Archive by Author

What Can You Find in the Quiet Place?

22 Sep

Readers often ask where writers find their ideas. I don’t think I am alone in saying I do not come up with ideas when sitting in front of a computer. Creativity does not come from a busy place. It comes from a quiet place. Finding a quiet place in a busy twenty-first century life can be a challenge, but it is essential for any creative person. In fact, quiet time is essential for anyone.

For me, quiet time does not mean sitting alone staring out the window, although that can be relaxing at times. It means turning off the input from the outside world.

Sometimes a repetitive activity, something that keeps the hands busy, can serve as a mind quieter. I realized this recently when I was attending a knitting class. In a room of about a dozen women, there was silence as we followed the pattern for cable knitting. As I concentrated, my mind shifted to a story I am working on, and the stitches and the motion of my hands helped me with the pattern of the plot in my story.

I found discovered a few other strategies to achieve quiet in a busy day. Some of them are: no radio in the car in the morning, walks around my neighborhood (no earphones!), cooking, playing the piano, and yoga. And a shower or a soak in the tub relaxes the body and the mind.

So take some time out and stare at the sky. It really is an amazing shade of blue here today! And you never know what useful and fun ideas will pop into your brain!

Happy daydreaming!

Blog Hopping for The Writer’s Process

14 Jul

I’m doing a question and answer session today for The Writer’s Process blog. It is a little introduction to my writing, and those of you who know me may learn something about me you didn’t know before. I would love to read your comments!

What am I working on/writing?
I am currently working on a YA historical fantasy set in England in the early thirteenth century, tentatively titled Magic Words. It centers around the royal treasure that was lost by King John in the Wash, an arm of the North Sea along the coast of England. My main character is a young girl with magical powers whose family may have something to do with the location of the treasure, but of course because of her powers, she is accused of witchcraft and is running for her life. I chose the subject of the lost treasure because it truly is a historical mystery. The treasure was lost in 1216, and no trace of it was ever found, although treasure hunters have certainly looked for it.
I have the rough draft of the story finished, and now I am revising and verifying the historical facts that can be verified. This is the first YA story that I have attempted, and I am quite excited about it.

How does my writing/work differ from others in its genre?
Although Magic Words is my first YA novel, it is similar to my other novels in that three out of the four are set in Britain. The fourth is set on a fictional island in the Caribbean. I get my best story ideas while I am traveling, and setting is very important to me both as a reader and a writer. The story grows out of the setting, and the setting is as much a part of the story as any character.
I write the kind of stories that I like to read, and that usually involves a foreign country and maybe a time set in the past.

Why do I write what I do?
I have been fascinated by British culture and history since I was a small child. When I was five or six years old I had a scrapbook where I pasted photos of the British royal family that I found in newspapers and magazines. I played “princess,” but a real princess, and I learned about the history of the royal family. As I grew older, I continued to follow the royal family, but I also studied British history and read every historical novel set in Britain that I could get my hands on. I taught history at the high school level for several years, and eventually traveled to Britain. I have been there several times now, including spending two weeks in Wales at writing retreats, and I never tire of it.
I was also inspired by the mysteries of Elizabeth George, an American writer who sets her novels in Britain. I admire her attention to detail and knowledge of present day Britain and their criminal justice system.

How does my writing process work?
As I said before, setting is very important to me. I usually start with a character in a scene, in a specific setting. Once I have this germ of a story written down, I think about what I want to happen with the character, and so give myself a direction with the story. I find outlines too rigid, and I don’t stick with them because I come up with other ideas as I write, but I do have a direction in my mind where I want the story to go. I sometimes write sketches of the main characters to flesh them out and learn about their personalities and how they handle situations. I keep track of the characters on a chart or list, because they tend to go off in unexpected directions, or pop up in a scene where I didn’t plan on them appearing.
Once my rough draft is finished, I go back and tighten and clarify the story, add color, and verify facts and historical details. I don’t try to do all my research before I start writing, but it is very important to have historical and geographical details accurate.
Writing the rough draft is the easiest part, because I can just let my imagination flow. I have even worked on rough drafts while walking around the classroom when I was substitute teaching. Revising takes more concentration and focus.

