Saturday, July 14th, 2012

Here and Safe in Oregon – And Alive!

I made it!

I’m here in Oregon safe and sound.

The trip was brutal:

My 8:25 a.m flight was delayed by an hour – so we had to sit on the tarmac while they figured out why a light in the cockpit wouldn’t shut off. The delay was mostly because of the paperwork that had to be signed off on.

And when my connecting flight to Portland, OR arrived, the yellow emergency slide partially inflated, and we couldn’t leave by that exit. Maintenance was called (this was a different plane, BTW) as well as airport folk, who were to bring a metal staircase to the opposite plane door so we could debark.

Whee! We would have had to go down some steps to the tarmac, and then up some steps to get back into the terminal.

It would have been kewl: but maintenance arrived the same time the steps did, so they decided to let us sit on the plane until the emergency slide was fixed. Ho-hum. I would have liked to go down on the tarmac.

I had to take a shuttle to the rental car place, and them embarked on a two-hour drive (really, longer due to traffic) to Lincoln City on the coast. The scenery was beautiful, once I got out of the city. I can’t wait to do some site seeing.

I’m staying at the Historic Anchor Inn – which is charming. It’s art-deco decor of the 40s and 50s is terrific. All the rooms are decorated with antiques. I so want the lamp that’s in my room.

View of Lush Greenery and a Landed Boat outside the Historic Anchor Inn, Lincoln City Oregon

Here’s the view outside my window:

Hotel Room with Cool 1950s Art Deco Lamp

Thanks for all the well wishes for the flight! More to come…

Friday, July 13th, 2012

Writing Prompt – Talismans and Lucky Charms

Picture of an airplane breaking up in the sky.It’s possible I’m dead right now. Check the news. I’ll wait.

Did you see anything about a plane crash? One heading to Oregon from the Eastern Seaboard? If so, I might be on that plane, and therefore dead.

It would also mean that all the lucky charms and talismans I stuffed in my pockets before I left, did not work.

(You might have figured out that I have a fear of flying. I don’t know where it came from. I’ve flown to Europe on more than one occasion, have been up and down the East Coast and as far west as Colorado…and I enjoyed each of those trips. But somewhere along the line, my brain wrinkled.)

I’ve been advised to take a pill and have a drink.

Instead, although I’m not normally a superstitious person, I’m carrying with me:

  1. Several rosaries.
  2. A scapular.
  3. A lucky sea bean.
  4. An acorn.
  5. A wad of Patron Saint, Miraculous and Bleeding Heart medals that I inherited from my grandmother.
  6. Some medals of my own, purchased at the Vatican on Easter Sunday – which makes them holier, right?
  7. A tiny, tiny statue of statue of Saint Christopher, inherited from another grandmother. It’s encased in brass, no larger than a bullet (and very easy to carry in my pocket).
  8. I have also made a promise to donate money to a charity upon my return. Because according to Jewish wisdom, there is extra protection given to someone who is en route to perform such a mitzvah.

If it offers protection. I’m game. I just hope they can all work in harmony. I’d hate for one lucky charm to cancel out another.

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Write about your good luck charm.
  • Take a character in one of your stories and give him a good luck charm. Think of something unusual for the charm or talisman. Write the back story for it: why does he carry this particular item?
  • Write about:
    • a lucky shirt
    • a four-leafed clover or bamboo
    • lucky sigils, crosses, runes or rings
    • a lucky ‘piece’ (a penny)
    • a horseshoe – with the luck run out!
    • lucky runes
    • crickets, lady bugs, dragons, or scarabs
    • acorns
    • a rainbow

  • Find a penny, pick it up
    and all day long, you’ll have good luck!
  • Write about someone who throws a coin down a well, and gets his wish: but not exactly the way he wanted it to happen.
  • “Luck of the Draw,” his tag read. She stared at him, and he stared back. Now how was she going to get him home?
  • …Star had sent to them as its messenger. The bird was stuffed and preserved as a powerful talisman. They thought that an omission of this sacrifice would be followed… ~ From The Golden Bough, 1922. Chapter 3. Human Sacrifices for the Crops by Sir James George Frazer.
  • Write a scene (or more) from the point of view of person who is very superstitious.
  • Luck can change in an instant. Write a scene where a person’s luck changes by the end of it.
  • His mother pleaded for him too, but it was not needed. He had enclosed in his letter the strongest talisman of all, a letter written by Elizabeth in the long ago when we were children together. ~ From The Making of an American, 1901. Chapter V. I go into Business, headlong by Jacob A. Riis.

