Mindful Writing

By Kim in Baltimore, reading fascinating short stories.

A few years ago I joined a group called the Mindful Writers. Each year I attend two retreats, one in the fall and the other in spring, where I am able to write for hours in peace and take hikes and meditate. These have been some of the most glorious times of my life.

Last year the group decided to compile some of our writings into a book and the result is Into The Woods. All of the proceeds from the sale of this anthology will be donated to The Children’s Heart Foundation. I have invited Lori M. Jones, Ramona Long and Kathleen Shoop to the blog to share with our readers more about this wonderful anthology and why this foundation matters to our group.

Lori’s Story               .FullSizeRender (6)

In 2005, I was pregnant with what appeared to be a healthy baby girl. Then at a routine 24 week check-up, the doctor said, “I can’t find your baby’s heartbeat.” When the doctor finally did it was only at half the rate the heartbeat should have been. There are 40 known heart defects, and she was diagnosed with one of them – Complete Heart Block – which is a defect in the heart’s electrical system. She would need a pacemaker as an infant in order to survive. She is now 12, on her second pacemaker, and doing very well. But when she was a baby, I had no idea what her future would entail, or more specifically, how she’d handle being different. I dissected my emotions through writing which led to me being offered a contract for my first children’s book – Riley’s Heart Machine – about a girl dealing with being different from her peers because she has heart machinery.

I searched for a heart charity to donate some of the proceeds to which led me to discovering the amazing work of The Children’s Heart Foundation. I eventually became more involved with the charity, from chairing the Pittsburgh Congenital Heart Walk and sitting on the PA Chapter board and the national board to eventually leading the PA Chapter as its president.

Since writing Riley’s Heart Machine, I’ve traveled to schools delivering assemblies on Writing from the Heart and have published another book, Confetti the Croc, which celebrates our unique qualities. I also have written two novels, Renaissance of the Heart and Late for Fate.

One of the best gems I discovered in my writing journey was The Mindful Writing Group. Through the discipline of writing together, I was able to complete my manuscripts. More importantly, I have found my tribe!

The anthology means so much to me because it’s a full circle moment for me. This book was a chance to join forces with all of my tribe members and create one beautiful project. And then they told me the proceeds were going to The Children’s Heart Foundation, to help the very charity that was fighting to make sure my daughter and other children have a bright future.

Kathleen Shoop on why the anthology is titled Into the WoodsIMG_6751.PNG

Into the Woods was a natural outgrowth for us, The Mindful Writers Retreat Authors. We write together a lot – in person and online. After years of retreating together we decided it was time to create something, a sound bite of the variety of voices that make up the group.

An anthology is a fabulous way for authors to pool their energy into a project while maintaining independence in what each person produces for the book. The collection creates a unique and vibrant body of work that can be read in short spurts or in its entirety. The theme – Into the Woods – seemed like the perfect idea for The Mindful Retreat Authors’ first collaboration since so much inspiration, ideas and wonder has grown out of our times in the lovely woods.

Ramona Long on why she wanted to be the editor of this anthology

I volunteered to edit Into the Woods because I wanted to support The Children’s  Heart Foundation and this was a way I could do that. Like any anthology, working with a group of authors is always a learning experience, but I was particularly happy to work with this group because we are so closely bonded as Mindful Writers. We are all a part of one another’s stories, in a way.

FullSizeRender (4)

Dear Readers, thank you for joining us today. Please share your stories about a group or organization that is close to your own heart.

Those Crazy National Days

Jane/Susannah/Sadie here, looking forward to two fun weekends in a row–Memorial Day with family, and a writing retreat next weekend with seven friends, where at least eight new books will be plotted…

These National (fill in the blank) Days are fun, aren’t they? I’m not sure who comes up with these things, but I am proposing National Cozy Mystery Day! Until that’s a thing, here’s what’s what for today, May 24, according to National Day Calendar:

National Brother’s Day: Okay, I’ve got one brother, and today’s as good a day as any to tell him he’s still a pain in the butt. Rob, Happy Brother’s Day!

National Wyoming Day: I’ve never been, but I’d like to go someday. It looks like a beautiful, wide-open place. Have you been?

