Friday, January 19, 2018

Real life Inspires Stories

The thing that most immersed me in the joy of reading was girls' series books such as Nancy Drew, the Dana Girls, etc. I devoured them from age 8 up. I was especially intrigued by the Judy Bolton Books. The publisher declared on the book jackets that each book was based on something which really happened. Often the author, Margaret Sutton, would add a note at the beginning of the book explaining the event which sparked the story. The first book, The Vanishing Shadow, was based on a real flood which she survived as a child--the Austin Damn breaking. I always thought, how exciting! As an author, I soon realized that my own stories often had something from my real life woven into them, too. As a teacher I was part of the negotiations team in my school district and I used some of those experiences in my traditional romance "Negotiating Love." As a member of the board of my local animal shelter for many years, I was aware of the amount of abandoned cats in the area and a cat became an important character in my book "Setting the Stage for Love." We authors use bits and pieces of our own lives and weave them into our stories--sometimes they inspire the whole book! If you've seen the movie "The Man Who Invented Christmas" you know that "A Christmas Carol" was inspired by a character Charles Dickens heard about, a miser whom people were discussing as he unashamedly listened in. Lots of real events make it into the fictional world!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

It Wasn’t Exactly the Christmas I Wanted…

By Karen McCullough

But it was the one I got, and it was terrific in its own way. Just not the way I planned.

It’s always a better Christmas when there are children around, so I was elated when my daughter said
she, her husband, and four little boys would be able to come to our place for the holiday. That meant a lot of packing for them, and a ten-hour drive with the four boys (ages 6, 4, 2 ½, and 6 months) in car seats in a mini-van. It’s a pretty big venture for them.


The three older boys playing at the kitchen island.

But come they did. I had things mostly ready – guest rooms, toys for the kids, high chair and portable crib for the baby, plus all the Christmas decorations. Gifts were bought and wrapped. We had plans to visit several relatives in the week following Christmas and to take the boys to a few of their favorite places. The back yard was ready with toys so they could play outside, since winters are generally pretty mild in central North Carolina.

My daughter warned me on her final phone call the day before they left that she and the baby weren’t feeling well and seemed to be developing colds. I assured her that wasn’t going to be a problem.  Little did I know…  (Writers love to use that particular cliché, and it’s so appropriate here.)

They arrived a few days before Christmas, and things started going sideways almost immediately.  The weather took a turn for the bitter, making it too cold for the boys to spend much time out-of-doors. In fact, temperatures remained ridiculously low for this area throughout their visit, making any outing an adventure in endurance. I’m talking daytime highs in the 20s and lows at night in single digits. Biting wind at times.

But I had a good supply of toys, crayons, markers, scratch paper, and books to keep them entertained. They’re good about playing on their own. Until all three of the older boys got sick as well a couple of days after they arrived. Then their Dad caught it. And my husband and I came down with it the day after Christmas.

This wasn’t the normal, garden-variety cold either, of the sort that makes you sniffle for a couple of days. We don’t think it was the flu, since none of had the achy muscles and joints, bad headaches, and nausea that go along with flu, but it was a really ferocious cold that made people feel generally icky for close to a week, then left us all congested, coughing, sneezing, and running for an additional week to ten days.

We had to cancel all the planned visits to relatives, forego the church services we wanted to attend, and forget some of the other places I wanted to take the boys. The kids were frequently, and understandably, cranky, mopey, and whiney.

On top of that, the bug exacerbated a continuing throat problem in my son-in-law, which forced a trip to the emergency room – right as we were getting ready to sit down to Christmas dinner. And a day or two after that the bug set off the six-year-old’s asthma. Fortunately they’d brought along his medicine and a friend lent us a nebulizer, but his parents didn’t get much sleep that night. In fact, sleep was in short supply for them for most of the visit with four wheezy, snuffly, stuffed-up children who all had trouble sleeping.

We blew through (literally) about 20 packages of wipes (for diaper changes and cleaning up runny noses) and several boxes of Kleenex for the adults.

And yet, amid all the chaos and changes of plans, there were some wonderful moments and great blessings.

Present-opening on Christmas morning went well for the most part. We do stockings first, and each of the boys got a foam play sword stuffed in the top. The two-year-old was so excited about the play sword, he went off brandishing it, and Christmas could have ended right there for him. We had to call him back and remind him there were other things in his stocking.

