Friday, August 28, 2015

Flying With Mary Poppins

Flying with Mary Poppins by Debra H. Goldstein

Last night, I saw a community production of Mary Poppins that blew my socks off. I can’t say enough about the acting, singing, dancing, or sets, but it was during the instances when Mary Poppins took flight that I felt a surge of “practically perfect” happiness. The only thing that made me fly higher was watching the face of a four-year-old child sitting in the row in front of me.

The little girl was the youngest of three sisters.  Seated in the third row, directly behind the family, I was concerned when I realized her parents placed her between her sisters rather than next to them. Was she the buffer to keep the older children from fighting?  How could the parents possibly reach and control her if she became bored?

I had my answer during the overture when she crawled over one sister and plopped into her mother’s lap. For the remainder of the performance, she quietly was shuffled between her mother and father. In the comfort of their arms, her attention was glued to the stage for the first act, but she became restless after intermission.  That is, until she sensed the actress playing Mary Poppins positioning herself on the edge of the stage, in the semi-darkness, a few feet from our seats. A moment later, when a now spotlighted Mary Poppins rose and flew over the audience – pausing for a second to smile down from directly above the little girl’s seat – the child’s eyes grew wide with wonder, awe, and the making of a permanent memory for both of us.

Hopefully, she will always remember the night she saw Mary Poppins fly. May I, as a writer, cling to the memory of how a child became engaged by the magic of storytelling.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Chart Watching

by Bethany Maines

He looked at the chart but he look in vain
Heavy cloud but no rain

Originally, this was a post about publishing.  I’ve been singing this song for the better part of a month feeling that it related to my efforts in self-publishing. Having the ability to have live updated sales results is not really as fun as it sounds. Or at least it’s not good for ongoing peace of mind. The world of publishing has changed. Now every author must do the work that previously was performed by publishing houses – namely, marketing. And the secret thing about marketing that every marketing professional would prefer you not know, is that you can never quite tell what’s going to work. So with every fresh effort, I flip back to the chart to see if there’s rain or not. Some sprinkles, some gushers, some droughts – and that is the way of the writing life now.  But there’s more to that song, and the rest of the lyrics are more applicable to the real world right now than they are to any personal concerns I have about my writing and sales.

Turned on the weather man just after the news
I needed sweet rain to wash away my blues
He looked at the chart but he look in vain
Heavy cloud but no rain

Much of the state of Washington, my state, is on fire. This song isn’t much of a metaphor; it’s what we’re all doing. We’re literally out of firefighters and the ones that are on the line are working days in a row with little to no sleep. Firefighters from Australian and New Zealand arrived on Monday to help and we couldn’t be happier to see them. We literally need all the help we can get.

There is a line of mountains between the fires and my house and still the sky is frequently a hazy yellow from smoke. Yesterday, I could look at the sun directly because there was so much smog that it was only a burning circle of orange in the sky.

Sometimes my state feels culturally divided by that chain of mountains, but this fire has turned us all into obsessed weather forecast watchers. My facebook feed is filled with pictures of rain – a virtual rain dance for our home and our friends. Weather forecasting has taken a giant step forward due to computing speeds and modeling, but Washington is still one of the toughest places to forecast. All the data in the world can’t entirely predict if rain is going to fall. We all watch the chart, but so far, heavy cloud, no rain.

So, if you’re a praying person, pray for some rain. If you’re a donating person, you can view this article from local reporter Jesse Jones, for where to send donations. Washington thanks you.

Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mysteries, Tales from the City of Destiny and An Unseen Current.  You can also view the Carrie Mae youtube video or catch up with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Friday, August 21, 2015

I May Have Put a Curse on Someone


Linda Rodriguez

By sheer accident, I overheard an interaction between two strangers a while back that may have led me to inadvertently put on a curse on one of them.