National Scavenger Hunt Day: Well, what’s more fun than that? OK, everyone, staying within the confines of your house, find the following: a book by one of the Wickeds; a coin that is somewhere it shouldn’t be; and something in your fridge that you forgot you had. Post your results in the comments, if you’re so inclined.

National Escargot Day: I LOVE escargot, properly prepared (which is to say, “prepared by someone else”) with lots of garlic and wine. Do you love it, hate it, or would never try it in a squillion years? Super bonus points if you have some in your fridge you forgot about (see National Scavenger Hunt Day, above).

And finally, Red Nose Day. I am NOT buying one of those silly clown noses, but I do appreciate the cause of reducing child poverty. So I’ll send a few bucks here. You know that spare coin you found on the scavenger hunt? Why not send it and a couple of its brothers to the cause of your choice today?

So, Wicked People, I’m kind of serious about proposing National Cozy Mystery Day. What day do you think it should be? Agatha Christie’s birthday (September 15)? The day the first episode of Murder, She Wrote aired (September 30)? Any other ideas?

Have a wonderful long weekend, everyone!

 

 

 

Wicked Wednesday: May Flowers

Edith here once again, on the fourth Wednesday in May, a lovely month in New England. It doesn’t snow – mostly – and finally warms up enough to let the flowers pop up and the leaves pop out. And the month also includes Mother’s Day, which traditionally is the weekend the lilacs bloom.

Edith's Lilac

So let’s indulge in some pretty today. What are your favorite May (or spring, really) flowers, Wickeds? Pictures would be lovely, but we’re writers, so lovely word pictures are fine, too.

Jessie: As an avid gardener I love most flowers but in spring I have a special place in myflower-3133556_1920 heart for peonies and for bleeding hearts. Peonies come in so many varieties and often have an enchanting fragrance. Bleeding hearts have a quiet, fleeting charm and a whimsical quality I adore. nature-3366404_1920

Julie: I’m a lilac gal. I love the scent, and the bursts of purple. Going to the Arnold Arboretum for a lilac walk is always a favorite spring past time!

Liz: I love lilacs too. And I used to have a bleeding heart bush at my old house – so pretty. I do love daffodils, though – so sunny and happy!

Barb: When I lived in the mid-Atlantic states, with their long, beautiful springs, I loved rhododendrons. Their deep colors and near-ubiquity meant spring to me. Since moving to New England, where spring is a day and a half between cold and rainy and ninety-eight degrees, I’ve switched my allegiance to hydrangeas. They bloom in the late spring and go all summer, and the colors are amazing.

Sherry: I confess I’m obsessed with the hydrangeas in my yard. Every spring I watch them anxiously for blooms. The past two years we’ve had a warm February followed by a cold (and last year snowy) spring. Last year I only had two or three blooms. This year they are somehow chock full.

Edith: Jessie, I love peonies, too. My plants have bunches of buds on them, and I can’t wait. We have lovely showy rhododendrons near the front door that are about to burst out, too.

IMG_3344

And these gorgeous gold irises bloom at the end of my driveway.

IMG_3340

Readers: Share your favorite May blooms!

Taking a Break

By Liz, looking forward to seeing the sun again…someday?

I turned in Murder She Meowed, book seven in the Pawsitively Organic Mysteries, on May 1. On time, and (almost) without a lot of last-minute angst, as is my norm. I was really proud of myself for this, because as the Wickeds know all too well, I have a penchant for stressing myself out by somehow getting to the eleventh hour without a fully finished book. Which I’ve written about numerous times, so I won’t go into it here.

My point is, this was a huge accomplishment. And then I thought about all the other accomplishments I’ve racked up in the past 10 months–and compared them to the challenges– and decided to actually celebrate for a change. Here’s an excerpt from my Facebook post from the day I turned in the book. Since last July, I:

  • Wrote three(!) books (and did copy edits/page proofs for one).
  • Had a really crappy few months at my old job.
  • Found/started a new (and pretty demanding) day job.
  • Traveled a bunch with said new day job.
  • Managed to take a real vacation for the first time in a long time last fall.
  • Dealt with A LOT of personal issues, including Shaggy’s illness, which was wicked stressful for me.
  • Lost 2 cats within 2 weeks back in January – Pumpkin and Johnny. 😦
  • Did one round of B-School.
  • Managed to give off the illusion that I was a semi-moderately high-functioning adult most days.

