Thursday, June 27, 2013

Rereading for Pleasure and Writing

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

Here in Rhode Island we’ve kicked off summer with a sweltering heat wave.  It’s not just hot, it’s humid, very humid—the kind of humidity that curls your hair in an instant and leaves your crisp, dry towels smelling dank if so much as a few droplets of moisture come in contact with them.

I enjoy the summer months, don’t get me wrong, but when we encounter heat waves that seem to linger it definitely changes my mindset and desires to stay on track with certain projects that I’ve been working on easily during other times of the year.  The good news, however, is that the change in temperature does allow for a little more down time in my life and rather than squander that by complaining about “the weather” instead, I love these heat spells for staying cool and re- reading some of my favorite books.

Rereads are not only emotionally satisfying to me they also fire up my creativity for when I am ready to write hard again.  I’m currently rereading two of my favorite novels that I think just sing summer is here.

Love Anthony by Lisa Genova   Love Anthony follows Olivia Donatelli, a former book editor and mother, whose son Anthony, was diagnosed with autism at age three. When Olivia was finally coming to terms with daily life involving a son with autism, Anthony dies. Afterwards, a grieving Olivia separates from her husband and moves to their summer cottage in Nantucket, hoping to remove herself from her old life and make sense of Anthony’s death. Inspired by her surroundings, she starts a photography business for extra money and begins to read over the journals she kept while Anthony was growing up.

Also living in Nantucket is Beth Ellis, Olivia’s neighbor who recently found out that her husband has been having an affair. As a way to cope, a devastated Beth begins to write a novel. Eventually, the two women meet when Beth hires Olivia to take family portraits of her and her daughters at the beach. In passing, Beth mentions that she’s writing a book, and Olivia offers to help her edit it.
Eventually, Beth finishes her book – a story about a boy with autism named Anthony. Despite Olivia’s initial disbelief, it helps her begin to accept Anthony’s death. Similarly, after writing the book, Beth begins to come to terms with her husband’s infidelity and starts thinking of ways to save her marriage. The story ends with Olivia leaving Nantucket, with the intention of going back to work and getting Beth’s manuscript published.

Keep Your Mouth Shut and Wear Beige by Kathleen Gilles Seidel
Darcy Van Aiken is doing just fine, thank you. She's an ICU nurse with an amicable divorce from her ex-husband, Mike, two great kids, and a prescription for Ritalin. Then her older son, Jeremy, gets engaged to Cami Zander-Brown---daughter of a wealthy New York family---and her world gets turned upside down. The source of her trouble, much to Darcy's surprise, is not in the form of Rose Zander-Brown, Cami's elegant and accomplished mother. Nor is it in the form of Guy Zander-Brown, Cami's charismatic and wildly successful literary agent father. Instead, lurking in the shadows of Mike's new life is the beautifully dressed Claudia, a self-described managed perfectionist.
The Zander-Browns have money, lots of money! The plans for their daughter's dream wedding grow more fabulous by the day, and loving every minute is Claudia. With her perfect taste, Claudia can't help thinking she would make a much better mother of the groom than Darcy. This wedding is her chance to entrench herself in Mike's life---and take credit for the two sons Darcy has worked so hard to raise right.
It's a battle of will and wits. What Darcy learns about herself---and about family and friendship---makes for a delicious, hilarious, touching summer read.

Do you enjoy rereading certain novels?  What are some of your favorites?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Beach Reads for Writers: Suzanne Enoch & Pauline Baird Jones Provide Masterclasses

From Kate's Writing Crate...

As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide Masterclasses within their books.   
          Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don't generally have this option, but I have found some books to be Masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice, and/or creativity.

          When summer arrives, I want to read some lighter stories. But I still want to read Masterclass-level books as my writer side wants to continue learning about great characters, strong plots, and good writing.

The most popular post I have written is about JD Robb's In Death series. (See post dated October 22.) If you enjoyed these books, you will probably enjoy Suzanne Enoch's Samantha Jellicoe series. It is not as gritty and graphic, but still well done.

