Chobani Hunt

For well over a year, I’ve enjoyed almost the same breakfast daily.  Strong black coffee. Six-ounces of Vanilla Chobani Greek Yogurt topped with a quarter cup of granola.  Mid-morning I eat two Clementine oranges, a banana, or maybe some grapes. The rest of the day I work to keep a respectable calorie count with other healthy foods.  I drink only non-caloric liquids, coffee, tea, and water – lots of water. I measure and count everything.  It’s a struggle, to be sure, but it’s paid off significantly in smaller clothing sizes, and a smaller, healthier me.  The struggle has been eased because of my morning vanilla Chobani.

A healthy lifestyle is essential for writers.  So much of our time is spent sitting at the computer, recording the voices we hear, telling their tales. While in our creative zone, it’s easy to nibble on one snack after another, to have the M & M’s, Snickers, and ice cream go straight through mouth and belly to our hips.  But somehow I’ve broken that cycle.  By eating better, by walking more, I feel and am healthier.

Enter conflict.  Over the past month I’ve seen a decrease in vanilla Chobani in the stores. Fruit versions are still on the shelves – blueberry, peach, raspberry, mango, strawberry, strawberry-banana, pineapple and more. They even have honey-flavored and plain Chobani. But vanilla, my staple, has dwindled away.  The store manager told me they’re having a shortage due to rising popularity.

On Friday, I searched Chobani’s website.  No mention of any shortage there, just the same silly-cute promos and much valued nutritional data.  In the Contact form, I emailed a message.  “Where’s my vanilla Chobani?” I asked.  Then, worrier that I am, the fears set in.  What if some marketing moron had decided to discontinue it?

I decided to go on a vanilla Chobani hunt.  List of stores in hand, I braved the cold spring drizzles and got into my car.  At each store, I found the same thing…lots of fruit-flavored, just NO VANILLA.  One store posted a sign. “Due to an exceptionally high demand, we are temporarily experiencing shortages of Chobani Greek Yogurt.”  But I saw no shortage of the fruit flavors…just NO VANILLA.

So, I did what any American consumer would do.  I improvised and switched brands.  Dannon has come out with a vanilla variety of Greek Yogurt.  So has Brown Cow, and Cabot.  Prices are comparable. I bought a few of each to try.

When I returned home, I found an annoyingly cheerful email message waiting for me from Chobani.  The young woman told me that business is booming and that their teams are working 24/7 to deliver Chobani.  (I’m truly glad…great product!)  To increase the amount produced, she continued, they’ve become “creative in managing the production of flavors.”  They’re placing greater emphasis on the fruit flavors, “and have limited production on vanilla.” WHAT?  I read on.  “We anticipate refocusing on vanilla at the end of April.”

Well, there’s hope, I guess.

This morning I’ll savor the last of my vanilla Chobani. Tomorrow I’ll begin sampling my non-Chobani vanilla Greek yogurt brands.  I bought enough to last the next two weeks.

Happy and Blessed Easter to all! 

UPDATE: May 1st, 2011 – Still no sign of Vanilla Chobani although the stores’ shelves are filled with every fruit flavor imaginable. Just no vanilla. 😦 I’m adjusting to Dannon & Cabot.  They’re different, but not bad. – DM

UPDATE #2: May 5th, 2011 – Vanilla Chobani returns to eastern Pennsylvania!  🙂

UPDATE #3: September 23rd, 2012 – Vanilla Chobani (and Honey, too) have once again disappeared from the stores.  Chobani – why don’t you listen? If you have to cut a flavor, why Vanilla?  Oikos has come down to a manageable price, and store brands are just as tasty.  At this point I have no problem switching brands.

NJRW Chapter Meeting & Why I Belong

The New Jersey Romance Writers met Saturday, March 19, at the Hilton Woodbridge in Iselin, NJ. At the General Meeting, President Shirley Hailstock and NJRW’s Board updated members on the group’s finances, the new website, upcoming events including April’s Special Event, planning for October’s Put Your Heart in a Book conference, and the status of NJRW’s writing contests.  Hospitality Chair Val Luna handed out Hershey’s Kisses for those who submitted manuscripts since last month, Hershey’s Hugs for rejections, and a sprig of flowers for recipients of good news.  The Heartline Herald editor, Joan Raleigh, asked for member volunteers to write articles for the newsletter.  Volunteers are always needed and it is a great way to network.

