Monday, August 31, 2009

Food Safety Education

September is National Food Safety Education Month.

Check out the first of four food safety related myths with mz *lizzie the lunch lady.

And in a not related, but interesting story...

PERU: Police seize cocaine inside live turkeys
World PoultryThe Associated Press

Peruvian police were expecting to find a shipment of cocaine hidden in a crate holding two live turkeys. However, they were surprised to discover the drug surgically implanted inside the birds.

Acting on a tip, police officers in Peru were puzzled when they found the turkeys in the crate, but didn't find the cocaine, Tarapoto's anti-drug police chief Otero Gonzalez told The Associated Press. They then noticed that the 2 turkeys were bloated.

"Lifting up the feathers of the bird, in the chest area, police detected a handmade seam," he said.

A veterinarian extracted 11 oval-shaped plastic capsules containing 1.9 kg (4.2 pounds) of cocaine from one turkey and 17 capsules with 2.9 kg (6.4 pounds) from the other, he said.

Both turkeys reportedly survived the removal.

~~~ hopefully not to be stuffed another way!~~~

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Tip for Historical Writers

I always print out a calendar for the year of my story and then use blank monthly pages to cover each month. I just found two sites even better than the ones I used previously.

Here, simply enter your year and print a calendar:

And this one does all the work for you. You enter a starting date, like January 1, 1850 and click for it to open, (not download) and print a month at a time. It only takes a couple minutes to get a complete year's calendar (or however many months you need). I punch holes, slide them into my binder and choreograph my storyline with ease.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Member Release: The Magnificent Seven

The Magnificent Seven
Silhouette Special Releases
Sep 2009
Miniseries: Montana Mavericks
ISBN:9780373310524 (#30)

Heather Johnson had never intended to return to Whitehorn, Montana. But restoring an inherited ranch seemed the perfect way to pass the summer with her three kids. The moment she hired carpenter Mitch Fielding, though, his motherless twin daughters in tow, those short-term plans suddenly went awry. Mitch was the first man in her life who truly seemed to notice her. And as his skillful hands restored the ranch and ignited a passion she'd never known, her fragile heart began to heal, as well. For once in Heather's life everything seemed magnificent. And that scared her. Because the future she wanted—and the past she'd run from—were forever in Whitehorn….

The Magnificent Seven

Chapter One

Mitch led his twin six-year-olds, Taylor and Ashley, through the lunch crowd at the Hip Hop Café as though he were guiding them through a minefield. Taylor narrowly missed knocking over a gray-haired gent's cane that was leaning against a table edge, and Mitch clamped his hand firmly over Ashley's mouth as soon as he noticed an overweight woman shoveling chocolate-cream pie between her lips.

He got them settled into a booth and released his breath. "There." He picked up the plastic-coated menu and scanned for something nourishing the twins would eat without pitching a fit. "They have hamburgers and chicken fingers."

"Yuck. I want a chocolate malt and a pickle," Ashley pronounced.

"I want skettios," Taylor said.

"They don't have skettios," he replied to one daughter, then turned to the other. "And you can have a chocolate malt if you eat a hamburger."

"Gross. I don't want a hamburger." She folded her arms over the front of her Teletubbie T-shirt. "I want a pickle."

"You can have a pickle with your hamburger. Taylor, they have spaghetti."

"Don't like spaghetti."

"Of course you do. It's the same stuff that comes out of the cans, only real."

"Uh-uh-uh," she said in a singsongy voice with a shake of her head. "It doesn't taste the same."

He resisted the urge to argue or bargain in public, which always made him feel as if his daughters were getting the upper hand anyway. How long could a child survive on pickles, malts and canned spaghetti? It was his job as a parent to see that they were well nourished, but how did he go about it? Some nights he dropped into bed mentally exhausted, feeling lucky to have gotten several bites of anything into them.

A waitress appeared at his elbow, and Mitch glanced up to see the slim blonde in a blue T-shirt proclaiming Breakfast Served All Day give him a curious once-over. Everyone in Whitehorn, Montana, seemed to know each other, and he obviously stuck out as a newcomer. A quick scan confirmed that a dozen eyes had zeroed in on him and his daughters.

"Afternoon," she said pleasantly. "I'm Janie Austin. Which one of Garrett Kincaid's grandsons are you?"

"Mitch Fielding," he replied self-consciously. "How did you know?"

She cast him a friendly smile. "In Whitehorn everybody knows everybody else's business. Anticipating each grandson's arrival has been the hot topic for quite a while."

He didn't know how well he liked being the subject of gossip, but this young woman seemed friendly and accepting enough. Apparently everyone already knew he was one of six illegitimate grandsons the old man had summoned to his ranch. Garrett was still searching for a seventh.

She touched his shoulder in a brief gesture of greeting that put him at ease. "Nice to meet you, Mitch."

He returned her neighborly smile. "These are my daughters, Taylor and Ashley."

"Look at that pretty blond hair. What'll you have, girls?"

He gave her their orders, amid objections from his daughters. Taylor waved her arm to get his attention and knocked the ketchup bottle into the salt and pepper shakers. Pepper spilled on the laminate tabletop, and she promptly blew it into her sister's face.

Ashley sneezed and her eyes watered. She grabbed for the rolled paper napkin that held her silverware and sent the metal utensils flying across the table and onto the floor.