          While Nora Roberts as JD Robb has written close to 40 books, the Samantha Jellicoe series is only four books—Flirting with Danger, Don't Look Down, Billionaires Prefer Blondes, and A Touch of Minx—a perfect amount for a vacation week.

Like the In Depth series, the male lead, Richard Addison, is a brilliant and wealthy business man, but has no criminal past. Unlike the In Death series, the female lead, Samantha Jellicoe, is not a police lieutenant, but the world's best cat burglar. In both series, people are murdered, crimes need to be solved, and love will win out although there are many obstacles and humorous situations along the way.
          As a writer, I love how these complex characters react when they meet, interact as they get involved in each other's lives, and transform to solve the many dilemmas in the multi-layered plots.

                                                           *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *
          I am also recommending two books by Pauline Baird Jones. They have radically different writing styles which fascinates me.

          The Last Enemy is the first in a trilogy, but this one is by far my favorite. The plot: Romance writer Dani Gwynne witnessed a murder and is placed under protective custody. However, the protective custody is not as safe as promised. Marshal Matthew Kirby and his team are determined to find out what happened that left three US Marshals dead and the witness missing. They learn not to underestimate a romance writer hunted by a hit man who is leaving them a trail of gruesome crime scenes.
          Dani makes excellent use of her plotting skills and, with help from fellow writers, fans, and Internet friends, saves herself time and again until the Marshals catch up. But can they stop the hit man or can Dani only trust herself?
          On a much lighter note, The Spy Who Kissed Me is a funny murder mystery. My favorite lines on page 7 introduce the main character and narrator:
Isobel. Picture someone petite, fragile, and blonde, done in soft pastels, lusciously formed—and you'll know how I don't look.
          Isobel Stanley, Stan to her friends, writes children's books about the antics of a cockroach which her mother considers tacky. Stan also plays the organ and gets roped into covering for the regular organist at a church function. Lost in her thoughts on her way home, she takes a wrong turn, witnesses a shooting, and then a dashing young man dives into her open sun roof. What's a girl to do next?
          I admire the author's insightful asides and numerous funny turns of phrases—highly creative.
What beach books do you enjoy?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Writer's Intuition

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

You know what it is like when you feel something is not quite right, but have no clear reason as to why you feel that way?  I know for me personally, I get these hunches in regards to personal or family life often enough that I have learned to rely on them rather than ignore them.
During the past year since Kate and I had the good fortune to launch this writing blog, I’ve been much more in tune to my feelings where my writing is concerned as well, and not just while paying attention to my inner voice telling me something with my writing isn’t quite right.  But instead I’ve also been very tuned in to noticing ideas or content for my articles and stories that seemingly come from nowhere, especially when both my muse and I know these ideas are totally “outside the box”! 
Just a few short years ago I don’t think I would’ve paid much attention to these messages, but after spending a lot more quality time with myself and my thoughts, I’ve discovered I have a wonderful new asset in my writer’s toolbox that is unique solely to me—my writer’s intuition.  I believe we all have access to the gift of intuition, but only if we choose to let it guide us does it make a positive difference in our personal, professional, or creative lives. 
Once I stopped making excuses that I was the busy mother of 8 and didn’t have time to fulfill my own dreams and goals, my intuition and I formed a whole new relationship which has provided me with stability as well as many rushes of adrenaline because I’ve chosen to actually listen rather than run and hide.   Because of this, I’m writing more both professionally and for personal satisfaction than ever before, and I’m much more focused and grounded despite being busier than ever with my crazy family life.
I read some terrific tips from Bryan Hutchinson recently on how to let your intuition guide your writing life, here are some of my favorites:
Never Underestimate Your Writer's Intuition!
1) Empty your mind.
Before you start writing, take a couple moments to relax and empty your mind of any and all thoughts.
The best way to do this is to take ten or fifteen minutes to think of absolutely nothing and allow yourself to connect with your subconscious. Your subconscious is where all the really good stuff is.
2) Listen to your gut.
If something feels right then it usually is and if it feels wrong or forced, then reconsider.

