Wednesday, May 29, 2019

College Reunion

Next weekend I’m going to my 50thcollege reunion. I went to a women’s Catholic college in the 60’s, Newton College of the Sacred Heart.  In those days, single sex schools, for those who’ve forgotten or are too young to know or remember, except for big state universities, were the norm.  Harvard undergrad was men, as was Yale, Brown and Dartmouth.  Women went to their sister schools, i.e. Radcliff, Pembroke, or one of the “seven sisters.”  Most of these women’s colleges, Catholic or otherwise, have closed or merged with men’s schools.  Newton merged with Boston College in 1974.

But my reunion is just my class, or what remains of the original 225 women.  

Although it was a small school and I knew everyone by sight, the school was cliquey.  I imagine most women’s schools were.  Someone once suggested that it was a way to maintain your privacy.  You only talked to your friends.  I’m not sure if that’s correct, but I do know girls’ schools can be hard places to socialize. You stay within your group. 

The other unspoken rule was conformity.  This was the mid-sixties, just before the “cultural revolution.” In those days, at least in any school I attended, you never wanted to be different. If you were unable to hide your differences, you were ostracized unless you were super cool. I wasn’t.

In spite of these limitations, I loved college.  I was away from home in a beautiful town within easy distance to Boston.  I had boyfriends and a social life—which was at the time my primary concern.  In hindsight, there was so much I didn’t know or understand.  If I had to do it over, I don’t know if I’d have gone to school in such a rarified atmosphere where everyone, at least on the surface, was almost exactly like me and where privilege and a sense of place and decorum were so valued.  What I do know is that it’s part of who I am today and it’s almost impossible to assess the benefits and negatives.

When I went back to my high school reunion I was surprised and charmed to find that the old cliques no longer applied and that everyone was at least as curious about me as I was about them.  We all had our stories and not everyone’s life had turned out the same.  There were some widows, some who’d never married, and because it’s a Catholic high school, some who became nuns and some who still were. 

But although we weren’t all alike, we had that common high school experience, those values that had been emphasized all four years, that made coming together in some ways like a family reunion.  We discovered, in spite of our differences, we had more in common than not.  That was a reality I was not expecting, had never, until that reunion even recognized, and since then have cherished.  I may have come from a family with its own values and credos but I also attended a high school that gave a strong message that I’d, unconsciously adopted.

I’m not sure that’s the case with college.  I think by the time you’re 18 your core is formed.  But I’m open to the idea and certainly curious as to how everyone in my class turned out.

I left Newton an untested immature idealist who then acquired some grit and maturity in my days struggling in New York City.  That time in the city helped me become more confident and aware than I ever felt at graduation.  It also has served me well into maturity.

What about my classmates? I can’t be the only one who had a time of struggle.  Not everyone’s marriages are easy even if they look that way from the outside.  I’m sure some wrestled with their identity, their purpose and/or financially.  I’m also assuming some of those classmates won’t be at the reunion. No one wants to return and report they couldn’t do it or never figured it out.  I’m guessing most of the attendees who will be there are the success stories or the ones with lots of friends attending so they can surround themselves with those they know and avoid reaching out to those they don’t.

But I’m betting on a few surprises.  People who are interesting and who are interested.  People who will help me understand what went on during our four years and how it affected our futures.  It’s probably the main reason I’m going.  I want to know how my classmates turned out and I’m hoping to learn from what they know what it means for the rest of us.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Transitions - A part of life

by Fran McNabb

My eight-year-old grandson said something this past weekend that made me think. He plays baseball and next year he’ll be transitioning to a league where he’ll be with older kids. He is already worrying that the older boys will be much more experienced and will play better than he does, but as he talked, he immediately started going through reasons why he would be okay. He realizes he's a big boy for his age so he won’t look smaller, and he knows he has learned so much this year that he is really good at the sport and will even be on the All-Stars this summer.

He was doing what we all do when we find ourselves having to move into a new situation. It might be starting a new job, moving to a new area of the country, marrying someone and starting a new life, or maybe trying something new with what we already know and do.

As writers we sometimes have to move away from what we feel comfortable writing. Maybe our genre isn’t as popular as it once was, maybe our publisher is dropping a line, or maybe we need to find a new area to keep our enthusiasm high.

If we find ourselves facing a new situation, we do what my grandson did today. We find the good in what we have to offer. It’s simply human nature to do that. We build our confidence up so that we can face our new situation with our heads held high, even knowing that there is always the possibility to fail—or maybe “fail” is too strong a word. When we move into a new situation, we do know there is no guarantee that it will be the right move. But that’s part of life. Sometimes we have to try new things to come up with what we want to do.

