Saturday, January 14, 2017

Taking Stock and Taking Action

by Karen McCullough

It’s a brand new year!  A fresh start! Everything’s bright, shiny, and new.  Except me, of course.  I’m not new at all. In fact, I’m getting on a bit, like into those years that start with the number six. That means more of my life is behind me than is ahead, though I certainly hope I have many more good years left.

But still a new year is a good time to think about what I want to do with the time remaining. So…priorities. Those haven’t really changed much, though the way they play out maybe has.

My religious faith is at the top of the list, but I prefer to let my actions demonstrate that rather than my words. In other words everything else on this list is informed by my spiritual bent.

Beyond that my family is the most important thing to me and always has been. My children are grown and have children of their own but I still have a role to play in their lives. Two of my three kids live pretty far away, which means travel to visit or bring them here, but those two both have small children and can use whatever help I can give.

Then there are the friends I’ve made over the years, some of whom are as close as family. I need time with them to be whole.

After that, it’s the work, both writing and my web business. Over the last year I’ve been reducing the web business to part time. I continue to work with my long-time clients, but I’m not taking on new ones anymore. I do still enjoy the work so I don’t want to stop completely, but I’ve enjoyed having a bit more time for writing this year and hope to have even more in the coming months.

Given those priorities, what do I hope this year will bring? Lots of time with my kids, grandkids, other extended family and friends, first of all, and plans are already underway to make that happen.

And I have a goal to finish two novels this year, including the long-delayed sequel to Witch’s Journey, tentatively titled, A Failed Prince. And currently in progress is the third in my Market Center Mysteries series, currently titled A Perfect Home for Murder.  I’m also considering a couple of shorter stories that are rolling around in my head. And finally I’m taking one of the finished novels that have been sitting on my hard drive for a while and putting it up serially on Wattpad. More on that in a minute.

Speaking of short stories. Wattpad recently had a contest for a holiday short story.  The parameters were: 1000 words, holiday theme, had to include a jar of pickles, and someone has to say “And where’s the hammock?”

My story is called “Grandpa Henry and the Pickles.”  Here’s a link to it on Wattpad:, but if that doesn’t work, it’s also posted on my website at

It’s a quick read, so enjoy!

Also on Wattpad, I’m releasing a serialized novel there over the next few weeks.  This is a finished, never-before-published romantic suspense story titled Hunter's Quest that I’ve been sitting on for a while.  It’s time to make it public and I hope it will interest a few readers.  The first couple of chapters are now available.  You should be able to read it here:

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Branching Out

By Fran McNabb
The oak tree outside my kitchen window is bare from the recent winter winds. The branches jutting
out in all directions made me think about writers and writing. Yes, I know, we writers sometimes have a strange way of looking at the world.

An analogy of a tree with a strong trunk and many, many smaller branches fits most people. Each one of us has a strong inner self, but we also all have tiny avenues of interest (our branches) that make us distinctively individual. Readers and writers alike can get into a rut so sometimes we need to branch out and expand to new areas of interest

If you're a reader, have you lost interest in books? Maybe changing genres can help. Do you read only historical romance? How about trying main stream or contemporary sweet romances? Tired of Science Fiction? Try inspirational for a change. Try new authors and new genres.

Branching out is good for all of us. Writers must branch out or risk becoming boring people and boring writers. We must move out of all comfort zone, write about characters that are different from us, use settings where we’ve never been.

We’ve always heard the advice to write what we know, but if that’s all we write about, we put ourselves at risk of not growing. Are you having writer’s block? Are you still looking for the inspiration you hoped to find from in this new year? Is looking at the world in the same old way keeping your creativity stagnant?

Yes, we have to stay true to ourselves, but let’s step out a little. Do you always write about a heroine who returns home after venturing out on her own? Maybe switch it around and use a heroine who realizes she must leave home to find her potential. How does she adapt to her new surroundings? Who does she let into her life?

Are your settings close to home? Writing about our hometown is easy and a great way for new writers to start, but again, move away from your comfort zone. Do research. Read about other parts of the world. Visit these places if it’s possible.

Readers and writers both must try something different for a change. You can always go back to what you originally liked, but who knows? There might be something else out there that opens your eyes.

