Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Coping Through the Pandemic

Here in the U.S. we're heading into roughly week 20 of the COVID-19 pandemic, if counted from the first confirmed case in Seattle on January 20,2020. Since then, lives around the world have been in turmoil after the pandemic was officially named on March 11, 2020. People are finding their own ways to cope, or not cope so well as the case may be, and here at the BRP, some of us will be sharing how we are dealing with the day-to-day challenges. But first a little digression.

I've always been an idealist and an optimist, but in recent weeks I'm finding it harder and harder to cling to any positive energy. Back in mid-March, when I thought this was only going to be an inconvenience for a few weeks, I armed myself with my idealism and strength of character and was ready to battle through whatever was thrown my way. But here we are in mid-July, and between the pandemic, the social unrest, the joke that is politics right now, and my own health problems, I feel like that old truck my neighbor has that is supposed to run on 8 cylinders, but probably only fires on two at a time. Chuga Chuga. Miss. Miss. Miss. Miss. Chuga Chuga.

I have to chuckle every time he starts it up and nurses it down the driveway, but I'm finding little amusement in my misses of late. It's like I've lost most of my creative energy and focus.

My husband used to always joke that I lived in a tree. That I refused to see the negatives. The bad things. The bad people. The bad behaviors. And he was right. I did do that for the longest time. I thought it was far better to concentrate on all those positives. They buoyed me. They gave me energy. They kept me excited about all that life has to offer.

Splat!

That was me falling out of my tree. It's like all the negative energy in the world outside my little house has gathered for a full assault the minute I open the door just a crack. And I can't believe how much my coping skills have been stretched to the max since April when I first wrote about how the pandemic was impacting me and how positive I felt.

I know a big part of the problem is the pandemic and the forced isolation that has come with it. It's hard to stay in our homes 24/7, especially for those of us who are in the highest risk categories. For some of us that means being alone unless you count a dog and a few cats. While they are good company most of the time, they don't satisfy the need for human contact and human touch.

I recently celebrated my birthday, and for the first time since March actually hugged a couple of my kids. The hugs were very brief. As one son put it, just a two-second touch, but for those two seconds, I could feel contentment and happiness fill me. So now, those two seconds will have to keep me going for a while, especially since cases of the virus continue to spike in Texas, and nobody really knows how this is going to continue to play out in the long term.

To keep myself from totally going down some deep dark hole, I've made conscious decisions to get a little bit of writing done almost every day. Even if it's only a few hundred words. It's hard. Sometimes it takes me two hours to write those few hundred words. Then I take time to do some of the things that are coming a bit easier right now, like quilting and coloring and working on jigsaw puzzles.

I'm making a t-shirt quilt for one of my granddaughters who just finished high school. It was very strange not to be able to go to her graduation celebration. We did have a virtual Zoom party, and that was better than no party at all. But again, I missed the human contact. The human touch. Zoom has become a family friend, connecting me to kids and grandkids and great-grands in other states, and I'm thankful for the technology that makes that possible.

This is just one panel of the new quilt. More are coming. Honest. 
This is the fifth t-shirt quilt I've made, and each one was a pattern I designed myself. The simple pattern I found online of ten-inch squares sewn together in rows of three or four, just didn't appeal to me. I wanted something more interesting. Coming up with a design, then getting squares and triangles cut and arranged, then figuring out borders is the real fun, creative part of the process. Sewing it all together, making sure corners and points match up, and the whole top fits the finished requirements of the back is the harder part. I liken that to the process of the second draft of a book. Getting that first draft of the story down as it unfolds in my head has always been the exciting part of writing for me. Rewriting is not nearly as much fun.

Coloring was a favorite childhood past-time for me, and I happily carried that into adulthood, long before it became a fad to have adult coloring books. I do find it perhaps the most relaxing thing to do. It doesn't entail the same kind of concentration that quilting does, and I really enjoy the creativity that comes with choosing colors, blending colors, and shading flowers to make them look three-dimensional.

Putting jigsaw puzzles together has also been a long-time hobby of mine that is very relaxing. My husband used to love to challenge me with puzzles that got increasingly harder and harder. Once he gave me a puzzle that was almost all white. Another time he gave me one with no edge pieces.  That was particularly hard for someone who likes to get the edge together first.

My kids continue to gift me with puzzles, but they haven't tried to make things quite as difficult. This last one that I just finished is a gift from one of my daughters who bought it at Disney World. 


