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1. Author Visits

Mom has two author visits coming up. One this week and one next week. Both are call-backs, so she kind of knows what to expect. One thing she expects is fun! Rejection is the downside of writing. School visits are the upside AND her most favorite thing about being an author. Bar none.

school visit

Fifth graders and college students make for very different visits, which means Mom will pack up her school visit stuff  TWICE. I love when Mom packs up her bag.


Sometimes there are candies in there. Or gum. Or tissues.  And sometimes stuffed toys, depending on where she’s visiting. I ALWAYS check the bag out, just in case.


Once I found (and ran with) a smaller bag from inside the bigger bag. It had a fork, a beanie baby, a paintbrush, and a baseball inside. Mom said, “I need them for a game.” and “You wouldn’t understand.” and “Eeeewww. They’re slimy with dog spit!”


Although I love the bag, I hate the leaving. Why does every upside need a downside? When Mom says, “I have to go,” I hear the word GO and head for the door.



She says, “Not this time.” and “I’ll be back in a little while.” and “Do you want a treat?” which is EXACTLY what I want. And that’s how the downside becomes the upside again.

milkbone toothbrush


10 Comments on Author Visits, last added: 4/15/2014
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2. Somewhere out there.


Silent light moves above me

In the shape of mighty orbs,

Hanging, moving, ponderous in the blackened world.

I gaze transfixed within the ethereal sight.

Stunning shapes of circling matter float

Far above me, yet live so deep inside me.

Here within this celestial circus,

I watch the journey. I am the journey.

Craters glow. Rills fill with light

As seas expand above me into

The frozen tides of ancient time.

I look up and peer outside our planet’s watery ways.

Jupiter spends time next to our Moon.

Its banded majesty competes for sight.

Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto make little in the night.

Lunar light is king tonight.


Orbital choreography at its best,

Rolls slowly before my straining eyes.

Equinox personifies its presence,

And sets the stage for cosmic fall.

We are all part of this.

We are not voyeurs.

We are part of this orbital majesty.

We kneel in wonder at our planned rotation.

Motion is realized and performed.

We follow every second of the measured plan.

We take time to view the distance spinning above us,

And blend our mind’s matter with magnificence.

Denis Hearn 2010

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3. ebook poll and free Donald Maass book

There’s a poll below regarding your use of ebooks, please respond.

12st century writingBefore that, though, I discovered that Kindle users who are enrolled in Amazon Prime can borrow for free most of literary agent Donald Maass’s highly insightful books on writing—Writing 21st Century Fiction, Writing the Breakout Novel, The Fire in Fiction, and The Breakout Novelist through the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library program. This only works for books read on “Kindle devices,” but it’s a good deal for Amazon Prime members who have them. How to borrow from the program is here.

Now for the poll, please. For my purposes, "ebook reader" includes reading .mobi (Kindle) or .epub (Nook, Kobo, iBook, etc.) ebooks on the devices and/or computer software. Thanks for your help. I may repeat this to sample as many readers as possible.

For what it's worth,


Do you use an ebook reader (device or computer software) and, if so, which type?

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

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4. I Hate Nice

I know what you’re probably thinking, “But, Mary, I’m nice and you’re nice and nice is so…nice! Why do you hate it, especially now that you live in the state of ‘Minnesota nice’?” Don’t worry, I think you’re perfectly nice, and this isn’t a veiled complaint about moving to Minnesota. As for me being nice, sure, I have my moments. Thanks for falling for my Internet persona. :)

What I really hate, though, is when a manuscript has a lot of nice in it. The character is succeeding. Things are going their way. We end a chapter on a cozy moment when they curl into their reading nook and all is right with the world.

How nice. How abysmally nice for them.

The problem with “nice,” though, is that it doesn’t keep our attention. You know how people sometimes say, when they’re being dismissive of something, “Oh, that’s nice, dear”? Nice doesn’t really force us to sit up and take notice, and nice certainly doesn’t create tension within us, pulling us to the edge of our seats.

Sure, we don’t want a character to be dragged through the wringer. Nice things do have to happen on occasion. But last week I was preparing for a workshop that I gave on Saturday at the Loft, and I was going over a story theory that I cover extensively in my book, which I call the Emotional Plot.

emotional plot

The gist is a little hard to explain in one blog post (thought I try to do it here, in a 2009 blog post that contains the seeds of what I would extrapolate on in the 2012 book). Basically, what we’re looking at above is the standard three-act structure but instead of tracking how the plot rises and then falls, we are tracking how the character feels during each step of the process.

And if you’re seeing this graph, you’ll notice that the “Fall” is a HUGE part of it. And it ends in something called the “Rock Bottom.” That doesn’t exactly sound too nice, now does it. Basically, for the majority of your story, your job is to put your character through internally or externally uncomfortable or dangerous situations to get the most possible tension out of your work.

The “Fall” shouldn’t be a complete slide into misery. Like a good snow tubing hill (Am I from Minnesota now or what?!), it should have a few bumps to keep things exciting before plunging again. Allow your character small victories and moments of contentment, then yank the rug out from under them again.

If your plot seems thick, or your story is lacking momentum, or you feel like wandering away for a nap when reading your revision for the Xth time, think, “Am I being too nice? Are too many nice things happening to this character?” Take an especially close look at your chapter endings. Do they mostly end at the resolution of a scene or problem? If so, there’s too much “nice” and not enough tension to carry the reader across the vast expanse of the white at the end of the page and past the mountain of your next chapter heading.

Not everything can be life-or-death in your story, that’s not sustainable, and your reader will learn to ignore that level of tension like the body ignores a dull pain. But if you find that you’re running into a lot of “more tension, please!” comments, think of the nicest, coziest moments in your story, and really focus on a way to either cut them down or insert an especially shocking twist after then that turns “nice” on its ear.

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5. Monday Mishmash 4/14/14

Happy Monday! Here's my mishmash of thoughts:
  1. YA Fest  I'll be at YA Fest this Saturday (April 19th) signing copies of Touch of Death, Stalked by Death, and Face of Death. I'll also have plenty of SWAG including bookmarks, zombie limb candy, and buttons. I'm excited.
  2. Revisions  I'm currently revising three of my novels all on deadlines ranging from tomorrow to May 15th. I love revising. It's when I really get attached to my characters.
  3. Client edits  I'm also editing for clients. I have several edits scheduled through this month and May, which always makes me happy.
  4. Spring pictures  I'm working at my daughter's school on Wednesday for spring pictures. It's always fun to see the kids dressed up.
  5. Happy Holidays!  I wish you all a very happy Easter and Passover. 

That's it for me. What's on your mind today?

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6. Inspired Openings

As the saying goes, you only have one chance to make a good first impression. 


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7. Interesting blog posts about writing – w/e April 11th, 2014

Here’s my selection of interesting (and sometimes amusing) posts about writing from the last week:

Conference Graces (Mary Keeley)

Why the Where Matters (Sarah Callender)

Confusing Agent Behavior (Rachelle Gardner)

Accretion and Your Writing Career (Kerry Gans)

How to Make Somebody Hate Reading (Keith Cronin)   Jon’s Pick of the Week

People Don't Think Alike (Morgan Mandel)

12 Tips For Increasing Your Book’s Visibility (Even Before You’re Published) (Stina Lindenblatt)

8 ways to know if you have a good agent (Nathan Bransford)

Looking for an editor? Check them out very carefully! (Jodie Renner)

An Editor's List of Novel Shortcomings
(James Scott Bell)

If you found these useful, you may also like my personal selection of the most interesting blog posts from 2013, and last week’s list.

If you have a particular favorite among these, please let the author know (and me too, if you have time).  Also, if you've a link to a great post that isn't here, feel free to share.

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8. Body Language: Eye Contact

The eyes are the windows to the soul. They are one of the most expressive features of the face.

