Dressed for Summer Fun

7-23 PicnicThere’s nothing better than a summer picnic, along with a few summer games. It’s time to look in my “many years ago” file. I found a picture from a Sunday School picnic with children dressed to enjoy a lot of fun.

Umm, really? The year was 1908. The children gathered at the church, then marched to the picnic grounds, accompanied by a band. A decorated wagon carried those too young to walk. The activities included a program with drills, music, and addresses by prominent speakers. Finally, a free supper wrapped up the event. But not before the accompanying photo was taken.

Where were the children’s games, the splashing in water, Where7-23 sack race
were the races? I remember those— three-legged race, wheelbarrow race, all number of ways to give the little ones a fun time. And, don’t forget the gunny sack race. (Gotta be dressed just right for that one.)

7-23-Goat race 2Speaking of being dressed just right, and races as well—how about a goat race? Twenty-five years ago, that was on the summer picnic agenda. And of course, the goat had to be dressed for the occasion. (Don’t know if this was the winner, the loser, or just the most photogenic.)

Do you remember school picnics in your past? Maybe there are some in your present and future. (Or, do they still have them?)

That Final Edit

Every day when I sit at my computer, I see a clipping I cut out years ago. It’s a picture of a dog and a cat. In these days of viral videos showing animals of all kinds playing with each other, this one typifies the usual belief of dogs and cats as wary enemies. The dog’s head seen from the rear tips ever so slightly toward the cat. The cat gingerly passes the dog while watching for any wayward movements. It’s an illustration from a book for writers, The Pocket Muse. It illustrates the sentence, “Most good stories are about trouble,” and includes a list of troubles.

When I look at that page, even more than trouble, I think, suspense, suspicion, what if…

Today I’m paying special attention to that illustration, since I’m deep into a final edit of a mystery, I know my reader must have that same sense—that something will surely happen, but not in a good way. Will the reader be slightly disoriented, possibly leery of questionable actions, even fearful of what might happen to a character on the next page? Will the reader turn the next page?

Ah, that is the eternal question.

So, even after my manuscript has undergone peer review with a critique group, a full professional edit, and a perusal by a beta reader, I’m going over it again. I’ve noted articles in the recent Writers’ Digest issue on revision, I’m checking my pages for violations of the 24 problems explained in Chris Roerden’s Don’t Murder Your Mystery. (Okay, that one is my Bible.) And, especially, I want to make sure each chapter, each scene, each page entices the reader to eagerly turn the page.

And, if I’m successful, my reader will have a mystery that provides exactly what the reader wants—a good book—a story that satisfies and possibly educates in some small way.

Dinner In White

Say you want to have a party. Impromptu. Decide on a venue. Give it a name (Blanc Plate sounds nice.) Send out e-mails.

6-24 dinner in white“Blanc Plate is tomorrow at the baseball stadium, folks. RSVP”

Your invitees know what to expect. Bring your own meal. Wear white clothing. After all, they may have been one of the 100 who joined the celebration in 2012, or one of the increasing numbers from 2013 & 2014.

This event actually happened a week or so ago in my home town. It’s based on a similar, secretive banquet on the bridges of Paris called Diner en Blanc. However, invitations to the local even are available to anyone who asks. (Of course, you have to know whom to ask. I found out about it the next day from the newspaper.) When the 1,000 (free) tickets were snatched up, 200 more were added.

Yep, that’s right. Over a thousand people descended on the baseball field with exactly 29 hours of warning. And—they all wore white. Two young women even donned white wigs. The newspaper has many more photos on line. There’s also a one-minute video of the event.

Umm. Let’s see. Next year this time. Maybe a month before the end of June. Yes, they do have the name of the organizer in the paper. What do you think? Should I?




Missing Link-A Prairie Connection

6-11 Chestnut GroveA farm, owned by a waste management authority can not be good, right?