And there was the moment when the six-year-old unwrapped a present and found a book he desperately wanted. He literally shook with excitement and his face lit up with the kind of joy that, if bottled, could solve many of the world’s major problems.

The assistance of my older daughter, who lives nearby and has grown children of her own who were spending the holiday with their other grandmother, was invaluable during the chaos of Christmas day, and my sister-in-law Page was also helpful and understanding when dinner didn’t go according to plan.

At the end, they had to extend their say here a few days because of ice and snow clogging the roads back home on the day they’d planned to leave. That, too, was a blessing in disguise. With the boys finally mostly healthy again, we were able to do some of the things I’d wanted to do earlier, including outings to Safari Nation, a terrific indoor playground, the library for story time, and the Greensboro Children’s Museum.

Perhaps the biggest blessing was contained in something my daughter told me shortly before they left. In thanking me for all the help (though I still don’t feel like it was that much), she said that if they’d been at home with everyone sick, Christmas would’ve been pretty dreary. Being with us meant she didn’t have to handle everything herself, could grab a few extra naps she might not have had at home, and had extra hands to help with caring for the children. That made a huge difference for her.
And I realized I was glad that she and the family were here, illness and all. Together we all had a better Christmas holiday than any of us would’ve had on our own.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Coming Home

by Sandy Cody

I'm home. That's how it feels to be writing a post for this blog. I've been away for a while as a poster, but I've continued to read ClassicAndCozy and, always, I've been grateful to be a part of this family of writers. I was reminded of that recently when I started a new book. My first published works were the Jennie Connors mysteries, published by Avalon Books, and the Avaloners group was my introduction to these talented, generous people.

I've been writing other things for a while, but always knew I would come back to Jennie. That's where I am now - writing the sixth Jennie Connors mystery. Feeling the need to renew my acquaintance with Jennie and the characters who share her crime-solving adventures. I decided to re-read the books in that series. I began with LEFT AT AT OZ - amzn.to/2chHD5A  When I opened the book, the first thing I saw was the acknowledgement:

"Writing for Avalon makes me part of a very special group of writers. Whatever our genres, we share a belief that "happily ever after" is possible and that good will triumph over evil. Thanks to the wonder of the internet, many of us have become friends, though we have never met face-to-face and our physical addresses span the globe. I am truly grateful for the encouragement given me by my fellow Avaloners."

A bit about Jennie: She's an optimist by nature and an unrelenting champion of the underdog. She has two young sons and works as Activities Director of Riverview Manor, a retirement community where the residents are feisty, mobile, alert, and just bored enough enough to stir up trouble. If there's a murder to be solved - Whoo Hoo and Hurray! They're in.

So, here I am again - blogging on Classic and Cozy and writing a Jennie Connors mystery. I've come home. More than ever, I want to share my belief in "happily ever after" and to show good triumphing over evil. It's good to be back.




Monday, January 8, 2018

Creating Characters

I go to yoga classes in the city near my apartment on the upper Westside.  Although I’ve been taking classes there for about 5 years and recognize a lot of the people, I don’t really know any of them, but I still find them fascinating.

The class I go to most regularly is on Wednesdays at 10:30, Level One yoga. About half of the class is women like me, between 55 and 70, along with two or three guys also that age. The rest of the class is mostly women somewhere between 30 and 40 years old.  I observe them all.

It would be easy if I recognized them.  I used to see David Duchovny at my gym.  Actors are obvious.  They’re better looking than the rest of us and work out like their job depended on it—which of course it does.  But that’s not usually the case with my fellow yogis.  They’re not as handsome or as fit and not easily recognizable.  My speculation has been that they’re journalists, lesser known actors or artists, or teachers if it’s the summer or spring or winter breaks.