Humans are not the only animal that finds eye contact important.  Staring at a cat conveys aggression. A slow blink conveys love. All the posturing male animals perform is a waste of time unless they have an audience watching their moves.

Especially on first meeting, good eye contact conveys that you are confident, trustworthy, and in control. It can express admiration if accompanied with a smile. Good eye contact is a general indicator of self-esteem. Though, lowering one's eyes can be a sign of respect in some parts of the world.

Eye contact during conversation conveys interest and connection. Engaging in eye contact shows that you are truly interested. Breaking eye contact can signal it is someone else's turn to talk.

A gaze can tantalize, mesmerize, and hypnotize.

Refusing eye contact can mean yourr character is angry, sad, guilty, or embarrassed. Keeping one's head down or averting a gaze can be a signal of insecurity, deceit, or low self-esteem. Widened eyes or narrowed eys convey shock, disbelief, and anger. People blink more when they are uncomfortable.

A person covers his eyes when he does not want to see something or is afraid that someone will see an emotion he does not want to reveal.

Eye blinks, winks, fluttered lashes, etc.can be a flirting game. He looks at her. She looks at him. They both look away. He chances a longer look. Does she look back and hold contact? Should he approach? The answer often lies in this exchange of glances.

Fast blinking can indicate agitation. Slow blinks can indicate shock or exhaustion.

The first part of the body a character looks at can reveal a lot about them. Do a male character's eyes always focus on a woman's chest? Does a female character always look at a man's ring finger?

Staring is generally considered rude or stalker creepy, but could signal surprise, startle,  disbelief, trying to remember where you saw someone, or noting something out of place.

If someone's gaze flits around the room, they are either looking for someone specific, or could be a spy, or cop on the job. Sherlock Holmes is the master of noticing small details others miss. A trained observer can tell a lot about another person with a single glance.

Gazes can convey entire conversations and serve as signals.

Public speakers and performers are taught to look out into the audience, picking specific people or cues, moving from one side of the room to another to make everyone feel included.

Eye contact can become a battle of aggression. He who looks away first, loses.

Normal eye contact for one culture could be considered rude to another. In Muslim countries, eye contact with women is discouraged. Intense eye contact between people of the same sex can mean the person is sincere and telling the truth.

In the hierarchy of Asian cultures, subordinates should not make eye contact with superiors. Lowered eyes can be a sign of respect.

In some African cultures, prolonged eye contact is considered aggressive.

Utilize gestures appropriately, particularly when writing about specific geographic locations. Do your research. If you are making up a completely new word, decide what the normal parameters are and keep it consistent.

The eye roll, while it is physically impossible, is a term that is generally accepted in American culture. Technically the orbit rotates within the eye socket. However, that is akward. Most people don't care if it is technically correct. They know what it means. Just don't use eye rolls in every chapter.

Eyes close, fill with tears, open wide, blink, wink, and scrunch. Eyes cannot travel, roll, graze, skewer, etc. It is one's gaze that moves. Make sure you do a search and kill for the word eye and replace it with gaze when appropriate. Make sure the eye movement is essential to the scene and is not overused.

Next time, we discuss lying.

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9. Writing as technology

vsi banner

In honor of the beginning of National Library Week this Sunday, 13 April 2014, we’re sharing this interesting excerpt from Contemporary Fiction: A Very Short Introduction. As technology continues to evolve, the way we access books and information is changing, and libraries are continuously working to keep up-to-date with the latest resources available. Here, Robert Eaglestone presents the idea of the seemingly simple act of writing as a form of technology.

The essential thing about technology is that, despite our iPhones and computers and digital cameras and constant change, it is not new at all. In fact, human civilization over the longest possible time grew up not just hand in hand with technology but because of technology. Technology isn’t just something added to ‘being human’ the way we might acquire another gadget: the essence of technology is in the creation of tools, technology in the creation of farming and in buildings, cities, roads, and machines. (p. 87) And perhaps the most important form of technology is right here in front of you, you’re looking at it right now, this second: writing. It too—these very letters here, now—is, of course, a technology. Writing is a ‘machine’ to supplement both the fallible and limited nature of our memory (it stores information over time) and our bodies over space (it carries information over distances). So it’s not so much that we humans made technology: technology also made us. As we write, so writing makes us. It is technology that allows us history, as a recorded past and so a present, and so, perhaps a future. So to think about technology, and changes in technology, is to think about the very core of what we, as a species, are and about how we are changing. As we change technology, we change ourselves. And all novels, because they are a form of technology, implicitly or explicitly, do this.

The word ‘technology’ comes from the Greek word ‘techne’: techne is the skill of the craftsman or woman at building things (ships, tables, tapestries) but also, interestingly, the skill of crafting art and poetry. ‘Techne’ is the skill of seeing how, say, these pieces of wood would make a good table if sanded and used in just that way, or seeing the shape of David in the block of marble, or in hearing how these phrases will best represent the sadness you imagine Queen Hecuba feels in mourning her husband and sons. It’s also the skill, in our age, of working out how best to use resources to eliminate a disease globally, or to deliver high-quality education. But ‘techne’ has become more than just skill: it is a whole way of thinking about the world. In this ‘technological thinking’, everything in the world is turned into a potential resource for use, everything is a tool for doing something. Rocks become sources of ore; trees become potential timber for carpentry or pulp for paper; the wind itself is captured by a windmill or, in a more contemporary idiom, ‘farmed’ in a wind farm. Companies have departments of ‘human resources’. Even an undeveloped piece of natural land, purposely left undisturbed by buildings and agriculture, becomes a ‘wilderness park’, a ‘machine’ in which to relax and recharge (p. 88) oneself from the strains of everyday life. Great works of literature are turned into a resource through which to measure people, by exams or in quizzes. This is the point of the old saw, ‘To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail’: to a technological way of thinking, everything looks like a resource to be used (just as to a carpenter, all trees look like potential timber; to a university academic, all fiction is a source of exam questions). More than this, the modern networks which use these resources are bigger and more complex. Where once the windmill ground the miller’s corn to make bread, now a huge global food system moves food resources about internationally: understanding and using these networks are a career in themselves. This technological thinking, rather than the tools it produces, is a taken-for-granted ‘framework’ in which we come to see and understand everything. Although many people have made this sort of observation about the world, the influential and contentious German philosopher Martin Heidegger, from whom much of the above is drawn, made it most keenly.

Is this a bad thing? It certainly sounds as if it might be. Who wants, after all, to be seen only as a ‘human resource’? It’s precisely technological thinking that has put the world at risk of total destruction. On the other hand, technology has offered so much to so many: in curing illness and alleviating pain, for example. The question is too big to answer in these simple terms of ‘bad’ or ‘good’. However, contemporary fiction seems very negative about technology, positing dystopias and awful ends for humanity. However, I want to suggest that contemporary fiction doesn’t find the world utterly without hope, precisely because of technology.

Robert Eaglestone is Professor of Contemporary Literature and Thought at Royal Holloway, University of London. He is Deputy Director (and formerly Director) of the Holocaust Research Centre. His research interests are in contemporary literature and literary theory, contemporary philosophy, and on Holocaust and genocide studies. He is the author of Contemporary Fiction: A Very Short Introduction and Doing English: A Guide for Literature Students (third revised edition) (Routledge, 2009).

The Very Short Introductions (VSI) series combines a small format with authoritative analysis and big ideas for hundreds of topic areas. Written by our expert authors, these books can change the way you think about the things that interest you and are the perfect introduction to subjects you previously knew nothing about. Grow your knowledge with OUPblog and the VSI series every Friday, subscribe to Very Short Introductions articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS, and like Very Short Introductions on Facebook.

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10. Creating mini-units of study in writing workshop: writing to bear witness.

