The Sisterhood of the World Bloggers

sisterhood

I have two fabulous brothers and no sisters, so sisterhood has always been something chosen and cherished. My thanks to Sally Cronin for nominating me for this lovely award. You can connect with Sally on her impressive website  

Without further ado, here are the rules of engagement:

Thank the giver and link their blog to your post.
Answer the 10 questions given to you.
Pass the award on to 7 other bloggers of your choice and let them know that they have been nominated.
Include the logo of the award in a post or on your blog.

Here are the questions from Sally…

1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

I’m going literary here -Tolkien. He kicked off my love of reading, which led to a love of writing, which led me here to this very moment on this blog that you are at this very moment reading. I marvel at how the little choices we make (like picking up a book) can change the direction of our lives. I’d want to hear the story behind his stories.

images (31)2. What are you most proud of about your blog?

This one is easy. The warm relationships that I’m developing all over the world. I wouldn’t blog otherwise as it takes a ton of time to read and comment on posts. My books are taking twice as long to write…but it’s been worth every minute.

3. What would constitute a perfect day for you?

Perfect days for me start before dawn. I get comfy in my recliner with a latte at my elbow. The house is quiet and the wood stove snapping. It’s raining outside so there’s no reason to leave the nest other than through my imagination. And I write. My other perfect day would be lazing on a hammock in the summer shade, sipping lemonade, and reading an awesome book cover to cover.

4. Name three things you and your best friend or partner have in common.

Laughter, friendship, and trust.

5. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained one quality or ability, what would it be?

Time travel. That would be totally cool.

Dolly_Sisters_onstage6. Have you ever had your fortune told? How was it?

Many times. I don’t recall any one time being particularly eye-opening. I tend to believe that the answers to the most important questions are already inside us if we’re prepared to listen.

7. Do you have an ambition that still needs to be realised.

I haven’t traveled much and would like to do that. This will probably sound strange, but I feel a connection to old places where human history is embedded in the soil and stones. Time blurs and I lose track of the centuries. I’d like to walk with the ghosts in more of those sacred places.

635722362001147376967090822_Sisters odyssey 28. What do you value most in a friendship?

Forgiveness, I think. People aren’t perfect and I’m a people. I make unintentional mistakes and misjudgments, say things I shouldn’t, forget stuff, get stressed, screw things up. My best friends are those that see beyond all the flaws and love me as a whole person with all the baggage, just as I love them.

9. What is your most treasured memory?

The birth of my daughter, an experience of pure unconditional love.

10. How would you describe yourself to a stranger in 20 words or less?

Goofy with an easy laugh, outspoken and big-hearted, an imperfectionist, and just fine with whole-hearted effort. I’m terribly disciplined about the things I love and just plain lazy about the things I don’t. (33 words – I said I was an imperfectionist.)

For my nominees I chose Sisters I’ve recently met and would love to know more about:

Susan
Belinda 
JM
Rosanna
Suzanne
Nurse Kelly
Tamara

And here are your 10 questions:

1. When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
2. You can time travel. To where and to when would you go?
3. Describe your muse.
4. What is your most treasured memory?
5. If you could invite a favorite character to dinner, who would you choose and why?
6. What time of day or night are you the most magical? Why?
7. A genie offers to grant you one wish. What would you choose?
8. If you were a mutant, what would your superpower be?
9. You may take only three personal items on your space flight to Earth2. What would you choose?
10. How would you describe yourself to a stranger in 20 words (or thereabouts).

My nominees are under no obligation to accept the award but may accept these flowers with my love and appreciation. You are all wonderful women.

flower garden

Let Death Touch Your Characters – Writing Grief

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The first book I read that dealt with death was Charlotte’s Web. I cried at the little spider’s demise and reread the book a week later, so I could cry again.

When I grew up, I became a grief counselor and hospice volunteer. I ran grief groups for children and families. The resiliency of children, their ability to find joy in the midst of deep sorrow and uncertainty, led me to a career in early childhood mental health.

I did all this before death balled up a fist and punched me in the face.

On July 3, 2003, my youngest brother, Dan, was shot in the head. Twelve years later, his murder remains officially unsolved.

As you might imagine, my experience has led me to be somewhat discerning about the presence of grief in the books I read. In fact, a psychologically “normal” character’s complete lack of any grief response to the death of a family member or friend damages the reality of a story for me.

The good news for writers is that people grieve differently, so the portrayal can take many shapes. Grief reflects one’s age, culture, previous experience with loss, values and beliefs, coping mechanisms, the safety of the external environment, nature of the death, and the complexity and depth of the lost relationship.

grief[1]The hard part is that a writer still has a story to tell. Unless the plot of the book centers on a death, the author needs to move the characters along. The story can’t stop while everyone recovers a sense of efficacy.

