Saturday, June 28, 2014

Furry Muses

In the bio of my first book, I mentioned that I got a lot of writing done with a warm puppy asleep on my foot. How a sleeping puppy can help a writer develop her craft is almost as much a mystery as those I write. So I’d like to take this opportunity to explain.

As many people know, my family has been raising Seeing Eye® puppies to become guides for the blind for over twenty years. We are currently raising our thirteenth pup.

We started shortly after I found a copy of the novel FOLLOW MY LEADER, by James B. Garfield, in one of the local libraries.  I had read it as a child and tried to become a puppy raiser at that time.  I sent a letter to The Seeing Eye® asking them how I could get involved and they replied saying I could not do it because I lived in Brooklyn. I would have to live in New Jersey. I figured that would never happen.

But it did, many years later, when I was an adult. And when my daughter read the book at about the same age as I had, she asked if we could raise a puppy.  My husband was totally against it, we were cat people, and it was out of the question.  We finally convinced him that it would be just for one year. That was in 1993.

Raising a puppy starts with the delivery of a seven-week-old ball of fur. The anticipation for each of our puppies was similar—excitement, acknowledgement of a big responsibility, and in the beginning, lack of sleep. The warmth and sweetness of a soft fresh puppy is unbeatable and the cuteness factor is sky high. Cuddling ensues when the puppy is delivered, but also training.  The more we followed the rules, the easier it became. We learned that when the puppy wakes up, we were to take her out, after she ate, we were to take her out, and when she had been playing for a while it was a really good idea to take her out. It sounds tedious but it doesn’t last forever, and it cuts way down on the paper towel and stain remover bills.

Because I was not officially working, (volunteering in two school libraries, puppeteering in KIDS ON THE BLOCK disability/difference awareness performances, carpooling and taking care of my mother didn’t count as work) I was the one home with the puppy most of the time. I learned a few things, one of which was that if I was sitting at my computer, the puppy would curl up on my feet. If I wanted to get up, the puppy would wake up, need to go out, be played with or walked, or fed, etc. So I stayed in my chair and wrote book after book.

I have found that when I’m stuck, taking a walk with the puppy is a useful thing. We walk along, practicing crossing streets without running into them unheedingly, and discuss plot points.  The puppy rarely disagrees, but, on the other hand, cannot take notes, so I’m obligated to remember all the epiphanies by myself, rush home and write them down. When I self-published the last book in the Wally Morris Vengeance series last year because I couldn’t stand the series not having an ending, we chose the name TWELVE PUPPIES PUBLISHING as the name of our publishing company. The puppy who was #12 is on the back of the book.

Each of our puppies has had a different personality and sense, or lack thereof, of humor. Two didn’t make the program and lived with us for their whole lives. One of them became a therapy dog. Another of the dogs we raised who had a career change became a bomb sniffing officer for ATF. When people ask how we can give them up after raising them for a year and falling in love with them, which we always do, we say it is sometimes harder than other times. But one thing about raising Labrador Retrievers, at least in our experience, is that they will go with anyone, and I think that makes the separation they feel easier. To me, that’s more important than our feelings. The departing dogs will fall in love with their trainers, then they will fall in love with their forever people, who will not have to leave them at home all day while working as I now do.

Luckily I only work outside of the house three days a week, and while I’m home writing there is still a warm puppy on my foot, even as I write this blog.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Front Porch Memories

I’m one of those people who love front porches. After all what’s not to love? This is the place where problems are solved, neighbors meet, first kisses happen and where children play make believe. I remember sitting on my grandparents’ front porches. One lived in a village and the other was on the outskirts of a small town.  My siblings and cousins would hang out there, hashing over the day’s events. One of my grandmother’s porches was the place where neighbors would drop by for an evening chat. My father was an avid baseball fan back and whenever there was a game being played you could in find him sitting on the front porch in his aluminum lawn chair with the transistor radio by his side. One of my most cherished front porch memories is of being a little girl and falling asleep in my second floor bedroom listening to Phil Rizzuto call the Yankees game on that radio.  