Mitch picked up the utensils, handed them to the astonished waitress and admonished the girls to sit on their behinds.

By the time their food arrived, everyone in the room knew Taylor had to go to the bathroom. He took them to the women's room, standing outside until their food was cold. Finally he rapped on the door.

Thank God it was a one-seater, because he had to go in to dry their hands and pull them out. So that the next person wouldn't slip and break her neck, he mentioned to the waitress that the rest room floor was flooded.

"My spaghetti's cold," Taylor complained loudly.

"So's everything else." With a sigh, Mitch picked up his cold burger and took a bite, just as Ashley knocked over her malt.

Twenty minutes later he released their hands to get his wallet and pay the cashier. He ran back to leave a generous tip at the table for the patient waitress.

A bulletin board on the wall by the cash register caught his attention and, ignoring the yanks on his hands, he scanned the notices of cars and household items for sale. He was particularly looking for someone to watch the girls for him so he could line up a few jobs. Most of the Want Ads had been placed by junior and high school students; the twins needed someone more experienced. Much more experienced. A warden, perhaps.

One notice caught his eye. Handyman Wanted. He released a small hand to tap the card with his forefinger.

"Know anything about this one?" He directed his question to the gray-haired waitress in orthopedic shoes standing near the cash register.

"That's Pete Bolton's ranch," she replied. "His daughter was in here a couple of weeks ago, looking for someone to help her fix up the place to sell."

That sounded like just the job for him. A couple of months back he'd had to sell all of his contracts, to take care of the girls. His mother had been caring for them, but one calamity after another had pulled him from work sites, until it wasn't fair to his customers or his subcontractors for him to continue. While trying to figure out what to do, he'd decided that Garrett Kincaid's invitation was just the solution.

This had been the perfect time to do some traveling, and he'd been eager to spend more time with, and get to know, this grandfather he'd never known existed until last May.

"Do you have some paper I can write the number on?" he asked.

"Sure, sugar." She fished in her pocket, came out with her order tablet and a pen, and scribbled the phone number, tearing off the sheet and handing it to him.

The bell over the door clanged and he turned to see one of his daughters dash outside.

"Thanks." He stuffed the paper into his shirt pocket and pulled the other child out the door behind him.

Lily Mae Wheeler got up out of her permanent seat in the first booth and walked over to Charlene, her gaudy jewelry clanking at her wrists and weighing down her bony chest.

"Heard he was at Garrett's ranch," she said to let Charlene know she'd been the first to hear. "Nobody knows much about him yet, 'cept his wife died when those two were just babies. Those children are holy terrors, have you ever seen the likes?"

"Must be difficult for a young father to raise two girls alone," Janie said sympathetically, coming up beside them.

"They need a good paddling, if you ask me," Lily Mae scoffed.

"Be interesting to see what happens at the Bolton ranch this afternoon, wouldn't it?" Charlene said with a devilish smile.

The three exchanged amused glances.

Engaging her ten-year-old daughter's help, Heather Johnson tackled the stack of dishes from lunch and breakfast.

"We need a dishwasher, Mom." Jessica dried a chipped plate and stood on tiptoe to place it in the cupboard.

"I didn't think we were going to be here long enough to need one," Heather replied with a regretful sigh. She turned and glanced at her sons who sat on the worn linoleum floor with coloring books. With his tongue angled out the side of his mouth, five-year-old Patrick studiously labored to keep the purple crayon inside the lines on the page. Two-year-old Andrew spent more time chasing the crayons under the table and tasting them than he did coloring, but at least her boys were temporarily occupied.

When she'd brought her children to the ranch after her father's death, she'd planned to take a two-week vacation, go through her father's personal belongings, and sell the property. A neat-and-tidy plan, something that should have gone smoothly.

Now, two and a half weeks later, she still hadn't been able to make any progress on selling. She hadn't planned on all the repairs that the real estate lady had suggested be made to get a decent price. Heather hadn't been back to Whitehorn in years, and the property had deteriorated more than she'd imagined. Her father obviously hadn't paid any more attention to the house than he ever had to her.

She shrugged off the depressing thought and gave Jessica a smile. "Thank you, angel. You are a big help to me, you know that?"

Wiping another plate, her daughter nodded in a grown-up manner. "Can we do something fun after this, Mom?"

A little pang of regret snagged Heather. She knew it hadn't been much fun for Jess to help with the boys all morning while Heather went through boxes and trunks and years' worth of accumulated junk. "What would you like to do?"

"Catch turtles in the pond?"

Heather wrinkled her nose. "Who's going to wade out there with the net?"

"You'll help, won't you?"

Heather had to admit she'd been appreciating this much-needed time with her kids. She loved her public relations job in San Francisco, and the sense of self-worth it had always brought, but she often felt guilty about the time she missed with her children. This time with them had been enjoyable, even though it had to be spent here—the last place on earth she'd choose to vacation.

She tapped Jessica on the nose with a sudsy finger. "Okay, I'll help you catch a turtle."

Jessica grinned that knockout smile, revealing dimples that would one day drive young men crazy. Heather's heart gave a sad twinge at the thought. She wasn't too concerned about her daughter's future.

She'd tried her best to ensure Jessica wouldn't make the same mistakes Heather had made.

