Thursday, April 26, 2018

A Life in Fiction

I recently uncovered a copy of Surviving the Writer’s Life by Suzanne Lipsett, from among the many books on writing and writers that have been packed for months in preparation for moving into a house big enough to accommodate thousands of books and manuscripts. In this autobiographical collection of essays, Lipsett admits that she was in disbelief when a world traveler had no intention of turning his fantastic adventures into a book. “What a waste of material,” she exclaimed.

I don’t approach living as “grist to the mill” experience for my writing, but life invariably insinuates itself into my work. Whether this is conscious or subconscious is difficult to assess, but the infiltration is unintentional…for the most part. I admit to making use of life events—my own and those of others—in my novels. Who doesn’t? But who enters into an event with the sole purpose of writing about the experience? That seems like living life backward.

My debut novel, published in 2012 by Avalon Books, is set in a city with which I fell in love during a visit in the fall of 2007 (or maybe even 2006!) Years before, I had started a story about an artist’s model titled “Sylvia’s Hands” but hadn’t completed the work. My visit to Florence (Firenze) changed all that. In combination with a true-life story I heard while working as a marketing agent for a Welsh magazine that had stuck in my head, the tetra-sided tale became Wait a Lonely Lifetime.

I had not gone on the sister-bonding journey with the objective of gathering material for a book. I did bring a notebook in which I was working on another story and making notes. I hadn’t even packed a camera (which I certainly regretted) because one of my sisters had suggested buying postcards instead.

Immediately, I made mental notes about this amazing city, not intentionally to set a future novel but for my personal education. I embraced the adventure, setting aside the notebook in favor of immersing fully in the moments, absorbing every sensation and all information. Two years later, the tour of Italy with three of my sisters, bubbled and brewed and bothered to the surface with Sylvia’s hands and the lost love of a man I had never met and would never know.

Two years after that, I pitched the work-in-progress to Lia Brown, then editor at Avalon Books during the 2010 RWA Romance Writers’ Conference—the third and last of the WIPs I had prepared. One year later, all the pieces of that story came together to make the finished novel which Avalon acquired, just before the publisher completed its negotiations with Montlake to transfer all of its creative assets (writers!) to Amazon’s publishing subsidiary.

The notebook I abandoned in order to enjoy my Florence experience became my second contemporary romance novel, Salsa Dancing with Pterodactyls, which is almost entirely fictional except …

Friday, April 20, 2018

History, Romance--and Ghosts!

One of These Nights
My second historical romance--a Victorian--will be released next week. I enjoyed doing historical research for it. Besides the Internet and the library, I discovered a book while at Barnes & Noble a couple of years ago which was helpful--"A History of Ghosts" by Peter Ackroyd. Does the name sound familiar? Peter Ackroyd is the father of Dan Ackroyd--actor, writer, and producer of many movies--including "Ghostbusters!" Peter's father--Dan's grandfather--conducted seances in his home, many successful. So it is no wonder that Dan, hearing the tales from his father, became interested in the occult! I used my research as a jumping off point, including how seances were often conducted in the late 1890s. I also added my own embellishments. One of my critique partners suggested that my hero use crystals to enhance the seances, and I also had him use a meteorite. The book was a lot of fun to write and I enjoyed the seance scenes and the various spirits who made their appearances before my hero and heroine. "One of These Nights" is a historical romantic suspense (there's a mystery in the book) with ghosts and it doesn't fit into only one category. It's also a "sweet" romance, making it different from many of the other historicals out there. If you enjoy ghosts please check it out!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Adjusting to life on the Rez

My dear husband was born in San Francisco and lived his entire sub-adult life in The City. Adjusting to life in the midst of the Navajo Nation has been head-spinning for him. Even though I grew up in Arizona and spent my high school years not far from where we are now, I've struggled with a few of these adjustments myself. After nearly eight months on "the Rez," we still bump into occasional spin-worthy moments.