Maybe next season my grandson might decide he doesn’t want to play baseball anymore, but unless he tries playing with an older group, he’ll never know what his capabilities are. This summer as he makes that scary transition into his new area, I hope he understands he’ll be transitioning into new situations for most of his life. They might not be easy, but they are a necessary part of growing.

If my fellow writers are going through a transition with their writing, I hope the process will be easy and successful. Sometimes change is just what we need to keep the creative juices flowing.

FRAN MCNABB writes sweet romance and has nine published novels at present. She lives along the Gulf Coast with her husband and uses this setting in many of her books. Besides writing, she loves painting, boating, and reading. Visit her at or at  

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Memories of Mom

We've just passed Mother's Day, my first without my mother. She passed last July with me at her side. She was 93, blind, and in constant pain from a broken arm that could not be immobilized. That made it easier to let her go, but it hasn't taken the sting out of her loss.

As we drew near the annual holiday, I found I missed her more each day. Many times I found myself wishing I could just pick up the phone as I once did. Even though I can't, I do sometimes still talk to her when no one else is watching. Oh, how I wish I could hear her replies!

Of course, with the missing come the memories. An early one comes from when I was about four. Some of the kids in the neighborhood were into the books featuring Doctor Dan and Nurse Nancy. Looking at them, I told Mom I might like to be a nurse. Teasing me, she said I was too squeamish for that. I took umbrage, insisting I'd grow out of that, and she said, "Then why not be a doctor?" In the mid-50s, this was not a popular position, but Mom saw no reason why her daughters couldn't do anything her sons could. That attitude stuck with me.

Around that same time, our family was in a car accident. On a narrow, graveled mountain road, Dad skidded on gravel, went up onto the side of the mountain to avoid plunging down the other side, and rolled the car as a result. When the dust settled, we crawled out through the windows to take stock. Dad was okay. My little sister had some bruises, but she was fine. So was I and Mom said she was. Since it seemed no one was injured, we all hiked to where we could summon help. Only after we were home did Mom mention the stiffness in her neck. It turned out two vertebrae were fractured. She lived with neck pain the rest of her life, dealt with it, and seldom said much about it.

Mom made most of my clothes, even when I reached the age for formal dances. My "homemade" prom dresses were every bit as stunning as my friends' off-the-rack examples or even moreso, since Mom was excellent at the sewing machine. Both my sister and I benefited, though Mom stopped short of tailoring my brothers' suits. I'm certain she could have.

It seemed Mom could do everything well. She and Dad laid their own circular driveway, studded with pebbles gathered at the beach. She made rag rugs and eclairs and the best apple butter you can imagine. She painted walls and pictures, canned mountains of fruits and vegetables, and did most of it while teaching full-time. Hundreds of adults can read today because they were in Mrs. Hubbard's first grade classes.

Like most mother-daughter relationships, ours was complicated. I was the oldest child and was therefore expected to be perfect, an expectation I found impossible and confining. Mom and I saw the world in very different ways, a matter which bothered her endlessly.

Nevertheless, as this Mother's Day came and went, I missed her. Terribly. And wished I could share a few minutes with her once again. If you still have your mother, why not give her a call. Today, while you still can.

Friday, May 10, 2019

What I Want for Mother’s Day

By Karen McCullough

Mother’s Day is in a couple of days, and I’ll actually be getting exactly what I want from my kids and grandkids to celebrate the day.

They already know there are few things I need and not many that I want. I’m in the fortunate position of being able to buy the things I most want and have learned that nearly all possessions bring only a brief jolt of joy, if even that much, so I desire very few.

My family knows that I really don’t want anything that will sit on a shelf and need to be dusted or washed. I have plenty of those already and I’m trying to get rid of many of them. There are exceptions. Pictures, particularly of them and their children, are always welcome. Since I go through coffee mugs all too quickly, I’m usually happy to get a new one, especially if it relates to a special time or place.

I love getting cards, especially those that are personalized or show that some thought and effort went into them. And flowers always bring me joy.

But what I want most from my children and grandchildren is time with them. Time spent playing games, talking, walking, shopping, eating ice cream, visiting museums, even reading stories with them.

This coming Sunday I’ll be heading to the beach for a week with my husband, sister-in-law, two daughters, and my younger daughter’s husband and four children. The children are all boys – ages 7, 5 (he turned six yesterday but we’ll be celebrating his birthday at the beach), 4, and 2.