This is how I write. I would love to answer questions or respond to comments.

Who Loves Lady MacBeth?

23 Jun

 

Writers often create characters who are not likeable, to serve as foils or antagonists for the main characters. These antagonists exhibit qualities in opposition to the main characters in order to create conflict. Readers love an evil character. Think of the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz. We love to have someone to cheer against and hope for a demise appropriate to their state of badness.

As a writer, it is fun to create a “bad” character. There is a kind of evil “bitchiness” that comes out in characters who do and say things that I would never do. I have heard the same said by actors who enjoy playing evil roles like Lady MacBeth. There is something very satisfying in the complexity of a negative character. Few people are truly evil, and the “good” people and characters have a little of the dark side hidden away,too.

Then there are some books whose characters are not likeable at all, but that still convey an important theme or idea. The Great Gatsby is one that springs to mind. None of the characters is a nice person, except maybe for Nick Carroway, the narrator, who may have gone on in life to be a good person, but the book contains an important message about materialism and selfishness.

All in all, writers want their readers to either love or hate their characters enough to care about what what happens to them, whether they survive and succeed, die a horrible death, or something in between. That is what makes a story. And even then, sometimes, the “good” don’t come out on top, and the “bad” are not punished enough for our liking. That’s life.

In my latest book, Hotel Saint Clare, I loved writing the character Crystal. While she is not 100% evil, she is a character I loved to hate.

Can you read a book in which the main character is unlikeable? Have you put a book down because you just didn’t like the characters?

Never Say Never

5 May

If you have read my first two novels, you are familiar with Nara Blake, the protagonist in both The Gate House and Lydia’s Story.

In my new novel, due out this summer, we go back to Nara’s experiences in the fictional Caribbean nation of Saint Clare. In a sense, since the other books came out first, Hotel Saint Clare is Nara’s memories of her life on the islands before she moved to England.

In Hotel Saint Clare, Nara insists that she will never leave the islands, that she is tied there through emotional and spiritual bonds, and could never live anywhere else. But she does leave. In The Gate House and Lydia’s Story we see how she broke that promise when her father became ill and they moved to England, where she discovered a connection to a new place through her father’s side of the family.

It reminds me of the saying, “Never say never.” As soon as I make a commitment to myself that I will never do something, or never do it again, I realize that that is just what I need to do now. More than once during my career as a high school teacher, I moved temporarily to another type of work and swore I would not go back to teaching, but I did, and it wasn’t just for financial reasons. I thought I would not get married again, but I did. I thought my move to Costa Rica was a permanent one, but after seven years, here I am in Pennsylvania.

Maybe Nara and I have both learned that life has a way of opening and closing doors in unexpected ways. Nara, the girl of the islands, ends up in England. And I could end up where I started — in the Midwest. Never say never.

Because everyone likes to eat, here is a link to a recipe for “rice and beans,” Caribbean-style. This is traditional on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, but I think the people of Saint Clare would enjoy it, too.

 

Caribbean rice and beans

Caribbean rice and beans

Aside

How About a Slice of Papaya Bread?

18 Mar

Blue-Lizards-Papaya-Loreto-BCS-1-550x412

In my first novel, The Gate House, Nara laments the lack of tropical fruit as she prepares a typical English breakfast at her aunt’s bed and breakfast. I lived in Costa Rica for seven years, where I, too, learned to appreciate the huge variety of exotic fruits available year round.
 
Although Nara’s home, St. Clare, is a fictional island country in the Caribbean, the foods she enjoys are very typical of the tropics. I have enjoyed many fresh fruits, both whole and in smoothies (known as “refrescos” in Costa Rica) during my time there. One of the most common is papaya, and I don’t mean the small Hawaiian variety.
 
