Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Spring Fever

~~We had a beautiful day here in Kentucky country today. The sun was shining; the mercury was rising in the thermometers; the flowers were blooming; fishing worms were getting drowned; and sweaters were getting shucked. Spring is here and so now it must be time for a good case of Spring Fever.

~~Do you have it? What is it? A time for lazing in the first warm sunshine of the year? A time for throwing off all responsibilities and going hiking or fishing? What does Spring fever make you want to do or are you like Mark Twain says in the following quote?

"It's Spring fever...You don't quite know what it is you DO want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!" ~Mark Twain

Maybe it's not just Spring fever that makes you feel that way. I feel that way a lot when I'm writing, when I'm trying to tell my characters' stories. I want to write a good story. No, I want to write a story better than good. I want to write something that will come to life in a reader's imagination. Something that will sing. Something that will be totally made up but oh so true at the same time. And I've always wanted to write so much that it does sometimes make my heart ache. So maybe I have writing fever.

~~Trouble is the fever - just aching to write a good story - doesn't produce the words. That takes fingers on the keys. I'm trying to meet a quota of pages a day. Words would be better because you can cheat a little with pages. Five or six lines in and you can convince yourself you've done a page when actually you've got about twenty lines to go. But when the fever is on and then Spring fever comes knocking too with all that warm sunshine, sometimes I just melt down like butter in a hot skillet.

~~I met with a lovely book club in Taylorsville, KY last night. It was fun hearing the ladies talk about what they liked about my book, The Believer. Everybody loves Hannah in that book and Issachar - a couple of supporting characters who really make a difference in the story. And Hannah would definitely have Spring fever and run off to the woods to climb some trees.

~~What does Spring fever make you want to do? Whatever it is, if you're in this part of the country the next two days are going to be really good days to treat that "fever."

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Starting with a Bang

~~The electronic age has shortened our attention spans. That and the remote control. Remember when you had to get up out of the chair and go change the television station or adjust the volume. There weren't but three or at most four stations to change to, so most of the time whatever came on was good enough if you were feeling lazy. And you put up with commercials. That's why us older folk can sing along with so many of the old commercials or remember the punch lines. Please don't squeeze the Charmin. Or Mother, I'd rather do it myself. Then there was Ring around the collar. That dirty ring. You try scrubbing it out... Guess you can tell who they were selling to back when. The person doing the housekeeping. How about this one? You'll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent. I went back in time for those, didn't I?

~~These days a lot of people like my husband refuse to watch commercials and switch stations at the first sign of an advertising jingle. All that switching channels drives me crazy, but I don't watch much t.v. except for basketball games and my team got beat yesterday. I'd rather read than watch t.v. Another way people avoid commercials is by recording everything and watching the shows later so they can fast forward through the ads. Of course there are those Super Bowl ads where people go get their snacks while the game's going so they won't miss the commercials.

~~With everybody trying to grab our attention and with all sorts of electronic means to do so, our attention spans seem to have shortened. That desire for immediate entertainment carries over to our books. Back in the days before radio and television, readers were much more patient. And no, I'm not quite that old. But I've read a lot of classics. Those writers could count on a reader giving them a few pages or even chapters to get the story going and they weren't usually spare writers. Some of them wrote with much flourish and scene setting. Not today. Today's writer better get it going in that very first sentence if he or she wants to grab a reader.

~~I talked about that today on Facebook and some people commented about their favorite first lines. I may have done that on here already in the past. I'm hearing echoes in my head. (How about that for a first line?) But if so, it's worth talking about again. A writer needs to grab today's impatient reader. We need to throw the reader right into the action or make them curious about this or that character.

~~I tried to think up some interesting first lines out of the blue while I was walking today. These aren't out of books just out of my head. "Her boyfriend's body was heavier than she expected. Late boyfriend." (Okay that's two sentences. I'm better with two sentences. Guess I need to edit tighter, huh?) " Saundra had never been kissed unless you wanted to count dog kisses." "She added extra chocolate to mask the taste of the poison."

