Friday, November 22, 2019


I told my husband I was thinking about writing a blog about Jane Fonda.  The instant I said it, he had a negative reaction--as I expected he would.  For those of us who were young adults during the Viet Nam war, Jane Fonda is still a controversial figure.  
But I’m not writing about that time and whether or not Fonda was a traitor for going to  North Viet Nam. I’m writing about who Fonda is today and how in many ways she’s a model for older women in our society.  
Jane Fonda was born into Hollywood royalty.  Her father was Henry Fonda, a respected and beloved actor. From what I’ve read, her childhood was not happy or stable even if privileged.  She married three times and has throughout her life put herself into the limelight.  Sometimes it seemed she’d gone off the deep end, case in point, Viet Nam; or cashed in on her notoriety or celebrity, cue to her exercise tapes. But she never slowed down and she kept reinventing herself.  
There were her marriages.  First Roger Vadim, the French director and ex-husband of Bridgette Bardot. Then husband number two, Tom Hayden, the political activist, who first came to our attention during the 1967 Democratic Convention in Chicago.  These two men could not have been more different except, like Ted Turner, her last, they were famous, successful, and most likely, egotistical and probably narcissists.
But Jane Fonda persisted.  You have to admit, if you’re still reading and not turned off by the very mention of her name, Jane Fonda is resilient and now, even at nearly 82, remarkable.
I was struck by that resiliency the other night watching her on the news after being arrested in D.C.  She appeared as herself, sans the make up she wears when filming Grace & Frankie. She looked, while fabulous, closer to her age.  Nonetheless, besides being attractive and articulate, she displayed an enormous amount energy and intelligence for anyone, much less an older woman. 
The person I saw on the screen was not some old lady wacko, but a vital person who believes in climate change and her obligation to do what she could to bring our attention to its dangers.  She used her celebrity to get the world to pay attention. 
I was impressed and struck by what she said, that being almost 82 she didn’t have to worry about coming across too strong or too aggressive and could say, do, and be whatever she wanted. She didn't have to try and entice a man. 
That struck a chord with me and I imagine with many of my peers.  We are of the generation that thinks before we speak lest we came across as too aggressive or even too smart or, heaven forbid, unlikeable.  It’s been suggested that’s why certain female candidates are unelectable. 
There are some men and even women reading this who will deny that there is a prejudice against smart, outspoken women, and maybe in some circles there isn’t.  But from where I sit, I see a prejudice against that kind of women that needs to be acknowledged and addressed or else we’re in danger of missing out on the wisdom and assistance of far too many. 
I'm not suggesting that Jane Fonda should be a role model.  But I do think her responses to the life that she was born are understandable and I'm impressed that she  never stopped trying to figure out who she really was and what she could offer to the world. I think she finally has. 

Saturday, November 16, 2019

A private Memorial Day

As I write this post, on Friday, Nov. 8, I'm doing a great deal of remembering. First, I'm thinking of my dad.

Anthen Hugh Hubbard was born on November 8, 1922. If he were still with us today, he'd be 97 years old. I feel blessed that I had him until seven years ago. My children, all adults now, remember him as one of the kindest, best people they ever knew. To me, he was Dad. His unconditional love carried me through all kinds of childhood and teenage crises, and strengthened me when the more serious adult challenges came. I always knew I could turn to Dad and he'd be there. I miss him.

The other memory associated with today is harder, perhaps because it's much more raw. Missing my dad can bring me to tears, but thinking about a year ago today is a whole other ball game. A year ago today, the most destructive and deadly wildfire in the history of California galloped through the county where I live. It wiped out the towns of Concow and Paradise, left 50,000 people displaced, and changed our county forever.
Many of our friends lost their homes and all their possessions. Some lost loved pets, a few lost relatives, friends or neighbors. 85 people lost their lives. The impact wasn't so great in my town. Although the fire burned within five miles of our home and threatened us with evacuation warnings, we were spared the flames. We were not spared all of the shock and horror. There's a hymn frequently sung in my church. The third verse begins:

     When dark clouds of trouble hang o'er us, and threaten our peace to destroy,
     There is hope smiling brightly before us, and we know that deliverance is nigh.

I can't sing it without tears. Any time I think of dark clouds of trouble, I remember stepping outside my home last November 8 and watching the black smoke, thousands of feet high, rolling toward us at 50 miles per hour, blown by the same winds that fanned the voracious flames. We lived in hazard masks for three weeks, doing our best to render aid to others while we all worked through shock.

My book, Sunny's Summer, the second book in the "Seasons of Destiny" series, works with characters who experienced that day as so many did. It takes place in the aftermath of the Camp Fire. In it, I've tried to give others the visceral sense of what that first day was like, and what the past year has been like for everyone who experienced it, each of us in different ways. Maybe, for me, it was a form of therapy, of working through the enormity of it all.