Well, the obvious is not always what happens. The 170-acre River Hills farm, owned by the Lancaster County (PA) Solid Waste Management Authority has become a prairie of sorts. After a three-year, $1.2 million makeover, native grasses, wild flowers, shrubs, and trees have been planted. Wet lands and walking trails have been established. The area is now a passive recreation area that connects existing ones in case one wants to hike a continuous six and a half miles.

Our local LNP Newspaper had the story earlier this week. To read the full story and see a video with an overview of the area and a small lake check out their article. See what time and money can do to convert land that first produced corn, then dirt (to cover landfill), and finally became a nature preserve.


Snoop, Student, Writer

I’ve had friends ask, after reading one of my books, “Where do you get your ideas?” My husband asks, “How do you think all that up?” I’m quite sure every writer gets the same questions. And, like me, the answer might be something like, “I’m not exactly sure,” or possibly, “Or, here and there.”

writing SnoopyThe true answer is complicated. It’s a bit like the way I follow a recipe when I’m cooking. Love the picture that goes with it. Beautiful. The ingredients? Oh, sure. Except, I don’t have all of them. In fact, even if I do have an item, I really prefer another. I’ll trade off Worstershire sauce for soy sauce every time. Let’s see, unsalted butter? Heck, I have salted. No problem. Broccoli is just as green as green beans. Recipe calls for veal, but I happen to have pork. Oops, that item is one husband doesn’t like—I’ll skip that. I think I’ll serve the dish with noodles instead of rice.

You get the idea, right?

Now, how about the title of this piece. Yes, it also explains at least one writer’s system (mine). Maybe snoop is a bit extreme. Let’s say, I discover something that appeals to me. For instance, my YA Cherish, began with a road sign. “Sandy Bottom Road.” That book definitely used my recipe-following system. I’d discarded the manuscript years before, but I started with that and substituted. A skeleton became a ghost. The girls switched boyfriends. I changed names, dipped into a variety of viewpoints. I added real history to alter the story. And, I definitely updated my teens into twenty-first century kids. Those last two required the student mode with information and assistance from the internet and advice from teens.

Okay, maybe that’s not illustrating the snoop-student mode of a writer. Snoop: Scan newspapers for something new I can incorporate into a mystery. How about the item about a seven-year-old girl who takes fantastic photographs? Check. Now, here’s an item about Workampers, or people who live in their RV campers but travel around taking short term jobs to support themselves. They stop to work for a season at theme parks or a few weeks at local celebrations. Check. How about those books I’ve gathered during our sailing years at small Chesapeake Bay towns—books about local history, many mentioning the War of 1812? Check. Okay, now for the study. Read and compare those local histories. Check it out on the internet. Study reenactments, historic figures’ lives, maps for placement of my fictional town. That’s the template for my upcoming mystery, Forgotten Body, now awaiting one final run-through, formatting, and cover.

But I do have a still better example of the student mode for an author. I’m now working on a short story that may turn into a novella. I’m planning to make it permafree to interest people in my mysteries. It’s gotta be good for that. And, I’m struggling. But, I’ve found help by reading the writing blogs, newsletters, books, and magazines I’ll never abandon. That’s because, invariably, a phrase or sentence will spark an idea. Most recently it was part of a sentence in R.A. McCormick’s article in the Sisters in Crime Guppy chapter newsletter, First Draft. Quote, “surprise as the story goes in a direction that readers don’t expect.” It’s not new information to me, but those words reminded me—“Hey, that’s what I need!” The other manuscript help was a guest appearance by another Guppy, Kaye George, on B.K. Stevens’ blog, The First Two Pages. Yep, after reading Kaye’s clear show and tell of the way she added each element, I knew what I had to do. Ramp up my beginning as well as surprise the reader.

So, next time someone asks me where I get my ideas, what will I answer? “You see, there’s a talking bird—not a parrot, I’ll have to look that up, and one of those mini-houses I’ve read about that is cramped with one person, but I’m putting two in there. And there’s this guy who faked his death and will come back to upset the lady who thought she was a widow about the time she’s getting serious about someone else.” Will that be my answer?

