28 September 2009

A plethora of potatoes: Part 2-My bologna has a first name...

Nineteen days into my experiment of no-grocery shopping for a month, my fridge is down to a handful of random food items.

A clove of garlic.

The remains of a 100-count package of sliced cheddar cheese.


And bologna. Oh, yes, a full package of bologna.

I bought it for my parents' visit over Labor Day weekend. My nephew came with them, and he likes bologna. Actually, that's about all he will eat. But I bought the wrong brand and my nephew, a.k.a. Bologna Boy, refused to eat it.

So now I have an unopened package of Oscar Meyer bologna in the back of the fridge, hiding behind the potatoes.

I almost tossed it, but given that I have more than 10 more days of this experiment and the pantry contents are dwindling rapidly, I put it back.

Just in case the worse comes to pass, anyone have a recipe for potato, cheese and bologna casserole?

27 September 2009

Buk 1: The Lost Boy

Before I started writing stories, I told them. Yes, Mother called these lies, but they always entertained my audience (and usually got me out of trouble).

When my niece and nephews were little, I wove stories for them, spinning wild tales of Alden, an accidental knight of Green Wood who couldn't keep track of how many horses were in his stables, and his sister Freyda, who could travel anywhere in the Five Realms through a piece of broken glass.

When the youngest nephew became old enough to enjoy to the stories, Joel the Dragon Rider, who had a habit of telling lies, became integral to the tales. Unlike the other two, he always insisted that he be part of the stories by name, and as he's gotten older, he's taken more control of the stories, giving me prompts as to what should happen next.

He once demanded a story that began, "Once upon a time there were five sisters who didn't get along" then told me the story when I didn't get it right.

This week, he wrote his first story--and mailed it to me! The story is about a little boy who sneaks out of the house, runs into the woods to play and gets lost. He wants me to include it in my book.

So, as I write down these tales, I will have to weave in a chapter about a boy who gets lost in the forest. Then again, maybe not.

Strangely enough, my oldest nephew does have trouble with math, and my niece did inherit the family's gypsy gene. And Joel, Lord bless him, has quite the habit of telling tall tales.

Thankfully, dragons don't exist.

23 September 2009


On Tuesday, I guest-blogged about travel and its affect on my writing, but it got me thinking about the type of travel that might be detrimental to my writing. The "bad" travel, so to speak.

Yes, even a traveling addict like me can take an uninspiring trip.

In fact, I've taken many that didn't get the creative juices flowing--a few barely inspired me to brush my teeth.

Travels for the day job have deposited me in such unlikely destination as Hartford, Conn., and Shanghai. But the destination isn't what makes these trips bad. It's the fact that it didn't matter what where I was. I went from airport, to taxi, to hotel, to conference room, to taxi, to airport. My schedule in Shanghai was such that if not for the faces and accents of the folks working at the JW, I wouldn't have known where I was.

For a gypsy like me, these trips are heart-breaking. I get all the headaches of travel--waiting in taxi queues that stretch around the block, disrobing for airport security and wondering if it's the bubonic plague that gives the hotel air such unique odor--without the joie de vivre of exploration.

And these trips rarely move my muse to begin whispering plot points in my ear. Instead, he (don't know why, but I think of "him" not "her" when I think of my muse--but that's another blog) usually grouses about the 5 a.m. wake-up call and reminds that terrorists love to target hotels.

And, yes, that low-level paranoia has found its way into at least one of my characters--to very interesting, dark-souled results--but I'm not going to beginning planning corporate travel just to dirty-up my characters. But the thought does lead to the question of the week: What uninspiring trip has found its way into your book? And would you go again?

22 September 2009

Good trips, bad trips

I'm guest blogging about travel today over at Lindsay's Romantics blog. Come visit. Thanks.

19 September 2009

A plethora of potatoes

A few weeks ago I saw a newscast about a woman who decided not to go to the store for 30 days to cut back on her $800-a-month grocery bill. She figured there was more than enough food in the freezer and pantry to feed her family, so why pack in more?