Author Terri Brisbin

Member Kathye Thornton shared information about CTRWA’s upcoming Connecticut Fiction Fest 2011 on May 14 in North Haven, CT.  Keynote Speaker is Eloisa James.  Those attending will have the opportunity to pitch their books to acquiring editors and agents.  Noted authors will present workshops on a variety of topics.  All for only $99. Side note: I’ve learned Kathye has two how-to e-books (pdf) of interest – MS Word 2007 for Writers and also a guide for earlier Word versions.  Useful!

Member Terri Brisbin provided an update on NJRW’s exhibit at the NAIBA tradeshow to be held September 21-22 in Atlantic City.  NJRW will invite our published authors to man booths to sign their current releases and network independent booksellers.  The goal of our involvement is to promote the romance genre and provide information about local authors to the booksellers.

After the General Meeting and a short break, this months’ three featured authors presented their latest books then held a short book signing.  Included were Authors Terri Brisbin –  HIS ENEMY’S DAUGHTER, Shirley HailstockSOME LIKE THEM RICH, and Renee RyanDANGEROUS ALLIES.

Guest Speaker Renee Ryan

The monthly program featured author Renee Ryan who spoke on The Art of Layering: From First Draft to Final Manuscript. She began by stating that she received 187 rejection letters before selling her first book.  She kept them all.  She entered multiple contests and studied the craft of writing. After her first sale it would be nearly seven years before her next.  During that time she went back to studying craft and discovered the art of layering.  She said if we take away only one thing from her talk, we should remember “the one thing you control is your craft.”

Ms. Ryan discussed her eight-step process in layering.  Step One is to write a first draft.  After that, using examples from her work, she showed how to layer each scene with movement, senses, dialogue, emotion, and so on.  Layering makes the scene come alive.  It allows an author to show, not tell.  It allows for deep point of view letting the reader feel she is deep in the mind of the character.

NJRW President Shirley Hailstock

She also provided helpful tips, answering questions such as “What do I do if a scene isn’t working?” (Use highlighters to color code dialogue, emotion, etc.) and “How can I write what a tornado feels like if I’ve never been in one?”  (Watch You Tube!).

Sensational workshop, dynamic speaker!

News Flash…Renee Ryan chaired the RWA Workshop committee for RWA National in NYC this year.  Click here for the amazing line-up of workshops to be presented.

Following a pleasant lunch with our fellow writers down in the hotel’s restaurant, we went back upstairs where we broke into two groups. NJRW’s published authors met for a monthly Published Authors session.  President Shirley Hailstock led a useful Hands-On session for those not yet published.  Writers brought the first 250 words of their manuscripts for a fascinating and very helpful discussion about opening lines.

Simply one meeting, free and available monthly to members of NJRW.  One hand reaching forward, one hand reaching back – writers helping writers. It’s what RWA is all about.

A Simple Christmas

Christmas is coming. To prepare, I hung this year’s evergreen wreath on our door and on my Facebook page.  🙂   Here it is for you to see, along with my greeting for the season.

Merry Christmas to All!

For us, the season will be simple.  Not just because we traveled overseas in October, or because we have repairs scheduled for our aging house.  It will be simple because we believe Christmas shines brightest when celebrated simply.

Oh, we honor our traditions.  Just after Thanksgiving, we drive north to a tree farm in the foothills of the Poconos.  Inside the barn-type shop we share a cup of hot cocoa then examine every wreath displayed before deciding.  Do we want large or small this year?  A gold ribbon?  Plaid?  Brilliant Red?  Pine cones or gold balls?  Silly perhaps, but it’s become a tradition to look, consider, contemplate, and discuss.

The wreath is important.  It’s one of the few outward displays of Christmas in our home.   We keep things simple — the wreath, a fake (but life-like) tree,  stockings hung by the chimney, and some background Christmas music while I bake.  That’s about it.  We do celebrate plenty on Christmas Day, but that’s for a later post.

This year, as I’m again immersed into a daily writing routine, I’m grateful to limit shopping time, and much of that online.  With our children grown, home is quieter than in years past.  (A bittersweet thought.  I do miss the bustle of three young boys.)  I’m limiting what is done to what must be done.  Simple.

My characters’ conversations now buzz in my mind.   For me keeping the season simple gives me more time to write it all down. 

Cooking Trout

When I first dreamed of writing a novel, in those early days before I understood the enormity of the task, I attended a small writers’ conference.   My first.  It was an all-day event at a local university.  The focus of workshops ran the spectrum from literary writing to genre, from non-fiction to poetry.  Topics, too, varied broadly but I only remember one with any degree of detail.