~~What first line can you make up to start a story with a bang or what's a great first line from a book you've read? I'm going to be paying more attention to first lines now. Mine and everybody else's too. Maybe I'll find some good ones before Wednesday and share them with you then. Hope you have a great week.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Income Tax Season

~~I hate doing my income taxes. I used to prepare the forms myself and that's hard to do with your fingers crossed hoping you're not taking one of those deductions that invites audits or that you'll miss an allowed deduction that might have saved you big time bucks. I mean I diligently tried to fill the tax forms out correctly and pay what we owed but the directions on some of those forms can make a person's head spin. If you subtract A from B and divide by C and then if that's no more than D on page 56 or F on page 13, then perhaps, just perhaps you m ight qualify for tax break 2256. That's about how many pages - 2256 - of instructions you have to read to understand tax break 2256.

~~Actually I made up tax break 2256. So any of you heading off to flip through your instruction manuels for that tax break info, don't bother. It's not there. You get tax breaks if you have underage kids. My kids are grown with their own little deductions and the IRS doesn't consider dogs dependents. Guess they never paid vet bills. You get tax breaks if you give away a lot of money. And no, they don't mean the money you give them. You get tax breaks if you're really sick and spending all your money on doctors. Who wants to quality for that kind of tax break? Not me.

~~So I'll just pay my taxes and try to smile while I'm signing that check. It is a privilege to be a citizen of the United States of America and earn money enough to have to pay taxes. But that doesn't mean I - along with a lot of the rest of you - don't groan and moan about it a little this time of the year. Okay maybe a lot. Especially when we're gathering all our information together and trying to figure out the process. When I finally gave up doing my own taxes a few years back, I discovered the sun shines in the springtime. Flowers bloom. Birds sing. AndCPAs make money and earn every penny.

~~ Just in case you are knee deep in tax forms, here's a few quotes that might bring a moment of relief.

  • Certainty? In this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes. -Benjamin Franklin
  • I'm proud to be paying taxes in the United States. The only thing is - I could be just as proud for half the money. - Arthur Godfrey
  • The only imaginative fiction being written today is income tax returns. - Herman Wouk
  • Isn't it appropriate that the month of the tax begins with April Fool's Day and ends with cries of 'May Day?' - Rob Knauerhase

~~What do you dread most about tax season? Or are you one of those who pay ahead every year and then rejoice in a big refund? If so you probably sent your forms in back in February and have no idea what the groaning and moaning is all about as April 15 draws nigh. Hope you have refunds and sunshine in your future.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Spring Passions - Wildflowers and Basketball

~~Spring has officially sprung. It's one of my four favorite seasons. That's narrowing it down, isn't it? Of course by the end of winter, spring is more than welcome and can definitely be a favorite time. The snow and cold of winter are all right for a short visit but this year winter out stayed its welcome. So spring was much anticipated by most of the folks I know. Some of them are designing their gardens. Some are painting and sprucing up with spring cleaning. Me, I'm watching basketball and planning to go wildflower hunting.
~~I grew up listening to Caywood Ledford doing the play by play on UK basketball and have been a fan ever since. Even before I was a teenager, I can remember sitting on the stairs next to the chimney that radiated a bit of heat with my ear up against my tiny transistor radio while everybody else in the family was watching t.v. Not me. I was seeing those ballplayers running up and down the court and cheering them on. Caywood's gone now and I have to listen to the national announcers on t.v. When we used to get our t.v. signal with the antenna, I'd turn the sound down on the t.v. and listen to the radio. I wish I could still do that, but now with the satellite the timing is too far off. It's just no fun hearing on the radio that the shot didn't go in before the ball leaves the player's hand and you're still trying to hope the ball through the net.
~~Some of you out there are probably thinking it's weird to get so caught up in March madness while some of the rest of you are no doubt cheering on your own favorite teams. But one thing sure basketfall fans always have something to talk about in March even if they're strangers.
~~My other springtime passion is hunting wildflowers in the woods on my farm. There is something special about those delicate blooms poking up through the layer of leaves on the forest floor or clinging to the rocks on the hillsides. It's like hope in bloom. Proof that life is good and joy can be found in the gifts of nature. I like taking pictures of the flowers and I'm glad for my digital camera now that means I can snap to my heart's content without having to print them all to see which ones are best. So it's almost time to lace up my shoes and go wildflower hunting.
~~Hope you are welcoming spring with joy and hope blooming in your hearts.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Computer Blues