Good luck!

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Story Available, Award Winner, and The 3Six5

Cover of On the Path featuring a pagoda on a mountanside.I’m just full of newsy bits of newsy-news this afternoon, it seems.

On the Path available at Smashwords!

On the Path is finally available at Smashwords in multiple formats.

It was first published in the Parsec Ink Anthology, Triangulation: Dark Glass. It’s full of neat things like soul-powered plows which blow up, and Chinese ancestor-ghosts who come back to haunt their children and take over bodies of the living. Fun for everyone!

It’s priced at 99 cents for now, but will likely increase later this year. Here’s the link to On the Path at Smashwords.


The Complete Guide to Writing Paranormal is an Award Winner

Cover of the Complete Guide to Writing Paranormal

The Complete Guide to Writing Paranormal (Dragon Moon Press) won a Book of the Year Gold Award in the Writing Category at The Foreward Reviews.

From the Web site: “ForeWord Reviews’ Book of the Year Awards were established to bring increased attention to librarians and booksellers of the literary and graphic achievements of independent publishers and their authors. ForeWord is the only review trade journal devoted exclusively to books from independent houses.”


I have a chapter in the book on joining (or starting) a critique group, along with a short essay on how to critique.


You Should Be Reading The 3Six5 Blog

There’s a fascinating blog called The 3Six5. Each day is written by a different writer and is a slice of their life of what happened on a particular day. Each entry is 365 words or less and includes a picture of what happened on that day.

The writers come from all over the world, and every day is so different than the last.

Today was my day: I talked a bit about my job at the National Agricultural Library and how (strangely) Jack FM played Christmas Carols all day today. You wouldn’t think the two would join for a decent essay, but come together they do.

Read it (and others!) on The 3Six5.

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

Writing Prompt – Bugs

I’m playing a word association trick with you today.

What’s the first thing you thought of when you read the title, “bugs?”

Sometimes the shortest words can have the most meanings, depending on context.

I deliberately didn’t post a photo (like I am wont to do) when presenting a writing prompt, because I didn’t want to influence what your initial reaction might be to the word “bugs.” I assure you, there is a picture.

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Write a story, poem or journal entry about the first thing you thought of when you read the word, “bugs.”
  • Take the first thing you thought of, and see how it applies to an old memory. Write about that memory involving bugs.
  • Write about a flu bug, cold germ or cooties.
  • Write about a room being bugged.
  • Write about someone who bugs you (or a time when you bugged someone else). Write about things that bug you.
  • Write about a master computer programmer who inadvertently programs a bug into a program. Writer about a hacker who deliberately puts a bug in the program. Write about one person this bug affects, and how he or she solves the problem.
  • Write literally about bugs: flies, ants, cockroaches, bedbugs, head lice, spiders or stink bugs.
  • Write a favorable (or at least, not negative) poem about a much-disliked bug, like a roach. For example:

    How delightful to suspect
    All the places you have trekked:
    Does your long antenna whisk its
    Gentle tip across the biscuits?

    Do you linger, little soul,
    Drowsing in our sugar bowl?
    Or, abandonment most utter,
    Shake a shimmy on the butter?

    (From Nursery Rhymes for the Tender-Hearted, by Christopher Morley, 1921. Read the full poem here.)

  • Write about catching a bug, a wild enthusiasm or obsession, for something.

Good luck!

p.s. If you want to see the photo that made me think of bugs, here it is.

Friday, May 11th, 2012

Writing Prompt – Man Made Storms and Storm Chasing

1935 Image of Colorado Dust Storm from Library of CongressOn this date in 1934 a huge dust storm sent 350 million tons of silt and topsoil catapulting eastward from the Great Northern Plains, some of it reaching as far as New York and Atlanta.