Papayas in Central American and the Caribbean can be as long as twenty inches, and their sweetness is indescribable. They are cheap and available everywhere, from supermarkets to small produce stands on the street. A main ingredient in a fruit salad or on a lunch plate, they also make a great smoothie with milk. Although not a traditional recipe, the following recipe for papaya bread is moist and delicious. It will work with either type of papaya, just make sure it’s ripe.
 

Papaya Bread

Cream together until light: 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup butter

Add and beat until fluffy: 2 eggs

Add: 1 cup mashed ripe papaya, 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, 1/2 cup raisins

Sift together: 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/4 tsp. baking powder, tsp. soda, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. allspice, 1/2 tsp. ground ginger.

Add flour mixture to butter mixture. Pour batter into greased and floured 9×5 loaf pan.

Bake at 325 degrees for about 1 hour 5 minutes.

 
 
In my new novel, Hotel St. Clare, which is due out in the summer, you will see what Nara was doing in the islands before she and her father moved to England. She was a girl of the tropics, walking barefoot on the beach and eating fresh fruits with rice and beans. No wonder she had difficulty adjusting to life in England!
 

A Good Book I’ve Read Lately

13 Feb

Every once in a while I like to post a review of a book I have enjoyed. Murder in Thrall by Anne Cleeland is in one of my favorite genres, a British detective novel, but with a twist. This is my review that was published in Suspense Magazine. I recommend it.

Rookie detective Kathleen Doyle is paired up with renowned Chief Inspector Michael Sinclair ( Lord Acton) in a Scotland Yard mystery that quickly becomes personal for both detectives. Doyle possesses an uncanny ability to detect when a person is lying, and Sinclair relies on her abilities even as he is falling in love with the red-haired Irish woman. He is something of an enigma himself, with a reputation for solving the most difficult of crimes while remaining aloof from his fellow officers. When one of their prime witnesses is murdered, Doyle and Acton find themselves increasingly in the eye of the killer, and the Chief Inspector endeavors to protect his partner for his own romantic reasons, while she struggles to do her job, and keep their relationship a secret from other members of the force.

Each chapter begins with Sinclair’s thoughts about Doyle, leading the reader to wonder if his interest is genuine, or if is he stalking her for nefarious reasons. As one murder follows another, Doyle struggles to prove her abilities as a rookie detective, but everyone in her department at Scotland Yard defers to Acton, and she can only follow his instructions, both to keep their relationship a secret from their professional associates and to protect Doyle’s life.

Author Anne Cleeland unfolds the story in an unexpected manner. The snippets at the beginnings of each chapter give insight into Acton’s mind and growing feelings for Doyle, and also increase the tension of the plot. As the author slowly reveals Doyle’s impoverished childhood in Dublin, she takes on depth as a human being with all the worries and uncertainties and life. When the killer is finally identified, it is totally unexpected. The test of a good book is always how much one thinks about the characters when the book is done, and I am still wondering what would happen next. I look forward to more Acton and Doyle Scotland Yard mysteries.

A Full English Breakfast with Variations

25 Jan

On the first page of my novel The Gate House, the main character, Nara, bemoans having to prepare a full English breakfast at her aunt’s bed and breakfast. If you have not had the opportunity tuck into one of these artery clogging delights, I will describe it for you.

A full English breakfast consists of thick British back bacon, eggs, sausage, baked beans, tomato, mushrooms and toast. Just so you don’t have the impression that the tomato and mushrooms add a healthy touch to the meal, these are cooked in the frying pan in the grease left from the bacon and sausages, hence another name for these concoction, the fry-up.

There are many regional variations in England itself, before moving on to Scotland and Ireland. Every region has its own sausage and bacon, and chips (French fries) are often included. In the north of England, as well as Scotland, you will likely find a slice of black pudding on your plate. The Irish prefer white pudding (same as black pudding but without the blood), and a slice of thick brown bread. The bread is the best part of the whole deal in my opinion.