~~When you have the computer blues sometimes you need to hunt a reason to smile.

  • At least my pencil never crashes. -Author Unknown
  • The problem with troubleshooting is that trouble shoots back. - Author Unknown
  • Never let a computer know you're in a hurry. - Author Unknown
  • User, n. The word computer professionals use when they mean "idiot." - Dave Barry
  • To err is human, but to really foul things up requires a computer. -Farmer's Almanac, 1978

~~You might be able to guess I'm having a few computer problems. I got somebody to work on it. It got worse. Before only a couple of things weren't working. Now four or five more things aren't working. Makes me a little leery about trying to fix it again. I don't know which is worse - the virus or the cure. At this rate I'll soon be using that pencil.

~~Pencils or perhaps quills dipped in ink used to be the instrument of choice for a writer. But it would be hard to go back to that time now. The same as it would be hard to go back to drawing all the illustrations for the newspapers the way they were doing in the mid 1800's. In mybook, The Seeker, due out in July, one of my characters is an illustrator for the newspapers and he follows the Union Army recording the battle scenes. Photography was in its infancy and Mathew Brady did take pictures during the Civil War. It took a wagonload of equipment and the subjects of the photos had to stand very still to have their images captured. My artist character was happy with his sketchbook and pens and pencils, but if he had lived in modern times he would have had to find a new occupation. We depend on photos now to show us the news.

~~Cameras have certainly progressed until now we have these digital cameras you can carry in your shirt pocket or that are part of your phone. You can point and shoot and then look at the picture right now and simply hit the trashcan symbol if you don't like your smile. The word processor is the same kind of advancement on the early typewriter, with similar delete options that can make you smile or lose your mind. According to whether you intended to delete or not or whether the crash of your operating system happened at an inopportune time. You know, just after you'd finally figured out the perfect words to put in your character's mouth. Perfect words that get eaten by a computer never find their way back into your head.

~~Guess I'll try to reboot the computer now and see what happens next. I've got all my words saved and maybe the dreaded blue screen won't attack. Hope all your computers are humming and singing and showing the right pictures when you click your mouse. Here's a final quote to encourage the writer in us all. "Computers have lots of memory but no imagination." Thank goodness.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Picking Up a New Book

~~ How do you decide to buy a book or check one out of the library or even pick one out of your own to be read pile? Of course the cover entices us from the bookstore shelves or from the book catalogues. The right cover catches the eye and says pick me up. Sort of like the chocolate bars call to us chocoholics sometimes. Of course with those it might not matter about the cover. We know what's inside. With a book - especially a book by an author you haven't read before - you might not have much of an idea about what's inside. So the cover is extremely important in getting the reader to take the next step toward deciding to read that particular story.

~~ Then what? Do you turn it over and read the back cover copy? Do you check out the endorsement blurbs or perhaps the review snippets that might be on the cover or perhaps inside the front cover? Do you care if the author's photo is on the book cover? (I hope that doesn't influence your choices too much since I've never had a picture on the cover. Guess nobody at the publishing companies thinks my mug shot can sell books. LOL)

~~ When I've been at book fairs, I've watched people as they wander through the aisles of tables full of bright and pretty books waiting for a reader to pick them up. Some people seem overwhelmed with so many choices and after a while, they almost seem afraid to even look toward the books as though the books or maybe the authors might cast some kind of spell over them and make them buy the books. Some authors are very good at drawing people in to look at their books. I like talking to people at book fairs, but I'm not a great book salesperson. I want to talk about their kids or where they're from or the other books they might be carrying around with them - the books that have already jumped off the tables into their arms. I get tired of parroting the basic plot lines of my own books a hundred times in a day. But on the other hand, it is fun to sell somebody a book. It's like getting an unexpected gift except they're the one carrying the book away. Still, they were willing to take a chance on my book. That's the gift the reader gave me.