Actually acknowledging that I got a lot done despite most of this stuff is new for me. Typically, I’d cross stuff off the list, tell myself to suck up the rest, and move on.

But I didn’t do that this time. I decided to give myself a break before the next deadline (which is looming, but it’s all good). I took a couple weeks off from serious writing, and tried to be good to myself. Granted, I spent some extra time on the day job, but aside from that, I managed pretty well.

So if you’d all care to indulge me, I thought I’d share five things I’ve been reading/doing/watching/pondering during the little vacation I granted myself (kind of like Tim Ferriss’s 5-Bullet Friday emails):

Watching: both of Harlan Coben’s Netflix series, The Five and Safe. Calling it research. Loved them both – he is a master.

Reading: My reading time was severely compromised during the past months. I finally got to finish Dennis Lehane’s Since We Fell. And I read Marianne Williamson’s A Return to Love, a book I’d only read in pieces up until now.

Who I’m following: I’m currently obsessed with the poet Nayyirah Waheed. Her short poems speak volumes.

Quote I’ve been pondering: By Alan Cohen: “Fear and resistance are the dragons that stand at the door of the temple that contains the jewel you seek. Just keep going.”

Where I’ve been: This isn’t super exciting, but I’ve wanted to go to a Container Store for years – and there’s finally one close to me. I made my first trip a couple weeks ago. It lives up to the hype!

That’s a little bit of what I’ve been up to. Thanks for indulging me!

Readers, what are your favorite down time activities?

 

#NormalizeKindness

Edith here, in the busy second half of a busy month. And I’ve been thinking about kindness.  This is a card someone was handing out at Quaker Meeting recently.

kindessmatters.jpg

We’ve all been witnessing way too many unkind, malicious, and violent acts, whether on the news or in person, of late. Horrifying events. Disgusting acts. Cowardice and rudeness.

Can kindness counter what seems like a tidal wave of really bad behavior? Can it be contagious? Think of how you feel when somebody you don’t even know does you a favor. Smiles, prepays your coffee, or writes and email out of the blue to say how much they loved your book. Kind of makes you want to return the gesture, doesn’t it?20180520_152736_HDR

Saturday I woke up earlier than usual, put on my tiara, grabbed a scone I had baked the day before (I left the bubbly for later, since it was only five thirty in the morning), and headed for the television. I didn’t care that Hugh looked at me like I was a lunatic. I didn’t care about all the zillion dollars a royal wedding costs.

I wanted to feast on love and kindness and the beauty of a fellow Californian breaking a bunch of barriers. I was oddly especially touched by Prince Charles accompanying Meghan partway up the aisle, and by his warm – and kind – courtesy to her mother Doria Ragland after the ceremony.

DoriaCahrles

Photo by Owen Humphreys

Later in the day I happened across a Facebook post by Alexia Gordon, a talented mystery author whom we have had as a guest right here on the Wickeds. Here’s what she wrote, after listing some of the horrors in the news during the last week alone:

“Then this morning I saw a man look at the woman he was about to marry as if she was more important to him than air, light, and water. I heard the first African-American leader of the Episcopal Church buck 1000 years of British tradition and remind a bunch of stuffed shirts that slavery happened, that genuine Christianity is about love and justice, that love will save the world if we have the courage to act in love.AlexiaGordon

“I heard a Black cellist perform classical music and a Black choir sing Black music–slave music–in a White church. And I remembered that THIS is normal. All that garbage I exposed my brain to yesterday is not normal. That stuff is sin, it’s evil, and it should be treated as such. It shouldn’t get all the airtime. Real normal–love and justice and inclusivity and hope–should get equal press coverage, if not more. A constant diet of hate makes you believe hate is the only option.

#normalizejustice #normalizelove

Thank you, Alexia. Let’s all normalize kindness, justice, and love, shall we? Let’s have a constant diet of kindness. The back of the Kindness Matters card gives a bunch of examples of what we can do.

kindacts.jpg

Who’s with me? Will you share with a stranger that you love her glasses? Tell a tired mom with a screaming child that you know it’s hard? Let someone into traffic ahead of you? Offer to blurb a debut author’s novel or read a beginner’s short story?