The last time I went to see my oncologist, who’s at a hospital in a suburb an hour’s drive from my house, was the first time I’d driven so far by myself in months (after the whole broken-right-wrist thing). When I came out of the cancer clinic, I decided I’d go to the Barnes & Noble in the shopping center across the street to see if I couldn’t get my wrist and knees to hurt less before beginning the long trip home.

Getting out of my car in one of the handicapped spaces (I have a placard), I saw a lean guy in shorts, late-thirties or early-forties, confront a very heavy woman who’d left B&N and was opening the door of her car in a handicap space several cars up from mine. He yelled at her, “You fat, lazy bitch. Getting your doctor to give you a placard just because you’re too lazy to walk and too undisciplined to curb your urges to stuff candy in your mouth all day. You’re running up everyone else’s health expenses. We’re having to pay for your lazy gluttony.” The woman stared at him with wide eyes like a deer caught in the headlights, began to cry, got in her car, and roared off, while the guy stood there watching, satisfied.

As I said, these two were both strangers to me. I knew neither one’s name. But I recognized the woman. She goes to the same cancer clinic I do. As happens in such places, I’ve overheard bits of conversation between her and other patients she knows or the nursing staff in the chemo infusion lab or between rooms (I’m a novelist—I observe and eavesdrop—shoot me), so I knew that she had a different kind of cancer from mine, that it had been very advanced when it was found, that she’s been battling it for years now and gone through surgery, radiation, and five or six bouts of chemo already. I knew she had gone through years more of pain, nausea, fatigue, depression, you name it, than I have. I knew she had dealt with pain in joints and muscles so intense that it brought tears to your eyes walking from one part of the house to the other. I knew she had probably had long periods where she only got a couple of hours of sleep at night. I knew she had dealt with fatigue so overwhelming that she would have days when just getting out of bed was a triumph, when she couldn’t summon energy to talk or would nod off sometimes in the middle of a conversation. I knew she took meds that did all kinds of horrible things to your body, like eat your bones or put on pounds, no matter what you eat or how you try to exercise, or cause swelling in your face and body.

My feeling was that if she’d consoled herself during one of these times with more chocolate than she should have, so be it. Not anyone else’s business. Because take it from someone who’s dealing with just a little of what she’s had to deal with for years—there is no amount of chocolate that’s too much when you’re facing that kind of shit.

I’m on a cane and moving very slowly—because of those meds that cause so much joint/muscle pain, fatigue, and weakness—so I wasn’t able to get over there before she was in her car heading out, but when I did, I turned to this guy who looked so swollen with self-righteous indignation and found myself pointing my finger at him, something I never do because my grandmother warned me against it as a child. I may have yelled, but since this med makes me weaker in all my muscles, my voice is not as strong as it once was. “I hope you someday truly understand what it’s like to have physical problems that make you sedentary and gain weight, to have lupus and fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s and all the other things people have to deal with every day. May you someday understand what it’s really like to deal with cancer.” A couple of people had stopped walking through the parking lot and were staring, so he just shook his head and took off running, yelling, “Another fat, lazy bitch.”

This is the most egregious case I’ve encountered of what I’ve started to call “health bullying,” that I’m seeing more and more often lately. Whether it’s gluten-free, vegan, nightshade-free, or various supplements or special diets or special kinds of exercise, some people seem to feel the need to prescribe for people they know or even don’t know. I remember when my youngest was a teenager and recently diagnosed with ulcerative colitis that had almost killed him from internal bleeding. They pumped blood into him round the clock for over a week and powerful IV steroids that put him into induced diabetes that left him injecting insulin for a year. Once he got out of the hospital, he had to continue taking steroids that puffed him up like the Michelin Man. Someone tried to say he just needed to walk a little and eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. Common sense, yes? He had no car and already walked more miles a day than they probably did in a week, even including the treadmill. He had a long list of foods he was forbidden to eat because they would cause the internal bleeding to start again, and at the top were those fresh fruits and vegetables. I won’t even start on all the folks who think they know how to cure cancer, and I have to tell them that my doctors and I are working on that, thank you very much.