~~ But back to picking the books, some readers open the book and read the first page. So here's the first page of the book I'm currently working on. It can change. It probably will change. But on this writers' loop I'm on, a lot of the writers posted their first pages in the last couple of day so I thought I'd do the same for you. Here goes.

~~ Isaac Carr didn't think Ella would really die. Not let her hand go limp in his and actually stop breathing. She'd told him she would, but he hadn't believed her. At least not soon enough. A person didn't die because her mother wasn't there to stroke her head. If that could happen, he would have died when he was thirteen, but here he was still breathing. Even if every breath did seem a betrayal while he watched them lower his beautiful Ella down in the ground.
~~ He'd brought her home. He had to. It didn't matter that the Fort Smith doctor who had bled Ella warned him to wait for her fever to abate before making the trip back to Louisville. The doctor wasn't being haunted by the memory of Ella looking him right in the eye the day before the fever hit and telling him she'd die if he didn't take her home. Isaac was. She'd been telling him the same thing every day since they'd left Louisville months before until it had meant no more than someone mentioning the sun shining or the rain falling outside.

~~ How do you decide which book to carry home with you to put in your to read piles?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Writing Smiles

"You can't just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood."
"What mood is that?"
"Last minute panic!"

That's a Calvin & Hobbes quote, fictional characters in a comic series created by Bill Watterson.

~~I've always admired people who can come up with something funny everyday in the comic strips. Every day! Even if maybe you don't think it's funny, somebody out there probably reads it and laughs.

~~When I was at the book club meeting in Louisville a couple of weeks ago, I told the people there that I've always wished I could write funny stuff. Something that might make readers laugh out loud. But I don't think I have that talent. On a good day I might make a reader smile. I think Jocie and Wes with their Jupiter talk did that in my Hollyhill books. I don't know about the Shaker books. There wasn't much place for levity in those stories. Of course Hannah in The Believer might bring a few smiles with her free spirit and wild white curls. And Issachar was always ready to smile. So maybe here and there I placed a smile.

~~But to think about coming up with a comic strip every day week in and week out that would bring a chuckle is definitely something I'd never be able to do. And just like in the quote above, the best smiles have a germ of truth in them. It is nice to be in the right mood to do your writing, but if I waited for the right mood, I would have stalled out on most every book I've ever written. And I can't turn creativity on like a faucet. At least not an easily turned faucet. I have to sometimes wrench open those faucets of creativity to get out even a few drips. Push and shove those words out of my head and do a lot of hoping and wishing that when I read them over the next day they'll sound better than I think they're going to sound when I'm writing them. So that last minute panic definitely can come in handy. That's what keeps you working when things aren't easy. When your Muse has turned his back on you and is only taking a peek back over her shoulder now and again to see if you're really serious about writing this story. It's only after you've proven you are by spilling a few words, good or bad, down on the page that she might wander over and help you out. Ah, but then there are those days when the story words do come in a rush when suddenly the story is telling you what's happening. I'm still waiting for that on my new story. Still pushing and shoving those words out on paper. Still keeping in mind the deadline that could turn into that last minute panic!

~~Do you like a book that makes you laugh best? Or one that brings a tear?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

An Open Notebook

Journal vs. Blog; Blog vs. Journal.

Journal - a daily record of happenings. Blog - the word's not even in my old dictionary.