In our earlier life as residents of a small California city, we experienced infrequent "traffic jams," not like those seen by our friends in L.A. or the Bay Area, but we could sometimes wait for two or three green lights before getting through an intersection. Kayenta, Arizona has only three stoplights in the entire town and no one waits long to get through them.

Our cute little car had it good in California and slept every night in a finished garage. Here she has to rough it outside, 24/7.  She also struggles with a different kind of driveway.

We made some changes in our living arrangements as well, leaving behind a fairly new four-bedroom three bath home to live in a 480 square foot apartment, half the building pictured here, in the church parking lot. It serves the purpose.

Our former home town was hardly a shopping mecca, but we could usually find anything we needed and most of what we wanted. Kayenta has one medium-sized grocery, a hardware store, a small shop that sells western wear, and another for auto parts. If we can't find what we need in those four, we get to drive ... and drive. We have put nearly 23,000 miles on our car since our August arrival.

Medical care presents something of a challenge. In mid-February when my husband suddenly developed some frightening symptoms, we took an unplanned tour of the Four Corners: first a drive to the clinic in Monument Valley, some 25 miles away, then to Blue Mountain Hospital in Blanding, Utah, and two days later, to the San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington, New Mexico, where we could see a cardiologist. Two months later, we are still running tests and doing check-ups, but most of the truly frightening possibilities have been ruled out. Atrial fibrillation (A-fib) is manageable, though it means a 2.5 hour trip each way any time we want to see his doctor.

In our first days here, we marveled at signs written in Navajo. Now we've become quite accustomed to them. Just don't ask us what any of them mean!

We are also learning a few words of the Navajo language. We don't expect to learn much; if the Japanese couldn't get it during all of WW II, surely we won't learn it in a couple of years! Still it's nice to be able to say "hello," "goodbye," and "thank you." Perhaps with time, we can expand our vocabulary a little farther still. 

Then there is the mail. In Kayenta, everyone visits the local post office daily, or nearly so. We have no delivery to home addresses. For the most part, we have no addresses. People describe to one another where their homes are. Street addresses don't exist, a fact which challenges police and fire services. For compensation, we do have a lovely stone post office.

One of our adjustments, and one of our great pleasures, has been our "adoption" by some of the local folk. Alberta Cly and her family were among the first to take us in. Wonderful people!

We haven't yet learned how to live with the wind. Local lore claims that the air heated in the base of the Grand Canyon rises and rushes to the east. As I know little of the science of weather, I have to shrug and say, "Could be." What I do know is the wind blows much of the time and blows HARD. It stirs up clouds of dust which, in turn, stir up allergies in both of us that we never experienced before.

One other thing we haven't yet become accustomed to--in fact, we may never get used to it--is the magnificent, unique beauty of our surroundings. We marvel at the scene around us every time we step outside and especially during the long and beautiful drives.

Except for our neighbors here, who else can claim Monument Valley as their backyard?

Yes, we are still making adjustments, but we love it, and the longer we are here, the more we have to love.

Susan Aylworth and her husband of almost 48 years, Roger, are serving as full-time missionaries in a 12-step Addiction Recovery Program in Kayenta, Arizona, Navajo Nation. Susan is the author of 15 novels, all available as ebooks. Find her on your favorite ebook platform, at, @SusanAylworth, or She also blogs about her mission experiences at https://susanaylworthauthor/ 

Monday, April 9, 2018

Loving Libraries

This is the 65th anniversary of National Library Week. Sixty-five years is a long time, but I think the surprising thing is that it took so long for a National Week to be declared for libraries. They've been around much longer than that.

A collection of about 30,000 clay tablets dating back more than 5,000 years was found in ancient Egypt. We've all heard stories of the great library of Alexandria and felt sorrow that a fire destroyed it. I could go on, spilling out facts of ancient libraries that I found on the internet, but I won't. The history of libraries is fascinating, but what really fascinates me is the whole IDEA of a library. The idea that you can gather in one place all human thought and knowledge is ambitious and, some might even say, arrogant. Arrogant yes, but brilliant. Having access to the accumulated wisdom of great minds over the ages is perhaps modern man's greatest asset.

