Thursday, April 25, 2019

A Month of Renewal

by Fran McNabb

As I thought about my topic for this month’s Classic and Cozy, I kept coming back to the idea that we’re already to the end of April, the fourth month of the year. This month has always been a favorite of mine and can elicit a smile just thinking about it. (I know, that sounds silly, but it’s true.) In my mind, April is a happy month.

No one knows for sure where the name of the month originated, but some believe it came from the Latin word “aperire” meaning “to open,” such as in the opening of so many flowers in spring. 
The traditional birth flowers for April are the sweet pea and daisy, and, yes, both of these flowers happen to be my favorite. I call sweet peas “old fashioned” flowers. My mother used to have them running up one of her side fences. The sweet fragrance filled the air during the summer months. She’d let me go out to pick a bouquet to put in a vase in our house or to take to some of the older ladies in the neighborhood. I don’t see many of these plants today, but when I do, I think of Mom and her green thumb. The other flower of the month is the daisy. I wasn’t married in April, but I used daisies for my wedding. I just love the simplicity of the flower.

April is frequently the month that Christians celebrate Easter, this year celebrated on April 21. As a child I remember always getting a new pair of shoes and a hat to go with a new dress that Mom usually made. We didn’t have much growing up, but Easter was always special to us. This year the day was cloudless and the temperature warm. After church my husband took me and two other ladies in the neighborhood on a boat ride. What a wonderful way to celebrate Easter!

Lots of other days in April are set aside for special (and some not-so-special) days. The month starts off with April Fools’ Day on April 1 and ends on the remembrance of George Washington becoming our first President on April 30. In between, there are days that many dread, such as tax day on April 15, and some fun days such as National Grilled Cheese Day on April 12. In 1973 the first mobile phone call was made by Martin Cooper in New York City. What would we do without our cell phones today?

April has many other days of celebration or recognition, but to most of us it simply means that winter is ending and warmer days are ahead. It actually is the “aperire,” the opening of something new and exciting—a renewal. As a writer I am reminded this is a good time to renew my enthusiasm for writing. It's easy for long-time authors to burn out. If you find yourself lagging in enthusiasm, find a way to renew that interest. Maybe stepping away from your computer and enjoying other things for a little while will help. Enjoy your family. Read other authors. Relax. Do whatever it takes to renew yourself and your writing life.

Whatever April means to you, I hope you enjoy the last few days of this month.

FRAN MCNABB lives on the Gulf Coast and loves the warmer days of spring and summer so she can enjoy the beaches and water with her husband and family. Using this setting (as well as a couple others) she has published nine sweet romances, mostly dealing with characters trying to start over with their lives. Check her out at or at

Monday, April 22, 2019


I read an essay by Dave Barry in the Wall Street Journal taken from his new book, LESSONS FROM LUCY: THE SIMPLE JOYS OF AN OLD, HAPPY DOG where he talks about being shy.  He says he wants to model himself after his dog Lucy.  Needless to say, Lucy is not shy.
I’ve always related to Dave Barry and love his columns and books.  But it’s not just that. We’re almost the same age.  We have a friend in common, and he’s funny and perceptive about some of the same things I think about.  This time was no different.
I believe most people aren’t shy based on my perception that almost everyone can walk into a room filled with strangers and find someone to talk to.  They can also go to restaurants by themselves and enjoy dinner.  From my observation, even if someone was once shy, by the time they’re my age, they’ve gotten over it. 
I, on the other hand, and from the sounds of it, Dave Barry, have hung on to our shyness in spite of appearances to the contrary. Dave Barry is a public figure so I know he’s friends with Stephen King and is part of a band that, besides King, includes Maxine Hong Kingston.  That’s not how most of us see a shy person behaving.  I will admit that I too can sometimes fake it and usually don’t wear my shyness on my sleeve.  But there are certain things I’ve never overcome.
It seems it’s then, when it’s most inconvenient, that my shyness shows up.  It happens at writers’ conferences where I don’t talk to anyone unless they talk to me first. I sit alone instead at the back of the room taking notes or studying my phone.  It also happens at yoga classes in the city where I sit on my mat and stretch while the people around me chatter, not because I want to stretch but because I’m not good at initiating conversations.  It’s also true if I’m forced to eat dinner by myself in a restaurant—except in Europe where I have managed to overcome the fear because the payoff is so great.
Dave Barry lists his awkward phobias, slightly different but similar enough to mine to convince me that we’re in the same boat.  He concludes his essay with a plan to be more like his dog Lucy who greets the world with a smile and an expectation that everyone will like her.  After reading Barry’s piece I tried to make the same vow, but must confess that change doesn’t come easily.  
The one time I did I was surprised.  It happened when I reached out to my yoga teacher to extend my condolences upon his mother’s recent passing.  It was then I discovered in his reaction and our subsequent awkward hug, that he too is shy.
Perhaps my take away is that there are more shy people out there than I thought. I’m hoping this insight empowers me to try to reach out to others more often.  It’s a day at a time process and doesn’t come easily, but I have to believe that life would be fuller and easier if I did, at least at writers’ conferences.