Patrick jumped up and ran to the screen door that overlooked the long gravel drive. "Somebody's coming! It's a way cool truck!"

Andrew got up, crunching crayons beneath his red-and-blue tennis shoes in the process, and followed his brother. "Thumbody coming!" he mimicked.

Heather dried her hands and moved to the door. She'd been expecting the man who had called earlier about interviewing for the handyman job. The blue-and-silver duel cab Silverado pickup leaving a dust trail must belong to him.

"This is the appointment I was expecting." She hung up the towel. "We'll be discussing business in the other room. I want all of you to play quietly in here until we're finished."

She waited for the children's nods of understanding, then stepped back to the door.

The driver parked in the gravel area behind the house, but instead of getting out right away he turned toward the back seat. Heather noticed a couple of heads she hadn't seen at first. He'd brought children to a job interview? One big strike against him.

She stepped out onto the back porch, the age-splintered boards creaking precariously beneath her feet.

He exited the truck at last, closing the door and glancing over his shoulder.

He was tall, she noticed right away. Maybe thirty, with sandy-brown hair and a golden tan attesting to hours working in the sun.

The jeans he wore encased long legs and slim hips. A navy-blue, button-down knit shirt, work boots, and a slim black folder with a clipboard completed the classically sexy look of a handyman. Heather could picture him with a tool belt around his hips and smiled to herself. Certainly nothing wrong with his appearance.

He neared the porch. "Mrs. Johnson?"

She composed her face and nodded.

"Mitch Fielding."

She reached to shake his hand. He had calluses on his palms. Hardworking. Steadfast. Where had that come from? It had been a long time since she'd noticed a man the way she noticed this one. Perturbed, she released his hand. "We can talk inside."

He glanced uncomfortably over his shoulder.

"Your children?" she asked.

He nodded. "They're supposed to sit there until I get back."

She wondered again why he'd brought them along. It was completely unprofessional. "Would you like to let them come in and color at the kitchen table?"

"No," he said immediately with a shake of his head. "I don't think so."

ORDER AT eHarlequin

Monday, August 24, 2009

Margie is interviewed by *lizzie

Welcome to your interview, Margie! How about starting at the beginning?
I was born on the top of a hill. (I always wanted to say that.) The original St. Joseph's Hospital is no longer there... so I can stand down at the bottom of the hill and say, "I was born on the top of this hill, in mid-air."

Readers always love to hear about where an author comes from, about their family. What about yours?
My Dad’s parents were both born in Poland, though they met in Omaha. They learned English from their children, who learned it from the nuns when they went to school,

My Mom’s parents have been in America quite a while. Her families on both sides have kept up a really intense genealogy chart. When I found it a few years ago I was astonished. They have where they found the information, the name of the church, graveyard, old bibles and census. The charts go back hundreds of years. There are so many people, and all grandparents. This is something that doesn’t really hit you until you see names and dates when they were born, married, died. Most of these ancestors are traced back to England and Scotland. In Scotland I found the Black Knight of Lorne, and quite a bit of royalty from both England and Scotland as well as an assortment of European countries.. Guess once you hit one King you hit them all, since they all married each other. I also found a famous Native American. A drop of blood….

Hmm, sounds like we might have some common ancestors. Fun to look into the past, isn't it?
There are lots of stories there. For instance, when my Great Grandpa was a young teenager; his family came from England -- Arnold Notts, in Nottingham, near Sherwood Forest. Their family made lace stockings with machines that were brought to their home. Even the children worked. Records exist of his family in that area as far back as 1500.
He died years before I was born, but my Grandma kept him alive by telling me stories about him and things he'd do and say. She told me her Dad was the bravest man around. Quite a few ghost stories center around a phrase she said he used: Owl-light…when spirits walk.

Cool! But how about something a little closer to now?
My Dad was in the Army during World War II. He wanted to open a book store when he retired, but he died when he was only 62. A lot of my old books are his. My Mom is an artist.
I'm the oldest of seven children, the only girl. So I was delighted when I had three beautiful little girls of my own. Now they are grown, but have gifted me with eleven awesome grandchildren. Eight girls and three boys ranging in age from 2 years old to 25. Two in diapers, two in high school two in college and a flock in the middle. Along about Wednesday I begin getting calls, "Grandma, can I spend the night?" So my weekends are pretty full.

Sounds like your grandkids love to fill up your time. What are some of your favorite things to do with them? Are any of them interested in following in Grandma’s writing footsteps?
They love movies. We watch lots of those together. Stardust is our current favorite. We make popcorn and the little ones like to tell me stories. We color and draw and play with dolls and their dollhouse. We read. They love books. And they love my notebooks, which they beg me to give them, and then use to write their own stories, asking me how to spell every other word. Since there are so many of my grandchildren, I could write volumes about each one. So I will just say that they are beautiful, fun and witty, I am indeed blessed. (Do I sound like a Grandma?)

Now, to the writing part of your life! What’s your writing history?
I've been telling stories, writing stories, writing poems and songs since I could talk. Somewhere I have a picture of me sitting behind my Tom Thumb typewriter. I was about five.