In my sixth grade class, we cycle through a set of genres every Writing Workshop year: personal narrative, memoir, feature article, poetry, profiles, and persuasive letters and research based essays.  Taken together, these… Continue reading

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11. Andrea Cheng on Writing Biography in Verse

Andrea Cheng image

Andrea Cheng is the author of several critically-acclaimed books for young readers. Her most Guest bloggerrecent novel, Etched in Clay, tells the story in verse of Dave the Potter, an enslaved man, poet, and master craftsperson whose jars (many of which are inscribed with his poetry and writings) are among the most sought-after pieces of Edgefield pottery. Etched in Clay recently won the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award.

When I heard an NPR review of Leonard Todd’s book, Carolina Clay, I knew that Dave’s was a story I wanted to Etched in Claytell.  And from the start, I knew that I wanted to tell it in verse.   Readers often ask me why.  I didn’t make this decision consciously, but subconsciously, I think there were reasons.

The evidence of Dave’s life is fragmentary: pots and shards and bills of sale.    This means that each small piece of evidence stands for something more, something much larger than the object itself.  For example, the first bill of sale shows that Harvey Drake purchased a teenage boy for six hundred dollars.  He was “country born” with “good teeth” and “a straight back. “ (Etched in Clay, p. 7) There is so much sorrow in these few words.  A person is being evaluated and then sold like an animal.  After a quick transaction, he becomes the property of someone else.  The only way I know to allow a reader to feel this sorrow is through the intensity of a poem.

And of course, Dave was a poet, so it seems fitting to tell his life in verse.  Sometimes he had fun with words and puns and tongue twisters like mag-nan-i-mous and se-ver-it-y. Other times he expressed the sorrow of his life in cryptic couplets:

I wonder where is all my relation

friendship to all—and every nation.

Poetry is intense and versatile.  Each word and each phrase is loaded and can hold multiple meanings.  This is the way that Dave wrote, and it is the only way that I could attempt to represent his life.

The other question people often ask is why I chose to tell the story in multiple voices.

The first poems I wrote were from Dave’s point of view.  I started with:

Another Name

Illustration from Etched in Clay

Illustration from Etched in Clay

            Dave, 1815

Master says ”Dave—

That suits you.

That’s your name.”

He can call me

Whatever he pleases,

Tom or John or Will or Dave,

No matter.


I had another name once.

I can’t remember the sound of it;

But I know the voice,

smooth and soft,

that whispered it

close to my ear

in the still night.

And then

my mother was gone.

After writing several poems in Dave’s voice, I wanted to explore the other people in Dave’s life.  What did they say?  How did they feel?  How did they relate to Dave?  What about Harvey Drake, a young man sent by his uncle to purchase a slave?  Was he confident in making this purchase?  Did he have doubts?   What about Eliza, a house slave thought to be Dave’s first wife?  I cannot imagine the sorrow of their separation when she was sold and taken to Alabama.  I wanted to hear from Dave’s subsequent owners: Abner Landrum, John Landrum,  Reuben Drake, Lewis Miles, and BF Landrum.  Lewis Miles and Dave seemed to have become friends of sorts, even joking about the way to place a handle on a clay pot.  And then there was the despicable Benjamin Franklin Landrum who  says “It takes a strong whip/to  control these slaves.” (EIC p. 101.)  After a terrible beating, Dave finds one of the slaves “…hanging limp/and her pulse is gone.”

Illustration from Etched in Clay

Illustration from Etched in Clay

Multiple voices can allow the readers a glimpse into the minds of various characters.  Why do they do what they do?  How do they rationalize their actions to themselves and others?  How do they relate to other characters?  With multiple voices, the writer can create a world.

While doing the research for Etched in Clay, I read articles about Dave’s pottery and viewed photographs of his jugs.   I read about the history of South Carolina and the Landrum Family that owned Dave through much of his life.  I read hundreds of slave narratives.  And then I drove 11 hours from Ohio to South Carolina.

While traipsing across the Carolina fields where Dave once lived and worked, it started drizzling.  After a short storm, the sun came out, and I saw that the field was littered with shards of pottery, glistening in the morning light.  I picked up a few shards and wondered if perhaps they were Dave’s.  Then I walked downhill to the creek where Dave and others dug the clay.  The water was cold and running fast.  The banks were steep.  I held a handful of wet clay in my hand.  In the evening, at the Edgefield Inn, near Dave’s home, I wrote many of the poems in Etched in Clay.  Like the shards I had seen, I hope that they create a whole.

Further Reading:

An interview with Andrea Cheng about Etched in Clay in School Library Journal

A look at how Andrea Cheng made the woodcut illustrations for Etched in Clay

Filed under: Curriculum Corner Tagged: Etched in Clay, National Poetry Month, Nonfiction poetry, poetry, teaching resources, writing, writing resources

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12. The Funny Thing about Mice

It's a little bit scary to tell you things I'm happy about. 
Things that feel like little green tips at the edges of my wintered-over branches.
Not that it's wrong to feel pleased with good things,
but when I remember the gravity of last year
I wonder -
is this okay?
this joy? these painted things?
Will I jinx it somehow?

Over the last year, I convinced myself I have permanent writer's block.
But then this week, a few words eeked out, and I wondered.

Maybe it's not writer's block.
Maybe it's just fear.

Fear is something we all have, isn't it?

Fear of failure. of something bad happening.
of shadows. heights. the dark.
Scratchy things. fish. being alone.

What are your crazy fears?

You know what's funny?
All that health craziness last year - that was like facing off against a lion.
I borrowed as much courage as possible.

Now I'm standing on a chair shrieking about a bug -
worried about putting stories on paper!
worried someone won't like them!

Oh, for a good gulp of perspective!

I just read "The Tale of Despereaux" by Kate DiCamillo.
It's about a mouse who battles darkness with courageous love.
It's beautiful.

Despereaux strapped on a belt of red thread,
a sewing needle sword,
and plunged into the dungeons to save a princess.

While I don't have dungeons, or a sword,
I want to have courageous love like that mouse,
not concerned about what people will think.
every day.
not just on heart surgery days. 
in the daily dirt.
in being a writer and artist, too.

So here's what I'm doing.
All fueled up from my Illustrating Picture Books class,
I'm going to the SCBWI conference this weekend.
And I'm entering my art in a portfolio show.

To go with it, I did a little spring cleaning on the blog,
redesigned The Portfolio.
I hope you like the new look around here.
I hope it's good dirt.
And if you're coming to the conference, let's hang out!
I'll be the small mouse in the corner.


The Tale of Despereaux
The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo

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13. Sharing Some Exciting News

I'm proud to announce my second professional book with Stenhouse Publishers will be coming to you in the winter of 2016.

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14. Almost…


Spring is almost here. I mean it’s here on the calendar, but in real life, not so much. Mom and I look for flowers outside, but we’re not seeing a whole lot.


Almost there…not quite…

The grass is still kind of brownish and slime-ish in spots. And the wind still turns my ears upside down.


Also, the rain has Mom bringing out my raincoat every couple of days. April showers and all that….


Real, actual spring – street nap spring – takes longer to happen, I guess.

street rest

Chilly tummy.

Stories take longer than expected sometimes, too. The calendar says we’re 10 days into the month, but we’re not seeing much of Mom’s April manuscript. The idea is still brownish and slime-ish, and wind and rain in Mom’s head are slowing down the progress. Her ears aren’t upside down or anything, but I’m hearing an awful lot of “Here we go.” and not an awful lot of, “Yay. I’m finished.”

I think the rain wetting the soil and the wind flying the seeds all around are putting down the groundwork for the real season.

This is definitely a sign of spring...

This is definitely a sign of spring…

Like the rain and the wind, mind-writing and planning are putting down the groundwork for Mom’s story. The daffodils are starting to pop. I hope Mom’s story will pop soon, too.

daffodils bloom



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15. Super Quick Italian Bean Salad

Italian Bean Salad

This is my weeknightified version of a Foster’s Market recipe. It’s super simple and really hits the spot when I want a tasty deli-style salad with next to no work. You could dress it up as much as you like with fresh veggie add-ins. The original recipe is lovely, though not super fast (you cook the beans yourself and make their delicious dressing from scratch, among other things). Again, this is more a list of ideas than a real recipe, but it’s not hard to eye the proportions.