Our speaker on editing was a freelance writer who mainly sold articles to a highly popular food magazine.  troutAfter a brief introduction, she placed a transparency on the glass plate of the overhead and projected it on to the screen.  The typewritten article, one she had sold for a nice sum, was about cooking trout.

We sat in a large, sunny room in seats too far from the blurry screen.  Timidly, I sat in the last row, so far back that I couldn’t see the words.  But I saw the format.  It was the closest I’d been to a behind-the-scenes look at an article for publication and my blood raced.

The writer read a few lines aloud then talked about her opening.  I can still hear her jittery voice.  Obviously, she was more comfortable at her desk tapping typewriter keys than in front of fifty or so aspiring writers.  Still, with a great deal of grit, she guided us through the article.

She wasn’t happy with her preliminary opening, she said.  It didn’t have the strength, the power she wanted.  She put up another transparency.  I squinted.  Dark lines slashed through many of the words of her original version. “Weak words,’ she said, and replaced them.

Over the next hour, she dissected the first then the second draft of her article, showing just how she edited, explaining every change made, and why.

Perhaps, with all that article dissection, I should have learned how to cook trout. Instead, I learned to cook words and to understand the meaning of edit.

A well-written story, fiction or non, isn’t just written.  Words must often be hand-picked and their placement well-planned.  The writer must carefully craft the story so that it leads the reader on a journey.  The journey may lead to a place of happily ever after, or to a plate of succulent trout.

It was a strong realization for one aspiring writer.

RWA National – Friday, July 17

Saturated.  That’s how I feel.   RWA National has that effect. There was just so much happening, every hour.   Long drive home, and work today . . . and all I want to do now is write.   So here are some pictures and captions of a few Friday events.   Doesn’t the old cliché tell us that one picture is worth a thousand words?  (Please click photos for important links.)

Jennifer Bray-Weber at the Hearts Through History Breakfast on Friday.

Jennifer Bray-Weber at the Hearts Through History breakfast & the chapter's AGM on Friday.

Meagan Hatfield at Hearts Through History breakfast and AGM.  She just sold DRAGON FIRE to Harlequin Silhouette Nocturne.

Meagan Hatfield at Hearts Through History breakfast and AGM. Meagan just sold DRAGON FIRE to Harlequin Silhouette Nocturne.

Michele Young, w/a Ann Lethbridge at the Hearts Through History meeting.

Michele Young, also writing as Ann Lethbridge, at the Hearts Through History breakfast. It was a great morning. So nice to meet and celebrate successes!

One of many workshops I attended Friday.

One of many workshops I attended Friday.

Overview of the lobby bar, mid-day.

Overview of the lobby bar, mid-day.

The Chart House in Old Alexandria, along the river.  Great seafood!

The Chart House in Old Alexandria, along the river. Great seafood, and wonderful company!

More to come!

Twilight Zone

“You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension – a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into…the Twilight Zone.” ~ Rod Serling

From a young age, I was a fan. After bedtime, I’d sneak onto the top of the night stairs and sit in silence as Twilight Zoneolder family members watched the program below on our black and white TV.  Down the hall in our shared bedroom, my younger sister slept.  But in the darkness of that stairwell I sat entranced by Rod Serling’s hypnotic voice as he introduced the latest episode.

There was magic in the stories.  In later years I’d grow to appreciate the scripts with their social commentary.  But at age 8 or 9 there was only the wonder of ordinary people being thrown into extraordinary circumstances.   Along with the fairy tales Mom once read aloud, The Twilight Zone best revealed to my young mind the miraculous art of storytelling.

For years now, I’ve struggled with invisible demons.  What has kept me from publishing?  DoorI want my stories to be bound into books, to be read and enjoyed.  I believe I have it in me to succeed.  Yet, like an actor who fears the stage, just when I’m close I step away.  Is it fear?  Fear of the bogeymen that hide in the forest of publishing?  Am I afraid of the doorway I must enter?

Last month I flew home to visit family, and to attend a conference.  While there I talked in depth with my little sister, the one who once slept through The Twilight Zone.  (Just as well; she was only 3 or 4 at the time.  :wink:)  I also talked with a dear friend, a fellow writer who has gone forward, even as I’ve held back.  Both of them chewed me out and both, like others before them, encouraged.