If all goes as usual there will be plenty of fun, laughter, talk, games, good food, drink, sun, and surf. We’ll spend time reading and playing in the sand and ocean water. We’ll talk endlessly, scatter for walks and shopping trips, and then share experiences later on.

I can’t think of anything I could want more than that for Mother’s Day.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Standards? What Are They?

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

I admit I spend waaaay too much time on email loops, especially those for writers. Some are aimed at and restricted to working professional writers and I love them! Some are open to anyone and sometimes I love them, sometimes I don't, because the view of the wider writing community is occasionally terrifying.

On one open list a writer proudly announced that she had finished her first book and then asked if she reeaaally needed an editor before publishing it on Amazon. If that weren't bad enough, over half the answers said no - that she just needed a friend or two to look it over, or she herself should go over it a couple of times.


I suppose sometime somewhere there is a writer who doesn't need an editor, but I sincerely doubt that a first time novelist is one of them. Especially one whose post had two grammatical errors.

Grammar is important. Grammar gives structure, meaning and coherence to our writing. It shouldn't be ignored, because bad grammar says two things - either that the writer is excruciatingly ignorant, or that he/she has complete disdain for his/her readers, believing that they are too stupid to notice. Of course, this applies only to the narrative part of a book. Whatever is said/thought by a character should be congruent with that character. A dock laborer is going to speak differently than an Oxford don. A wealthy teen-ager is going to speak differently than an aged, unschooled farm widow. So I have always held that anything in quote marks or this-is-a-direct-thought-italics is exempt from the rules of grammar, but the narrative prose of a book is not.

Don't they teach grammar any longer? Apparently not, because a couple of days later, on a different - but another open - list, a different poster asked a very elementary question about how to start a book. Now there is nothing wrong with asking a very elementary question; we all have been there at some time and every writer has to learn. Two things made my blood run cold.

The first was the post was written with such execrable grammar that a third grader should have been ashamed to own it. I replied, mentioning that she might want to brush up on her grammar, then gave a reasonably detailed answer to her question. The second thing was that without exception others on the list attacked me, saying that anyone could make a grammar mistake (which I agree - ONE mistake in a questioning post, not multiples, nor such huge ones), that someone later in the editing process could catch the 'mechanical' errors, that this new writer could probably reach more people's emotions than I ever could with my perfect grammar... You get the idea. I even received a few threats to boycott my books because I am such a heartless grammar Nazi who puts rules above True Feelings.

So when did holding to a standard become not only passé, but almost dangerous for those who do? Language is the means by which we communicate. If the rules of language are disregarded and allowed to crumble, communication is imperiled. And that threatens all of us - readers, writers, and everyone else.

On another note, I would like to say that my YouTube channel is up and running - and I would be most appreciative if you would drop by. It's called Janis' Tips and Tales, and a new episode is released on the fourth Thursday of every month. Thank you!

Saturday, May 4, 2019


Like the bard said,...unless you were expecting the smell of coffee and what you got was the smell of roses, then your coffee just smells like soap. I don't want soap in my coffee!

I just created a character who is hiding behind a pseudonym and there in is his dilemma. Will the people who mean the most to him still like him if they know he's this other person?

So what gives with writers and all the names? "Sofie Couch" is a nickname I acquired in middle school and various friends, mostly from my childhood, still use that name. It's also on some of my books, but not all of them, then I'm "Annette" to most of my family, some of my friends, (except for that one friend from elementary school who just thought "Sofie" and "Annette" were identical twins. LOL! I cannot believe he thought I was identical twins for all those years!!) Then "Annette" with different last names for different business ventures? It's so confusing... even for me!

I was part of a panel discussion last week, the topic--“The Business of Art: Writers on Writing” and there I goofed no less than three times in referring to one of the writers on the panel by her real name instead of one of her two writing names. It’s Madeline. Madeline, Madeline, Madeline… until we’re chatting over a cuppa coffee, then it’s… that other name that I won’t disclose for a fourth time.
So, as the moderator of this panel, I stuck in a surprise question: “what’s with the name game?” although I play the name game myself. I have reasons that I thought were the same for everyone else, but I don’t care if someone uses the other name. I answer to both readily. It turns out, there are some other very, very good, valid reasons a writer might use multiple different names and keep the different identities separate.

You see, Madeline’s in-laws don’t know she writes! (Even her photo in the flier is pseudonymous.)

Another writer friend’s co-workers and employer don’t know she writes. 

