Archive by Author

It’s About the Senses

26 Aug

Barcelona is all about the senses. On my first trips to Europe over twenty years ago, the streets smelled of exhaust fumes. One whiff told me I was in Europe. No more. The air is cleaner. I walk down the Passaig de Gracia in Barcelona and inhale the freshness of bread baking, meat grilling, and the overwhelming aroma of perfume from the air conditioned confines of department stores. My senses come alive. My eyes rejoice at the sight of La Pedrada, one of Gaudí’s masterpieces, but I pause only to take a photo of a French woman who wants a memento of her visit to this remarkable building. I am on my way to a very special coffee shop, Café Onna, owned by a friend from Costa Rica. I cross the Diagonal and turn right, then left down a tiny street called Carrer de Santa Teresa, and on my right I see a man standing at a high table sipping coffee. I have found Café Onna.

I introduce myself, and as I wait for my friend who owns the shop to arrive, I savor the warmth of my café con leche along with a tuna sandwich that is nothing like your mom’s tuna salad, and begin one of the best days of the trip, maybe of my life.

My friend Anahí is a vibrant, passionate young woman . Her dark eyes sparkle with enthusiasm for her work, her coffee, and her family. She is focused, but has time for friends. She invites me to go with her to a restaurant near the port area of Barcelona to deliver bags of her freshly roasted coffee. I help her carry the fragrant cargo up the street to the corner where we hail a taxi. The driver helps us to stow the coffee in the trunk and we are off across the city. Anahí never stops talking about her plans, her excitement about what she does, her two teenage sons. She tells me how she does not supply her Costa Rican coffee to just any restaurant. Oh no! It has to be one that appreciates the attention and love she gives to the beans she imports from the farms in the Central American mountains. She nurtures the process beginning with visits to the farmers who grow the beans, all the way to her custom roasting and brewing. We arrive at Box Social, a trendy new restaurant in a boutique hotel near Barcelona’s port. After greetings with kisses on both cheeks, the Spanish way, we settle down to order lunch. It begins with a tomato salad, made with succulent tomatoes called “cor de bou,” Catalan for “heart of ox.” The tomatoes grow large but not entirely red, and exude a juicy tomato essence I have rarely tasted. For the main course, Anahí chooses fish with a green pea sauce, and I order chicken with grilled vegetables. Time passes quickly as we linger over our lunch. Why hurry? Our conversation is mostly about what we are eating, the flavors and how they are blended and contrasted to tempt the palate. Anahí is intrigued by the tiny green leaves that garnish her fish. Some kind of herb, but what is it? I have grown herbs in pots on my deck for years, and am familiar with most of the common ones used in the kitchen, but I don’t know this one, nor does anyone in the restaurant seem to know. The chef, apparently, is not available. I take a photo and post it on Facebook. Soon a friend with a Costa Rican connection identifies it. It is rue, or “ruda” in Spanish. I have never seen it used in cooking, and it has a taste reminiscent of coconut. Delicious!

cor de bou tomato

cor de bou tomato

tomato salad

tomato salad

After dessert, fresh melon for me, and a “cortado,” (similar to a caffé macchiato, where a small amount of warm milk is added to an espresso) we go up to the roof to explore the garden, which is lovingly tended by another young woman from Costa Rica. Vegetables, herbs, and flowers grow happily in pots, shaded from the hot Spanish sun. We are surrounded by apartment buildings, where clothes hang drying on lines in the sun. (Why is this considered unacceptable in many U.S. neighborhoods?) The hotel was designed to fit in with the working class neighborhood it occupies, and it seems to be comfortable in its place.

On our walk to the Metro stop (no coffee to carry now, so no taxi splurge), Anahí points out sights along the way. We pass El Molino, the Barcelona counterpart to Paris’s Moulin Rouge. And we talk about our senses, about awareness. She tells me that she has always been sensitive to smells, tastes, and tactile sensations. That is what makes her an exceptional coffee roaster and brewer. But more than that, it is her passion.