When I was eleven I began sending my "poems" to the music companies that advertised in the Hit Parade song lyrics magazines. One of them was Capitol Records. I'd get back “contracts” that wanted about $25+ to put my poems to music. Back when songs like Purple People Eater and the Little Blue Man came out, I wrote songs like "The Landing of the Martians" and one I called "Tender or Rare". The last line in that one was: "How do you like your love man, tender or rare?" Real Fonzie stuff. Of course Daddy laughed and said paying for music was just a gimmick for the big shots to make money off of the suckers. It was the '50's and we didn't have money for stuff like that. Daddy always thought it was cool that the record companies seemed to like my poems though.. Later I found out Neil Diamond and even Johnny Cash started out in those same record companies. (f course, they had their own music. Just think... I could have gone a whole different direction. lol

In the 60's (am I rambling yet?) when I was in high school I wrote for the South High Tooter in Journalism class. I also entertained my friends with poems of heartache, doom and gloom. My favorite was "Hide These Tears." It must have been a premonition. (I do share my birthday with Nostradamus) I graduated, got married a year later to a dreamy guy from Pennsylvania who was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base. I was starry-eyed, believed in fairy tale endings and love that lasts forever. We lived happily ever after for about 16 years. When I realized the illusion that love sometimes becomes, I froze. I couldn’t write for a long time. How could I write about love when I didn’t believe in love anymore? But then I wrote feverishly in starts and stops. I never stopped writing but didn't finish anything besides poems.. I thought I'd have time when my girls grew up. Before long I was helping with their kids and one day realized... Hey! My time is running out. I have a lot of stories I need to write. So....

So… you’re writing! Woo Hoo! Tell us about your current work in progress.
I'm working on a story I want to call Owl-Light. (That’s why I told you about my great grandfather from England.)
This story is about a guy who has been having black-outs since he came back from the war. When he got home he found out his sweetheart was spending a lot of time with his best friend while he was gone. The last thing he remembers is pulling his army gun out of the closet. Then he draws a blank. He doesn't remember what happened the rest of that night. She disappears. 40 years later, he still doesn't know what happened to her. He never lets himself go again. (Emotionally). One day while at his cabin on the Platte he's sure he sees her walking along the river. She’s like she was 40 years earlier, not like she'd be in the present. Besides, she’s kind of misty with an eerie light around her. He runs out, but she's not there. So now I have this haunted person. The narrator or viewpoint character knows that unless she helps him find out what really happened to Ginny that he is going to remain a lost soul. And that is not an option.

Sounds like an interesting story. I love ghosts. Has this been an easy tale to write?
Put it like this – I know this story. I have been breathing it, in my mind’s eye watching it like a movie for years. I know at least four of the major characters. I’ve walked with them. I’ve recognized them in the eyes of strangers. But then I have started and stopped this story more times than I want to admit.
I've gone in one direction, and decided, “No, this isn’t it.” Then I’d start over again. I would go a different way In Mark Twain's autobiography he tells about working for years on the Diary of Joan of Arc. It wouldn't flow no matter what he did. Finally, he realized he was simply going about it from the wrong viewpoint. He tried a different approach and it came out perfect.
So I thought, “That's it!” I tried it from different viewpoints. Still it just didn't seem quite right. And I... who never throw anything out, shredded some of my versions. I, who keep things forever, hit the delete button on pages I never printed. Woe to me. I know better than that. I also have decided the delete button was invented by Satan so he could have a good laugh on frustrated writers in weak moments when they feel everything that they have written is drivel.
So I am beginning again, with a really good handle on where I am going but this time I'll take Ray Bradbury's advice and like the sign he has on his typewriter, "Don't Think", I'm just going to let it flow.

Excellent advice! When you start writing--or start over as the case may be--what’s your process? Do you do a lot of plotting before hand, or just sit and write?
I am just going to start writing. I have plotted myself right out of this story. My best bet at this point is to shut up and let the story tell me what is going to happen next.

Do you know your characters before you start--or get to know them along the way? Do you have trouble finding names for your story people?
I know my characters. I dream them sometimes. I can see them, hear them. If I invent them it is on some level where I don’t realize I’m making them up. It’s more like suddenly discovering someone is standing behind you and then realizing you knew it all along.
Instead of having trouble finding names for my story people, I have to argue with them about why Micah or Eli would be much better names than Sam or Charlie. They won’t answer to my “cool” names so I wind up with the ones they choose.

Yeah, story people can be stubborn sometimes. Here’s a really important question…What are the three most important elements of writing to you?
Breathing life into the main characters, Getting into the rhythm of how they flow with or against each other as they take the first steps on their journey.
Walking along the road with them. Hearing the wind rustle through the trees. Smelling pine needles and damp earth after the rain. Knowing where they are and why they are there.
Finding the magic, the redemption. What would make them give up everything they thought they needed, everything they believed in to save another’s soul.

Do you have hobbies or collections that keep you busy when you’re not writing?
I have more books than some small libraries. I have most of the classics, and many are very old. I am a sucker for dictionaries Let’s see, there is a collection of teapots, music boxes, lighthouses, ships, lanterns, baskets, cool notebooks and assorted office supplies.
I have a full-time job where I've worked for 23 years. The end of April of this year I had the awesome opportunity of being placed in a one person satellite office. It is a totally different environment than I am used to. Less stressful. However, just today, a couple of hours before you sent this to me, I had a meeting with my supervisor/friend and the powers far higher up than he is have decided to reel me back in to the main office the end of August. This is actually a good move. I’m viewing my short furlough from chaos as a peace filled retreat where I was able to let go of deep stress. Plus, since they have let someone else have my former cube, I am going back to a nicer and better placed cubicle than I had when I left. Here’s the really cool outcome --
During my peace filled time out I joined the Heartland Writers Group. That alone will keep me strong.