The reason?

When the plains states were settled in the mid-1800s, the land was covered by prairie grass which kept the ground moist and kept soil from blowing away during hot, dry times. When farmers began plowing the grass under to plant crops, the soil dried and had nothing to keep it from blowing away.

Worse, the U.S. involvement in World War I in 1917 created a huge demand for wheat, and farmers plowed under more and more grassland, thanks also to a new invention: the tractor. Farmers continued to plow after the war, as even more powerful tractors came on the market. (In the 1920s, wheat production increased by 300%, glutting the market by 1931.)

In the early 1930s, a severe drought caused crops to die, and wind to carry the dust from the fields. Storms increased yearly until 1934 when the number of them decreased, but the severity increased, causing the worst dust storm in history on May 11. The New York Times reported, dust “lodged itself in the eyes and throats of weeping and coughing New Yorkers,” and even ships some 300 miles offshore saw dust collect on their decks.*

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Write a poem, essay or journal entry about being unexpectedly caught in a storm.
  • Write about being caught in a dust storm, wind storm or any kind of storm other than rain or sleet or hail. Was it a small storm, or a large one (affecting your town or the entire state)? Did you need to seek shelter? If so, where?
  • Write about:
    • biting the dust
    • dusting it up, or dusting it off
    • gathering dust
    • when the dust settles
    • dry as dust
    • dust bunnies
  • Theorize about how something we’re doing today could unintentionally cause a catastrophe such as the dust storm of 1934. What would we need to do to prevent it? How could we fix the problem if we don’t?
  • Would you ever consider being a storm chaser? Why or why not? What do you think the risks would be? What do you think the rewards would be?
  • Scientists risk their lives chasing tornadoes in hopes of learning about them. What do you think these scientists are trying to find out? What do you think the benefits will be for society if scientists find these answers?
  • I’ve seen the dust so black that I couldn’t see a thing,
    I’ve seen the dust so black that I couldn’t see a thing,
    And the wind so cold, boy, it nearly cut your water off.

    I seen the wind so high that it blowed my fences down,
    I’ve seen the wind so high that it blowed my fences down,
    Buried my tractor six feet underground.

    Well, it turned my farm into a pile of sand,
    Yes, it turned my farm into a pile of sand,
    I had to hit that road with a bottle in my hand.

    ~ From the Dust Bowl Blues, Woody Guthrie

  • “Charge it to the dust and let the rain settle it.”
  • Write about any other natural disaster, such as a tornado, a landslide or avalanche, a tsunami, or an earthquake.
  • Write about a storm that personally affected you in some way. What kind of storm was it? How did you get caught in it? What were the consequences?
  • Write a story where a storm is the inciting incident. (The inciting incident is the action or event that sets in motion the central conflict of the story.) Or, write a story in which a storm plays a major role.
  • Write about:
    • the calm before a storm
    • the eye of the storm, or being in the eye of the storm
    • weathering the storm
    • stormy weather
    • any port in a storm
    • a storm is brewing
    • storming out of a room
    • taking something by storm
  • We are the voices of the wandering wind,
    Which moan for rest and rest can never find;
    Lo! as the wind is, so is mortal life,
    A moan, a sigh, a sob, a storm, a strife.

    ~ The Deva’s Song, Sir Edwin Arnold

Good Luck!



* Quote from’s May 11 entry.
Image Credit: A dust storm strikes Powers County, Colorado, in April 1935. Image: Library of Congress, FSA-OWI Collection, Repro. Num. LC-USF343-001617-ZE DLC.

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Back from Retreat – A Few Takeaways

Cacapon Retreat GoalsBefore I left for my writer’s retreat I set some pretty ambitious goals. When I got there, I wrote them down on a wall poster and hung it in the room where I did most of my writing.

(You’re seeing an early version of it here in the pic to the left. By the end of the retreat, I’d finished many more items than indicated in the photo.)

When I completed a task, I made an “X” in the box to the left of the task and moved on.

Other members of the group also wrote their goals on the easel pad and hung it, and as we worked, we were surrounded by these wall posters of what we wanted to accomplish. (It was gratifying to see that I wasn’t the only one who’d listed projects that should have been done months — if not years — ago.)

