Monday, June 30, 2014


From Kate's Writing Crate…


        While driving around running errands, I heard on the radio that June 25 is a half holiday. Since it is exactly six months to Christmas, someone named it Leon Day which is Noel spelled backwards.

        I find Leon Day reminiscent of the holiday for an entirely different reason. At the end of June, thousands of fireflies put on a light show in a nearby old apple orchard that rivals most Christmas decorations.

        Walking down a row between trees, I feel as though I am deep in outer space. On both sides of me, the fireflies flash from ground level to as high and as far as I can see mixing in with the light from the stars. Some fly close by; others are hundreds of feet away, but all as bright and magical as the twinkling lights on Christmas trees.

I also feel a bit like Gulliver might have if he had arrived in Lilliput on an Opening Night and if they had paparazzi.

        This light show is a romantic affair or a giant pickup scene depending on your outlook as the fireflies are searching for mates by madly flirting using flash patterns interspersed with steady glowing to attract attention. However, nothing is ever as simple as it seems in Mother Nature's world. There are femme fatale fireflies that mimic the patterns of males from other firefly species to draw them in only to devour them.

Seduction teaches tough lessons sometimes as attracting attention may lead to other downfalls. According to Wikipedia, forensic scientists use firefly phosphorescence to detect magnesium. It's also thought that the Baroque painter Caravaggio may have prepared canvases with a powder of dried fireflies to create photosensitive surfaces.

        Writers use fireflies as well although without killing any of them, I hope.

Songwriter Adam Young wrote "Fireflies" for Owl City. I'm transported to the apple orchard whenever I hear it.

The Sci-Fi show Firefly, created by Joss Whedon and starring Nathan Fillion (now on Castle) and Gina Torres (now on Suits), is a fun adventure show set in outer space. Their ship is shaped like a firefly. I recommend the series along with the follow up movie Serenity

There are lots of books about fireflies as well as many that mention them.

For children, authors Julie Brinckloe and Margaret Hall both named their books Fireflies. The former is a story about the dilemma of catching fireflies in jars; the latter is a more scientific look at the bugs.

For summer reading, enjoy Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah and The Summer of the Firefly by Joan Gable. I haven't read either yet, but Cheryl gave me Hannah's book and Gable's came highly recommended by another friend—the best kind of books!

Fireflies take me right back to my childhood—endless summer days, cookouts, and catching them at twilight armed with only a jar and a lid. We had a strict catch, enjoy, and release program in place so no guilt, only fun and a captivating light show.

Do fireflies bring back memories for you?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Beach Reads for Writers: Katie Fforde Provides a Masterclass

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.


        If you want some light beach reading and you enjoy books by British authors, try Living Dangerously, Stately Pursuits, and Practically Perfect by Katie Fforde.

        The characters are charming, the romantic situations complicated, and the grand homes and countryside provide beautiful backdrops. Enjoy English manners and tea breaks along with the love stories.

            Who knew saying yes to an invitation for a "cozy evening, just a few friends" from a long-ago school chum was a pretense to get Polly Cameron to even up the numbers at a formal dinner party? Or that it would lead to romantic disturbances in Polly's life?

A potter by trade who works at Whole Nut Café to make ends meet, Polly dresses in her own style with a wardrobe filled with pieces from second-hand shops. Her dinner partner, widower David Locking-Hill, is a man of means not sure what to make of Polly. Ever the gentleman, he does his best to make the evening pleasant, but they have little in common.

Fate doesn't care. In Living Dangerously, Polly and David meet again at a charity auction. Then while on a date with another man, she prevents David's son from driving drunk by driving him home in a violent storm. Their lives become more and more entwined. Polly can't believe it will all work out, but David is intrigued by the possibility.



After finding her boyfriend in bed with another woman and needing a change of scenery, Hetty Longden's managing mother has arranged for her to care for her great uncle Samuel's country manor while he recuperates from a serious operation in Stately Pursuits.

Not content to merely house-sit, Hetty sets about trying to raise money to pay for necessary repairs. Meeting neighbors who agree the manor should be saved, they work together setting up a boot sale (yard sale) then decide the place could be rented out for events.

Unfortunately, Connor Barrabin, Samuel's heir, shows up and puts a spanner in the works. He thinks Hetty is out of her depth, but she's determined to succeed. He reluctantly helps out; however, complications pile up until Hetty has to take drastic action which leads to more trouble.




        Practically Perfect is for dog lovers as Anna, an interior designer, takes in a rescued greyhound named Caroline while she fixes up a cottage for resale. The villagers are ever-helpful as she makes a new, if temporary, life there.