So what are you doing to hold yourself together during this difficult time? Are you able to write? Please do share any tips you have for coping.



Posted by Maryann Miller  Still maintaining social distancing, you can find out more about Maryann, her books, and her editing services on her Website and her Amazon Author Page, read her Blogand follow her on Facebook and TwitterHer online workshop on self-editing, part of a series of online writing workshops from Short And Helpful, can be found HERE

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Month Four of Staying “Safer-at- Home”

That's what the governor is calling it here in Colorado: Safer at Home. I'm fine with that. Shopping during senior hours on occasion, but mostly sticking to curbside pickup or online shopping with delivery suits me fine.  I never got a big thrill from grocery shopping anyway.

Or crowds.

I would have made a pretty good hermit.

Anyway, this post is about what I do when I'm not working on writing or writing-related tasks.

Hmmm.

Because my big goal for 2020 is to FINISH! those neglected writing projects—or delete/shred them if unworthy of further attention—it’s hard for me to come up with a lot of activities that are not in some way writing related. That's where all my excitement is these days.

But there are a few non-writing things I sneak into my “safer at home” lifestyle. Back in March and April, I spent extra time in the kitchen, baking and trying new meat and casserole recipes. That got old in a hurry, especially when I stepped on the scales and saw the unintended consequences.

The weather turned lovely, so I turned my attentions to the flower garden, weed whacking, and general tidying up the lawn. Now the temperature has climbed, and I must restrict my outside time to early morning. That not only includes any yard work I do but my daily walk with Sassy the dog.




I had to use the 2019 photos for my lily and Doris Day floribunda because one of the hail storms this spring chopped up the leaves of both lovelies.

Mid-month in June I started working out with our recreation department’s online exercise classes and felt they were doing me enough good that I signed up for the four weeks in July. I take the Silver Sneakers classes intended for oldies (but goodies) including two sessions a week of aerobic movements; two of classic Silver Sneakers which includes a lot of stretching, balance, and coordination; and two sessions of Yoga (the kind where you don’t have to get on the floor). Along with the walking, I think I'm doing a good job of returning to a healthy body after the long period of inactivity before and after my November knee surgery.

I read novels and non-fiction, watch old movies on TCM and programs from National Geographic Channel and the History Channel, and tune in to the occasional online concert.

Sassy stole my chair to watch Brad Paisley sing

For 40 minutes each Monday, I meet with three of my cousins via Zoom, call the grown-up kids once in a while, do shopping online, email a lot of friends, and do all the stuff everyone else is probably doing, including that horrible housework that's always there.

Sooner or later, and I suspect long before the virus is gone, I’m going to get the ukulele out of the closet and find some good You Tube instructions. I know the poor little thing wants to make music. I need to make a little music as well.

So, that’s my big non-writing ToDo for this summer. Playing a little every day on social media for fun stuff, reading the paper and watching the news for the not-fun or really scary stuff, and worrying about COVID-19 rounds out my activity schedule. As I read back through it all, I realize I do a decent job of varying the routine.

But the stuff I do that excites me the most is, you guessed it, the writing stuff. I have to save those stories for another day.


Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017), a finalist for the 2018 Colorado Book Awards. This novel is also now available in a large print edition, ebook, and trade paperback. Her short story, “Good Work for a Girl,” appears in the Five Star Anthology, The Spoilt Quilt and Other Frontier Stories: Pioneering Women of the West released in November 2019.

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was  interviewed for the Colorado Sun’s SunLit feature that you can find at the Colorado Sun website.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Writing During Quarantine

At the moment, it feels a bit like the world is ending. People are dying in droves. Many are losing their livelihood. There is so much conflict and unrest. Lots of free-floating anxiety and depression running amok.

I keep asking myself, why does writing matter right now? Who really cares what I have to say? The world has gone mad. Our country is in free fall. It feels like there is no future.

Then I remind myself that humanity has been here many times before and we somehow managed to not only survive but thrive anew.

So here are some points to consider:

1. The world will eventually return to normal. If you are stuck in quarantine when you would normally be out and about and have the resources, you could be prolific. Shake off the anxiety or use it to fuel your work. Get into your bubble. Give a middle finger to fate. Use defiance to propel you to invest in the future.

At the very least, you can journal during this time to ease your soul. Do it simply for self-care or use the fodder in the future.

2. If you are just starting out, you could spend time learning everything you can about writing. There are hundreds of online classes, many of them free.