It was interesting to see the different styles by which we all worked. My list had no priority order, and I chose the easiest/quickest items to complete first and cross of my list. For me, it was motivating to see items checked off, and I built momentum as we went along.

Another member prioritized his list, then started from the top, working on each item in 30 minute intervals. Once 30 minutes passed, he added a tick mark to the item and moved on to the next: his method for avoiding writer’s block or getting discouraged by the length of time one item might take.

Another member just started from the top of her list and worked her way down.

When we rented the cabin earlier this year, we’d planned to work on card tables in our own rooms, but the “great room” of the cabin was so spacious (and contained a fire place!) that we decided to work together at the large dining table.

I wasn’t certain how that was going to work at first, and it felt a little bit like being stuck in “study hall” in high school, but it worked splendidly. We were quiet and industrious, with the occasional question tossed out to the group. I liked it better — and got more work done — than our previous retreat (though I enjoyed that retreat very much, too).

During the previous retreat, we lived and worked in separate rooms, dormitory style, and only saw each other for meals (at which time we weren’t allowed speak to each other).

I found this retreat much more enjoyable, even if we tended to spend too much time (IMO) socializing at meals. As a group, we’ve already decided to rent again at this location next year.

I find the benefits of “communal” retreating to be:

  • Having the camaraderie of like-minded, motivated people who are on hand immediately to bounce an idea off of or ask for a quick critique
  • The “immediate” presence of other writers encouraged me to write, even when I didn’t feel like it.
  • By the same token, the presence of other writers discouraged web surfing, excessive solitaire playing and general cat waxing. (In fact, I didn’t goof off AT ALL…and didn’t feel deprived, either.)

Another thing I learned: Don’t take too much stuff.

All of us over packed, including on food. “Starving Writer” would certainly have been a misnomer for us.

Beyond food, we brought a printer, extra cartridges and reams of paper which we never touched, as well as office supplies, some writing prompt books, and other things we never used. I brought two novels to read. Although I read voraciously at home, I found when I tumbled into bed after writing all day I was too tired to read more than a page or two. I’ll leave those at home next time.

We did coordinate supplies: a “you bring this and I’ll bring that” kind of coordinating, but I think we’ll do more of that next time.

On the last day, I packed up my goals poster and brought it home. It’s now hanging on the wall over my desk. There’s nothing like staring at a list of “unfinished projects” to keep you moving. When I’m done with it, I’ll likely grab a new easel sheet and start another. And although I’ve got a ton more things to do than what’s on the list, I like the “finite” feel of the limited size of the wall poster.

Along with the poster, I’ve got an electronic “to do” list of things I need to accomplish now that I’ve returned. Many items on that list take the form of: “Send suchandsuch project to suchandsuch venue.” I’ve done a few of those tasks already, but I’ve more to do: all related to manuscripts completed on retreat (which might not have gotten done if I hadn’t gone away).

All in all: A huge success. It was a blast, and I’m ready to go again.

Friday, March 16th, 2012

Writing Prompt: Check Your Morgue or Trunked Files

Virginia Pilot Ledger Newspaper MorgueMy background is journalism, so naturally I have my own morgue.

The “morgue” in newspaper parlance are the file cabinets holding all the research materials, notes and photos that went into producing a news story. All the pieces are usually filed together in a single folder by year or story. Sometimes the photos have their own morgue. Depends on the newspaper.

Pretty inefficient, really. While a lot of those records are filed electronically now, most of it still goes down the same way because who has the time to turn scribbled notes and library research into electronic documents when you’ve got to write the next news story?

And really, that stuff almost never gets looked at again unless it’s a really big story that has repercussions years later and needs to be referenced again. Or, the newspaper runs one of those “Five years ago, Ten years ago, etc. columns.

Writers tend to have ideas folders (stuff where they put ideas they’ve had, but aren’t ready to be written yet, snippets of overhead conversations, inspiring photos, etc.) and “trunked” files: a place for those stories that were written, but never got sold for whatever reason.

