Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Never "Meet" your Heroes

[You'll notice from this post that I've just learned how to do links on Blogger and, like a child, I'm playing with my new toy at every opportunity.]

My favourite radio show (Simon Mayo on Radio 2) has a book club. Every two weeks they interview an author and invite listeners to read the first chapter on their website. Other listeners, from a pre-selected panel, have already read the book, and give their reviews. It's fascinating to find out how the writers go about researching and structuring their books (yesterday's featured author was Conn Igguldon who had been to Mongolia in order to get a feel for the location of his historical epic about Kubla Khan, and found it "very like Wales") and naturally you get to know quite a bit about the authors themselves.

I may be shallow, but it actually matters to me what those authors are like. I want them to be nice people. I was delighted to learn that JK Rowling had donated a vast amount of money to the campaign to find Madeleine McCann because, like the rest of the world, I love Harry Potter, and for some strange reason it mattered to me that the creator of Hogwarts was a nice person. I have already blogged about Enid Blyton and how finding out that she was an adulterer and an uncaring mother has affected my enjoyment of her books, and my likelihood of reading them to my children.

I particularly enjoyed, then, the interview with Sir Terry Pratchett who proved to be just as delightfully eccentric and personable as I could have hoped. And I liked Anthony Horowitz so much when I listened to his interview that I am suggesting one of his books to my book club. Barbara Taylor Bradford came across as rather aloof and unfriendly, so I won't be going out of my way to buy her books.

The biggest shock, however, was Terry Deary, author of the Horrible Histories books which my middle daughter loves so much she has developed a fascination with history generally. Admittedly he wasn't on Simon Mayo's show (and I hope Simon never invites him) but his interview in Radio Times was little short of offensive. He was arrogant, objectionable and at one stage dismissed a keen 11-year-old fan saying, "How dare people come to me?" He was scathing about other highly respected historians and writers, and even such venerable and admired institutions as Radio 4 and the nation's schools. Interviewer Rosie Millard, herself a venerable and admired institution, does her best to redeem him by mentioning his charity work, but by that time I loathed the man so she might just as well not have bothered.

So there are nice authors, and not-so-nice authors, and you really can't tell much about the personality of the writer by reading their book. But I really hope I can be a nice author. It's so distressing and disappointing for fans to discover that someone who had created so much reading pleasure is not deserving of their adulation.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A New Exciting Way to Read Books Online

A few weeks ago I was contacted about an exciting new website, something called, Big World Network. This online reading service is provided at no cost. Anyone interested can read or listen to books that will be posted as a weekly series. Each week another episode or chapter from the book of your choice will be featured. This is similar to how popular series are followed on television, but in book form.

Books are rated based on content, which is a handy way to know if a certain book is one you would be interested in reading, or listening to, compliments of the audio form that is also available. Currently, fifteen books are listed for perusal. E-mail subscriptions are also being offered, which is a handy way to be notified when the next installment of the book you've selected is available. This way you will have immediate access when the next chapter or episode is released.

For writers, this is another way to expose your newest work to online readers, increasing the readership for your books. Submissions can be sent to this website for possible inclusion on their website.

I think this is a great way for new writers and established writers alike to secure online exposure, and an exciting new twist to online reading. Be sure to check out the website on this link: Click here and see what you think about this new online venue.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


As I was shopping for a few last minute items I forgot when I did my Thanksgiving shopping, the yams I selected shot through the bottom of the plastic bag and scattered all over the floor. As I bent to begin picking them up, a boy tore off a plastic bag and began gathering them up for me. When he finished, he set them in my cart, I thanked  him profusely, and he hurried off to join his mother.  The boy was probably somewhere around ten or twelve and I'd never seen him before. He had no way of knowing how much my knees hurt or that I'll soon be having surgery on them. I'm not only grateful for his act of kindness, but I'm thankful there are young people in this world who are growing up with kind hearts, the kind of future leaders my generation can safely trust with the responsibilities they will face as tomorrow's decision makers.

I've found myself thinking lately about Mrs. King, my third grade teacher who taught me something of the history of Thanksgiving. With big paper buckles on our shoes and pilgrim hats and bonnets on our heads or a feathered headband and beads, we sat down to a Thanksgiving feast of apples, raisins, and some kind of bread similar to fry bread.  Even now I remember the song she taught us to sing before we began our feast.

