Wicked Wednesday- Say Something Nice

Jessie: Enjoying the ocean breezes on the coast of Maine

newspaper-943004_1280I prefer to look on the bright side just as often as possible but I have to admit there are times when that is a bit more challenging than usual. Lately, with the headlines being  pretty grim on all sides, it has been sort of tough to remain cheerful. So, I thought it might be nice to share some good news from your life, your community or even from around the web. Ladies, what’s right in your world?

Edith: I have a happy, healthy, funny nine-month-old great-goddaughter who is much loved by her parents and grandmas – and by me. I spent time with her last week and was lifted up by this sunny young nugget of life. (Her parents don’t allow her picture on social media or the web or I’d share her with you.) And I get to see her this afternoon, too!

Sherry: I am in Davenport, Iowa for a high school class reunion. My dear friend Carol and I both flew in early so we could spend some time together. Friday night is the casual night of the reunion. I have to miss Saturday night, but it’s for a good reason too. I’ll be attending the Kensington CozyCon in Richmond, Virginia on Sunday along with a bunch of other wonderful authors. Click here for more information!

Liz: Shaggy and I have been enjoying the beautiful weather, checking out new places in our neighborhood and making sure we take advantage of the summer months as much as possible. We’re really trying to relax more and soak up our favorite season.

Barb: It’s so amazing that Jessie posted this question this Wednesday of all Wednesdays, when twelve young Thai soccer players and their coach have been successfully rescued from a flooded cave system. It’s been a rollercoaster ride of a story. First the boys were lost, then they were found, then the difficulty of rescuing them was revealed. Their successful extraction was an international effort involving science and technology, but most of all bravery. A retired Thai Navy SEAL was lost in the rescue effort. As I write this, there are still three divers and a doctor in the cave. The boys and their coach have a long road ahead, mentally and physically, but the results so far have been my good news of the summer.

Readers, how about you? Do you have any good news to share? 

 

Wicked Romantic

balloon-1046658_1920Jessie: In Washington D.C. thinking fond thoughts of my beloved.

Today is my wedding anniversary and my thoughts naturally have turned to romance. I know I like a bit of romance in the books I read and the ones that I write and I wondered if the rest of you do as well? 

Julie: I do like the romance, especially as a reader. As a writer, I’ve learned from all of you that pacing is important. Really important. Keep it going, but don’t frustrate everyone. I loved writing about Ruth and Ben’s relationship in my Clock Shop series. I am figuring out Sully’s romantic path in my Theater Cop series. She has a couple of options, but is also a strong single woman. In my new series, Lilly Jayne is a widow. There may be romance at some point, and there is an interesting next door neighbor, but for the first three books Lilly’s romance is with life, and embracing it again.

Mommyand me

With my mom about ten years ago

Edith: Yes to both, and happy anniversary to you and the dark and mysterious husband (who must be delighted that Brazil is going strong in World Cup competition). I’ve written conflicted relationships and ones that go more smoothly, but in the end I want my protagonist and important supporting characters to be happy in love. One of my favorites was giving Cam Flaherty’s widower great-uncle Albert in the Local Foods Mysteries a new sweetie – who turned out to be my late mother, Marilyn Muller! She never got to read any of my books, and I so love including her on the pages. Romance in the assisted living residence: it’s never too late.

Liz: Happy anniversary, Jessie! I do like a little romance in books – especially crime fiction, where the rest of the world we’re in is so dark. I’ve had fun with Stan and Jake’s relationship in my Pawsitively Organic series, and in a twist unplanned even to me, Stan’s mother also found love in a small town. Romance can definitely add a nice flavor to the story.

Sherry: Happy anniversary! I’ve always love a side of romance dating back to my early reading of Phyllis A. Whitney, Victoria Holt, and Mary Stewart. I’ve enjoyed the twists and turns in Sarah’s love life. Most of them were unexpected. Seth? Never planned on him even having a name, let alone continuing on through future books.

Readers: Romance in your mysteries, yay or nay? Are there any you’ve read that didn’t work for you?

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.

Stepping Toward A Dream

Live Your Dream image with resume, pen, person jumping with joy, four leaf clover, and horseshoeFor three days this week, as part of my day job, I helped oversee over 400 actors who came in to do a monologue or sing for 41 different organizations. The organizations included theater companies, casting agents, tour companies, educational theater companies, and playwrights. As I checked each person in, collected their headshots, directed them to the green room, and answered several dozen questions over and over again, I could not help but cheer them on. They were putting themselves out there, trying to take a step towards living their dream and being hired to act. It also made me think of my time standing in lines to pitch agents and editors, hoping to make a connection to move me forward to living my dream of being a published author. Over the years, I’ve come to realize a few truths that make these journeys easier, so I thought I’d share them here.

Preparation is key. Know your monologue or song. In the case of a writing, know your pitch. Be ready to deliver it. Get there with enough time to get mentally prepared if possible, but know it in your bones.