        As she heads to the open market for the first time, Anna brings a leashed Caroline along. Everything is going well until a car backfires startling Caroline into running away. Anna's purchases go flying as the leash is wrenched off her wrist. Frightened for Caroline, Anna calls for her frantically as she quickly disappears.

Luckily, a stranger is able to catch ahold of Caroline's leash. Unfortunately for Anna, he's the recently named rehoming officer for the local greyhound rescue center who is not impressed with Anna's handling of the situation. Will Anna overcome this disastrous meeting?


Monday, June 16, 2014

Authors' Referrals

From Kate's Writer's Crate…


The best storytellers ground readers in their fictional worlds—no matter how familiar or foreign—with specific details. Once given believable foundations, most readers will follow the plots and admire or distrust characters as the authors hope.

How much more fun when some of the specific details reference actual books, movies, music, TV shows, locations, and meals. If authors I love mention real details, I'm willing to check out their referrals.

        Here are some examples:


        In The Last Enemy, author Pauline Baird Jones places a stack of books on the nightstand of Dani Gwynne, a woman in the Witness Protection Program. When her room becomes a crime scene, two US Marshals catalog her reading material:

"Interesting mix. JD Robb, Tom Clancy, Tonya Huff, Alistair Maclean…Orson Scot Card…Louis L'Amour…the Bible…and Lord of the Rings…" (page 24)


        Jennifer Crusie uses movies, music, and food, especially Krispy Kreme donuts, as running themes in her novel Bet Me. The two leads, Min and Cal, end up at a revival movie theater showing Big Trouble in Little China. They also go out to dinner. Min so enjoys the Chicken Marsala, she is determined to make it herself. The many results are funny and disastrous as she tries to make it diet-friendly, too. Both of them love Elvis, but it's Costello for Cal and Presley for Min. Costello's "She" plays a part in the plot as does Cal's version of "Love Me Tender" which starts off as a snarky joke and ends as a declaration of sorts—this is a Chick Lit romance after all.


Kresley Cole uses The Amazing Race as a template in Wicked Deeds on a Winter's Night, the third novel in her Immortals After Dark series. In this version, the tasks undertaken by vampires, werewolves, Valkyries, witches, and many other creatures are always dangerous, but the prize is worth the risk. The winner can go back in time and rescue two people they loved who died.   

In the series, one character loves Mike Rowe, the host of Dirty Jobs. Cole also references musical groups like Crazy Frog as ring tones.


The Golden Treasury by F. T. Palgrove is a collection of classic poems by Milton, Keats, etc., carried by numerous characters in some of the 56 charming romance novels written by Essie Summers. (See book review posted on 2/11/2013.) Robert Burns is often quoted from The Golden Treasury. I was pleased to find a pocket-sized version of it in my grandfather's library.

All of Summers' books are set in New Zealand, a place she describes so lovingly from the sheep stations, mountains, and lakes to the cities near the sea, all filled with such friendly people and delicious meals, that her readers dream of visiting there—including me. I gave four of her novels to a friend who traveled to New Zealand six months later. Several others on the tour were also drawn there by Summers' books—and everything she wrote about her home country was proven true.


Do you follow up on referrals made by your favorite authors?



Monday, June 9, 2014

Complementary Thesauruses

From Kate's Writer's Crate…

        Since I started writing my 500 word posts, using exact words has become imperative. It always should have been, but with higher word counts the pressure to keep searching for exact words wasn't as intense.

In my rough drafts, I use the first words that come to my mind. As I rewrite and polish, I search my vocabulary for different words, better words, the exact words that make my thoughts clear to readers. If I run out of ideas, I turn to my thesaurus.

I use and love The Synonym Finder by J. I. Rodale. Compared to the thesaurus I used in school, it contains many more choices and leads that get me to the exact words I need/desire. It's one of those I-know-it-when-I-see-it situations. The exact word is not always the longest or most exotic; it's the right word for a particular sentence.

I didn't think I could be swayed from my allegiance to The Synonym Finder. However, while browsing for writing books recently, I discovered the Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus which contains intriguing and advantageous differences.

I enjoyed the Introduction  "In Search of the Exact Word" by Richard Goodman, a tribute to Flaubert for penning the phrase le mot juste, i.e., the exact word. According to Flaubert, "All talent for writing consists after all of nothing more than choosing words. It's precision that gives writing power."

This thesaurus is precise. It uses a variety of ways to clarify words for writers.

For fun, ten writers contribute mini-essays, each titled "Word Note", about words they like and dislike. David Auburn, Michael Dirda, David Lehman, Erin McKean, Stephin Merritt, Francine Prose, Zadie Smith, Jean Strouse, David Foster Wallace, and Simon Winchester share comments that are informative and opinionated.

Most unique about this thesaurus are the boxed explanations or special notes after some of the listings for:

Usage—Bryan Garner, a usage expert, lists the history of the word, where it was printed, critics of the word, and popular use.

