions I send with a manuscript:
  • Did the characters seem real to you?
  • How did the story read? Which part was the clearest? 
  • Which part needs to be flushed out more? 
  • What would you like to see explained in the story?
  • What would make the story seem more realistic to you?
Give your beta reader a firm deadline. The deadline needs to be reasonable depending on what you are sending (short story vs. novel). Be sure that you and your beta reader get together to discuss your story. Plan for enough time so you can listen to all the information and have enough time for additional questions.

If you, my readers, have additional comments to editing a submission, please feel free to share with all of us. If you have found some some way to make the process less painful, let us know.

My next blog will give you a report on my adventures on Query Tracker. This is a great step to take while you are editing or your beta readers are reading your work.

    Thursday, June 20, 2013

    Writers@Work Conference Elevates Writers

    Photo Credit:
    When my friend Brandon asked if I knew about the "Flash Fiction" panel being sponsored during the "Writers@Work" Conference, little did I know his question would take me to new heights, literally. The conference was held at Alta Lodge. It was four days of reintroducing me to the "awe and wonder" of my soul as a writer.  If the altitude or the scenery didn't make me "heady," the energy of the participants and presenters elevated my thoughts about writing and about being a writer.

    The faculty and participants were diverse and generous. "We are writers. We work in a solitary setting. We need to come together." (John Dufresne) This was the culture of the conference. The mix of small group workshops, faculty panels, and readings. There were repeat participants and newbies like me.  Local writers and out of state participants made the atmosphere electric with enthusiasm and energy. Here were artists from multi-genres of prose and poetry. Writers with multi-skill levels opening their minds and sharing experiences to help each others.

    Those of you who know me know I am not shy or fearful of a new experience. But, I never have read my work in public, well not outside a classroom and certainly not in front of a group of experienced writers.  There I was, sitting in the lobby, preparing my work when the lovely woman who checked in at the same time as I asked, "Are you choosing something for your reading?"

    I raised my head and in my shock at someone even asking me about the idea of doing my very first reading in front of this audience, I softly said, "A reading?  I've never done one. I don't have anything to read."

    "What do you call that on your lap?" She said pointing to a page from my novel. "Pick an exciting page. Sign up for some coaching. You must read.  Everyone must share." Then she sat down and gave me her philosophy on readings and encouraged me. I still was very nervous when I did my reading, but my coach was excellent. I learned that a reading was more than reading the words you wrote. I learned to edit for a reading and much more.

    How did my reading go? Well, I got very good reviews and some great tips on how to do a better job at my next reading.

    This was only one of the many supported big and little actions of new and veteran attendees. The presenters were unbelievable. They called us "fellow artists" and treated us like colleagues. They encouraged us not to see "writing as an aside of our life, but as something that is a part of life, a seamless part of our life." (Michael Mertone).

    The faculty included:
    Katharine Coles:
    •  poet, novelist, and editor  
    • earned her BA at the University of Washington, her MA at the University of Houston, and her PhD at the University of Utah'
    • Awards and honors are a PEN New Writer’s Award, a 2012 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, and a term as Utah’s poet laureate
    •  The Earth is Not Flat, Coles’ fifth collection of poems is available from Red Hen Press in March 2013.

     John Dufresne:
    • graduate of Worcester State College and the University of Arkansas. 
    • author of short stories, novels, plays, and screenplays. 
    • teaches in the MFA program at Florida International University in Miami. 
    • awarded  a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in 2012
    Michael Martone: 
    • attended Butler University, graduated from Indiana University, an MA from The Writing Seminars of The Johns Hopkins University
    • professor at the University of Alabama
    • won two Fellowships from the NEA, a grant from the Ingram Merrill Foundation
    • his stories and essays have been cited in the Pushcart Prize, The Best American Stories and The Best American Essays anthologies
    Christopher Merrill:
    • published four collections of poetry, five books of nonfiction,  his articles have appeared in many publications
    • directs the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa
    • serves on the US National Commission for UNESCO
    • conducted cultural diplomacy missions in over 30 countries
    • appointed to the National Council on the Humanities by President Obama in 2012 
     If I haven't mention it already, the staff at Alta Lodge was incredible. The service, food, and accommodations fostered the sense of community.  This was the most personal experience I have had in stretching my skills and calling upon my muse since my graduate days.  Thank you Writers@Work for giving me the boost and fuel until the next conference.