Friday, September 26, 2014

Gourds, Deer, and Expectations

Our Grand Garden Experiment had an unexpected ending. In late May, my husband and I decided to plant a few vegetables in our garden in Arizona even though we were spending the summer in Alaska. We mulched the garden carefully and set automatic irrigation to provide water. The idea was to come back to okra, sunflowers, tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, and gourds.

The local deer population had other ideas. They found the tender shoots too yummy to resist. No pumpkin, no sunflowers, no okra, no peppers. They left enough of two Better Boy tomato plants that they regrew and bore fruit, but they’re not ripe yet. It will be a race to see if they ripen before frost.

And they left the gourds. Boy did they leave the gourds. I only planted two hills of three seeds each, but the gourds have taken over the entire garden terrace, crawled up and down the steps to the next levels, and even climbed a tree. We have green and yellow striped gourds, green gourds that look as if they were dipped halfway into yellow paint, and white egg-shaped gourds.

I’ve never grown gourds before, but according to my research, once they’re mature I just have to dry them and then wax or shellac the skins, and I’ll have gourds for decoration and possibly birdhouses. Or maracas. I could start a rhythm band. Too bad gourds aren't edible.

So I spent about five minutes being angry at the deer, and then I saw a doe bedded down in the lot next to our house. Look at that face. Who can stay mad?  It was a privilege to provide a snack to such a beautiful creature. But did she have to eat the grapevine too?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Time Traveling the Pages

My taste in books leans toward contemporary, or at least stories set in my lifetime, but lately I've been living in the past. Three of my favorite reads in the last few months were historical novels. The Yankee Club is set in New York City during the depression. It features Jake, a detective turned writer, and Laura, an actress, who grew up together in Queens. I Am Livia let me into the life of a powerful woman in Rome during the ascention of Caesar August. An Orphan's Tale takes place in Paris in 1834 and introduced me to all levels of society, from a street urchin to nobility. Three stories, all different, and yet each let me into the lives of fascinating people in other times and places. 

For my reviews and links to these and other books I've enjoyed, check out the Book Reviews Tab. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Funny Side of Life

I’ve long ago decided the only way to keep sane is to find the humor in life. I think an individual’s sense of humor is as unique as his fingerprints. My husband likes to play with words, puns, and double meanings. My son’s wit is more biting, especially when he spots pretension or lapses in logic. My daughter has a gentle humor, but with an eye for the ridiculous. Even the dog has a sense of humor.

“Don’t ever let me catch you on that bed.” Roxy must have taken that to heart, because I’ve never caught her. Yet every single day, the covers are ruffled, and sometimes I even find a dog toy hidden under my pillow. Keep in mind that I work from home. She’s obviously slipping into the bedroom while I’m occupied in the study. Apparently, the joke never gets old.

I’m thankful to be surrounded by people (and dogs) that don’t take themselves too seriously. I hope the characters in my books reflect this. Because, if you’re paying attention, you can’t help but notice that life is funny.  

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Jets, Mowers, and Summer Days

One of the sounds of summer at my house is a rumbling in the skies. No, not thunder. Thunder is rare around here. I live about a mile from an air force base, and every July means the air show.

I’ve attended a couple of times, but usually I just go outside on my deck to watch the jets tear across the sky  in close formation. They’re moving so fast, I see them before I hear them. By the time the sound arrives, they’re moving out of sight.

As I stand there on the second story deck waiting for the jets to appear, it's interesting to watch the people enjoying a summer Saturday. One neighbor mows her lawn, another unpacks after a fishing trip. A couple walks their dog, and a boy rides by on a bicycle. As the roar of the jets dies away, I can hear the children giggling at the playground in the park.

It reminds me of books I’ve enjoyed. There are the thrillers, like the Da Vinci Code. Just as I’m in awe of the skill of the pilots to fly in formation at almost the speed of sound, I’m amazed at Dan Brown’s ability to keep up the pace, the sense of urgency that keeps the reader turning pages so fast, they almost fly past the story before they hear it.

Then there are the books like Rosamunde Pilcher’s that slow down and live the summer. In her books, I can smell the freshly cut grass, notice the young couple holding hands as they walk in the park, hear the children playing. Her characters are so real, I count them as friends.