Writer Master Classes

Great Courses for Writers

Online Writing Courses

3.There has never been a better time or an easier method for self-publishing. You can upload for free to Nook, Kindle, Smashwords, and others. Dust off those old projects, smarten them up then go for it. What do you have to lose? There are tools to help you edit, format interiors, and create covers.

Kindle Create

Calibre

Book Design Formatting Interiors

Book Interior Resources

Book Covers Premade and Custom Designers

Book Covers DIY

4.You can make money. There are genres like romance and erotica where novels (even novellas) are raking in the cash. Do the research. Read what you want to write. Learn from those books. Find out what is hot. Some of the highest paid writers are in this category. A few thousand downloads at even 99 cents add up. Volume drives profit. It requires knowledge of your audience expectations and being prolific. With Amazon's algorithm, you have 30 days to make a splash with each entry. There are plenty of resources on how to market your work.

How to Make $8,000 A Month Writing Romance Novels (Self-Publishing)

How to Make Money Self-Publishing Short Romance Novels on Amazon

Turbo Charge Your Ebook Marketing

Promote Your Book (KDP)

The Book Launch Strategy of a #1 Amazon Bestseller

5. Book lovers in quarantine are devouring books. Surprisingly there has been an uptick in paperbacks, so don't forget to include readers who prefer paper over plastic.

The Coronavirus Pandemic Is Changing How People Buy Books

Story addicts will always need more books to feed our reading habit long after the pandemic is over. We could very well be waiting for yours.

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Little Fires Everywhere: Are Rules Different for Literary Novels?

Let me preface this blog post by saying that my main diet of reading genres consists of page-turning thrillers, dark suspense, police procedurals, and clever mysteries. I rarely read literary novels and am choosy about which ones I pick—books I’ve loved like The Kite Runner and Love in the Time of Cholera, and books I didn’t love that others did, like The Help. I have dozens of books on my home bookshelves and in my Kindle, but the stay at home order has limited my library visits. I decided to expand my reading into books that have reached bestseller status that I can download from my library’s Overdrive/Libby app. That’s how I chose Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng. Most of the reviews were stellar. The book starts with the semi-ending, a device I dislike. Many people hate prologues. I don’t mind them. This wasn’t a prologue; it was part of the ending, and it took away some of the edge. The book is a story of privilege, of mothers’ love, and of class.

I started writing late in life. I learned from writing classes and from people who knew writing and who eased me into what I needed to know and showed me where I was wrong. I’m still learning. That’s the same way I learned my art when I went to art school. Call it the rules, if you will. I call it learning the basics. Once you know them, you can veer off and “create” something that might not follow the rulebook. If you study Picasso, you will see that his early work is traditional. He learned the rules, then created his specific style that others copied. I try to follow the writing rules when I write, and I notice when they’re so flagrantly ignored in others’ works.

Ms. Ng’s writing is lovely and beautiful. That is a fact. In some scenes, you’re blinded to the fact that the author is writing pages and pages of descriptive, flowery details of the character’s photograph compositions. Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to be able to write beautiful, poetic passages, but then I’d probably have a gruesome murder that would erase all the beauty. We write what we write, but let's not forget that beautiful writing does not solely make a great book.

What really annoyed me were the POV switches. We’re in one head with a long internal, then there’s a thought from the other person in the scene. Throughout the book. (I just broke a rule with a fragment.) One friend who read the book didn’t notice. I noticed, constantly. Head-hopping is okay if it’s well done, another writer friend said. Still another writer friend said it best, and I quote, “I'm sick of hearing how 'literary' authors don't have to follow the rules we mere mortals do.” There’s the old saying that rules are meant to be broken. Maybe, but when it’s distracting, doesn’t it defeat the purpose?

I almost quit reading after the first fifty pages. Why did I continue? I wanted to know what happened. Chalk that up to the underlying mystery and the author’s clever way of pulling the reader along. I also wanted to know how these two disparate women evolve throughout the book. One didn’t, the other did though too late for any meaningful changes in their lives. Both were self-absorbed and shallow.

Some claim this is more of a young adult book. It is and it isn’t. The teens in the book are an important part and the driving force, but the two mothers ultimately control the story. Reese Witherspoon thought it was such a great book, her production company made a series for Hulu, though I’ve read they changed the ending. I have no desire to see it.