The prerequisite to all of this, as you might guess, is the need to know your characters. How one responds to death and grief is a reflection of the whole person. They will all react individually AND they will react to each other’s reactions. Conflicts and misunderstandings are common; your survivors will align or crash against each other.

When my brother was murdered, I experienced a large number of common grief responses. Thankfully, books don’t require that breadth of detail. Writers only need to pick one or two that are in keeping with the character’s personality and relationships. That will be enough for your readers. They’re smart; they’ll fill in the rest.

Below, I offer an overview of grief’s many manifestations. It’s not an exhaustive list by any means (to do that I’d have to write a book!).

Quotation-Barbara-Kingsolver-grief-loss-death-love-saying-Meetville-Quotes-276642

 Exploring a Character’s Grief:

  1. Common Physical Reactions to a Death:
  • Tightness in the forehead, throat, or chest
  • Dry mouth
  • Breathlessness
  • Nausea and/or a hollow feeling in the stomach
  • Weakness, fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances, dreams, and nightmares
  • Appetite disturbances
  1. Disbelief is often a first reaction upon hearing of a death, especially if the death is sudden. Disbelief manifests as an initial numbness, a surreal sense that this can’t be happening, that the world has stopped making sense.
  1. Internal/External Coping: Your characters’ reactions will vary widely. Some will express themselves externally, others internally. This can be a source of misunderstanding – the less emotionally expressive characters accused of coldness or indifference, the more openly expressive characters accused of wallowing in self-pity.
  1. Social Immersion/Withdrawal: Some characters will desire immersion within their social network to gain support or stem loneliness and fear. Other characters may avoid interactions, needing time to process and reflect in solitude. Many will fall somewhere in between, appearing fine until the brittle walls of control collapse at a word or gesture.
  1. The Rollercoaster: Most people will dip in and out of grief, able to handle it in small doses before backing up and regaining emotional control. Your characters will function and grieve, function and grieve.
  1. download (11)Reminders: Some characters may avoid reminders of the deceased, finding that places or objects trigger painful feelings. Others may have the opposite reaction—desiring to visit those places and carry keepsakes.
  1. Active/Passive: Death generates a sense of helplessness. Some grieving characters may resort to intense activity (cooking, training, working, painting the house, or shopping). This is a coping mechanism that counters the loss of control. Others will feel lethargic, distracted and forgetful. They’ll have trouble focusing or wander in a fog without the will to complete the simplest tasks.
  1. Spirituality and Religion: For some characters, death may challenge spiritual or religious beliefs and shake faith to its foundations. For others, spiritual or religious beliefs may be or become the lifeline that sees the character through.
  1. Conflicted Relationships: These are relationships shaped by a tangle of positive and negative experiences, wishes, and emotions. Characters are grappling for balance and control, for respect, love, or approval. Death ends all chances for a satisfactory resolution. The feelings left behind are a stew of love, anger, regret, and guilt.
  1. Recklessness: Though recklessness may appear as a death wish, it might actually be angry defiance, a wager that death can be beaten at its game. Characters may also put themselves at risk to make up for a failure to protect others or guilt at their own survival.
  1. Anxiety, insecurity, and panic. Unlike recklessness, anxiety can be paralyzing. A shattered world can leave a character with a heightened sense of mortality, a fear of surviving on one’s own, or an aversion to taking risks.
  1. Characters may feel relief after the death, particularly if the deceased suffered. Relief and a sense of liberation may also occur at the end of conflicted relationship, the battle finally over. Guilt frequently accompanies the sense of relief.
  1. Guilt: Guilt is very common and often completely illogical. All the “I should have’s” and “if only’s” roll through the character’s brain, especially in cases of suicide.
  1. Anger: Anger generally has four sources:
  • Justified anger at perpetrators and the failures of individuals and institutions. This is fertile ground for thoughts of revenge.
  • Lashing out at others in response to feelings of helplessness and loss of control.
  • Anger at one’s self for an inability to prevent the death.
  • Anger at the deceased for dying, for not fighting harder, not making better choices, or abandoning the survivors (like guilt, this anger isn’t always logical).
  1. Unexpected Death: Death out of the natural sequence of life is generally more tragic than death after a long life. Sudden death is frequently harder to deal with than a loss that’s expected. Death by a purposeful or negligent hand is often more difficult than one by accident or illness.