Maybe even better than the history of libraries is the future of libraries. Many of the institutions we love are falling by the wayside, but I believe libraries will endure. Not in the exactly same form, of course. They will continue to change and evolve to meet the needs of the people who use them. Even in the relatively short time I've been involved with libraries, they've undergone tremendous changes. When I was a child, a library was a hushed, almost reverent, space, a place of respectful quiet - quite a contrast to the library I frequent now, where there's almost always something going on - quite often something noisy. Children, instead of being shushed, are encouraged to participate in activities that can get rowdy, but which foster a love of learning.

Most of these changes I wholeheartedly approve. Some, however, require an attitude adjustment on my part. One of our local library's more recent innovations has been the installation of automatic check-out kiosks. The first time I walked in and didn't see the familiar checkout desk, I was, to put it mildly, startled. And a little nervous. I saw a row of strange-looking mechanical things along the wall. Where was my friendly librarian? Would I be able to learn how to use these newfangled machines? Would they make me look and feel hopelessly outdated? Not a problem. Staff was delighted to help and it turned out to be easier than I expected.

The new system is undeniably more efficient than having to tie up library staff to perform a routine task. Efficient though it is, I'm dragging my feet a bit over this one. I miss the human contact. I've always enjoyed chatting with staff when I check out my materials. I miss having someone say "Oh, you'll like this" or "I've been thinking about reading that book. Tell me how you like it" or "That one's been getting mixed reviews" or ... any of the hundreds of small pleasantries we exchange when dealing with a friendly human. But I guess I'll get used to the new method, just as I've gotten used to other changes. Who knows? I may even learn to like it.

Bottom line - it doesn't matter whether or not I like it; in order to stay alive, an institution has to change and adapt. I know that. More to the point, I still believe the invention of the library is one of mankind's better ideas. Wouldn't it be awful if every generation had to start from scratch?

One thing hasn't changed at my favorite library. This little guy still greets me as I walk from my car to the entrance. He never fails to make me smile.

Happy reading!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Creative Endeavors

By Fran McNabb
If you follow Victoria Johnson and her fabulous blogs and were expecting to read another one of hers today, I hope you’re not too disappointed. Victoria asked me to step in to fill her spot just for this month. She should be back in full writing mode by next month.

All of us who started writing with Avalon Books still call ourselves Avaloners even though the publishing company no longer exists. Over the years we’ve become close “virtual” friends and colleagues. The group has a tremendous amount of expertise to offer in the field of writing, but I’ve realized that many of us also use other mediums to express our creativity.

I’m in the middle of putting out another book and I’m relying on the talents of a fellow Avaloner, Sofie Couch who also goes by the name of Annettte Jareb, to help me get the story published. Like so many other authors, Annette has other talents besides writing and has used those talents to start a business called Right Brain Graphic Design. She has an eye for designing book covers and the talent to work with software and create the cover. I have an eye for covers as well, but don’t ask me to use a computer to create the cover. I’m not at all technical. Thank goodness there are people in this world who are. Annette explains “in first grade, my BFF declared that she was going to be a writer. Not to be left out, I announced that I was going to illustrate her books. Today, I do both. As Sofie Couch, I write sweet romance. As Right Brain Press, LLC, I design book covers.” Check her out at

Another Avaloner Sandy Cody spends her non-writing time quilting. "There’s more similarity between the two than you might think,” she said. “Both involve love of components that go into a finished product. I love words. I feel joy in their power to translate ideas into stories. I also love color. I’m fascinated by the way a color’s mood is affected by other colors–much like the characters writers create. A book begins as a tangle of ideas with a glint of story shining through. A quilt begins as a mishmash of colors and patterns that clash. Both writer and quilter study their components, testing combinations to blend conflicting parts into a harmonious whole. So much for similarities. It’s
the difference that makes them work for me. Writing is intellectual; quilting is tactile, a variance that requires different thought processes. Thus, the two activities feed off one another. In this quilt (to the right) I had fun playing with color. I used a basic pattern, put together a series of clashing reds, set them next to harmonizing grays, and threw in a bit of black for pop. The cat in the center was a lucky find. Serendipity. A welcome element in any venture.