~~I've been writing in journals ever since I was a teenager, but I don't think I ever wrote it as a daily record of the happenings in my life. I kept a record of my writing life, but not daily. I would write when I was feeling down to try to cheer myself up. I would write when something exciting happened so that I could go back later and read the entry and know exactly when I wrote "the end" or started a new book. And best I would record when I got one of those letters that said somebody wanted to publish my book. Of course on the down days I also noted some of the letters that came saying somebody didn't want to publish my book. Actually in my journals there are probably more down entries than up entries, but they are always balanced by the fact that even when my writing life wasn't going well, I knew how blessed I was to have my family and farm and to be able to keep writing in hopes that the next story would be better and would find a loving editor and readers.

~~And then after I did sell a book in this internet era, people said you need to blog. So I said, why not? It would be like journaling with the notebook left open for any interested eyes to see my words. I could do that. They said there were blogging dos and don'ts. I just read a blog (what else?) giving ten blogging don'ts this week. I probably did at least half of them. Maybe that's why I can't brag about a thousand hits a week or more the way that blogger can. He said a blog should be short. Okay, I agree, but I'm not good at short. Maybe I can learn that one. He said a blog shouldn't be about yourself. Totally mess up on that one. Said you should blog on a regular basis. Do that. I'm consistent if nothing else and I determined when I started blogging to do two entries a week. Unless I'm out of town or sick (well, maybe sick doesn't count since I've caught a cold and feel rotten tonight, but you can't catch it over the net, thank goodness) or have a snowstorm that gets me so out of schedule I forget what day it is, I do try to get something written Wednesdays and Sundays.

~~But then the rule that really got me was the "brand" bit. That a blog should have a brand, a consistent theme. At that point, I gave up. I don't want to do a brand blog, so I'll just journal along and appreciate you sweet readers who want to take a peek at my open notebook. But I'll work on the less wordy.

~~What do you think? What do you want to read in the blogs you follow? What makes you follow this or that blog?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Going Back in Time

~~Here's a picture I took on my day up in Amish country. The hitching areas were full with no room to spare because the piles of snow had covered up some of the "buggy parking" area. There's just something about seeing people riding around in buggies that makes a person think about a more peaceful lifestyle even if that might not be true. I don't know much about the Amish lifestyle. My research has been on the Shakers who embraced the simple life but they also were ready to invent any kind of labor saving device to make their work more efficient. So if there were still big active Shaker communities today, you would probably see them plowing with tractors instead of horses. The Shakers believed working with their hands was a way of worship, but they also believed that if they could work faster then they could do even more work and produce more for their community.
~~I've been doing extra research on the Shakers to try to shake loose some new ideas for my work in progress. With every book I read, I discover new things and sometimes contradictory things to what I have read in previous books. Makes me glad I'm writing fiction. Even though I want to be historically accurate and do my best to present the flavor and atmosphere of the times I'm writing about, my characters are fictional and not out of a history book. It's hard to get everything exactly as it was. And with the Shakers, they - like most other religious groups - changed over the years. By the late nineteenth century many things that were taboo earlier were accepted. Such as pet cats and dogs. You see late century photos of Shaker men and women standing side by side, even with a hand on an arm or shoulder of the opposite sex. They still used the separate stairways and doors, but the rules had surely softened from the Ministry's earlier worries regarding even incidental contact between the brothers and sisters which was the reason for the men's and women's separate stairways and doors. Even some of their beliefs changed over the years in regard to their founder and leader, Mother Ann. But I'm not writing about modern Shakers so I have to bury myself in those history books and try to think how it might have been then. That's what all writers of historical fiction are trying to do. The readers have to decide how successful we are with our stories.
~~Last on this Wednesday, but certainly not least, I pulled a winner out of the hat for my book giveaway of two of my books, winner's choice, and Laura Frantz's The Frontiersman's Daughter, a book about the early settlers in Kentucky. Drum roll please. The winner is Stephanie from Tennessee. So, congratulations, Stephanie. I'll be in touch.
~~Hope all of you see some of the spring type weather that's being forecast for us this weekend. Sunshine more than welcome.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Day in Amish Country

Here I am with some new friends at the Gospel Book Store in Berlin, Ohio. The owners, Eli and Vesta Hochstetler, have a beautiful store there in the heart of Amish country. Vesta is beside me along with two of the store's employees. Leah, on the left, was very patient and helpful each time I called the store to check out arrangements and the weather.