            Bless this house, O Lord we pray.        
            Keep it safe by night and day.
            Bless these walls, so firm and stout
            Keeping want and hunger out.

I know, the song wouldn't be acceptable in today's classrooms, but I'm glad it was in mine.

I've talked all month, as have many of you, about those things, large and small, for which we are thankful.  Today I'll only add my gratitude for good food, family to enjoy it with me, and a warm home to shelter us from the cold. May your Thanksgiving Day be as filled with love and warmth as mine.

Friday, November 18, 2011


It's so interesting the things we're thankful for at different times in our lives. I remember being eternally grateful for nap time and bedtime. I remember being grateful for the energy to run up and down three flights of stairs all day long doing laundry and housework. My 4 year old daughter finally sat down on the stairs and said, "Mommy, can't we just sit down for a few minutes? My legs are tired." When I said she didn't have to come with me on all those trips, she reminded me that she wanted to be with me---all day long. Not just sometime.
I remember feeling gratitude for phone calls in the middle of the night telling me my husband had landed safely in some far part of the world. And I remember crying with gratitude when I finally received letters from my missionary son (after six weeks of not hearing from him) telling me that he had been sent into a new area to open a district, and oh, by the way, it was actually head-hunter country in the heart of Venezuela, but don't worry, Mom. I'll be fine.
I'm making a Shutterfly book of our tiny son who only lived 14 short months and I remembered today for the first time in ages (funny how we put painful memories out of our minds as much as possible) feeling a sense of relief and gratitude when the Lord took him home so he didn't have to suffer anymore, didn't have to have tubes sticking out of his frail little body, then feeling guilty about those feelings.
The Thanksgiving we spent in Armenia was frigid. My gratitude knew no bounds for the small space heater we could afford to have in our little apartment. We moved it from room to room - from our kitchen to our office to our bedroom. Our electric bill was more than all the other residents in our entire building put together because we were Americans with money. They had no employment, little opportunity at the time to make enough money for luxuries like that. Most of them had a wood burning stove they set up in their living room, piped the smoke out a window, and used whatever wood they could scrounge for heat. A war with a neighboring country resulted in their gas being cut off and that had been their major source of heat. Their electricity had been cut off so people just went to bed when it got dark. Some had to walk up 14 flights of stairs in the dark - no windows in the old Soviet Style apartments. I was grateful we arrived after the nuclear power plant was repaired and we at least had electricity! We had hot water for a shower because the Church had installed a tank above the shower which we could fill when the water was on from 5 - 7 a.m. We had to fill all our pitchers and containers during those hours to have water during the day.
I'm so grateful for the experiences and adventures we had in Armenia. Everyone in America should have that opportunity so they will truly appreciate what an incredible country we live in and how magnificently blessed we are.
And what am I grateful for today? For my children who are raising their children in the gospel and are upstanding citizens. Every mother prays for that. I know how blessed I am. And I still pray for one errant daughter that she will return to the flock. I'm grateful for health and strength and energy to fulfill my callings - and for those callings that keep me working on talents that might otherwise gather dust and be lost. And even those that take me out of my comfort zone! :)
I'm grateful for a husband who has loved me for 55 years and put up with me for 53 years of marriage. He is my best friend.
The blessings of belonging to the Church simply can't be calculated; they are far too numerous, but I'm thankful for a Father in Heaven who loves me, who knows me, who needs me to do His work, and helps me do it.
Every Thanksgiving we play a little game. I type the letters that make up the word Thanksgiving and run them down the page leaving a line for everyone to write on, and I print up one for everyone. They all get to tell what they are thankful for that begins with that letter. I can't wait to do it again this year because I have so many new blessings that I didn't have last year and it's very important to count them and acknowledge them, every one. And not the least of these will be all the technology that allows us to do things like this to stay connected!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Research in Paradise

I'm in Hawaii (Maui) doing research for my next book, and right now you're probably sending out wishes for a whale to eat me, or something. I understand, and trust me, I am not complaining. The weather here (though overcast), is shirtsleeve warm, while in my hometown it's cold with a chance of snow. But, researching in paradise is not an easy thing. It's difficult to pull one's mind from the soft allure of the ocean and the warm sun to sit in a library in Kahului and read a slew of non-fiction books with no charming hero or involving mystery.