Friday, April 12, 2019

The Web at 30

by Karen McCullough

We take it for granted. When we need to know something, we “Google” it. (And when did “Google” become a verb? No idea.) We set up doctors’ appointments on it, make travel plans, manage our finances, do our Christmas (and other) shopping, and increasingly many of us perform our jobs using it. It’s hard to believe it’s only been around for 30 years. The worldwide web is so meshed into our everyday lives, we feel helpless when we don’t have access to it.

It’s hard to believe that some of us are old enough to remember when it didn’t exist, when researching anything meant dipping into your encyclopedia or a trip to the library, when you wrote letters to communicate with people rather than sending emails or texts.

IBM 7030-CNAM 22480-IMG 5115-gradient

Most people think the worldwide web and the internet are the same thing, but it’s not so. The internet existed well before the worldwide web. The internet originated almost simultaneously in 1969 with the National Physical Laboratory in the UK’s Mark 1 network and the U.S. Defense Department’s ArpaNet. The concept of interlocking networks of networked computers was intriguing enough that universities and scientific research facilities wanted in and eventually the networks spread. Even before the worldwide web, email (which runs on a completely different set of network protocols from the web), bulletin boards, and Usenet libraries were in wide use, especially in universities and among hobbyists.

Then came the bulletin board services intended for public use: CompuServe, Prodigy, and a little later AOL. These pre-dated the web itself but led the way in showing the public how useful a network could be by providing access to huge databases of information and facilitating contact among people with shared interests. Eventually those services turned into on-ramps for the web that made it accessible to everyone.

There’s some debate about the actual birth date of the worldwide web, but some experts place it in March 1989 when CERN scientist Tim Berners-Lee unveiled the "Mesh" system of hypertext links bringing together any form of multimedia over those (now millions) of networked computers. It didn’t actually create the web, but it provided the underpinning principle of it.

In November, 1990, Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliao published a paper that described a web of hypertext marked up documents ( that could be viewed in a browser and link to other documents. A month later Berners-Lee published the first actual website ( .  It looks pretty crude by today’s standards, but all subsequent developments are elaborations on what he created.

I got my first taste of the internet and its possibilities sometime in the mid-1980s when I signed up for the Prodigy network and then CompuServe. At the time the standard communication device was a 1200-baud modem that used telephone lines to access the boards. It was incredibly slow, with pages loading line by line over several minutes, but even at that it offered an entrance to a much broader world.

I discovered online databases where I could look up information that would otherwise require a trip to the library. I connected with other authors and publishing industry people from all around the world. I got my first personal email address through one of those services. I sold a book to one of the very first publishers selling ebooks, though the Kindle was still years away.

It’s been quite a journey watching those early bulleting board services morph into today’s worldwide web. Along the way it made possible video on demand, providing us with streaming movies and programs at our fingertips, e-reading devices which put whole libraries of books on a device the size of one very thin paperback, working remotely, sharing family photos on Facebook and Shutterfly, personalized maps available in seconds, video tours of houses you’re considering buying, access to music of every imaginable sort, all the apps we can’t live without on our smart phones, and, yes, even cat videos.