I decided a tough broad like me didn’t need to rest before driving home and made it fine. Could hardly walk to get inside my house, but I made it. I started to feel bad about what I’d said to the guy. I just wanted him to think outside his selfish box for a minute and understand what others might be going through, but I began to realize that, instead, I’d probably placed a curse on him. Because this guy was totally deficient in empathy, and empathy is the only way to understand how someone else might feel—unless you experience the exact same thing. I’m sorry about that. I didn’t mean to do it. I hope he’s only going to get one of those diseases and not all of them.

Linda Rodriguez’s Skeet Bannion mystery novels, Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, and Every Last Secret, and books of poetry, Skin Hunger and Heart’s Migration, have received many awards, such as St. Martin’s/Malice Domestic Best First Novel, Latina Book Club Best Books 2014, Midwest Voices & Visions Award, Thorpe Menn Award, Ragdale and Macondo fellowships, among others. She is Chair of the AWP Indigenous/ Aboriginal American Writers Caucus.

Twitter handle—@rodriguez_linda

REPLY TO COMMENTS (because Blogger still hates me):

Sorry I'm so late getting back to everyone, but today was another doctor's appointment, so I've been gone all afternoon.

Pam, thank you for the hugs and prayers. I can always use them.

Thank you, Kathy and Marilyn!

Judith, I really didn't mean to.

Kathy, both of them did. Yay!

Ritter, you are so right about all three.

Doward, I try to avoid physical violence because the cancer meds increase irritability and I might accidentally kill someone.

Thank you, Alice!

Thanks, Mary. I know allergies must be awful. That's one load I don't have to carry, and for that, I'm very grateful.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Why Reading Is Good for Us

By Kay Kendall

This is the second of two installments about reading. Previously I described how much I enjoy reading and tried to figure out how that came to pass. I am guessing most of you also feel reading is enjoyable. For many people, however, reading is not a pleasurable pastime.

Reading is similar to chocolate. It tastes luscious to most people, but not to all. These days, however, we know through research that chocolate is a healthy thing to eat.
Scientific researchers have likewise come up with reasons why we should read. Here is a curated list of reasons scientists say reading should be done—not only for our enjoyment and increased knowledge, but for our mental and physical well-being.

 1. Reading is an effective way to overcome stress. Researchers at the University of Sussex found that reading relaxed the heart rate and muscle tension faster than other activities often said to be de-stressors—for example taking a walk, listening to music, and drinking tea. Note that the research was done in England, a bastion of tea drinkers, so this is really saying something shocking.

 2. Reading exercises our brains. As our bodies need movement to be strong, our brains need a work out too. Reading is a more complex activity than watching television and actually helps establish new neural pathways.

 3. Reading helps maintain our brains’ sharpness. Neurologists who studied brains of those who died around age 89 saw signs of a third less decline among those who stayed mentally active with reading, writing, and other modes of mental stimulation like puzzles, as compared to those who did little or none of those activities.

 4. Reading may even ward off Alzheimer's disease. Adults who pursue activities like reading or puzzles that involve the brain are less likely to have Alzheimer's disease. Intellectual activity not only grows our brain power but also strengthens brain against disease.

5. Reading may help us sleep better. Reading before bed is a good de-stressing habit, unlike watching flashing electronic devices or television that cue the brain to wake up.

6. Reading self-help books can ease depression. Reading books that encourage people to take charge of their own lives can promote the idea that positive change is possible. A control group that had “bibliotherapy” combined with talk therapy was less depressed than another group that did not read self-help literature.

7. Reading helps people become more empathetic. Spending time exploring an author's imagination helps people understand other people’s points of view and problems. Researchers in the Netherlands performed experiments showing that people who were "emotionally transported" by a work of fiction experienced boosts in empathy.

8. Reading can develop and improve a good self-image. Poor readers or non-readers often have low opinions of themselves and their abilities. Reading helps people understand their own strength and abilities, hence growing better self-images.