I have another file I keep, my “Culled from ‘XX Manuscript'” file: this is the place where I copy and paste the stuff edited out of my manuscripts. It contains idle scenes, verbose paragraphs, misplaced character thoughts in long and short phrases.

It’s a file that makes me feel better when I’m editing: I can take all that “hard work” which should never see the light of day, and keep a record of having written it. I tell myself I’ll go back there one day and make use of it.

I’ve never, ever done so (unlike my morgue or ideas folders…)

But this past week while I was doing some major edits, I realized that that file contains a lot of good stuff even if it wasn’t polished enough — or well thought out enough — to use in the current manuscript.

It’s plenty good for inspiring ideas when you need a kick.

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Raid your ideas folder or junked stories for a snippet, phrase, paragraph, description, etc. to get your juices flowing: we’re not looking for an old idea to use here, we’re reading until you find a phrase that sparks a new idea. Find it and write.
  • Kill two birds with one stone: edit something that needs to be polished. Take all those words and phrases you cut away and save them into another file. Likely, they won’t be ‘sparkers’ this early: they’re too fresh in your mind. Set them aside for a few weeks and then revisit. In the meantime: you’ve polished up some writing. Send it out!
  • If you don’t have ideas folders, trunked files, or writing that needs some editing (Welcome, beginner!) pick a book off your shelf — something you haven’t read in a long time, or something you’ve never read — and open it to a random page. Read until an idea is sparked.
  • If none of these ideas appeal, here area a few very short phrases from my latest edits. Feel free to use them for your own stories:
    • “I’m damn tired of not getting my money’s worth.”
    • So, what did he want me to do about this?
    • It didn’t matter why the old man told him the story: he didn’t want to hear it.
    • …stiff and away from the window…
    • Chasing women was something he’d never had to do
    • Convinced he could do no more for the creature than make her comfortable, he…
    • The priestesses had long controlled the northern parts of the continent because of…

Good luck!

Photo Credit: A story about the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot and the Norfolk Ledger-Dispatch newspaper morgue.

Friday, February 24th, 2012

Writing Prompt – Remember the Alamo!

The Alamo - Photo by Open ContentOn February 24, 1836, Colonel William Travis issued a call for help on behalf of Texas troops defending the Alamo.

The Alamo — a fortress, the site of an old Spanish mission, and one of two ‘gateways’ into Texas from Mexico — was under attack by the Mexican army.

A bit of history:

Travis moved from Alabama to Texas in 1831 and became a leader of the movement to overthrow the Mexican government. When the official revolution began in 1835, he was given command of a small troop of soldiers in the recently captured city, San Antonio de Bexar.

On February 23, 1836, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana arrived in San Antonio — weeks earlier than anticipated — accompanied by a large contingent of the Mexican Army, and called for Travis’ surrender.

Travis and his troops, heavily outnumbered, holed up in the Alamo along with a volunteer militia led by Colonel James Bowie.

On the 24th, they answered Santa Ana’s demand with a cannon shot from the Alamo. Furious, Santa Ana ordered his men to take the Alamo. Travis sent out several messages via courier asking for help. He signed them with the now famous tagline, “Liberty or death.”

Travis’ pleas were largely ignored: only 32 men from a nearby town came to his aid. Still, the men of the Alamo put up a grand fight.

They held the fort until March 6, when Santa Ana’s troops broke through the outer wall. Travis, Bowie and 190 ‘rebel’ soldiers were killed — most by execution, once Santa Ana claimed the fort. (Though during the siege, the Texas rebels killed at least 600 of Santa Ana’s nearly 5,000 men.)

The loss of the brave men at the Alamo turned the tide in favor of the Texas Revolution, and soldiers were heard to cry, “Remember the Alamo!” as they entered into the fray with the Mexican army. Santa Ana was soon captured by the Texas Army and on May 14, 1836, Texas officially became an independent republic.

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Write a ‘what if’ essay: What if you had the power to stop a war. Would you do it? Would you have stopped a past war in history, knowing that it would mean your life would be very different today?
  • Choose a legendary historical war and imagine “the other side” won. Re-write history.
  • Write a war poem. Use onamonapia to convey the feeling and action of the war.