Do your best, and understand that your best isn’t always great. When I asked folks how they did, if they felt good about their audition, they glowed. If it didn’t land, or they went up on a line, they were unhappy that they blew that moment. But it was just that, a moment, and they needed to let it go. I remember meeting agents, and the conversation went well. Other meetings did not go as well. All you can do it your best, and move on.

Give folks what they ask for, otherwise you may get taken out of the running. If people didn’t staple their headshots correctly, or didn’t have easily accessible contact information, their headshot got returned by a lot of folks. When you are seeing dozens of people, you need ways to sort through the pile, and not following directions is one way to do that. When you are submitting a query, read what folks want, and follow those guidelines. Don’t improvise, or give them what you think they need. Sometimes following directions is the first test.

Know that sometimes it isn’t you, it’s just that it isn’t a good fit. For writers, it could mean that the agent you are pitching doesn’t think they can find a home for your work. Or an editor may not need your genre for their catalog. That doesn’t mean you aren’t a good writer. It means you haven’t found the right fit.

Attitude is everything. For actors who go into an audition, you never know who is checking you in. Those folks will be asked about how you were in the waiting room. For writers, remember that writing is solitary, but getting published is a community effort. Disappointment is part of the business. How you handle that disappointment becomes part of your reputation.

Practice radical gratitude. Being grateful for opportunities makes the artistic journey much easier. If you are only grateful when you get what you want, you are going to have a tough ride. An actor I know (who works a lot) told me that she considered auditioning her job, so she loved it. Getting a gig was her vacation. Being an artist isn’t easy. But how lucky are we to be called to the artistic journey? For that, I am grateful.

Do you know what else I am grateful for, dear readers? Opportunities to meet you in person! I have two coming up in the next few days.

On Sunday, April 15 Barbara Ross, Edith Maxwell, and Leigh Perry/Toni Kelner and I will be doing a talk back after a performance of Miss Holmes at the Greater Boston Stage Company. I’m very excited about my two worlds (theater and writing) colliding at this event, and am also looking forward to seeing the show!

On Wednesday, April 18 I am going to be at the Westwood Library with Hank Phillippi Ryan, Elizabeth Elo, and Stephanie Gayle doing a talk about plotting in different genres. More information is here.

In the comments, let me know what you’ve discovered on your journey so far. Tips that you wish you could give your younger self. . .

The Secret to Journaling

News Flash: Galen Hillers is yesterday’s winner of Edith’s ARC. Please check your email, Galen!

By Liz, enjoying the longer days already even though it’s still kinda cold…

Last month I wrote about some foolproof ways to find the muse when she seems to be hiding. One of those critical steps I mentioned is journaling. And I’ve since found that the thought of it scares some people.

I mean, it does sound kind of intimidating, if you haven’t been in the habit of doing it. Especially if you go into it thinking you have to write a certain amount of pages every day, or spend a set amount of time. I remember the first time I contemplated doing The Artist’s Way and committing to writing three morning pages every day.

I gotta tell you, it wasn’t an easy commitment. But once I jumped in and started, it was worth it.

But three morning pages a day aren’t the only way to journal. In fact, there are no rules about how to do it, as long as you do it.

So here are some alternatives to think about, if you’re still on the fence.

  • Use a guided journal. There are a ton of them out there, and they help you get your thoughts down and ease you into the process. From a simple gratitude journal (so many to choose from), to the popular Five Minute Journal, which asks you to write affirmations, gratitude lists, and document amazing things that happened to you that day, to a Bullet Journal, there’s no shortage of ways to get some thoughts down.
  • Go digital. If the thought of going to the bookstore, picking out a journal, maybe even getting really crazy and decorating it – not to mention the pens! – then go digital. Our phones are never far from us, so we may as well put them to good use. And there are really cool journaling apps out there now. The Five Minute Journal has a digital version. Journey is another good one. And if you want a written invitation to journal – seriously – try Dabble.me, the app that emails you at a time of your choosing and asks how your day was, and you can respond however you like. (Don’t worry, it’s private – just perfect for those who don’t like the whole pen and ink thing!)
  • Focus on appreciation. A foolproof way to get your journaling going and also boost your mood for the day is take that notebook with the blank pages and write about all the things you appreciate. I’m not talking about gratitude lists – I mean, actually writing out all the things that you love and appreciate, what makes you feel good, what makes you laugh and gives you a reason to get up in the morning. Write one thing and watch it build into the next, and the next. I learned to do this from Gabby Bernstein, and at first I thought it would be too hard. You know how it is when you’re cranky in the mornings and want to write down everything that makes you mad or upset? Yeah, that. But seriously, try it. It can lift your mood and change your whole outlook on the day.

And of course, you can alway just go old-school. Buy a pretty journal, or buy a blank one and put awesome stickers on it. Buy some fun pens – gel, felt-tip, pretty colors, whatever makes you happy – and write whatever comes to mind. You can set a timer, or not. Write until you feel like you’ve got it all out, or write two sentences and call it a day. However you do it, just start.