So next time you feel remorse when you’ve spent all day reading a new book, just remember these eight reasons--and then your guilt should vanish. Getting swept away by a compelling story line or character in a wonderful book is not only entertaining but also is actually good for you.

Which of these reasons resonates most with you? From the list above, I picked two favorites. I’ll tell you mine if you’ll tell me yours! How about it?


Kay Kendall is a long-time fan of historical novels and writes atmospheric mysteries that capture the spirit and turbulence of the sixties. She is a reformed PR executive who lives in Texas with her husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Terribly allergic to her bunnies, she loves them anyway! Her book titles show she's a Bob Dylan buff too. RAINY DAY WOMEN published on July 7--the second in her Austin Starr Mystery series. The audio-book will debut soon.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

August is a Busy Month

We have lots of family events to celebrate in August.

First one of come up is my eldest daughter's wedding anniversary. She married her high school sweetheart who was going into the Army right away. (As it turned out, the Army discharged him honorable after discovering all his old motorcycle racing injuries.) They were married in the chapel on the Seabee base (Hubby was still active in the Seabees). Daughter made her wedding dress and some of the bridesmaids dresses. We had the reception in our family room and backyard and I prepared all the food. (Something I went on to do for all of my kids' weddings.)

Next is the daughter's birthday. She is now a grandmother of five. (Can't believe it.)

My granddaughter's hubby celebrated his 27th birhday a few days ago by going to the river (just up the hill where there's a natural water slide) with his family to play, then back to our house for dinner and cake.

Next up is that granddaughter's youngest turning one. The party was in the grands' backyard--and yes, we went.

My birthday is this month too. No, I'm not going to tell you which one--I have trouble remembering which it is anyway. Don't have anything special planned--they come around too quickly.

I'm also going to have the birth of a new book at the end of the month.

Not as it Seems is the latest in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series. It's set on the Central Coast of California--Morro Bay, Los Osos, San Luis Obispo, Pismo, Nipomo, Tempe and her husband have gone to celebrat their son Blair's wedding. Yes, there is a murder, and spirits, or course. It wouldn't be a Tempe Crabtree mystery if spirits didn't make an appearance.

Marilyn Meredith

Monday, August 17, 2015

State of Hope

Phyllis A. Whitney

I am constantly looking for a writing craft book or article, organized notebook, online class, or writing conference that will bring all the elements together to make me the writer I want to be. I search the computer and scope out the writing sections of bookstores and libraries, certain the magical resource is out there if only I can locate it.

Perhaps this continuing optimism comes from the memory of discovering Phyllis A. Whitney’s books that gave me a step-by-step writing process and helped me to focus on the craft of creating a story. I will never forget my aunt giving me a copy of Whitney’s Guide to Fiction Writing (Boston, MA: The Writer, Inc., 1982) (which she bought as a selection from her book-of-the-month club). I consider it a prized possession. That gift let me know my aunt shared my vision, believed in me as an author, and supported my dream.

While some of Whitney’s advice doesn’t match the current publishing industry, other pearls of wisdom are timeless:
(1)    On why she does not need to apologize for following a “formula” for mystery writing: “Having found my niche, I’ve worked out a pattern that enables me to venture within its broad boundaries and never find myself bored.” (p. ix)

(2)    “Perhaps opportunity is like a train on an endless track. Now and then it makes a stop at your station, often without fanfare and without warning.” (p. 4)

(3)    “What you do now counts. . . . Work and wait and learn, and that train will come by. If you give up, you’ll never have a chance to climb aboard.” (p. 9)

(4)    “[W]e all write somehow – making time – and habit grows strong with practice. The challenge is always the same: How much do you want to write? Not just to be a writer, but to write.” (p. 12)

(5)    “[Y]ou must develop your own writing pattern.” (p. 12)

(6)    “[Y]ou’ll learn to use what comes, good and bad, and it will become part of whatever you are, and find its way under many disguises into your work.” (p. 13)