Rinsed and drained canned white beans (I like navy beans)

Italian dressing—-I like the Penzey’s mix


Sundried tomatoes

Chopped fresh parsley

Mix beans with enough dressing to coat and enough capers and tomatoes to give it a little color. Let marinate a few hours if you have time. Add parsley. Enjoy!

Got some more feedback on my nonfiction manuscript this week. Things are finally moving forward. So excited.

Still working on the last few chapters of my young adult novel. It’s slow-going, but I do think I’m getting somewhere.

And in other news this week, I’ve been talking to 4th and 5th graders about writing an early reader (i.e. Slowpoke). Fun times! Love getting their questions.

For more food-related posts, click here. Have a great rest of your week.


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16. Writer Wednesday: My Writing Process Blog Tour

I've been tagged by the lovely Fiona Phillips to talk about my writing process. So, here I go!

I primarily write young adult speculative fiction, but I also write middle grade and picture books because I love children's books in general. I'm the author of the Touch of Death series through Spencer Hill Press, which can be found here.

What am I working on?
Lots of stuff, as always. I'm revising three sequels right now, all set to come out in 2015. I'm also writing a new book that is so top secret I can't talk about it yet. ;) And I'm getting ready for the release of The Monster Within in June.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I love to find ways to twist plots so they aren't just more of what's already been done. So far I've written about descendants of Medusa, psychic vampires, and Phoenixes. I love anything out of the ordinary and that helps as far as making sure my work is unique.

Why do I write what I do?
I've always felt that paranormal and fantasy are like the real world only better. I find writing this genre is a great way to escape from life for a little while and step into something a little more interesting.

How does my writing process work?
I spend a lot of time plotting books before I start drafting, but then I typically let my characters take over and throw out my original planning because my characters are much smarter than I am. I also like to fast draft, writing as much as 18K in one day. I find the story flows better when I write that quickly.

Here's who's up next week for the My Writing Process Blog Hop:

Beth Fred: Beth Fred is the author of Fate of a Marlowe Girl, The Other Marlowe Girl, and A Missing Peace.

Kym BrunnerKym Brunner dreams entire books in her head, but then needs about a year to write the whole thing down. She wishes there was an app for this. When she's not writing, she's teaching 7th grade or watching movies, reality TV, or scoping out the social media scene. Friend her at Author Kym Brunner or find her on Goodreads.

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17. Tension

Learn how to ramp us the tension in your novel. 


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18. Enter to Win a Paperback Copy of Flutura


We are giving away three paperback copies of  Flutura (The Alpha Girls Series, book one) from now until April 18th. Book one of The Alpha Girls series introduces you to Alexis, Brittany and Caitlin who have grown up together since birth. Caitlin is ready to become a woman, but she’s fourteen and has yet to experience her first French kiss or her first period. The summer before high school will change all of that.

Caitlin is taken by surprise when Joshua reveals his feelings for her. As Caitlin sorts out her own feelings toward Josh the memory of the kiss she shared with Trick on the beach continues to invade her thoughts.

Good thing she’ll never see Trick again or things could get complicated.

You can also find Larva (The Alpha Girls Series, book two) available now on Amazon kindle and paperback.


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Flutura by Angela Muse


by Angela Muse

Giveaway ends April 18, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

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19. Do You Want Writers (Including Me) To Show Our Work?

I read this really intriguing book last night and this morning: Show Your Work by Austin Kleon.

Here’s his premise: Artists would do well to talk about their work as they work. It helps get their audience more involved and is basically just a friendly thing to do. Which sounds right to me–especially the second part.

I’d be interested in hearing your opinions on this: Do you want to look behind the curtain of a writer’s process? Some of the time, at least? Or would you rather just see the finished product and never really know how a book and all its characters and plot came to be?

For me, if someone like JK Rowling wanted to tell me every week what she did to write that current volume of Harry Potter, I’d be ALL OVER IT. But she’s JK Rowling. There might be other writers whose process wouldn’t thrill me at all. Hard to say.

It’s also hard for me to say whether any of you would be interested in hearing about that process from me. My creative mind sucks up all sorts of influences from all over the place, including a lot of non-fiction sources that I enjoy bringing to new readers via my fiction. Would you be interested in seeing that trail of breadcrumbs from initial idea, through research and writing, to final production? Or would you, honestly, not?

I’d really love to hear your thoughts on this! Thanks!

0 Comments on Do You Want Writers (Including Me) To Show Our Work? as of 4/4/2014 5:07:00 PM
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20. 50 Tips to Better Writing

From general tips to editing, here are suggestions to improve your writing. 


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21. A short story about courage and caring


Shackleton Christmas 1967



December 1967 in the northern part of Ireland, Christmas was four days away as a violent rainstorm moved in from the west to batter the shabby, dark RAF airfield at Ballykelly outside the city of Derry.

I was working as a film recordist for the RTE program “Feach,” an Irish language program. Our production crew drove slowly through the curtains of water towards the beckoning signal light of the historic airfield, and saw the gray buildings stacked up in rows, with their steel arched roofs pushed skyward, to confront the endless torrents of rain. Strange aircraft shapes loomed out of the deluge as they sat patiently anchored on waterlogged concrete, waiting for their masters to take them airborne again.

We moved slowly toward the main building, where an open door revealed a soldier on guard. He signaled us to enter the building as our big station wagon came to a halt outside the partially roofed entrance. All four of us ran for cover into the lobby filled with blue uniformed airmen, waiting to welcome us to RAF Ballykelly.

We removed our soaked rain gear and walked into a big common room, where a roaring turf fire burned at one end of the room. A bar was located along the sidewall where an eager barman waited to add some warming liquor to the newly arrived civilians. We removed another layer of coats and took up stool space at the bar. Pints of Guinness and whiskey were ordered. Cigarettes lit. A blended mix of accents spoke with a focused goal; the mission.

RAF Wing Commander, walked over to our assembled crew and welcomed us to Ballykelly with a warm handshake. Words emerged from under his nicotine-stained mustache. “Gentlemen, Thanks for coming to Ballykelly today, under such terrible conditions. I hope your drink orders have been taken.”

He spoke softly, an air of concern in his voice. “We will leave tomorrow morning at 1600 hours to carry out our mission to drop Christmas supplies to two weather ships in the Atlantic. We will carry it out using two Shackleton aircraft, a Mark 2 and a Mark 3. One from the base here and the other from Kinloss in Scotland.   The crew of “WB833,” coded T, will take off at 1600 hours from Ballykelly and rendezvous over Rockhall, a lone rocky island off the coast of Donegal with the other Shack coded B, from Scotland. From there both aircraft will fly to the first weather ship, Juliet 400 miles west of Ireland.  B crew will make their drops to that ship and T crew will fly in formation with B so your film crew will be able to film the actual drop,” He paused to take a drink of water.  “From there, both aircraft will fly southwest for 400 miles to the next weather-ship.  T aircraft will make the next drop with B in formation.  When the second drop is complete, T will return to Ballykelly and B will return to Kinloss.  After we return tomorrow night, we’ll have a debriefing and discuss the mission.”

He continued.  “The weather is supposed to improve later tonight and we expect an adequate ceiling for tomorrow’s mission.  You will be billeted in quarters tonight and an aide will wake each of you in the morning for breakfast and briefing.  We are at present loading the aircraft with its payload and completing a mechanical checklist this evening.  An additional checklist will be completed in the morning and fuel will be loaded on the aircraft.”

