Thursday, October 29, 2015

One Beautiful Week in Review

Thunderheads in East
Last Friday, I decided I needed to focus on the positive and improve my attitude. With that in mind, I resolved to pay attention to the beautiful things around me every day for a week, and post One Beautiful Thing everyday on twitter, under the hashtag #1BeautifulThing.

Conclusion: I'm constantly surrounded by beautiful things. These are the pictures I posted, but there were many more moments of beauty every day, especially the contributions from Bethany House on Twitter. She elevates doodling to fine art. 

When I started paying attention, I began to see beauty everywhere. I snapped pictures of a dozen beautiful things, and there were dozens more I'd have liked to captured in a photo, but I couldn't.

Home-grown Tomatoes
There was  the hawk perched in a dead tree
The cowdog riding shotgun in an ancient jeep
Mule deer, two doe and two fawns, bounding across the road
Gambel quail rustling through the brush and calling at dusk
The lizard sunning on deck
Kid's faces as they talked about dressing up for Halloween
The smell of pine and junipers after a rain
The drama of an afternoon thunderstorm (although I tried to catch a little)
 A Stellar jay stealing a pine nut off the patio table, and many, many more.

Last Wild Asters of the year
So was the experiment successful? I'd say yes. I feel more energetic now, happier. I realize how privileged I am to live my life. I need to focus that energy into my next project, and I think this week of gratitude will pay off with better productivity. And now and then, I'll continue to post #1BeautifulThing, just to remind myself how lucky I am. 

Child's Kaleidoscope

   Would you like to join me?
Driving by Pampas Grass
Great Grandma's Carnival Glass Bowl

Pumpkin Ripening
Moonrise over Canyon Rim

Love a Good Thunderstorm

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Zucchini and Writing Romance

According to Christopher Booker,  there are only Seven Basic Plots in existence.  And romance writers, with the required ending of HEA (happily ever after) have even fewer to chose from. Most, if not all, romance stories are Plot 7, Rebirth. Sometimes Rags to Riches, a Quest, or a Comedy might get thrown in as well, but romance is really about change and growth. Two people are meant to be together, but some force within one or both of the protagonists keeps them apart. When they grow enough to overcome that force, they have earned their HEA.

Successful romance writers are prolific, often writing several stories a year. So how do they manage to come up with so many different stories using one basic plot? I think it’s a little like zucchini.

We have two healthy zucchini plants in our garden. If you’ve ever grown zucchini, you know a modest plant can produce an astounding number of squash. I’ve heard a rumor that people in the Midwest lock their doors in August for fear a neighbor will drop off unwanted zucchinis. I know I’ve been tempted.

We’ve been eating zucchini every day, and yet so far we’re not sick of it. Taking a cue from Forest Gump's friend Bubba, we're eating it in a million different ways. It’s good dipped in cornmeal and fried, brushed with olive oil and rosemary and grilled, and stir-fried with onions and peppers. It’s nice stuffed with onions, mushrooms, celery, and cheese or with ground meat and rice. Zucchini bread is a classic, muffins are good, and I haven’t tried it but my neighbor gave me a recipe for chocolate chip zucchini cookies. I think shredded zucchini and carrots would make a lovely vegetable timbale, and it probably wouldn’t be bad in an omelet.  It’s all zucchini, and yet each recipe tastes a little different.

Romance stories are like that. The basic plot may be the same, but each character is an individual, acting according to his or her motivations and experiences, and interacting with other individuals. There may be popular tropes like friends to lovers or secret babies, but when they’re presented in a new and unusual way, the story feels fresh. I think that’s why romance fans are such voracious readers. They can count on an introduction to interesting people, a heartfelt struggle, and finally a feel-good ending, and yet each story is unique.

And just in case you’re interested, here’s a zucchini recipe.

Zucchini Bread
1 ¼ cup sugar
1 ½ cup flour
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 eggs
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla
½ cup oil
1 cup shredded zucchini
½ cup chopped nuts (optional)
1 small can pineapple tidbits - drained (optional)

Preheat oven to 350˚. Grease a loaf pan or spray with cooking spray. In medium bowl mix dry ingredients (first 6 ingredients). Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in eggs, vanilla, and oil. Mix the wet ingredients together in the well. Add zucchini, nuts, and pineapple and stir until batter is well moistened but do not overmix.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 60 to 70 minutes. A toothpick in the center should come out fairly clean, although the bread will still be moist. Let cool in pan 15 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely on wire rack before slicing. 

Makes about 16 slices.