(7)    “[D]evelop the habit of observation and analysis.” (p. 13)

Maybe my favorite part of the book is Chapters 3 and 4, where Whitney explains how she sets up her own notebook for writing a novel. Chapter 3 covers “the Preliminaries” and proposes the following divisions for the writer’s notebook: a calendar (to measure progress); a list of potential titles; a chronology in two parts, the first listing a chapter-by-chapter summary and the second providing information about characters and story events; and a section to explore theme and situation.
In Chapter 4, she gets to “the Heart of the Matter.” The notebook sections described are for: plotting, characters, an outline, material to be checked (including matters for research as well as details to be verified), a bibliography of sources consulted, research notes, background unique and perhaps created for the novel, and a collection of potential names.
Some of the sections in Whitney’s notebook are specific for a single work while others may be continued through several works. She offers her method as a system that works for her and may be adapted by other writers to suit their practice.

The second part of Whitney’s book is about structuring a story and has chapters explaining how to deal with the beginning, middle, and end; add suspense and emotion; create intriguing characters; deal appropriately with time, transitions, and flashbacks; and revise. The shortest chapter provides advice on getting the book published.

At the end, Whitney says, “This is a book about writing. I hope it’s a book you will mark up and use – as I do my collected books on writing. I hope as well that you’ve found in it some of the encouragement we all need to keep us going.” (p. 140)
How amazing that Whitney’s voice continues to humbly reach out to future generations seeking the same type of career she achieved through hard work, persistence, and taking advantage of any luck that came her way. No wonder Whitney has been viewed not only as a grand master of the craft, but also a great supporter of the profession. She’s an incredible role model.

Have you found the “perfect” method? Are you willing to share it? Who’s your role model?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Go Set a Watchman - a Draft Not a Sequel

Go Set A Watchman – a Draft Not a Sequel by Debra H. Goldstein

Once upon a time, a book by Harper Lee titled To Kill a Mockingbird was published.  The book was tightly written, had beautiful descriptions of the people living in a small southern town, and provided a moral compass for generations of readers. Despite the awards the book won and the adoration of the public, Ms. Lee said she wouldn’t publish another book and she held true to her word until 2015 when, after the death of her sister, who also was her personal lawyer, a manuscript “discovered” in Harper Lee’s sister’s lockbox was published.

The found manuscript, Go Set A Watchman, was explained as being the original Harper Lee version that after a year of rewriting under the guidance of her editor became the To Kill a Mockingbird published in 1960. Supposedly, her then editor felt the draft manuscript was flawed but believed the parts dealing with the main character as a child with the story told from the child’s perspective were strong enough to build a book around.

The editor was right.

My disclaimer at this point:  since I began writing novels and short stories, I read differently.  Rather than reading simply for enjoyment, I can’t help taking books apart structurally.  Although Go Set A Watchman deals with events and characters after the time of To Kill a Mockingbird with flashbacks to the main character’s childhood, it is not a sequel.  It is a draft.

Repetitive passages, instances of showing not telling, point of view shifts, and even a nickname reference without establishing a set-up for it are problematic – especially since readers are so familiar with To Kill a Mockingbird.  The book isn’t bad, but it isn’t the story or even the characters associated with Mockingbird unless it is a passage dealing with the children.  Those passages are engaging. A careful reader will find many full paragraphs and partial references made to events or actions that are fleshed out in the final To Kill a Mockingbird manuscript.  Some characters are left out, others added and there are major differences between the arthritic Atticus of Watchman and his dignified characterization in Mockingbird.  Most importantly, some of the points that Harper Lee subtlety made in lines readers recall after closing the last page of To Kill a Mockingbird can only be found in long speeches or between the lines in Go Set A Watchman.