Now my monthly food bills are nowhere near that high, but my pantry and freezer do look like I'm planning for the apocalypse. So, I decided to make this woman's experiment my own.

Almost two weeks ago I went cold turkey on Costco, Peapod, Jewel-Osco, Walgreen and c-stores. I didn't put rules to this experience as the woman on TV did. I can eat out when I want (within budgetary guidelines, of course) and meals don't have to be "balanced." Oh, and I can replenish the coffee supply as needed (I'm curious, not crazy).

Now it's still early in the experiment, so who's to say how it will end, but so far, it's been a fun challenge. I've even discovered hidden treasures in my freezer. In addition to the standards of chicken, beef, and frozen soup, I've found puff pastries, a loaf of Wonder Bread (I have no idea, people) and these really cool--and cold--cucumber patches to put on my eyes when I have a headache.

The regular fridge has yielded fewer surprises, but one major one: potatoes. Lots and lots of potatoes.

Despite my Scot-Irish heritage, I am not a potato eater. I go easy on the fries and never mash, bake or boil potatoes at home. Occasionally, I'll throw them in the stew pot (what is beef stew without potatoes, after all) or make a creamed soup with them if I'm feeling industrious on a Saturday afternoon, but those are both twice-a-winter occurrences.

So how did I get 20-plus pounds of potatoes in my fridge?

And how long have they been there?

I pondered those questions this morning, but I decided not to throw them out (unlike the package of shriveled figs I found behind them). Potatoes keep, and I'm only 11 days into this experiment. By Oct. 9, I may be surviving on potatoes and coffee like my ancestors.

17 September 2009

The book of my brain

This book-writing thing is a strange profession that offers highs and lows enough to make me dizzy. Actually the writing is the easy part. The publishing part is what drives many authors to drink.

The bitter truth is no matter how good I think a book is, others need to think the same before it ends up on the shelves, and even after it sells, the strange up-and-down journey only continues.  Some readers love it. Others do not. One review gives it five stars, another two. Oy.

This past week, I got a slightly hotter than lukewarm review for my most recent book, ART OF LOVE. The reviewer noted that the scholarly disputes...so much a part of university life...bogged down the story. Pretty much what I expected. I knew the disputations were too complicated when I wrote it, but I decided not to care. It was the book of my brain, not the book of my heart. For me, it worked because:

  1. It's historically accurate. This was the life of a medieval scholar.
  2. I over enjoyed the endless philosophical readings necessary to craft the disputes and make sure my hero won.
  3. Writing the story allowed me to pretend to be as smart as my characters (believe, I'm not) and imagine what it would be part of such a vibrant time and atmosphere.

So, yeah, I knew readers would likely enjoy that part of the story less. They read to be entertained, after all, but I'd hoped the story would deliver on the romance and entertainment. And based on the rest of the review--and reader letters--it did.

One reader wrote: "I finally completed 'Art of Love.' It was complicated and wonderful." She read it while visiting her husband in the hospital after he had a heart attack. It took her mind off her own worries--and that, to be honest, is the real goal in writing. To touch someone's life, if only for a little while.

Oh, and the next story is more emotional and less cerebral, much less.

14 September 2009

Down time

I turned in my current manuscript yesterday. It's a wonderful feeling, a weight off my shoulder, a quieting of the voices in my head before the next characters start yapping.

So I spent the afternoon catching up on cleaning, laundry, did a bit of online shopping, and sat down and read a book. I even gave myself permission to sleep in this morning, yet woke at the same time and staggered to the coffee pot before booting up the Mac.

Then realized I had no story to write this morning.

It's an odd feeling, an empty one. But one I'm determined to enjoy my week's "vacation." It's my first from writing in five years. And I figure as in any other career, downtime is necessary to refuel the creative energy.