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  1. Previous experience with death can prepare a character for new losses and soften the sharp edges. At the same time, if previous deaths weren’t fully processed, new losses can trigger unresolved emotions and complicate healing.
  1. Delaying grief: Death and grief make characters feel vulnerable. In dangerous situations, it’s common for grief responses to be suppressed or delayed. Then once safe, the emotional blockade opens. If that safe haven for grief is a long time coming, consider that feelings may bottleneck, turn in on the character, or explode.
  1. Children’s Grief – Don’t forget that babies, children, and teens grieve too!:
  • Babies experience a sense of absence in their lives. They also respond to the stress of the adults around them.
  • Little children and teens experience the SAME feelings as adults including guilt – believing that they somehow could have prevented the death.
  • Children also dip in and out of grief, cry and whine one minute, then play and laugh the next.
  • Children and teens tend to regress to younger behaviors.
  • Children will frequently delay their own grief until they see that the adults are handling it well and it’s safe to grieve.
  • In an attempt to fit in, teenagers will frequently hide their grief. Teens may not talk about their feelings with their parents, but will talk to another trusted adult.

Well, that wasn’t very short, but hopefully it’s helpful. Please feel free to ask questions or fill in anything I’ve missed. Happy Writing!

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Striking the Motherlode

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image from flightfox.com

Well, I have a gift for you today. NO, it’s not a book. Phew!

A friend of mine shared a link with me, and when I opened it, I gasped. My knees turned to syrup, and I wiped tears of delight from my eyes. I’d struck writing gold.

Brandon Sanderson, the highly successful author of Mistborn and The Way of Kings fame, teaches a master’s level class at BYU for fantasy and science-fiction writers. The class is so popular that only a small number of interested students actually get to enroll. In response to the flood of despair, the entire series of winter lectures were videotaped and are available on YouTube at zero cost.

image from thebooksmuggler.com

image from thebooksmuggler.com

You don’t write sci-fi or fantasy, you say.

I will assert, while skipping in circles with excitement, that the ideas he presents are 99% applicable to all fiction writing. He covers a broad range of choices and approaches, and rarely lays down any hard fast rules. Writers will fill up their brains with ideas while being told to discover what works for them.

(Just to warn you, he does hate passive sentences and has an odd aversion to the word “replied”).

Now, this is a ton of material that includes not only invaluable lessons on writing, but also on how to pitch, sell, and market a book. He’s tidily listed the lessons by content so it’s possible to pick and choose what you’re interested in learning about. The complete listing, with links to each lecture is here: Brandon Sanderson Writing Seminar.

Enjoy!

Ordinary Handsome Review – A Stunning Read

ordinaryhandsomeii

I just finished this book and sit here collecting my thoughts. From the first page, I knew I had happened on something special, something that would sweep me into the otherworld offered by a talented author and his beautifully written book.

The story is grim, about the dying lives that labor on in the dying town of Handsome, Oklahoma. Ghosts in a ghost town. The book follows ordinary men dealing with the epic struggles that shape human experience: love and death, failure, fathering, poverty, murder and lost hope. It revolves around a young man, Euart Monroe Wasson, and the men who participate in the tragedy made of his life.

The narrative isn’t one to speed through. Baird writes with a style that requires one to pay attention. He slowly draws aside the veils that reveal the interconnection of each man’s story. I had the impression that I was piecing together a mosaic, the tale assembled from the shards of shattered lives, memories, impressions, and illusions.

The narrative is informal and appropriate to the rural landscape. At the same time, the writing is textured, rife with precise detail, stunning imagery, and raw emotion. Baird is a master at finding the perfect word and painting a picture that shifts and clears with each new perspective.

I highly recommend Ordinary Handsome to any reader who wants to get lost in an exquisitely written tale. This book will stick to your heart.

***

I picked up Ordinary Handsome after following Baird’s blog and falling in love with the quality of his writing. I offer this link for a sample: Hands.

hey__steve__by_angeink-d813x0kSteven Baird is an author, amateur photographer, and 35-year newspaper compositor. Ordinary Handsome is his first published novel, though he has been writing since the age of 10. His second novel, Cronic, was published in April 2015. He’s a native Canadian living in southwest Virginia with his wife Angela, a horse, dog, cat, and a roaming herd of chickens.

Link to Amazon: Ordinary Handsome

Link to Amazon: Cronic

 

The 777 Writer’s Challenge

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The 777 Writer’s Challenge has come my way. 

I was tagged by Julie Holmes, who writes adult mystery with psychic elements, mystery with a touch of romance, contemporary fantasy, and epic fantasy. Currently she has two polished novels ready for the world and a number of others waiting in the wings.

You might visit her busy blog, Facets of a Muse. She writes about the challenges of being a writer that most of us can relate to. I particularly enjoy her encounters with her good-looking muse. He’s demanding and doesn’t tolerate any excuses, but gets away with it because he’s so bad-boy dreamy. Intrigued? Check out this post: Distractions. 

So, according to the 777 Writing Challenge:

Go to Page 7 of your work-in-progress, scroll down to line 7, and share the next 7 sentences in a blog post. Once you have done that, tag 7 other bloggers to do the same with their WIP.