Soon after my flight home, I saw that for a long while I’ve been unhappy with what I’ve been trying to write.  To publish I must change, wholeheartedly and without reservation.  To rediscover the excitement I once knew, I must cross into another dimension, one that calls to me.

My new work-in-progress is more than a new plot, new characters.  Though still technically a romance, it represents a genre change, one I read but have never attempted to write.   Revitalized, I am writing.   And, if my courage holds, if I maintain the perseverance a published author needs, then my journey into this new dimension may mean success. 

Common Craft

The world spins, ever faster. New uses for the computer pop up quicker than I can process.   What is podcasting?  RSS code?  I sort of understand Twitter, but is it useful?  What is a Wiki?  And, while we’re at it, how does the World Wide Web really work?

Enter Common Craft, a delightfully interesting company owned by Lee and Sachi LeFever in Seattle, Washington, USA. They explain things.  Lee founded Common Craft in 2003 as an online community consulting company.  They began making videos in 2007, their first – RSS in Plain English.  Using paper cut-outs, they teach the raw basics of technology, money, and society.  A most helpful source.

So, what is the World Wide Web?   Here’s Lee LeFever’s explanation.  (Click in center to start video. Be sure to turn up your volume.)

As writers, we research.  We need easy-to-understand sources that can quickly teach us a little bit about a lot of things.  To that end, we scour children’s reference books and search travel blogs.  We attend retreats and conferences, and interview detectives.  We peruse websites for valuable links.

But along with needed background information on specific topics, how can we learn a little about the technology available, without spending excessive hours of valuable writing time?   Common Craft’s technology videos give quick explanations about new tools.

Search Common Craft’s website or on You Tube for other simple videos.   And, if you need a laugh and don’t mind a bit of gore, blood not Al, check out their Zombies in Plain English.  It’s a hoot!

Of Conferences & Courage

Last weekend I sat in the golden glow of a hotel meeting room in Green Bay, Wisconsin.   Along with 90 or so fellow writers, I listened intently WisRWA Write Touch June 5-7 2009 004as agents and editors revealed market trends and what they, as publishing professionals, were looking for from authors.  The workshop was part of the grand celebration of WisRWA’s 25th Anniversary.

It started Friday. Registration in the Radisson’s comfortable lobby let us greet old friends and chat with new.  Later, in our first workshop, ever-helpful Publisher Raelene Gorlinsky presented When Bad Covers Happen to Good People – an informative and amusing behind-the-scenes look at book covers.  The evening ended with a gourmet dessert reception.  Amid chocolate fountains and luscious desserts we visited, ate, drank, and visited some more.

Saturday. An early breakfast buffet and general meeting were followed by the Agent/Editor Q & A Panel.  Mid-morning, Karen Tabke spoke on It’s Just Business, Don’t Take it Personal. Following Karen’s talk, Executive Editor Birgit Davis-Todd presented Diamond Opportunities–Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Writing for Harlequin.  Throughout the day, authors pitched their books in 10-minute private appointments with attending editors and agents.

Noon lunch was a delicious Slice of Italy. Contest winners for The Write Touch and Fab 5 were announced.  First Sale roses were presented to six WisRWA members who sold their first book since last year’s conference.  WisRWA Write Touch June 5-7 2009 025A special rose was given to WisRWA’s Golden Heart finalist Virginia McCullough.  Special recognition was also given to the five wonderful women who organized this celebratory conference – Donna Kowalczyk, Stacey Netzel, Barbara Raffin, Gini Athey, and Lori Kriescher (see picture).  And, in a heartfelt presentation, Shirley Cayer and Conference Chair Donna Kowalkczyk presented two 2008 Chapter Service Awards – to Mary Jo Scheibl (aka Casey Clifford) and to Sandra Turriff (aka Meg Hennessy).  Both Mary Jo and Sandy had also received roses for their first sales.  What a day!

The afternoon session began with WisRWA’s Got Talent III.  Author Shari Anton read attendees’ first pages while Hilary Sares and agent Laurie McLean WisRWA Write Touch June 5-7 2009 052gave incredibly insightful one-minute critiques.  Author Trish Milburn followed with her workshop Making Your Setting Come Alive. A late afternoon Literacy Book Signing gave us a chance to chat with authors and purchase personally autographed books, including those by best-selling author Sherrilyn Kenyon. (See picture.) At the 25th Anniversary plated dinner, Sherrilyn gave a heartrending Keynote Address that had us both crying and laughing.