I went to the Mayhem in the Midlands Mystery Writers Conference this year. I bought Nosy in Nebraska and asked Mary to sign it. While I was talking to her I mentioned that I loved to write. She thought it would be good for me to mingle with other writers. She E-Mailed me the information on how to join the Heartland Writers Group and the directions to get there. If she hadn't, I would never have found all of you wonderful people.

That's one of the many things we're here for! Anything else you’d like to tell us?
Poems are still my masterpieces.

Do you have one you’d like to share?
A fallen star
Tossed from the sky
By an angry god
I mourned in the shadows of earth
And let my flame ebb low
I was your sorrow.
Lost and weary I stumbled and fell
Surrendering my soul to despair
Then a rainbow of light
Danced into my darkness and rekindled my flame.
Hold me gently for I’m fragile and new
Soon I will be your joy.


Excellent! I can see why you're proud of your poetry. And now, just because it’s fun to ask and a great way to end an interview… What’s your favorite food?

Thanks, Margie. I’ve had a great time learning a little more about you and your writing!
You are an inspiration!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Guest Choreographer Challenge--So You Think You Can Write...write...write

Please welcome our first guest writing choreographer--Mia St. Michaels

Read through her challenge then take writing action! Send your completed challenges to the goals guru. They'll be posted anonomously for everyone's reading pleasure.

Deadline for this challenge is September 9th. The goals guru will call for votes for your favorite when the page report request is made. Popular vote will choose the overall favorite and the choreographer will also choose the piece that best fulfills the challenge.

Put on your writing shoes, Heartlandians. Show us you know you can write! (Not a Heartlandian? Ioin us in this challenge and stretch your writing muscles!)

The Challenge:

One of the many things setting can do for your story is to intensify reader involvement—make the reader care—and making the reader care is the most important hook you want to establish.
* Using familiar things engages emotions
* Sight, sound, taste and feel engage senses

On page 47 in the chapter titled Plain Facts About Feelings, Swain says:
How do you bring a setting to life?
The answer, of course, lies in the human animal himself. His world is a sensory world—a world of green grass and white houses…purring kittens and thundering truck…Chanel No. 5 and curling wood smoke…fresh cold orange juice and hot crisp bacon…silk’s rich smoothness and the harsh grit of volcanic ash.

So you build your story world of these same sensory impressions—the seen, the heard, the smelled, the touched, the tasted. Emphasis is on the vivid image and the impactful figure of speech. Then, with analogies, you link it all to the familiar, even if it costs you an extra word or two or three. It will be worth it. Someone who’s never smelled the lunar pits now may come to realize that they have a parallel tin the acrid, sulfurous, flaming smoke that belches from the shaft of an exploding mine.

Finally, and perhaps the most important of all, you consider the frame of reference in which this world exists. Here is where you relates all that has gone before to you reference point, your focal character. You do this by presenting your material subjectively, as your focal character receives it.

Your challenge is to take one or more characters from your current work in progress and write a scene I set up for you. Take them to a cemetery. This is not the day of the funeral. Time has passed since the deceased person’s death—how much time is up to you. Consider these elements:

What is the weather like? Briefly describe weather and how it affects your character or compares/contrasts to their emotions.
What sounds can be heard?
Watch your character react and decide whose grave that is.
Describe the headstone or lack of.
Is the grave well tended or neglected? How does s/he feel about that?
Describe your character’s emotions.

Now add this thread: Your character and the dead person shared a secret. What is it?

Try to fill at least three double-spaced pages with this scene. Use a memory. If another person is accompanying your main character, use dialogue (but don’t have them saying things they already know just to get the facts across to your reader).

This is an exercise in describing and using setting to reveal something about your character, so….

Did you learn anything about your character that you didn’t know previously?
Did you learn anything useful that you will use in your story?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Critique Groups: Serious Business or Good Fun?

Since I turned in a book on the 1st and am almost ready to buckle down to finishing the next one, I have been plotting new stories. This writing business overlaps itself and could make the sanest person’s eye twitch. While I’m working on one story, I need to have one or two others under consideration on an editor’s desk. Also while working on a story, I get edits and author alterations for a previous one. By the time a book is actually in stores, I’ve usually written one or two more, plotted a couple, and worked on cover art information. So, when I have a book on the shelves, I have to go back and remind myself what it’s about to promote it. LOL Or even read it if I’m asked to join a reader’s group for discussion! Don’t laugh.

My friend Bernadette has been my critique partner practically ever since we joined RWA the same year in—confession time—1988. She remembers everything about every story anyone writes and can keep it all straight. I confess, her brain scares me. But then I scare myself. I read or critique for another person and forget what the story was about within a couple of weeks. I justify that by saying I simply have too much on my mind to retain it all. Don’t blow my comfort level by disagreeing.

I am a writer who appreciates a good critique group or partner. I've been in a critique group for all the years that I've been published—and most of those in a group that meets every single week. We go through stages: Levels of productivity, trying out techniques that work, members moving away and, of course, our process of screening a replacement.