If there had been no To Kill a Mockingbird, Watchman would have been read as a first novel with little to no lasting impact.  Although Scout is a young woman in this book, to call it a sequel is a shame.  It should be read and perhaps even taught in schools as what it is --- a draft that with revision eventually became a masterpiece.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

When Characters Withhold Information

by Marjorie Brody

I usually know my characters well before I begin to write. Certainly I know what they want, what they fear, what their major flaw is, and what changes they will make in the life of the story, i.e., their character arc. But recently, I met a very stubborn protagonist. I should probably capitalize that word Stubborn. I could probably capitalize every letter of that word. STUBBORN.

I’d been working with this character for some time now and yet, it seemed she was avoiding me. I knew the secret that kicked off her adventure and kept her driven, but it seemed as if something was missing. That there was something deeper going on—the secret beneath the secret—and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure it out. And I needed to figure it out in order to create the emotional impact I desired with the story.

I decided to interview her.

Interviewing characters is not an uncommon practice for authors. The author asks the character questions about his or her personality, and/or desires, and/or anything story related—or not story related. The process allows the author’s subconscious to surface and reveal important information not previously known. It’s not a technique I’ve had to use often, but I was tired of this particular character giving me the slip. She knew something I didn’t and, by heaven, I was going to force it out of her. After all, didn’t I have a right to know her deepest, darkest, most self-protected secret if I was going to write her story? Didn’t she owe me an explanation? I was her creator, for crying out loud.

So, I asked her what she really wanted, really, really wanted and pushed her to go beneath the surface. I confronted her about why she was not allowing me to understand her at the level I needed in order to complete the story. What happened surprised me.

She accused me of probing where I had no business probing and challenged me with, “You ever think maybe I don’t want my story made public?” Which naturally had me ask why she didn’t want people to know her story, what was she afraid of? To which she went on the attack stating she wanted to forget her past and I had no right to force her to remember.

Standoff time.

I’d invested so much time on this character. How dare she. I mean, the story was powerful as it was, but I wanted to move it to another, more profound, level. And this character was holding out on me, I just knew it.

I threatened to get a new protagonist if she didn’t cooperate.

She attacked my goal for writing this story. Then attacked my most vulnerable writing insecurity.

I accused her of being mean and hitting below the belt.

She accused me of not facing the fact that maybe she was mean. Deep-down. A lot meaner than I’d ever imagined. “You willing to write about me now?”

To prove her point, she tossed out a grenade that blew me off my feet: somebody else killed the antagonist.

For those of you who are writers, you understand the implication of this revelation. The protagonist, and only the protagonist, is allowed to defeat the antagonist.

My character was forcing me to rewrite the entire story.

I told my character that I’d get back to her in the morning, but I let a week of passive-aggressive avoidance go by. I simmered with her revelation. And then I understood. My character did give me what I asked of her. The secret under her secret was that she believed someone else killed the protagonist. So whoa, baby. Do I have a surprise for her. Let her think what she wants. I’ll show her who’s the story master.

So, lessons learned. My characters can help me write their stories. And, I can be as STUBBORN as they.

What happens when characters hold out on you? In what ways do you allow your characters to tap into your subconscious?

Marjorie Brody is an award-winning author and Pushcart Prize Nominee. Her short stories appear in literary magazines and the Short Story America Anthology, Vols. I, II and III. Her debut psychological suspense novel, TWISTED, was awarded an Honorable Mention at the 2013 Great Midwest Book Festival and won the Texas Association of Authors 2014 Best Young Adult Fiction Book Award. TWISTED is available in digital and print at or invites you to visit her at

Sunday, August 9, 2015

That 70s Vibe...

Is it research or inspiration? Things I’ve found 'researching' the seventies for the Country Club Murders:

This quote: A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle – attributed to both Gloria Steinem and Irina Dunn. Because my books are set in the United States, if I use it (when I use it) I’ll give Steinem credit.

This advertisement: 

There are so many things wrong. As a mother I object to the cigarette, the lack of brassiere and a young girl seeing Last Tango in Paris (a movie in which a young woman enters into an abusive, anonymous relationship with a broken man twice her age is not really the best thing for a girl to watch). That said, there are worse ads...