The strong trunk of your personal tree never has to change. It develops and gets stronger, but basically stays the same. It’s those little branches that we can work on in 2017. Let them grow in different directions and maybe those branches will open up your potential for your new year in writing and in reading.

FRAN MCNABB writes sweet romances with some of them are set on her beloved Gulf Coast, but like the tree outside her window, she has branched out to other places for settings: W. Virginia, Key West, Texas, and South America. She has also stepped back into time with two historical romances. She’d love to hear from you at  or  check her out at

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Year of the Rooster

by Victoria M. Johnson

What's all the fuss about roosters?  Plenty—if we look at folklore, astrology, and symbolism.  Oh, in case you didn't know, 2017 is the Year of the Rooster in Chinese culture.  It begins on January 28, 2017 and lasts to February 15, 2018.

The rooster is one of the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac. According to the What's Your Sign website, the rooster is a Chinese symbol of honesty, as well as physical and moral fortitude.  It signifies fortune, luck, fidelity, protection, as well as bossiness.

Considered sacred symbols in Japan, the Japanese attribute the virtue of courage to roosters.  In China and Japan it is believed that by crowing at dawn, the rooster chases away evil spirits.  (And I thought roosters just crowed throughout the day to tell everyone who's in charge.)  In Portuguese folklore the rooster represents truth and equity.  While Jewish tradition identifies the rooster as a symbol of gallantry and honesty.

Year of the Rooster by Victoria M. Johnson

An interesting post on the JapaneseMythology & Folklore website says:  In Korea, people “believed roosters knew time well and considered them a symbol of hopeful beginnings and good omens." The Astrology Club website echoes that viewpoint saying the Year of the Rooster is "a period when the fiery temperament of the Rooster is expected to infuse more enthusiasm and energy into our activities, increasing hopes for better prospects for everyone."

I know we are all seeking hopeful beginnings, enthusiasm, and better prospects for our future and that of our loved ones.

According to the What Is My Spirit Animal website, as a Totem Animal, the rooster belongs to those who never give up. 

Determined, compassionate, and hardworking are other attributes of "rooster" people.  And since we are all here, making a go of our lives in 2017, doing the best we can with what we've got, we are all roosters, too.  It's encouraging to believe we each have a year of possibilities ahead.  

Let's make this a year to crow about.  Wishing you and yours a fabulous Year of the Rooster!

The Year of the Rooster by Victoria M. Johnson
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, (A Bookseller’s Best double finalist).  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 for inspiration and tips and find her Amazon author page or connect with her on Pinterest and Twitter.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Be It Resolved...

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

Sometimes I think if I hear/see/read one more thing about New Year’s Resolutions I will scream. Every January 1 we’re supposed to completely change our lives, remake ourselves and institute completely new thought patterns. Then, being human, when we slip, backslide or otherwise fail, we are depressed and return to our old ways or worse. Small wonder New Year’s Resolutions have in many ways become a bad joke.

This year I’ve beat the system. I’ve made only one resolution, and that one I am sure to keep. I resolved to make no resolutions! Which is an insoluble conundrum, I know, but logic has never been my strong point.

Resolutions have always unnerved me somehow. I am a very stubborn person and once I say something I will move Heaven and earth to keep my word. Two years ago I vowed to put my publishing career into high gear after far too many years of futzing around. I did it, and it bloody near killed me. Since May of 2014 I have been working non-stop, publishing I-don’t-know-how-many-books (including one release every two weeks for five months!) with never any less than three writing projects going on at a time. I traveled to Egypt to research a book, then to Boston, Alabama and Las Vegas to research other projects. I did mountains of publicity (which I loathe) and blogged a lot – pretty much any time anyone would let me in addition to my standing days. I spoke at several prestigious conferences and attended even more conferences, some for me and some for The Husband. I kept our house and made a home for The Husband, did some teaching and dealt with several family crises. And that’s just what I can remember now.

I’m tired.

So did it work? Was it worth it? I dunno. My sales have been fairly good, but not anywhere near what I want them to be. My name is known in the industry, and I think I have a pretty good reputation. I haven’t had the lightning strike of luck yet, but no resolution, New Year’s or not, is going to change that.