Front porches conjures up images of rocking chairs, American flags and Norman Rockwell’s America. As a matter of fact all but two of the houses my husband and I have owned have had front porches. Our current one was purchased solely on the merit of that portion of our home. The photo here shows what our porch looks like this year after we freshened it up with some ceiling pant and some new and repurposed furniture.  We love our porch and think of it as another room in our house! Many an evening you can find us there, reading the paper, enjoying a cup of tea or glass of wine and always waving to the cars as they drive by. We have family, friends and neighbors who will drop by for a visit and I like to think as much as they love visiting with us, that they are also coming so they can sit on our porch!

Now I realize that not everyone can have a front porch and that the front stoop is just as much an integral part of many a neighborhood…but for me the front porch is part of the fabric of my life.  Not surprisingly all of my books have front porch scenes written into the storyline. What’s your favorite front porch memory? 

An Amazon Top Ten bestselling romance author, Tracey sold her first book on 9/9/99! Tracey always wanted to be an actress but couldn’t get past her stage fright. Writing gives her the best of both worlds; she can act out the parts on the pages without ever having to go on stage! Tracey’s books have been translated into several languages. Tracey has appeared on the award winning Cox Cable Television show, Page One and at the famous Lady Jane’s Salon in NYC. She holds membership in Romance Writers of America, where she is the Past President of the Published Authors Special Interest Chapter and the founding President of the Capital Region RWA chapter. She is also a member of Novelists Inc.  Tracey writes historical romances under Tracey J Lyons and her Wine Country Vixens contemporary romance series using the pseudonym Tracey Sorel.  You can learn more about Tracey and her books by visiting her websites at or

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Story and the Teller

The ClassicAndCozy blogging group is made up of writers who were all published by Avalon Books, well-known as a publisher of clean and sweet mystery, romance, westerns, primarily for libraries. Now, that option has expanded but the premise, for most of us, has stuck.
My particular genres are romance and women’s fiction. I like a happy ending. I like building a world where things work out for the best, no matter what traumatic events my characters have to face. Whether it’s infertility, child custody battles, professional jealousy, office bullying, ethnic prejudice (Salsa Dancing with Pterodactyls), or divorce and lost love (Wait a Lonely Lifetime), abandonment, the death of a parent, losing a job (Nights Before) or seeking a home, war, oppression (as in my historical novels), my characters triumph.
And that is not always a simple task, even for the writer of the story. There is no guarantee that characters behave as you expect, nor that their difficulties have a believable solution. The objective is verisimilitude or, at least, plausibility. The exceptions are Fantasy and SciFi but, even then, there are rules and conventions.
As a reader, I want to be included, drawn in and given an opportunity to learn something new, experience a new world. As a writer, making that possible for readers is hard work, especially if we want it to look easy.

I once heard a writer describe himself as “a difficult poet,” taking pride that his work is obscure, intentionally beyond the comprehension of the reader. To me, that reeks of arrogance and a wish to appear superior. A former colleague told me she did not trust the audiences of her dance performances to understand so she explained everything—talking down to them. What is the point of either position?

We all have a story to tell, our story, important to us. The impulse to tell our stories is part of our primordial DNA, from the first recognition of a common language, from the first fireside chat, our species has told stories and every one of them has been told and retold in a thousand different guises over the millennia of human history. And yet, we still tell our stories, whether they are about our own experience or based on the seven plots of humankind, or twenty or thirty-six depending on who has written the analysis!

Here are the seven basic stories: 1) human versus nature; 2) human versus human; 3) human versus environment/society; 4) human versus machine/technology; 5) human versus supernatural; 6) human versus self; 7) human versus god/religion.

We love these stories because they are about us. We all face these conflicts: ask my husband about #4!

Vladimir Propp defined thirty-one functions of a hero’s journey beginning with ABSENTATION: A member of a family leaves the security of the home environment and ending with WEDDING: Hero marries and ascends the throne (is rewarded/promoted).