Readers, share your favorite kind thing to do.  And Alexia, thank you for putting into words what so many of us have been feeling.

 

Guest V.M. Burns on Write What You Know

Edith here, writing from Cape Cod, and delighted to welcome Agatha nominee V.M. Burns back to the blog! She’ll give away a copy of her newest mystery, The Read Herring Hunt, to one lucky commenter here today, too. Here’s the book blurb:Read Herring Hunt

To the town of North Harbor, Michigan, MISU quarterback Dawson Alexander is a local hero. To Samantha Washington, owner of the Market Street Mysteries Bookstore, Dawson is more than a tenant—he’s like an adopted son. But to the police, he is their prime suspect after his ex-girlfriend is found murdered. It’s more than enough real-life drama for Sam to tackle, but her role as a mystery writer also calls. While Sam’s lawyer sister Jenna rushes in to build Dawson’s defense, Sam and her lively grandmother, Nana Jo, huddle up to solve the mystery and blow the whistle on the real killer. With the tenacious members of the Sleuthing Senior Book Club eager to come off the sidelines, Sam and her team just might stop a killer from completing another deadly play . 

Writing What You Know

Most writers have heard the old adage, “write what you know.” It’s a good principle. If you’re writing about something you know the story will sound authentic and hopefully the passion and sincerity will ring through to the reader. That probably explains why many mystery writers are former police officers or lawyers. Thankfully, few are actual murderers. So, is it possible to write about murder without actually committing one or joining the police force?

When I was working on my MFA at Seton Hill University, the Director of the Writing Popular Fiction program asked the question, what does it mean to Write What You Know? I pondered that question a lot. I wanted to write cozy mysteries, but the only thing I knew about murder I learned from reading books by Agatha Christie, Victoria Thompson, Rex Stout and Sue Grafton and watching Murder, She Wrote and Colombo on television.

downtownDuring that residency, I took stock of myself. What did I know? My first job was working for an organization where I met a lot of vibrant, active, and entertaining seniors. I lived with my two toy poodles, Coco and Cash in a small town on the Lake Michigan shoreline. The town had a quaint downtown area with cobblestone streets and brownstone buildings turned into shops. I often walked those streets and dreamed of owning one which I would turn into a mystery bookshop, a place where I could feed my cozy mystery addiction. I wanted a bookstore that would not just have one or two bookshelves dedicated to the latest mystery, but a place that would specialize in nothing but mysteries where I could find older series along with newer ones. That’s what I knew, but how to connect that to writing murder mysteries?

Every murder mystery has a victim, a sleuth and a villain, but what makes the mystery interesting are the details the author weaves around the characters which brings the story to life. Whenever I read Death on the Nile, Murder on the Orient Express or Murder in Mesopotamia, the details ring true because Agatha Christie visited the Middle East and described the country in wonderful detail. She was married to an archeologist (Max Mallowan) whom she met on the Orient Express.

Even without direct knowledge about a topic, the Internet makes it possible to becomeboats knowledgeable about practically any subject. I have always been interested in England and World War II. Thanks to The History Channel, Google, and tons of books, I was able to incorporate a great deal of the knowledge I’ve obtained into my Mystery Bookshop Mystery series. Just like me, my protagonist, Samantha Washington, owns two chocolate toy poodles. She dreamed of owning a mystery bookstore and write British historic cozies set at the start of World War II. Her sidekick and sleuthing partners are her grandmother, Nana Jo and a group of fun-loving seniors.

Writing what you know has created a broad range of cozy mysteries which include everything from culinary cozies, knitting cozies, to winemaking cozies. The use of an amateur sleuth allows the writer to get around needing extensive knowledge of police procedures. An amateur sleuth is bound by no rules and can pretty much do whatever he or she wants (within the realm of believability). It also enables writers to combine their love of murder mysteries with their other passions without having to become a policeman or commit murder. All in all, I’d say it’s a good marriage.

Readers: What’s your favorite themed cozy (eg dogs, knitting, recipes)? What theme/concept would you love to see included in a cozy series? Remember, VM is giving away a copy of the new book to one of you! 