There are side plots: an adoption trial pitting a Chinese woman and her baby against a privileged couple who lovingly raised her for a year. It’s complicated and one of the more interesting aspects of the book though the outcome is contrived and manipulated and unforgivable. There are teens in love, a friendship betrayal, and a mother’s love so strong and deep that she doesn’t realize what she’s doing to the most important person in her life: the teen daughter who unbelievably goes along with being uprooted over forty times in her life. There’s so much more that strains credulity, but I won’t elaborate. I also won’t make a judgment on what I thought of the ending, nor will I judge the characters and their choices. Those are for the reader to decide.

The theme of this blog is about the writing, at once lyrical and even magical, and sometimes overwritten, along with the first person, POV switch, and narrator storytelling, all sometimes on one page and a couple of times in one paragraph. I will never reach the bestseller status of Ms. Ng, but I’ll plod along, keeping to the rules the best way I can, maybe veering a little, and hoping my characters are believable. Murder is seldom magical.

Polly Iyer is the author of nine novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and Indiscretion, and four books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, Backlash and The Scent of Murder. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Delving into Words

Words can heal. Words can hurt. Words can bring the real world sharply into focus or wrap us in worlds that only exist in our imaginations. To experience some of the power of words to motivate one to act, check out Shonell Bacon's recent Blood Red Pencil post, How a SUD or Two Inspires Me into Action.

Words can also be a comfort. During these fraught times, I find myself turning more and more to an examination of words and language. Not so much the weighty words, such as justice, truth, and compassion, but random words and expressions that bubble up as I write. Since my Silver Rush mystery series takes place in the 19th century U.S. West, I need to be conscious of words, idioms, and slang that pop from my mind to keyboard to draft—are they contemporary to the times, or are they anachronistic?

Anachronistic or not? Thank goodness for references such as this one.
For instance, take the word "fraught," which I use in the paragraph just above. Step back, turn that word around in your mind, examine it. How does it "feel" to you? What is its origin, its precise definition? How long has it been around as part of the English language, and has it always held its current meaning?

To me, fraught has a feeling of peril about it, perhaps because the phrase fraught with danger comes to mind.

 So, let's delve a bit into fraught.

According to yourdictionary.com, the adjective fraught is defined as: (1) filled, charged, or loaded (with); (2) emotional, tense, anxious, distressing, etc.

No wonder I associate "danger" with the word fraught. Now, how and when did this word arise? One of my favorite resources for this kind of information is the Online Etymology Dictionary. It doesn't always have what I'm looking for, but this time, we're in luck. It has a nice entry on fraught, packed with information:
late 14c., "freighted, laden, loaded, stored with supplies" (of vessels); figurative use from early 15c.; past-participle adjective from obsolete verb fraught "to load (a ship) with cargo," Middle English fraughten (c. 1400), which always was rarer than the past participle, from noun fraught "a load, cargo, lading of a ship" (early 13c.), which is the older form of freight (n.). 
This apparently is from a North Sea Germanic source, Middle Dutch vrecht, vracht "hire for a ship, freight," or similar words in Middle Low German or Frisian, apparently originally "earnings," from Proto-Germanic *fra-aihtiz "property, absolute possession," from *fra-, here probably intensive + *aigan "be master of, possess" (from Proto-Indo-European root *aik- "be master of, possess"). Related: Fraughtage.
Now here is a very fraught ship.
Shipwreck by Ivan Aivazovsky, 1854
If you want to really fall down the rabbit hole of research, you can check out this entry for yourself and click on *aik.

Merriam-Webster also does a deep dive into fraught, even resurrecting the 14th century poem in which the word first occurs. My pleasant meanderings through etymology and research vanished when I read the entry's "Recent Examples on the Web." One of the examples quotes a June 17, 2020, article by Kyle Chayka that appears in The New Yorker: "The public realm has become fraught, to an extreme." (Ooooh yes it certainly has, in many many ways.)

 From 14th to 21st century, in the space of a few words.

If you are curious about the whys and wherefores of words and phrases such as stultiloquy, the game is not worth the candle, and out of kilter, I invite you to check out my blog, where I post my Slang-o-Rama musings on Wednesdays. And, I take requests! If there's a phrase or word that you are curious about, just give me a holler and I'll add it to my list for future posts...

Ann Parker authors the award-winning Silver Rush historical mystery series published by Poisoned Pen Press, an imprint of Sourcebooks. During the day, she wrangles words for a living as a science editor/writer and marketing communications specialist (which is basically a fancy term for "editor/writer"). Her midnight hours are devoted to scribbling fiction. Visit AnnParker.net for more information.