I met my first computer back in the early 1960s when IBM did a seminar for the children of employees. I believe it was their 750 model we worked on back then, a machine that would take up most of my current kitchen and was programmed with a block of punched cards. How strange it is to realize that my hand-held smart phone is a far more powerful computer than that room-sized monstrosity. We have come a long way.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Too close to the action

        My husband and I recently spent 14 months living in Kayenta, Arizona, and working in addiction recovery programs. We loved the work, the people, the beautiful views of Monument fact, just about everything! But our time there ended and we left to come back to our permanent home.
          Our first day back in northern California was November 1. The Camp Fire started one week later. Although it did not reach our home, it burned within five miles of us. We were on alert for possible evacuation and the park only one-third mile from our home was closed in the event evacuation became necessary. We saw the black smoke clouds, thousands of feet high, rolling down at us from the ridge and for days we lived in skies so dark, the streetlights stayed on day and night and everyone who had to be out driving used headlights.
For most of three weeks, we did not go out unless we had to. When we did, we wore hazard masks. Worse, we heard the stories and saw the videos from friends, people we knew well, who lost everything: homes, possessions, businesses, pets. Some people we did not know lost family members. At least eighty-five people were killed in the fire, the most destructive and deadly in California history.
Then came the floods. Although this area hadn’t seen measurable precipitation in nearly two-hundred twenty days, the skies opened in a series of “atmospheric rivers” that poured rain and snow across the region for months. In the fire zone, what was left by the flames washed away in a series of floods and debris flows. A friend was among the archaeologists who went into the debris zone to rescue the ashes of the dead before the floods could wash them away.
In the months since then, my husband and I have visited the burned-out areas, viewing only a few of the two-hundred eleven square miles consumed by the flames. We have participated in relief efforts and have tried to extend our help and sympathy to all those affected. Yet we feel helpless in the face of such overwhelming, destructive natural power.
My newest book is SUNNY'S SUMMER, due out in May. It deals with the aftermath of the Camp Fire. I told my husband, "I have to write this. I have to." He warned me not to. “It’s too soon,” he said. “The experience is too raw for too many people.”
Then I wrote a short sketch of the story line and showed it to a friend affected by the fire. She did not lose her home, but the flames burned up to her back porch, she was evacuated for nearly a month without knowing whether her horses were alive, and when she returned, her whole home had to be professionally cleaned due to smoke damage. What couldn’t be cleaned was an uninsured loss. (As a side note, a neighbor who did not have to evacuate cared for her horses. They are well.)
My friend, who had experienced the fires, said, “Write it! You must! People have to see that others are experiencing the same things: the horror, the loss, the guilt…oh, the guilt! Yes, write it. Maybe it can help with some healing.”
I usually try to make my work timeless so it can fit into anyone's experience. In the new book, tied to exact times and places, I tell the story of fictional people who are experiencing the aftermath of the Camp Fire. I hope their experience can help others to heal. Writing it has been cathartic for me.

Susan Aylworth is the author of 17 novels currently available as e-books. SUNNY'S SUMMER, due out in May, is her 18th. She lives in northern California with Roger, her husband of 49 years. She loves hearing from readers. Find her at, @SusanAylworth, on Pinterest and Instagram, and at

Saturday, April 6, 2019

April Showers Bring...

...Mud, and moss, and mess, oh my. But also spring flowers!!! I want flowers. I want grass. Nope. I've got moss. It's pretty. Beautiful in fact, but it ain't flowers. This seems a simple enough goal, but then, you don't know my gardening history. :( The phrase, "shrinking violets"applies to a plant's reaction to seeing me in a garden center. I think the violets can smell the death.

It all began harmlessly enough. My goal: Clean up the patio so I could sit and read a cozy mystery or a sweet romance novel in relative comfort on our on-again-off-again temperate spring days. I live in Virginia and Wednesday saw a 30 degree temperature change in about three hours. Next week? Who knows? Maybe 90s? So I’ve got to take advantage of the temperate days while we’ve got them.