People here are recovering. Folks wear t-shirts that proclaim they are #ButteStrong or #ParadiseStrong. The first game of the Paradise High School football team this fall saw the stands overflowing with people who were moving back, or had sworn that one day, they will. Still, every community in Butte County has felt the impact, and nothing will be the same again.

Paradise may indeed rebuild, but it will take ten years before it begins to look like Paradise, and probably 30 years before the population numbers return. The population once here will not return, as displaced people scattered across the map, taking root elsewhere. Speaking of roots, most of the beautiful trees that did not burn died because of toxins in the air and soil. The forest that went with the town may not fully regrow for a century or longer.

While November 8 means little to the people of the world, for me it's a private memorial day as I think of my dad. To the people of Butte County, it's a day that will live forever in memory, a memory we hope to make happier as life goes on.

Susan loves to hear from readers. Write her at, or visit or her Facebook page, Watch for Amber in Autumn, Book 3 in the "Seasons of Destiny" series, coming early next year. Books 1 and 2, Paris in the Springtime and  Sunny's Summer are available in e-book and paperback formats. Winter Skye will follow soon. Subscribe to the newsletter or stay in touch for updates. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Tiara? Check.
Coffee? Check.
Notebook? Check.
Favorite ink pen? Check.
Computer all fired up? Check.

So no excuses.

 Oh! And did I forget to mention, it’s also November? That’s National Novel Writing Month for all of you out there who have been saying, “I’ve got this book idea floating around in my head…” Well, we’re half-way through NaNoWriMo (pronounced Nay-no-rye-moe with your thickest southern accent) so you’ve got some catching up to do.

The goal, after you create a free account at, is to create wordcount equivalent to a short novel… in one month. That’s 50,000 words to the noobs, and “all in a day’s work” to you seasoned writers.

So you can do the math, or have the site do the math for you. Thirty days in November, divided into 50,000 words, that’s… er… that’s 1,667 words per day, every day. Wait! You’re already a half month behind! That’s a little over 3,000 words per day. Pshhht. That’s only about 12 pages per day, 250 words per page. Easy peasy, lemony squeezey. Hey, if this humanities major can do that much math in one paragraph, you can whip out 12 pages per day for the next 15 days.

Computer. Pen. Notebook at your side. Coffee. Tiara. GO!

Sunday, November 10, 2019

An Author’s Thanksgiving

By Karen McCullough

I think there’s some kind of unwritten rule that November blog posts in the U.S. have to be about being thankful--and, really, that’s a good thing! Cultivating gratitude as a top-of-the-mind trait is something we should all do and it’s great we have a special time of year to remind us to do so. I’m more disappointed than I can tell you that retailers are turning a beautiful holiday into a gateway to the profligate spending money for Christmas season, the antithesis of what Thanksgiving should mean.

But anyway, back to gratitude. I firmly believe that gratitude isn’t something you do. It’s one of the most important underpinnings of how you live your life. It’s an attitude that everything you are and everything you have is a gift. It means taking nothing for granted.

With that in mind, I want to take a slightly different slant and talk about some things I’m thankful for, strictly in my capacity as an author. Some of these may be controversial, so feel free to disagree in the comments. Here are some of them:

Computers and word processing software – I’m old enough that back when I was in college all my term papers and theses were produced on a typewriter. I developed into a fairly speedy typist, but not a very accurate one. The typewriter I used was old enough that when you messed up, you had to either use that messy white-out stuff or just retype the whole page. I shudder to think how many times I would’ve had to retype each of my book manuscripts to get a reasonably clean copy.

The freedom to write what I want – I’m grateful to live in a country where I have the freedom to write pretty much whatever I choose. But let me be clear, freedom to write whatever I want doesn’t absolve me of responsibility for my words. I can write what I want, but the rest of the world has the right to object to my words, to refuse to buy my books, and to write scathing reviews. They can sue me if those words are stolen from someone else (something I’d never do, by the way), or hold me responsible if someone uses my words as inspiration to commit a crime. (I like to think my books are inspirational but not that way!)

The ability to travel for research and inspiration – I love travel and it inspires me with ideas for stories, settings, and characters.  And several of us here on this blog have talked about the importance of getting details right in your settings. There are some substitutes for actually visiting a place, but none will give you the richness of detail of the actual experience.