There are no words...

This carpet: 

Apparently it needed to be raked. *shudder*

This website: The Jewel Box.  Given all the discussion of transgender living of late, I thought it was fascinating.

This song: 

A bit of trivia—Janis Ian was the first musical guest on Saturday Night Live on October 11, 1975.

This museum: 

A Kansas City treasure. Corinthian Hall was built as a private home.

This dress: 

Introduced in 1974, Diane Von Furstenberg's wrap dress has stood the test of time.

Feeling nostalgic? The Deep End is available now. Guaranteed to Bleed will release October 13, 2015. Clouds in my Coffee will be available in 2016.

Julie Mulhern is a Kansas City native who grew up on a steady diet of Agatha Christie. She spends her spare time whipping up gourmet meals for her family, working out at the gym and finding new ways to keep her house spotlessly clean--and she's got an active imagination. Truth is--she's an expert at calling for take-out, she grumbles about walking the dog and the dust bunnies under the bed have grown into dust lions. 

Her first romance was a finalist in the 2014 Golden Heart® contest. That book, A Haunting Desire, released July 28, 2015.

Julie also writes mysteries. The Deep End (available now) is her first mystery and is the winner of The Sheila Award. Look for book two, Guaranteed to Bleed, October 13, 2015.

Visit her at

Thursday, August 6, 2015

How We Spend Our Time

Sparkle Abbey welcomes Lori Rader-Day

Today we're thrilled to welcome our friend, the brilliant, talented, and award-winning author, Lori Rader-Day who shares her thoughts on how we spend our time. 

Take it away, Lori...

Big news. I have all the time there is. I’m newly out on my own as a full-time writer for a while and now I’m considering the ways in which a break from the 9-to-5 grind might be used to its fullest potential.

Do I set off on a multi-state bookstore tour?

Do I offer to visit every library in the state?

Do I visit all the friends I haven’t seen in two or more years, ever since I’ve had to start using all my day-job vacation time for book conferences and such?

*deep breath*

There’s a certain itching panic involved in realizing you could do WHATEVER THE HECK YOU WANT. That you have, for possibly the first time ever, the time to focus on making your dreams come true.

I should be doing. I should be going. I should teach here, speak there, offer this, volunteer that.

And yet—what did I want from this time so much that I made the leap in the first place? What was so important to me?

I wanted the time from my time. And not time for more promotions or more blog posts (with apologies to Sparkle Abbey, for hosting me today). Time for writing.

So. Writers retreats. Should I apply for a two-week residency somewhere? I’ve never had two weeks to rub together before. It’s attractive—coming off two years without a vacation, though, I wonder if I would panic at that vast amount of alone time.

A few of my friends have taken mini-retreats to write. Book a hotel room, get away for a day or two, scribble. That sounds pretty good, too, and less of a commitment. But am I the only person who’s stayed in a hotel recently? They don’t exactly inspire me, and sometimes you get neighbors who have booked a hotel room for distinctly different pleasures than silence. Ahem.

What I want to do is create a daily retreat practice at home, based in reality and therefore perhaps more sustainable over the time I have off work and into whatever I do in the future. I know it’s crazy, but I like my husband and dog. I don’t want to spend two weeks away from them. I want to do the morning dog walk and then take my husband away from his desk for dinner. Instead of escaping from my life, what I want to do is escape into it—live it deeply and with an attention that I haven’t had in a while. Instead of retreating, actually, I want to charge forward.

So? No solutions here. Only thoughts that haven’t quite coalesced into a plan. If anyone has ideas on how to make the best use of time—golden, precious time—leave a comment. I’d love to know how you used your time best or would spend a few months of freedom if you got the chance.

By the way, thanks for spending the time you have on this post. Anne Dillard said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” We all just want to spend our days, our hours, our minutes on things that matter. I wish that for everyone.

Thanks so much for stopping by today, Lori. And readers, please be sure to check out Lori's latest book Little Pretty Things. Kirkus Reviews says: “Rader-Day…writes absorbingly.” 