3) Keep a journal.
The best insights and ideas come when you least expect them.
Lucky people are lucky because they are prepared for opportunity anytime and anywhere. Be ready. Keep a journal.

4) Visualize the results you want.
Don’t be concerned with being realistic because realistic people stay grounded and in the crowd.

5) Trust your intuition.
It will do you no good otherwise.
Of course, intuition should not be used with a total absence of reason and logic, but that’s what the second and third drafts are for. 

Are you ready to listen to your intuition or have you already?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Reads for Writers: Wild Comfort

From Kate's Writing Crate...

     Finding a book to read is part conscious choice and part synchronicity. Sometimes cover art catches your eye. Sometimes a title just speaks to you. And sometimes a book finds its way into your hands just when you need it most.

    Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature by Kathleen Dean Moore appeals to me for all those reasons. The two brown mottled blue eggs in a bird's nest under a title that is true for me are why I bought the book. I have been comforted by nature since I was a little girl much to my city-raised mother's dismay and my farmer-wannabe father's delight.

    Walking in the woods or along a shoreline is guaranteed to calm my mind and soothe my soul. Seeing golden eagles spiraling over open fields or spotting turtles sunning themselves on logs are highlights of my days–creatures great and small sharing their habitat with me, a place I also feel at home.

    In 28 wonderfully observant and poetic essays, Moore transports her readers to see a possum in an Oregon plum tree, to experience fields, floods, rocks, hills, and plains across the continent, and feel the fog during a walk in a valley. She also shares stories and wise thoughts from her journeys.

    My favorite essay is entitled "The Happy Basket." Moore decides to jot down a detailed note every time she is really happy for one year starting on New Year's Day and place them in a pink Easter basket. She plans to sort through them on a cold wintery December night in her warm home.

    Moore writes on page 22... "I thought that if I could see the haphazard heaps of happiness, I could come to understand something about what I should do...I could leave behind false starts and destructive agendas and organize my life in a better way."

    Many of the notes include nature, but family, friends, ideas, and creature comforts made her happy, too. Some notes are only a few words, others are half a page long, but they all capture elation.

    I think we could all benefit from this experiment. I am going to start writing my haphazard notes of happiness today.
Does the Happy Basket project appeal to you?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Writing in Public

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

Writing in a public venue is a refreshing alternative to the way most writers such as myself spend their days—alone.  Though my writer’s crate is comfortable and easily accessible when I want to escape with my thoughts and my laptop, there are also numerable distractions such as never-ending piles of laundry and dirty dishes, two feisty dogs that love to play, and usually two or three kids vying for my attention at any given time.

Recently, Kate and I met some very dear literary buddies at a trendy coffee shop in town to celebrate the friendships we’ve created all because of our love of reading.  We decided we’d meet earlier than the rest of the group so we could entertain our muse and spend some quality time letting our restless pens have a vigorous release in our favorite journals.

The timer Kate brought along beeped and then we began to write fast and furiously for ten minutes.  There were no rules for this writing exercise except to allow our words to flow in whatever direction our thoughts would take us.

I was afraid I’d have writer’s block sitting amidst a bustling café but instead, the words bounced off my pen and on to my crisp tablet almost as effortlessly as the playful beams of sunshine bounced off of the nearby tables and warm wooden floor that surrounded us.  I was filled with ideas, almost too many to make sense of, but after inhaling the rich aroma of freshly brewed coffee and hearty bagels being toasted right beside me, my mind focused on one particular theme and for the next several minutes I escaped to a delightful adventure on my pages that left my pulse racing and my imagination whirring for hours after I stopped.
Once our friends arrived we tucked the timer and our journals away and enjoyed a lovely morning full of wonderfully engaging conversation and many, many laughs.  The morning was just perfect!