Sunday. Following another satisfying breakfast buffet, Ann Voss Peterson spoke on A Word Nerd’s Guide to Pacing.    Barbara Raffin’s workshop, The Story is in the Details showed how critical details are in every aspect of our writing.  Lori Devoti presented the last workshop – Get Where You Want to Go–Setting Goals to Keep You on Track, a most important wrap-up to the weekend.

For the past week, as I returned to my real life – home, family, day job – I’ve been pondering.  I’ve come to realize that it takes raw courage to write a book then strive for publication.  Courage to bare your soul as the authors did in WisRWA’s Got Talent.  Courage to meet face-to-face with an editor to pitch one’s book.  Courage to submit that work for publication, and probable rejection.  Then to do it again and again and again.

Last weekend I was privileged to meet with fellow authors in all stages of their careers, from those writing the first chapter of a first book to a NY Times Bestselling Author whose books are read world wide.   Each one shelters a courageous soul. ∞

Business Cards

Early in my writing life, when I first joined NJRW, a writer spoke on the business part of writing.  You’ll need business cards, she said.  Keep them simple.  Show only essential information – name and contact details.  With a card you can begin networking.  You can keep in touch with other writers you meet at a conference.  You can enclose it in a thank-you note to a contest judge.  And, while an editor you meet may not ask for your card, you’re ready in case she does.

Despite early advice about keeping the cost down, I had my first card printed on high quality linen stock.  avery-business-cards1It was clean, classy, and included my personal home address – a no-no, I soon learned.  My email address was outdated a year so later when we changed internet providers.  Yeah, what was I thinking?  I ordered 500.   There are still about 459 aging nicely in my desk drawer.

I learned that it’s cheaper to buy paper and print the cards myself.  Avery has clean-edge business cards available online, or in office supply stores.   Using a template you can print your own card then break them up, 10 per sheet.  The clean edge looks much better than the mini-perforated edge cards, also available.  By printing your own cards before a conference, you can print only as many as you think you’ll hand out.  You can also personalize them for each use.

Keep in mind that your name is your brand.   That is what you want to be prominent on your card, whether you pay to have it printed or if you print it yourself.  Make sure the font is readable, and the card is not crowded.  Keep it orderly, professional.

I am still aspiring but I’ve written enough debs-card1novels to know the direction I’m taking.  A bit over a year ago, I contracted for a website design.  The design, by Stonecreek Media, Inc., captured my writing voice.  When I started Stringing Beads last June, I wanted to bring my website into it.   I customized this WordPress blog template with my copyrighted image from the top of my website.

A few months ago, I began thinking about upcoming conferences, especially WisRWA’s Write Touch (featuring Sherrilyn Kenyon) in June and RWA National in Washington, DC in July.  I wanted to bring my site image onto my business card as well.  Enter VistaPrint.  Going online, I designed a card using the image header Stonecreek had designed for me.  It didn’t take long, and the cost was low.  There are thousands of pre-designed template images also available.  This method worked for me.

If you are attending a conference or workshop this year, remember to make up some business cards to tuck in your bag.   Whether you use VistaPrint, PsPrint,, your local printer, or if you do it yourself on an Avery template, you’ll be glad you did.

→ As a fiction writer, do you have a business card?  What information do you put on the front?   Do you give out many cards when you go to conferences or workshops?   Has there ever been an occasion when you wished you had a card?  Please comment.

Tech Trek

When I was in high school,type-writer-girl-rv not quite so far back as when this photo was taken, I signed up for a typing course.  Not because I wanted to go into business but because, even then, I aspired to become a writer.  Naive though I was, I knew writers had progressed beyond the quills of Jane Austen’s time.  If I wanted to write, I knew I must learn to type.  My typing teacher, Mr. P., taught me the needed skills to produce neat term papers, skills that would later help pay my bills.

In my first office job, we typed on IBM Selectrics, a typewriter with correctable film ribbons, and ball elements for changeable fonts.

When our first son was born, ibm_selectric_ii_correcting_tape4I quit work to become a stay-at-home mom.  Over time, I typed family letters, essays, op-eds, and cookbooks at one end of our dining table on an IBM Wheelwriter.  Meanwhile, in the den, our growing sons played games on their Commodore 64, a cherished Christmas gift from Grandpa.

A few years later, we bought a CompuAdd 386.   With college tuition on the horizon, I soon returned to office work.  By then, I’d studied and was proficient in WordPerfect.   It was the last decade of the 20th century.  We were ready for a fast technological ride from mechanical hardware to mind boggling software.