Author PhotoV.M. Burns was born in Northwestern Indiana and spent many years in Southwestern Michigan on the Lake Michigan shoreline. She is a lover of dogs, British historic cozies, and scones with clotted cream. After many years in the Midwest she went in search of milder winters and currently lives in Eastern Tennessee with her poodles. Her debut novel, The Plot is Murder was nominated for a 2017 Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Valerie is a member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime. Readers can learn more by visiting her website at vmburns.com.

Guest: Judy Penz Sheluk

Edith here, writing from my last morning on Cape Cod. The talented Judy Penz Sheluk has a new mystery out and I’m delighted to host her on the blog again.

Golf and Writing: Not So Different As You Might Think

AHoleinOneWhen I was in my late twenties, my mother bought me a set of inexpensive golf clubs for my birthday, hoping that I’d take up the game and play with her. Or maybe she hoped I’d meet a nice guy at the golf club, since I was still single (much to her chagrin).

Whatever the reason, I tried golf a handful of times, but with no natural ability, no money for lessons, and no eligible bachelors on the horizon, the clubs soon found their way into the back of my closet.

Fast-forward about ten years, I’m married (mother greatly relieved), living in a small town an hour+ north of Toronto with a lengthy commute to my job as Credit Manager, and seriously in need of a hobby and some local friends. As luck would have it, Silver Lakes Golf and Country Club was located a couple of miles from my house, and they had a Monday evening Ladies League geared to “women of all ages and abilities.” I dusted off my pink golf bag, wiped down my irons and woods, and signed up.Opening Day

Fortunately, the head pro put me with a threesome in need of a fourth player. In addition to being respectable golfers they were extremely patient— I was truly terrible that first year. But I took lessons, went to the practice range a couple of times a week, watched golf on TV, and gradually improved from dismal to not-quite-as-dismal. The following year, I won “Most Improved Golfer” — don’t get too impressed. When you’re routinely scoring “double par” (72 for nine holes; 72 is typically par for 18 holes), and find your way down to the low 60s, it’s easy to gain the title of Most Improved. But I’ve been encouraged by less.

Looking back at my golf and writing journey, I have to tell you that they have a lot in common. I started writing in high school (longer ago than I care to admit), fell away from it, and went back to it in 2002 when I signed up for a Creative Writing workshop. A couple of short stories published in 2003 encouraged me to take additional courses, including a Certificate program in Fiction Writing. But writing, like golf, is a lot more than lessons. It’s putting in the hours, trying different techniques and sometimes failing, but sometimes, succeeding, too. When I signed the contract for my first book, The Hanged Man’s Noose, with Barking Rain Press in July 2014, I felt as if I’d just been awarded Most Improved Writer.

My mother always told me to “never forget where I came from.” And so, I leave you with the opening paragraph of the Acknowledgements page in A Hole in One, my latest release, and the sequel to The Hanged Man’s Noose:

Hole 3The idea for A Hole In One first came to me while I was golfing. As a longtime ladies league member of the Silver Lakes Golf & Conference Centre in Holland Landing, Ontario (the inspiration for Lount’s Landing), it seemed only fitting to design the third hole of the Miakoda Falls Golf & Country Club based on the third hole at Silver Lakes (although I promise you, there are no dead bodies in their woods, nor does a trail run directly behind it).

So yeah. Golf and writing. Not so different as you might think.

Readers: Any golfers out there? Where is your favorite place to play? If not golf, what do you like to do for your dose of fresh air?

An Amazon international bestselling author, Judy Penz Sheluk is the author of two mystery series: The Glass Dolphin Mysteries (THE HANGED MAN’S NOOSE and A HOLE IN ONE) and The Marketville Mysteries (SKELETONS IN THE ATTIC). Her short crime fiction appears is included in several collejudy-penz-shelukers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she currently serves on the Board of Directors as the Regional Representative for Toronto/Southern Ontario. Find Judy on her website/blog at http://www.judypenzsheluk.com, where she interviews and showcases the works of other authors and blogs about the writing life. Find Judy’s books at all the usual suspects, including Amazon and Barking Rain Press.