In the 10 days I've been here I've only been swimming once. You have no sympathy for me, do you?

I love the book, Gift from the Sea, by Anne Marrow Lindbergh, where she talks about taking her pencils and pads of paper to the beach with the intention of writing, but instead of accomplishing anything she finds her mind drifting with the sound of the waves and her imagination lulled by the warm sand. It's so true.

Okay, I feel no compassion heading my way, so I guess I'll go eat some papaya and head off for the Maui Historical Society where I'll spend three hours pouring over old documents and maps. I know, save my tears, right?


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Time Kills Books - Or Does It?

I've got a new book coming out shortly. It's called No Escape and it's a romantic thriller about a newly widowed New York cop who tries to escape his grief by taking part in an exchange program and going to rural North Wales. There he meets a tough single mother who hates everyone and trusts no one, and finds himself charged with protecting her as she becomes embroiled in some nefarious activities through her drug-dealing brother.

I started writing the book about fifteen years ago when I was working in an office next door to Bangor Police Station and met a couple of the drugs squad officers there. The book describes the local area in considerable detail and yesterday, mid-way through editing, I decided it would be fun to remind myself of the place I lived for so long via Google maps. You can imagine my disappointment as I discovered that the police station, bus station and Students' Union, which all feature heavily in the book, are no longer there. In fact, where the police station and my old office stood is now a shopping mall. So it's not published yet, but my book is already out of date. Luckily I'm guessing my primarily American audience will never realise that the locations I describe in an obscure Welsh city no longer exist. Ssshhh! Don't tell them!

The inexorable march of time also gave the lie to my last book, Honeymoon Heist. Part of the book describes the pearl factory where Rodney, my hero, is able to make a pearl necklace for his wife. Guess what? Last time I went to Majorca I discovered that the pearl factory is now little more than a shop, with the actual pearl making going on behind the scenes, and customers are no longer allowed to craft their own pearls as they used to.

There's a possibility that my first book, Haven, may be republished next year, but I've lost the original manuscript (it was about three computers ago) so I'm having to scan it in from the hard copy book. This affords me a unique opportunity to bring it up-to-date and, despite only being ten years old, it really needs it. In one scene the children are playing with an electronic game - remember them? Now I've upgraded it to a Nintendo DSi. And in an early scene when Gwen settles down to listen to the scriptures on tape, now it's a CD, but even that will be out of date soon and there may already be some readers who wonder why she doesn't have them on her iPod.

The printed word dates very easily and it's rare to get an opportunity to update it like this, but I don't know that it matters much. When watching reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer I don't wonder why Buffy didn't just call Willow and Xander on her mobile phone to tell them where the weirdo-of-the-week has imprisoned her. I understand that everything is of its time, and I like to think that readers recognise that the book in their hand is a snapshot of the world as it was when the book was published (or, in the case of No Escape, ten years ago). My daughter had just discovered Enid Blyton, whose books are horribly dated (not to mention frequently racist, sexist and patronising), but it doesn't stop Angharad loving them.

So while time may make all books go out of date, it also adds something - it reminds the reader of how things were in the year on the flyleaf, and that may sometimes be a real history lesson.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Walking the Tightrope of Diabetes

Lately I've been trying to get all of my proverbial ducks in a row, with regard to health. I am a Type 1 diabetic--a challenging condition I've endured for 31 years. Some would say that I've beaten the odds to live this long with diabetes and not have any major complications. To them I would have to say: "Attitude is everything!" ;)

I do not have perfect control of my blood sugar levels--the closest I ever came to that goal was during three pregnancies that produced three healthy sons. During that era, I kept a food diary, recording everything I ate, what time I ate, how much insulin I gave, how much I exercised, and what all of the food counts were. In short, I gave each pregnancy full attention and did amazingly well, all things considered.