Sometimes, its for credibility reasons when what you write may not fit the brand of your full-time job, or the expectations of in-laws.

Then there was one friend’s pesky on-line stalker. Say it ain’t so!!! Or the car-full of strangers that pulled into a friend’s driveway wanting to get their books signed. Probably harmless, but you never know! Or those who just send you letters with return addresses like “Sing-Sing, Alcatraz, Folsom Prison… (Okay, I’m being funny with those references, but you get the picture. It happens, apparently. Not to me, but to other people I know.)

Those are all of the sensational reasons that I had never expected. The motive I did expect, and that which is more common, is brand.

The number one rule in this biz is to stay on brand. If you have readers who enjoy your cozy mysteries, they may be disappointed in your less cozy thrillers, or sweet romance vs. sci-fi paranormal schtuff.

How disappointing for the reader of sweet romance to pick up a book that is, er, not-so-sweet, but with the same author’s name? I’ve done that. I handed a book to my teenager from an author we knew and loved. She read the first ten pages, then handed it back to me, suggesting that it might not be thirteen year old appropriate. Yowza! It definitely was not thirteen-year-old appropriate.

And then there’s the whole problem with your friends calling you and you not recognizing your name, or your friends using the wrong name at the wrong time. (Soooo sorry, Le…., er, Madeline.) So please bear with me while I figure out this name thing. In the meantime, It’s “Sofie Couch” for sweet romance AND cozy mystery with a sweet romantic element and I'll print some form of disclosure on the new covers for anything that falls outside of that mix. I’m re-vamping my backlist, but there are still a few YA paranormal novels out there with the "Sofie Couch" brand. I'll fix that with the new covers. Whew. Wish I knew then what I’m figuring out now.
My next cozy mystery with sweet romantic elements, JAIL BYRD, (probably coming out in the next month and a half), is set in the recurrent small town of Poropotank, and features a missing manuscript, a secret baby, and a pseudonymous writer struggling with the name game. I hope you’ll read it to learn his motivation for hiding behind a pseudonym! In the meantime, you can follow me at my blog, “The Paperback Writer” at for regular updates and don’t forget to subscribe to this blog where this group of savvy women are always on brand - Classic and Cozy!

Thursday, May 2, 2019

My Worst Cinco de Mayo Ever

by Victoria M. Johnson

Late April 2015 my husband and I left for an adventure of a lifetime in Germany.  We were excited to explore, meet people and check out the food and beer.  Though we enjoyed doing all those things, the pending Cinco de Mayo holiday caused me unexpected stress.  Every grocery store I visited in our village (and surrounding villages) did not sell the ingredients I needed to make my homemade salsa.  Particularly, they did not carry cilantro or jalapeno peppers.  Maybe, maybe, maybe I could make salsa without the jalapeno, but no cilantro?  I couldn't do it.

It was an age-old dilemma, you can't make salsa without cilantro, and you can't make tacos without salsa, and you can't have Cinco de Mayo without tacos!  I was bummed, sad, depressed.  To lift my spirits, my hubby decided to take me to a "Mexican" restaurant.  I put that in italics to emphasize that Mexican cooking in Germany is different than Mexican in California and certainly different than in my home.  We arrived at the restaurant that had a packed parking lot.  A full lot indicates good food, right?  The décor was as welcoming as any popular Mexican restaurant in the States.  Mariachi music played from overhead speakers, staff wore traditional clothing of Mexico, and we were warmly greeted and seated.  We ordered two kinds of tacos and they quickly brought out a basket of chips along with salsa.  To say the salsa was underwhelming is an understatement.  It was like the jar salsa from grocery stores—only worse.  We looked around and noticed that the Germans seemed to enjoy it.  That's because they haven't tasted real salsa, I thought.  And for some reason I felt incredibly homesick.  How long would I last in Germany without the ingredients I needed to cook with?  I was already mourning not having a Trader Joe's store around.  Could I handle this blow, too?

photo by Heather Ford

As it turns out, it took three months and three "Mexican" restaurants for me to give up on German salsa.  The Germans do many things well, some things extremely well.  Making salsa is not one of them.  Luckily, we gained the ability to shop at the American commissary at Ramstein Air Force Base—it carried cilantro and jalapenos!  My Cinco de Mayo may have been a bust but at last I could make salsa and other dishes my way.  And our new German friends reveled at my delicious version of that essential condiment.  Oh, here's a salsa recipe for you to try:  Enjoy!

My Worst Cinco de Mayo Ever
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.