It's serious business, this critique group thing. You don't invite anyone who isn't compatible. You have to respect the people who are going to offer comments on your work. For me it has nothing to do with published or unpublished; it has to do with work ethic, knowledge or willingness to learn, and enthusiasm. And another creative brain ain't nothin' to turn up your nose at.

I love my other brains. They are priceless during the brainstorming process—or when I'm stuck. Sure, I come up with the ideas on my own, and I put the pieces together and make all the decisions and write the story, but I only have one brain and one life experience. Getting feedback from other writers who have different perspectives and who understand the process of story writing makes their contributions invaluable.

Some writers don't like anyone else meddling in their stories—some find it changes their story too much. I go into the process with chosen elements I won't budge on, so the possibility of taking my story a wrong direction isn't a problem for me. I'm flexible about everything else because new perspectives keep me fresh. If a writer in my group makes a suggestion for someone’s story that isn't considered, it's not because the thought was a bad idea; it's just because that idea didn't work for that particular story. There are no wrong ideas. We all understand that and nobody gets her nose out of joint. We often use Pam McCutcheon’s brainstorming cards because they give us themes and traits for a starting point.

These people are my best friends. We share other things besides writing, and when someone moves away, we stay in touch. But we always remember why we are friends. We’re together because we’re writers, and our goal is to help each other write the best stories possible. Thank you to the clever writers who have critiqued with me over the years! If you’re one of them, shout out a HOWDY!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

So You Think You Can Write?

Our monthly meeting yesterday featured So You Think You Can Write? Brave contestants read pages from their works in progress for our members and the judges. Nigella, lil el, and Amanda Hugginkiss were our esteemed judges, and our host Mary Karen Meredith kept everything moving along perfectly.

Our winner was Ronica Stromburg, a first-time visitor and now a new member! Congratualtions, Ronica!

Keep an eye on the sidebar as So You Think You Can Write continues with guest choreographers!

Confessions of a Back to School Junkie

I'm blogging about journals today at The Write Brigade

Friday, August 7, 2009

Interview with Inspirational Author, Janet Syas Nitsick, by Theresa Sallach

Janet Syas Nitsick is the author of Best of the Year book at, Seasons of the Soul. Janet's current WIP is a turn of the century novel entitled Sustaining Love. Stop in and visit with Janet at her website

Hey there Janet. I have a few questions percolating in my brain, so I'll just get to them.

Theresa: Tell us something about your family and how do your family and friends impact your writing?

Janet: My family is out of the ordinary. I have two older sons who are normal, according to however you define normal. Ha! ha! They are married and between them I have five grandchildren - two boys and three girls. I love them all but enjoy shopping with the granddaughters since I never - with four tries - had a daughter.

But that is where the “normal” life ends because my two youngest sons are autistic - Brad, the oldest is nonverbal and low-functioning and Andrew, the youngest verbal and high-functioning. You learn to appreciate the small things in life. That is the message of Seasons of the Soul. Treasured moments include Brad giving you kisses on your forehead and Andrew crying for the first time last spring after his cat died. I recently submitted an article to Chicken Soup for the Soul: All in the Family edition. It focuses on problems with Andrew - a story of my heartache each time I drop him off at his new residence, a group home.

Our visits usually are sweet, but he can flip on a dime from happy to aggressive. But right now through many prayers, he is content. We took him to the Omaha Royals game July 26. He ate (and I kid not) nachos, cotton candy, a funnel cake and an ice cream cone. And to top it off, he is as skinny as a rail.

Brad also is thin. He lets you know what he wants by grabbing your hand and leading you to the door to go bye-bye or to the cabinet for something to eat. How heartwarming!

Friends include long-time, high-school chums whom I still see and share problems with and new friends. Years ago I called and talked to my aunt and mother, but they are no longer here. “Letter to God,” a personal story in my book, shows this loss and how my aunt, my Mom’s sister, and mother complemented each other.

Theresa: What interests do you have outside of writing, and how do those things impact your craft? Are you ever doing something and Wham, Bam! a story pops into your head?

Janet: Now, I am reading more. As a former reporter, I was interviewing and writing news stories so I did not have time. Also, I love to decorate, taking a room once a year to do. I want to get this done before I am too old to care.

Yes, my creative mind gets charged in the morning, during the day and at bedtime. “Grandma’s Cookies,” a reader’s favorite in my book, came to me as I thought of making Christmas chocolate-chip cookies with my granddaughters. My WIP Sustaining Love: A Time Remembered is a spin-off of a story and contains aspects of my family’s past and personal-life experiences.

Theresa: Writing for some is therapy, for others is a need or something else. What is writing for you?

Janet: Writing takes my mind off my troubles and provides satisfaction when I hit the right tone mixed with emotion. I am pondering my future expositions. Should I write a deep portrait of the trials and joys of having two autistic sons or a sequel to my novel? God will lead me.

Theresa: Okay, I'll set a scene: Your ready to sit down and write and nothing comes to mind. You have a scene, but it's just not going right. Do you have some special magic wand you wave and shazaam the scene comes into place, or do you just write? I guess I should qualify that question with, are you a panster or a plotter?

Janet: Something always comes to my brain. Once I have a scene, the creative juices flow. I edit as I go, keeping an eye on scenes which are conducive, such as open windows, where I add sensory details of smells and outside sounds. Critique groups enhance my writing craft. I cannot thank them enough for their honest judgment, turning unemotional scenes into great ones!