He added, “You will be issued flying suits, life jackets, helmets and air sickness tablets, which you must take before you feel sick. These tablets are not optional. We will be flying very low and in the worst of the weather. It will be a bumpy ride,” He paused to take another drink. “When you have completed filming the loading of the aircraft and any other shots of the airfield and installations, we will have a briefing and dinner in the officer’s mess. Thank you for coming today. I hope you enjoy the trip and your stay at with us at RAF Ballykelly.”

When he finished we began to mingle among the flight crew and the conversation turned to details about the mission. John, the producer, was deep in discussion with the skipper of the T aircraft. They discussed the logistics of shooting from the plane and where the sound recordist could plug into the intercom system to record the conversations during the mission. I would use these recordings later in edited form and the visuals would be added to create an exciting Christmas show for our viewers at home.

I found the radio operator and worked out the details of intercom transmissions. Joe, our reporter, interviewed the entire flight crew and created an outline for the events. Ken, the cameraman, investigated the interior of the aircraft to find the best shooting locations on board, and also the lighting requirements necessary, while filming the operation.

The rain stopped and we walked outside to see how much sunlight remained in the sky, in order to film loading the aircraft. We drove the camera car across the tarmac to a waiting Shackleton. Trucks circled the aircraft as the loading of supplies continued.

We set up lights beneath the belly of the aircraft and shot footage of the round, yellow canisters that were being installed inside the bomb bay doors and attached to their release hooks. There were a total of four canisters filled with food, Christmas presents, mail, and of course, a Christmas tree.

The ancient aircraft stood waiting for the loading to be completed. It would be locked and secured for the night. We hoped that the new day would bring better weather and good visibility for the mission.

Later we began to turn in for the night after a few last pints in the officer’s mess. I found my way to my assigned quarters in the visitor’s block. The room had a single bed, a chest of drawers, small table with chair and a tiny bathroom. The walls were painted military drab with a few pictures illustrating RAF dogfights in the Battle of Britain. Highlighted by one famous Spitfire aircraft in a death-defying dive with an ME 109.

I turned off the light and tried to sleep. The wind began to howl outside the wooden building and rain continued to blow in from the west. Later in the night, I was awakened by a knock on the door.

“Time to get up, sir, and prepare for the flight. Would you like some tea?”

“Come in,” I said. An orderly carrying a pot of tea and mug sliding on a metal tray opened the door. “Please sign this reveille paper, Sir, I have to have verification that I woke you.”

“Thank you for the tea,” I replied and proceeded to try the strange tasting brew. I finished dressing and found my way to the mess hall for breakfast with the rest of the crew. We discussed the logistics of the flight and ate a breakfast of eggs, sausage and rashers. The officer in charge instructed us to move to the briefing room to receive our flying suits, helmets and intercom systems.

“Good morning,” Wing Commander Haggett began to speak.

“As you can probably tell, the weather has not let up and if anything, has got worse. The weather report indicated an eastbound storm situated west of us in the Atlantic. It is expected to move into our area of operations later today. We hope we can complete the mission prior to its arrival,” he revealed a black and white weather map showing a large blob of clouds off to the western approaches.

“We are scheduled to take off at 1630 hours and the mission is expected to last all day, landing this evening around supper time. You have all received your assignments and flying suits. Please take your air sickness pills before you embark. This will be a bumpy trip,” he reminded us. “And don’t forget to sign your paper releases before you embark.”

When we had finished breakfast we walked outside and were shuttled to the plane by a military personnel truck. The rain had stopped briefly and the aircraft appeared in front of the approaching vehicle like a giant bug waiting for its wings to dry prior to flight. We boarded and took our assigned places with the rest of the air-crew. The four Griffon engines rumbled to a start. Smoke billowed from the cowlings as engine #1 roared to life followed by engine #3 and #2. Engine #4 was still cranking and tried to start. The process continues without success. The skipper’s voice rang into the intercom and announced they were going to shut down the aircraft and reload us and the canisters into another aircraft.

The transfer was made and we resumed our positions in aircraft “T” with all engines running, somewhat roughly, but nonetheless operational. I turned on my intercom to record the voices of the captain and crew to a Nagra tape machine located between the wing spars. The big aircraft began to taxi toward the runway. The rain had started again and the sheeting action of the drops briefly obscured visibility out of the Plexiglass windows. The aircraft lined up on the runway, and the skipper squawked into our headphones.

“Everybody ready?” he bellowed, “Let’s go.”

The lumbering Shackelton crept down the runway as the engineer shouted mechanical performance to the skipper, “Number 4 engine hasn’t developed enough oil pressure, but should be OK.”

“We’re going with what we got,” replied the skipper.

The heavy aircraft continued down the bumpy runway through the blinding rain and slowly the big bubble nose began to rise, the main undercarriage still on the ground. With an uneasy bump, the wheels left the soaking runway and the aircraft continued its slow rise skyward. At the end of the runway in the rainy distance loomed Ben Twitch Mountain. It had to be cleared or the mission would end right on top of it. The RPMs increased as the aircraft began to bump and roll. The skipper came back on the intercom.

“Well, we cleared the mountain and will now turn west to rendezvous with our friends from Kinloss.  If you need to move around during the flight please let me know by intercom and I will advise accordingly,” he added, “Thank you for your patience this morning and sorry for the delay due to mechanical problems with the other aircraft.   I will advise a time and visual of the other aircraft in about an hour.”

Our Shack droned on. I spoke with Ken and John and finalized the set up for the shot sequence of the rendezvous and first drop with the Kinloss aircraft. We set up the procedure with the captain and the mission continued westward over the Atlantic.

After a while, the skipper squawked, “If you look out of the starboard side of the aircraft, you’ll see a large black rock in the ocean. That’s Rockall, our rendezvous point.”

I pressed my face to the window and looked down to the ocean where a giant black rock emerged out of the sea. Its crazed stormy waves creating a white foamy lace around its base as it stood like a black western sentry off the ancient coast of Ireland. The radio crackled and we heard another voice in our ears. It was the skipper of the Kinloss aircraft.

“This is Shack B calling Shack T.  How do you read?” he shrilled.

“Loud and clear,” replied our skipper, “We are ready to film your first drop to the weather ship Juliet located 100 miles southwest of Rockall,” he continued, “We will maintain formation at 1500 feet and I will advise our approach plan as we get closer to the ship.”

Our lumbering Shackleton continued her mission into the teeth of the oncoming storm. The film crew settled into a pattern of waiting and napping. They tried to make the time more interesting by playing cards and avoid speaking unless words are a necessity to the mission. The engine noise deadened any form of conversation unless it was carried out over the intercom system.

I came down with a severe case of airsickness and felt awful. Another member of the press, a newspaper reporter, had also come down with the same symptoms. Neither of us had taken the air sickness pills prior to flight figuring that air sickness symptoms had never entered our previous experiences of flying. The crew advised me on the various cures for the symptoms. The major cure would be to stay busy and focus on something other than the nausea and light-headedness. The skipper informed me and the other reporter that any person on board who was sick would have to fly the aircraft at a designated time.

I asked the skipper would it be possible to move to the end of the plane and crawl into the tail cone to see the stormy waves rushing by underneath. The skipper replied in the positive and I began to work my way aft to enter the tapering shape of the fuselage. The space became narrower as I crawled aft to the light at the end of the aircraft. I finally made it to the point where I could lay down and place my head in the Plexiglass bubble to view the scene below. The waves were white, rolling and angry as the aircraft swept above them heading farther into the Atlantic and away from land. I watched the streams of water wash under the bottom and sides of the bubble and then pop off into the disappearing slipstream. I noticed veins of disappearing oil from the engines traced phosphorescent stripes down the bubble before they flicked off into the roaring air.

I continued to marvel at the aqueous work of art presenting itself on the other side of the vibrating bubble as I crawled back out of the claustrophobic metal cave and into the open space of the fuselage to my worn out leather seat. I began to feel better but still had the queasy feeling of having to vomit at a moment’s notice. My internal thoughts were brought back to external reality when I heard the skipper communicate with the Kinloss aircraft, still in formation on our starboard side:

“Ballykelly Shack calling Kinloss Shack, do you read?”