Most days I simply do the best that I can. I try to balance carb counts with insulin and mix in exercise to counter fluctuating levels. The challenge for most of us who deal with this disease is the fact that everything affects our blood sugar levels. If I have a cold, my level runs rock bottom low, no matter what I do. If I have the stomach flu--that level runs high, even though I can't usually eat anything. If I'm in severe pain, the level runs low. If I have inflammation anywhere, it runs high. During the summer months, my levels run lower because of the heat. And as you might guess, during the winter months, those levels soar, so on and so forth. I was also told that there will days when "insulin bubbles" (Insulin the body stores for some strange unknown reason) can randomly burst, causing an insulin reaction from hades without warning.In short: this is a challenging disease and there are days when you feel like throwing your hands in the air and walking away.

For numerous years, I ran a diabetic support group for the diabetics in our county. I did this with the help of a very good friend who was also a Type 1 diabetic like me. The support group was actually Denise's idea. Once we both started seeing the same specialist who gave us "HOPE" for a brighter future--more so than we had ever received from any other doctor, she wanted us to share that positive message with other diabetics who were also struggling.

We met during monthly meetings at the nearby city hall, and later in a special room at the local hospital. We provided special inservice meetings with doctors, nurses, etc. We ran booths at the two health fairs held annually in our community, and met with newly diagnosed diabetics to help them realize they could live a full and productive life despite this illness.

You can imagine how Denise's death earlier this year affected us all. (She was 49) I've heard from a few of the younger Type 1's that we tried to help. Some are in panic mode. "But you two said we could live a long, normal life!" Etc. & so forth. After Denise's death, my blood pressure soared for a time, something it has never done before. (My blood pressure has always been good: most days it clocks in at 110 over 70.) And I've experienced a couple of other health glitches that have made me realize I need to slow down . . . a lot . . . at least for now.

Dealing with Type 1 diabetes is like walking a tightrope. One slip can mean a painful consequence, and unfortunately, complications, and sometimes death. We keep trying to move ahead on that thin wire, knowing that each step we make is crucial. Our balancing tools include: checking our blood sugar level often, counting carbs, and working in a bit of exercise. We all try to do the best that we can, and not allow ourselves to get overwhelmed in the process.

I've found that regardless of the challenge, attitude is everything, as stated above. Stress of any kind causes my blood sugar level to run high. So I have to keep stress to a minimum. Maintaining a positive outlook aids this process greatly. And I've started something new the past couple of months--I meditate each morning for about ten minutes. My version of meditation probably varies from the world's, but it works for me. I spend ten minutes listening to soothing music (usually "Calm-Meditation" from Pandora) and watch a computerized slideshow of nature shots that I've taken through the years with my trusty camera. I focus on my breathing and attempt to relax my entire body. I can't believe how much better I feel each day. The best news: my blood pressure level has returned to normal. My blood work was in the normal range last month. Now I have to tackle getting my blood sugar levels back under better control.

I am determined to continue walking this tightrope called diabetes. =D It's rather lonely, carrying that baton by myself now (someday Denise and I will talk about how she bailed on me in an untimely manner) but I have to think that it was simply her time to leave this mortal sphere. We've both endured too many near misses in the past to ever think otherwise.

My new goal: To live another 30 years with this challenging condition--thus proving to our younger Type 1's that this can be done. For a while, I may be cutting out other things to bring my life into better focus. (My entire family has been trying to teach me a handy two-letter word for years, something I'm finally starting to use.) I'm no longer trying to be "Wonder Woman," as I simply strive to be "Tight-Rope Girl." And in the end, perhaps the two titles will combine as I work harder than ever to stifle the effects of this disease.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Sitting at the table in the breakfast nook, I like to watch the birds that visit our birdfeeder.  The smaller birds; the sparrows, the finches, the chickadees, and such flit in troupes from the trees to the feeder, to the fence, to the bushes, and back again.  Entertaining and fun, they're constantly on the move and squander their energy on following the crowd. The doves stick to the business of eating as they plant themselves under the feeder and scoop up all the seeds the busy smaller birds knock off the narrow edge.  They grow fat and complacent feeding off easy pickings. A number of other birds; magpies, crows, woodpeckers, robins, hummingbirds, those that don't congregate in flocks or depend on the feeder make brief appearances, eat quickly while keeping a wary eye out for danger, search out a few worms or bugs in the garden, then hurry on their way.  Another bird that is a regular visitor to our backyard is a hawk. When the hawk  appears  almost all of the birds make a mad dash for safety.  Unfortunately a few burrow deep into the pine limbs as though hoping to remain invisible to the predator; they usually wind up being the hawk's lunch.