Theresa: Do you have any tips that you've learned in writing that help you start to write or ease into a story?

Janet: Listen to your critique group! I know your manuscript is your baby, but if you want to improve incorporate many of their suggestions.

Theresa: Here's another scenario: You've received an offer of a lifetime, a contract to write a book with a kazillion dollar advance. The catch is, you have to write the book on a deserted island with only the base necessities and do it in 30 days. You will have electricity and any technology you need to write, computer, internet, your notes, basic food, water, etc. but no frills. You are allowed three things outside of the guidelines I've described to take with you, whether it be animal, vegetable, mineral, human or decadent pleasure or whatever. What are the three things you can't live without and need to be able to write for 30 days? And why?

Janet: My husband and children, especially my autistic sons, give me inspiration. Coffee! Give me that and an occasional latte and I will adapt to the ocean breezes. Smile. Smile. I have to feed my news addiction with cable news. Thirty days is a long time. I know what you are all saying, but it comes naturally since my father was a Nebraska state senator.

Theresa: And finally: Is there anything else you'd like to share about yourself or your writing that has helped you along the way?

Janet: My history of journalism aids me. My last reporter gig was with the Fremont Tribune (two highly-praised stories are in Seasons of the Soul). They pushed word choice and concise sentences. It helps me. I always look at those in conjunction with chapter content. See, I even carried that into what I just said since “always” needs to go before the verb. My editor was a stickler for that as well as there is no word, “towards.” It is “toward.” He would yell and I mean yell.

Thanks for your time and indulgence in my interview. You've been a great sport!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Interview with Writer April Berry-Sanford by Julie A. Carda

Let me paint the picture here. I’m a good hour from home decked out in bandana, sunglasses, tight white leather shorts and hot pink halter top. Heat waves rise from the blacktop, and the cloudless blue sky is broken by the white-hot fireball forty-five degrees from the western horizon.

In my hand is a flat, palm-size Casio Exlim digital camera and video recorder. April Berry-Sanford is a writer. Naturally, I don’t expect to catch much photo action-probably just the usual head shot. Who wants to train a camera on someone tap, tap, tapping on a keyboard? However, for camera purposes, the real show stopper is her Suzuki Burgman 650, a.k.a. Sirocco Speedy. I’m hoping my attire is a subtle hint. I wonder if she’ll get it. I left my pathetic Focus wagon, which flashes a pseudo-suburban neon sign of mom on the other side of the building. As I edge my bum toward the sleek black seat, I play naïve by asking her about the motorcycle—the one I’d researched months ago before this interview was even a sure thing.

“So, um....” Pause. I stroke the console with the tip of my pointer finger, wondering if I’ll even be able to concentrate on her responses. Good thing I can record this. Written notes would be a totally useless distraction. “Tell me about your motorcycle.” Dang, did I purr that last line?

April taps the front tire with the tip of her booted foot. She took the bait. Yessss. While she tells all, I get to ogle the machine’s details.

“Well,” she said, “I drive an 06 Suzuki Burgman 650. Originally, I tried to get a Yamaha TMax imported from Norway, but the dealer told me the Burgmans were coming to the states, so I waited, twiddling my thumbs, until the day came that I could run as fast as I could to PowerSports to pick out my baby. His name is Sirocco Speedy, and no kidding, I even sent these announcements out to all my friends.”

She hands me a trimmed flat card, which I considered using to fan my face and dry the small droplets pooling on my skin. Too bad I’d have to command my eyes to change focus from the engaging instrument panel. I glance at the printed words. The green italic writing jumps of the sun streaked page.

Announcing the
Delivery of
Sirocco Speedy
Today on
7, 26, 06
To the Berry-Sanford household

Length: 89.0 in.
Height: 56.5 in.
Weight: 524 lbs.

The new baby can be seen during daylight hours
(when he is not napping under his blanky)

Gifts welcome
The new arrival is
Registered at PowerSportsPro

Cute. Real cute. Okay, I probably-or at least might have-done the same thing. I swing my leg over and straddle the seat, resisting the urge to grab the handles and make some sort of vroom vroom sound.

April moves to the front end, crosses her arms over her chest, and smiles at me. “I know. At first glance a lot of people go, ‘Oh really, you ride that? Isn’t it a scooter?’ The answer is, Yes, yes it is. It is the biggest most ballsy scooter on the planet, and don’t let its looks fool you. Due to its torque ratio, it can smoke any sport bike with the same CCS. I still get funny looks on the road. Harley drivers usually won’t wave at me. The Goldwings want to play with it, and the crotch rockets wanna race. But let me tell you, the dealers can’t keep them in and every time I go in for service they make an offer for it.”

She places a possessive palm on the bug screen thingy, and I’m reminded this is supposed to be about writer stuff—umm, I mean an author interview. I release my grip, position my camera and smile up at her. “Tell me about how your motorcycle contributes to you being the best writer you can be.”

“Truthfully, it helps me escape,” she said. “I find that when I’m on the bike my imagination really gets away with me, literally, and then I usually end up too far from home with a sore butt, and nothing to write with.”

Maybe I should have her check into one of those high tech helmets with the built-in microphone. Although it might be hard to talk and ride at the same time—like cell phones—accidents waiting to happen. She’s edging toward a shaded part of lawn. I expel that disappointed breath, swing my leg back over and wonder how those bikers in the leather gear manage to keep the leather from bunching in the wrong place when they dismount. I tug at the edge of my shorts, plop down beside her and reach into my bra—no cleavage here—to remove the rolled up sheet of paper with pertinent questions. The ink is bit runny from sweat, but I can read well enough to rattle off a series of questions.