  • Write an essay, a poem, a short story, a vignette etc.:
    1. glorifying war
    2. condemning war
    3. using war as a metaphor for something else, or
    4. using something else as a metaphor for war.


Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

Latest Manuscript Takes a Surprising Turn

Bugs Bunny on MarsBugs Bunny fans will recognize the phrase, “I knew I shoulda taken that left turn at Albuquerque.”

I’m sitting here saying the same thing as my current manuscript is no longer recognizable: It’s taken a left turn into erotica.

You regulars will know that I write dark fantasy and science fiction. (Those of you who came here after googling “erotica” know that now, too.)

So, it’s as surprising to me (as you) that I’ve written three complete — and soon to be four — scenes in my current manuscript that are so steamy, I had to step outside in the cool air for a minute before I sat down again to finish them. (And nobody’s even had sex yet!)

I was reluctant to release them to my critique partners for their review. (But they enjoyed them — even the men — so that’ll show me to want to hide my work.)

What’s strange to me is that I think the male lead in the erotica section is going to become a major character. At first, he was a walk-on. In the second scene he tempts the book’s main character, not only with the promise of really good sex, but with heart’s desire: healing a demonic wound which will not heal.

I can’t decide if she’ll go all the way with him in this next scene. If she does, she damns her immortal soul. But she’ll be whole again, gain a huge amount of knowledge about something, and have incredible sex all night long.

She just might be tempted. After all, her immortal soul is only lost to her if she dies. There are ways to cleanse it before that happens, right?

Yeah, I’m still working out the sticky bits of the plot. This is what happens when the characters start talking to you and they refuse to play the roles you’ve cast them in.

I can’t wait to see how this turns out.

But I’m curious: as a reader, would you be willing to pick up a book not quite like the last you read by an author, or would you bypass it in favor of something else?

Friday, February 17th, 2012

Writing Prompt – Patience

Stop SignI was running a few minutes late to work this morning.

This is a problem, because running even a few moments late can mean being a half-hour to forty minutes late overall.

Case in point:

First I had to wait through the traffic jam at the stop sign.

Yeah, I know that sounds funny. But, because I was late, I had to wait for three cars to go through the stop sign at the intersection onto a larger road. (Normally, I arrive alone, see no cross traffic, and pull out immediately.)

Three of us were waiting for cross traffic to pass. So that made me a few moments later.

Then I got behind the pokey driver (+ a few moments) and because we were pokey, the school bus pulled out in front of us (+ a few more minutes) and then we got stopped by the train (+ a lot more moments while we waited for I-stopped-counting-at-57-cars to go by.)

When I finally got to the highway, traffic was nearly bumper to bumper, and I lost my early morning commute advantage.

::: sigh :::

The inclination is to get in the hammer lane and speed along with all the other crazies so that I can make up some time. But I exercise patience, because as the billboard says, it’s better to arrive 6 minutes late, than six feet under.

(Although in my case, it’s about 35 minutes late. That’s still better than six feet under.)

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Write a story, essay or scene where a character’s patience led him into trouble. For instance, due to patience, someone lost a career opportunity; or, someone watched a loved one die while they patiently waited for a quack doctor to affect some kind of cure.
  • Write a story where not being patient brought on loads of trouble. (This one is almost too easy: impatient driving caused an accident, bailing out too soon meant taking hit in the stockmarket – but holding on a day could have meant making zillions, jumping to conclusions loses you the love of your life, etc.)
  • How about a play on words? Use patience, patients or pay / shuns in a poem or essay.
  • If you journal, write about a time you had to convince someone else to be patient…and you were wrong. What happened?
  • And some obligatory quotes to stir the juices:
    • Patience is the best remedy for every trouble. ~ Plautus
    • Patience is a remedy for every sorrow. ~ Publius Syrus
    • Patience, and shuffle the cards. ~ from Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
    • Patience is a necessary ingredient of genius. ~ Benjamin, Earl of Beaconsfield Disraeli
    • Endurance is the crowning quality, And patience all the passion of great hearts. ~ James Russell Lowell

Stop sign photo from