“Loud and clear,” replied her skipper.  “We are five miles from our target, Juliet, and are preparing our first run to drop the first canister in front of the ship. The ship is no longer anchored but is steaming in a square grid pattern in order to ride out the storm,” he continued, “I will advise you when to proceed with us in closer formation to complete the first run so that the film crew will be able to film the first drop to the ship.”

“Roger.” Our skipper prepared to set up the aircraft and crew to fly in formation with the Kinloss aircraft and make the first pass to the weather ship. The weather continued to worsen with the wind increasing in force and the wild sea below us had developed large rolling waves with white mane-like heads on top of their forty-foot swells.

While watching the turmoil outside my window, I wondered how difficult it would be to maintain altitude in this kind of weather, not to mention having to fly in formation with another aircraft. These crews had flown these kinds of sorties all the time and were trained to handle older aircraft in foul weather situations, but this was going to be a challenge to complete three passes over the weather ship. I had access to communications from both aircraft and listened to all conversations between each crew and the two skippers. Both men were discussing the approach to the ship while flying into a gale force wind. They mentioned that the waves are now thirty-five to forty feet in height and the altitude for the drop would be one hundred feet above sea level. They also mentioned the space requirements between the two aircraft in order to avoid any collisions. None of this sounded good.

“Okay,” said our skipper, “We’re ready to make the first pass on Juliet,” he continued, “The Kinloss Shack will make three passes over the ship and drop a canister in front of the ship on each pass.  We will follow it down in formation on our starboard side and film each drop.”

The Kinloss Shack reported her crew was ready to begin the operation. The big Ballykelly aircraft banked around and began to descend closer to the ocean. I looked out of the ancient window and saw the Kinloss Shack begin to lose altitude and make its way downward to the ancient converted minesweeper now loose in the raging waves.

The Ballykelly Shack followed, repeating the same flight plan. The cameraman rolled film on the evolving scene. I recorded the voice of the two skippers maneuvering the two great aluminum ships in the wild dance with each other. The bomb-bay doors of the Kinloss aircraft opened as her skipper positioned her over the ship. A bright yellow canister dropped out of its belly and plunged into the dark water in front of the tossing ship. The ship’s crew scooped up the cylinder as it passed by Juliet’s steel hull.

The Ballykelly Shack pulled up and turned left, making a 360-degree turn. The Kinloss Shack followed suite and the two ancient beasts formed up for a second pass. The Ballykelly Shack located on the west side of the Kinloss Shack was being pummeled by the western storm. Its giant counter-rotating propellers crunching at the rough air and rain as the fuselage bounced between the four piston engines. The Kinloss Shack headed for another pass over Juliet. A second yellow canister dropped from its outstretched doors and into the screaming ocean in front of the ship. The ship’s crew desperately grabbed the fast approaching canister and hoisted it onto the ship.

The two Shacks pulled up and turned left, angling into the ever-increasing wind and began to prepare for the final pass. The ride got rougher as the two big aircraft showed their big bellies to the gale. They struggled on and began to line up for the final pass. This drop included the Christmas tree for the waterlogged crew of Juliet. The Kinloss Shack made its final approach on the ship.  It was now amidships of the ship and having a hard time lining up on the bow of the ship due to the high wind. All its power pounding into the storm. It finally reached a safe distance in front of the ship to make the final drop. The canister wobbled into the sea and Juliet’s crew frantically retrieved the Christmas tree. It was over for now. The giant aircraft pulled up and began to head southwest to the new rendezvous point with the next weather ship, four hundred miles away.

I recorded the audio from Juliet, as her crew thanked the Kinloss Shack for welcome supplies and also for the Christmas tree. I began to organize the tapes and prepared to complete my audio log. It would be a long ride to the next ship. I scanned the weather outside the Shack and saw the Kinloss aircraft off to starboard continuing its run southwest to the next ship where its film crew would film our Shack completing its Christmas mission.

The next leg of the trip was bumpy and seemingly endless. The big aircraft was now heading into the teeth of the wind, and her four engines needed to work even harder to maintain speed and altitude.

Finally, I heard the voices from the next weather ship off in the distance. The ship was steaming in an inflamed sea, and the light was beginning to deteriorate. This part of the mission would have to be completed quickly. Our Shack began to descend to begin the first run over the ship. I heard and felt the bomb-bay doors open and saw water whizzing by under the cracks in the floor. A shivering cold draft penetrated the hull as the big bird droned onward over the steaming ship in a white angry sea below.

“Number one gone,” shouted the release officer.

The Shack pulled up and turned left out of the wind to begin the downwind leg of a 360 turn. The Kinloss Shack followed suit and began to bank around for the second pass. The bomb bay doors opened again, and the big donor rolled over the ship for the second pass. The doors closed, and the crew prepared for the final drop, including another Christmas tree.

The storm outside was now in full temper with increasing wind and darkening skies. The big aircraft turned on to the final leg and began the final pass to the ship. Our Shack was having difficulty maintaining a consistent altitude due to the wind and ground effect from the water. The huge plane bounced around as our skipper tried to maintain its course. The bomb-bay doors opened for the final time and the release officer squawked to the skipper to turn more starboard or he would miss the ship. He fought with the controls and the weather, then slowly crept forward of the ship.

“Number three gone,” shouted the release officer.

The ship’s crew grabbed the final canister and hoisted the Christmas tree onto the heaving deck.

“Happy Christmas,” shouted our skipper.  “We’re headed home.”

“Happy Christmas to the RAF,” shouted a voice from the weather ship, “and thanks for making it Christmas for us.”

A voice piped in from the Kinloss Shack. It was a request from their television crew to perform another pass over the ship.  Our skipper said, “Sorry, No more passes today. The weather is too bad and we need to get these birds back on dry land.” We turned north northeast and begin the long trip home to Ballykelly and the other Shack to Kinloss.

During the return flight the skipper asked me and the other reporter to report to the flight deck. I moved out of my cramped seat and stepped over the wing beam to a standing position between the skipper and co-pilot seated at their controls. I looked down between the pilots and saw the ocean rushing by in the observation portal. The skipper undid his seat belt and stepped out of the seat. He asked me to sit in the seat and showed me how to adjust the seat according to my preference. “Have you ever flown a plane before?” he asked.

“I’ve flown a single engine plane with a friend so I know how it works,” I replied.

“Great,” said the skipper, “Take the yoke in your hands and put your feet on the rudder. Keep the aircraft at our current altitude and heading per the gages, and I will leave it in your capable hands.”

I took control of the aircraft and felt the strain on the wing surfaces and also on the rudder. I felt the gusts of wind trying to blow the metal beast off course and pushed in a little right rudder to compensate. I also realized that cables controlled this aircraft and every movement of the trim mechanism required constant strength and monitoring. I looked over at the co-pilot and noticed he was sitting with his arms folded with his feet off the rudder. It was all me. I continued to fly the aircraft and discussed the weather and direction with the co-pilot who assured me that my flying was on the mark. He asked me about my air-sickness, and I replied, “What air-sickness?”

After twenty minutes, the skipper came back on the intercom and said, “I’d like to thank Denis for flying the aircraft for the last twenty minutes and for a job well done. I’d like our newspaper friend to move forward and take his turn at flying the aircraft.”

I handed over control of the aircraft to the co-pilot and got out of my seat. The newspaper reporter took my place and proceeded to learn the idiosyncrasies of flying the ancient Shack. He also flew the aircraft for about twenty minutes. The skipper returned to the cockpit after the twenty-minute period, climbed back into his seat and took control of the aircraft.