Some writers are like those sparrows.  They're so busy flitting about between conferences, web sites, Facebook, and other places where writers congregate, they get little writing done, almost no original research, and expend all of their energy running about, hanging out, and wishing.  If they actually reach the point where they submit their work to a publisher or agent it suffers from a lack of attention to detail, more dreaming than actual work, or a myriad of other shortcomings.  A few cower in a corner, never getting brave enough to actually submit a manuscript or search for an agent. Their talent dies from a lack of courage. 

Some writers are like the fat doves, content to live in their make believe world and do little to actually get  published.  They're content with whatever falls their way.  They may get published, but they never reach the heights they might if they worked harder and had more motivation.

Some writers are more like the robins and woodpeckers who show up for a few communal sessions, work hard, then go on to the next opportunity. They scope out the market, draw their material from multiple sources, and take personal responsibility for their success or failure. Like the hummingbirds, some work extra hard, and are a blur of color and industry.

Now where does the hawk fit into this picture?  There are a number of parallels I might draw here.  There are a few writers who like to puff out their chests and let everyone know they're bigger and better than anyone else.  They thrive on cutting other writers down.  Occasionally the hawk might be the person who is too big for the feeder, too proud to pick up what falls on the ground, but takes savage delight in writing nasty critiques or reviews to kill the work and confidence of others who are a little vulnerable or insecure.  (I've yet to meet the published writer who isn't still a little vulnerable and insecure.) And sometimes the hawk is the talented individual whose talent and hard work makes it possible to soar above the ordinary.

In the ten years I've been writing reviews for Meridian, I've read over a thousand books, met scores of writers, and watched writing careers that have soared to great heights and lost sight of writers whose careers have dropped out of sight. I've seen great talent squandered through sheer laziness and I've seen writers who succeeded in getting published through hard work and persistence in spite of limited natural talent. I've cheered when a deserving author got a big contract and I've cried when a talented author received rejection after rejection.  I've been uplifted; I've been bored, I've been informed, I've endured, and I've been entertained in the most delightful ways.  To all of you, thank you.  You've made this past ten years memorable for me.  And I hope you don't mind, if while I stare out my window, I name a few birds in your honor.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Why passion in writing is important

I promise this is the last blog I'll do on writing with passion. I'm giving a presentation at our local library this afternoon with our local authors group and remembered there were a few thoughts here that I didn't offer the last blog on passion.

Passion in writing is as important as good grammar. You need to feel a passion for your subject, for your characters, and for the process of writing itself. If writing is drudgery for you, you can pretty well bet reading what you’ve written will become drudgery for your reader. Passion brings a spark to your writing which generates an element of emotion within your reader.

A book lover can immediately sense your passion for your work when they read the first few paragraphs on the page. If you don’t have a great feeling for your characters or your subject, you are cheating your reader of a valuable experience.

I love to travel to the location in which my story will take place. I can absorb the ambiance, smell the aromas, feel the kind of wind that blows there, see things that don’t show up on the website or in books. I see and feel things that will never happen if I haven’t actually been to that site.

Every time I do this, I fall in love with the place and I can transfer that passion onto the written page. I take copious photographs and refer to them often to put me back into the scene I’m writing. I pick up brochures and flyers and an occasional book to give me more detail.

When experts tell you to write what you know, you’re fulfilling that in this manner.

This works with non-fiction as well. I have a son and daughter who travel - internationally - extensively - and have had some incredible experiences. She’s writing a book about their encounters in the more than 100 countries they’ve each visited. The passion she has for her subject overflows on her pages and keeps the reader wanting more.

Pour yourself and your emotions into your story so your reader have have that same experience vicariously. That's what reading is all about.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Birthday Boy!

This week my hubby and I traveled to Southern California to visit with family. One of the highlights was celebrating our great-nephew Jackson's first birthday. We had a grand time going to the zoo and later in the evening eating dinner at an Italian restaurant. Jackson opened presents (well, tore paper) and dug into his chocolate birthday cake (literally).