Do you recall when you first heard the word Internet?   In scarcely an eye’s blink, this invisible web expanded hp-laptop2well beyond a science-fiction writer’s imaginings.   In less than a generation, we traveled from dial-up modems to WiFi.  Now, in seconds, we fling our thoughts around the world.

When I ponder how the Internet has influenced my writing life, I’m awed.   I email peers in Hawaii, Wisconsin, and New Jersey.  With a few clicks, we meet, critique, and hold online workshops.  We make travel arrangements then follow friends’ flights on flight tracking sites.   We email warm cyber hugs for a rejection, and cyber bubbly to celebrate a first sale.  On Yahoo Groups, we reach out for help to find the perfect word, to find a reputable book mark printer, or for the best way to kill off the bad guy.  And they answer!  Always, day or night, someone is there.

I am not a techie.  twitterEnglish and history were always my passion.   In Algebra, I wrote pages of poetry (still amazed I passed).  Yet, somehow, I’ve set up and maintain three blogs.  I buy and sell on e-Bay, am Linked-In, and visit YouTube.  I have friends who use FaceBook and MySpace, and others who Twitter (though not me…not yet…tweet).

Are we better writers than before this techno madness?  Who knows?  Future generations will decide the quality of our writing.  They will choose which books will endure.  I do believe that we are better connected than ever.  If that helps some struggling romance writer alone in Montana’s mountains to achieve more than she would have before the Internet, isn’t that a good thing?

→ How has technology and the Internet influenced your writing?  What do you most enjoy?  What do you find most frustrating?

Good Movies

As a writer, I love a good movie. Appealing characters bounce from the screen.  Relationships develop and conflicts ensue.  Setting can become a character.  Music transports us through scenes.  Filming enchants while edits provides pacing.  Later I sometimes wonder, using only words how would I write those scenes or that character into a novel?

Since the holidays I’ve seen three movies at the theater.  All have sparked my thoughts into a bright blaze.

Gran Torino, directed by Clint Eastwood, screenplay by Nick Schenk and storygran_torino-poster2 by Dave Johannson, is about Walt Kowalski, a curmudgeony Korean War Veteran who can’t get along with his children, his grandchildren, or the Hmong immigrants who have taken over his middle class Michigan neighborhood.  Kowalski responds to the changes in an intriguing way, yet remains true to the man he is.  This strong story touches our beliefs, our brains, and our hearts.  Side note–while the ad poster is technically accurate, Gran Torino is not a shoot ’em up action flick.  I guess even Hollywood legends can get bad covers. 😉   The Rotten Tomatometer for Gran Torino reads 77%.  I’d rate it higher.

Frost/Nixon, directed by Ron Howard and written by Peter Morgan, tells of the frostnixon32511977 televised interviews between British talk show host David Frost, and former U.S. President Richard Nixon.  The beginning focuses on Frost, apparently in exile in Australia.  Watching Nixon’s resignation from the Presidency on TV, Frost becomes intrigued by the “numbers.”   So begins his three year quest to interview Nixon.   The movie is the story of two very different men, each wanting something from the interviews.  Only one can win.  It’s a classic plotline.  Watching it unfold on the screen is captivating.  The Rotten Tomatometer for Frost/Nixon reads 91%.  An appropriately high rating.

Milk, directed by Gus Van Sant and written by Dustin Lance Black, tells the story of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California.  The film begins with Milk milk_movie_poster1recording a tape in his kitchen, “to be listened to in the event of my assassination.”  It is 1977 and he is 48.  In a brilliant blend of flashbacks and real news clips, we see Milk and his partner move from New York  to San Francisco where they open a camera shop in The Castro.  With persecution all around, Milk is pulled into politics and becomes a fiery voice for gay rights.  He forges alliances and urges gays and lesbians to come out to their families and friends so the straight community will see them as real and, as Roger Ebert writes, will “stop demonizing an abstract idea.”   On so many levels, Milk works.  It is warm and thought-provoking.  I left the theater with a sad smile.  And, as a writer, I wondered.  Using only words, how would I write such a remarkable man’s journey?   The Rotten Tomatometer for Milk reads 93%, calling it “Triumphant.”  I agree, and hope you see it.

→Have you seen any of the above movies, or any other really good movie recently?  Please share your experience and thoughts.

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?

Why do we write?