For several years there was a guy who came to yoga every Wednesday.  I think he was about 45 or so and lean and fit, but not super handsome so he probably wasn’t an actor.  He’d put his mat down in the first row and take off his shirt.  He’d also practice some of the harder poses until class started.  All of this annoyed me—he was, in my opinion, being a show off.  But besides being annoyed, I’d wondered who he was. Then he disappeared, leaving at the same time as our yoga teacher who went on maternity leave. I briefly wondered if he’d been her husband.  But that didn’t really work since he was, again in my opinion, too old for her.  But I decided he’d been coming to class because he had a crush on the instructor, explaining why he left when she did.  What he did for a living puzzled me.  Fast forward last week.  He shows up again. The woman I’ve designated our “class leader,” because she talks to everyone, asked him where he’d been.  “Travelling,” he said.  Hmm… Now I really don’t know what this guy does or who he is. Who travels for 18 months?

There are other interesting characters in the class.  The distinguished 60 plus man who’s all arms and legs,  shows up late every week, is totally inflexible, but keeps on coming. Then there’s the man with the therapy dog, sitting quietly in the back corner. I usually don’t notice them until the end of class when I’m leaving when I marvel at how well behaved his dog is.  There has to be a story there.  Finally there are the joggers, a band of 40-somethings, naturally fit and flexible, who head out to the park to run after our 90 minute class.  They just make me tired.


As fiction writers we create characters seemingly out of air, but maybe not so much.  Is it possible that my musings about my fellow yogis provide the blocks for building characters?  What they look like, what they wear, how they talk, and their regular attendance at yoga every Wednesday could all go to creating a believable character who will some day appear in a book. So much of what we do isn’t even conscious, but comes with being an artist.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Sustaining Your Creative Writing Practice

by Victoria M. Johnson

 I know many writer friends who feel overwhelmed with their families, their jobs, and the world, and they've stopped writing.  It's not that any one of them intended to stop writing.  But once stopped it's proven difficult to find the time--or the way--to relight the flame.

 I teach a class about sustaining the creative writing habit and we talk about what makes a habit and how to grow your actions into a habit in the first place.  For writers this means writing as well as creating a routine for writing.  Among other things, you stick to this routine as much as possible to develop it into a practice. 

 Naturally there are times when you can't physically or emotionally write.  Life happens.  Life often delivers unexpected hardships and emotionally draining challenges.  When you've been dealt a jarring setback allow yourself a guilt-free break in those circumstances.  Nourish your spirit.  Gather your strength.  Take care of yourself first.  Then get back to your writing practice.

 A good way to start is by feeding your creative soul.  For me that's a visit with nature.  The sound of waves crashing while strolling along the beach, hiking on a trail, or simply walking to a neighborhood park helps restore my sense of being.  The fresh air and movement does wonders for the spirit.  After a few minutes in the outdoors I can't help but unwind, and my writer's brain can't help but make mental notes for a poem or other piece.

photo by Alessio Lin
Photo by Alessio Lin

 My next favorite way to start feeling like myself again is exercise.  I love Zumba.  It's vigorous, challenging, and enjoyable.  Others might prefer a jog, a swim, or a punching bag.  Do whatever it takes for you to get some of that energy out and allow yourself to feel in control again. Experts say aromatherapy or massage have healing powers.  I agree on both counts.

 In time you'll be ready for the feeding of your imagination with things that stimulate you--be that music, artworks, or reading favorite works of others.  Feed it nourishing things.  And eventually you will pick up the pen.  Just write.  Forget high standards.  Forget the rules of writing.  Forget what you should be writing.  Just write what you want to write about.  Just say what you have to say.  Just write for a few minutes.  No pressure.  And you keep doing this until you get your mojo back.

 You're in this life for the long haul and it's natural to have periods when you need to step away from your writing.  It's okay.  A key to sustainability is taking that break... and coming back. 

Some authors can write through difficulties, others need to recover from them before putting words on paper.  Both are correct.  The important thing is resuming your practice and writing like crazy... when you're ready.  Do you have any tips for sustaining your writing practice?  Let us know in the comments below.


Victoria M. Johnson knew by the time she was ten that she wanted to be a writer.  She loves telling stories and she's happiest when creating new characters and new plots.  Avalon Books and Montlake Romance published Victoria's fiction debut, The Doctor’s Dilemma.  Her other fiction book is a collection of romance short stories titled, The Substitute Bride and a novella, Hot Hawaiian Christmas. She is also the writer and director of four short films and two micro documentaries.   Visit Victoria's website at http://VictoriaMJohnson.com for inspiration and tips and find her Amazon author page or connect with her on Pinterest and Twitter.