In my travels around the British Isles, I have learned to order only a part of an English breakfast, if at all. Scrambled eggs, toast, maybe a sausage. Or eggs, toast, tomato and mushrooms. I first encountered a Scottish breakfast in a bed and breakfast in Lincolnshire. It was the original Gate House, for which my book is named. The proprietor, who was Scottish, prepared the whole meal for us, including the black pudding, which I passed on. By the time I reached Ireland, I had learned to order only portions of the meal, but I do love that brown bread. I also learned that in Ireland, and probably Scotland too, I could order porridge (oatmeal) and clean out my arteries once in a while.

My character Nara, who grew up in the Caribbean, craved the fresh fruits of the islands. She has my tastes.

 

In my

 

The “Nature” of Setting

17 Jan

Image

I have always wondered how a person’s surrounding affect they way they live. How is it different to grow up on the flat land of Illinois in the midst of corn fields and soy beans, compared to a city overlooked by an ancient castle (Edinburgh, Scotland), or the lushness of tropical trees and flowers. Different people react in different ways to their childhood environment, and I am not sure it has anything to do with whether or not a childhood was happy. I had a very happy childhood in Illinois in the midst of the corn fields, but I have no desire to go back there, and neither do my brothers. We were always taught to think big, dream big and explore the world, and we have done just that. Illinois is where I am from, not where I am.

In my latest Nara book, tentatively titled Hotel St. Clare, which is actually the beginning of her story, we go back to the island country of St. Clare, where she grew up, and will see how her island upbringing helped to shape her personality and character. At that time, and at the beginning of The Gate House, Nara had very strong ties to St. Clare and life on the islands. But circumstances and people change, and perhaps if she returned, it would not be the same. By the end of Lydia’s Story, how would she feel?

What do you think? I would love to hear how other people have been shaped, or not, by the place where they grew up.

 

One Strip of Lace, Ninety-six Years Old

15 Oct

I consider myself an organized person — make that very organized. I usually plan menus for the week and go to the grocery store with a list. I make daily to-do lists. I keep up on car maintenance (and don’t you dare leave trash in my car), go to the dentist twice a year, and make detailed lists when I am getting ready to travel. But like everyone, I have numerous projects lying around the house, or floating around in my consciousness, that I would like to do. I am much better at checking off things like “pack up Hawaiian shirt and mail to brother” than I am at tackling the giant ongoing projects, although I have a list of them, too. Some of the residents of that list are: organize photographs (most unpleasant task I can think of), scan Dad’s old slides, do something with Mom’s letters from the 1940s, practice piano, clean butcher block counter top, put things in frames that should be in frames. Ouch! Too much! And that doesn’t even include writing.

I have not solved this problem, although part of the problem may be that I try to do everything. I like to bake. I grow herbs on my deck. I knit. I read — a lot. But when I feel overwhelmed, my solution is to to knock off Imagesmall bits of things. I just wrote 100 words. That isn’t much, but I wrote. Even a small bit of an important project will bring me back to it. I will think about it as I go about the rest of my day.

This brings me back to the ninety-six year old strip of lace. This strip was the bottom of my dad’s christening gown in 1917. I have no idea what happened to the rest of the gown, but the strip of lace was in my parents’ house after my mom passed away a few years ago. It is now in my house, hanging over the back of a chair in my office, where I can see it and remember I need to do something with it. My goal is to buy a floating frame for it and hang it on the wall. I just have to get to a store and buy the frame. It’s on my list.

 

Keeping in Touch

2 Aug

However much we may complain about FaceBook and other social media, for someone who has moved around as much as I have, it has been a Godsend for keeping in touch, and reestablishing contact, with old friends, and especially former students.
I have taught high school English and social studies in four states as well as international schools in Costa Rica, and I have former students and colleagues around the globe.
Recently two former students, one from the US and one from Taiwan, posted articles that were so great I had to pass them on. I am providing the links here, in case you missed them on FaceBook. And thanks again to Summer and Ping-Ya!
It always pays to keep in touch.

10 Myths about Introverts
The Only 12 1/2 Writing Rules You’ll Ever Need

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 802 other followers