Later that evening I pulled out my journal to review what I had written, and much to my delight, I realized I had just written a good portion of a chapter in the novel I’m working on.  It was completely unexpected, and I honestly don’t think I could’ve captured the same essence if I had tried to consciously write like this at home.

This exercise was such a great reminder that it’s important and necessary to shake things up in our writing routines, even if it means physically leaving our usual writing space and finding a nook elsewhere in this busy world to make it happen.  Not only do we as human beings have to think outside the box when we want to get creative, as artists, we have to write outside the box as well.  I’m already looking forward to the next time I can grab my pad and pen and adapt to another busy location where my thoughts can once again come alive in a public forum.

Does writing in coffee shops or other public places work for you as a writer?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Writing in Public

From Kate's Writing Crate... 
            Cheryl and I were scheduled to meet with two friends to celebrate a birthday and career change at a favorite café recently. We decided to arrive early and complete some timed writing sessions.
            There was a line although we arrived after peak morning hours. We caught up on news about kids, dogs, and other happenings while we waited to purchase a gift certificate ignoring the rows of delectable pasteries in the glass cases. Five minutes later, we were seated and opening our spiral notebooks.
            The beeping as I set the digital timer wasn't loud enough to draw attention. I hit start. Without hesitation, our pens raced across our pages. The bustle of people coming and going, chatting at nearby tables, and hurrying to fill orders provided a cadence lacking in my home office.

            Writing in cafés is a tradition for good reasons. I felt more alive. I was more observant.  My pen was moving faster than usual as the energy reverberated inside me.

My senses, on full alert in this vibrant space, were almost overloaded as I usually write in quiet solitude. I concentrated on the strong scent of coffee brewing, a noisy blender creating a fresh berry smoothie, and ice being scooped out to fill orders for iced tea and coffee on this warm day.
I wanted to capture as many details as possible, enjoying the rush of writing there. The pressure of the timer kept me focused. My job was just to keep writing, if possible, without stopping. My pen felt weightless as I moved my hand scribbling down my thoughts and observations. No time to feel self-conscious only conscious of writing this post.
When I was stalled, I quickly looked around and saw two teenaged girls grab their coffee cups, bagels, and purses off a nearby table and rush out to claim one of the tables shaded by orange umbrellas on the deck. I hoped we could do the same when our friends arrived, but went back to writing.
             For inspiration, I listened for any stray phrases from conversations at nearby tables. Nothing coherent reached my ears this time, but I remember overhearing years ago an earnest discussion of whether an evening can be enchanted or not at another table when I was out for dinner with friends. The loudest man was convinced that is was not possible as only people can be enchanted.
            It was such an unexpected topic of conversation I've never forgotten it. The group left the restaurant still talking about it. My friends and I (mostly writers) had paid our bill, but were finishing our coffees. Out of curiosity, we followed them to see if they came to a resolution in the parking lot. They did not.
             Time was up as the first of our friends arrived. We moved on to the reward phase of writing in public: fresh-squeezed orange juice for one, coffee, bagels, and a yogurt parfait for everyone else followed by good conversation, book discussions, and a lot of laughs.
Do you enjoy writing in public?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Tips on Making Your Blog a Positive Experience

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

It seems as though everyone is blogging these days, whether it be to promote professional views or simply to express a personal passion the blogging bug has been caught by many, offering interested readers and writers a goldmine of fantastic blogs to choose from.
As the parenting specialist for Macmillan Publisher’s Quick and Dirty Tips, aka Mighty Mommy, I’m exposed to a host of wonderful articles about the art of blogging.  I recently read one that shared 7 ways to make sure your blog has a positive impact on your writing career written by Chris Robley that left me feeling inspired and more enthused than ever to kick it up a notch with all my professional and personal writing projects.  Here’s a recap of his great tips.

1. Look Professional

No matter how good your content, the design of your website is really important. It’s how you lure visitors further into your site. You want your website design to look clean and “cool” (however you define that term).  Check out this fascinating the 3-second test that will give you lots to think about where your own blog is concerned.