 

Monday, January 1, 2018

Time For A Change?

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

New Year's is a natural time for new beginnings. I mean, who hasn't made a New Year's Resolution... or two or three... But don't worry. This isn't a post about how this is the year I'm resolving to make the NYT list, finally finish redecorating my office and get down to a size six. (Not that any or all of them wouldn't be nice, but... let's face it, I am a realist.)

No, after years of doing my Classic and Cozy blog on the first Thursday of the month, there has been a rescheduling and now my day is the first Monday. I'm grateful to still be a part of the Classic and Cozy family, and sometimes a little shakeup is a good thing.

So - mark your calendars (I've already marked mine) and be prepared for first Mondays from now on. At least, until the next rescheduling.

And now about new beginnings - while New Year's is a handy peg on which to hang changes and resolutions, it's not the only one. Every day is a new beginning. You can make resolutions about whatever you want on any day of the year. In my youth there used to be a poster which said "Today is the first day of the rest of your life" or something like that, and that's really true. Time is an ongoing circle, with one day following another. Weeks, months, days, years... those are man-made divisions.

So - I say any time of year, an day is a good day to follow your dream. Want to write a new kind of book? Or plan (or take!) a special trip? Or dye your hair? Or start a healthier eating plan? Or... whatever. Why wait for a certain day to do it? Now is what counts. Somewhere in an email I saw this wonderful phrase "There is no day called someday." I don't know who has it as part of their sig line - and I wish I did, because I would certainly give that very wise person credit!

My grandmother always used to say, "Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today." I really kind of believe she meant it more in the sense of cleaning my room and getting chores done, but the wisdom holds true into following your dreams as well. Time will always pass. What you do with it is your choice.


Happy New Year, everyone! And - this year, may all your dreams come true.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Words

I have been a story-teller since I learned to talk. 

My earliest memory is telling my father about my dream house. I was three years old. By the age of six, I told stories to my classmates during the wonderful "Show and Tell" of 1st Grade (do children still have this opportunity?) during which I described the fox I encountered in Golden Gate Park. My family assumed, with fond mockery, that I had made the story up. High praise for a would-be novelist! However, I was proved truthful by consequent media reports of the red-coated predators in popular areas of this iconic location.

My credentials as a potential author of fiction were validated in sixth grade when I presented my teacher, Mrs. O'Brien, with a book report on (Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust) Marcel Proust's novels, Remembrance of Things Past, which I had never read! Only many years later did I realize how generous my French-born sixth grade teacher had been by not sending me to see the Principal, Miss Ryan. 

The book was one of many on the bookshelves of my parents' living room. Both my mother and father were avid readers, a passion that I inherited from the point of a creator. I was not as much interested in reading as in creating material to be read. Although I have gone on tangents into visual arts, indulge my love of singing, and earn a living with my understanding of technology, finance and administration, words are my beloved tools of the trade. 

I continued my apprenticeship in high school where I won an "A" for a book report on The Red Pony by John Steinbeck. My teacher, Mr. Lombardi, taught me the value of simplicity and the importance of placing emphasis on the significant. The opening sentence of my book report was Gitano was dead. I subsequently named the male protagonist in my novel, Salsa Dancing with Pterodactyls, David Miguel Gitano.

One of my professors told another that I wrote "the best sentences" of any of my fellow graduate students. I have worn that trade-peculiar badge of honor with both pride and humility ever since the receiving professor shared the statement with me. Also the responsibility. One of my professors further encouraged my ambition by praising my understanding of the male psyche. And another schooled his pupils with what he called the "taxi driver test" of literature: what we recognize now as "the hook".

My love of words and using them to tell stories is a forever love affair, although often unrequited! I do my best by them, as is required of any writer. We are what we write after all.


George Rupert Smith stretched his legs across the gap, toward the bench his sergeant, Morton Pierce, occupied to the full extent of his physical being. Though the train could not progress any slower up the coast, Rupe pressed his back against the upholstered seat as though he could hold the engine back by force of will. 
     
-- First paragraph from Pavane for Miss Marcher, Leigh Verrill-Rhys, August 2017
 Happy St. Stephen's Day/Boxing Day to all!