…In the Dead of Winter

Two of my sons came home for a visit the weekend after my birthday. One carried a florist’s bouquet. As I pulled back the delicate tissue paper and lavender satin Flowersribbon, I seemed to hear Patricia Neal’s smoky voice. “Flowers,” she whispered. “In the dead of winter!”

Amid smiles, hugs, and centering the fragrant blooms on our coffee table, Neal’s words lingered in my thoughts.  The movie was The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, a pilot for the old television show, The Waltons.  You remember — the Great Depression, a large family.  John-Boy.  When Olivia Walton (Neal’s character) receives the flowers, her sense of awe is tangible.  “Flowers,” she says.  “In the dead of winter.”

With those few words we understand Olivia.  Her rural poverty.  Her warmth and love of beauty.  Her wonder at the miracle of flowers growing in winter.   The words anchor her in a different time and place, a time when folks couldn’t easily pick-up fresh floral bouquets year-round.

Other than a few blogs and articles, mostly I write historical fiction.   Reading it has taught me the need to ground my heroine in the time she lives.  I must make her era come alive through her thoughts, deeds, and dialogue.  What does she find wondrous?   What might she fear?   What does she believe?  How does all of that influence her words and actions?

It takes a light hand to do this.  No long rambling diatribes.  Just something simple.  Something like “Flowers. In the dead of winter.”

→If you write historical fiction, or any fiction set outside your own norm, what have you found helpful when creating your characters?  How do you sculpt them to make them appropriate for the time or place in which they live?

Glamour Girl

She was born in her grandmother’s cabin on the desolate plains of northern Minnesota.  Such a setting brought to her an intense longing for glamour and romance. She found it in novels, Hollywood movies, with friends and, for a time, in each of her marriages. mom-friends2

She lived in six states and visited many more. She traveled to Canada and to Germany, savoring the wonder of new sights, new places. There was always something beautiful to discover.

But she was also a mother.  Along the way, she gave birth to seven children. Her third child was a blue-eyed whirlwind described by many as all boy. When she was 32 (how young that seems now), a car accident took her son’s life. I doubt any mother ever recovers from a child’s death.  She didn’t.  Not totally.

Despite her loss she journeyed on, though perhaps with less spirit.  She found stability in raising her children, in keeping house, baking breads and pastries, reading. In selling Avon. How appropriate for her to turn to selling cosmetics and perfumes. She did well with it, earning honors and awards.  For nearly four decades, Avon helped her find the glamour and recognition she craved.

At some point I came to see that she never seemed to plan.  Although she worked hard, for her life simply happened.  The realization disturbed me.  It wasn’t my way.  But somehow things seemed to work out for her.

I spoke at her funeral.  It was only as I wrote out my words that I put shape to the thought that she had been the ultimate pantser.  She had lived her life by the seat of her pants, seemingly sliding from one event to the next. Making it up as she went.  Of course we writers know there’s something to be said for pantsers.

It’s been 18 months since she left us.  Today would have been her 81st birthday.

Happy birthday, Mom.  I love you.

Writing Contests

I learned about writing contests through Romance Writers of America (RWA).  For those not familiar with them, RWA Chapter contests serve several purposes.

  • Contests serve as a Chapter fundraiser.
  • Qualified judges give feedback on a part of an aspiring author’s work.
  • Chapter members and others who “final” have a chance to get their work in front of an editor or agent.

I’ve entered many contests over the years and have done moderately well.   I’ve received some great feedback, and some okay.   For me, I believe the money spent on entry fees was well-spent.  It’s helped my work get noticed.

There are many RWA chapter level contests offered each year.  Some want one to three chapters and a synopsis.  Those are great if your work is “almost there.”  Others may only want a few pages to make sure your work starts on the right “hook.”  Wisconsin Romance Writers‘ Fabulous Five contest is one of these.

If you’re an aspiring romance author, think about RWA Chapter contests.  Start with WisRWA’s Fab Five (click for details).   The Fab Five asks for the first 10 pages or 2,300 words of your work.  In exchange for your entry fee your pages will be judged by three qualified judges.   The finalists – the top Fabulous Five in each category – will be ranked by agents and editors.  First place winners in each category receive the Silver Quill Award.  Other finalists receive certificates.  But most important, you’ll receive feedback.  And…if you final…you’ll be read by someone with influence.

→What’s your opinion about writing contests? Has a contest helped you become published?  Do you have a favorite RWA Chapter contest that you’ve entered?  (Please show link.)  Finally, if you haven’t entered one, what are you waiting for?


I love seasons. They bring a natural change and order to life. Spring blossoms into verdant summer. Autumn gold fades to brown then gray and winter white. As the snow melts, new life springs forth again and renews the cycle.

writing-blog-0051Changes are a part of life but how often we resist them only to find ourselves bogged down in the mire of monotony.  A prime spot is in our personal lives.  Recently, taking a lesson from nature, I made a few changes in my life.  Small ones but, in subtle ways, they’re making a big difference.

My first change was something I don’t often do.  With my husband’s help, I re-arranged some furniture – our television, a table and lamp, a few chairs.  What a result!  It opened up the room making it feel larger, allowing us to see the windows in the next room.  Now, there’s a homier feel when we sit there.  Who would have thought?

Early Saturday evening, we’ve started turning off the lamps and TV. We light writing-blog-0122some candles and, seated together in our rearranged family room, we listen to Garrison Keillor and guests on A Prairie Home Companion, an old time radio favorite. For a few hours we relax in a different time with the only commercials aired of the Powdermilk Biscuit variety.

I’ve made other changes, little ones.   I’m cutting back on coffee, and sampling varieties of tea instead.  Because of this, I’ve discovered the refreshing flavor of Bigelow’s Earl Gray.  I’m also trying various brands of chocolate.  Ghiardelli is now a favorite.   And finally, I’m dedicating one hour a week to creating a new character or a new story – something not part of my current wip.   This simple exercise helps stimulate the mind.

→What changes are you making in your life in this still fresh New Year?  What changes would you like to make?  Big or small, change can invigorate the soul.  Try it.