2. Imagine the whole world is reading

Before you post anything on your blog, ask yourself two questions: would I be embarrassed if anyone read this (critics, editors, family members, enemies, etc.), and is this content WORTH sharing?
In other words, you should be sure that your blog posts will interest your readers, that they’re share-worthy, and that you won’t regret them later!

3. Keep it simple, stupid

We have short attention spans. Feed us tiny meals, but twice as often. The simpler, shorter, punchier your posts, the better they’ll perform in terms of engagement and sharing.
Plus, shorter posts are easier to create and you can stick to a regular content schedule without constant stress.
4. Let your personality shine
If someone is visiting your website, they’re there for YOU—so give it to them! Make sure your personality is on display.
You don’t have to be a freaky diva all the time, but be sure readers can tell from the content that you post WHY you’re unique.

I'm thrilled to blog as Mighty Mommy and as Cheryl from The Writer's Crate!

5. Post lots of photos and videos

Social media thrives on the sharing of photos and videos.  Get into the habit of finding some fun and creative visual effects on your site when you post.

6. Be part of a blogging community

Remember, there is strength in numbers. Be sure to network with other authors through their blogs and social media profiles. Share content and exchange guest-contributions.
Introduce your readers to other peoples’ works that you admire. Let other writers introduce your work to their fans.

7. Tag, tag, tag

Tagging posts is one way to ensure that search engines (and more importantly, readers!) find the content they’re looking for. Tag every post with relevant names and keywords.
How do you make sure the time you’re spending on your blog is worth it? Let us know in the comments section below.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Reads for Writers: Walking on Alligators--Quotes and Insights About Writing by Susan Shaughnessy

From Kate's Writing Crate...


Walking on Alligators: A Book of Meditations for Writers by Susan Shaughnessy is, as the back cover states, a daily motivator for people who write—and people who long to write. The black and silver cover can be off-putting: a skeleton walking over five alligators, mouths agape, with drawings of flowers, fruit, the alphabet, and an alarm clock raining down. Go beyond it to the wisdom and writing advice inside.

Each page starts with a quote by a writer or successful person followed by insights written by Shaughnessy. At the end, there is a suggested writing goal—perfect for writers who are blocked or procrastinating.

Among the quotes:

Discipline is the refining fire by which talent becomes ability.   –Roy L. Smith

Opportunity just exists in the air for a few minutes. If you don't obey your gut feeling right away, you've lost your chance.   –Ken Hakuta
Success is a finished book, a stack of pages each of which is filled with words. If you reach that point, you have won a victory over yourself no less impressive than sailing single-handed around the world.   –Tom Clancy
I write for a couple of hours every day, even if I only get a couple of sentences. I put in that time. You do that every day, and inspiration will come along. I don't allow myself not to keep trying. It's not fun, but if you wait until you want to write, you'll never do it.   –Dave Barry
One of the marks of a gift is to have the courage of it.   –Katherine Anne Porter
The novelist's job is to reveal and unfold, not simply portray. The novelist works with the things that pass unobserved by others, captures them in motion, brings them out into the open.   –Joao Guimaraes Rosa
We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about.   –Charles Kingsley
Among Shaughnessy's insights:
It's a dreadful fact that writing is like any other work. Having written is another matter. It is a joy; it is fulfillment. (p. 26)
…sit with your project. Even a couple of lines is progress. And, more important, it is the victory of writing every day. (p. 98)
To write is to move beyond wanting to write. It is to take a step toward constructing the future you want. (p. 99)
Your gift will grow in proportion as you exercise it. Your courage will grow in proportion as you feed it. (p. 137)
[Readers] ask of you that you lay out for them the essential truths that are hard to know and hard to say. (p. 158)
Write to increase your own understanding, and to share your discoveries simply and vividly. (p. 187)
Unseen forces support you. Unknown wells supply you. Your work will be rewarded…If writing is to be a part of your life, the time to write is now. (p. 203)
Honor your gift/calling, keep writing.

What writing quotes inspire you?