I hit the on button of my little Casio. “For the month of July 2009, what types of writing hours did you keep?”

April smoothed down a burnished colored braid. “Very erratic ones. Unfortunately at my real job, there was a lot of prep to keep me jumping, so I could go on vacation this week."

I nod in agreement. Guess we all have those conflicts. “Describe your ideal writing environment.”

“Minimal furnishings, cool temperature, not a lot of light, a lot of air movement, tabletop fountain, and quiet techno music in the background. Usually the same song on repeat.” She sighs, releasing a gentle hum. “The music in my space can’t have lyrics, because then I get caught in the music, instead. It would also have to have an area with a place to pace or walk on the treadmill when I get too wound up in what I’m doing and feel like I have to move. No windows or I’ll end up outside, either in my car or on the bike running around.”

I can picture her fantasy place—except for the techno music. I’m not sure what that is. Sounds like a Google search for me. “Now that we know what your fantasy world is like, tell me about your real world typical writing environment.”

“My basement.” Her mouth curves upward, rewarding me with a full-out grin.
“Which, is remarkably like what I want.” Pause. “Except for fountain and the clutter. There is a lot of clutter, but when you’re working in the only storage space for the house, there is really no getting away from that.”

I didn’t have the heart to mention we have the queen of de-clutter right in the very midst of HWG. (Hint, hint Cindy.) A trickle of sweat runs from under my ponytail down the back of my neck. A cool fifty mile an hour breeze could take care of that problem, but I’m on a roll now. I flick a gnat off my thigh and tug at the creeping leather shorts. “Who is your biggest writer advocate?”

“At this point, I would have to say my sister.”

Since I neglected to reveal this information in the opening of the interview, April writes paranormal, horror, and fantasy. Her thoughts are fascinating. “If you could be any one of your book characters when you grow up, who would that be? Why?”

April draws little concentric circles over the blades of grass. “Right now it would probably be Alacia, because she’s beautiful, powerful, tragic and completely unknown, except for the legends. She created the castle of the Warlock Rock throne and most of the black labyrinth. Then after her people were safe, she cracked the throne and vanished. She’s still around looking for her happy ending. Her character has so much potential, it almost makes me drool.”

Geesh, she just rattles off these people and places like they’re down the road a few miles. I guess that is what happens when you ride a motorcycle for inspiration. “Tell me about your favorite alien world. How do the beings evolve? Do they eat, sleep, work, play, create?”

“Wow that’s a tough one. You’ve stumped me. I need to think. I like so many. Should I pick my own Mimaress? Or my favorite fiction world?”

“Go ahead and tell me about both,” I said.

“Well, in Mimaress, which is mine, evolution is constant. Creation is always moving. The life there evolves as all others do. Conflict occurs then adaptations eventually occur so life can continue. As for eating, sleeping, playing and creation—that depends on who we’re talking about. Some sprites never work.” She looks at me, a sparkle in her eye then grins. “But it’s pretty much like here. For my favorite fiction world, I have to fall back on a childhood classic favorite that has been with me for twenty years, Labyrinth. You just can’t get away from David Bowie as the goblin king.”

I check as the fireball of light inches toward the horizon. I’d really like to flesh out that answer a bit, but the time is flying and I still have a few more questions. Maybe during a monthly critique meeting we can hear more. I pull in my lower lip, tasting the salt from perspiration. Why had I forgotten my water bottle? And why was I sitting out in ninety degree weather in leather shorts, which do not breathe—no matter what the sales clerks say—doing an interview that could be done through email? Duh, bet anyone can guess. I decide I’d better keep my questions rolling. “When creating a fantasy world, is there something you do first, second, third?”

There is a pause. April looks off into the distance.

“First of all,” she said. “And this may sound weird, but I don’t feel like I’m creating anything. I feel more like a tour guide, instead of an inventor. But the process is basically: I see the characters and who they are. They feel like real people with real problems. Their history tells me what their world is like, and the story gives me the details that haven’t already poofed in. It’s like meeting someone, then stepping through them to see what brought them to this point. It’s just a matter of perspective. Once you step into that person, all of your senses switch on and the rest is all automatic. I know what’s going on there because they know. Unless they’re in the same series or a related one, none of the worlds are the same. Their history is what makes them feel real.”

See I told you her thoughts were fascinating. I re-position my Casio so I can wipe away the sweat on my neck. “In terms of the writing craft, what one thing would you most like to learn, study, or practice over the next two months?

“Grammar.” Her lips close in a tight line.

My goodness, but that word had one determined ring to it. I’ll make sure the program coordinator, oops that would be me now, knows about her request. I take a big breath. I want her know this question will be a tough.

“Okay, here’s my final question, of your own written works, which title do you feel has the most powerful energy when spoken aloud? This would be a title you feel strongly enough about that you’d prefer it to remain with the work even if a publisher suggested a change.”

April waves her hand chasing a fly. “That’s easy. Forgetting Heaven.” She stands, dusts off the seat of her pants, and heads for her bike. As she settles and straps on her helmet, she turns and gives me that easy smile. “Want a ride?”