We agree!

Lori Rader-Day’s debut mystery, The Black Hour (Seventh Street Books, 2014), received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal and was a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. Her second mystery, Little Pretty Things, is out now. Her short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Time Out Chicago, Good Housekeeping, and others. She lives in Chicago with her husband and spoiled dog and is active in the Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter and a member of Sisters in Crime and International Thriller Writers.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Why I Love to Read

By Kay Kendall

I can’t recall a time when I didn’t love to lose myself in books. Reading is so much a part of me that I take it for granted—like breathing, sleeping, eating.

If you take something for granted, then you usually never stop to question why you are doing that activity. Certainly that was true for me and my passion for books for the longest time. Lately, however, I’ve wondered why I developed this habit of avid reading. Why books and not something else? And to say merely that I ENJOY books and that’s why I read begs the question.
Then the question becomes this instead: Why do I enjoy reading?
Some people have calm, placid minds. I do not. My mind hops around from subject to subject, questioning what it notices, absorbing everything and wanting to learn more. When nothing is going on around me, then I spin stories. This also was true for me as long as I can remember.
I was an only child and had to run outside to find playmates. As a member of the baby boom generation, I had plenty of other children nearby and was fortunate in that regard. However, when I was forced to take an hour-long nap every afternoon during the summer, I never slept. I was always so bored and entertained myself making up stories to while away the time.
Compared with diversions available to children these days, I didn’t have many. My home lacked a television set until I was eight years old. However, there were plenty of books. My parents read constantly and gave me books to read. I suppose my mother must have read to me initially, but I must confess that I can’t recall back that far. Both sets of my grandparents gave me books, but as to which came first, those gifts or being given books because I showed interest in them, I cannot say. The Carnegie Library was my home away from home.
What I do recall is escaping into other worlds when I read. I consumed books like candy. I was hungry for escape and entertainment and learning. I have always loved learning new things—mostly about people, not so much about science and technical things. I wanted to learn about all the people in the world and how they differed and what made them so.
My Kansas hometown of 12,000 people was too small for me. I wanted to learn about the whole wide world. By default, Dallas, Texas, became my mecca as we motored there several times a year to see my paternal grandparents. They were also keen readers. Perhaps reading was a part of my DNA. My Texas grandparents kept every issue of The National Geographic that entered their home over the course of many decades, and their set of Harvard Classics lives today in my own living room.
Some of my childhood friends still love to read too, but others never did and don’t now. This difference puzzled me for some time, but these days, when I look at next-door neighbors and see how little the parents read, I surmise that their children won’t become readers either. I don’t see magazines or books in their home, and I’ve been going over there for more than a decade, so I should know. The two children appear to read only when they’re doing their homework or playing games on iPods. They get lost in their digital world the way I used to get lost in my literary one and still do.
Maybe that is the reason for the big difference right there. What your parents do informs who you are. For example, my son and his wife (an English major in college and now a technical editor) are raising my two grandchildren in a home stuffed with books. My daughter-in-law read to their first child almost from the moment he was born. He taught himself to read by the age of four and now at age seven tears through at least three books a week. To protect the family budget, an E-reader was purchased in order to keep the costs down of supplying my grandson with books to read. His online wish list always holds at least twenty books.
In the end, I am not sure I have answered my own question—why I love to read—but I am sure of one thing. This love of mine has already gone on to the next two generations. And I am content.
(In my next piece on the Stiletto Gang blog, I will consider why “experts say” reading is good for us.)
Kay Kendall is a long-time fan of historical novels and writes atmospheric mysteries that capture the spirit and turbulence of the sixties. She is a reformed PR executive who lives in Texas with her husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Terribly allergic to her bunnies, she loves them anyway! Her book titles show she's a Bob Dylan buff too. RAINY DAY WOMEN published on July 7--the second in her Austin Starr Mystery series. The audio-book will be out soon.