The weather became worse as the wind increased and the rain continued incessantly. The ride was bumpy and shaky for the remainder of the trip with the big bird rising and falling in the screaming wind. It was now dark outside and the dim lighting inside the aircraft created an eerie feeling of disconnection from the events outside the hull. Our big Shack pushed on as the Griffons continue to grind up the miles toward Ballykelly and home. We bid goodbye to our friends in the Kinloss Shack as we split formation, and flew home to our respective bases.

The skipper came on the intercom once more and said “We will be landing at Ballykelly in fifteen minutes. Our descent and approach will not be very pleasant due to the wind speed, and the amount of rain we have to plough through, so hang on to your equipment, I’ll get us on the ground as soon as possible.”

The big aircraft began to lose altitude, bumped and rolled around in the low cloud layer. This process continued for what seemed an eternity. I looked out the window and saw nothing but rain and blackness. Our landing lights were on and formed searching beams through the slanting rain. A few more crazy bumps, and the big balloon tires hit the runway. The run out continued down the water logged concrete as brakes were applied, bumping and grinding their way to a stop.

The skipper squaked. “Welcome back to Ballykelly. We had a successful mission, and we hope you have witnessed the special way we bring Christmas to our seamen on the weather ships. I realize you all want to get out of the aircraft, but we have to wait another few minutes for a train to pass before we taxi to the exit point. Thank you for your assistance with this mission, and we look forward to seeing our work on television and in the press.”

We waited for the train to pass and as promised, the Shack began to taxi to a stop outside the main hangar. The metal mother-ship together with her skipper’s hand had brought us home safely after a successful mission. We began to disembark and collected all our gear before stepping out into the sheeting rain. I made sure my equipment was stowed and watertight and welcomed the opportunity to walk again after twelve hours of flying. My legs felt a little shaky but soon I was back to normal and entered the building where I headed to the briefing room.

We all entered the room and began to take seats prior to the debriefing. The commander entered the room. His demeanor seemed concerned and aloof. He moved to the front of the room and began to speak.

“First of all I would like to thank all the crew of WB833 for a great mission. Our drops were successful and all the Christmas trees are now being decorated for Christmas on the weather ships,” he paused, “I’m afraid I have some other tragic news to relate. One of the other Shackletons on submarine patrol from Kinloss, crashed into the mountain, Creag Bhan in Scotland, with the loss of all the crew and civilians.” An audible groan was heard in the room.

The commander continued, “We send our condolences to their families and to the base at Kinloss. We lost a brave and experienced crew today, and they will be missed. We all know the dangers of flying in bad weather with old equipment. We will have more information when we receive it. Thank you for being here and being part of this RAF family at Christmas time.”

The room remained stunned in silence. It was a cruel blow after an exciting day. I also realized that being part of this mission had been a great experience in spite of the day’s tragedy. I said a private prayer for my fellow fliers and walked out of the saddened room.

A year later, while working at RTE, I received word that WB833, the Ballykelly Shack and her crew which had carried out the Christmas mission on December 21, 1967, crashed on the Mull of Kintyre with the same crew I had flown with, except one. There were no survivors.

I will forever remember Christmas with the brave RAF crews in Ballykelly.



Copyright. Denis Hearn 1967- 2014

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22. Writing honestly from your true passions

The myth that publishers have stacks of manuscripts  and that writers have to line up in a long queue was deflated by Jennifer Bacia during her talk at the Gold Coast Writers Association meeting . ‘Actually, that is not the case’ she stated. According to Jennifer, publishers are always looking for something that will make […]

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23. This One Tiny Habit Can Help You Become a More Productive (and Wealthier) Freelancer

mini_habits_stephen_guiseby Diana Burrell

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle

I make no secret of the fact that I do not like to write, which seems crazy because I’ve been a freelance writer and author for almost 20 years and writers, well, write. But if you’re a professional writer, you know that a lot of the job isn’t writing. You’ve got to do stuff like generate story ideas, market your work, chase down research, interview experts, edit, and manage the business–the fun stuff! It’s the writing part I could do away with, specifically first drafts. Once a first draft is written, I can edit. Bad mood be gone.

Over the years I’ve become good at tricking myself into finishing first drafts. I tell myself, “You only have to write 50 words, then you can take a break and watch YouTube.” Even I can write fifty words, and once I get going, it’s hard to stop, which is how I get so much writing done despite my dislike of wordsmithing.

Needless to say I’m always looking for the path of least resistance to getting more done, so when I read about Stephen Guise’s Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results, I downloaded the ebook to my Kindle.

Not only did his book confirm for me that the best way to create a positive change is through small acts repeated daily, but the book was exceptionally well written and researched — impressive in that the author is not a professional writer — and so applicable to the many writers I meet who struggle with getting query letters out the door or writing big projects like books and novels.

Because I suspected Stephen was a bit of renegade — changing your life in big ways through tiny habits? Sounds renegade to me! — I contacted Stephen and he agreed to a 20-minute interview, which turned into a 90-minute Skype call. This is not a verbatim transcript of our conversation, but a carefully edited-down version containing the most valuable points for our readers.


DB: How are mini habits different from most life change philosophies?

SG: Most life change philosophies implore you to get highly motivated to make a big change in your life. Mini Habits are exactly the opposite of that, suggesting you force yourself to do something embarrassingly small, but positive every day.

There are two kinds of motivation. The first type is having a reason for doing something. My motivation for exercise is to look and feel healthy. My motivation for doing this interview is that you asked me to do it and I want to spread the word about mini habits. Unlike the next definition of motivation, your reason for doing things is generally very stable and changes very little over time.

There’s also emotional motivation, which is rooted in enthusiasm and determines your willingness to take action in the moment (“This year I’m going to get in shape so I’m off to the gym!”). Most goal systems rely on this type of motivation; they’ll tell you that you need to find this motivation to succeed. The problem is that emotional motivation isn’t reliable or habit friendly.

When we try to do something like write more every day or lose 50 pounds or get in top physical condition, we’re usually very excited for a couple weeks. We’re highly motivated to write more, eat less, and go to the gym. Yet almost anyone who has attempted to change knows that sometime in those first weeks, motivation starts to wane. For me, it was like clockwork—I’d get motivated to exercise and quit when motivation left me at the two- or three-week mark.

The reason we lose motivation isn’t a mystery. It’s biological. And it’s actually a positive sign! It means the behavior of writing more, eating less, or working out regularly is transitioning to being controlled by the subconscious brain. In other words, a weak habit is forming. But right around this time is when most of us give up. We’re not feeling that burst of enthusiasm anymore, so when it’s gone, we’ll stop doing the behavior that’s just about to become a habit. It’s too bad because the best way to find motivation is to take action! I’m not anti-motivational; it’s just that I don’t believe it works as a starting strategy.

There’s a quote from Sun Tzu’s Art of War which sums up the Mini Habit system: “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” By taking one small action a day—just one small behavior change—we start with a win. After that point, you’re free to do more.

In my book, I talk about doing just one push-up every day. A single push-up! It’s almost too easy, right? But you do it, and because you’re already face-down on the ground, you will probably do more. And that’s how such a small, seemingly insignificant action can grow to make big changes in your life.

Two other factors aren’t accounted for in most other goal achievement systems. First is autonomy. Most systems remove your sense of autonomy; you’re following a plan so that on Monday you do this, on Tuesday you do that, and so on. But with Mini Habits, you do your one small thing like a push-up and after that you can ask yourself, “Am I ready to stop or can I do more?” This autonomy leverages our desire and gives us a feeling that we’re in control, which studies show is a critical factor in goal achievement.

The second is willpower, the ability to force yourself to do something whether you feel like it or not. Most goal achievement systems don’t account for the fact that willpower is a limited resource as studies show. Mini Habits is based on the fact that we don’t have unlimited willpower. Because a mini habit is so small, you can easily complete it even when your willpower is low.


DB: We all know that developing good habits is important, whether personal (flossing every day) or work (writing a certain number of words per day). What’s might our readers find surprising about developing good habits?