Word Links—For example, after the listing of synonyms for flag, the word vexillary, meaning relating to flags, is boxed.

Choose the Right Word—Lists and defines a word's synonyms and then uses them in phrases for clarity.

Easily Confused Words—For example: After the synonyms and antonyms lists for eminent, a boxed list  of eminent, imminent, and immanent are each defined clearly so readers are positive they are using the correct word.

Word Spectrums—For example, begin/end. In one shaded box are listed the range of synonyms for the word begin and then for the word end. Another example is optimistic/pessimistic.

Word Toolkit—Lists three synonyms across the top of the box and then, underneath each synonym, the words that pair with them. Reminders are also placed after some words to refer to toolkits printed elsewhere.

        All of the extras in the Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus are handy references, but The Synonym Finder offers more choices per word making both books goldmines—perfect for writers searching for le mot juste.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Macmillan Publisher Field Trip

From Cheryl's Writing Crate

I'm back!

I didn't expect to have a 3-week hiatus, but now that I'm finally feeling better and catching up with life after having pneumonia, I'm so excited to be blogging again here at The Writer's Crate.

One of the greatest parts of this blog is my blogging partner, Kate!  You're already familiar with her wonderful insight into all things "writing" because her post each Monday is always so thought provoking.   I'm grateful that she was able to provide our blog with fresh and exciting content while I've been "fishing", so I'd like to publicly say "Thank you Kate!"

My writing career has taken many interesting paths, and one of those paths landed me a wonderful opportunity with Macmillan Publisher's in New York City.  This was not something I went looking for, actually, this opportunity found me, and I owe it all to my first book, Pregnant Women Don't Eat Cabbage.

I was fortunate to have a book signing four years ago that drew a pretty large crowd.  Humbled and on cloud 9, I soaked in every aspect of that evening including mingling and getting to know my guests.  It just so happens, one of those guests came as a friend of a friend and guess what she did for a living?  Yep--she worked for a major publisher in New York City.

A year after my book signing she contacted me because she remembered meeting me at my book signing.  She had since changed jobs and was now at Macmillan Publisher's producing their Quick and Dirty Tips website.  There was an opening for their parenting expert, known as Mighty Mommy, and she made the arrangements for me to interview for the position.

Two years later, I'm thrilled to be working as Macmillan's "Mighty Mommy" (I guess 8 kids qualifies me as somewhat of a parenting expert) and just a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of visiting their headquarters in NYC.

Next week's blog will go a bit more in depth as to the experience I had visiting a major publisher (pinch me!), one that I hope to be publishing a book with in the future. (pinch me again!).

For now, I am so happy to be back blogging with The Writer's Crate and hope this finds all of you pursuing your writing dreams, even if it's as little as one word at a time!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Put the Time In

From Kate's Writing Crate…

        For most careers, there are educational or experience requirements. You know exactly what it takes to achieve your goals.

        For writers, the career path isn't as clear. Education can help, but it isn't a guarantee. Experience of any kind is a plus, but the reality is you have to write.

        I recommend reading Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg and The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Stephen Pressfield. Goldberg's book gave me a concrete way to really start writing. Pressfield's book keeps me writing every day.

        Six-Word Memoirs ® are a fun and easy way to begin any writing session if you feel stuck. Visit the website or read one of the books written by writers famous and obscure.

I wish someone had given me this simple advice when I first knew I wanted to be a writer:

        To succeed as a writer, you must read and write.

Write. Write. Write.

Read. Read. Read.

Write. Write. Write.

If a writing life is your dream, write.

Keep yourself on deadline.

        Fill a spiral notebook a month every month, as recommended in Writing Down the Bones, for years/decades.

        Write a weekly/daily blog.

Build up your life-long word count.

        Write. Write. Write.


The hardest part is starting.

Pick up your pen or sit at your computer and write.

Use writing prompts or write Six-Word Memoirs®

        Write about what you love.

        Write. Write. Write.

        Carry a notepad at all times.

        Jot down thoughts and observations.

        Make this a habit.

        Write. Write. Write.

        Take a writing class.

        Start or join a writing group.

        Enter a writing contest.

        Write. Write. Write.

Then Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite.


Contact local or national publications or websites for assignments or suggest ideas.

        Submit articles and essays to favorite publications.

Editors always have space to fill.

        Be professional and meet deadlines.

        Write. Write. Write.

        Then Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite.

        Set a daily word or page count for your book.

Meet your daily word or page count goal.

Write. Write. Write.

Then Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite.

Put the time in.

It's as easy and as difficult as that.

It's also challenging and fun.

You have a calling.

Answer it.

Write! Write! Write!