Sandy isn’t the only Avaloner who spends time both writing and quilting. Leigh Verrill-Rhys also quilts.
Even though I (Fran McNabb) have always loved sewing, I never mastered the art of quilting. Like Sandy, I, too, love fabric and color. At one time I sewed for Mardi Gras and made hundreds of costumes for the balls along the Gulf Coast, but my favorite part wasn’t creating the garment, it was decorating it after the costume was made. I loved working with sequins and other embellishments. Today I don’t sew as much, but I spend a lot of time painting (It’s easier on the arthritic hands). I started by painting bookmarks to complement my books to sell at festivals. It wasn’t long before I realized I loved painting as much as writing. I work in acrylic. My painting (on the left) is called “Garden Gate” and was inspired by the cover of one of my books that is no longer in print.

Another Avaloner who loves to paint is Deborah Nolan. “When I went to law school, I quit painting,”
Deborah said, “and didn't start again until about ten years ago when I'd kind of retired. I paint mostly in oils and have been taking art classes in NYC every Wednesday night for more than ten years.  I haven't sold any of my paintings but my kids' apartment walls are all adorned.” Her painting of the barn (on the right)is about 5 feet by 5 feet and hangs in her apartment.

Even though writing and marketing what we write takes a tremendous amount of time, many of our Avalon authors have found time to enjoy other ways to use their creativity. Way to go, Ladies. Keep up the great work.

FRAN McNABB writes tender romances and will add to her eight published novels with her newest book, A SOLDIER’S HONOR, coming out within the next few weeks. Check out her others at

Monday, April 2, 2018

Filling the Well

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

Writers are givers, and that's a problem. First of all we have the normal obligations everyone does - family, home, job, civic and religious responsibilities - all of which take time and energy. Then on top of all this we also write, which is a very draining occupation. Using nothing more than imagination (and for a lot of us, caffeine) we have to create worlds and populations and both actions and reactions in a coherent format - to say nothing of editing, spelling, selling, publicity.... etc. - and they all take from us. (I've always wondered how we can give so much of ourselves and still not lose an ounce - we should all be at least size zero...)

Let's face it, we can only give so much without getting to the point where we have nothing left. We need to re-fill our well. Nothing can be created in the vacuum of fatigue and stress. The question is how to do it, because it has to be done. Time is a problem for all of us, but this is important, both for us as writers and as individuals.

We have to find our 'safe and happy place' even if it exists only in our heads, a place where we can turn off our brains for a short time and allow the well to refill. I am arthritic, which is not much fun and most people would not consider fortunate, but through this I found my happy place. Exercise helps arthritis, but as I am large it was both painful and nearly impossible, so my rheumatologist prescribed a hot tub. As we have a large back yard it was an excellent solution, one which pleases both me and The Husband.

And it became my happy place where I turn off my brain and allow my thoughts free rein. While most writing work is done in the head, I don't allow it when I'm in the tub. I go out just about every morning when the weather is clement (and sometimes when it's not!) and just exist. Oh, I do my exercises - which I hate - but in a way they're kind of Zen. I don't have to think, I don't have to do anything but just be. And move my legs. It's almost as refreshing as a holiday. Maybe more. I sit and watch the trees, whether in bud, full leaf, or bare branch. There are birds and cheeky squirrels (though I could do without them!) and, in season, hummingbirds attracted by my myriad feeders.

Now I'm not so silly as to believe that a hot tub is right, or accessible, or possible, or even desirable to everyone. Another person's happy place might be a park bench, or a coffee shop, or an exercise session, or a short meditation, or a shopping mall, or maybe just a quiet quarter hour with a cup of coffee and a doughnut. Happy places are as individual as fingerprints, and are always limited by both availability and price, just like everything else in the world. But you have to have one. What I am calling a happy place is a sanity saver, and Heaven knows writers need all the sanity we can get!

Find your happy place and let your well refill. You and your writing will prosper from it.