SG: When you’re trying to establish a good habit, size doesn’t matter as much as consistency. For example, say you want to get in shape and decide you’re going to do 100 push-ups a day. That’s a lot of push-ups each day, so the chances you’ll stick with that plan are slim. Just one push-up a day, though, you’ll stick with it and end up doing more push-ups consistently. It’s better to do one push-up a day for six months than 100 push-ups for 15 days spread out over six months because that single daily push-up can become a foundational habit, the kind of habit that can change your life.


DB: How did you come up with the idea of writing a book about mini habits and their power to make positive changes?

SG: I started writing on Facebook using the notes feature, writing about my life and stuff like that. My friends liked it and a few told me I should write a book. When I stopped laughing, I started a blog; some of my blog posts were really long, like 4,000 words. Eventually, I decided that yes, I did want to write a book, but I wasn’t sold on any one topic. That changed when I started having a lot of success with Mini Habits.

In the past, I’d have this goal of developing a full-sized gym habit, but I’d exercise for two weeks then stop. Then I aimed for one push-up and got into the best shape of my life. Based on my experience with Mini Habits, I knew I had to share this with the world. That, and I was frustrated by the other systems that give you the same old advice of “get motivated to live your dreams.” That hasn’t been my experience, and the experience of many others as well.


DB: How did you use mini habits to write your book?

SG: I wouldn’t have written the book if not for my writing mini habit. I actually had two writing mini habits: One was to write 50 words a day for my blog, and the other was to write 50 words a day of my book. Most days I would exceed those numbers. Even though goal achievement is a topic I’m passionate about, for some reason I still wanted to avoid writing about it. [DB: Now you can see why I like this guy!] I’d have all these excuses like, “I need to write perfectly” or “I’m not thinking clearly today.” Having to write 50 words a day kept me on track.

It took me three to six months to write Mini Habits, including all the research. At times I made up some conditional mini habits, like “Read one study today.” You don’t realize how small actions can add up until you do them everyday. It’s really powerful stuff.


DB: What has been the response to Mini Habits?

SG: Before I released the book, I told myself I’d be disappointed if I sold less than 200 copies in two months. Mini Habits ended up selling 10,000 copies in three months. Most sales have come through word of mouth, some guest posting on blogs, and being seen in Amazon.com’s sales system, which is huge. Once you get good reviews (Mini Habits has a 4.8 average rating on Amazon), readers take interest and it can sustain sales momentum.

I’ve also gotten quite a few letters from readers with their own success stories by using mini habits. It’s great to see how it has changed the lives of others.


DB: You had a mini habit of writing 50 words of your manuscript every day. What other types of mini habits could our readers adopt to develop or improve their careers?

SG: Obviously making a mini habit of writing 50 words a day is a good place to start, but you can also develop a networking mini-habit, like contacting one person—an editor, potential source, or peer—every day. At the end of the year, you’ll have 365 new contacts. You could have a marketing goal of looking for one new magazine, publication, or client. If you need more ideas for magazine articles or books, you could write down one new idea every day. You could also make one follow-up call or e-mail on a project or question where if you had an answer, you could move forward.


DB: Any last words about the power of mini habits?

SG: Mini habits are awesome. The bar to entry is set low, and there’s no ceiling.

For example, if your goal is to write 2,000 words a day, it’s not only a high bar, but it’s also a ceiling because chances are you’ll rarely write more than 2,000 words a day (due to being satisfied with your work). But if you set your bar at 50 words, you’re not only going to make your goal, you’ll most likely exceed it. Fifty words isn’t much and once you get going, you’ll have more thoughts and words to get down.

It’s Newton’s Laws of Motion at work: “A body in motion stays in motion.” The other part of the law is, “A body at rest stays at rest.” When you’ve got a mini habit (50 words) versus a big habit (2,000 words), it’s a lot easier to get in motion and let momentum carry you further.

(My next Become an Idea Machine workshop starts tomorrow, and it’s the last workshop I’ll lead for several months. Sign up here or send me an email  to be notified of the next workshop.)

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24. RhyPiBoMo - Day 8

One of the rules of RhyPiBoMo is to read a rhyming picture book every day. Here are the books I read in the fist week.

One week down and 3 to go! Today, we learned about the different quatrains and the different rhyming patterns they can have. Here is one with the ABAB pattern:

    Buddy is a crazy boy!
    He jumps on everyone around,
    because he can’t contain his joy.
    He’s such a crazy, happy hound!

0 Comments on RhyPiBoMo - Day 8 as of 4/6/2014 8:31:00 PM
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25. I am not accessible

I just read through some accumulated emails that go to my public account, and quite a few said some variant of "I will no longer read your books if you don't answer my email." Some said it nicely (thank you, sweeties). Some were, frankly my darlings, quite rude. Like, shockingly rude and demanding.

A few years ago, I had a choice. I could 1. answer all my emails or 2. write more books. I chose books. I know that disappoints you and I'm sorry. I don't like disappointing people. But it is not appropriate to threaten and bully people into getting what you want. I generally ignore negative emails. I rarely am able to respond to any emails, negative or otherwise. But there were enough of these type of emails I thought the issue warranted an explanation in a blog post.

I am not accessible. I cannot be your penpal. I cannot be your writing mentor. Email and twitter and blogs and Facebook and tumblr do not paint an accurate portrait of life. I am not sitting on my computer all day, available to communicate with you. I am cleaning the house and reading to my kids and physically pulling my twins apart so they don't scratch out each other's eyeballs and throwing something together for dinner and shoveling the clutter into the corners and paying bills and putting away the groceries and doing my taxes and helping my kids with their homework and running over to see a neighbor and cleaning up a spill and taking my kids to the doctor and sweeping up broken glass and washing the sheets and putting all the books my kids pulled off the shelves back on and tweezing out slivers and putting on bandaids and generally doing what a mother with four young children does. A few hours each weekday I get to write books. And a few times a day I can briefly check twitter, etc., and my email, though I always have far more than I can read right then let alone answer so they pile up. I am not wealthy. I do not have a personal assistant. I do not have a housekeeper or full time nanny or personal shopper or whatever rich people have. I am a working mother. I don't expect my younger readers to understand completely what that means, but please believe me when I tell you part of what it means is that there are so so so many things I would like to do that I simply cannot, and answering your email is one of those. You are not the only one writing to me. I either have to answer everyone or no one. If answering the emails and editing the stories and responding personally to the questions of every one of my readers is the price of having readers then I give up. I can't do it. I can only do two things. I choose: 1. be a mom/wife, and 2. write books. I can't be everything else that you want me to be. All I can do is be the author of some books that you might like, and if reading those books isn't enough for you, then I'm not your girl.

If you hear an edge to my voice, please believe it is not anger or offense. It is simply overwelmedness. I am overwhelmed. To be fair, I do state right there on my website above my email address that I won't be able to respond. A simpler solution would be to shut down my public account permanently. But I keep it because sometimes I get the most delicious emails, like the ones I've been getting from parents of kids who read Ever After High and said, "They never read a book before but they read this one straight through!" What joy! I get to forward those on to my editors and others who share in that joy and know that our hard work is finding a home. So I don't want to shut it down.

Maybe instead what I need to shut down is all this darn caring. I do care if I offend people. If I disappoint people. If they feel a connection to me through my books and feel personally betrayed by me that I can't complete that connection. I wish I could not care what people think. But if I didn't, maybe I wouldn't have the sensitivity to be a writer? To channel characters and care, too, what they think and feel? I don't know the answer.

Except this. I cannot change my email and fan interaction policy. And I cannot stop writing. So we are at an impasse, my darlings. I hope you have real people in your real lives who can hear your thoughts, be your friends, support and comfort you, read your marvelous words, and love you. Go to them. I'll be over here, out of sight, pulling out splinters and shoveling legos, silently cheering you on.

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