Recently fellow WisRWA member Jody Allen shared an article from another RWA Chapter. The post originated on Murderati (an outstanding blog) and was written by Toni McGee Causey. She titled it Comfort Reading (Click here – now!). The article was so moving, I felt compelled to help spread its message. Perhaps you’ve already read it; if so, you’ll know it’s worth reading again.

madeline3 Causey’s post brought to mind my step-mother. She’d always worked hard. While still healthy, she’d never found much time to read for pleasure. Then, on one of my later visits, after she had been diagnosed with cancer and was worn down from chemo, I saw a stack of well-read Regency Romances next to her chair – many by Georgette Heyer and Barbara Cartland. As we talked about her love for the stories, her face softened. “They take me away,” she said. We shared a smile.

As fiction writers, we have many reasons to write. Some of us write for recognition. Some of us write for money (still waiting on that one). Some of us write simply to quell those nagging voices in our heads. But of all our reasons, I believe the best reason we have to write is for others.

Keep writing, my friends!

Art as Inspiration

Many years ago, when we lived in southern Indiana, I took my sons to a mall art show. As we walked by the displays of oils and watercolors, of pottery and woodcarvings, I happened upon a regional artist whose oil paintings called out and drew me in. We talked for a few minutes then I bought a small painting I found particularly pleasant. She had titled the meticulous oil At Pond’s Edge.

paintings-0042Time passed. The painting came with us to one new home, then another. Always the image of the tranquil pond with its wild grasses, bushes, and butterflies brought comfort. Then, at some point, my writer’s imagination took over. Something happened at that pond, but what? It niggles at my thoughts even now, after all these years. I know there is a story to tell. Someday, it will come to me and I will weave the scene into my book. Maybe not in this work, but surely in my next.

In recent years, I have come to wonder about the artist. I recall that she had many other lovely paintings on display at that long ago mall art show. Her name is Linda Jerina Buis. Is she still painting, still selling her fine work? Or has she gone on to other interests? Internet searches came to naught. Until recently.

Last month I discovered another oil painting by Linda Jerina Buis. It was for sale online. I emailed the friendly lady who had posted the ad. I learned that she had bought Down on the Farm from an estate sale near her home, somewhere outside Kansas City. After several quite interesting emails, we arranged the sale. From a writer’s retreat in Maine, I snail-mailed her a postal money order and she carefully packaged and shipped the painting to me cross county. I opened it with joy.

As I hung my new painting, a sense of wonder came over me. There is a story here too, I thought, in this painting of an old farm and the surrounding countryside. Someday soon, I will write it.

Kiss of Death Retreat

On Thursday morning I leave for Portland, Maine and the Kiss of Death Annual Weekend Retreat. The retreat doesn’t actually start until Friday afternoon, but a good friend and I decided to get an early start.

As you see by the above link, bestselling suspense author (and sensational speaker) Lisa Gardner will speak. So will Homicide Detective Danny Agan, authors Mary Buckham, and Dianna Love Snell. Publisher Raelene Gorlinsky will join us, as will noted agent Meg Ruley.

Attendance was capped at 50. I’m not sure how many actually registered. I’m glad I did. Two friends are flying in from Wisconsin, fellow WisRWA members, and I heard at least one fellow NJRW-ite is attending. The writing life can be lonely, and I’ve always loved Maine. I can barely wait to get on that plane.

I’ll be posting daily so check back late Thursday evening for my first post from Portland – complete with pics!

RWA National – Revisited

Today I received a package in my mailbox. It held the MP3 CD-ROMs I ordered this summer at RWA’s National Conference in San Francisco. Each year, Romance Writers of America arranges to have many of the sessions recorded by Bill Stephens Productions so members can purchase them.

And here it is!

Even though I paid for them, somehow these recordings feel like a gift. The speakers – those writers, agents, editors, and others who give so generously to speak at RWA National, whatever their reason – present a precious gift to all who listen. No matter what our skill level as writers we always have something to learn – about craft, career, publishing, the writing life. The speakers make that happen.

A few minutes ago I put a CD into my computer and pulled up the index. In front of me was a multi-page list of workshops I didn’t attend. Here, too, were many I did attend but eagerly want to hear again. Many interesting hours ahead.

Often, RWA Chapter libraries purchase these CDs for their members to borrow. Sometimes critique groups buy them. I do urge you to seek them out. Not quite as good as attending a workshop in person, but close.


I write best by candlelight. Whether in the dark of night or in the early hours of the morning, there is something about the glow of the flame that inspires my soul.

Writing takes incredible focus. For me, the hardest part is finding that focus – sitting down and getting back into the story, blocking out all sounds, all sources of distraction. Returning mentally to the 19th century. Once I’m there, I can write. It’s getting there that’s hard.