More likely, I’ll reply, “Oh, here and there.”

As a reader, I’d probably love to hear more. But, as a writer, do I want to rattle on and bore my reader even before the book is out? Hope. How about you?

What is it about Grandmas?

I remember, when I was a little girl, my grandmother was a police matron. This was in the 1930s, way before women were in the regular police force. She was there for questioning female prisoners. Once she even arrested a man she recognized from a local wanted poster. She walked up to him, told him she had a gun in her purse, and requested that he walk with her to the police station. He did.

Somehow, I don’t think that would work today. But grandmas have a surprising amount of authority. Think about it. They’ve raised children, and raised them well enough so those children are now parents. I think it’s that voice and look of The Mother. The child knows exactly what it means.

So, I was not surprised at all to hear about a grandmother who is a bouncer at a local high-end restaurant. When asked, What do you do when people get unruly? she replied: I can sit there and not say a word, and I don’t know how many times people say to me, “You scare me.”

To see the rest of the story, and view a pleasant-looking woman, go here.

I would not be surprised if, among any group, and especially among writers, there are quite a few grandmas with amazing stories. Am I right? Is/was your grandmother one of those amazing women?

Quilts and Barns

How do quilts, a handmade bedcover, and barns, a large building forquilt-barn cows, go together? Answer—when a barn sports a quilted decoration.

It’s a natural for the place where I live, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania—the home of Amish quilts, dairy farms, fields of hay and corn. But we are sort of a Johnny-come-lately. Quilt trails are found in 48 states and Canada. A local quilting farm woman saw her first barn quilt in Ohio which inspired the one profiled in our local newspaper.

Some 7,000 wooden or Mylar quilts were created by groups such as the Grange (a farming organization I belonged to as a teenage farm girl). They can be found following quilt trails, and they aren’t all on barns.

Here is the article from our local newspaper. And, of course, something so popular has its own Facebook page.

I had never before heard of quilts on barns, or quilt trails. In the summer, we have corn mazes, tours of dairy farms, and Hershey candy factory. Do you have similar activities where you live? I’d love to hear about them.

A Writing Room

A room dedicated to writing—that’s an ideal for any author. Or not. Some authors prefer toting a laptop or pencil and paper to the local coffee shop, or outdoors where there’s a lovely view and pleasant weather.

Years ago, when I was a twenty-something and living in Seattle, I did not aspire to be a writer. I thought I’d be a singer. My brother had a beautiful voice, my sister played the piano. I had illusions of a family trio—for a few months. I took singing lessons. Since I lived at a boarding house with a landlady who said, “No practicing at MY piano,” I rented a practice room several days a week. All around me, others behind other doors practiced voice, clarinet, bassoon, or piano. But, for an hour, I had my own room.

When I started writing, with teenagers in the house, I heard about writers who rented office space, set it up with typewriter (before most people used anything resembling computers), and escaped into another world. I set up my typewriter in the basement. After a while, I, too, had a computer.

Fast forward a lot of years, and my husband and I are living in retirement. Our children have children, and even a grandchild. I have my writing space in the retirement home basement. I don’t need to escape from a hectic household. But a couple of days ago, I read about a local free-lance writer who has his own small office space in a local building, a restored tobacco warehouse divided into individual offices.

Gee, should I consider that?

Nah. I look out my window, and think—drive through weather like that, every day? Then I look at my desk, piled high with articles I must save, my desktop computer, my printer, my rolling chair, the full bookcases surrounding me. Move all that? You think? Of course, if I had Kait Carson’s very neat office, maybe… Nope. Why change perfection?

I’ve always wondered—does taking your work to a new place, one without a dishwasher to empty, a dirty clothes hamper full to overflowing, and dust on every shelf—make for more time spent writing?  Or, does taking oneself away from daily life also take away the inspiration? Somehow, I think that answer changes by individual, and perhaps, even by the moment. What do you think? Have you ever tried moving your work to a new space?