A few days later, after my husband arrives, we make plans to meet her at her coffee roaster to watch the process. We arrive shortly before 10 a.m., early in the morning by Spanish standards. Raw beans, shipped from Costa Rica, are loaded into the hopper of the machine. Soon the fragrant beans spill out into a circular bin where a long metal arm stirs them to cool. She talks about how different beans behave differently in the roaster, and how the weather can affect the roasting. It has been a particularly hot summer in Barcelona, and this is a factor. She will not sell or serve an inferior coffee. Anahí and her assistant check the color and sniff the beans, and from the smiles on their faces, I can see that it is a joyful process. A few beans that emerge the wrong color are discarded. The process is constantly evaluated. The beans must not roast too quickly or too slowly.

IMG_1981

Finally we leave, with plans to meet for dinner, and bags of coffee beans to take home. I feel energized by my coffee friend. I sense her ability to be “in the moment” with her coffee.

We return to Café Onna again the day before we are due to fly home. It is another sweltering day, and after our walk from the Metro stop, we are ready for a cold coffee beverage. “I’ll make you something special,” she says with a smile. We watch the process. Tonic water and a slice of lemon over ice in a small glass. Then we are each handed two small bottles of cold brew coffee concentrate. “You can use one, but I recommend both,” she adds. We pour in both and watch the coffee sink into the tonic water. Unbelievably refreshing! My husband has another, but concerned about the caffeine and an early flight the next morning, I make do with one. As we say goodbye, she presses a small package into our hands, rosemary polenta cake, her mother’s recipe, for our breakfast before we leave for the airport.

Somehow this experience of the senses has made me more aware, not just of my own five senses, but of something inside myself. It is through the senses that I reach the person I am. I am more than a writer sitting at a keyboard. My words come not just from my brain, from the years of reading, writing, listening to advice, revising. Through my senses, my best writing comes from my heart.

I did not spend my entire Spain trip in the city of Barcelona. The real purpose of the trip was to attend a writing retreat at L’Avenç, a retreat center up in the Pyrenees about two hours from Barcelona. Although I have tied the two experiences together with the five senses, I cannot combine them into one post.

Please watch for my next blog post, “Writing at L’Avenç.”

When an Author Has an Urge for Something Different

30 Jun

“I love your books! When is the next one coming out?” Music to a writer’s ears, to be sure.

But what happens when a writer has the urge to write something different than her previous novels? Maybe a different genre, a stand-alone that is not part of an established series, or a young adult novel when the previous ones have been aimed at adults. Will her audience stick with her and her new adventure? Will she find new readers?

I am about to find out. The novel I am currently working on is a departure from my first three which were all mysteries involving Nara Blake, an adventurous young woman from the fictional Caribbean island of Saint Clare.

I am now on about the third revision of a completely different type of novel. Different audience — young adult. Different genre — historical fantasy. The two consistent characteristics are the connection to authentic facts in British history (as I did in Lydia’s Story), and a strong female protagonist.

Without giving too much away, I will tell you that I have taken some historical events of thirteenth century England and created a parallel magic world that explains some of the mysteries surrounding these events. I just can’t get away from the mysteries! Creating a world for a fantasy novel has been great fun as well as challenging. On the one hand, I have the freedom to let my imagination run wild. What if I could slip through a secret doorway and emerge in a castle and in another century? At the same time, a new world needs rules. If magical people can slip from one century to the next, how much do they know about each time and place?

These are complicated questions, but fun to exercise the freedom of working it out. As I have told my students, writing is exercise for the brain, and brains need workouts just like bodies do.

Many well known writers have been criticized for writing novels outside of their established mold. J.K. Rowling will forever be known as the creator of Harry Potter and his magical world, no matter what else she attempts as a writer. John Steinbeck endured criticism for not writing a follow-up to The Grapes of Wrath. And while I don’t place myself in either of their categories, I understand the fine line between pleasing an audience and exercising my creativity, which is what led me to write in the first place.

And if you love Nara and her adventures in my first three books, I am planning another one, which will probably take her to Spain to solve another mystery involving art.

The Value of Color

2 Mar

“I Think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” Alice Walker

image imageMarket in Granada, Spain

Our eyes are drawn to color. Visual color attracts us and demands our attention. Like a magnet, it pulls us in. Advertisers and film makers know the value of color, or lack of color, to create the effect or reaction they desire. Steven Spielberg created an unforgettable image in Schindler’s List with the little girl in the red coat. Separated from her family, she instinctively runs to escape the Nazi soldiers. The next time we see her, the red coat tells us without question that she has failed.