So I started tackling the seating area in the back. It’s like the children’s story, “If you Give a Mouse a Cookie”. Do you know it? Well, this mouse starts out just wanting a cookie, then wanting milk, then wanting to draw a picture for the front of the fridge, etc., etc.

I started raking leaves, which led to tripping on the patio pavers, which led to pulling them all up, which led to grading, re-paving, decorating, planting plants, creating a focal point, which led to tearing down an unsightly tree house, to finally looking back at my patio, remembering my purpose here and…

Today, it’s raining. Oh well, why don’t you check out one of our Classic and Cozy writers, and enjoy them outside while the temperate spring days last. I sure wish I could.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Spring is for Letting Go

by Victoria M. Johnson

Spring is here!  Finally.  For many of us it has been a brutal winter and signs of spring are very much anticipated and welcomed.  We all know spring as a time for rejuvenation and regrowth.  It's when flowers bloom and the sense of renewal fills our spirit with hope.  Spring often brings expectations, too.

Are you someone who thinks of spring as a time for spring cleaning?  Do you go through your house or closet and clear out the clutter?   

Perhaps you're someone who gets swept away by spring fever—that feeling that something good is in the air—where you toss responsibilities to the side and let loose in fun activities?     

Or have you been so busy working hard all year that you just need a break—some time to do nothing—a spring break, whether you're in college or not? 

Photo by Andre Furtado

All three of these responses to spring are appropriate.  But I'd like to add one more action for you to consider when thinking about spring.  Think of spring as a time of letting go.  Let go not only of unwanted clothing or household items but also of negative feelings that are impeding you.  Any feelings that are unconstructive, that dampen your spirits or thwart your momentum; need to go.  Use spring as a reminder to clear your mind and heart of clutter.  For a healthier and happier life let any disappointments or unmet expectations from the past go.  Make room for personal renewal and growth. This spring, give yourself a fresh start.

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 for inspiration and tips and find her Amazon author page or connect with her on Pinterest and Twitter.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Involuntary Research

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

There’s something unsettling about hospital waiting rooms. The very air is saturated with thick and not always pleasant emotions. I’m here while a dear elderly friend has a fairly minor day surgery, waiting to take her home, but some of my waiting room companions are not so lucky. There are several clumps of people waiting with me, but there is no friendly interaction between us. I’m sure that’s not from any sense of dislike or snobbishness; on the contrary, I think it is a manifestation of focusing on what is important to them - their loved one, some of whom are having not-so-minor day surgeries.

And that’s the way it should be. Everyone’s attention and energy should be on their loved ones. There are other times for chatting with strangers, or caring/praying for others who have problems, but when it is your loved one whose flesh is under the scalpel, some familial selfishness is understandable.

I’m here alone, for my elderly friend has no local relations, and we have been close for decades, so to help the time pass I am shamelessly eavesdropping. Not that I couldn’t even if I didn’t want to; the waiting room is small, and it can’t be helped.

Everyone here has a story; one group’s uncle is having a hernia repaired; another’s sister is having benign cyst removed; another’s mother is having a badly ingrown toenail attended to; one patient is a child having her tonsils out; my friend is having a cataract removed. None of them are life threatening, or even very scary procedures, nothing like what is seen in emergency rooms and major surgical suites every day, but still... the idea of a human body - a beloved human body - being invaded with scalpel or laser or Heaven only knows what is still terrifying.

I know that a viable story could be generated from every story in this waiting room. Human experience is the genesis of all stories, but sometimes they come too close to your particular bone. It’s one thing to make up fanciful or grittily realistic tales about what happens to someone and another to think about what is happening to a loved one at the moment. Later, perhaps, when all is happily resolved, the emotional memory can be taken out and reshaped to make a story, but most definitely later. Not now, when the stomach is clenched and the mind full of possible horrors.

Someone said of writers that everything is all research to us, and that’s true. Most things that happen to us will sooner or later turn up in some form in a story. There’s no rule, however, that this involuntary research has to be pleasant.