I’m sharing a first draft snippet from The Rose Shield, my current fantasy WIP that’s tapping out on my laptop at a slug’s pace. This early in the book, my protagonist, Catling, is only 6 years old. She’s a neglected child who just vomited after witnessing a hanging on a sweltering summer day. In this scene, her mother is attempting to sell her to Scuff, a pig farmer.

“Kind of skinny.” Scuff raised a bristly gray eyebrow and scratched his belly. “Don’t look well fed and watered. Don’t know if the pigs will tolerate the smell.”

While he chuckled at his wit, Catling eyed the chubby, pink piglings rooting in the wagon’s hay. Unlike her, they weren’t wilting from thirst. Her throat was parched as summertime clay, her tongue swollen and head swimming with fishes.

And now I’d like to challenge the following 7 writer/bloggers. Participate if you wish, but no worries if you don’t!

Rand Stein 
KL Wagoner 
Patrick Jones 
Mary J. McCoy-Dressel 
Kevin Cooper 
Mike Fuller 
Annika Perrry 

Have Fun ❤

The Zone

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I don’t know about you, but for me, the creative process requires a lengthy visit to “The Zone.” If you’re an artist of any kind, you probably know what I’m talking about, surely sense the obsessive urge, the quiver of excitement at the prospect of exploring undiscovered shores. My creative muse resides there, tantalizing and intoxicating, and she demands my undivided attention.

I love my forays into the Zone, despite its consumption of my life. It’s creative gluttony, stuffing my face with words, gobbling down characters, disgorging pathos. When I dive into the Zone, I’m not myself. I’m immersed in my craft, drowning in a taste of pure manna like an addict. The rest of the world fades into the hazy horizon as the Zone awakens that right brain craving.

As a writer, this is especially true during my first draft when a story’s taking shape. Within the Zone, unfamiliar scenes tap from my fingertips and uncooperative characters demand a voice. A fickle wind pushes my plot, requiring vigilance to stay on course. As an adventurer, I’m on my own, trying to make sense of an untold tale before I return to my ordinary life, take a long overdue shower…wash loads of stinky laundry…vacuum blankets of dog hair…make dinner for a gaunt spouse surviving on snack food.

Fortunately, my visits to the Zone are temporary, and I recognize the pattern well enough now that I can plan ahead. “Okay, everybody,” I announce to the family, “I’m going to the Zone for a month. See ya.” My eyes droop and I make a pouty face as if I’m going to miss them, but inside I’m giddy as a new mom with a night out. Party time for me and my laptop!

Here’s a typical conversation when I’ve entered the Zone:

Husband: “Blah blah…dinner…blah blah…oil change…blah blah blah?”—long pause—“I might as well live alone.”

Me: “Hmm, what?”

Sad, but true.

I’m starting to emerge from my most recent jaunt into the Zone. My latest creation, The Rose Shield, feels ready for a little breathing room. I timed my journey well this year, with summer blooming and the weeds in my garden whining for attention. The husband and house require a healthy dose of TLC too that I’ll sate over the next few months…but, oh yes, you guessed it…in preparation for another spree into the Zone come fall. I can’t wait!

Quote your Character (Day 3)

Quote Saige

Today’s the last day of the 3 Day 3 Quote challenge. Once again, thank you to LIVE LOVE LAUGH  for sending this my way.

If you’ve been following, you know I switched things up and decided to post quotes spoken by my characters. I invite you to share your character’s favorite quote in the comments if you are so inclined.

Talented poet Balroop Singh submitted her characters’ favorite quote in the form of a poem. Rather than stuff it into the comments, I post it here for your enjoyment. Two characters, a mother and child, speak through the poem: Tide of Time.

The Oregon coast

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TIDE OF TIME

Life was filled with innocent joys
Childhood pranks, fascinating toys
Lots of friends, dreams so dear
Aspirations and goals to cheer

Searching lost childhood in you
Soaring into the unknown blue
Seeking fulfillment in those hues
Which life had painted anew

Hand in hand we walked on
Brushing aside thistle and thorn
Sharing vision of future bright
Weathering storms, accomplishing heights.

Your éclat illuminated my pride
Those precious moments now deride
Tide came…carried them along
Bare sand, where do I belong?

Quickly, life passed by
Snatching away cheer and joy
Shattered shards of wonderful years
Lie scattered, arousing fears

Confused, crestfallen, I stare at life
Endeavoring to reconcile
Picking up threads, entangled by time
Living with memories, living with mime.

© Balroop Singh.
This poem is an excerpt from Sublime Shadows of Life by Balroop Singh.

The challenge has been completed (my version of it, anyway). If anyone would like to pass on the 3 Day 3 Quote Challenge, here are the official rules:
1. Thank the person who nominated you
2. Post a quote a day for 3 days.
3. Each day, nominate 3 new bloggers to take part in the challenge.

Happy Writing 🙂