Creating color in a piece of writing demands that the writer evoke the same intense images through black and white words on a page. Often what a writer refers to as color involves more than visual sense. If I were to attempt to describe the photos above from the market in Granada, I would draw on my memories of the shop, the smells of spices, fruits, teas as I walked from bin to bin, the sounds of Spanish and Arabic, and the company of my brother as we explored together.

On this gray March day, I challenge you, readers and fellows writers, to look for the color in your day. And don’t limit yourself to visual color. Color is really about intensity. So look for intensity the wakes up your senses. Be aware of the smells, sounds (think colorful music), tastes, touches, and sights that add color to your life.

i would love to hear what you discover.

Starting the Whole Dang Process over Again

3 Jan

Llieda dungeon3

A dungeon in Lleida, Catalonia, Spain. Might work it into a new novel.

Beginning a new novel is both exhilarating and scary. I enjoy the new ideas for plot details, setting, and characters that pop willy-nilly into my brain. Old characters poke their heads in to say, “Can I be in this one? You said it was a series.” Another says, “I’ll do one more. So you can kill me off in this one.” Then a new character comes in with “Hi there! I’m a little crazy, but I would fit right in with your story. Some of your characters are way too serious!” And I can’t forget the ones who speak to me in a foreign language, begging me to set the story in their home country. “ịHola! Soy de españa y mi pais es muy bueno. Venga aquí!”

Out of these bits of inspiration, if I can call it that, I begin to see the barest outline of a plot. And I say yes to that little voice from Spain. I will set the story at least partially in Spain, Aragon, to be precise. And just in case you are wondering, Nara Blake, Alex Collier, and Lily Carrington, all of whom appeared in The Gate House and Lydia’s Story, will be back. But I have a lot of writing to do before my readers will be able to see what these three are up to in Spain. And is Nara ever going to marry Alex?

The last few days I have been brainstorming and writing down ideas for plot as they pop into my head. My next step was to do some preliminary research. The Gate House and Lydia’s Story both had to do with art theft. My new novel also makes use of that theme. I am looking for a connection between Britain and Spain through art, and I think I have found a link.

I have made a preliminary outline, even though I am not generally a maker of outlines, but I thought this time I would give it a try and see if it would make the process any easier.

As I create the story, I will spend as much time staring into space as putting words down at the computer. But as a dear friend of mine knows, “staring time” is essential for writers, teachers and anyone who is trying to get through the day with their sanity intact.

Try taking a “staring break” today. You will feel better for it.

‘Twas the Day after Christmas

26 Dec

East Coast Pink DogwoodSpring is on the way!

Now that the frenzy of Christmas shopping, cooking, and eating has died down to eating leftovers, making returns and wondering how I could possibly have eaten so much the last few weeks, the end of the year turns into a “pause and reflect” time for me.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. That seems like an artificial endeavor to me. But I do take time to think about the person I am, and what changes I want to make in the coming year. I think it has more to do with the winter solstice than the the holidays that are celebrated this time of year, and the end of the Gregorian calendar. It isn’t noticeable just yet, but little by little, we will see more sunlight every day. We are on our way toward spring.

My coming year is already filled up with plans. I will travel to Costa Rica the end of January, a commitment I made to myself last year to escape some of the Pennsylvania winter. I can’t see that my character is improved at all by scraping ice off the windshield at 7 a.m. to go substitute teach. Our son is getting married in June, so that will mean a trip to Los Angeles and a big family reunion. And I am hoping to go to Spain on a writing retreat in July. Did you guess that I love to travel?

And oh, yes! I have more writing projects than I can handle! But then, I have also been a multi-tasker. I like to have several projects in various stages of development. No linear thinking for me. I have a rough draft of a historical fantasy novel that needs to be taken to the next level, and I am brainstorming plot ideas for a new “Nara” novel.

It’s beginning to sound like a fun year! I’m sure I will be thrown off track more than once, and there will be surprises of all kinds along the way, but that is what makes life interesting.

Food, Drink, and Travel

19 Dec

DSCN4028

Fresh squeezed pomegranate juice!

On a recent trip to Israel, my husband and I had an opportunity to stroll through the Turkish market in Akka, or Akkó. After running into a falafal restaurant to escape a rainstorm, we found fellow travelers from Peru, and enjoyed our lunch with a Spanish conversation. We parted ways and headed into the market to explore. The sights, sounds and smells drew us deeper into the ancient narrow streets.