Once you’re in the habit, you won’t want to miss a day. Seriously. And you’ll start seeing results in other areas of your life – writing productivity or otherwise. Guaranteed.

Readers, do you keep a journal? What’s your process? Leave a comment below!

A Story Comes Knocking

Edith here, hanging onto every last scrap of summer weather and sun-kissed vegetables.

TitlePage

Cover

I pulled out my paternal grandmother’s travel journal recently. I’m not sure why I did, but I sat, mesmerized, turning the pages.

Dorothy Henderson, the eldest of six, at 18 and with her younger and only brother James, drove one of two Cole touring cars from Indiana to Portland, Oregon, and then down to Berkeley, California. She was the first woman to drive halfway across the country (or so the family lore goes). Her father, CP Henderson (my great-grandfather), drove the other car along with his wife, Irma, and the four younger sisters (my great aunts, all of whom I knew).

TheStart

Back row from left: Jimmy, Dorothy, CP, Ruth, Irma. Front row from left: Alice, Edith, Helen

I knew of this journey, but I’m not sure I knew of it before a series of strokes stole my grandmother from us when I was in ninth grade. I don’t remember her speaking of the trip at any time. But after reading the journal, a new character, a new era, and an entirely new scope of research came knocking at my brain – and I’m resisting as hard as I can! Here are the reasons:

A. I already write one historical mystery series. B. I already write three books a year. C. I know next to nothing about the period.

But consider these delightful bits that Momma Dot (as her grandchildren called Dorothy) so generously scribed – and illustrated – in a clear hand about the trip that started on June 16, 1918 – ninety-nine years ago! Each of the other children kept a diary, too. Her father was to be the new western regional manager for the Cole car company, so the trip was in part a publicity tour, and the family and the two Cole Eights were written about in the newspapers several times. 20170827_122418

On their first day, it took eight hours to drive 200 miles west from Indianapolis to Cedar Lake, where they camped.

carcamping.jpg

In certain places after it rained they had to stay in a hotel for a few nights waiting for the mud to dry. She writes, “The roads were almost impassible. Deep, black, sticky mud hub high was everywhere! All of us wish for some good old Indiana roads!”

windmilldrawingThey continued through Illinois and Nebraska, sometimes camping, sometimes in hotels, making about 200 miles each day. She barely complains about anything, instead describing the scenery in vivid language. “A lovely full moon is rising above the fields of wheat that stretch for miles about us. An old windmill looms up threateningly against the black-blue sky. A cross-continental train just shot past across the prairies looking pretty against the sky with the sparks flying.” She drew the windmill and moon on top of her words, too.

PikesPeak

The family made it to Denver in nine days and took a day trip to Pike’s Peak, where “a charge of two dollars was made for each one going up to the top by the new auto road,” and she reports that several of the family felt ill and dizzy at the summit. Having gotten word of poor roads in Wyoming, they decided to continue via Salt Lake City, instead. “The roads were not very good for the most part, being narrow and along ledges, down which you can look for hundreds and thousands of feet.”

They traveled through what Dorothy calls the Great Utah Desert, and helped other travelers along the way, pushing one car up a steep incline, pumping up a tire for another, and sharing water with a third.

My grandmother celebrated her nineteenth birthday in style in Salt Lake City, with dinner on Hotel Utah’s rooftop garden. “Our wonderful dinner was well seasoned with dancing and music so everything was ideal.”

Birthday

And on they went, including a stop at Yellowstone.

CampYellowstone

From there they made it to Portland, Oregon, finally landing at their new home in Berkeley, California, on August 10.

Home

My grandmother includes many more rich details about the trip in the diary. Can you see why I have a new story brewing? Or maybe I’ll just let Dorothy tell her own. I also have  the diary of Allan Maxwell, Sr. (my grandfather, and Dorothy’s husband) from his 1912 European “tour” with his older sister Ruth when he was sixteen. Every entry includes the weather (a Maxwell family inherited interest) and what he ate that day – which might sound familiar to those who have been or known teenage boys!

Readers: Have you been blessed with an ancestor’s journal or diary? Or read historical fiction based on a real account?

 

Moments of Nature

By Liz, who’s been writing so many blog posts her head may explode soon…

You guys. The launch of Cat About Town is a week away, and I’ve been doing so many guest blogs I have no original thoughts any longer. Usually when I’m at work and that happens, I try to go out for a walk and clear my head.

So I’m going to share a few moments of nature from some of my and Shaggy’s recent walks, and hopefully they will clear all our heads! Or at least, I hope you enjoy them.

IMG_2744

Swans enjoying the river.

IMG_2326 2

Some people call them weeds, but I love dandelions!

IMG_2298

A view from the top of our walk.

IMG_2293

The nearby beach.

IMG_2290

Ducks enjoying the water.

IMG_2288

Fearless chipmunk.

And, a little fountain meditation. Don’t worry – it will straighten itself once you hit play!

 

 

 

Readers, what’s your favorite nature break? Tell us in the comments.