I’m glad I don’t have to choose, that I can read whatever suits my mood: fast or leisurely, terrifying or mellow, funny or sad. I love a good story. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, Round 4

Well, my black-eyed pea luck finally ran out. My ABNA entry, Recalculating Route, was a casualty in the final 95% cut. It’s been a great run and I did get a nice Publisher's Weekly review out of it, so overall I’m pleased with my first writing contest.

Of course, I wish I could see the scores, to know just how close I was to the final five in my category. Did the finalists get all fives? Did it come down to tie-breakers? Is there a particular weakness I should work on? Maybe it’s better for all the quarter-finalists that we don’t know. We can tell ourselves that we might have just missed the cutoff, that if we work hard we can make it next year.

That’s the danger and the thrill. I’m hooked now. It’s like winning at bingo or slots on my first try. I can’t wait to try again. Fortunately, luck only plays a part in this gamble, so talent, hard work, and hours of writing and rewriting won’t be wasted.  Even if I get knocked out in the pitch round next year, the extra motivation should result in a better book.

I also met some great writers on the forum, and I’ll continue to interact and keep in touch. They're not only talented, they’re special people and I’m honored to have spent time with them. Some of them may well be famous someday. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing.     

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Forest Fire Meadow

I just returned from a short trip to Bryce Canyon National Park. The scenery there is incredible, the erosion through layers of multicolored rock creating fairy-tale castles against the canyon walls and multi-hued vistas that seem to stretch on forever . Surrounding the canyons in this highland, dense ponderosa pine forests cover the hills. 

One image that stuck with me was of wildflowers growing under the skeletons of charred trees. The tall pines were gorgeous, but as long as they shaded the forest floor, the wildflowers couldn’t grow. After the burn, the flowers took advantage of the sunlight to create a beautiful display of their own. 

Sometimes when I’m writing a story, I build whole forests of description or conversations that I love. It seems as though the words just flow so easily in those moments, and I can see or hear the passage clearly in my mind. However, once I’m editing, I occasionally find that those passages don’t really add much to the story or further the plot. I have to burn them away, so the wildflowers can get the sunshine they need to move the story forward. It’s not easy to burn away the trees, but sometimes it’s necessary in order to make the story flow. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Publisher's Weekly Review from Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

I've received my official second prize, a Publisher's Weekly review of the Recalculating Route Manuscript. I'm pleased. See what you think.

ABNA Publishers Weekly Reviewer

Widow and former home economics teacher Marsha Davison is still trying to recover from the death of her husband, Eric, 19 months earlier when she meets Ben Mayfield, a wealthy retired geologist who invites her on a road trip along old Route 66. The ex-husband of a dear friend, Ben’s courtly manner and sense of adventure intrigue Marsha. Although initially she declines, Marsha decides to throw caution to the wind and she and her dog, Lindy, go along for the ride. After a nearly three-month jaunt on the road, Marsha returns to her home in Sedona, Arizona, and Ben to his in Texas, planning another roadtrip -- an East Coast one this time -- for the fall. But soon after returning to their respective homes, Marsha and Ben soon realize that their relationship is far from being a simple friendship, it’s turned to love, and then quickly they decided to marry. It isn’t all smooth sailing because both have grown children who object to the relationship for various reasons, and they live hundreds of miles away from each other. But can these obstacles stand in the way of true love? The author writes movingly of the mixed emotions that come after mourning a beloved spouse and then dating again in this sweet romance that targets a less-than common demographic: those in the later stages of life, who refuse to give up on love. A sweet treat.

Now for the required disclaimers: Publisher's Weekly is an independent organization. Review was based on entered manuscript and not the published version (which is slightly different).

The reviewer at Publisher's Weekly also graded the manuscript from one to five on character development, originality of idea, plot, prose/style, and overall strength of submission, but we won't get to see the scores. The five entries with the highest scores in each category will advance to the semifinals. I can't tell from the review how highly the reviewer would have rated me in these categories, but I'm hopeful. Semi-finalists will be announced June 13th, so until then, I'm keeping my fingers crossed.