The book I just finished, ENTHRALLED, is the third in the Druids of Dunarnoch series. I will likely come back to that world someday, but right now want to try something different in the next book, something a little less complicated. :-)

So here I sit...tapping my fingers against the desk...letting ideas flow and trying to figure out what to do for the next book...and tapping my fingers against the desk.

OK, my fellow scribes, have you taken time off between books? If so, how do you fill the time?

11 September 2009

9/11: The most horrible of days

Today was rough. I got word that my iBook cannot be repaired (it's vintage) and the part of my job I was most excited about just got peeled off and reassigned elsewhere. I sobbed on the way home.

The tears surprised me. I don't cry. Not even at funerals for close kin, but for some reason, today I cried.
Yes, I know the two events are trigger points that tapped the release valve on the cumulative stress of a rough 18 months at work, a bad economy and constant car issues that have drained my savings account below my comfort level.

But it's also the anniversary of 9/11, which heightens everything. I can't go through the day without remembering the stunningly blue skies and the eerie silence that permeated the air even in St. Louis.

I was traveling that week, although not that day. I vividly remember coming out of a new business meeting and hearing my friend say very quietly, "Listen to this. I think we're under a terrorist attack." We flipped on the radio just in time to hear the shock and horror of a reporter's voice as he described the first tower coming town.

I remember getting back to the office and watching the second tower come down on a small, black and white TV in the kitchen, and I can still feel the rising panic I felt as I tried to reach a friend of mine who lived near the World Trade complex and used that subway stop to get to work (she was safe).

Later, as the day faded into an eerie night, the empty skies disoriented me more than anything else had that day. Worse of all, I had to go back to my hotel room, and I'd never been so homesick in my life. I just wanted to go home to my Little Gray Bungalow in Charlotte.

The flight home was the capper to a long, strange week. The sight of a camo-clad, rifle-toting, sharp-shooter sitting in the white rocking chairs at Charlotte-Douglas airport brought home just how much the world had changed in one morning.

So whatever the source of my sobs--and it's probably a mix a mix of stress, job disappointment and 9/11--today was a day for tears.

10 September 2009

Synopses pave the road to hell

I've been battling a synopsis for a week now, and the dread beast is winning.

You'd think that creating a synopsis for my latest book would be a breeze. After all, it's a summary of what I just spent the last six months (or year) working on. I just need to tell the story in as few words as possible. Yet of all the activities that come with this crazy business, writing the synopsis is the hardest.

Whether I write it before I begin the book, after I finish it, or while roaring drunk, it's always a tedious, painfully uncreative process that requires me to reduce my intricately woven plot, my complex, three-dimensional characters and heart-rending conflict to a few descriptive phrases that also reflect my voice and writing skill.

Sure. Fine. No problem.

I envy authors who can whip out a synopsis in an afternoon. I honestly can't imagine how they do it. Each time I try to condense my story, I seem to follow the same path. First, I create a 20-page draft that reads like a five-year-old telling a story, i.e. "and then... and then... and then." Eventually, I manage to trim it to about 3 pages, but have to go back and surgically reinsert key turning points so my editor will recognize the book when she gets it.

And no matter how long or diligently I revise, the synopsis always falls far short of capturing the essence of my story. So I rewrite it again. And again. And again.

With each pass, disappointment and frustration breeds in my soul until self-doubt flourishes in me like a glyphosate-resistant weed in a soybean field. After all, if I can't write a decent synopsis, why in the world do I think I just wrote I decent book?

Honestly, synopses are the only thing I don't like about this business. I love the story telling, get jazzed by revisions that improve the story, and even enjoy the self-promotion ( although I'm not very diligent at it). But the synopsis? I'd rather be at the dentist.

Still, the synopsis is a necessary evil, a critical part of the process. It's what you gets your manuscript read if you're unpublished. If published, the synopsis is the critical component of the proposal, the outline that sells your book before it's written.