All of which has brought me to a decision. I’m going to slow down. I’m going to enjoy life more. I’m going to pay more attention to my home and my family and my animals. I may even clean out my kitchen cabinets. (On the other hand, I may not – don’t need to get TOO carried away!) I’ll still write, and publish, and speak, and pretty much do everything I’ve been doing, but just not so much of it.

I need to remember to put more emphasis on making a life instead of making a living.

(PS - for those of you who were interested in my newsletter, there is now a sign-up form available on my website!) 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017



I see a trend with my peers, older women with spouses, grown children, and often grandchildren. We’re all busy.  Our days are full and, especially during the holidays, we approach each day with a long to-do list. 

I never expected this.  I thought my main concern at my age, 60-something, would be making tee times or dinner reservations.  I imagined myself sitting by a pool or in my kitchen over a cup of tea, alone and bored, wondering what to do next. 

I don’t want to be that person in the kitchen, the one who has too much time on her hands who spends her days mostly alone and in silence. But isn’t there happy medium? How did it come to be that my peers and I are so overbooked and overloaded?  Could it be just during the holidays?   Maybe.  I’m sure the holidays are why I am writing this blog on the day that it’s supposed to be posted.  If I’m lucky it will at least make the west coast deadline, but the east coast one is long gone.  The holidays, although the reason for some of the busyness, doesn’t account for the rest of the year when my head, and so many of my peers, is still filled with lists of what needs to be done and calendars full of engagements. 

One reason for my schedule is I like being busy.  The picture of the lonely woman at her kitchen table or by the side of the pool is not an accurate picture of me.  I’m social, enjoy having people in my life and have many interests.  But as the end of the holidays approach, I ask myself when does being busy become an escape or is simply too much.

New Years is a time for resolutions.  Mine are usually to lose 10 or fifteen pounds and finish my work in progress.  This year, instead of the weight loss resolution—although continuing to be a wish seems, after all these years, kind of trite—I’m wondering if I should vow to schedule and do less.  Could there be a happy medium between sitting alone at my kitchen table nursing a cup of tea and a woman whose calendar is so full of engagements there is scarcely time for any spontaneity? 

Maybe it’s because I’m still in the midst of holiday recovery, but I’m thinking that instead of filling every day with obligations and challenges, my resolution should be to pare down what I do, learn to say no and take some alone time doing nothing.  It’s occurred to me that my head shouldn’t always be stuffed with what I need to accomplish.  There should be space for taking detours and even occasionally days of doing nothing or, heaven forbid, lunching with a friend.  

This goal is so revolutionary that I’m betting my husband, children and those who know me well, doubt I can do it. But I’m going to challenge myself to try. I think the resolution to occasionally do nothing is long overdue.  I’ll report back about my success or lack thereof.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

"Where do you get your ideas?"

As we open the new year, every writer I know is making resolutions about the work for the coming season and every would-be writer is dreaming and hoping, wondering how to make the dream happen. Here's one way to get from "I wish" to "I will."

One of the common questions asked in any author interview is "Where do you get your ideas?" Most writers I know have trouble answering this one since, for us, the ideas are everywhere. Life is a constant Niagara Falls flow of ideas. For those of us who think this way, it's odd to hear people ask the question. Often we want to answer, "Don't you get ideas too?"

This makes me think of Son #5. He is a gifted musician, and by "gifted," I mean he truly got music as a gift. It was born in him--which makes Hubby and me wonder what throwback ancestor left that gene lying around. Son 5 learned to play guitar when he was barely a teen. By the time he was old enough for after-school employment, he worked in a music store where he could pick up and play any stringed instrument they had. Just. Like. That. He has since taught himself piano.

When we remarked on his marvelous ability, he usually shined us on with, "It's easy. Anyone can do it." It has taken him time to realize that no, not everyone can do it. Authors are the same way with ideas:  Coming up with ideas is so natural to us that it feels like anyone can do it.