Stalls were piled high with fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, spices and more.

exploring is thirsty work, and we soon stopped for fresh squeezed pomegranate juice. What a thrill to see he vendor slice off the top of the fruit, place it in a press and produce cups of the dark purple juice. Healthy — yes. Tasty — definitely. But you can’t beat the sense of adventure and fun.

On returning home, I delved into Emile Zola’s novel, The Belly of Paris. Zola tells the story of a man newly returned to Paris from a penal colony to the gastronomical riches of the Parisian market Les Halles.

Both our meandering a through the market in Akka and The Belly of Paris demonstrate the richness of beautiful food, and an appreciation of the bounty.

What is the most beautiful food you have eaten lately? Think of all the senses of beauty — visual taste, and the wholesome of its production. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to eat and drink food that is real, and not from a can, package or bottle?

Have you read Damaged Good?

12 Dec

Occasionally I like to post a review of a book I have read recently. Damaged Goods by Jack Everett and David Coles is a great one.

The following is the review I wrote for Suspense Magazine:

Damaged Goods opens as Robert Cleghorn is chopping a tree in his brother Alan’s front yard. While he muses on the degradation he feels doing manual labor for his sibling, he watches helplessly as the tree falls through the front picture window of his brother’s dream home near Lake Kissimmee in Florida. From that point on, the action never stops. Set in Florida and England, this latest novel from the writing team of Jack Everett and David Coles is a roller coaster of a ride, a search for a serial killer who is not who the police think it is, but someone even more frightening.

Robert takes on his brother’s identity after killing him in a fit of rage, employing his brute strength and techniques learned while fighting in an elite military unit in Iraq. Using his brother’s airline ticket, passport, and credit cards, he travels to England seeking the one person he thinks he loves, his brother’s wife, Stephanie.

Police from the Leeds Serious Crimes squad follow the trail of a string of brutal murders that seem to have no connection, but the sheer number of them, as well as information shared by a local sheriff in Florida, soon narrow down their search.

The point of view shifts easily from that of Stewart White, who is just settling into his job as Detective Inspector in Leeds, and the bloody path of the murderer.

Everett and Coles do a masterful job portraying the fearless but possibly brain-damaged killer, and his obsession with Stephanie. Set in Yorkshire in the winter, the cold, bleak landscape intensifies the horror as one murder follow another. There is enough complexity in the plot to be intriguing but not too much to be confusing. Damaged Goods is the first of a trilogy, and I will be first in line to read the next book as soon as it becomes available.

Here is a link to read a few sample pages. It will get you hooked!

 

Thanks for Great Review of Hotel Saint Clare in Suspense Magazine

13 Oct

Hotel Saint Clare by Kathleen Heady

A young woman rises from the sea and steps out of the waves with seaweed twined in her long hair. Although it sounds like the resurrection of a goddess, it is actually the opening scene for a mysterious tale.

Two young boys collecting shells on the seashore tell the people on the stunning island paradise that they actually witnessed a mermaid come out of the sea, and ever since that silly, playful moment, the beautiful girl, Nara Blake, becomes something of an oddity.

Unfortunately, her life is not that of a mermaid. Nara is twenty-two years old, and a native of the islands who has been offered a job at the Hotel Saint Clare, which is an exclusive hotel located in the Caribbean. Thanks to her wealthy father, Nara has grown up with everything she could possibly want and has, for the most part, succeeded in making friends with the workers in the house she grew up in. But Nara wants more than anything to be her own woman, and immediately accepts the hotel job in order to work her way up the ladder of success on her own steam, and not on her daddy’s dollars.

Extremely intelligent, Nara becomes an excellent businesswoman and makes herself known all over the island. Then…the realm of island magic, the power of voodoo, and the essence of suspense takes over. Just when it seems that Nara’s world is absolutely perfect, the false sense of security explodes, and shocking events put Nara in harm’s way.

Fast-paced, this is one tale filled with twists that will keep readers interested in discovering what the real Nara is all about. The author has written a unique leading lady, creating a true ‘beach read’ for anyone lucky enough to be sitting on the sand in the Caribbean just waiting for a mermaid to appear from the sea.

Reviewed by Mary Lignor, Professional Librarian and Co-Owner of The Write Companion for Suspense Magazine

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.

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