Libraries – As a kid, I hung out in libraries as much as I could. I loved to read, and I loved to research odd facts, pursuing all sorts of information. I don’t go as much as I used to, but it still gives me joy to be in a library. Usually when my grandkids are visiting, we’ll take them to the library and let them check out a few books to read during their time here. I love that they regard that as a huge treat. In the early days of my writing each book would require several trips to the library for research purposes. The staff at the research desk knew me and sometimes I could just call to verify a few facts.

Google and Wikipedia -  Google created the first search engine that delivered really accurate results, speedily, and Wikipedia created the first crowd-sourced, comprehensive encyclopedia. I do a lot of my research using them. I don’t take everything I read on the Internet as gospel, but at the very least, the articles I find suggest leads to more authoritative sources. I try to verify everything I learn with another source.

Amazon – I know not everyone will agree with the gratitude here, but Amazon did create the first online bookstore and, let’s face it, that has changed the world. Before Amazon I bought books at the local bookstore, but frequently would find an author I liked and had to go searching through used   Not to mention the time I’ve saved because I can do most of my shopping online and have everything delivered right to my door! That’s more writing time for me!

bookstores to find the rest of the author’s works. Since my taste runs a bit off mainstream, I often had to special order books I wanted and then wait, and wait, and wait some more for them to arrive. And Amazon popularized the ereader. It’s hard to describe what a boon that has been for people like me, with poor eyesight. Now every book can be a large print book! And for the author, the advent of epublishing has meant I can make my backlist available as I get the rights back to my older published books, and also have a chance of putting out those other books that mainstream publishers didn’t want – usually because I crossed too many genre boundaries!

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Booking a trip

Whenever I travel overseas, I try to read novels ahead of time, usually mysteries, which take place in the countries I am visiting.

It wasn’t always that way. I didn’t read Icelandic mysteries until after my husband and I visited that country. We’d heard that there were a lot of authors in Iceland who loved to write, especially during the long dark cold winters, probably one in three of the 375,000 residents. Perhaps that writing bug had been sparked by the Edda but it was something with which I, as a writer myself, could identify. Yet I discovered when reading the books, one set on an island off Iceland where a lava flow had obliterated a town not all that long ago, that I wished I had read the book first so I could have had a sense of place and known to ask more questions while I was there. I can’t beat myself up too much about that though, since the book was not available in the U.S. It was just something my husband picked up (along with a copy of the Edda he still hasn’t read but does double duty as a doorstop) on our way home.

We both enjoyed the Icelandic books and for a while bought as many as we could find online. Many were written by Yrsa Sigurdardottir and Arnaldur Indridason. The descriptions of the land, weather, and amount of daylight, which was either too much (no such thing in my opinion) or too little, fascinated me, as did their children naming conventions.

Taking our past experience into consideration, I read a few mystery novels written on the Emerald Isle to get a sense of what we might expect on our trip to Ireland. I found that while the language is the same, (at least the English, not the Gaelic) there were several words that I didn’t know. More words unknown to me were explained by our tour guide when he mentioned “gob,” which is mouth, “bog,” a word used in many places but in Ireland refers to where peat comes from, and “craic”  which somehow meant good, or news or gossip or conversation, I think. I’ve been taking a refresher course by reading a book by Patricia Gibney and watching Derry Girls, with the helpful subtitles.

I tried to find Scottish writers’ books before our trip. I had read Outlander many years ago, but I still wanted to see some modern-day people and activities, so found one mystery by Pete Brassett. It put me on the lookout for Scottish food, such as sticky toffee pudding, black pudding, haggis, and the ever-present shortbread which was as common as fish and chips. I also read about the extremely changeable weather which was totally integral to Scotland.

I looked forward to learning some Scottish words and I was not disappointed. I heard terms like “hoolies” (big windy storms, not to be confused with a hooley, a traditional dance and music party,) which tap into my inner linguistic interests. I’d learned long ago about all the words for snow the Inuit have, depending on the conditions, and I was fascinated that the Scots have “dreich,” “snell,” “fret,” “drookit,” “stoating” and many more for rain. They expect the weather to change frequently, and I found myself layering up, but always leaving the umbrella on the bus when the sun was shining, only to be caught in rain on the way back to it.

Shortly after returning home, I picked up a book by Jenny Colgan about a fictional island off the northern coast of Scotland. I had almost forgotten about the unpleasantly sweet drink called Irn-Bru, which our tour guide offered us, when I saw it mentioned in Jenny’s book. She reminded me of many other things we had learned about during our trip, such as Cranachan, a delicious whipped cream raspberry dessert never prepared the same way twice. The book also referred to the coos, which is what they call cows, especially the adorable Highland ones wearing bangs. Reading it was almost like extending our trip.

Don’t get me wrong. I like books written in this country too, and many of them remind me of places I have visited. But if I go somewhere new, there is a very good chance I’m going to try to find a book written by a local author.