In fact, with a little training, almost anyone can do it. It requires the exercise of imagination, but it's not that hard. If you feel imagination-challenged, just ask, "What if?" Here's how it works for me:
  • On a TV program, I heard the story of 17-year-old Julianne Koepcke who, in 1971, was the only survivor of a plane crash in the Venezuelan rain forest. After a two-mile fall, she hiked out alone. Her story percolated in the back of my mind until one day I asked, "What if a modern teen survived a similar accident, but in the Bolivian part of the rain forest where I've been? And what if she was not alone, but had a companion who required her care?" This idea was the genesis for my newest manuscript, an adventure called RESCUE.
  • A friend chatted about a woman who claims to see ghosts. I thought, "What if a teen who pretended to psychic abilities was actually visited by the spirit of a murdered girl?" That grew into my first mystery story, MAGGIE RISING: Adventures of a Part-Time Psychic.
  • After hearing friends talk about high school reunions, I wondered, "What if a young woman returned to the town where she attended high school only to find that her buddy had grown into a very attractive, interesting man?" It was hardly a new thought, but as the bits and details began filling in, it grew into the first of nine romances set in Rainbow Rock, Arizona. Each of the eight that followed began when I picked a secondary character from a previous book and wondered who would be attractive to that person and how they might meet.
  • While watching a movie remake of Shakespeare's "Hamlet," I suddenly identified with his mother and wondered, "What if she told her own story? Would it sound different?" The result was my one-woman play, GERTRUDE.
Other authors I know have written stories after hearing of a racially-motivated murder and wondering, "What if it happened to my child?" or watching a documentary about Adolf Eichmann and thinking, "What if he lived among us today?" A friend watched a teenaged couple telling their families about the future they planned and imagined what might happen in a similar couple if one of them was diagnosed with a disfiguring illness. The same process, with variations, has led to the creation of just about every fictional story we've ever heard, seen, or read.

If one of your New Year's Resolutions is to improve creativity, here's one possibility. To let your own imagination work as most fiction writers do, just observe what's happening around you and ask, "What if?" Now imagine Dr. Seuss saying, "Oh, the places you'll go!" May we all enjoy the journey.

Susan Aylworth is the author of 14 novels, all available as e-books and a 15th which is now in production. She loves her northern California home which she shares with her husband of 46 years and the two spoiled cats they serve. When she can't be with her seven children, seven great kids-in-law, and 25 grandbabies, she loves hanging with her fictional offspring, the children of her mind. She also loves hearing from readers. Visit her website at or find her @SusanAylworth, at, or on Pinterest.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Displacement Activity

I am not working on Pavane for Miss Marcher today. Instead, I have swept the balcony, cleaned the kitchen drain, done the extra shopping with a comprehensive list from Dear Hubby who is teaching as usual, talked to several members of my family at great length.

Although Pavane is close to first draft completion, I have sought displacement activity at random for weeks. Today is no different, but I had similar difficulties last week. Also not different: work commitments, family commitments, special requests, time of year: in other words, any excuse.

With eleven books published, a twelfth should be straightforward but this one has always caused trouble, perhaps because the subject matter and historical period are more challenging than others I have undertaken. 

The characters are no problem, they have behaved admirably from Page One. If I wanted to write a character-driven story, I would be done and dusted. But, from the beginning, the other story elements make writing a bit harder. Some of those are the period research although this historical period is well-documented.

That can prove to be a barrier to creative narrative: you dare not question, dispute or fail the historical authorities. Even if the focus of the story is not the accepted written history, many readers will expect the appropriate tributes and markers. When I first mentioned I was writing a novel set in this period of American history, one colleague responded "You had better be on the right side of history then."

The "right side of history" is entirely dependent on which side the consumer of your fictional tale prefers: another good excuse to delay finishing the book.

The historical writer, Ursula Renee, has many good suggestions for researching historical material. The trouble is getting involved in research can be an end in itself. Many writers are notoriously easy to sidetrack with the shiny baubles of getting the traveling fashions,  men's hats, vehicles, soap products of the era right.

All of these distractions are what the screenwriter and author of The War of Art, Steven Pressfield, calls "resistance". You know you are resistant to finishing your book when finding room on your desk for that new pencil holder much more compelling than working on that tricky scene where your protagonists have to come to grips with the conflict between their knowledge and their desires.

I have recommended Pressfield's book to writers, actors, artists of all kinds. The gist of the book is simple: "Do your work." Accept that you have a job to do and do it. Manage your job as if you are the employee, hold yourself responsible.

I have set a deadline to finish. The only one I can blame if I don't meet that deadline is the same person who is, at this very moment, doing something/anything to put off doing the work.