Where is your story in the scheme of human storytelling? What do you expect from a writer when you enter the world of their story?


This is the 100th blog post for Classic & Cozy. Happy Centennial Blog!

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Duck and A Dolphin

I know I’ve written about my bayou before, but if you’ll bear with me, I want to share with you an experience I had this spring. There’s always something interesting to watch, but in this particular week Mother Nature outdid herself.

My husband and I usually sit on our bottom deck every afternoon enjoying the scenery and visiting with anyone who happens to come by either from the street or by boat. On this particular evening it was just the two of us, and in the middle of our conversation, he sat up straight and said, “I swear that looks like a duck sitting on my console.” We have our open fisherman on a boatlift, and sure enough, we rushed down the pier and found a big domesticated duck sitting on the control panel behind his steering wheel.

If you know anything about ducks (and I know very little) you know they are not very clean. This one had made himself at home and had (how can I say this nicely) “messed” over everything. My husband was infuriated. I begged him not to hurt the duck, so after a lot of shouting and stomping, he shooed the frightened duck away.

For the next two days war waged between my husband and that duck. My hubby tried everything from waving a big broom, tying ropes around the boat, and even sending the neighbor’s German shepherd down the pier to scare it away. I felt sorry for both the duck and my husband, but I had to laugh.

On the fourth day the duck didn’t come back, but in its place a small dolphin appeared in the harbor. You might think that’s a common sight for us since we live on the coast, but it’s not. Our harbor is about a mile down the bayou and to get to it, the dolphin had to swim through a long, narrow, winding channel. The dolphin stayed in the harbor all day giving us a show as it swam around gracefully. It was so beautiful and so peaceful to watch, and I wished he could stay in our little harbor forever, but for his own good I knew he had to find his way back to open waters safely.

As the sun went down, the quiet of the evening surrounded us. The duck was gone, hubby wasn’t running down the pier, and the dolphin swam peacefully in the harbor. As I took it all in, I smiled because a little marsh hen that hangs around every night flew to the pier and found his spot on the cross ties to wait for something to swim by. Tonight the blue heron didn’t join him, but I figured that was okay. Mother Nature had already given us quite a lot to watch this week.

No matter where you live, I hope you take the time to step outside and see what Mother Nature is doing in your neighborhood. Watch the birds, enjoy the flowers, take a breath of fresh air. There’s always something spectacular or different or even funny surrounding us if we only take the time to look.

Fran McNabb grew up along the beaches, bayous and islands of the Gulf Coast and uses this setting in most of her books. Her working career centered around teaching English and journalism, but now she spends her time writing and painting. Visit her at

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Swimming in Circles

At a conference several years ago, editor/author/ teacher-extraordinaire Karen Ball told about the attention span of a goldfish—about 3 seconds. That's why it happily swims in its bowl astonished as it passes the decor. "Look! I have a castle!" Off it goes to circle around and once again exclaim,

" Look! I have a castle!"

My writing focus--or lack thereof--is often goldfish style. I'm distracted constantly. When I work from my recliner, the television tempts me, my dog is oh-so-entertaining, and laundry beckons. When I work in quiet periods at my job, where I do have time to write, I still procrastinate. A deadline looms and I'm like a high schooler the night before a term paper is due.

I do know, however, I work well when I edit and proofread other author's work. Maybe it's the red-ink-teacher syndrome still running through my veins, but I truly enjoy helping others learn the craft of writing. Or maybe....look I have a castle... It's easier to tell you what to do than to tackle the blinking cursor and empty page!!

Do you find yourself shoving your work to one side? What brings you back to the page? Tell this goldfish your secrets on how to improve her stick-to-it-ness! 

But first I should clean the goldfish bowl, fed the fish, dust the shelf, maybe catch up on Masterpiece theater ... Look I have a castle.

Eileen Key retired after teaching school for thirty years. She is a freelance writer and editor, with two mysteries and several novellas published. Co-owner of Wings of Hope Publishing, her days are filled with writers and words. Mother of three, grandmother of four, Eileen resides in San Antonio, Texas.