~~Ah. the weather!! The sun was shining when we left down here on Friday. I suppose I thought I could just pack it up and take it along. Our plan was to get an early start and have time to do sightseeing Friday afternoon. As it turned out the only sightseeing we got to do was snow blowing toward the windshield of our car. We didn't get off early the way we hoped due to some car problems. Then we hit Columbus at rush hour and winter started reminding me it was still in full force no matter what I tried to pack in my suitcase. The winter weather got more forceful the farther up the road we went. We started seeing cars in the medians and on the sides of the road where the drivers had obviously hit slick spots and ended up stuck in the snow and mud. The rest of us just kept zooming along hoping we were following the salt trucks. Perhaps zoom isn't the best word. Slogging along might fit better. And then we got off the interstate and the snow got a little thicker as we headed north on unfamiliar roads in the dark. At one time we were on a scenic highway and kept saying that we bet there was a beautiful view along the curves and ridges we were following. Trust me on this, after dark is not the best time to drive a scenic highway. But our guardian angel must have been flying faithfully along with us in spite of snow-encrusted wings and we made it safely. Even got to the motel before the office closed down. With minutes to spare!! Two or three at least.

~~The next morning I got to meet the nice owners and staff of the Gospel Book Store. There was a mix-up on time so I was there before they opened - an hour early. I'll have to tell my church buddies about that. They think I'm always late. My husband didn't mind being early because that gave us time to go downtown and enjoy a delicious breakfast at Boyd and Wurthman's once we found a parking spot amid the snow piles. Well fed and back at the bookstore, I enjoyed watching all the buggy drivers' parking their horses as they came to do their Saturday morning shopping and town business. I've never been in a community with a heavy population of Amish and Mennonite and so it was interesting to watch the families coming into the big building that held the bookstore, a bank, grocery, hardware store, medical center, drug store and more. A one stop shopping center. I loved seeing the babies in arms and the youngsters in Amish dress trailing after their mamas and daddies.
~~I also had the pleasure of talking to some of the people. There were three local authors there with great books as well. Paul Stutzman had a book, Hiking Through, about hiking the Appalachian Trail start to finish without a break. An Amish writer, Daniel Miller had written a collection of short pieces that let readers get fun glimpses into his family life and that of his friends and neighbors. He and his wife, Mae were kind enough to share some of their way of life with me. Daniel is an enthusiastic writer but has to find time to work between his farming chores and family obligations. I could identify with him there. He said Mae sometimes called herself a "writing widow." She smiled when he told me that story so I think they're working that out with no real problems. Besides her many family caring tasks, Mae said she did catering for weddings and gatherings.
~~It would have been great to have had more time to talk and get to know the people in the area, not to mention that sightseeing I'd hoped to do, but Darrell had to get back to Northern Kentucky to add his low notes to the Patriot Quartet's sound on Saturday night. So we had to pack up and get out of Dodge - er, Berlin - as quick as we could. A totally bad plan on our part, but that's the way trips go sometimes. We even had to speed past the longest covered bridge in Ohio without me even getting to take a picture. Not a good way to have to travel through such beautiful country. But Darrell made it back to California, Kentucky for his singing appointment and so our poor little traveling guardian angel got to settle down and rest for a few hours. The most amazing thing was that we passed by an Ohio state trooper hid in behind a snow bank and he didn't turn on his flashing lights. The guy must have been dozing. For sure, Darrell used up a bit of luck on that one since he wasn't exactly going 55 at the time.
~~Next time I travel to Amish country I'm going go in the spring or summer or autumn. And daytime for traveling. Hope all of you had a great weekend too.