The flame helps.

Do you have some object that helps you take off and soar with your writing? Maybe you have a favorite chair or some seen-better-days sweats. Perhaps you have an angel muse perched nearby. Or maybe you find the sweet sound of music brings inspiration. I’d love to hear about what works for you.

Happy writing to all.

Summer Blues

Today the sky is a brilliant blue, the sun a radiant yellow. Outside it is 82 degrees. Not much humidity. The lazy days of summer beckon. Through the open door, I smell the fragrance of late blooming flowers and freshly mowed grass. As my husband steps out onto the deck, a warm breeze caresses my skin. I ache to join him there, to bask in the glorious warmth of this last day of August.

But I’ve played too long. The book must be finished. I must return to it.


So I take a deep breath and close the door. Nudge up the air conditioner. Turn the blinds. Then I plant myself in the chair and mentally handcuff my wrists to my laptop.

I shut my eyes. Project myself back…back into a time of no computers, no electricity. Back into a 19th century Midwestern winter blizzard. The air conditioner kicks in but, in the distance, I imagine it is the howling wind. I shiver. Almost there now. I reach for my cup of coffee to warm my cold hands. Almost.

When I write my next book, I must figure out how to better coordinate the seasons.

Building Houses

Writing a book is like building a house. Okay, so you’ve heard that one before. So have I. It’s an old analogy. But there’s a part of it that I’d never really mulled over until this morning.

Some years ago, we built a house (not the one shown, but don’t you just love this picture?). Our builder kept us on track. Foundation dug, basement poured, structure framed, roofed, windows installed, and so on. After several months, our house was finished and we moved in.

But imagine if, after the cellar was finished, I’d decided I preferred a larger house. More digging, more cement to pour. Then, after the framing, imagine that I’d wanted to change it from a two-story colonial to a one-story sprawling ranch with huge windows. And, once the walls were painted, what if I’d said I wanted more wiring? Oh, and how about another bathroom just off the garage?

Do you see where I’m going? The house would have never been finished. At least not without a murder or two somewhere along the way (either my own, or the builder’s.) Not a good way to build a house. Not a good way to write a book either.

Houses need plans, and timelines. So do books.

As aspiring authors it is quite easy to start a story then just follow our wandering muse. Oooh, instead of a cop, what if I made the hero into a rodeo star? What if I changed the setting from Wyoming to New Zealand? It’s easy to be a writing pantser, writing by the seat of our pants, traveling where the mood takes us.

But published writers, those who are most successful, don’t allow themselves to do that. Not totally. Writing novels is a business. Successful writers make a goal, and follow a timeline.

If I am going to thrive in this business of writing, I must take a lesson from my old builder (and a few other worthy souls I’ve met along the way). Keeping my goal in sight, I must follow my timeline.

That’s how houses – and books – are built.

What is your philosophy of writing? Are you a pantser, a plotter, or a planner? Do you approach your writing as an art, or as a craft?

Things I Learned in San Francisco – RWA National

As you may have guessed by previous postings, I LOVED touring San Francisco and my experience at 2008 RWA National. Here are a few things I learned while there.

  • Chinese take-out tastes a whole lot better in California than it does in Pennsylvania.
  • All major cities are NOT alike.
  • San Francisco’s culture is unique, undefinable, and exhilarating.
  • The temperature of a city does make a difference. To me, San Francisco’s is heaven on earth.
  • When going to a conference, check in early (but try to avoid those pesky power outages).
  • A hotel lobby filled with women’s voices is very loud.
  • Quiet spaces are available, even in a hotel filled with 2,000 women (and a few men) in a city the size of San Francisco.
  • Every conference has a different mood.
  • The San Francisco Marriott has the best staff I have ever encountered in a conference hotel.
  • Conference lunches may taste the same everywhere, but extraordinary service, good company, and a great speaker can make you actually enjoy the chicken dish.
  • Late night and early morning talks are the best.
  • Networking is little more than talking and listening to other professionals – a whole lot of listening.
  • An author’s name is her brand (thank you, MH!).
  • Opportunities for success don’t come around that often. When they do, be ready.
  • Holding your published book takes persistence and raw grit, but if you want it and are willing to work for it, it will happen.
  • Getting published is only the beginning.

and finally

  • While it may true that there is no place like homeI left my heart in San Francisco

What did you learn at RWA National, or at the last conference you attended?