Smearing birthday cake frosting on one's baby face seems to be a right of passage for most American babies and I think it's precious. Thank heavens for Handi-wipes.

Jackson was a darling all day, and even though the actual reason for the frivolity escaped him, I think he enjoyed being the center of attention. The adults in his life were very aware of the sacredness of the celebration. We knew that Jackson came into the world with some medical problems, and that things were tenuous for a few months. With medical help, faith, and a lot of loving prayers, Jackson grew in strength and wellness. Now, there is not one trouble in his little body. He is a bright, jabbering, walking miracle.

As I looked around the restaurant table at the people dear to me, it was confirmed again that family is the most important earthly blanket that surrounds us. Through the family we pass on love, values, strength, and chocolate cake!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Counting My Blessings

There’s a book that I keep near my bed. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read it. Sometimes I read it for the wit and humor, sometimes I read it for the wisdom. But for whatever reason I read it, it’s a book that I count among my favorites.

It’s the book by Kerry Blair called, “Counting Blessings- Wit and wisdom for women” I am sure anyone and everyone who reads the posts on this blogsite has read it, but hoping it’s okay, I wanted to quote a little bit from Kerry’s book. For some reason, this has been going through my mind almost constantly lately.

“As latter-day Saints we are practically obsessed with anxiously engaging ourselves in good causes. Maybe it’s subliminal. Glancing through the hymnal last Sunday, I noted that as sisters in Zion, we who are called to serve are all enlisted to go marching, marching forward because the world has need of willing men to all press on scattering sunshine. We wonder if we have done any good in the world today, because we have been given much and want to do what is right, keep the commandments, press forward with the Saints, and put our shoulders to the wheel going where He wants us to go. However, as the morning breaks high on the mountain top, truth reflects upon our senses, and while we still believe that sweet is the work, we also realize that we have work enough to do ere the sun goes down. And thus we ask Thee ere we part, where can we turn for peace?”

Kerry goes on to not only answer that question, but she talks about that paragraph in a most excellent way. (Rather than me summing up her words, I highly recommend you read it!) As for me, I ponder that paragraph, Kerry’s wisdom, and I have learned from her words as well as her example and friendship.

This paragraph also makes me stop to think about my time management. While I surely want to be anxiously engaged in good causes. I also realize that life can be overwhelming and there are times I am not able to do all that I want to -- sometimes I’m not even able to do anything I need to-- but I am grateful to know where I can turn for peace.

I love this time of year that the season gives reason to stop and reflect on the things in which we are grateful for. The fact that no matter how crazy or difficult life can be, I am grateful there are places where I can find peace amidst struggle.

I am grateful for the blessing of such amazingly good family and friends who lift me up and even carry me through the tough times. They are the same who are there to celebrate and rejoice with me in the good times.

I have far too many blessings to count, but I do know I am grateful for each and every one of them.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


I've gone and done something reckless and foolhardy. I've signed up to NaNoWriMo for the first time.

For those not in the know, that's National Novel Writing Month. It should probably be called IntNoWriMo because there is a group right here in Essex holding parties and write-ins in the local library. Last year I resisted joining because I thought it was an American thing, but it seems that across the world there are people who have committed to write a full 50,000 word novel in a month.

Gulp. Now that I write it that seems like an awful lot. I should have signed up for Movember instead, it would probably be easier.

It's not the most convenient month for me, you see, because I will have to spend the first few days of it editing my forthcoming novel, No Escape. And I'm trying to finish two cross-stitch baby samplers for a friend. And I have a job, two blogs and three children, and a weekend away booked, and...  well, it's going to be tough, but I am determined to do it. I need to kick-start my writing, and I'm excited about the story I'll be working on.

I've left it rather to the last minute unfortunately by joining on 28th October. Whilst I can't start writing until 1st November, I could have spent the last couple of weeks outlining, plotting, researching, putting together a chronology or making character sketches. Instead I'll be winging it as best I can, but maybe that's part of the fun.

I'll be posting my word count at regular intervals, and since I'm writing a (gothic horror) book for older children, 50,000 words is actually the whole thing. So a month from now I may have a new novel to submit to my publisher. Wish me luck!