So I'm curious. What do you do to make the synopsis come together? When do you write it? How?

07 September 2009

Outing myself: Yes, I am an Optimist

Where I live, we don't have a real summer, just a few weeks of hot weather (and we didn't even get that this year), then it's back to sweaters and Ugg boots. Like many towns in the Nearly Frozen North, mine celebrates the end of summer with a four-day bash of music, food and beer--the last fling before snow flies.

At this year's festival, I think every small and large newspaper within 50 miles had a booth on the midway, hawking subscriptions and tchotchkes to get people to take the paper. They were the least busy people on the street. Each time I walked by those stalls, I saw the same empty tents, the same giveaways gathering dust and the same stack of cards, not even one missing.

And each time I walked by, I felt more and more like a traitor to my kind.

Understand, I grew up in a newsroom. The first decade of my professional life was spent covering cops, courts and councils and meeting daily deadlines with the fervor of the newly converted. I cut my writing teeth on lifestyle features and have had more than one photo move over the AP wire to run nationally.

But I don't subscribe to a newspaper.

I get high on the smell of newsprint and ink, am energized by deadlines, and love the cynical, boisterous and rude atmosphere of the newsroom.

But I don't subscribe to a newspaper.

I left the business when it became more about covering scandals and entertaining readers than keeping an eye on government run amok. And though I miss the newsroom everyday but pay day, I don't subscribe to a newspaper (or news magazine) for the same reason I exited the newsroom: the industry has lost its way.

This is an era where Katie Couric passes for an anchor and discovering Sarah Palin's teenage daughter is pregnant is called investigative journalism (I'd call it ironic and karmic, but not worth more than a short story on B1).

Reporting lost its sense of purpose about the same time that Time-Warner and Disney began buying up news outlets. Couple this lost of direction to a changing advertising model and the desire for double-digit profits, and you have an industry in trouble. But rather than improve content, newspapers cut editions, try gimmicks or lay off senior staff who actually know what they are doing.

I cried when the Rocky Mountain News shuts its doors. But beneath my overriding sense of guilt is a small kernel of hope.

When corporate America washes their hands of the industry, I hope independent, passionate men and women will take up the call. I want to believe that being unshackled from conglomerate ownership will be the best thing to happen to news since the invention of the printing press. When helmed by owners committed to news not just profits (although I'm not against making money) the Fourth Estate will be re-invigorated and the news, in whatever form it comes, will once again be relevant and reflect what this country needs to know... not just what it wants to know.

Yes, I'm outing myself as a closet optimist, but like many present (and probably former) journalists, I believe it's possible to change the world. I just have to remind myself that sometimes change is painful.

04 September 2009

Long time gone

I'm one of those rare people who eat breakfast, sorta. Within an hour or two of my first cup of coffee, I'll fix eggs and toast or maybe a cup of oatmeal.

As a farm kid, I developed the breakfast habit early in life. Mom started cooking the moment she woke up, even before the coffee finished brewing. Breakfast consisted of biscuits and gravy, eggs and bacon or sausage almost every day. On Saturdays, the bacon was switched out for pork chops and grease (red-eye gravy, for those not in the know). Sundays was cinnamon rolls, eggs and bacon.

She doesn't cook like that anymore, but I realized today that my parents still eat on a farm schedule. They are visiting this weekend, and while I stumbled groggily from kitchen to desk with my oversized coffee cup, Mom and Pop stood by the stove, looking expectant.

"Cups are there," I mumbled pointing to the cupboard behind them.

"Eggs?" Pop asked.

"Bacon?" Mom added.

"Biscuits?" they said in unison, stomach rumbling.

I realized that's not quite 7 a.m. and long past time for breakfast, as far as they are concerned. "Yogurt?" I offered. "Toast? Apple?"

Yeah...no. So I gulped my first cup of coffee, grabbed the fry pan and discovered that the only thing harder than eating at daybreak is cooking then.