Friday, October 23, 2015

One Beautiful Thing

I've been a little cranky this week. I'm not sure why: maybe minor disappointments and rain ... maybe hormones ... who knows? Yesterday, the sun came out. I went for a walk, watched the sky and the birds, smelled the pines, and I felt like myself again. 

Anyway, I've challenged myself to a week of noticing the beautiful things around me. Every day, I'll post a tweet with a picture or at least a description of One Beautiful Thing I saw that day. Feel free to join me with hashtag #1BeautifulThing.

Here's the first day - thunderheads building in the sky to the east while the sun shone in the west. 

What beautiful thing did you see today?

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Writing Synergy

Synergy - The interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements, contributions, etc.

On a recent road trip, we came across this field. At first glance, it's a typical cotton field. The cotton plants take in sunshine and turn it into cotton which we make into crisp sheets and comfortable blue jeans. Plants are the original solar collectors. But for the cotton to thrive, it needs water, and rain isn't always dependable in West Texas. Wind, however, is almost constant, and the windmills on this property produce electricity. Electricity powers the pumps that produce water from an underground aquifer for the irrigation system that keeps this cotton growing.

At the base of the windmill, you can see a pump-jack, pumping oil from deeper underground. The oil will be made into fuel, which powers the tractors and farm machinery necessary to plant, cultivate, and harvest the cotton. Everything works together to produce the crop. 

The best stories are a little like this field. The main crop is the plot, driving the story along. But like dry-land farming, without the irrigation of well-developed characters the plot would wither and die. Strong characters are as crucial to a story as water is to a crop.

Far overhead, the breezes of the story drive the theme, the overarching feel of the story. Whether it's about the power of love or the misery of greed, the theme is the "lesson" we take from the story. Did you know windmills automatically shut down when the wind blows too hard? Theme is like that. It works best when it's a subtle breeze, not a hurricane.

And underneath it all, the author's voice produces the energy to plant the crop and nurture it. Humor, plot twists, juxtaposition: all the things that make a story special come from the reservoir of the author's personality and life experience. 

All together, these forces add up to more than the sum of their parts. That's what produces a good crop, and what produces a good story. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Writing Angels

When you hang out in writing circles, you meet the nicest people. At least that's been my experience. Writers have beta read for me, helped me craft blurbs, alerted me to opportunities, and helped me with promotion, all out of the goodness of their hearts. 

Today, I'd like to say thank you the multi-talented Liz Madrid, my latest writing angel. She read my entry for SYTYCW15 and not only voted and left encouraging comments, she's done some wonderful things to try to gather enough votes to get As Long As We Both Shall Live into the next round. By the way, if you haven't yet voted, there's still time up until Oct. 14th. Just follow the link and click the star. 

Liz sent out creative messages on Wattpad and Twitter letting people know about the story. Then she created this wonderful cover for the book. And as if that wasn't enough, she made the amazing trailer below.

Liz's creativity isn't limited to social and visual media. I've just finished reading her story, Collateral, a fast-paced story of intrigue, family ties, and whirlwind romance. It's only on Wattpad until Oct. 15, so if you have a chance to read it before then, I highly recommend it. If not, grab a copy when it gets published. It's one of those books that will have you staying up past your bedtime for one more chapter, until it's three AM and you can finally rest knowing how it all turned out. 

Liz is just one of the many writing angels who've helped me along in my writing career. There are so many of you to thank, but I won't make a list today. You know who you are.

So, who are the angels in your writing life?

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Harlequin SYTYCW15 Contest

Exciting News!

I'm one of the top 50 picked for the first round of Harlequin's SYTYCW15. That's the So You Think You Can Write contest for 2015, with a grand prize of a two-book contract. 

In this round, the editors judged pitches and first chapters from everyone who entered, and chose the top 50. Now, popular vote on Wattpad between Oct. 8th and Oct. 14th will determine which 25 move forward. So, if you're on Wattpad, or willing to take a few moments to register (it's easy) please take a look and consider voting for As Long As We Both Shall Live. Just click one the link and once you're in Part 1, click on the star to vote.

As Long As We Both Shall Live is targeted for Harlequin Heartwarming, a line of clean romances.  

Tawny broke his heart when she took their daughter and ran, but she can’t outrun a brain tumor. Now Alex is determined to save the mother of his child, even if he has to drag her into treatment. If he fails, he and his daughter will lose her forever. If he succeeds, he might lose them both. What else can he do? She may have run, but Tawny is still his wife.